Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
With COVID-19 an ever-present threat, there are no new wide releases at theaters this weekend or likely for the next month or two, limiting my options for topics for this week’s 5 Favorites Redux post. As such, I thought I would take a look at films about pandemics and since most of them create a post-apocalyptic society, I decided I would look at the best films that deal such topics. There were many and while films like Contagion and Outbreak might make sensible additions, neither is good enough to place on my list of favorites. I’ve covered a number of films in the recent past and I hate to duplicate my work. There are a lot of films that could easily make an appearance on this list. Films like WALL-E, Zombieland, and A Quiet Place. I even left out The Hunger Games films. Although they are classified as post-apocalyptic, that definition is a bit imprecise for the film.
Two of the entries below revolve are for a series of films. I will choose the best of all of the films to represent the poster, but otherwise, the list will reference why those series and the individual films within them are important.
Planet of the Apes series (1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2011, 2014, 2017)
Based on a 1963 novel by French author Pierre Boule, the first adaptation of Planet of the Apes released in 1968 starring Charlton Heston as a space traveler who crash lands on a planet where evolved apes are the dominant species while humans are mindless beasts. Heston finds the strict caste system exploitative and works with his captors to secure his release only to find out that there’s no escape from the planet of the apes with one of the most iconic final segments in cinema history.
Giving us an interesting look at the exploitation of primates in modern society, the film was so successful, it spawned four film sequels, each more outlandish than the last and none to the quality of the original. There was also a TV show and an animated series. While they attempted to reboot in the 1980s, the first unsuccessful return to Boule’s novel world was through Tim Burton’s unique vision, which was easily one of his worst films. While it was quite serious, unlike the daffy sequels to the original film, those films were at least entertaining. Thus, the 2001 Burton version is the only title I exclude form this overall list.
Ten years later, Matt Reeves took a stab at a reboot focusing on the origin of the planet of the apes, setting Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first film in the trilogy, in the present where experiments on chimpanzees, orangutans, and myriad other apes were being conducted. The ultimate result was a rebellion of the intelligent ape population overthrowing modern society. Over the course of three mesmerizing films, the humanity and creative energy helped create an enduring testament to the themes of the original novel and film.
Mad Max series (1979, 1981, 1985, 2015)
Set in the irradiated wasteland of Australia, Mad Max was George Miller’s dystopian action film starring a then-unknown Mel Gibson. Made on a shoestring budget and looking more like a Jean-Luc Goddard film than a Steven Spielberg movie, Miller introduced us to a dark and dangerous future that could be the end result of a nuclear conflict.
Over the course of two more films in the 1980s, Miller further developed his world shifting from the art house effort of the original into trying to put forth more of a story for audiences. The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome were popular, but not enough to merit further sequels.
Thirty years after the last film of the original trilogy, Miller returned to the fascinating world he’d originally created with Mad Max: Fury Road, a compelling look at the same dark future bringing audiences a more artistic action film than they had so far been accustomed to and returning more to the style of Miller’s first film than its sequels. With Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in the driver seats, the high octane film was a brilliant one, dubbed by many to be the best of 2015. It also nearly swept the creative categories at the Oscars that year taking six Oscars out of its ten nominations.
28 Days Later (2002)
Before Alex Garland gave audiences Ex Machina and Annihilation, he wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle’s best film to date. Starring Cillian Murphy, the film explores the after effects of a deadly virus sweeping through the United Kingdom. Isolated from the rest of the world, Murphy and a handful of other survivors attempt to escape the quarantine area where those who have succumbed to the virus are now zombies.
Boyle’s fresh take on the zombie genre, created and popularized by George A. Romero, is a taut thriller that pushes audiences through a rigorous gauntlet of survival alongside its cast. A fascinating exploration of the concept of zombie and human survivalism, 28 Days Later and, to a lesser extent its direct sequel 28 Weeks Later, is one of the best genre films ever made.
Children of Men (2006)
Adapted from the classic dystopian novel by mystery author P.D. James, Alfonso Cuaron took audiences deep into a repressive society where women have become infertile and the government is struggling to keep the poor masses secluded, sequestered, and under complete control. All of this is against the tide of increased immigration to one of the last functioning governments in the world. When a former activist, now a cynical bureaucrat (Clive Owen), is paid heavily to secure passage of a young emigre out of the city into the arms of a benevolent rescue organization, the task becomes a dangerous attempt to escape the UK with a pregnant young woman whom the government would want nothing more than to take possession of.
The one major similarity between dystopian societies is that some major organization, whether it be the government here or a roving band of mercenaries in other stories, seeks to control the populace and protect its preeminence in the face of societal upheaval and other supposed extremists. Children of Men was a stark object lesson in the danger and ugliness at the heart of such situations and conflicts with the common man struggling to survive. Cuaron’s view of the situation is one of astute creativity.
Bong Joon-ho’s look into a future where climate change has left large swaths of the world uninhabitable and the only survivors existing in a microcosm of the real world on a speeding bullet train. The wealthy inhabit the front of the train while the poor are treated as workhorses and fodder in the rear. As the situation becomes untenable, a strong-willed member of the lower class (Chris Evans) sets out to take over the train, progressing towards the engine through numerous differing environments within each subsequent new car he progresses.
This fascinating science fiction film is adapted from a graphic novel and features several superlative performances in a film of great creative energy. Mishandled by Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein, Bong’s film still managed to retain some of its greatest elements, although it wasn’t given the kind of theatrical roll out Bong was promised, nor audiences would have desired. Regardless, the film is easily one of the greatest genre films ever made and speaks presciently not just on the core ideas behind climate change on an overarching basis, but more specifically on the world’s decrepit class system that treats the most vulnerable as expendable.