Dystopian settings, resilient characters, and chilling narratives all culminate in creating some of the best apocalyptic movies. These films share a kindred spirit with “The Last of Us,” a monumental series renowned for its poignant storytelling and gripping intensity. This article embarks on a cinematic journey, exploring 15 remarkable films that echo the atmosphere of desperation and chaos found in “The Last of Us”.
From high-speed zombies to barren wastelands, each narrative immerses the audience in a unique apocalypse. The films highlighted here range from critically acclaimed blockbusters to underappreciated gems, all sharing a common thread – the struggle to survive and thrive amidst turmoil. So grab your popcorn, dim the lights, and get ready for a rollercoaster ride through the end of the world as we know it.
Train to Busan (2016)
When considering the realm of cinematic tales involving the undead, many are filled with adrenaline-fueled action sequences reminiscent of those in The Last of Us. The presence of zombies inevitably calls for spectacular action scenes, but when these undead beings are capable of sprinting rather than simply shuffling along, the stakes and tension rise considerably.
Amid a multitude of impressive zombie narratives, none truly stand out quite like the masterful “Train to Busan”. This film serves up a tantalizing feast of devastation that no other movie in the zombie genre has successfully rivaled. It is with this incredibly high standard in mind that the American version, “The Last Train to New York”, must seek to meet and perhaps surpass.
In regard to the feverish world of high-speed zombies, one film reigns supreme in setting the precedent. Without the influence of “28 Days Later” and its extraordinary speedy undead, both “Train to Busan” and “The Last of Us” would have likely been relegated to depicting their protagonists combating sluggish, aimless wanderers.
The Rover (2014)
For those individuals who have a particular fondness for ruthless revenge narratives similar to The Last of Us Part II, they should seriously contemplate viewing David Michôd’s harsh, merciless thriller, “The Rover”. This film is embedded within the genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction, akin to the environment of Mad Max, showcasing a bleak and barren world where the scarcity of resources has virtually eradicated any trace of human compassion.
In this relentless tale, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson take the reins as two individuals on a mission to hunt down a gang of robbers in the inhospitable Australian Outback, each driven by their own unique motivations. Their journey is interwoven with instances of ruthless violence that never seem to find a need for justification. “The Rover” may not be devoid of remorse, but it will undoubtedly resonate with viewers who appreciate the relentless moments of “The Last of Us” franchise.
Bird Box (2018)
Susanne Bier’s highly acclaimed Netflix production, “Bird Box”, casts Sandra Bullock in the lead role as a mother struggling to keep herself and her two young children alive in a world teetering on the edge of apocalypse, a world besieged by an ominous entity that provokes self-destruction upon sight. While the film might lack the traditional element of zombies akin to “The Last of Us”, it shares a strong thematic connection with the latter through its exploration of the challenges and nuances of parenthood in the face of adversity.
Just like in “The Last of Us”, the protagonist’s physical voyage parallels their emotional journey, one that leads towards the acceptance and embrace of love for the children under their protection. This emotional aspect heightens the tension, making the life-or-death stakes even more palpable. Alongside this, the protagonists also face threats from fellow humans, adding another layer of danger to the narrative, and ensuring that the sense of peril extends beyond the abstract.
Stake Land (2011)
Jim Mickle’s unique take on the vampire apocalypse narrative in the film “Stake Land” incorporates an unusual degree of restraint to what would traditionally be a heavily embellished concept. This film leans into its genre-thriller roots but often ventures into the realm of a contemplative journey, reminiscent of the atmospheric storytelling employed by Terrence Malick. The narrative unfolds around a small group of traveling vampire slayers.
At the heart of the film, we witness an icy dynamic between a young boy and his hardened vampire hunter rescuer. Nick Damici, as the stern, unyielding father figure, brings to mind distinct echoes of Joel’s character from The Last of Us. Alongside this, “Stake Land” is likely to appeal to The Last of Us fan base with its measured and poignant portrayal of the Americana aesthetic.
The Road (2009)
John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, “The Road”, offers an emotionally mixed journey, characterized by remarkable performances, relentless horror, and the overshadowing bleakness of a world gone awry. Viggo Mortensen takes center stage as a father desperately trying to shield his son in the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe that has torn civilization asunder, replacing it with a merciless world plagued by roving bands of cannibals.
