This Friday, December 21st, is the date that the Mayan calendar comes to an end, and with it, supposedly, mankind as well. We should have all seen it coming when Twinkies were on the verge of disappearing. According to the movies, there are a thousand and one ways in which Doomsday can present itself. Each of these possibilities reflects our different fears, superstitions, and sometimes (although in an exaggerated manner) a realistic or pseudoscientific scenario, about how the human race could/will be erased.

While we count down the days to the latest apocalyptic date, let’s see some examples of these disastrous but entertaining films:

Out of This World Threats

Independence Day (1996)
independence-day4Ronald Emmerich showed us that aliens had a thing for destroying iconic buildings like the White House, and that there was no better day to retaliate than 4th of July. It’s all fun and games, as long as a Hollywood hero (Like Will Smith, for whom this was a breakthrough role) can fix things. Emmerich and his team really set things apart by using a mix of in-camera special effects, miniatures and minimal CGI to get convincing imagery. Such efforts earned the film the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Independence Day is one the most entertaining and visually accomplished films of its kind, and that is significant, given the amount of movies that explore our alien invasion fascination.

Armageddon (1998)
1346_armageddon-team-800x519How can a list like this exist without mentioning a Michael Bay film? He is, after all, the father of explosive things and senseless destruction for the sake of shock value. The film stars Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, Steve Buscemi, and more as a group of fantastic drillers who try to destroy an enormous asteroid before it destroys the Earth. Probably due to its all-star cast, the film did better at the box office than the similar Deep Impact, released just a couple months before that same year. Yes, most likely we would be helpless if an asteroid would come at us, as NASA disqualified any factuality in the film, but we can always dream of being saved by Bruce Willis and his fearless stubbornness.

Melancholia (2011)
Melancholia-Still-Kiefer-Sutherland-Kirsten-Dunst-Charlotte-Gainsbourg-2Lars Von Trier’s take on death-by-collision is very meditative and obscure, just like the rest of his films. The inevitable demise of our race serves as the backdrop for a much more complex analysis of fear, hopelessness, and the meaning of commitment. Kristen Dunst plays Justine, a bride to be whose wedding turns into a nightmarish prelude to the apocalypse. Trier uses stylized and slow-motion images that contrast with the bleak recognition of powerlessness in the midst of a catastrophe. Dunst is glorious as a woman that seems indifferent to the global annihilation after her micro-universe is shattered by a failed wedding. Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire, Justine’s sister, is the voice of the optimist but fearful humanity; she represents the part of us that wishes for a miracle and salvation. Of course Von Trier will not give its audience, nor its characters, the privilege of thinking there is any sort of escape and redemption; instead he deliberately lets us wallow in the dark until the final moments of Earth.

Seeking A Friend For the End of World (2012)
17END1_SPAN-articleLargeIf so far Doomsday seems rather stressful, fear not. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley find time to fall in love just before the sky bursts into flames. The title is self-explanatory about what’s a stake here: nobody wants to die alone, especially when everyone is going to die. Carell is Dodge, a sort of boring and depressed middle-aged man whose wife leaves him as soon as she finds out that Asteroid Matilda will collide with Earth. Dodge seems to have lost any sense of commitment, faithfulness, or fear, as everything is basically meaningless. But Penny (Knightley), being charming and spontaneous, shows Dodge the simple pleasures in life. The characters the couple encounters in their journey are an array of emotional states that represent what the end can produce in people: Total sadness, sexual liberation, hyperactive survival instincts, etc. But in the end, all you need is love… and perhaps a bunker. But here, love will do.

Self-Destruction and/or Disease Scenarios

 28 Days Later (2002)
ExpatFantasy28days_1555394iIn Danny Boyle’s smart zombie apocalypse film, Cillian Murphy plays Jim, who wakes up in a hospital to find himself in a world in which a virus has caused the breakdown of civilization. Britain has been reduced to a few groups of survivors and millions of raging subhuman creatures. Here, the zombies, or “infected,” are fast and sort of smart. What can be creepier than an enraged and focused zombie running towards you? This is one of the films that reignited the zombie euphoria in pop culture. The few survivors become ruthless killers, and are forced to forget their humanity to remain alive, surely a nightmarish scenario for most of us.

Children of Men (2006)
children-of-menThe gradual disintegration of society’s and the collapse of all institutions is a much more plausible end. Infertility is the name of the game in Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi masterpiece. Two decades in the future, no more babies are being born. The UK is the only place left with a functioning government, and a brutal, oppressive one at that. Clive Owen must get the first woman to become pregnant in decades to safety. Cuaron used the religious connotation of the story and infused it with action-packed single-shot sequences. Although bleak in premise, the film’s central idea is that there is hope, rather than an unchangeable fate, for humanity.

Contagion (2011)
contagion1Steven Soderbergh’s movie makes germophobes of us all. The film follows the global reach of a new virus that is both easily transmitted and deadly. Through an ensemble cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law, it depicts all sides of the tragedy. Driven by social commentary, the story abstains from exaggerated symptoms and death feel all too real. Soderbergh’s approach is equally serious and horrifying. If you plan on touching a lot of public objects any time soon, then think twice before submitting yourself to this film.

Pseudoscientific Threats

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The_Day_After_Tomorrow_15439_MediumTaking on global warming as an apocalyptic threat, this movie now seems terrifying plausible in the wake of Hurricane sandy. Dennis Quaid is a scientist whose findings on the ice caps is ignored by the government. Not long after, society begins unraveling due to mass destruction caused by horrible weather. The film was a success at the box office, but panned by critics because of its ridiculously inaccurate depiction of climate change as happening over a very small time frame. New York goes from extreme rain to an Ice Age in a matter of hours. At least the film brought climate chance to the center of public attention.

2012 (2009)
2012-movie-new-image-7Smart Hollywood producers decided to bank on the supposed Mayan prophecy. Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic fantasies take on gigantic heights with his latest disaster saga. Here, neutrinos heating the Earth’s core causes crazy earthquakes and other disasters. John Cusack is a man trying to save his estranged family, and eventually they make it to China, where the richest people in the world have tickets on giant ships. It’s a bonanza of not-great CGI, the typical unexplainable luck that the hero has to survive everything, a couple sad and hopeful moments, and a useless president. Not a good film by any standards, but it can’t be forgotten in a list that commemorates exactly what its story is about.

Apocalypto (2006)
apocalypto-7There’s no better way to end the list that with a film about the people that started this frenzy, the Mayans themselves. Mel Gibson’s action film is about the own destruction of a single civilization, rather than global annihilation. Apocalypto is a very well crafted film, visually astonishing and violent, at times it feels anthropologic. The film achieved such great authenticity by casting real indigenous people and shooting the film in their dialects, on real Mesoamerican locations, all of which works to fully immerse the audience in the final days of the Mayans.

The complete facts about the demise of such an advanced people might never be known, but did they really know something we don’t about the future? We’ll find out in just a few days. While you wait for the end to come, go out in style with these films. Happy Doomsday, everyone!