Ranking the most ultimate post-apocalyptic action movies of all time!
Imagining what the world would look like after a global natural disaster, a deadly pandemic, or a nuclear war, should be a very discomforting thought. And yet it has fascinated humanity for a long time, and the entertainment industry also contemplated aplenty on it. After all, a world with no rules, populated with murderous bandits and bloodthirsty mutants, is the perfect playground for exciting adventures and relentless action! In this list, we present you our choice of the 20 most ultimate post-apocalyptic action movies!
20) Terminator: Salvation (2009)
The fourth installment of the Terminator franchise showed us what happened after Skynet’s victory over humanity. John Connor (Christian Bale) and the mysterious loner Marcus (Sam Worthington) see their fate intertwined on a mission to save Kyle Reese (Connor’s father in the past) from the machines. The best thing about the film is that it creates the post-apocalyptic world in perfect detail, and impressively visualizes the state of constant warfare in this desolate world.
Pretty much everything else is a failure, be it the generic characters, the uninteresting plot, and embarrassing action sequences. Director McGee emulated Transformers and created a soulless CGI fest featuring ludicrous mega-Terminators that release motorcycles from their legs. Terminator: Salvation is a pale shadow of the previous Terminator entries, but as action fast food it’s worth at least a single watch.
19) Tank Girl (1995)
The adaptation of the cult comic book flick gave us plush helmets and the cutest tank in movie history. Rebecca’s (Lori Petty) life gets turned upside after her cozy wasteland villa is destroyed by goons of the tyrannic Water and Power corporation. Rebecca steals a tank and sets out so set things right for the free people.
A punk vibe (and soundtrack) permeates the whole film as it tells the classic story about the fight of free spirits vs. an evil corporation. With its coarse humor, chaotic dialogues and sassy characters, the film indulges a bit too much in its attitude rather than telling a compelling story. The action also lacks a bit of oomph, and sometimes feels like a fizzled parody of the genre. Despite these flaws, Tank Girl is a great early entry to feminist action cinema and a happy acid trip.
18) Fist of the North Star (1995)
The live-action adaptation of the popular manga put a big spotlight on its star Gary Daniels and his martial arts skills. Kenshiro (Daniels) travels through a post-nuclear world to take down the leader of tyrannical clan Southern Cross Shin, who killed Kenshiro’s father. Director Tony Randel created an awesome visual mix, combining the classic post-apocalyptic imagery of crumbling cities and desolate desert landscapes with Soviet-style art and a touch of Metropolis.
Daniels impresses with a fantastic mullet and fashion choices (topless in leather pants). His fight performance is even better, and he pulls some nasty moves on his opponents, rearranging body parts in numerous uncanny ways. Despite being a tad too serious and cheesy on occasion, Fist of the North Star scores high on atmosphere, and delivers a bunch of kick-ass fights!
17) American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993)
Isn’t this one of the most awesome titles for an action flick! Humans lost the war against the machines and were also rendered sterile in the nuclear fallout. Mary is tasked to bring an engineered embryo to safety, and only the mysterious loner Austin (Joe Lara) can protect her from the dangers lurking in the ruins of civilization. The movie is a relentless chase with a cascade of shootouts and fights, as Mary and Austin are facing a psychopathic drag queen gang, mutant mummy cannibals, and a blonde mustache terminator.
Despite being incredibly derivative, the film succeeds in creating a good sense of immersion into a post-apocalyptic cityscape. If an action-packed hiking trip through industrial ruins with frantic shootouts sounds appealing to you, you’re in for a lot of fun with American Cyborg: Steel Warrior.
16) Bullets of Justice (2019)
After World War III. A super soldier experiment gone wrong. “The Muzzles”, cross-bred from humans and pigs. Humans in concentration camps and their meat is on the menu. Rob Justice, the hero of the human resistance. Sent to kill the “Mother of Muzzles”. Fighting a pig-man in a jetpack with a midget strapped to his back. Cyborgs. Telekinesis. Time Travel. Women with mustaches. Thick Eastern European accents. Absurd humor. Filth. Brutality. Disgust. Creative. Energetic. High-grade camp. Modern grindhouse perfection.
15) Mutant Chronicles (2008)
The tabletop role-playing and miniatures game received a bonkers conversion into a movie. In 2707, the world is devastated from constant war. An ancient ground seal is broken, and an army of bloodthirsty monsters emerges. The monk Samuel assembles a suicide commando of elite soldiers to descend into the pit and save mankind.
The world of Mutant Chronicles features an inventive and haunting imagery with its blend of WW1, steampunk, and Metropolis-style visuals. The film is also a massive slugfest, when mutants go on their rampage over the battlefields, and our band of heroes makes its descent into almost literal hell and plow through hordes of enemies. Big-ass blades and firearms leave perforated and exploding bodies in their trails. Mutant Chronicles is a post-apocalyptic Steampunk action fest deluxe!
14) Bounty Killer (2013)
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Bounty Killer became an instant indie action classic! After greedy corporations devastated the world, it’s hunting season for white-collar criminals. The two bounty hunters Drifter and Mary Death share a love-hate relationship, and their actions will determine the fate of the whole wasteland.
