Okay, so Friday’s much-hyped Mayan Apocalypse has been debunked and debunked again by NASA astronomers and Maya scholars alike, and even if it hadn’t, we among the sane have already accepted the fact that, sadly, we are going to live to pay our next cable bill.
But just because the world isn’t actually going to end on Dec. 21, doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy yourself this weekend with some apocalyptic entertainment. When it comes to conceiving of all the horrendous possible ways in which the end of days might be unleashed upon us, Hollywood has already done the grunt work. All we need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride with one of these earth-shattering end-of-the-world classics. And if, by some chance, meteors start falling from the sky on Friday night, just turn up the volume on your TV and pretend it’s part of the show. Either way, it’ll all be over soon.
The War of the Worlds
Director: Byron Haskin
Apocalyptic cause: Martian invasion
Forget the 2005 remake with Tom Cruise (as if anything interesting really happens in Newark). H.G. Wells’ timeless allegory for the insidiousness of 19th-century British imperialism is best seen in all its 1950s Technicolor glory. Humans emerge victorious in this one, so the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s a great ride nonetheless.
28 Days Later
Director: Danny Boyle
Apocalyptic cause: Contagious virus
This genuinely creepy horror offering about infectious zombies running amok in the United Kingdom proves two things: First, it’s possible to shoot a cinematic masterpiece on a consumer-grade DV camera, and second, Danny Boyle can do no wrong.
Night of the Comet
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Apocalyptic cause: See title
Thom Eberhardt’s teens-gone-wild comedy centers on a small group of youngsters who find they have free rein of the planet after all the adults are obliterated by the titular comet. It’s a bit of a genre-mixer, with plenty of radioactive zombies thrown in for good measure. And the scene in which the kids go shopping at a high-end department store features one of the finest examples of the ‘80s-music montage ever put to film.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Apocalyptic cause: Alien invasion
Critics gave this action-packed alien-takeover epic flak for lacking depth and character development, but then anyone who saw the original trailer, went to see “ID4” for one reason: mindless destruction of famous landmarks. Plus, with all the not-so-subtle references to sci-fi classics past, the film is a lot more meta than most people give it credit for. (Note: Feel free to substitute any of Emmerich’s umpteen end-of-the-world epics for this one.)
Director: Don McKellar
Apocalyptic cause: Unrevealed, probably a supernova
Released amid the jittery buildup to Y2K, this quiet Canadian indie follows a disparate group of Torontonians on the Earth’s last day. The end is coming at midnight, and everyone knows it. The only question left is how to spend your final hours. Patrick, the disillusioned everyman at the center of the story, wisely decides, “I just don’t want to risk having bad sex today.” With a small budget and no special effects, this film is perfect for folks who like their apocalypses a little more nuanced and subdued.
Director: Lars von Trier
Apocalyptic cause: Planet Melancholia
From the founder of Dogme 95 comes this foot-dragging, soulless tale of a mysterious planet on a collision course with Earth. The film received its share of critical acclaim -- and it’s worth seeing for Kirsten Dunst’s haunting performance as a perpetually depressed newlywed -- but be warned: If you muster the strength to make it to the third act, you may find yourself rooting for the other planet.
I Am Legend
Director: Francis Lawrence
Apocalyptic cause: Yet another supervirus
This Will Smith vehicle about the last healthy man in New York City did a brisk business at the box office, but actual New Yorkers will always associate it with the headaches and havoc that took place near the Brooklyn Bridge during production. More than a 1,000 extras descended upon the area, and several streets were closed off for a week. It really did feel like the end of the world.