If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Apocalypse: reading informational text; The Apocalypse in Fiction and Film 9


Read the passage, then answer the practice question.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It: Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film.


  1. From the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated by the concept of end times, or doomsday. From the Book of Revelation in the Bible to the idea of Kali Yuga in Hinduism, humankind has been preoccupied with how the world will end and what will become of us when that does happen. With increasing advances in technology, medicine, and politics, people started to become more and more concerned about the consequences of misusing our newfound power over people, machines, and disease. Unsurprisingly, the exploration of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios in fiction and film has not just kept society mesmerized for generations, but it has also provided a way to speculate about the possibility of catastrophe in a safe way.

Characteristics of Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film

  1. What exactly is the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genre? This subgenre of science fiction imagines the world during a catastrophic event in which much of Earth is destroyed. Post-apocalyptic writing and movies depict the consequence and aftermath of the apocalyptic event. The time frame for the post-apocalyptic setting can show a world immediately after a cataclysmic event; for example, the movie I am Legend chronicles the life of the only survivor in New York in the months after a man-made virus kills off a majority of the population and turns the rest into zombies. Alternatively, movies like The Road or The Book of Eli show bleak and derelict landscapes, years after the initial apocalyptic event. Through these movies, viewers experience characters trying to make sense of disaster, assimilate into their new surroundings, and mourn a civilization that once existed. They also see what humans are reduced to after decades of living in the ruins of a world that was once familiar. Most apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic literature features themes of survival, adventure, and the breakdown of society. Other notable causes of world destruction in this genre are war, technology (especially robots), natural disaster, or alien invasions.

A Brief History: Literature

  1. Even though ancient religious texts speak of days of retribution, reckoning, and judgment, Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein) is considered a pioneer of the post-apocalyptic genre with her 1826 work, The Last Man. In the novel, Shelley critiques advances in the field of science through the exploration of the effects of a worldwide plague. Similarly, The Scarlet Plague, written by Jack London in 1912, was one of the first instances in literature where an author considered the sweeping effects of a global pandemic, after a plague has wiped out the majority of the human population. British author H.G. Wells, writing in the late 1800s, imagined what a governmental response to a Martian invasion would look like in his novel, The War of the Worlds. Since then, many authors have envisioned post-apocalyptic worlds, notably, Max Brooks (World War Z), Stephen King (The Stand), Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), and most recently, Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave).

The End of the World in Film

  1. While authors have always wondered what the end of the world would look like, it was not until the advent of nuclear weapons and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies began inundating American screens. Movies like The Day the World Ended (1955) and The Lost Missile (1958) deal with the consequences of total atomic annihilation. In these movies, the audience sees the impact of the destruction of war and the role of the military in bringing about or preventing total disaster. Apocalyptic movies also include zombie takeovers (Dawn of the Dead, World War Z), alien invasions (The Host, Independence Day) and natural disasters (Outbreak, The Day After Tomorrow).

In Brief . . .

  1. This genre is here to stay. As long as human beings grapple with ideas of safety and the unknown, authors and filmmakers will continue to articulate their ideas on the theme and wonder aloud on the page and on the screen. As an audience, we too can wonder along with them.

Practice Question

What detail should be included as part of an objective summary of the passage?
Choose 1 answer: