Dystopia Cornucopia

In which the Midnight Analytics team tackles a major post-apocalyptic dystopia film ranking project to fend of apocalyptic angst.

Sometimes change happens so slowly that it’s imperceptible, and then sometimes, it happens all at once in a furious thunderclap. Well, with our current mix of mysterious epidemic + catastrophic climate change + extreme economic disparities + breakdown of international diplomacy, it’s hard not to brace for that boom. You know? Is it just me?

And the mind wanders… What might be waiting for us on the other side of the lightning strike? How will we get through whatever kind of post-apocalyptic reality awaits us? What can we do now to prepare?

Surely the cinema holds some clues! To pass the time while I nurse a broken leg in semi-quarantine, I set my mind to the data – and what you now get to enjoy is a ranked list of 80 of the 115 films/franchises I studied. Films were graded on a curve based on data compiled in four categories:

  • Popularity – Box office total (adjusted for inflation), number of ratings on IMDB and Letterboxd
  • Quality – Metascore, a rating determined by evaluating dozens of critics’ reviews is a solid snapshot of a film’s reception at the time it was released. Letterboxd ratings are determined by a mix of critics, film writers, and your everyday film lover, and give a sense of a film’s popular appeal and staying power.
  • Influence – Comes in three flavors. Moneymaker is a measure of how much money a film made in profit relative to its budget. Cultural Infiltration is a measure of how much a film has permeated film/media culture (i.e. how often it is referenced in other works). Cinematic Significance is a measure of a film’s importance in the history cinema – perhaps because of its creative audacity, prestigious director, awards won, or lasting legacy in the film community.
  • Resonance – Based on the reason for the apocalypse in the film, how much does this reality resonate with ours? Reasons for the apocalypse you’ll see referenced below are:

It’s a pretty fun list and putting it together was good therapy, a helpful way to work through my own existential anxiety. Even though most of these films imply that the best way to prepare for the unknown is to learn how to shoot two handguns at once while jumping sideways over a car – of course, the answer that I came to is much simpler, albeit less entertaining to watch.

The way we’ll survive is: together. We’ll help each other, we’ll share, we’ll learn.

Stick together friends, and get involved in community-driven safety work in your city. The sooner we can start taking care of our neighbors, the better for all of us, no matter what the thunderclap brings.


80. The Battery (2012)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityF : 0.5
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL3.15




Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.37 / 5 on Letterboxd


It doesn’t appear that The Battery ever screened in theaters – and only a small handful of movie lovers have watched it, but they think it’s pretty alright. It’s about two baseball players, working together to fight boredom and the undead after a zombie apocalypse. Check it out if you want. How to prepare: baseball practice.


79. Reign of Fire (2002)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityD : 1
InfluenceD : +10%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL3.3





Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj): $118.7M


Though it didn’t leave an impression with critics or movie lovers, the Christian Bale vs. Matthew McConaughey face-off did turn a modest profit. It is also the only film on the list in which the apocalypse can be blamed entirely on dragons. Which makes it kind of great. How to prepare: combat training (special bonus: helicopter pilot license).


78. How I Live Now (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityF+ : 0.9
QualityC : 2
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.34



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 57 Metascore


Present-day U.K. is occupied by enemy military forces in this decent small-budget film starring Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, and baby Tom Holland. How To Prepare: Hone your survival skills.


77. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Available for rent on Vudu or Google Play

PopularityC : 2
QualityF+ : 0.9
InfluenceD : +8%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL3.43


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 64,789 IMDB ratings


In the dystopian future of Johnny Mnemonic‘s 2021, the world is so overwhelmed by technology that a raging epidemic of “the black shakes,” a disease caused by overexposure to electromagnetic radiation from tech devices, is catastrophically sweeping the globe. So much cooler than Text Neck. Good thing Keanu has the cure – all 320 gigs – “wetwired” into his brain! How to prepare: combat training.


76. The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959)

Available for rent on Vudu

PopularityF : 0.3
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.49



Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.48 / 5 on Letterboxd


A small-budget film that didn’t make a splash in 1959, The World, the Flesh and the Devil has gained the admiration and love of a small but fierce corner of the cinema community. A “last three people on earth” scenario that plays out in an urban setting, reviewers on Letterboxd describe the film as nuanced, sophisticated and deep. How to prepare: courage.


75. Night of the Comet (1984)

Streaming free on Tubi

PopularityD : 1.3
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL3.53






Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 19x budget in profit


After an astrological event turns nearly all human life to flesh-eating zombies or piles of ash, the only people left alive appear to be high-school sisters Reggie and Samantha, who find themselves fighting zombie dirtbags and dealing with a mysterious pack of bunker-dwelling scientists who are a little too curious about them. This fantastic SoCal girl power horror comedy was produced on dreams and luck, but made back more than 19x its shoestring budget in profit. How to prepare: build that bunker.


74. Sexmission (1984)

Streaming on DailyMotion (in Polish)

PopularityF : 0.5
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.62



Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.43 / 5 on Letterboxd


I’m heartbroken that this Polish film isn’t streaming (well, at least anywhere with English subtitles) because it looks amazing. Two male scientists volunteer for short-term cryogenic sleep and wake up 50 years later to discover that WWIII has wiped out human life, and the only remaining humans are an underground society of foxy women. I’m not entirely sure how that works…. but ok! How to prepare: learn some new pickup lines.


73. Z for Zachariah (2015)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityF+ : 0.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.64




Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 68 Metascore


In world poisoned by nuclear war, a young woman navigates the tricky and rapidly deteriorating social dynamics that can best be summed up in the old adage “three’s a crowd.” The indie didn’t make a box office splash but FWIW, I enjoyed it. How to prepare: hone your survival skills.