Fans drawn to the emotional depths of The Last of Us should consider adding “The Road” to their must-watch list. The fleeting moments of calm in this post-apocalyptic world often serve as prefaces to intense, multifaceted life lessons that have the potential to resonate with audiences long after the credits roll.
28 Days Later (2002)
No such compilation would be complete without a nod to Danny Boyle’s masterpiece, “28 Days Later”. This film is a cornerstone of post-apocalyptic pandemic cinema, depicting the terrifying transformation of virus-infected individuals into monstrous predators stalking the survivors. It effectively reinvigorated the genre after a period of dormancy, sparking a wave of zombie films that subsequently explored narratives driven by character development.
The central figure in “28 Days Later” is Jim, portrayed by Cillian Murphy, a bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma in a London hospital following an accident, only to be confronted by a horrifying reality – an utterly lifeless city. During his unconscious state, Britain succumbed to an insidious virus, the origin of which lies with an infected chimpanzee liberated from a laboratory by animal rights activists.
Leave No Trace (2018)
Many of the most gripping films that echo the essence of “The Last of Us” typically rely on post-apocalyptic settings. This backdrop not only engages viewers but also amplifies the depth and intensity of relationships between central characters. Yet, “Leave No Trace” successfully weaves a captivating tale about a father and daughter braving the wilderness without the need for any apocalyptic backdrop.
This narrative unfolds around a war veteran who, alongside his teenage daughter, embraces an off-grid lifestyle in an Oregon forest. Their lives, however, teeter on the edge of an impending crossroads, which threatens to culminate in a heart-wrenching separation. While the film eschews action and science-fiction elements, it triumphs in portraying parental drama. As such, “Leave No Trace” stands out as one of the exemplary films similar to “The Last of Us”.
A Quiet Place (2018)
“A Quiet Place” paints a chilling portrait of a world brought to its knees by an apocalypse, teeming with blind creatures that possess incredibly sharp hearing abilities. For the scant survivors, silence becomes a lifeline, with even the faintest whisper or noise spelling potential doom. The film trails the perilous existence of the Abbott family — Lee (John Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and little Beau (Cade Woodward), along with a fourth child on the way.
Parallel to Joel’s journey in “The Last of Us”, Lee and Evelyn strive tirelessly to shield their children from the omnipresent dangers. The sequel to the film offers a glimpse into the advent of the apocalypse, presenting it in a manner akin to “The Last of Us”.
Love and Monsters (2020)
The third installment of “The Last of Us” demonstrated that the post-apocalyptic genre still has unexplored avenues, particularly with regard to romance. The narrative of Bill and Frank discovering love and contentment in the aftermath of world’s end, elevated the series to new heights. Regrettably, it also sparked a quest among viewers for similar post-apocalyptic romantic narratives, a relatively unconventional concept for this genre.
While “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead” brilliantly blend humor and romance, the film “Love and Monsters”, featuring Dylan O’Brien, is arguably an underrated gem in the post-apocalyptic romantic comedy category. In this film, main character Joel emerges from his shelter, embarking on a journey through a monster-infested world to reunite with his ex. Balancing romance, tragedy, action, and enough frights to rival the best in the genre, “Love and Monsters” offers a uniquely appealing post-apocalyptic experience.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Unlike the majority of post-apocalyptic films that primarily spotlight human survivors grappling with the end of the world, the contemporary Planet of the Apes trilogy uniquely places its focus on the Apes themselves. They acquire intelligence from the very source that triggers a catastrophic decline in the human population, either through death or a considerable decrease in their cognitive abilities. The movies particularly shine in their deployment of advanced motion capture technology, bringing to life extraordinarily realistic Apes.
Andy Serkis’ impeccable portrayal of the ape leader, Caesar, deserves special mention, making a case for an Oscar nomination. The franchise parallels “The Last of Us”, not only in chronicling the apocalypse but also exploring how life evolves in its aftermath. Also worth noting is the original Planet of the Apes franchise, which despite appearing somewhat outdated today, retains a timeless appeal. It shares this quality with the Mad Max series, the only other saga that portrays a post-apocalyptic world so vividly and that was successfully revitalized in the 21st century, particularly with Mad Max: Fury Road.
