There are plenty to choose from during my lifetime: the original post apocalyptic vision of the Omega Man, or the Aussies’ penchant for odd end-times parables like The Rover or The Quiet Earth. There’s Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian classic, Stalker, which basically came true a few years after its release with the disaster at Chernobyl, and mainstream classics like The Terminator series, 12 Monkeys, the Planet of the Apes films, and Logan’s Run.
Modern films such as the manic Doomsday, the dark, yet hopeful Book of Eli, the under-appreciated Oblivion, and the utter desolation and gloom of The Road. You can always find a film to fit your taste.
My five favorites, though? A mix of comedy, satire, action, and animation.
5. A Boy and His Dog
My first viewing of A Boy and His Dog came when I stayed up way past bedtime to catch the weekend showing of Joe Bob’s Drive-in Theatre on The Movie Channel, a fairly routine occurrence that defined much of my youth. A young Don Johnson shines in this film about a boy named Vic who can communicate telepathically with his dog, Blood. The two inhabit a future wasteland populated by wandering bands of thugs and scavengers who take what they want and kill to survive, until Blood sniffs out a young girl named Quilla June, who leads them to an underground society desperately-in-need of new blood.
Johnson leaves the dog above ground and goes after the girl, finding nothing but trouble when he does. The happy faces of Downunder are not at all what they seem. He and Blood are separated for the first time, and it quickly becomes a race to return to the surface, and return to his only friend.
This is by far my favorite Don Johnson role, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Jason Robards does his usual amazing job as the leader of the Downunder community, and Susanne Benton offers a fine take as Quilla June, but the real star of the film is Blood, voiced by Tim McIntire. L.Q. Jones directed this film, which was essentially his last foray in the director’s chair — I wish he had done more, because, as much as this film has been derided over the years, it remains a large part of my childhood.
4. Turbo Kid
There’s a lot to be said about B Movies done right. When they’re not done well, they really, really stink, but every so often someone takes a minuscule budget and a sack of bad ideas and makes something magical. Or at least they make something hilarious.
Turbo Kid is one of my favorite low-budget flicks of the last decade, immensely watchable and enjoyable, and completely unhinged while retaining a child-like innocence and humor that leaves the viewer invested in the characters and their predicament. It’s a love story in the Wasteland, a survival story for geeks, and a story about robots and murderers who just want to find their place in the world.
Lots of bikes, blood, and buffoonery add up to a tremendous amount of fun, and there’s just enough Michael Ironside to keep it classy. Well, sort of.
I could go through a complete explanation of Turbo Kid, but that would ruin its aura. Just watch and enjoy.
3. Escape From New York
Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin. Isaac Hayes as The Duke. Harry Dean Stanton as The Brain. Donald Pleasance. Adrienne Barbeau. Donald Pleasance and Lee Van Cleef. All thrown together in a movie about the future New York City being used as a prison, directed by the incomparable John Carpenter.
Throw in Ox Baker, Frank Doubleday, and Ernest Borgnine and you have a masterpiece. Enough said.
2. The Mad Max Films
George Miller surprised people with the success of his first Mad Max film, and surprised even more when he arrived at theaters with a sequel. Critics who scoffed at the original idea began to take notice with the Road Warrior, and Miller’s dystopian vision was not only taken seriously, but lauded by crowds and critics alike. He had taken an outlandish idea and made it palatable and believable, and he found a hero in Mel Gibson, who played the titular Max with complete sincerity and authenticity.
With the third film in the series, Beyond Thunderdome, the story found a worldwide audience, and Gibson became the biggest star on the planet for a time, even garnering People’s “sexiest man alive” award along the way. Big names jumped onboard, and it seemed as though the juggernaut was just getting rolling.
And then Miller stopped it. To make movies about talking pigs and penguins.
Miller decided to put the tale of Max and the Wastelands on permanent hiatus while he made films for children, picking up awards and critical favor along the way for movies like Babe and Happy Feet — but in the end, it seems the pull of Max was too strong. It was assumed that the series would be sorely lacking without Gibson. The investment wasn’t there, and Miller himself worked for years to craft a story worthy of returning to the world of Bartertown and Captain Walker. When he did, though, he made what may be the finest film of the entire catalog.
Mad Max: Fury Road exploded in theaters, with death-defying stunt work and award-worthy performances from an acclaimed crew and cast. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 6, just missing out on Best Director and Best Picture awards. The mostly female cast, led by Charlize Theron, drew raves and the film became a rallying cry for strong female characters, while Tom Hardy was more than apt in filling the large shoes left by Gibson. It was huge and amazing, and a film everyone should see at some point.
Expected to be the final film in the series, Fury Road’s success has led to a new chapter in the story of Max Rockatansky, as Mad Max: The Wasteland is in pre-production stages. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
While the Mad Max series is by far my favorite of the live action movies in the genre, there aren’t many films that could take the place of Pixar’s WALL-E.
An animated classic, and for good reason, Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E is amazingly adept at touching on every single human emotion. It seamlessly moves between joy and sadness, humor and despair, and it makes you fall in love with a waste-gathering robot within the first 10 minutes of screen time.
There is so much to digest in this film — the love story of WALL-E and EVE, the allegorical context of a ship full of lazy, obese people forced to leave an Earth they killed and abandoned, hope for survival, and the always-overbearing trope of man’s reliance on machines, which is finally done right for once. Everything about this story, and about the film itself, is perfect. Things that could have been offensive are treated with sweetness, and story points that could have been handled in a ham-fisted manner are given grace and subtlety.
In future generations, when people look back at this era of filmmaking, they’ll see the films of legendary directors and actors who yearned for greatness, but they’ll end up turning to Pixar for the films that defined our time. No other production house makes movies so well, and they do it time and time again.
So, those are my five favorite films about the world after the world. If you get a chance, check ‘em out!