72. The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityF+ : 0.9
QualityD+ : 1.8
InfluenceC : +14%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL3.68




Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.31 / 5 on Letterboxd


The first of three films based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, the 1964 version features Vincent Price as the sole survivor of an epidemic that transformed humanity into bloodthirsty creatures of the night. Although not as popular as some of the other versions, The Last Man on Earth certainly influenced the future of dystopian sci-fi horror cinema, demonstrated in part by its decent cultural infiltration – 44 other works reference or spoof this one. How to prepare: practice solitude.


71. Planet of the Apes (2001)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3
QualityF : 0.5
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL3.7





Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj): $538M


Remember the 2001 Tim Burton version? Me neither. Though it did well at the box office when it came out, this movie’s enduring and undeniable crappiness ultimately doomed it to obscurity. In an odd choice, the intelligent apes in this version are actually aliens who invade earth through a time machine loop-de-loo. Starring Mark Wahlberg. How to prepare: practice creative escapes.


70. Doomsday (2008)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL3.8



Standout Score
Popularity (People): 71,095 IMDB ratings


In Neil Marshall’s sci-fi thriller, Scotland is under quarantine after a virus tears the country apart – and no one cares until it pops up in London. I have a feeling these posh redcoat scientists aren’t prepared for the hardcore, tattooed, Scottish wildlings they’re about to fight as they search for a cure. How to prepare: combat training.


69. The Last Battle (1983)

Available for rent on Amazon Prime

PopularityF : 0.3
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceD : +10%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.84



Standout Score
Influenc
e (Moneymaker): 4x budget in profit


The Last Battle was the first feature-length film by Luc Besson. There is no dialogue in the film, which follows a small handful of men as they battle it out for resources and survival. Though its box office doesn’t register compared to the other films on this list, it made 4x its budget back in profit, which helped launch Besson’s career (Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy, etc.). How to prepare: hone your survival skills.


68. Testament (1983)

Available for rent on iTunes or Google Play

PopularityF : 0.3
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceD : +10%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.84




Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 5x budget in profit


Nuclear fallout was the hot boogieman of 80s post-apocalyptic film: this one follows a suburban American family as they navigate the deteriorating post-bomb world. Testament and The Last Battle are perfectly tied and they came out in the same year. Slightly more people have seen The Last Battle, but Testament is higher rated; it also made more than 5x its budget back in profit, though its budget was extremely small. So there you go, now everything is clear. How to prepare: befriend your neighbors.


67. The Omega Man (1971)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityF+ : 0.9
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL3.94




Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 65 references


The next spin on I Am Legend came out only 7 years after The Last Man on Earth. In this version, humanity was obliterated by war fought with biological weapons and the creatures of the night are a homicidally psychotic “family” of anti-science technophobes who are obsessed with murdering Charlton Heston. Sounds about right. How to prepare: practice solitude.


66. Maggie (2015)

Streaming free on Vudu

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceD : +5%
ResonanceHigh: +20%
TOTAL3.99




Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 52 Metascore


In which the Terminator does an indie zombie movie that is mostly about grieving and pain. I’m intrigued by what an oddball this movie is, but not quite intrigued enough to actually see it. How to prepare: grief counseling.


65. Light of My Life (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityF : 0.3
QualityB : 3
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL4.0




Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.52 / 5 on Letterboxd


Casey Affleck wrote, directed, and stars in this The Road-style drama set in a horrific future, after a pandemic has caused the death of all women on earth (or maybe not…). For whatever reason, no one really saw or talked about this film when it came out, but critics and movie lovers both thought it was good. How to prepare: hone your survival skills.


64. Cargo (2017)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityD : 1.4
QualityC : 2
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL4.02



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 65 Metascore


A Netflix original, Cargo follows Martin Freeman’s family through the end of their zombie apocalypse survival story, focusing mostly on his search for a safe home for his infant daughter before he, well… eats her. How to prepare: courage.


63. Stake Land (2010)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityD : 1
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.03




Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 66 Metascore


After worldwide political and economic collapse, the world was taken over by vampires in this “pretty ok” indie that almost no one saw. How To Prepare: Combat Training.


62. After Earth (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityF : 0.5
InfluenceC : +15%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.19




Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj): $271.3M


Though ranked dead last in Will Smith’s ouvre, the fact that this movie sucks didn’t stop it from making nearly $300 million dollars. I mean, Will Smith is still IN it, after all. Unfortunately its popularity didn’t stand the test of time and folks pretty much stopped talking about After Earth the day it came out. Set 1,000 years in the future, Will Smith and son – who live on the moon or something – crash-land on a dangerous, monster-infested, volatile planet: EARTH. How to prepare: courage.


61. Blindness (2008)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL4.2




Standout Score
Popularity (People): 68,981 IMDB Ratings


A grim, horrific tale of human depravity in which everyone goes blind except for Julianne Moore. GREAT showcase for Moore’s “unspeakable pain” face, but unfortunately not a big hit during the “we feel like times are tough right now even though we have no idea what 2020 holds for us” recession of 2008. How to prepare: courage.


60. The Time Machine (2002)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityD : 1
InfluenceD : +10%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.22




Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj): $178.7M


In this steampunk time traveling superadventure starring Guy Pearce, our hero witnesses the colonization of the moon, a holographic librarian, and the destruction of the planet – then ends up 800,000 years in the future to find that humans have formed some sort of techno-fascists vs. hunter-gatherers totalitarian state. White savior fantasy hijinks ensue. It sounds super weird. How to prepare: study science.


59. Turbo Kid (2015)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityD : 1
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceD : +5%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.23




Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.43 / 5 on Letterboxd


A tiny-budget Canadian film nostalgic for comic books and 1980s Mad Max ripoffs, Turbo Kid didn’t make a big splash when it came out in 2015 but has since gained a small but deeply committed fan base. Word is that this film has great heart, and I can’t help but love that it’s set in the eerie wasteland future – of 1997. How to prepare: combat training.


58. A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Streaming free on Vudu

PopularityF+ : 0.9
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceD : +9%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.26





Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 68 Metascore


Yeah, that poster is cool – but this movie is a misogynist piece of guttertrash. I feel like cinemaphiles talk about the rapeyness of this movie as if it’s kind of charming in a nostalgic way. It’s not. It’s super gross. This movie sucks. How to prepare: who cares, don’t watch this movie.


57. The Quiet Earth (1985)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD : 1
QualityC+ : 2.7
InfluenceD : +8%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL4.38

Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.41 / 5 on Letterboxd


Often compared to The World, The Flesh, The Devil, this 1985 film with a great poster is another “last 3 people on earth” situation – except this time, everyone disappeared because of a rip in space time (science experiment gone wrong) AND, they’re in New Zealand. How to prepare: practice solitude.


56. Idiocracy (2006)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityC : 2
InfluenceD : +5%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.43



Standout Score
Popularity (People): 139,676 IMDB ratings


In a future U.S. devastated by stupidity, a reality star is President and energy drinks have replaced water. Apparently, Mike Judge is a prophet who sees the future. This movie isn’t rated highly enough IMO. How To Prepare: Education.


55. Equilibrium (2002)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceD : +8%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.74




Standout Score
Popularity (People): 306,340 IMDB Ratings


In this Matrix cosplay extravaganza, Christian Bale and Taye Diggs overthrow their totalitarian government by feeling their feelings. And also, by shooting guns. How To Prepare: espionage.


54. The Rover (2014)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.79




Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.4 / 5 on Letterboxd


Although this small-budget Australian film lost money at the box office, critics thought it was decent and the movie-loving public (myself included) agree. After economic collapse devastates the world, Guy Pearce pursues the dickheads who stole his car with a relentless commitment that confuses everyone. He finally finds it, for a real gut-punch of an ending. How to prepare: combat training.


53. Delicatessen (1991)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityB : 3
InfluenceD : +5%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL4.9



Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.74 / 5 on Letterboxd


Although it was not a moneymaker at the time of its release, the respect of critics and adoration of the cinema-loving public give Jeunet and Caro’s post-apocalyptic black comedy a boost. Food is scarce in this small village after the apocalypse, but new apartment building maintenance men are in constant supply. You do the math. How to prepare: join the resistance.


52. Rollerball (1975)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL4.95




Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 4x budget in profit


In this film’s futuristic dystopia, corporations have replaced governments and rely on an ultraviolent sport with a high body count to both resolve conflicts and suppress individuality. Starring James Caan, Rollerball did well at the box office and earned more than 4x its budget back in profit. Neither critics nor movie lovers think it is particularly good, though, and its popularity has waned over time. How to prepare: hit the gym.


51. The Girl With All the Gifts (2016)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL5.0

Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 67 Metascore


This small-budget British post-zombie apocalypse film follows a small group of scientists and exceptional zombie children. Although it tries to do some new things and critics were generally positive, this is your basic zombie splatter fest but with more kids. How to prepare: combat training.


50. The Survivalist (2015)

Available for rent on Vudu

PopularityF+ : 0.9
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL5.06



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 80 Metascore


Critics loved The Survivalist – it has an 80 Metascore, which puts it in the top 10% of all films studied for this project in the critics’ rating category. Unfortunately it appears that very few audiences got to see this movie – it cruised the film fest circuit and then opened in theaters only in the UK and Norway. Although the Letterboxd community wasn’t as overwhelmed as critics, this movie seems worth checking out. It’s about a secret farmer with a cool haircut who finds himself in a tricky spot with a coupla ladies. How to prepare: start a vegetable garden.


49. The Running Man (1987)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceC : +15%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL5.07




Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 120 References


Kind of a small banger for a 1980s Schwarzenegger film, The Running Man follows a cop who is falsely accused of a crime and is forced to compete in an American Gladiators-style Hunger Games reality show in a post-economic collapse police state version of 2019 America. Not quite peak Arnold, but still fun. How to prepare: join the resistance.


48. Daybreakers (2009)

Available for rent on Vudu and iTunes

PopularityC : 2
QualityC : 2
InfluenceD : +8%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL5.16


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 120,212 IMDB Ratings


In Daybreakers’ version of 2019, vampires have overrun the planet and depleted the human population – so some of the vampire scientists are working on a synthetic replacement for human blood. (Like True Blood but less dixie, more Ethan Hawke.) The “could’ve been better” Australian film did decently at the box office and made back 1.5x its budget in profit. How to prepare: study science (and obviously, become a vampire).


47. Time of the Wolf (2003)

Available for rent on Amazon

PopularityF+ : 0.7
QualityB : 3
InfluenceA : +25%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL5.27



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 71 Metascore


Between The Piano Teacher and Caché, the Cannes-award-winning Austrian auteur, Michael Haneke, wrote and directed Time of the Wolf – a grim view of a cruel new society emerging as the contaminated world begins its descent into lawlessness and desperation. Critics gave it respect, but audiences were not in the mood, and the film only made back 5% of its budget. Oof. How to prepare: courage.


46. THX 1138 (1971)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL5.48



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 75 Metascore


George Lucas’ first feature film was well-liked by critics and made back 2x its budget in profit, setting him up with the credibility to create the franchises in his future. In this film’s totalitarian society (after an apocalypse of unknown origin), humans are stripped of identity, drugged, robbed of desire, and tasked with mundane factory work under the watchful gaze of robocops. The titular hero played by Robert Duvall has other ideas, though – or, at least, his penis does. How to prepare: espionage training.


45. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityB : 3
QualityD : 1
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL5.64


Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $357.8M


That Umbrella Corporation keeps finding ways to make the post-zombie apocalypse world worse somehow – and absolutely refuses to leave Alice alone. The first Resident Evil isn’t eligible (because it is about the apocalypse, not the post-apocalyptic world), so we’re left with the five sequels. Of those, Afterlife, the fourth film in the franchise, was the most successful at the box office, which gave it a slight edge over the others. That said, these films are super consistent. They make a lot of money (partially because the films don’t cost a lot to make) and are crappy. How to prepare: combat training.

All post-apocalyptic films in Resident Evil franchise and their scores:

  1. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010): 5.64, Biggest box office
  2. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004): 5.06, Strongest cultural infiltration
  3. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007): 5.06
  4. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012): 4.28
  5. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016): 4.18, Highest Metascore, Strongest economic bang

44. They Live (1988)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL5.76



Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.74 / 5 on Letterboxd


From the late-1970s until the mid-1990s, John Carpenter was tearing a path of fun through Hollywood – from Halloween to Big Trouble in Little China and more, that 15ish years of moviemaking is just a treat. The Live, in which humans are brainwashed by subliminal messaging in advertising by the aliens who secretly walk among us, did well at the time it came out. Enduring love from the cinema community and strong cultural infiltration (172 references!) is what really boosts it up in the rankings though. Rent this movie tonight, friends – if you haven’t seen it, you are missing out. How to prepare: question your reality.


43. Logan’s Run (1976)

Available for rent on Vudu and iTunes

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL5.86


Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 93 References


Logan’s Run is a trippy vision of a 23rd century utopia in which everyone who survived the big war lives in a biosphere and is willingly executed in a fanatical performance art ritual as soon as they turn 30. Logan is a cop who, with the help of a sexy lady in a super skimpy outfit, figures out that it may be possible to turn 31 after all. Classic psychedelic, 70s adventure fun. How to prepare: espionage training.


42. Oblivion (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityC : 2
InfluenceC : +15%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL5.87



Standout Score
Popularity (People): 473,509 IMDB Ratings


Although critics and audiences agree that it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, Oblivion’s elite visuals, elegant visual style, and Tom Cruise were enough to draw in audiences – both in theaters and in the film community. The film grossed $318.7M (adj.), more than double its sizable budget. In this post-war-with-aliens earth, Cruise is a drone repairman who slowly figures out that he may be working for the wrong side. How to prepare: question your reality.


41. Divergent (2014)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityD : 1
InfluenceC : +15%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL5.90


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 415,541 IMDB Ratings


Ah, the wave of films from the 20teens based on post-apocalyptic YA fiction begins! The Divergent series is the lowest ranked of these, though the first film did well at the box office, making back almost 2.5x its budget in profit and paving the way for two sequels. Set in a walled-off dystopian Chicago governed by Kate Winslet in a Hilary Clinton pantsuit, teenagers are sorted into functional groups based on singular strengths/abilities – a phenomenon caused by genetic experimentation, it turns out. But a certain young heroine (the wonderful Shailene Woodley) is not so easily categorized. How to prepare: join the resistance.

The full list of films in the Divergent franchise and their scores:

  1. Divergent (2014): 5.90
  2. Insurgent (2015): 4.14
  3. The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016): 3.27

40. Soylent Green (1973)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityD+ : 1.8
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.06






Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 179 References


Any film in which Charleton Heston screams in horror as the twist is revealed in the final frames deserves your respect – that scream pretty much defines its own genre! In the overpopulated near-future dystopia of Soylent Green, the earth is in rough shape and people are 100% dependent on a supercorporation Soylent Industries for food. Unfortunately Soylent isn’t forthcoming about their ingredients, as Heston discovers in an eruption of pathos. How to prepare: stock up on food.


39. Waterworld (1995)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.08



Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj): $455.9M


Ah, Waterworld. Such a stupid movie. We actually wrote a few haiku about Waterworld, which are a great way to sum the film up. At the time it came out, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made; fortunately, 1995 was also the apex of Kevin Costner’s run as a leading man and everyone went to see it – so the film was profitable, but just barely. How to prepare: swimming lessons.


38. Bird Box (2018)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityB+ : 3.6
QualityC : 2
InfluenceD : +9%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL6.10




Standout Score
Popularity (People): 169,040 Letterboxd Ratings


This weird movie. Although I don’t think it’s explained very well, in Bird Box, the world is falling apart because it has been invaded by some unknown terror, which – if you see it – makes you kill yourself. It’s shocking that this isn’t an M. Night Shyamalan movie. How to prepare: make a blindfold and a backyard string maze, practice.


37. This is the End (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL6.52




Standout Score
Popularity (People): 375,618 IMDB Ratings


Superbad meets Left Behind, featuring all those guys plus Michael Cera, Channing Tatum, Emma Watson, and the Backstreet Boys. How to prepare: repent.


36. Dredd (2012)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceD : +10%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.54


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 244,396 IMDB Ratings


2012’s Dredd is one of those movies that lost money when it came out, but has really grown into itself over time. Beloved and popular with audiences, Dredd also has decent cultural infiltration for a mid-budget British SciFi movie – referenced in 73 other works. After the nuclear apocalypse, humans live in a vast, squalid east coast megacity that redefines “police state.” How to prepare: combat training.


35. Day of the Dead (1985)

Streaming free on Tubi

PopularityD+ : 1.7
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL6.58



Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 203 References


George Romero invented the zombie rules through the six films he made in The Dead series. Hugely influential, these films are to zombies what Dracula is to vampires. Four of them (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead) take place more or less during the apocalypse – but of the two that qualify as post-apocalyptic, Day of the Dead came out on top thanks to its popularity with people over time and its strong cultural infiltration (referenced in 203 other works!). After zombies overrun the world, this film follows a group of scientists and soldiers who desperately seek a cure from their underground bunker in Florida. How to prepare: combat training.

