The Top 10 Doomsday Horror Films!

Humankind’s fascination with its own extinction has led to some of the most popular and enduring cinematic nightmares ever put to film. Not only is it a cathartic experience to witness the fragile mortality of the entire human race coming to a frightening end before our very eyes (while wrapped safely in the warm cocoon of the local Cineplex), it’s also very often a cerebral one. What could be more thought-provoking than the very reminder that we’re not as invincible as we often go through our lives pretending to be? Luckily for us, we’ve had a wealth of ambitious filmmakers tackle a variety of doomsday scenarios in inventive (and sometimes gut-bustingly hilarious) ways. Will any of their movies lead to humankind changing its destructive tendencies? Doubtful. Listen, the apocalypse is bound to go down eventually, maybe in your lifetime. To prepare yourself, check out my list of the Top Ten Doomsday Horror Films ever made. Armageddon ain’t gonna be as much fun in real life as it is in the movies, but taking in a few of these picks might help ease the transition.

The Top 10 Doomsday Horror Films

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Humankind’s fascination with its own extinction has led to some of the most popular and enduring cinematic nightmares ever put to film. Not only is it a cathartic experience to witness the fragile mortality of the entire human race coming to a frightening end before our very eyes (while wrapped safely in the warm cocoon of the local Cineplex), it’s also very often a cerebral one. What could be more thought-provoking than the very reminder that we’re not as invincible as we often go through our lives pretending to be? Luckily for us, we’ve had a wealth of ambitious filmmakers tackle a variety of doomsday scenarios in inventive (and sometimes gut-bustingly hilarious) ways. Will any of their movies lead to humankind changing its destructive tendencies? Doubtful. Listen, the apocalypse is bound to go down eventually, maybe in your lifetime. To prepare yourself, check out my list of the Top Ten Doomsday Horror Films ever made. Armageddon ain’t gonna be as much fun in real life as it is in the movies, but taking in a few of these picks might help ease the transition.

10. Night of the Comet (1984)


I’m including this movie not for its remarkable quality, but purely for its `80s-era cheese factor. Get a load of this premise: Two Valley girls survive an apocalyptic event brought on by a rogue comet passing into Earth’s atmosphere, only to be confronted by the sizable number of the walking dead left in its wake. Luckily, their father was in the Army and taught the girls how to kick some major ass. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only with zombies and totally heinous `80s hairstyles. Oh yeah, it also has a bitchin’ shopping montage set to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Lucky for cult-movie lovers everywhere, this one finally became available on DVD back in 2007 after toiling for years in VHS obscurity.

9. The Happening (2008)


That’s right, motherf*ckers. I’m on record as being one of the three people that actually enjoyed The Happening. First off, the Darwinian premise (what if Mother Earth started fighting back against our destructive human ways?) isn’t as dumb as everyone made it out to be. Sure, plants aren’t scary, but that’s not what’s supposed to be scary about it. What’s scary is construction workers throwing themselves off of buildings, en masse, and women sticking themselves in the neck with hairpins in the middle of Central Park. In other words, people losing their shit on a massive scale. The way people criticized this movie, you’d think the plants grew fangs and started chasing people. Listen, think what you want to think. To me, this is M. Night’s best outing since The Sixth Sense.

8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)


The 1956 original is an undisputed classic, but this 1978 version of the tale really milks the horror inherent in the premise for all it’s worth. The first half-hour is a supremely effective exercise in paranoia-building, as San Franciscans everywhere come forward with claims that their friends and loved ones have become emotionally-unrecognizable versions of their former selves. It goes on to boast some spectacularly creepy scenes, not to mention the shock ending to end all shock endings. Of all doomsday scenarios, this is the one that comes with the most psychological heft. Sure, comets and tidal waves are scary to think about, but what if everyone you knew suddenly started acting like the dead-eyed, emotionally vacant cast of “The Hills”? Creepy.

7. 28 Weeks Later (2007)


Somewhat shockingly, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo managed to craft a more-than-worthy follow-up to Danny Boyle’s nail-biting original, when all we could have reasonably hoped for was a mildly diverting but watered-down-by-the-studio, bigger-budget sequel. Not only does this entry boast more action than the first film, it also doesn’t lose sight of what made 28 Days Later so compelling in the first place – genuinely satisfying character relationships. Sure, it utilizes the tired cliché of bringing in the military and blowing more shit up that has been the bane of so many sequels, but Fresnadillo catches you up so fully in his vision that it hardly matters. While it doesn’t quite reach the full-blooded, humanistic heights of 28 Days, it comes pretty damn close.

