Have you ever noticed that in every zombie, apocalypse, post-apocalypse or even simple horror movie you watch there are the things you see and think, “Well, THAT was stupid,” and the things you see but think, “Wow, that’s a good idea,”? Also, have you ever noticed the number of articles written about the “best apocalypse movies” or the “best post-apocalypse” movies? What I’ve been starting to wonder is if there are any similarities of plot that may well be indicators of what our biggest perceived challenges will be. So I did some research…
First, let me tell you, I was astounded by the number of apocalypse movies that have been made in the last 70+ years. Here’s how the numbers look:
Pre-1950: 4 movies
1950s: 7 movies
1990s: 29 (small dip there)
2010s (so far): 18 + those in production. That puts on us track for over 60 in this decade.
That’s a total of 179 so far. Sure, a lot of them are about zombies or some type of biological disaster, but a fair number of them are about weather disasters or astrological (comets/meteors) end of world scenarios. Then there are those that offer no explanation about how the world ended as we know it, but are simply about life after an apocalypse.
No matter which type we are talking about, there is always a hero (or collection thereof) and man’ heroic struggle to survive or overcome. The ones that offer us any insight, and probably the best entertainment, are the ones about individuals or small groups; not those that focus on government solutions. Some of the movies that come to mind are:
- Dawn of the Dead – a small group surviving a zombie outbreak
- Mad Max – a man seeking vengeance on the motorcycle gang that killed his family
- The Day After Tomorrow – a man braves the next ice age in an effort to save his son and those trapped with him in the new frozen tundra of New York City
- I Am Legend – a single man living in Manhattan trying to find the cure for a man made zombie outbreak
- The Book of Eli – a man travels cross country to carry an inspired message, having to survive gangs and cannibals along the way
- Zombieland – spoof of sorts about a small group coming together to survive and thrive in a zombie infested world
When you look at that list and consider the movies, I don’t consider the first two, in any way, of value to find any good survival ideas. Sure, with Dawn of the Dead you get the seemingly great idea of securing yourself in a mall and having all the resources therein to survive on. My challenges with this scenario are threefold:
- Malls are HUGE when you consider the perimeter you have to secure. If you don’t have a dozen people or more (at least) there will be gaps.
- Malls are either ovens or refrigerators. If you don’t have power, you don’t have comfort.
- Once the resources run out, which takes time and gives every threat in the general area time to focus on your, you have to escape through all those threats.
While the storyline about a widowed husband and suffering father is compelling in Mad Max, it’s more a story about revenge than survival. Survival for that movie franchise really started to kick in with The Road Warrior and then tipped over the top with Beyond Thunderdome. The bottom line, for me, is that no decent or realistic survival skills were presented beyond being creative with your weaponry.
In The Day After Tomorrow we got a glimpse of how politics might play a role in the increase (or decrease) of the survival rate of large segments of the population. When one or two people can make decisions that potentially impact millions, it’s not hard for the millions to be out of luck. Ultimately, you have to accept responsibility for your own survival and safety. That was demonstrated two ways in the movie, as was the mandate for making hard decisions. As far as actual survival skills go, there were some decently demonstrated tactics for winter survival as well as some scavenging hints we could all learn from (vending machines, shipboard medical supplies, etc.).
In my opinion, I Am Legend and The Book of Eli probably presented some of the best survival skills practiced in movies. The Book of Eli finds the hero (who is blind, by the way) traveling across the wasteland that used to be America on a mission from God to deliver his memorized copy of the Bible to a bastion of hope just off the west coast. We see that hero hunting feral cats for food, defending himself against common highway robbers, being careful about fresh meat he is offered (it’s human) and having to barter to get his electronics charged. Everything he needs to survive he carries and there is no shortage of weapons on his person. For a post-apocalypse nomadic existence, this movie may be closer to the mark then any of us would like to believe.
In I Am Legend, Will Smith portrays a lone Army Colonel, living on Long Island, able to go out only during the day because the night is ruled by zombies. In this case the zombies are man-made, having been mutated by the virus used to carry a “cure” for cancer. Will Smith’s character is immune to the virus AND he is an Army virologist. While the plot may seem over-the-top (or very realistic, depending on your point of view), the tactics he uses actually seem practical. His residence is secured by locking steel shutters; he covers his scent trail by spraying bleach behind himself; he stores food and uses it oldest-first by checking expiration dates; he never goes out without at least two guns – one long gun and one handgun; and he uses two watches to track sunrise and sunset times so he doesn’t get caught out after dark. All of his equipment is carefully prepared and he obviously scavenges fuel from all the vehicles sitting unused. (Spoiler alert!) Eventually he finds out that he’s not the only surviving non-infected human on the planet (although he has felt that way) and he helps some other survivors find their way to a safe compound along with a cure for the virus that created the zombies in the first place.
That brings me to Zombieland. Easily the most fun of all the movies listed, I’m not sure that it brings a lot to the table from the survival standpoint. Sure, some of the rules quoted actually make sense (Cardio, double tap, etc) but beyond that it pretty much makes fun of surviving a zombie apocalypse. One adolescent young man is chasing love, two sisters are chasing survival at the expense of anyone they encounter along with a trip to fantasyland (Pacific Pallisades) and the most lethal character is chasing Twinkies.
So, of those listed I recommend paying attention in The Book of Eli and I Am Legend. As you watch other apocalypse movies (and more are sure to follow), recognize the difference between what’s written in simply for the sake of the plot, entertainment, etc., and what’s actually of any potential value. We all know (hopefully) that not everything we see in movies makes any sense to emulate – so don’t. Be smart about it – but enjoy the entertainment as you can. Movies will be a thing of the past in any post-apocalyptic world.
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