Western, Grindhouse and retro visuals are thrown together to create a colorful setting that radiates fun from the first to the last minute. The action does not disappoint, with some cool car chases Mad Max-style, and ultra-bloody shootouts with lots of macabre ideas. There’s also a triumphant cameo for Gary Busey as chief executing psychopath. Bounty Hunter delivers 90 minutes of pure escapism and spectacle.
13) Barb Wire (1996)
In 1996, Pamela Anderson tried to diversify her acting activities beyond Baywatch into the movie business and gave us this wild and sexy actioner based on a comic book. In a USA ravaged by the second civil war, Bar owner and bounty hunter Barb Wire (Anderson) gets caught in the crossfire between criminal gangs, the police, and a government torture squad. The film has a fantastic visual vibe, it’s a delicious Punk Rock Industrial dystopia.
Anderson’s character is a legitimate bad-ass heroine, and her earnestness makes delivery of the numerous cheesy one-liners even more compelling. Her physical performance is also impressive – with lots of shooting and punching – considering she does everything with four-inch-high heels and a tight corset. And the final showdown is a spectacular half hour of vehicular carnage and non-stop explosions. Barb Wire is how I like my comic book movies: silly, violent, and action-packed!
12) Knights (1993)
Albert Pyun will always be remembered as the ultimate grandmaster of cyborg flicks, and the terrific action extravaganza Knights ranks high among them! A cyborg army roams the barren earth, draining people’s blood as fuel for their bodies. Only Nea (Kathy Land) and the rogue cyborg Gabriel (Kris Kristofferson) have knowledge of secret martial arts techniques that can kill the cyborgs and save humanity.
Vampire cyborg knights on horses attain consciousness by injecting themselves with human blood. Rarely has there been a greater premise for an action film than this one. Cyborgs and humans duke it out relentlessly, and the fight sequences are some of the best you will find in a DTV flick from the 1990s. Knights is an ultimate cheesy spectacle!
11) Priest (2011)
Priest steals shamelessly from genre classics such as Judge Dredd, Underworld, and Equilibrium, but does it in such an excellent way that it becomes a high-octane action adventure! The war between humanity and vampires has concluded, and humanity’s elite warriors, the Priests were forced into retirement. When the niece of a Priest (Paul Bettany) is abducted by the former enemy, he becomes a hunter once again.
Cyberpunk, Western and post-apocalyptictic tropes are merged into a delicious Sci-Fi pulp cocktail. Martial arts priests vs. vampires is a perfect premise for lots of violent clashes with gunfire, holy cross shurikens and slo-mo roundhousing. Priest is highly derivative, but also highly entertaining.
10) Cold Harvest (1999)
The two martial arts movie legends director Isaac Florentine and the uncrowned king of spinning kicks Gary Daniels teamed up for this slam dunk in the low-budget action arena. Bounty hunter Roland (Daniels) rescues Christine, the wife of his deceased brother, from the grips of lunatic bandit lord Little Ray (Brian Genesse) and his sinister plan for her. Little Ray wants her back, and the show is on.
Cold Harvest gives us the post-apocalypse Wild West style with a sprinkle of Gun Fu, and a total overdose of martial arts. Florentine goes all in from the beginning with a crazy tempo and Daniels has plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent, all the way to a finale that is pure carnage captured on celluloid. Cold Harvest is DTV gold of the highest purity!
9) Cherry 2000 (1987)
The 1980s were a great decade for goofy and action-packed Sci-Fi comedies, and Cherry 2000 ranks high among them. When Sam’s (David Andrews) sex android Cherry breaks, he enlists the help of tracker “E” (Melanie Griffith) to find spare parts in the scrapyard of Zone 7, the most dangerous part of the wasteland. The colorful badlands look like Las Vegas exploded and its remains rained down everywhere.
Our two leads Sam and E are incredibly charming and unlikely action heroes, and nonchalantly pass through even the most dangerous situations. The highlight of the film is a legendary sequence that involves a car dangling in the air, half a dozen rocket launchers, and a perilous drop into a water tunnel of the Hoover dam. Cherry 2000 is an enormously fun trip through the wasteland, and E’s sweatshirt with the print “Dignity” should be compulsorily worn by every member of humanity.
8) Love and Monsters (2020)
Love and Monsters shows us that optimism can prevail despite the hardships of living in the ruins of civilization. After an environmental disaster, insects and reptiles have grown to gargantuan proportions, and wiped out most of humanity. Joel (Dylan O’Brian) leaves his bunker and embarks on the dangerous journey through monster-infested nature to be reunited with his lost girlfriend Aimee.
The film impresses with an extraordinarily light-hearted vibe, witty dialogues, and likeable characters. The wildlands are populated by fascinating but almost always deadly creatures that launch relentless attacks against Joel and his fellow travelers. Love and Monsters carries the simple but important message that it’s fun to get out of your (metaphoric) bunker every once in a while, there may be an adventure waiting for you outside.
