Or, the Top 5 Problems you’re going to face when our civilization ends, ranked in order of scariness. Sure, they might all seem equally scary when you’re face to face with them, but as you’ll see, some can be a lot scarier than others given their overall ramifications. I think a lot of things that we see in the movies are one day going to come true. Science Fiction has always had that card to play. Some of the things we writers dream up actually do happen: we did actually go to the moon, after all, and the bottom of the sea. To that end, I thought we might examine a few SciFi post-apocalyptic films—mainly the villains of those films—and share some thoughts about why I think you, or maybe your progeny, might see something similar in the days after the world ends...
#5. The Humongous, the Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rollah
Remember this ‘roid freak from the desert wastes of The Road Warrior? He’s wearing a hockey mask to cover up some horrible burn-type injury, but he’s skilled in oratory and leadership. He’s got a fully invested siege going on at a major area strategic objective (a fuel processing facility), and he’s basically going to win if this wasn’t a movie and the Road Warrior never showed up. Yeah, you’re going to see this guy, or guys like him, pretty quickly after the world ends.
Guys like this, the much-beloved bully/jerk that every high school has, will flourish once law and order (or the “Bronze,” if you prefer director George Miller’s phraseology) is gone. They’re going to be everywhere, shaking down everyone for everything they’ve got. They tend to attract the worst kinds of violent psychopaths as followers, and therefore their aims as minor warlords tend to be limited to raping and pillaging, as an army of violent psychopaths aren’t going to give you any kind of stability. It’s not in their skillset to invent and build, unless they’re inventing new ways to kill people, and then building these new killing machines—so don’t expect textile mills and geometry out of these geniuses. You’re probably going to get clever traps and plenty more spiky things on the front grills of souped-up Dodge Chargers. The best you’ll be able to hope for as a non-member of a post-apocalyptic biker gang (“a victim,” in other words), is that you’ve hidden some corn out in the fields that they haven’t found. That’s the best. The worst...well that’s just darkness.
#4. General Ursus
I mean from the second movie. There’s no real clear villain in the first, and the argument can be made that Taylor, Charlton Heston’s character, is actually a sort of villain. In the second movie, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the ape army actually invades a nuked New York where a bunch of crazy mutants worship a bomb. A nuclear bomb. Crazy, huh? Most people forget that the original Planet of the Apes movies are actually post-apocalyptic. They have a tendency to look at them as some sort of weird Darwinian naturalism, a “Well, the apes just took over one day, golly” sort of outlook that seems to come from a bit of recent movie revisionism. Forget all that. In the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes and the 1970 Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the ramifications of Global Thermonuclear War are very present, right down to one of the most famous and iconic dystopian scenes of all times: the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand. That is the post-apocalypse and there are no two ways about it.
So, why might you see Ursus in the not-so-bright (at least for humanity) future? Well, that someday-Ursus might not be a monkey. He’ll probably even be human. But the main thing is, he’s going to be tough, smart, organized and war-like. Whether he’s some sort of mutant or post-human, or just a very war-like human, you’re probably going to have to contend with this guy. So, what makes him different from the Humongous, I hear you asking? Well, Ursus the Gorilla General will come from an advanced—and I use the word “advanced” loosely—society. Whereas Humongous was just a minor local warlord, Ursus will be a major player with a geopolitical outlook along with troops and supplies. Humongous is just plain evil: he just wants what he wants and he probably doesn’t want much more than just your stuff. Ursus, on the other hand, wants glory and power, and that has a tendency to create a lot of problems for a lot of people. If you remember the movie, that’s the reason Ursus and company invade Nuked New York. Glory and power. They find mutant humans there, who’ve evolved powers of creating mental illusions. The mutants try to trick the monkey warriors into going away; when the trick doesn’t work (the monkeys aren’t anatomically advanced enough to understand illusions), full scale monkey-rage breaks out and the mutants have to resort to their last defense: the Bomb. The nuclear bomb. After that, I seem to remember a blinding flash of some sort.
