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The Last Picture Show?

Hollywood delights in world-ending flicks


Cataclysm has been really, really good for Hollywood. Perhaps no other genre consistently pulls in moviegoers anxious to watch global annihilation while polishing off a large soda.

Moviedom's biggest stars have cut their teeth on trying to save the world. Bruce Willis brushed a giant meteor away from Earth's orbit in Armageddon, Will Smith told aliens to suck it in Independence Day, and Mel Gibson taught us to be afraid, very afraid, of crop circles in Signs. But perhaps no actor has had greater success with end-of-days themes than Charlton Heston.

String together Heston's apocalyptic resume and you have a pretty depressing film festival: The Omega Man, Soylent Green, Solar Crisis and the holy grail of kitschy sci-fi, Planet of the Apes. I vividly recall the ridiculous delight of watching Heston's sinewy snarl.

"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape," a half-naked Heston told his simian captors.

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I promise you that sitting in a 1968 movie palace watching the pre-CGI classic was mind-blowing. When Heston pounded his fists into the sand, recognizing that mankind had blown itself off its own planet and yielded to an ape conquest, audiences were astonished. No less than four sequels, two television series and two rather successful 21st century reboots were inspired by the original conceit.

Behind the lens, no other director has fetishized our demise more than Roland Emmerich, who takes particular glee and massive amounts of studio money to dream up new ways to kill us all. Some are rather terrible--Godzilla, Eight Legged Freaks, Universal Soldier--while others are just in extremely bad taste--2012, The Day After Tomorrow.

Of the scores of films that consider the possibility of our demise, we can generally divide them into two camps: those that take themselves way too seriously and those that gleefully embrace a universe without universal order.

Of the latter, the top of the apocalyptic heap belongs to Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick's so-true-that-it's-achingly-funny examination of our nuclear age.

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There are plenty more of its ilk: 12 Monkeys, Night of the Comet and Shaun of the Dead, to name a few.

And the former offers some of the best movies of any genre: 28 Days Later, Children of Men, The Road Warrior, I Am Legend and Dawn of the Dead (the 2004 remake).

Unfortunately, this summer's most-recent effort, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, is a ghastly flop. Not knowing whether to be funny or sweet, the film is neither, and I couldn't wait for the movie, and the characters' lives, to end.

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