10 Best Movies Where Humanity Gets Its Comeuppance
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Humankind’s intelligence combined with our unrelenting desire to live longer and dominate the planet is, ironically, our fatal flaw. Pop culture forever reminds us that we are disgusting creatures with deplorable habits that will ultimately be the end of us, and fortunately for fans of the apocalypse, cinema in particular loves to depict our agonizing deaths in vivid, epic color.
The latest movie to do so, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, shows how animal cruelty—combined with advanced science—could lead us all to early graves. The film follows a team of scientists working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, who develop an experimental retrovirus that imbues chimpanzees with human-level intelligence. But when one of the chimps breaks out the stungun, there’s hell to pay—and the ultimate end of humankind, at least over the course of some sequels. (For more on this, with spoiler alerts, read Sarah Jaffe’s funny Tumblr post.)
Since there are a thousand ways for humanity to die, here are some of the more creative films in which terrible, irresponsible humanity gets its final comeuppance. Our end may be imminent, but at least we get to watch some awesome stuff beforehand. Enjoy!
1. The Day After Tomorrow
This recent-classic film about the effects of global warming is so terrifying it should be shown before Congress. The plot: paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is drilling for core samples in Antarctica when an ice ridge, spurred by rising temperatures, cracks and pulls apart, leaving a huge crevice. Hall freaks out and tries to convince a UN panel that the shit is seriously about to hit the fan, but they poo-poo him and send him on his way. Turns out that was a dumb idea, because uh-oh, rapidly melting polar ice is totally making ocean levels rise while dropping their temperature, causing complete weather havoc across the world. That little earthquake on the eastern seaboard this week was nothing: try a massive tsunami washing through Manhattan, and super-sized tornados crushing Los Angeles skyscrapers like twigs. The CGI is awesome! (Amid all this death and destruction, though, perhaps the scariest part is that the guy who winds up being president is disconcertingly Dick Cheney-esque.)
Granted, Day After Tomorrow’s vision of climate change coming home to roost is pretty extreme—an accelerated depiction of what might eventually happen to us if we continue on our path. It’s hard to imagine giant hurricanes whose eyes freeze everything in their path, Sub-Zero style. But after the spate of recent devastating earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and droughts around the world, it’s a little easier to imagine such a blown-out scenario in 2011 than it was upon the film’s release in 2004. Which brings us to....
The crux of 2012 is not man-made per se, but based on the theory of the Mayan Apocalypse, which says the world will end on the day the ancient Mayan calendar ends: December 21, 2012. But the film certainly doesn’t waste a chance to scold humanity for its misdeeds to its backdrop of elaborate apocalyptic visual effects, like redwoods-obliterating solar flares and, awesomely, a giant crack in the Sistine Chapel separating God’s finger from Adam’s. Ultimately the film becomes about the race to reach secret arks in China, created by world leaders to save at least a fraction of humankind in order to propagate the species. Along the way, though, our worst qualities—greed, avarice, selfishness—pop up and threaten to keep the protagonist family, led by ever-likable John Cusack, from surviving. So while it’s a movie based on ancient Mayan prophecy, they still managed to sneak in a little Judeo-Christian moralizing. Touche!