#3. The Terminator
I really do think, and I’m not even joking here, that this is one of the most likely movie villains to become a real thing that humanity will have to deal with. Forget good old “The Governator” Terminator and his side kick, lil’ buddy John Connor, from Terminator 2. Go way back to Original Recipe Terminator. Then let go of the skin job that is Ah-nold. I’m talking about the bipedal killing machines and the drone-like HK’s from Reese’s flashbacks of the future, here. Yeah—those guys. If an AI does ever become self-aware and does the oh, let’s say... two seconds of math it needs to figure out that we, humanity, are bad for it, then you are most likely going to see some version of these alloy-metal, factory mass-produced killing machines hunting you and your loved ones down in what remains of the mall.
#2. Agent Smith
Agent Smith from The Matrix, as played by the estimable Hugo Weaving, ranks just a little higher than the Terminator as a lethal threat to the human race. Even though they both originate from the same threat source, each has a different role to play. They’re the cat’s paw of a superior Robot Intelligence, and their sole purpose is to get rid of you and yours. Whereas the Terminators are real world ground troops, the Agent Smiths seem to be some sort of anti-virus software. How is this a threat to society or humanity? Well, society got cooked when we blew ourselves up, but civilization is still viable because of our cumulative knowledge. It’s probably safe to assume that the Agent Smith-types could be used by that future Robot Intelligence to destroy all our surviving knowledge base. Even the personality uploads that have been hinted about lately will be vulnerable to this type of attack. Destroying our knowledge base would be a catastrophic blow to an already on-the-ropes humanity. After a series of EMP pulses, this scenario might be imagined: libraries and databases might become the “castles”of the New Dark Ages: guarded repositories of all that we know. Once the malevolent Robot AI is able to infiltrate these databases with Agent Smith types, six-thousand years of digital recorded human history, literature, and knowledge could be gone in a matter of moments...and with a two year nuclear winter, we’ll probably be using books for fuel, so that library-castle seems pretty important.
Finally, we come to the Number One civilization-ender I can almost guarantee you will see at some point in your lifetime. It’s probably the hands down, no-holds-barred, king of the hill civilization-ender, so get ready...but first, some backstory. There’s a great movie starring Goose from Top Gun (or some Doctor from a show called ER if you require that reference). It’s called Miracle Mile and it’s a pre-apocalyptic love story. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl go on day-long date. They fall in love. At the end of that date, as boy fades into the early night, thinking thoughts of love and a future with the girl, he ends up at a diner where a fellow patron receives a call that the world’s nuclear forces will be used on the following morning, all but ending civilization. Forget all the “that sounds crazy” stuff. It’s real, and the source is to be trusted. So, over the course of the last night that the world might ever have electrical power, Boy tries to find his new love in order to rescue her and arrive at a rooftop rendezvous at dawn, where a few well-informed survivors will be taken to a safe location. Suffice it to say, it’s a long night and a great movie that ends on a roof top at 6 AM with just Goose and some random guy who’s binging on drugs and booze as the world blows up. You know that guy who always said he’d go that way. Well he’s the only one there with Goose. Just waiting for a helicopter that doesn’t seem like it’s going to show. And then, the Number One Thing you’re bound to see if the world buys the post-apocalyptic ticket is what Anthony Edwards, Goose from Top Gun, sees in those last moments of film as dawn rises over Los Angeles:
Inbound Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles streaking across the morning sky. ICBMs. We’ve got ’em. They’ve got ’em. It’s just a matter of time. What, you think we won’t use ’em if we have to?
So those are a few movie villains I think you might meet in a real-life, end of the world-type scenario. Writers like to imagine brave heroes, but we’ve also got to have someone to make it tough on them. Yes, you can imagine dragons and ghosts and other nightmares. But Man and the things Man makes—well, they can be pretty scary. That’s why I like writing about the post-Apocalypse. It’s frightening, yes. But occasionally, there are some heroes who can stand up to all those Madman Warlords, Gorilla Generals and Malevolent Robots. The ICBM’s? Well...duck and cover.
Nick Cole is an army veteran and actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms, or being shot, kicked, stabbed, or beaten by film school students, he can often be found working as a guard for King Philip II of Spain or in a similar role in Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera. The Wasteland Saga, which collects his three post-apocalyptic novels (The Old Man and the Wasteland, The Savage Boy, and The Road) into one volume is out from Harper Voyager on October 15.