Pretty much all of us agree and hope that an apocalypse never happens. However, that’s not to say we can’t enjoy a good post-apocalyptic film or television series. With the success of HBO’s The Last Of Us, it raises the question of what the best post-apocalyptic screenplays are and why they matter in the genre.
The genre is described as a film or television series that’s set during or after a catastrophically destructive disaster or apocalypse. Many look back at the early 2010s as a time when the genre popped off for a few years, primarily because of the success of The Walking Dead. With this in mind, let’s discuss five of the best post-apocalyptic screenplays ever written and how you can write one.
Still from 'Stalker (1979)'. Photo credit: Pushkin House
Logline - A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes.
Stalker is definitely the answer to the question that any film nerd or fanatic would give. Its pacing isn’t for everyone, but as far as keeping images and themes in your head, it doesn’t get much better than Stalker. Not all the answers are spoonfed for you, as we watch these three men move toward and through the mysterious area known as the zone. Andrei Tarkovsky is a true auteur, and all of his films are worth watching, especially Stalker.
Logline - In 2027, in a chaotic world in which women have somehow become infertile, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea.
Part of what makes Alfonso Cuarón such an appealing filmmaker is his ability to create so many masterpieces through so many genres. One of his best is Children of Men, a Sci-Fi post-apocalyptic film that raises the question of what would happen to humanity if women became infertile. It’s fast-paced, brilliantly shot, and touches on themes of hope, fear, and parenthood.
Logline - In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.
It’s a shame that so many people look down on animation films, but most of those folk aren’t worth bringing up in this space anyways. Regardless, WALL-E is a staple of great animation and storytelling. We follow the little waste-collecting robot known as WALL-E as he eventually embarks on a space journey, falls in love, and discovers what happened to humanity.
Logline - In a self-destructing world, a vengeful Australian policeman sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang.
Pretty much any of the Mad Max films are worth bringing to this list, and for that reason, you have to go back to the original. Though it might not be the best in the franchise, there’s a lot to love and appreciate about it for being the birthplace of the Mad Max universe. It’s dark, comedic, and completely absurd at times.
Logline - The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England, and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.
Threads isn’t as talked about as much as the others on this list, and that’s mainly because it’s not a Hollywood film. Originally made for TV from the BBC, Threads is a painfully real story of what would happen if a nuclear holocaust were to happen. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but its dedication to the craft makes it worthwhile.
How to Write a Great Post-Apocalyptic Movie
Now that we talked about a few of the best post-apocalyptic screenplays ever written, let’s discuss some key points of how to write one. Though many of these scripts vary from one another, you can find some commonalities in what they excel in. Examples include how to set up the world, narrative goals, and a surreal world.
Setting Up the World
Post-apocalyptic storytelling is usually done best through the world getting set up. Many films choose to be more ambiguous than others, and while it’s up to you, you still have to set it up in some way. A good rule is for the characters to address it with believable dialogue, a voice-over, or a text scroll at the beginning.
The best post-apocalyptic scripts are more than the worlds they set themselves in. It’s about developing a story within that world and creating a narrative goal for it. Questions you can ask are: What’s the point of your story? Why do we care about these characters? What are the character's goals?
Going off the importance of the story, it’s equally as valuable to develop a world that’s interesting. Many people turn to this genre to dive into a world that’s so different from our own. It may seem challenging to develop a world that’s unique and original, but do your best to stay creative in this sense.