If you believe the hype, the Mayans thought next Friday marked the end of the world; if you believe the less exciting truth, then the Mayans just knew they could recycle their calendars after Dec. 21.
But in the event that we have only seven days left, indulge me as I provide a list of the doomsday movies you might want to consult before the week is out. Think of it as a gift-giving guide for the Debbie Downer on your Christmas list.
Note: You’ll find no post-apocalyptic films (“Road Warrior” or so on), nor the inevitable zombie apocalypse, no alien invasions or disease outbreaks. Because, like the film “2012” itself, those are generally about people surviving after something cataclysmic happens (or managing to somehow reduce the level of the anticipated disaster).
These movies, however, are about the world ending:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley): An asteroid named Matilda is going to hit the Earth, and sad sack Steve takes a road trip with a young neighbor to try to reconnect with his high school sweetheart. Through misadventures, love blossoms in the shadow of death.
The Bed-Sitting Room (1969, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook): A few years after the atomic war, several insane folk wander the rubble of London, slowly mutating into furniture because of the radiation. Although it ends with hope — full-body transplants — the idea they will live on is as absurd as everything else.
On the Beach (1959, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner): The last survivors of a global atomic war wait out the coming radiation cloud in Australia. The government hands out suicide pills. Racing enthusiasts compete in one final deadly race, and a committed Navy officer who won’t accept that his family is already dead in the U.S. falls in love.
The Quiet Earth (1985): A scientific experiment leaves the planet devoid of humans except for three who were at the point of death when “the Effect” happened. A love triangle results, and the heroic/suicidal effort of one of the trio to stop the Effect from happening a second time produces even stranger results.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, James Franciscus): Second of the original “Apes” series, which Charlton Heston tried to avoid altogether. His activation of the Alpha-Omega bomb illustrated his desire not to appear in any more ape films. He got his wish, destroyed the planet, but the movies continued.
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Peter Sellers): From director Stanley Kubrick, this movie doesn’t expressly show the end of the world, but that’s the implication when Slim Pickens takes his final bronco-busting ride from the belly of a bomber.
Melancholia (2011, Kirsten Dunst): This dragged on so slowly that, by the time it ended, you were as ready for it as the main characters. Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, reportedly inspired by a realization he received during a period of depression, that depressed people are calm in stressful situations.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961, Leo McKern): Jostled out of orbit, Earth moves closer to the sun. Governments work to detonate atom bombs to push the planet back into place. A newspaper editor preps two headlines for the next edition: “World Saved” and “World Doomed.” Ambiguous ending leaves it to the viewer to choose the headline.
Knowing (2009, Nicholas Cage): Aliens have come to gather up some of our kids to seed another planet after ours is destroyed by a coming solar flare. Survivors, yes. Planet Earth? No.
Similarly, When Worlds Collide (1951, produced by George Pal) has some folks settling a rogue planet after another one collides with and destroys the Earth. Based on a novel of the same name, the movie details the construction of the space ark as the world goes crazy.
Honorary mention: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), and Day the World Ended (1955), both of which end with the main characters walking hand-in-hand into an otherwise dead world as the credits inform us this is “The Beginning.” Also, The Road (2009, Viggo Mortensen), in which it is strongly implied that the struggle for life is in vain.
Badly titled: Until the End of the World (1991), Panic in the Year Zero (1954, also known as “End of the World”), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and Doomsday (2008) — all of which tell of struggles to survive after a cataclysm, and which end with people still alive and hoping for a better future.
Meanwhile, I feel fine.