The other post-apocalyptic film in the series, Land of the Dead (2005), was preferred by critics and made nearly 5x as much money at the box office, but hasn’t gained as much traction with audiences and scored a 5.64 overall.


34. Elysium (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityD : 1.5
InfluenceC : +13%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.68


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 411,238 IMDB Ratings


Neill Blomkamp’s feature film debut, District 9, was such a fresh banger that folks came out in droves to see Elysium, the film he made next. It seemed destined for greatness: fantastic cast, cool-sounding ideas, robot arms… all the stuff we like! Unfortunately it’s a boring, lazy mess.

But fun fact for you: two writer/directors I often confuse are Neill Blomkamp and Noah Baumbach. What if we fused their most famous works? The Squid and the Whale in District 9, in which a man transforms into an alien as his family navigates divorce and its aftermath. Or Chappie’s Marriage Story, which provides a straightforward, compassionate look at the beauty and anguish of the disintegrating Die Antwoord/police droid family unit.

Sorry about that. Back to Elysium! It’s about rich people vs. poor people. How to prepare: get rich.


33. The Road (2009)

Available to stream on YouTube (in 8 parts – best I can do)

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceC : +13%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.68



Standout Score
Quality (People): 3.55 / 5 on Letterboxd


The Road wins my personal award for “Most Nightmares” and “Least Likely to Make the Apocalypse Look Appealing.” The events of this movie are what I worry about as we approach the critical nexus of disease-meets-war-meets-climate change… so maybe it’s also the movie I recommend watching the most. Just be ready. Viggo Mortenson really brings Aragorn-level fortitude as a father trying to stay alive with his son a decade after the world fell apart. How to prepare: courage.


32. Warm Bodies (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3
QualityC : 2
InfluenceC : +13%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL6.75


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 215,251 IMDB Ratings


A post-zombie apocalypse Romeo & Juliet, in which Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult discover the cure to the zombie plague: LOVE! It’s certainly not breaking new ground, but I can’t help it, this movie has a special little place in my heart. Also featuring John Malkovich, who is phoning it in, and Dave Franco, who doesn’t survive. How to prepare: combat training.


31. 1984 (1984)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.76

Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 111 References


A faithful cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 novel, perhaps the most influential work of dystopian fiction this century, 1984 follows John Hurt as he navigates the bureaucracy of a totalitarian state in which history is rewritten daily, Big Brother is watching your every move, and thinking your own thoughts is a crime. How to prepare: psychological conditioning.


30. Threads (1984)

Available for rent on Vudu

PopularityF : 0.9
QualityA+ : 5
InfluenceF : +0%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL6.79



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 92 Metascore


Set in the UK in the mid 1980s, this documentary-style drama plays out realistic political events of its time to their end in nuclear war, then follows a woman as she struggles to stay alive in the decade that follows. Threads has the highest Metascore of any film on the list and is also in the top 10% of film lovers’ quality rating on Letterboxd, though few people have seen it. How to prepare: courage.


29. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Streaming on HBO

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityC : 2
InfluenceC : +15%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL7.05


Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $412.2M


Alita is an amnesiac cyborg superkiller trying to figure out who she is 300 years after the devastating war to end all wars. Based on the manga series Gunnm, Robert Rodriguez’ film was popular but odd. It feels like a kids movie, but there are way too many limbs chopped off for all that; it’s like Spy Kids meets Kill Bill – and I’m not sure that works. How to prepare: combat training.


28. It Comes At Night (2017)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityB : 3
InfluenceC : +13%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL7.20


Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 78 Metascore


It Comes At Night shook me when I first saw it, and I bet it would just destroy me now… but not because it’s scary, really. It was marketed as a horror movie, and though it does have scary moments, its fear and paranoia are not of some supernatural terror – but of the specter of disease, the unpredictability of desperation, and the constant threat of watching the people you love die. Grief, dread, beauty, and tenderness soak every frame. It is not an easy experience, but I strongly recommend it. This film hits in the heart, and our hearts need the occasional throttling. How to prepare: hone your survival skills.


27. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL7.23


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 158,971 Letterboxd
ratings


10 Cloverfield Lane is a 3-person story that takes place in an underground bunker, where a young woman learns that a widespread chemical attack has made the air unsafe to breathe. Or so John Goodman says. Making more than 6x its budget back in profit, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a huge success at the box office – and was well liked and popular with both critics and audiences. Certainly worth seeing. How to prepare: build that bunker.


26. 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL7.52


Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 78 Metascore


So even though the studio clearly wanted to market this as a sequel to its superior predecessor, studio marketing and that fact that both films are set in the U.K. is about all that links 28 Weeks Later to the Danny Boyle film from 5 years earlier: the films have different visions, casts, creative teams, etc. This one is about a zombie re-outbreak in London and it’s pretty good, plus it made 3x its budget back in profit. How to prepare: combat training.


25. The Maze Runner (2014)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL7.66




Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 9x budget in profit

The Maze Runner debuted just perfectly on time, as audiences awaited the final installment(s) of Katniss Everdeen’s saga. Based on the totally unrelated YA novel series, in this version of the Hunger Games, kids need to solve a deadly puzzle instead of, you know, play a deadly game. It’s not a GOOD franchise but it’s decent enough and it most certainly paid the bills. How to prepare: combat training.

All the films in the Maze Runner series and their scores are:

  1. The Maze Runner (2014): 7.66
  2. The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015): 5.48
  3. The Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018): 5.27

24. Sunshine (2007)

Available to rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityC : 2.5
InfluenceA+ : +35%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL8.02




Standout Score
Influence: Cinematic Significance


Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a low budget creepy sci-fi delight about a small group of astronauts on a year-long suicide mission to restart the sun and save humanity. And also, space madness. It’s great! It made a modestly-sized splash when it came out and gets a boost from Boyle’s high prestige credibility. How to prepare: become an astronaut.


23. Sleeper (1973)

Not currently available to stream

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceA+ : +45%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL8.46




Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 77 Metascore


Woody Allen’s vision of a dystopian future, in Sleeper, our nerdy Greenwich village hero wakes up in 2173 and is quickly enlisted in a plot to overthrow an oppressive totalitarian state fueled by conformity. Well-liked by critics and with an audience appeal that has stood the test of time, Sleeper was also a hit at the time of its release and made back more than 8x its $2M budget in profit. How to prepare: join the resistance.


22. Escape from New York (1981)

Streaming on Prime

PopularityC : 2.3
QualityA : 4
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL8.53




Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 213 References


Of all the greatest-of-all-time-caliber characters that Kurt Russell has played in his career, Snake Plissken is his favorite. Obviously. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York earned the adoration of both critics and audiences, and made a huge cultural dent, as well as 3x its budget back in profit. Set in 1997, crime has gotten so out of hand in this film that New York City has been walled off and converted into a maximum security prison – a prison that unfortunately, the President just crash-landed into. How to prepare: become Kurt Russell.

Fun trivia: The model city sets from Escape from New York were painted and repurposed for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one year later.


21. Robocop (1987)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3
QualityB+ : 3.5
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL8.76




Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 707 References


Abolish the police! How to prepare: learn more about community safety, get involved in the abolition movement in your county.

Robocop is a sweet movie though.


20. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Available to rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL8.78


Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 720 References


The original Apes, Charleton Heston’s 1968 SciFi smash did everything: it made a lot of money (the equivalent of $250M at the box office when adjusted for inflation, more than 4x its budget in profit), it was actually good (both critics and audiences LOVE it), and it has deeply permeated our cultural vocabulary. Referenced in 720 other works, Planet of the Apes spawned 4 sequels, a remake, and a prequel series. And a whole lot of nerds. How to prepare: Practice creative escapes.

All qualifying films in the late-60s/early-70s Apes series, with their scores, below. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) are either pre- or during the apocalypse, so didn’t qualify for scoring.

  1. Planet of the Apes (1968): 8.78
  2. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): 4.05
  3. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973): 3.15

19. La Jetée (1962)

Streaming on the Criterion Channel

PopularityD : 1.4
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA+ : +34%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL9.01


Standout Score
Quality (People): 4.24 / 5 on Letterboxd


This 28-minute experimental film from Left Bank French New Wave film essayist Chris Marker has almost no moving film footage – rather, the entire run time is a series of photographs with voice-over. Popular with film school students the world over, Marker’s film certainly merits the “Cinematically Significant” boost, winning a ton of awards and included in the Criterion collection. In 2012, it was even listed on the prestigious Sight & Sound “Top 50 Films of All Time.” The story of a time traveler trying to save his future from disaster and caught in a fatal loop of his own doing, La Jetée introduced a new paradigm that many time travel stories since have grown from – from Primer to Looper to a very famous one on this very list. How to prepare: build that bunker.


18. Train to Busan (2016)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceC : +13%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL9.23



Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 9x budget in profit


Appreciated by both critics and audiences, Train to Busan was the first live-action feature-length film from emerging South Korean Director, Sang-ho Yeon. Following a group of passengers struggling to survive a zombie outbreak on a bullet train from Seoul, Busan also offers a great microcosm of emerging sociological tyranny in the wake of disaster. How to prepare: combat training.


17. I Am Legend (2007)

Streaming on Hulu

PopularityA+ : 4.7
QualityC : 2
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL9.40




Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $742.6M


The most recent cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel, Warner Bros leveled up their last-man-on-earth yet again… from Vincent Price –> Charleton Heston –> unstoppable box office juggernaut, WILL SMITH. Faithful to the novel with strong production value, off-the-charts charisma, and a Christmastime release date, I Am Legend was destined for box office greatness and it didn’t fall short. How to prepare: practice solitude.


16. Stalker (1979)

Streaming on the Criterion Channel and kanopy

PopularityC : 2
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA+ : +45%
ResonanceNone
TOTAL9.43


Standout Score
Quality (People): 4.41 / 5 on Letterboxd


In the most mysterious – and arguably the most influential – film of master Andrei Tarkovsky’s career, three men enter “the zone,” a surreal wilderness inside a post-apocalyptic civilization, with the intention of reaching a legendary Room at the heart of its maze. Legend has it that entering the Room will grant the traveler the fruition of their innermost desires. The highest quality-rated film on the list, Stalker is cinematic legend, mesmerizing audiences and filmmakers with its haunting beauty for more than 40 years. The tragedy surrounding its production only deepens its mystery. How to prepare: psychological conditioning.


15. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityC+ : 2.7
QualityA : 4
InfluenceA : +25%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL9.58



Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 257 References


The Mad Max series is to dystopian nightmare cinema what Romero’s The Dead films are to the zombie apocalypse, bringing to life a whole subgenre and inspiring a slew of low-budget copycats (such as Warriors of the Wasteland and Wheels of Fire). The second of the 80s Mad Max trilogy edges out the others; best loved by both critics and audiences, it was also a solid moneymaker with strong cultural infiltration. In this post-war wasteland, former cop Mel Gibson defends the innocent as gearhead warlords and roving gangs of bandits fight for control of earth’s most precious resource: gasoline. How to prepare: combat training.