I Am Legend (2007)
“I Am Legend”, a long-awaited adaptation of Richard Matheson’s revered sci-fi novel, leans heavily on the prodigious acting skills of Will Smith. Smith plays the part of a scientist navigating a desolate New York City, haunted by the possibility of being the last human in a world overrun by vicious, vampire-esque creatures. Although the narrative loses some of the book’s subtle complexities in its transition to a larger-than-life blockbuster, the film impressively captures the haunting desolation of a post-apocalyptic cityscape.
While the lead character’s redemption journey deviates from the original novel, those appreciative of Joel’s resolute characteristics in “The Last of Us” may find it captivating nonetheless.
If there’s one story formula that audiences seem to love, it’s Pedro Pascal journeying alongside a vulnerable youngster in a quest for survival – a theme evident in “The Last of Us” and “The Mandalorian”. “Prospect” beautifully brings this dynamic to the silver screen. In this budget-friendly sci-fi movie, Pascal portrays an astronaut tasked with exploring an alien moon, only to stumble upon trouble, as is often the case with his characters.
On a lighter note, fans of Pedro Pascal’s inherent charm, not as prominently featured in “The Last of Us”, may enjoy his performance in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”. Although the sequel may not quite live up to its predecessor, Pascal’s acting prowess shines brightly, making his performance truly unforgettable.
The Happening (2008)
After immersing oneself in the masterpiece that is The Last of Us, it can be a refreshing change of pace to switch to a movie that doesn’t quite meet the same high standards. Some film aficionados have a soft spot for films that swing and miss rather than hit the target. This group, the ones who found delight in the idiosyncrasies of The Room, turned Morbius into a viral meme sensation, and have been staunch supporters of Mystery Science Theater 3000, appreciates the missteps in film.
Enter “The Happening”, arguably M. Night Shyamalan’s most dubious venture into the realm of unexpected twists. This movie shares a similar premise with The Last of Us, depicting a world succumbing to an apocalypse induced by an unsettling shift in nature due to global warming. However, the execution in The Happening leaves much to be desired.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, the film follows a group of survivors grappling with a mysterious epidemic that prompts people to end their own lives. Wahlberg’s character speculates that the cause is a mind-altering toxin released by plants as a defense mechanism. Whereas The Last of Us masterfully crafts horror through its depiction of a fungal infection, The Happening’s attempt to do so inadvertently leans into the comedic.
Children Of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón’s rendition of P.D. James’ novel, “Children of Men“, presents a rather understated apocalypse. Here, the human race finds itself on the brink of extinction, not due to war or disease, but simply because they’ve lost the ability to reproduce. As the prospect of new life becomes non-existent, society descends into violence and anarchy. Amidst this despair, a glimmer of hope surfaces when a man is tasked with the protection of a miraculously pregnant refugee.
Cuarón creates an all-too-real vision of the world’s end, making Children of Men not just a poignant narrative of a dystopian future, but a believable one too. Drawing parallels with current real-world scenarios, the film creates a tangible universe. Fans of The Last of Us, drawn in by its immersive qualities, will find a similar captivation in the struggles of the characters in Children of Men.
Light of My Life (2019)
The terror of infertility has often taken center stage in science fiction narratives. This theme permeates the likes of previously mentioned “Children of Men”, as well as Margaret Atwood’s novel turned series “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the 1924 silent film “The Last Man on Earth”, and Brian W. Aldiss’ novel “Greybeard”. This fear resurfaces in the criminally underappreciated sci-fi drama “Light of My Life”, directed, written, and starred in by Casey Affleck.
Affleck portrays a father navigating a post-apocalyptic Canada with his daughter Rag, played by Anna Pniowsky. In this bleak setting, a mysterious pandemic has wiped out most of the female population, leaving Rag as one of the few remaining women. To safeguard herself against the lingering male population, Rag masquerades as a boy. Fans of The Last of Us will likely resonate with the deep bond between the father-daughter duo and the contemplation of humanity’s moral decline in the wake of a global catastrophe.