The end of the world is impossible to predict, as people who emptied their savings preparing for a Rapture can tell you. Yet the recent rantings about the end of days just confirmed how weirdly fascinated we all are with the destruction of the planet. There’s something compelling about stories involving a widespread ruination of everything around us; maybe it’s the way they focus on true character, and make you wonder just what you would do if you were the last person on Earth. Postapocalyptic movies overlap with their dystopian cousins — both deal with a future that’s almost uninhabitable — but they go a step further by asking big questions about the end of life, not just the death of creativity. Since we all seem to have beaten the Rapture, there’s time to check these movies out:
Mad Max: It’s a classic for a reason. Directed by George Miller (who would go on to helm the two sequels and, curiously, the Babe movies) and brought to life by an impossibly young Mel Gibson, Mad Max is the quintessential tale of a postapocalyptic world ruled by violence. It didn’t create the genre, but it did go a long way toward giving it the flourishes that we now take for granted: warring tribes battling over limited resources, clothing and machines stitched together from old components, and a pervasive sense of doom. The story is set in an Australia in which the rule of law is disintegrating thanks to the rise in mercenary killings tied to the dearth of fossil fuels, so in its own way, Mad Max is a wicked little conservationist movie. Just with more explosions.
Escape From New York: John Carpenter’s 1981 classic is set in 1997, which back then sounded impossibly futuristic but now just brings back embarrassing memories of the Spice Girls. The premise is straight out of B-movies and comic books: after the end of World War III, the island of Manhattan is turned into a giant prison where criminals are left to their own devices. The president’s plane crashes in the prison zone, so prisoner Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is recruited to save the day. The movie wound up influencing everything from cyberpunk author William Gibson to the Metal Gear video game series, which features a stealth operative named Snake. There’s apparently a remake in the works, but it won’t have a tenth of the charm or fun of the original.
28 Days Later: Easily one of the best entries in the field of modern zombie movies, 28 Days Later helped popularize the version of the undead that run fast and take no prisoners. Zombie status (zombiedom?) travels via blood transfers of a disease known simply as "Rage," and after taking out some researchers in England, the entire island is eventually a wasteland of zombies, burned-out buildings, and scattered survivors. Director Danny Boyle captures some impressive shots of a strategically empty London to give the feel of a world gone bye-bye, and the movie finds a nice balance between standard zombie fare and a postapocalyptic run for survival.
WALL-E: Only Pixar could make the end of the world look adorable. