This past weekend, Last Man on Earth proved that people still love to laugh at the end of the world. But hilarious looks at the end of days are nothing new — the extinction of humanity always brings out the dark humor in people. Here are the top 10 greatest apocalyptic comedies of all end times.
Note: For the purposes of this list, we're not making a hard distinction between "apocalyptic" and "post-apocalyptic." Can you really ever tell if the apocalypse is over, anyway?
11. The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway
Like a couple things on this list, this novel isn't quite a straight-up comedy — because it's very dark and pretty sad. But it's also side-splittingly hilarious. There's been a bizarre war, the Go-Away War, and now the world is in a shambles, and weird reality-dissolving substances are leaking into the air. We talked to Harkaway about the joys of post-apocalyptic comedy here.
10. A Boy and His Dog
This 1975 movie, based on a story by Harlan Ellison, is very bleak, and yet bitterly funny. There's been a nuclear holocaust, and the survivors include a boy (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog named Blood. They wander the wilderness, trying to survive — and doing the unthinkable along the way. The whole thing leads up to a horrible punchline.
9. Night of the Comet
When a comet has wiped out almost all life on Earth and unleashed a zombie apocalypse, what do you do? Hit the mall, of course. Two young women are among the last survivors of the human race, and they make the most of it, in this very 80s, tongue-in-cheek girl-comedy.
8. This Is The End
Seth Rogen, James Franco and their pals play themselves in this ultra-weird improv-heavy comedy about the Biblical apocalypse, from the Book of Revelations. It's like the end of the world is so intense, it even shatters the barrier between reality and fiction. Mostly, this movie is made by its completely inappropriate and side-splitting final reel.
7. The World's End
The third movie in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy isn't quite up to the standards of Shaun of the Dead — which we also considered including here, except that the world doesn't quite end there. But it's still a ridiculously funny and thought-provoking look at a midlife crisis that turns into a realization that you really can't go home again, which in turn becomes a realization that everything is even more fake than you realized. It's the most personal apocalypse, but also the most insane.
We could have populated this list entirely with zombie comedies — but this is the most apocalyptic, and also the funniest. Four survivors, named after cities, try to hold it together and get to an amusement park, after everything has gone tits-up. The zombie-survival rules are a funny touch, but the surprise celebrity cameo really makes it special.
5. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's novel, like Harkaway's, is sort of a dark, sad story with a heavy veneer of comedy on top. A journalist who's writing about the father of the atomic bomb winds up stumbling on a plot to unleash a substance called Ice-9 which will turn all water to ice and basically wipe out the human race. Vonnegut's non-stop flood of absurdity heightens the nihilism of this scenario, but he also shows how everyone is connected — which just makes the whole thing funnier, and sadder.
4. Adventure Time
The land of Ooo looks pretty and candy-coated — but it's actually the aftermath of a horrific nuclear holocaust, the Mushroom War, and the resurgence of magic is a side effect of the radioactive calamity. In this incredibly bleak scenario, Finn is the happy-go-lucky last human (more or less), having goofy, silly adventures with his talking, stretchy dog Jake. Most episodes are uproariously silly, but then the darkness creeps in when you least expect it.
3. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Here's another brilliant take on the Book of Revelations — the Antichrist has arrived, the end times are here, and the Four Horsemen are ready to ride. Except that they have the wrong Antichrist. And one angel and one demon are having second thoughts about ending the world, because they rather like it here. This is one of those books that absolutely everybody must read, without question.
2. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Thanks to everyone who insisted this one deserves a spot on this list — we agree. Douglas Adams' classic space comedy has the most inventive spin on the end of the world — it uses the destruction of Earth as a jumping-off point, literally, for a bizarre and hilarious adventure.
1. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
It's not even close — Stanley Kubrick's movie about nuclear apocalypse is not just the darkest and most barbed satire on our tendency to wipe ourselves out — it's also the funniest and best apocalyptic comedy. Just that final image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb is etched into our collective memory forever.
Some runners up: The Bed Sitting Room, Whoops Apocalypse!, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Radioactive Dreams, Warm Bodies, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Ghostbusters, Sexmission, Dogma and Cabin in the Woods