The end is not nigh, the end has already happened. At least they have in the many post-apocalyptic movies that posit bleak, dystopian outlooks. From a killer virus in I Am Legend to a lonely, sentient robot in WALL·E, there are plenty of devastated futures to choose from in this genre.
We’ve chosen to look at some of the best and most well known post-apocalyptic movies that have spawned a franchise or, at the very least, a sequel. While many of these franchises have also led to an elaborate cultural universe populated by TV spin-offs, novelisations, comic books, video games and much, much more, we’re focusing strictly on the feature films.
Planet of the Apes (1968 – ?)
This is the longest-running and biggest franchise on the list. Comprising five films, one remake, and one reboot, which has one sequel (and a second one in post-production), our fascination with apes taking over the planet has no end. We also don’t know whether the latest instalment (War of the Planet of the Apes) will even be the final film in the franchise. If history is any indicator, along with the success of the first two films of the reboot series, our answer would be: this is not the end.
Mad Max (1979 – ?)
For three films, Mel Gibson played the title role of Max Rockatansky (a disgruntled, disillusioned, Wasteland wanderer) before Tom Hardy took over the role in the fourth instalment. From revenge to redemption, it’s been a long road for Max – and for audiences, who waited thirty years for the fourth film, Fury Road. Australian director George Miller brought his franchise back with a bang, delivering a visually astounding action masterpiece that wowed fans, critics, and the Academy. There has been much talk of continuing the franchise, but nothing is set in stone. Should Miller’s fourth film be the end of the road for the franchise, it will have finished on a very high note.
Watch Mad Max: Fury Road, your Sunday night movie on 31 July at 20:05 on M-Net and 20:30 on M-Net Movies Premiere.
Escape from … (1981 – 1996)
The Cold War served as inspiration for many films in Hollywood. Escape from New York imagines a post-Cold War future, in which the city has been turned into a maximum-security prison. Released in 1981, and set in 1997, John Carpenter’s vision of the future thankfully did not come true, but it did become an important part of cult cinema history. Fifteen years later, Kurt Russell reprised his legendary role as Snake Plissken, in Escape from L.A. The sequel moves the action to the West Coast, where catastrophic floods have turned Los Angeles into an island.
Terminator (1984 – 2015)
The future has already happened and it doesn’t look good. Luckily for humanity, the future has a saviour: John Connor. Combining time travel with another popular dystopian theme (man vs. machine), terminators are continuously sent back to the past to kill John, his mother, his lieutenants, or whatever other pesky human might get in the way. After five films, it seems as if the franchise has finally been…terminated.
Watch the fourth and fifth films in the franchise on the following dates:
Terminator Salvation, Sunday 17 July at 18:05 on M-Net Movies Action
Terminator Genisys, Friday 22 July at 20:00 on M-Net Movies Premiere
The Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003)
In another iteration of the man vs. machine theme, humanity’s hero comes in the form of Neo. Played by Keanu Reeves across three films – with memorable performances from Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith – the trilogy has become an important slice of sci-fi pop culture, thanks to its pertinent themes and astounding visual effects.
28 Days … (2002 – ?)
There are so many things that can bring about the end of days, and one of the most unpleasant is definitely zombies. The desolate opening sequence of 28 Days Later sets the tone for the atmospheric thriller, as Cillian Murphy wakes up to a transformed and tainted world. In 2007 a sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was released. Talk has been bandied about regarding a probable third (28 Months Later) and fourth film (28 Years Later) but nothing is concrete.
The Hunger Games (2012 – 2015)
There has been an explosion in the second decade of this century in film adaptations of YA novels (as you will see shortly, from the remainder of this list). Often centering on dystopian futures, The Hunger Games pits the impoverished districts of a shattered North America against the wealthy elite, in a battle for survival and freedom. Based on a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, the film franchise led to four films – turning Jennifer Lawrence into a huge star and making female protagonists the central heroic forces of post-apocalyptic action.
Watch the second and third films in the franchise on the following dates:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Tuesday 19 July at 17:35 on M-Net Movies Action
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Wednesday 20 July at 20:00 on M-Net Movies Showcase
The Divergent Series (2014 – 2017)
Another female-led dystopian film franchise, Divergent is based on another trilogy of novels – this one by Veronica Roth, who was still at university when she started writing the books. Her story – about a society divided into factions, ousting anyone who doesn’t fit into its prescribed divisions – has since become a successful franchise that is set to close with the fourth film in 2017.
Watch the first and second films in the franchise on the following dates:
Divergent, Saturday 23 July at 20:00 on M-Net Movies All Stars
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Tuesday 26 July at 19:00 on M-Net Movies Premiere
The Maze Runner (2014 – 2018)
The teens-on-the-run tale pops up again, this time a lot more literally, in the adaptation of James Dashner’s trilogy. With a group of young boys abandoned in a mysterious maze and eventually forming their own society, it is heavily reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Unlike The Hunger Games and Divergent, the number of films in this franchise is set to remain the same as the books, with the final instalment due for release in 2018.
Watch Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, your Sunday night movie, on 17 July at 20:05 on M-Net and 20:30 on M-Net Movies Premiere.