Six films that imagine the end of the world, from A Quiet Place to Leave The World Behind

It has long been a favourite subject for filmmakers, but how realistic are these tales of the apocalypse?

A Quiet Place, left, and the recent Leave the World Behind both imagine what the end of the world might look like. Photo: Paramount Pictures, Netflix
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The new Netflix film Leave The World Behind starring Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali is the latest movie to explore what the end of the world might look like.

Directed by Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail, the plot puts the blame firmly at the feet of technology, which is weaponised by America’s enemies to cause planes to fall from the sky, Teslas to become self-aware and animals to start acting strangely.

Apocalyptic films have long been a popular film genre, going back decades with the likes of 1959’s On The Beach about the aftermath of nuclear war starring Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, as well as 1968’s Planet of the Apes, in which apes have evolved to become the dominate species.

For apocalypse afficionados, the fun is in the way in which the world ends, and these six films leave you wondering if they could possibly come true. Warning, spoilers below.

Leave the World Behind, Netflix

Starring: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke

How does the world end? Technological terrorism

What happens? When Amanda Sanford (Roberts) and her family leave New York and head to the coast for a relaxing weekend, the first red flag is the local survivalist clearing out the grocery store with water and canned goods. The second is the oil tanker that ploughs into the beach they’re all sunbathing on.

When George Scott (Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold) turn up at the house claiming it is theirs and being unforthcoming about what they know about the blackout that drove them from the city, it is clear something big is afoot.

How realistic is it? Pretty solid. The reactions of the characters to their situations are believable, with their anxiety (as well as that of the audience) growing with the building sense of doom and confusion.

Snowpiercer, Amazon Prime

Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho

How does the world end? Failed climate engineering

What happens? Seventeen years after an attempt to reverse climate change triggered a new ice age, the last humans on earth live aboard a train which continually circumnavigates the globe.

The train is a microcosm of society, with the wealthy in large carriages at the front, and poorer people crammed into windowless trucks at the back.

One of the tail-end passengers, Curtis Everett (Evans), leads a rebellion that starts working its way up the train past armed guards towards the engine room where the mysterious and reclusive Wilford (Ed Harris) oversees the segregation.

How realistic is it? While the idea of a world-traversing train isn’t realistic, the segregation by class and wealth onboard is devastatingly spot on.

World War Z, Netflix

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz

How does the world end? Viral infection

What happens? A virus takes over the world turning people into zombies; and not slow-moving zombies like in Shaun of The Dead, but superfast ones who can climb, chase and bite with alarming alacrity.

Caught up in a wave of attacks in Philadelphia, United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his family are airlifted to a US Navy warship where it’s made clear Lane needs to find a cure or his family will be booted off the boat.

When Jerusalem is overrun, Lane notices the zombies don't attack people who are sick or dying. It's a discovery that leads to a nail-biting final scene at the World Health Organisation facility in Cardiff.

How realistic is it? Given that the notion of zombies has been pretty much debunked, not . However, the idea that humankind will be left to fend for itself while the few are airlifted to safety is uncomfortably true.

Children of Men, Apple TV

Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashitey

How does the world end? Destruction of human fertility

What happens? Global ecocide has resulted in two decades of infertility, with the war, pandemics and depression it unleashed pushing the world to the brink of collapse.

Former human rights activist-turned-bureaucrat Theo Faron (Owen) is kidnapped by Fishes, the militant immigrant-rights group his ex-wife Julian (Moore) leads, and is tasked with getting a young refugee woman named Kee (Ashitey) to safety.

Kee is the only pregnant woman on the planet and when Julian is killed, her militant successor Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) sets out after them in a bid to take the baby to use it as a political tool.

How realistic is it? From the streets of grimy, war-torn London to the attitude towards immigration and refugees, this film is chilling in its message.

A Quiet Place, OSN

Starring: John Krasinksi, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

How does the world end? Alien invasion

What happens? Aliens invade earth and set about killing everyone in their path. Unable to see, they use their exceptional hearing to navigate the planet, forcing the remaining humans to live in complete silence to survive.

Lee and Evelyn Abbott (played by real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and their two children use sign language to communicate on their isolated farm.

When their youngest son is killed by an alien, Evelyn falls pregnant and is forced to give birth in the bath in total silence as the aliens discover their hiding place.

How realistic is it? While the threat of alien invasion is a favourite end-of-the-world trope, the main issue here is how they expected to keep a newborn baby quiet.

The Hunger Games, Netflix

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson

How does the world end? Ecological and societal collapse

What happens? The nation of Panem rises from the ashes of a series of ecological disasters which push humanity to the brink of destruction.

The survivors, divided into districts of varying degrees of poverty, go up against the Capitol but are defeated, resulting in the hunger games being held as punishment for the rebellion.

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is sent to the Capitol along with Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) to represent District 12 to fight-to-the-death in an arena designed for maximum audience entertainment.

How realistic is it? Dividing the world into the haves and have-nots remains prescient, and in Katniss there is a believable and fallible everyday girl rather than a superhero.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 4:06 AM