5. Night of the Comet (1984)
This neon-lit, tongue-in-cheek pastiche of Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Omega Man (1971) is buttressed by two strong female protagonists, in writer-director Thom Eberhardt’s influential post-apocalyptic party film, Night of the Comet.
Two headstrong teenage sisters, Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), find themselves amongst a scant handful of survivors after a comet blows by the Earth, either reducing most of the populace to piles of dust or seriously effed up zombies. The two young women spend most of the movie either dodging or duelling the undead and some douchey scientists, and it all amounts to a surprising amount of fun.
Joss Whedon has proclaimed many times that Maroney’s 16-year-old Samantha was the basis for his vampire-killin’ creation Buffy Summers, so fans should take note and plan a sleepover with Night of the Comet –– you’ll have a witty, imaginative, occasionally scary, and enjoyably silly time.
4. Quintet (1979)
Robert Altman’s deliberately paced and altogether artful post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale confounded critics and audiences on its initial release, and it’s a crying shame that begs the question: can a reassessment be far behind for this overlooked gem?
Set in the distant future, during a new ice age, Quintet features an A-list international cast that includes Paul Newman, Bibi Andersson, and Fernando Rey, each vying for a meaningful life in a landscape of desolation and uncertainty. In a world buried beneath endless snow, the few survivors scavenge for what little food remains, journeying vast distances and ultimately ending up at the Hotel Electra where a deadly five-sided board game, “Quintet” is played.
In keeping with similar works from this period, specifically Images (1971) and 3 Women (1977), Altman instills a subtle greatness and obscure-yet-ever-building tension amongst these characters, their dreamlike environs, and a plot that is frequently clear as mud.
Quintet is a challenging watch, but a rewarding one for the patient viewer or those who enjoy the mysteries of a Möbius strip film, where the meaning must be puzzled out, wrestled, tamed, dissected, and discussed. A treasure.
3. The Quiet Earth (1985)
“God blinked and the whole world disappeared,” utters Joanne (Alison Routledge), one of only three survivors of a strange energy experiment gone terribly awry in Kiwi filmmaker Geoffrey Murphy’s (Goodbye Pork Pie) tour de force sci-fi foray, The Quiet Earth.
Inspired by Craig Harrison’s 1981 SF novel of the same name, Murphy’s film is a survival epic comparable to George Romero’s apocalyptic undead films in that man’s experiments have led to our destruction.
Scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence, brilliant), part of the international consortium energy program dubbed “Project Flashlight”, awakens one morning to find the city he lives in deserted. Not just the city, he soon discovers, but the entire world.
Everyone is gone and Zac’s search for survivors will only be hindered by his own potential mental collapse. It’s an apocalypse with a surprisingly light touch and some slick psychology behind it that may just be your favorite of the last-man-on-earth sub genre, and certainly a deserved cult classic that fans of The Twilight Zone are sure to relish.
2. Ikarie XB 1 (1963)
Anticipating, in mood, seriousness, and style, both Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), this overlooked celestial saga from Czechoslovakian filmmaker Jindřich Polák had a profound and resonant influence on the sci-fi genre.
Sleek and deeply philosophical, Ikarie XB 1 is loosely based off of the 1958 novel “The Magellanic Cloud” by legendary Polish writer Stanisław Lem. Set aboard the titular massive spacecraft in the year 2163, the Ikarie XB 1 is bound for Alpha Centauri, carrying within its hull is an international crew of forty men and women. How will they cope with the psychological pressures of their years-long journey? Well, it won’t be a cakewalk, that’s for sure.
Aided by Polák and his first-rate cinematographer Jan Kališ’s knack for stirring and powerful visual compositions, and shot in elegant CinemaScope, Ikarie XB 1, also known to English-speaking audiences as Voyage to the End of the Universe, is a beautiful and engaging SF spectacle that might just blow you away (with extra props for Zdeněk Liška’s amazing electronic score). Don’t miss it.
1. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
The joyfully detouring shaggy dog (pun intended) narratives in this curious cult classic sci-fi spectacle were written by the legendary scribe Harlan Ellison (“Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled”, “Deathbird Stories”), drawn largely from his 1969 novel of the same name.
Now, depending on who you ask, A Boy and His Dog is often thought to be the first post-apocalyptic genre film and may well have been responsible for the deluge of similarly themed films that flooded out afterwards (George Miller cites it as an influence on his Mad Max films, so there’s that, too).
Directed with an offbeat and eccentric sensibility by L.Q. Jones (Hang ‘Em High), this pitch-black comedy concerns Vic (a baby-faced Don Johnson), a horny teenager and now shady scavenger out to survive in the dangerous post-apocalyptic wastes of what’s left of the Southern United States. Keeping him company is Blood, his telepathic dog, voiced by Tim McIntire. When our unlikely duo stumble upon the sexy and suspicious Quilla June (Susanne Benton), a member of an underground society deep below the earth’s surface, Vic follows her down into the astonishingly surreal depths.
A Boy and His Dog is a strange and singular doomsday fable for fans of adventurous and strange SF cinema.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.