7) The Book of Eli (2010)
Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman clash intensely in this atmospheric post-apocalyptic actioner. Eli (Washington) scavenges the ruins of civilization for food and goods. He stops in a village that is ruled by the tyrannical Carnegie (Oldman), who seeks to get hold of a mysterious book Eli carries with him, and a violent confrontation arises. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes create images that are eerie and beautiful at the same time and evoke the vibe of a Western frontier town.
Some religious undertones are cleverly embedded into the story and invite you to reflect on them instead of being preachy. The action is well-dosed and incredibly brutal. Washington is a stoic bad-ass, and his uncanny speed and precision make him a seemingly unsurmountable protector of his book. The Book of Eli is a grim, but also hopeful tale, and a fantastic entry to the genre!
6) Snowpiercer (2013)
In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon Ho creates an ingenious microcosmos against the backdrop of a frozen world after an experiment to mitigate climate change went horribly wrong. The only survivors are on board the train Snowpiercer that moves through the icy wasteland. The poorest of them dwell in abysmal conditions and are oppressed by the self-proclaimed elite in the front wagons. Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) devise a plan to break through the barriers and start a rebellion.
It’s a not-so-subtle metaphor for an impermeable class system, but the setting inevitably will draw you in thanks to its believable characters that are brought to life by a fantastic cast. The film is also an action-packed call to arms, and the numerous fights in close quarters are ferocious and immensely gripping. Snowpiercer is a rare breed, masterfully blending emotional depth, kick-ass action, and food for thought!
5) Reign of Fire (2002)
Reign of Fire puts an interesting spin on the apocalypse when dragons that laid dormant for ages awaken and set the world ablaze. Years after apocalypse, a small band of survivors teams up with a squad of US soldiers who have found a way to end the dragon menace once and for all. The Marines upgraded the traditional dragon-slayer tactics, helicopters and tanks surely pack a lot more punch than swords and lances.
Director Rob Bowman shows us a world transformed into a hellish inferno of smoke, fire, and ash. The story is told straightforwardly without being dumb and keeps the action coming at a good rate. The dragons are bad-ass monsters and deliver devastating attacks that would make Godzilla proud. Reign of Fire is perfect popcorn entertainment!
4) Turbo Kid (2015)
The first full-length film of Canadian indie RKSS become one of the best indie actioners of all time! When scavenging the ruins of civilization on his BMX bike, the Kid (Munro Chambers) finds the power glove of the mythical soldier Turbo Rider. With his new weapon he takes it up against the ruler of the wasteland Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his army of sadistic killers.
In the world of Turbo Kid, everyone rides a bicycle, and even the most intimidating villains look adorable when cruising around on their BMX bikes. The whole film is a charming homage to the post-apocalyptic classics we all love and throws in a load of references to 1980s pop culture, plus a fantastic Synthwave soundtrack. The action features gory slapstick sequences, with plenty of heads being chopped off and fountains of blood. Turbo Kid also teaches us the ultimate rule for close combat: Eyes! Throat! Genitals!
3) Cyborg (1989)
The ambitious artistic vision of Albert Pyun may never have been more visible than in Cyborg, his post-apocalyptic opus magnum. Mercenary Gibson (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is tasked by the CDC to escort the cyborg Pearl on her journey through the wasteland to bring the cure for the disease that has decimated humanity to a safe place, while being chased by the sadistic Fender (Vincent Klyn) and his gang of pirates.
The first scene of the movie throws us into a nightmarish vision of a post-apocalyptic world, and the visuals he crafted for Cyborg in this scene and many others are engrossing. Van Damme gets to do his share of roundhousing, but the most memorable character is his counterpart Fender, one of the most intimidating and bad-ass villains of all time. Cyborg hits the sweet spot for balancing an atmospheric journey through the wasteland with just the right amount of kick-ass action!
2) The Blood of Heroes (1989)
With The Blood of Heroes, legendary screenwriter David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) gave us an ingenious post-apocalyptic sports actioner. Sallow (Rutger Hauer) and his fighters travel through a barren land to compete in Jugging matches, a savage version of American Football. To earn their place among the lucky few in the subterranean Nine Cities, they need to defeat the elite Juggers from the underground.
This version of the wasteland that does not look inviting for adventure, but just desolate and bleak. A great cast is led by the late Rutger Hauer who is as charismatic and commanding as ever. The Jugger matches are intense, raw, and devoid of any pathos. Peoples masterfully succeeds at drawing the audience right into the middle of the playing field, with plenty of broken bones and blood being spilled. The Blood of Heroes is one of the best entries to the sports action genre ever!
1) Mad Max Saga (1979 – 2015)
George Miller invented the post-apocalyptic action genre as we know it today. Police officer Max Rockatansky turns to a cynical anti-hero, in a world that became a playground for savage characters and their murderous vehicles. All four films are ultimate classics, so we lump all of them into our number one spot, but we give you a mini ranking of them:
4) Mad Max (1979): a cynical low-budget actioner that already contained many ingredients of the later classics
3) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985): A light-hearted entry to the movie series, with a fantastic world-building and the legendary Thunderdome fight
2) The Road Warrior (1981): The classic tale of the wasteland drifter with some of the best car mayhem of all time
1) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): The best action movie of the 21st century that brought an insane new level of car action to the genre that can only be surpassed by Miller himself