6. Planet Terror (2007)


Robert Rodriguez got the low-budget feel of `70s grindhouse cinema just right with this splatter-movie throwback, which pits a machine-gun-legged go-go-dancer (a perfectly cast Rose McGowan) and an assorted cast of other assorted badasses against a horde of zombies transformed by the release of a deadly biochemical agent. Rodriguez employs liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humor very effectively, but it functions less as spoof than homage to the ultra-low budget exploitation films of yore. More than anything, it’s a seriously entertaining ride that boasts a dead-on, hilarious post-apocalyptic denouement. Tip: watch it in tandem with Death Proof, Tarantino’s equally compelling film that followed Rodriguez’s in the original theatrical release.

5. Night of the Living Dead (1968)


I really do prefer Dawn of the Dead to Night, if only for its more ample gore content, but this first entry in the series is nearly as good. It feels a little dated now, and some of the acting is downright awful, but the grainy, low-budget feel without a doubt makes this the downright creepiest of all the Living Dead films. The sparseness of the setting also adds to the sense of unease that Romero so expertly captures here, and succeeds in creating the sort of lo-fi atmosphere-building that has largely been lost in modern-day, handheld-centric filmmaking. Budding directors, listen up: enough with this “shaky-cam” bullshit. Let’s get back to making real movies, the kind that won’t send people running to the bathroom to puke their guts out from motion sickness.

4. The Mist (2007)


Another movie made in the last ten years? Blasphemy! Listen, I love the old standbys as much as the next guy, but there are a few new kids in town that deserve a little recognition. The Mist is one of those. A flop upon its release in 2007, Frank Darabont’s almost uniformly-excellent apocalyptic nightmare deserved a bigger audience. The creatures expelled from the titular mist are frighteningly vivid, Lovecraft-ian creatures (love those skull-headed wasps), and the end-of-the-world scenario (not to mention the ending) is one of the grimmest you’re likely to encounter. Trust me, you’ll be thinking about it for days afterward.

3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)


I’m sure many horror fans would take me to task for placing George Romero’s piece de resistance beneath 28 Days Later and Shaun, but too bad – you want it in the top slot, write your own damn list. Listen, Dawn of the Dead is still awesome more than 30 years later, a distinction that Boyle and Wright’s films can’t claim. In addition, its satirical jabs still resonate, possibly even more strongly than they did in 1978. It’s zombie movie as mass-consumerism metaphor, but even more importantly it’s a horror lover’s dream – wildly entertaining, scary, and gory as hell. I don’t know about you, but if the zombie apocalypse ever does happen, I’m so heading for the mall.

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)


Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s vigorously entertaining zombie-comedy masterwork, is one of those left-field, doesn’t-get-its-due-until-DVD crowd-pleasers that only comes around once in a blue moon. Kudos to me for being there opening weekend, and laughing my ass off while simultaneously pitying the suckers who’d shelled out their hard-earned cash for that Julianne Moore snooze-fest The Forgotten (which opened the same weekend) in the next theater over. Laugh for laugh and scare for scare, Shaun of the Dead is the best horror-comedy I’ve ever seen, and so it deserves its high ranking here. I also blame it for nearly ruining my enjoyment of Zombieland when I saw it a couple weeks ago -Wright just couldn’t help but set the bar unreasonably high for this sort of thing.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)


Maybe it’s just because I’m a morbid son of a bitch, but give me 28 Days Later over Slumdog Millionare any day. Where the hell was the Academy – which heaped so much praise on Danny Boyle’s overhyped fatalistic drama – when this post-apocalyptic masterpiece was released? Oh yeah, they were too busy turning up their noses at genre films (as usual). Listen, this is at the top of my list for a reason. Not only is it an ingeniously calibrated exercise in fear, it’s also a bleakly beautiful and startlingly immediate vision of a world gone mad. Not to mention, it’s authentically touching and thought-provoking, and loads more subtle than Slumdog, which peddled Oprah-certified, superficial nonsense to an inexplicably adoring public. – Chris Eggertsen