All films from the 1980’s Mad Max franchise and their scores:

  1. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981): 9.58 – Highest Quality
  2. Mad Max (1979): 8.15 – Strongest Moneymaker (21x budget in profit!)
  3. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985): 6.21 – Biggest Box Office

14. A Quiet Place (2018)

Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime

PopularityA : 4.3
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL9.74




Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 19x budget in profit


The appeal of the Blunt/Krasinski family should NOT be underestimated. Though it cost less than $20M to make, this little horror film made more than $340M at the box office, was praised by critics and audiences and already has solid cultural infiltration (70 references) though it’s less than 2 years old. If that won’t buy you a sequel these days, I don’t know what will! The Quiet Place 2 comes out in the fall. How to prepare: learn sign language.


13. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Streaming on HBO

PopularityB+ : 3.7
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL10.32



Standout Score
Popularity (People): 564,259 IMDB Ratings

Grown from the ideas in Chris Marker’s La Jetée, Terry Gilliam’s dark time-hopping mystery made a real dent and has withheld the test of time. Plus, it has been super influential for both Gilliam and other filmmakers: it made back 4x its budget in profit and has been referenced in 110 other works. In a bleak future, Bruce Willis is a convict sent back in time to prevent a horrific disease from wiping out the world’s population. How to prepare: build that bunker.


12. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA+ : 5
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +18%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL10.34



Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $818.6M


In this time-traveling team-up extravaganza, the old X-Men in the future go back in time to prevent a robot-apocalypse, where they meet the new X-Men in the past. We’ve got two Professor Xs, two Magnetos, two Mystiques – but only ONE Wolverine. This film is top 10% in all three popularity categories and has strong cultural infiltration, referenced in 130 other works. And it’s not bad! Too bad it was directed by a pedophile/rapist. How to prepare: combat training.


11. The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Streaming on Disney+

PopularityA+ : 5
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceLow : -10%
TOTAL10.47



Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $2.8 BILLION


Much has been said about The Avengers: Endgame already on this website, so we don’t need to go into all that AGAIN, other than to say that it made by far the most money of any film on this list, even when adjusted for inflation – and also, the most money of any film ever. So it’s surprising that it’s also great. Through time travel, magic, and sacrifice, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes give up trying to cope with their post-apocalyptic world and fight to undo that shit. How to prepare: study quantum physics.


10. Zombieland (2009)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA : 4.3
QualityB : 3
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL10.56

Standout Score
Popularity (People): 173,855 Letterboxd
ratings


Huh. I am also surprised that Zombieland eeked into the top 10 – but zombie apocalypse films have an undeniable edge in this rating system because of strong disease-related apocalypse resonance. You know, there’s a chance COVID-19 will turn us all into zombies one way or another, and we should all remember that. I haven’t seen Zombieland, but it has solid influence – both as a moneymaker and in cultural infiltration – and though its box office wasn’t bombastic, it did well. Really, though, people just have consistent moderately positive reactions to Zombieland. It’s about killing zombies and saying snappy one-liners, I assume, and who doesn’t like that? How to prepare: combat training.

The 10-years-later sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap seems the same but lower rated in every category, so isn’t worth talking about. It exists. Score: 6.3


9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA+ : 4.7
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL11.27



Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $963.2M


The Hunger Games is undoubtedly the queen of post-apocalyptic YA-adaptation cinema, and Katniss and her courage and her archery skills genuinely inspired a whole generation of young women (to take an archery class). No seriously, though – these movies are full of big ideas, great production value, charismatic stars, wacky fashion, bizarre cultural rituals, genuinely moving romance, suffering, reality TV, training montages…. they have everything! The 2nd film in the franchise took the top position with a strong 76 Metascore and a superpowered box office – largely because the first film was such a sensation.

Somewhere in the post-apocalyptic American west, 1%-ers force children from the 99% to fight to the death in a brutal last-child-standing battle royale every year. Yeesh. How to prepare: combat training.

All The Hunger Games films and their scores are:

  1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013): 11.27 – Biggest box office, Highest Metascore
  2. The Hunger Games (2012): 10.78 – Most Influential
  3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): 8.74
  4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015): 8.28

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA : 4.3
QualityA : 4
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL12.00



Standout Score
Popularity (Box Office – adj.): $779.8M


Even though Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes prequel series has a sheen of blockbuster cheese, it’s pretty good. Especially Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the 2nd film in the franchise, which follows hyper-intelligent chimpanzee, Caesar, and his ape colony in their altercation with the human survivors of a global pandemic in near-future post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Dawn gets “A” marks across ALL scoring categories – popularity, quality, and influence. The inter-ape drama plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy while the post-apocalyptic human world is haunting in its nearness to our reality. Especially given the experience we’re having right now with COVID-19, the opening sequence is downright chilling. How to prepare: develop leadership skills.

The first film in this series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, tells the story of Caesar pre-apocalypse, so isn’t eligible for scoring. The third film, War for the Planet of the Apes, gets higher quality marks than its predecessor but was slightly less popular – scoring a very strong 10.81 overall.


7. 28 Days Later (2002)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityB : 3.5
InfluenceA+ : +48%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL12.10

Standout Score
Influence (Moneymaker): 9x budget in profit


Academy-Award winning Director Danny Boyle’s post-zombie apocalypse survival adventure made a big cultural dent: an early pioneer in big screen digital filmmaking, Boyle’s incredible long takes of empty midday London landmark streets were only possible because of his choice to shoot digitally – and the pedestrian early-oughts digital quality gives the film a hyperreal sheen, adding to its creepiness. In addition to its cinematic significance, 28 Days has strong infiltration (162 other works reference it) and made a ton of money relative to its tiny $8M budget. Waking up in an empty hospital, starving and dehydrated but apparently recovering from a brain-injury related coma, Cillian Murphy re-enters a dead world, gets a crash course in survival from strangers, and seeks sanctuary outside of the city. How to prepare: combat training.


