The Six Types of Apocalyptic Horror Movies

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

Contrary to T.S. Eliot's theory, the world in horror movies tends to end with a bang -- not a whimper -- but the type of bang depends on the film. Here are the six most prevalent methods of mass destruction in horror movies, each of which reveals something about our society and the fears that we all share. So stock your panic rooms before it's too late.
01
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Nuclear Holocaust

Hardware
© Severin

Nuclear war was a popular apocalyptic scenario from the '50s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early '90s, as the Cold War spawned fears of a nuclear catastrophe. In these movies, the horror comes not from the blast itself, however, but rather from the post-explosion actions of the desperate survivors (Panic in the Year Zero!) or from mutated creatures spawned from the radiation (The Day the World Ended).

Examples:

  • Five (1951)
  • The Day the World Ended (1955)
  • Panic in the Year Zero! (1962)
  • In the Year 2889 (1967)
  • Damnation Alley (1977)
  • Parasite (1982)
  • Rats: Night of Terror (1984)
  • Creepozoids (1987)
  • Hardware (1990)
02
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Viral Infection

I Am Legend
© Warner Bros.

A massive global pandemic scenario became increasingly popular in the '70s, as increased sexual freedom raised concerns of communicable disease (Rabid), and by the 21st century, the rise of high-profile infections like AIDS, swine flu, the Ebola virus and SARS made this type of apocalypse a popular subject of horror films (28 Days Later).

Examples:

  • The Last Man on Earth (1964)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • The Crazies (1973)
  • Rabid (1977)
  • 28 Days Later (2002)
  • 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • I Am Legend (2007)
  • Mulberry Street (2007)
  • Doomsday (2008)
  • The Signal (2008)
  • Carriers (2009)
  • Pontypool (2009)
  • The Crazies (2010)
03
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Zombie Apocalypse

Zombieland
© Columbia

Basically a subset of the "viral infection," the "zombie infection" -- in which a pathogen causes the dead to rise -- has taken on a life of its own since George Romero's Night of the Living Dead reinvented zombie lore in 1968, at a time when its graphic violence reflected the increased pessimism of the Vietnam War era. In the 21st century, the zombie apocalypse had a resurgence, propelled by fears of disease, terrorism and global instability.

Examples:

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Dead Alive (1992)
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004)
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • Land of the Dead (2005)
  • Planet Terror (2007)
  • Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
  • Day of the Dead (2008)
  • Diary of the Dead (2008)
  • Zombieland (2009)
  • World War Z (2013)
04
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Alien Invasion

Invasion of the Body Snatchers alien movie
© Allied Artists

The alien invasion scenarios that became popular in the '50s reflected the Red Scare fears of Communist infiltration that continued to until the fall of the Soviet Union in the '90s, at which point terrorism took over from Communism as the primary covert threat symbolized by the undercover aliens posing as human in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live.

Examples:

  • Invaders from Mars (1953)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • The Brain Eaters (1958)
  • The Day of the Triffids (1962)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
  • Lifeforce (1985)
  • Invaders from Mars (1986)
  • Maximum Overdrive (1986)
  • They Live (1988)
  • Body Snatchers (1993)
  • The Puppet Masters (1994)
  • The Faculty (1998)
  • Signs (2002)
  • The Invasion (2007)
  • Mutant Chronicles (2009)
  •  (2010)
05
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Supernatural End of Days

The Mist
© Dimension

While the satanic themes of horror movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen became popular in the '60s and '70s as a reflection of increased fear of global annihilation and as a religious reaction to loosening social mores, the forces of evil are rarely shown actually bringing about an apocalypse (see the Omen films or End of Days) -- perhaps because such an event would likely leave no survivors to be featured in a film. Occasionally, though, there are some movies that show at least a partial destruction of mankind by way of demonic (Demons), ghostly (Pulse) or otherworldly (The Mist) forces.

Examples:

  • The Beyond (1981)
  • Demons (1985)
  • The Stand (1994)
  • Pulse (2001)
  • Pulse (2006)
  • The Mist (2007)
  • Mother of Tears (2008)
  •  (2010)
  • (2012)
  • The Remaining (2014)
06
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Nature Strikes Back

Them
© Warner Bros.

The "nature strikes back" scenario usually involves either an "act of God" (Night of the Comet) or a rebellion of nature against the actions of man -- like nuclear testing (Beginning of the End) or scientific experiments (Night of the Lepus). The latter in particular became popular in the '50s, thanks to fears of nuclear testing (which, in movies, creates monstrously large animals), and again in the '70s, when increased concern over pollution created story lines about animals running amok (Frogs).

Examples:

  • Them! (1954)
  • Beginning of the End (1957)
  • Frogs (1972)
  • Night of the Lepus (1972)
  • Day of the Animals (1977)
  • Empire of the Ants (1977)
  • Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
  • Night of the Comet (1984)
  • Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
  • The Happening (2008)
07
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Other

The Road
© Dimension

Not all horror movie apocalypses can be lumped into a category. Here are some of the uncooperative ways that humanity might meets its ends.

Examples:

  • The Stuff (1985) (unexplained)
  • The Stand (1994) (hybrid virus + supernatural)
  • Wild Zero (2000) (hybrid zombie + alien)
  • Undead (2003) (hybrid zombie + alien)
  • Tooth and Nail (2007) (gas shortage)
  • The Vanguard (2008) (mutant-creating drug)
  • Blindness (2008) (unexplained)
  • The Road (2009) (unexplained)