Hollywood has always had a fascination with the anything out of the ordinary, and seemingly so have a lot of actors. 1996’s Independence Day (directed by Roland Emmerich, who would go on to make the 2016 sequel, and the equally apocalyptic The Day After Tomorrow (2003)) attracted the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. 2013’s World War Z would see Brad Pitt face off yet another virus that turned humans into zombies (there’s been enough of those films now – does anyone want to start working on a cure, perhaps?). But over recent years, there’s been a noticeable lack of apocalypses in cinemas. So when an end-of-the-world film finally hits our screens, it’s got to stand out. No pressure then.
2004’s Shaun of the Dead gave the genre a very necessary refresh. Edgar Wright took everything we loved about George A. Romero’s classic films (e.g. 1968’s Night of the Living Dead), and proved that you don’t need guns to kill zombies – just a good record collection (although I think Shaun should’ve kept the Dire Straits record…) Other films have tried to follow suit; 2009’s Zombieland was “a comedy that kills”, and 2013’s Warm Bodies tried to take the rom-zom of Edgar’s original rom-zom-com - try saying that ten times fast. But I honestly don’t think anywhere has come close to the original. So what did Hollywood do when outsmarted by the British film industry? Try a different route.
In 2018, apocalypse films suddenly became smart and sophisticated. They wore a bow tie and screamed “look at me!”. Or rather, they didn’t scream, because John Krasinski introduced us to A Quiet Place – a film where the world might not necessarily be ending, but it might as well have been. One of my pet peeves with this kind of genre has always been the lengthy running time – but Krasinski threw us in the deep end for 90 minutes, and wouldn’t let us up for air. He made the apocalypse quiet, unsuspecting, and the worst thing to bring popcorn to. Sure, there were action sequences, but nowhere near the scale of a traditional disaster film. In the same year, Susanne Bier blinded us with Bird Box, and whilst not received as well critically, it would help shape and redefine the apocalypse genre.
Ultimately, I think Hollywood are done with the ‘end-of-the-world’ thing for now. Recently, real-life has become a lot more scarier. Last year, as part of their horror all-nighter, Tyneside cinema even had a programme called ‘Brexitapocalypse’ – the first film being The Wicker Man (1973) – because Brexit really has felt a lot like Nicholas Cage trapped with some bees. There’s horror to be found in the real world today; we don’t need another 2012 (confusingly, released 2009) to remind us of our very real impact on the environment – and whilst it’s nice to see the good guys win on the big screen, now more than ever we know that isn’t always the case.
So for now, stay inside, stay safe and wait for all this to blow over. Don’t go to the Winchester. And maybe avoid watching any apocalyptic films if you can help it.
Below you can watch Simon Pegg & Nick Frost re-enact a conversation from Shaun of the Dead (2004), updated for the current Coronavirus crisis.