What would you do if it were your last night on Earth? Well, filmmakers have been exploring that particular philosophical quandary for years with a slew of end-of-the-world movies that run the gamut from darkly hilarious to nightmarishly scary to downright depressing, and sometimes all three at once.
While there are countless movies that deal with life after the apocalypse - and the human race surviving against the odds and eking out an existence while surrounded by zombies or leather-clad raiders - the messages, themes, and questions explored are vastly different when it comes to movies about the literal end of the Earth and the destruction of all life on the planet.
Whether you want to examine the spectrum of how people deal with inevitable tragedy - or how a seed of love can germinate even in the seemingly barren soil of Armageddon - or go for a fun, sci-fi romp through doomsday, there are quite a few surprisingly great movies about the end of everything.
Unlike so many films about the complete destruction of the Earth, that prospect in Titan A.E. doesn't serve as a looming threat but rather the backstory that kicks off the plot. In the year 3028 - after humanity has explored the stars and interacted with several alien species - one particularly malicious alien race known as the Drej bombards Earth. A scientist working on something called "Project Titan" puts his young son, Cale, on an evacuation transport ship moments before the entire planet is blown up by an energy device.
Years later, Cale lives (like all humans) as a nomadic refugee on a floating, patchwork spaceship city. He soon discovers, however, that his father secretly left him with a map to the Titan - a spaceship capable of generating a new planet that could serve as a permanent home for the human race. Featuring a stellar cast of voice actors - including Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, John Leguizamo, Ron Perlman, and Janeane Garofalo - working with a strong script, Titan A.E. was a criminally overlooked sci-fi epic.
Actors: Drew Barrymore, Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo, Ron Perlman, Nathan Lane, + more
Directed by: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, Art Vitello
This horror meta-comedy follows a group of 20-somethings (who also happen to be horror movie archetypes) who go on vacation to the eponymous woodland cabin and end up being hunted by an undead family of redneck cannibals. As it turns out, the friends are unwitting human sacrifices and the cabin itself is a trap, arranged by a secret high-tech organization tasked with finding a different group of sacrifices every few years to appease some slumbering elder gods and keep them from waking up and wiping out the world.
This time, however, a series of mishaps and unexpected events lead to some members of the group discovering the truth and fighting back. When they realize they won't survive either way, they decide to spite the people who wanted to sacrifice them by ruining the ritual and condemning the world. The last image of the movie shows a massive, monstrous hand erupting from the ground and smashing the cabin, thus indicating that the elder gods have woken. This pitch-perfect satire manages to parody all the biggest tropes of the horror genre while still creating a tense, frightening story in its own right. And how often do you see a film where your heroes intentionally cause the apocalypse?
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Sigourney Weaver, Amy Acker, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, + more
Directed by: Drew Goddard
You don't get star-studded meta comedies like this very often, and when you do, they are rarely as chaotic, profane, and raunchy at This Is the End. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen, starring as fictionalized versions of themselves, go to a house party thrown by James Franco. During the drunken, star-studded festivities, the literal rapture begins and hell breaks loose on Earth. Celebrities are extinguished left and right as Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, and several movie star friends try to fend off the demons, natural disasters, and chaos from inside a boarded-up house in the Hollywood Hills.
From the first act of the movie - and the film's title - it's clear there's no coming back from the apocalyptic madness that befalls the globe. However, despite all the destruction and loss of life, This Is the End still manages to pull off something unique: a happy ending, despite all the main characters kicking the bucket. Most of the celebs wind up being taken to heaven, and the closing scene contains an over-the-top musical dance number to "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" among the clouds in the afterlife.
Actors: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, + more
Directed by: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
In this surprisingly suspenseful sci-fi thriller, widowed MIT professor and astrophysicist John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) discovers a 50-year-old piece of paper covered in seemingly random numbers. He discovers the numbers are actually coded predictions corresponding to the dates and coordinates of mass tragedies that have happened over the past decades, and three of the predicted disasters have not yet come to pass. John tries to uncover the source of the numbers and stop the events from occurring. Eventually, he discovers the numbers are all leading up to a cataclysm that will wipe out everyone on the planet via a solar flare that consumes the Earth.
Along the way, John and his family encounter bizarre extraterrestrial beings (who also might be angels) who eventually prove to be interested in protecting the children of the world - including John's son, Caleb - by taking them onto interstellar ark spaceships. John is left on Earth and reunites with his father as the world is burned, while his son and other children are relocated to a paradise planet to rebuild humanity. It's easy to write off Knowing as yet another insane Cage movie, but with director Alex Proyas at the helm and a memorable performance from his lead star, Knowing offers a unique take on doomsday.
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Nadia Townsend, + more
Directed by: Alex Proyas