10 Great Post-Apocalyptic Film Soundtracks

Historically, there has never been a shortage of religious doomsayers. Everyone knows their rap: “Repent! The end is near!” etc. Additionally, pop culture has been supporting dim-witted proclamations of the end of times with golden oldies like: Y2K, the comet Elenin, and of course the return of Quetzalcoatl. People obviously derive a great deal of pleasure fantasizing about the destruction of the world, which is represented cinematically in a variety of ways. Post-apocalyptic films range in tone from campy and satirical to bleak and depressing, and in the best cases their soundtracks amplify their respective sentiments. For your catastrophic pleasure, the Weekly now presents a cross-section of apocalyptic film soundtracks, which should help readers visualize scenes they are likely to see in the event of the world's end.


10. Dawn of the Dead (Goblin)
While some may argue that the zombie apocalypse is not fit for inclusion on a list of post-apocalyptic films, they do in fact deal with the end of the world as we know it — just not as a result of a nuclear holocaust. Plus, civilization's death by zombies has been a fashionable film genre for so long, they really shouldn't be denied some recognition. Goblin's soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead (1978) is bombastic, ethereal, and surreal at the same time. It serves as the perfect complement to George Romero's blood-drenched, social commentary that aptly reveals that modern human beings have devolved into walking sacks of meat who know nothing but how to shop at a mall.

9. Logan's Run (Jerry Goldsmith)
The next stop on our desolate journey is in the world of Logan 5, a member of a futuristic utopian society that controls population and resource distribution by killing everyone when they reach the age of 30. Natch, when Logan realizes that society is wrong, he grabs his girl and takes off, and the powers that be give chase. Jerry Goldsmith's score gives this charmingly dated sci-fi flick a touch of class. From the menacing orchestrations, which suggest the impacts of a dystopian society on humanity, to the chintzy electronic noodlings, which demonstrate the artifice of the community, Goldsmith's score provides listeners with the dichotomy faced by everyone in this futuristic society who winds up being a runner.

8. The Terminator (Brad Fiedel)
This next entry blurs the line a bit in terms of the focus of this list. However, while most of the story takes place in pre-apocalyptic Los Angeles, two of the three main characters have arrived from a post-apocalyptic future in order to involve the third main character in a good old fashion chase, with the future of humanity and the world as the stakes. This being director James Cameron's brainchild and first entry into a huge franchise, it did not have the hundred million dollar budget of its highly-sheened sequel. Thank goodness! The rough edges of this film are half of what give it its charm. Brad Fiedel's score reverberates that fact. Not only does it sound like the soundtrack to a cheesy, psychotronic film, but Fiedel's monophonic score was literally recorded in his garage. Given that, his layers of arpeggiated electronic chords, synthetic human vocals, and miscellaneous sounds of metallic doom can still keep listeners on the edge of their earphones.

7. 12 Monkeys (Paul Buckmaster)
It was really just a matter of time before the artistic genius behind the old Monty Python cartoons and the hysterically surreal Brazil made a post-apocalyptic film. The film is among the lightest in tone on this list, and this is principally because of the strong dash of zaniness included in its otherwise depressing and disturbing story. While Brad Pitt did an outstanding job depicting said zaniness on the screen, Paul Buckmaster channeled this delightful ingredient into a theme which reminds viewers that while they are watching a film that depicts the end of the world, there is still room to chuckle.

6. Wall-E (Thomas Newman)
That's right, Disney and Pixar are not verboten from this list. While many people don't really think of the animated and cutesy Wall-E as being anything more than another exercise for Disney and Pixar to tug at people's heartstrings through the use of cartoons, the narrative involves the entire race of humanity leaving the planet as a result of desolation caused by over consumption and an indifference to nature. Thomas Newman's score, while certainly infused with that fantastical Disney feeling, does in fact do a fine job in conveying the magnitude of the aftermath of a global tragedy.

5. Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith)
Life is ongoing. Even after human beings completely destroy their own world, some form of life will continue on. In the original Planet of the Apes, one of the few surviving human beings demonstrates his detestation of the race of intelligent apes that have overrun the world. Little does our man, played by the stalwart Charlton Heston, realize, the society of apes are nothing but a reflection of humanity. Jerry Goldsmith's score was nominated for an academy award, and it is no surprise. His orchestration personifies the burgeoning intelligence of primitive life forms even as they spell trouble for any remaining traces of humanity.

4. Testament (James Horner)
Probably the most heartbreaking film and soundtrack on this list, Testament is the story of the devolution of a once delightful small town community in the wake of nuclear fallout. Jane Alexander, as Carol Wetherly, does her best as a single mom to remind her family and friends that there is still love and humanity left as long as people still exist — even as friendly neighbors turn into selfish scavengers and everyone dies of radiation poisoning. Horner's score mirrors these sentiments with as much class and dignity as such bleak traces of hope can muster.

3. Mad Max (Brian May)
The world of Mad Max is a dangerous and scary place. All the securities of a modern society are reduced to veneers and only police officers like Max Rockatansky go through the motions of upholding the law. Max is one of the last good police officers — that is, until his wife and child are killed by a gang of bikers. He then gets in his super-charged police cruiser and goes on his revenge-fueled killing spree. Brian May [no relation to the guitarist from Queen] scored this bleak action film with a bit of cartoonish delight and gave this celebration of fast cars, leather, and machismo a touch of class.

2. The Road Warrior (Brian May)
Mad Max was not originally a hit in the United States, but that didn't stop the Aussie team of George Kennedy and Byron Kennedy from taking the best of their film and turning it into their epic masterpiece, The Road Warrior (which was called Mad Max 2 in other countries). The number of lines that lead actor Mel Gibson speaks during the course of the film is probably about nine or ten, but this film's strength is in its ability to communicate on great depths despite a minimalist approach [this is where it triumphs over the recent re-boot of the series]. May's soundtrack evolves commensurate with the filmmaking, and the result is an adventure through the wastelands that runs deep enough to show that human emotion is not lost in the chase.

1. Book of Eli (Atticus Ross)
While there's no sense ending on an uplifting note, the Book of Eli still has an obscure sense of hope. This film shows some of the ugliness and degradation inherent in the human race, and while it does not reach the level of The Road [which is both more terrifying and depressing at the same time], it does manage to showcase some extreme situations. The orchestration and electronic textures of Atticus Ross are epic in their own right. Ross uses traditional and experimental orchestration to convey the desolation, insanity, and memory of humanity.

See also
10 Punk Albums to Listen to Before You Die
10 Goriest Album Covers
10 Most Satanic Metal Bands

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2 Replies to “10 Great Post-Apocalyptic Film Soundtracks”

    1. This article was published three years before Death Cure was released. If only they’d gotten the film done sooner, it might have made the list…

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