6. The Matrix (1999)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityA+ : 5
QualityA : 4
InfluenceA : +23%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL12.13


Standout Score
Popularity (People): 1,615,100 IMDB Ratings


I was in high school when The Matrix came out, and I think it might be the film that influenced my generation the most. It’s Apocalypse Now for Xennials – which makes the Wachowskis our Francis Ford Coppola, Keanu Reeves our Martin Sheen, and the internet our Viet Nam. The data supports the metaphor too: The Matrix is not only the most-IMDB-rated of any film on this list, it has also been referenced in a staggering 1,461 other works.

It’s a tale as old as time, really: humans create A.I., shortly find themselves at war with “the machines,” then the machines enslave humanity’s minds in a techno-dreamworld so that human bodies can be used as endlessly-renewable energy source. How to prepare: question your reality.

All films in The Matrix franchise and their scores:

  1. The Matrix (1999): 12.13 – Strongest Influence, Most Ratings, Highest Metascore
  2. The Matrix Reloaded (2003): 8.53 – Biggest Box Office
  3. The Matrix Revolutions (2003): 6.03

5. The Terminator (1984)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

PopularityA : 4
QualityA+ : 5
InfluenceA : +25%
ResonanceFair : +10%
TOTAL12.38


Standout Score
Influence (Cultural Infiltration): 1,735 references


I am not a James Cameron fan, but The Terminator really did give him lots of reasons to get cocky. This small-budget film made more than 11x its budget back in profit and both audiences and critics universally loved it (84 Metascore). Most significantly, though, The Terminator catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger into superstardom and changed our cultural vocabulary: this film is referenced a totally insane 1,735 times in other works. And it has 5 sequels. In 2029, robots have nearly wiped out humanity. To secure their victory, they send an indestructible secret weapon – cyborg assassin Arnold – back in time to 1984 Los Angeles to kill an unborn child who is the key to humanity’s salvation. How to prepare: join the resistance.

The Terminator film scores get progressively lower over time. All six:

  1. The Terminator (1984): 12.38 – Strongest Influence, Highest Quality (Critics)
  2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): 11.68 – Biggest Box Office, Highest Quality (People)
  3. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): 6.68
  4. Terminator Salvation (2009): 5.90
  5. Terminator: Genisys (2015): 4.95
  6. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019): 4.74

4. Interstellar (2014)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA+ : 5
QualityA : 4
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL12.42




Standout Score
Popularity (People): 1,425,089 IMDB Ratings


With peak-McConaughey starpower and Christopher Nolan at the helm, Interstellar was born a success… and it was! Bringing in nearly $750M (adj.) at the box office, Nolan may be the closest thing we have to a box office silver bullet these days. Critics were only mildly impressed, but audiences remain in love with Nolan’s space- and time-travel odyssey and the film has solid cultural infiltration. In the near future, as climate change threatens earth’s food supply, the secret astrophysicists at NASA seek a new home for humanity in the far reaches of space. How to prepare: study science.


3. Snowpiercer (2013)

Streaming on Netflix

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityA : 4.5
InfluenceA+ : +40%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL12.61



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 84 Metascore

Before he made history with Parasite, internationally-celebrated auteur Bong Joon Ho created Snowpiercer, a visually spectacular, suspenseful, bloody allegorical parable of the haves and have-nots, of revolution and survival. Post-climate disaster, the film is set on a train endlessly circling the world, on which the last remaining humans have very different lives depending on how close they are to the front. How to prepare: combat training.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Available to rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityA+ : 4.7
QualityA+ : 5
InfluenceB : +20%
ResonanceMed : +15%
TOTAL13.34





Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 90 Metascore


I know it may appear that I engineer these data projects just so I can talk about how much I love Mad Max Fury Road, and it is one of my favorite movies ever and I do love writing about it, but I promise: the data bears it out, fair and square! Fury Road crushed at the box office, is popular and beloved with the people, was praised by critics, and has strong cultural infiltration, referenced in 263 other works though it came out only 5 years ago. In the same warlord-ravaged dustbowl world of Mel Gibson’s Max, Tom Hardy’s Max gets tangled in a courageous escape plot instigated by the mighty Furiosa and the 5 wives of a powerful warlord. How to prepare: combat training.


1. Children of Men (2006)

Available for rent on Vudu or iTunes

PopularityB : 3.3
QualityA+ : 5
InfluenceA+ : +35%
ResonanceHigh : +20%
TOTAL13.50



Standout Score
Quality (Critics): 84 Metascore


Though it lost money at the box office, Children of Men made a lasting dent in our cultural imagination and has grown into its rightful place as a masterpiece. Indiewire’s David Ehrlich said it well: “Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ arrived in theaters on Christmas Day, 2006, and immediately announced itself as the best and bleakest sci-fi movie of the 21st Century. It has also proven to be the most prescient, anticipating a time when Britain has closed its borders, hateful isolationism has taken root, and xenophobia spores out of walled gardens across the world. If once this story provided a window into a dark possibility, recent events have warped it into a funhouse mirror that reflects our new reality. ‘Children of Men’ may be set in 2027, but when Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, it suddenly became clear that its time had come.”

Ehrlich wrote that in 2016, and it’s startling how much more true Children of Men rings now, as we struggle to comprehend the ways that COVID-19 is changing our bodies and the world we’re living in. So it’s good to remember that Children of Men is about a miracle – a seed of hope blooming in a chaotic and desperate world – and the courage and fortitude it takes to protect that hope and keep it alive. How to prepare: join the resistance.


The full ranked list is available here. Thanks for checking this out!
Keep the light alive, friends.

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