Apocalyptic and dystopian stories have always intrigued us. If societal structure was to break down, the void left behind would expose the basest of human impulses. And over the last century, movies have taken a sick sort of pleasure in showing us what the worst case scenario might look like, with ominous features of the future mirroring the most pressing concerns of the present.
Seeing as how Tom Cruise's new film "Oblivion" is opening in the not-too-distant-future (April 19), we're taking a look back at pessimistic looks forward.
1. 'Metropolis' (1927)
This groundbreaking German sci-fi flick from the silent era explores the division between upper and lower classes while, out in the real world, socialism was quaking the geopolitical landscape .
2. 'The Last Man on Earth' (1964)
In this first of several stabs at filming the novel "I Am Legend," Vincent Price is the only human left alive after a plague turns the rest of humanity into vampires.
3. 'Planet of the Apes' (1968)
When an astronaut (Charlton Heston) crash-lands on a planet where talking apes treat humans like cattle and the planet turns out to be Earth (post-nuclear war), we get one more reason to give peace a chance.
4. 'THX-1138' (1971)
George Lucas' first feature film is an uncharacteristically dark one, presenting a future in which humanity lives underground, sex is forbidden, confessions of sin are made via telephone to OMM and everyone's forced to take drugs to keep them from realizing how lame a life this is.
5. 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)
Stanley Kubrick's nightmarish adaptation of Anthony Burgess' book about human conditioning and the roots of behavior examine our concerns about juvenile delinquency's causes and possible cures.
6. 'Silent Running' (1972)
In this commentary on environmentalism, a botanist maintains the last remaining samples of Terran plant life on a groovy greenhouse in deep space.
7. 'Sleeper' (1973)
After Woody Allen wakes up from a 200-year cryogenic slumber, he's tasked by a group of rebels with bringing down the dictatorial police state and proves himself wholly unsuited for the job.
8. 'Soylent Green' (1973)
In 2022, New York City's population has exploded to 40 million, and dwindling food supplies lead to the pragmatic solution that you are what you eat.
9. 'Zardoz' (1974)
In one of the most earnest yet bizarre movies ever made, director John Boorman explores a future in which Sean Connery shows effeminate elitist hippies how to be a manly man. Please watch it.
10. 'Logan's Run' (1976)
In the year 2274, the last remnants of humanity live in a small city where their every need is provided for. The only catch to this luxurious lifestyle is that they are vaporized on their 30th birthday.
11. 'Mad Max' (1979)
What better cinematic response to the gas shortages of the '70s than a post-apocalyptic Australia where dried-up oil supplies have led to an utter breakdown of society?
12. 'Escape From New York' (1981)
By the late '70s, crime in New York was getting out of hand, and John Carpenter's vision of a Manhattan converted into a giant prison isn't exactly a subtle commentary on the fears of that time.
13. 'Blade Runner' (1982)
In the early 1980s, with America mired in malaise and Japan's economy empire rising, Philip K. Dick's novel about androids wanting to be treated as humans is played against the backdrop of an American culture dominated by foreigners.
14. 'The Terminator' (1984)
In the bold action film that launched James Cameron's directing career, an A.I. defense system called Skynet become self-aware and wipes out most of humanity with the help of a robot with an Austrian accent.
15. 'Brazil' (1985)
In response to Margaret Thatcher's government and The Troubles of Northern Ireland, Terry Gilliam paints a dystopian landscape of oppressive nationalism and repressed dreams — and it's even funnier than it sounds.
16. '12 Monkeys' (1995)
Based on the beautiful 1962 short film "La Jetee," this other Gilliam film tells the story of a prisoner (Bruce Willis) who travels back in time to stop a lunatic from releasing a virus so deadly that what's left of humanity now lives underground.
17. 'Waterworld' (1995)
Circa 2500 AD, the Earth's ice caps have melted, leaving most of the world completely underwater.
18. 'Gattaca' (1997)
In this dark future, everything and everyone is perfect to a fault thanks to genetic modification.
19. 'The Matrix' (1999)
It's well-known that the moment computers become self-aware, they just can't wait to kill off humanity. But in this groundbreaking film, energy-conscious robots prefer using people as batteries while keeping them docile in a communal virtual reality.
20. 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence' (2001)
Steven Spielberg's vision of the late 21st century beholds sentient teddy bears, android prostitutes and the world's coastlines underwater. Two out of three ain't bad.
21. 'The Day After Tomorrow' (2004)
Perhaps this disaster film cried wolf with its warnings of climate change taking the form of tornadoes descending on L.A., NYC underwater and the southern half of the U.S. evacuating to Mexico.
22. 'Idiocracy' (2006)
Mike Judge's comedy about the results of stupid people outbreeding the brainy might hit too close to home in this dim future where politicians are former wrestlers, law degrees can be obtained at Costco and the number one show in America is "Ow, My Balls!"
23. 'Children of Men' (2006)
18 years into an epidemic of infertility, the absence of children and likelihood of humanity's end has left the world hopeless and descending into chaos.
24. 'Wall-E' (2008)
Rubbish never looked so beautiful as in Pixar's tale of a garbage-collecting robot left alone on an Earth long ago trashed and abandoned.
25. 'Oblivion' (2013)
After aliens nearly wiped out the planet 60 years earlier, Tom Cruise is one of the last remaining marines stationed on Earth.