Features and Columns · Movies

Why 21st Century Apocalypse Fiction Hits Different

It’s the end of the world as we know it and survival isn’t enough.
The Last Of Us Ellie
By  · Published on May 3rd, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why apocalypse fiction on the small and big screen feels different these days.

It’s a little trite, but it’s also true: the way we picture the apocalypse says a lot more about our present than it does about our future.

One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the rise of environmental horror films in the 1970s. In many ways — especially in America — the ’70s were the decade in which the other shoe dropped. Free love failed to fulfill its untenable promise; Vietnam had thoroughly muddied the myth of imperialist heroics, and a mounting number of environmental disasters resulted in the creation of the EPA. I’m oversimplifying. But understanding the through-line between the “70s scourge” of acid rain and the rise of environmental catastrophe flicks like No Blade of Grass (1970), Z.P.G. (1972), and Soylent Green (1973) isn’t hard to follow.

All this to say: we shouldn’t just be looking to our apocalypse fiction for visions of what’s to come. And, if you’ve been paying close attention (especially to apocalypse media created around/after the COVID-19 pandemic), you may have noticed a shift. There’s a good deal of 21st Century apocalypse fiction that argues we’ll immediately turn into animals the moment governments and institutions fall. Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope right before the credits roll, but generally speaking: it has been the style, until recently, to showcase how primal, selfish, and individualistic we’ll become the moment society goes bust.

But, as the video essay below argues: this is starting to change. Survival isn’t enough, or even possible, without community. We have an instinctive drive to feel human, even while the world is crumbling around us. And an inextricable part of feeling human is feeling connected to others.

Beware slight visual spoilers for The Last of Us, The Leftovers, and Station 11.

Watch “Why Apocalypse Stories Feel Different Now”

Who made this?

This video essay on why survival movies and television shows feel different was created by Like Stories of Old, a video essay channel run by Tom van der Linden. You can follow van der Linden on Twitter here. And you can subscribe to his YouTube account here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.