You’d think that the appetite for stories about the end of civilization would subside during a real-life global pandemic. But while many Netflix subscribers tried to forget about the outside world early on by immersing themselves in the madness of Tiger King, others doubled down on all the bleakness by sending Outbreak and Contagion to the top of the most-watched list.
And the streaming giant has continued to cater to these gluttons for punishment in 2021: Awake, Sweet Tooth and a second season of Black Summer will all drop over the next month. If pure escapism isn’t your bag, then check out 10 of the service’s best post-apocalyptic originals.
Apparently 45 million Netflix viewers celebrated Christmas 2018 by watching a claustrophobic horror about a mysterious entity that drives anyone who sees it to suicide. Bird Box may sound distinctly unfestive, then. But with one of Hollywood’s most likeable A-listers as its blindfolded heroine and a plot that mirrored one of the year’s big surprise hits, you can understand the reasons it became such a post-turkey dinner favorite. The adaptation of Josh Malerman’s same-named novel doesn’t quite hit the same heights as the similarly themed A Quiet Place. However, buoyed by Sandra Bullock’s brilliantly gutsy lead performance, this is still a tense, taut survival tale that will have you glued.
Into the Night
A hijacked plane must outrun the sun, after its rays wipe out the Earth-bound population. Into the Night sounds like one of the many high-concept one-season wonders that emerged in the wake of Lost. But Netflix’s first Belgian original has already been renewed for a second series, thanks to surprisingly strong character development, an appealing and diverse cast, and an ability to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout its six episodes. Even better, its short running time means you can binge through the whole thing in an afternoon. Just don’t read too much into the science behind the catastrophe.
What Happened to Monday?
Giving Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany a run for her money, Noomi Rapace plays seven identical twins with seven distinctive personalities in this logic-defying but ever-entertaining dystopian sci-fi. What Happened to Monday? is set in a near-future, where a one-child policy has been enforced to combat overpopulation. But having spent 30 years posing as the same person, it’s only now that Rapace’s bunch of Karens must overcome several threats – including Glenn Close in a more overtly villainous form than Cruella de Vil – to stay alive. Sure, it’s full of glaring plot holes, but director Tommy Wirkola (the man behind Nazi zombie-slaying horror Dead Snow) patches them up with plenty of B-movie thrills.
A group of all-American teens (played by actors blatantly in their mid-20s, of course) return home from a field trip to discover that all other mankind has mysteriously disappeared. On the surface, The Society looks like your average glossy YA drama. But amid all the high-school cliches, there are also debates on the power of democracy, privilege and religion, aligning it with the existential mystery of HBO's The Leftovers just as much as the glossy mayhem of Riverdale. Sadly, events in the real world put paid to a second series, but the first still contains a satisfying enough resolution to make the investment worth it.
Army of the Dead
After nearly a decade of increasingly bloated shenanigans in the DC Extended Universe, Zack Snyder returned to his genre roots this year with arguably his most entertaining film since Dawn of the Dead. Despite its title, this typically OTT mash-up isn’t affiliated with his 2004 remake of the Romero classic. Instead, it’s a separate franchise spawner (a prequel and animated TV spin-off will soon follow) where a motley crew of specialists plan to rob a casino, which, like the rest of its zombiefied Las Vegas setting, is about to get a government nuking. Sure, it’s completely ridiculous, but unlike most of Snyder’s comic book fare, it doesn’t forget to be fun.
Tribes of Europa
Reportedly conceived in response to Brexit, Tribes of Europa follows three gung-ho siblings attempting to reunite the continent after a cataclysmic event dubbed Black December splits it into several warring factions. And a mysterious cube found in an air crash wreckage appears to hold the key. Set in 2074, 45 years after said disaster, this dystopian sci-fi isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s almost as much brutality and bloodshed in its six episodes as there is in the entirety of Game of Thrones. But since it's produced by the team behind Netflix’s breakout German hit Dark, such hyperviolence is counterbalanced by beautiful cinematography and a rich mythology that deserves to be explored further.
The Midnight Sky
George Clooney pulls double duty in this decidedly chilly end-of-the-world drama that suggests he was taking notes while filming Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris. Returning to screens for the first time since 2016, the director plays a terminally ill Arctic Circle-based scientist who must warn a space crew heading back from Jupiter that a radiation-stricken Earth is no longer hospitable. Drenched in melancholy, The Midnight Sky is far more interested in ruminating on human connection, redemption and the future of civilization than delivering high-octane action. Although set-pieces, including a perilous spacewalk, ensure there’s still plenty to feast the eyes, while Alexandre Desplat’s evocative score ensures it sounds equally majestic.
Had The Rain arrived in the midst of the dystopian young adult boom, rather than the tail end, it would have deservedly garnered more attention. In this Danish original toxic rain is the enemy, having wiped out almost the entire Scandinavian population, with siblings Rasmus and Simone – who’ve just emerged from an underground bunker after six years – the reluctant heroes. As they search for both the father who left them and a cure, the pair join forces with several other engaging young survivors, most of whom have fascinating backstories of their own. If you thought that Nordic TV was all about noirish crime and woolly jumpers, think again.
Adapted from a same-named short film released four years earlier, 2017’s underrated and understated Cargo brings something a little different to the overcrowded zombie stable. Firstly, there’s the scorched Aussie outback setting, which allows directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke to explore all the undead drama from an Aboriginal perspective. Then there’s the fact that anyone bitten takes 48 hours to turn into a full-blown flesh-eater – a delay that gives Martin Freeman’s newly infected father the chance to find his infant daughter a carer before he meets the same rabid fate as his wife. Few zombie flicks have tugged at the heartstrings as effectively.
Don’t let the fact that this outlandish comedy drama was cancelled by Netflix after just one season deter you. Laughing both with and at Generation Z, Daybreak is a joyously anarchic adaptation of Brian Ralph’s same-named comic book series that combines the postmodernism of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick even shows up) with the post-apocalyptic tribalism of Mad Max.
Colin Ford takes center stage as the transfer student determined to find his absent girlfriend in the wake of a nuclear explosion that’s turned all adults into bloodthirsty mutants. But it’s his pyromaniac tween and bully-turned-samurai pals that steal the show in a refreshing alternative to all the self-serious YA fare.
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Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.