The end of the world isn't all zombie plagues and alien invasions (although sometimes it's both -- see Night of the Comets). We'll skip the disaster-porn of Roland Emmerich's 2012. Instead, the following list rounds up some lesser-known cinema to aid in mustering up appropriate dread for our impending doom.
In the pre-apocalypse genre, Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth takes a spiritual approach to the end, with a bohemian couple spending their last hours together in anticipation of environmental disaster. Similar but less cutesy than Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the Canadian drama Last Night (1998) features various Toronto denizens in their final hours.
In the cataclysmic-pandemic genre, the 1995 miniseries of Stephen King's The Stand is an underrated gem recommended as distraction between episodes of The Walking Dead. In Michael Haneke's subtle Time of the Wolf (2003), a family flees the city for their country home when a livestock disease contaminates most of the water in France.
Perhaps we will literally lose our senses at the end. In 2011's Perfect Sense, Ewan McGregor and Eva Green fall in love amidst a pandemic that causes them to lose each of their five senses.
The eerie arthouse classic La Jetée (1962) by the late Chris Marker was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, both sending a prisoner back in time to try to stop a worldwide catastrophe. Quintet (1979) is Robert Altman's surprisingly obscure thriller set during a new ice age in which Paul Newman finds himself part of an elaborate "survival of the fittest" game.
Sometimes the world just goes sterile as in 2006's Children of Men or the 1990 adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. In the wonderfully deranged future of Zardoz (1984), it is men who are sterile, except for Sean Connery, a scantily clad "Brutal" who kills God and invades a community of bored immortals.
For a mystical take on the end, Australian director Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977) is an overlooked thriller in which a lawyer representing a group of Aborigines experiences visions of an impending cataclysm. David Duchovny and Mimi Rogers are swingers who become born-again Christians preparing for Armageddon in 1991's provocative The Rapture. This year's Take Shelter has Michael Shannon obsessively building a storm shelter following visions of a coming apocalypse, alienating his friends and family on a hunch.
Finally, there is 1984's Night of the Comet. When a passing comet turns most of the human race into zombies, two valley girls go on a mall-shopping spree set to the tune of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Sure, why not?
Aimee Hennessey is co-owner of La Dolce Video in Arcata.