Although less than two weeks have passed since the 80its’s “1980s Apocalyptic Films” episode, it seems like the whole world has changed. One constant, though, is what we can learn from these cautionary tales from our youth.
Before interviewing Catherine Mary Stewart, who starred in more than one apocalyptic movie in the 1980s, Will and Ray spend some time talking about the history of apocalyptic films. One of the most interesting parts was how each decade’s movies are influenced by current events. One can only imagine what apocalyptic movies will look like a few years from now. Regardless of the era, or the catalyst for the cataclysmic event, most of these movies share some key traits.
I talked last time about how many traditional horror movies fall into a category that screenwriting guru Blake Snyder called “Monster in the House.” It’s not as easy to classify apocalyptic movies, but most fall into a category called “Dude with a Problem.” Not surprisingly, these movies feature a dude (or “dudette”) who has a problem, but it’s more specific than that. The “dude” is usually an everyman and the “problem” is something that hits them like a ton of bricks. This includes a lot of thriller and action movies (DieHard and Home Alone are classics), but it’s harder to imagine a bigger bag of bricks than the end of the world.
The “dude” is often an Average Joe, at least for his world. Again, think John McClane, but Mad Max also fits into this category. When these movies are at their best, they make us realize that although we may be “average,” like the heroes of these movies, we also have hidden strengths. With all that’s going on today, I can’t help but think a little about what it would be like to be in those movies… which doesn’t seem as farfetched as it did a month ago, unfortunately.
Since one of my key skills – “movie knowledge” – doesn’t seem especially useful, it got me wonder how well these movies have prepared me. My wife and I often joke about our “apocalypse plan,” and most of our knowledge is gleaned from TV and movies. A lot of it is from newer stuff – LOST, The Walking Dead, and the like, although my wife is firmly convinced that sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy have prepped her to perform surgery, but I first learned to survive end times in the good old 1980s.
So, what do the films of our favorite decade tell us about the apocalypse and how to survive in it?
First, you’re going to want a sweet, sweet ride. Whether it’s a tricked-out muscle car like every Max Max knockoff or just a pair of roller skates like the Solarbabies, you need a way to get around, and it’s probably going to be something that draws attention.
Of course you’ll want a weapon. Guns are good; shotguns are better (I first learned that in the vaguely post-apocalyptic Streets of Fire), but don’t overlook something with a little flair, like a hockey stick, power tool (Ash vs. the apocalypse, anyone?), or something with a lot of jagged edges that you kit-bashed in your garage (although that’ll probably mark you as a villain).
You’ll need a weapon, because you’ll be fighting not only for survival, but also for resources. If movies from the 1980s are any indication, there’s a good chance it’s going to be water or gasoline (or both), even if the 2020 version points us more toward hand sanitizer.
One nice thing about movies of that era is that things are easy to find. From Tire Town Bartertown, it’s pretty easy to know where you’re headed. And these days, I imagine many folks would be looking for Toilet Paper Land (which, now that I write it, sounds like the worst theme park ever).
You’ve got your ride, your weapon, and something to fight over, so who will you be fighting? The 1980s generally give us three answers. First, there are “the crazies.” They may be street gang members or irradiated hicks, but you’ll probably hear them coming a mile away because they laugh like lunatics. I’m sure you remember them from Escape from New York, as well as countless others. Then there are the gangs of marauders, generally tricked out in leather. Depending on where you meet them, they have rides fully as sweet as your own. Finally, of course, there’s “the Authority.” Could be the government planning to start a nuclear war (as in Miracle Mile and WarGames), the warden trying to keep those poor kids oppressed, or even a street thug who has risen to the level of despot (think Michael Ironside in multiple movies). No matter who they are, though, they share one thing in common: you can’t trust them.
One last thing about the apocalypse: it’s probably going to be pretty brown and pretty dusty. And anyone who can be dressed in leather will be. And it will black and dusty. Maybe with bonus spikes.
So grab a long coat and shotgun, hop in a Camaro, and head off to defend Toilet Paper Land. And, as you drive through the brown landscape, check out the podcast and see what Will and Ray had to say about the end of the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George has been writing for decades, but for the past 15 years or so has focused on screenwriting, consuming screenwriting books like candy, taking numerous classes, studying with screenwriting experts like Chris Soth, and writing a bunch of his own stuff. For a few years, he was head writer for a Firefly "virtual series" that produced 29 episode-length scripts, easily lapping the original series (which only lasted 15!). • George has seen thousands of movies in his life (many of them during the 1980s). At one point, Netflix told him there were no movies left to rate. • As for TV... before it was called "binge-watching," some of his friends called it "pulling a George."