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10 Best Movies Where Humanity Gets Its Comeuppance

Humanity does terrible things to the earth and to each other. But Hollywood loves to depict our punishment.

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Interesting anecdote: Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale’s director, translated the novel to film because it reminded him of an experience that made him distrust adults forever. In 1945, when he was 15, his class was forced to work in a World War II munitions factory. After the factory was attacked and many of his classmates died, the survivors were made to clean up the bodies, and he realized the Japanese government had been lying about its involvement in WWII.

6. Knowing

Oh, Nicholas Cage, how wonderful and over-the-top you are! He should probably star in every end-of-days film from now until... the end of days. When his sweet, deaf son begins going into trances and writing down indecipherable numerical sequences, Cage’s character goes on a mission to figure out what they mean. Telling too much of the plotline would involve multiple spoilers—barring the fact that this film is the second on this list involving the dread solar flare—but let’s just say this guy can now predict the dates of disasters, humanity has been messing up, and whomever gave us all this wonderful technology we’ve got (starting from the pyramids, clearly) is about to take it away since we cannot play nice. Also, Christians are not feeling it!

7. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

A Cold War-era classic, it’s nice to know that after the Cuban Missile Crisis there was room for a little gallows humor in America. Directed and written by the genius Stanley Kubrick, the film follows crazed Air Force General Jack Ripper as he tries to start a war with the USSR over fluoride in the water. (Hey, countries have been bombed for less.) Meanwhile, a coalition of rather more sane military leaders and, um, the president (who’s been duped out of red-button jurisdiction thanks to an obscure rule that transfers powers to the military in wartime) attempts to stop Ripper—but his main roadblock is the Russians’ “Doomsday Device,” which will obliterate all life on earth should the Soviets be bombed. Kubrick, plus genius actor Peter Sellers, really put the nuclear establishment to the needles with this one, ridiculing the arbitrary rules of war and the stupid power-hunger of the government—while transforming the nation’s fear of end times into a real laugh riot. If there was a remake (there shouldn’t be), Dr. Strangelove should make his grand exit to Lenny Kravtiz’s “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over.”

8. Soylent Green

Before Nicholas Cage, there was Charlton Heston. Try to separate yourself from his politics and imagine this dystopia: the world is overpopulated, violent, struck by famine. New York, of course, is the garbage dump of the world, and in 2022, the population of the city has skyrocketed to 40 million. Solar flares (again!) are imminent. But before the world ends, Heston’s character, an NYPD detective, must discover why a wealthy businessman was killed in his apartment... and how he was able to obtain so much pricey food. Another classic example of how we are vile.

9. The Day After

As the Cold War entered the 1980s, this little TV movie was the first to depict the horrors of nuclear folly in any close-to-accurate terms. If the Soviets finally decided to unleash the big ones, it asks, what would happen 24 hours later? If you’re unfortunate enough to be far away from ground zero, the answer is: gross radiation poisoning, looting, severe grotesque burns, painfully slow death. Et cetera. As a kid in the early 1990s, I accidentally saw on satellite television a video of an anti-nuke protester getting his legs severed by a train carrying nuclear weapons (he survived, thankfully). Shout out to that guy for keeping us from worse.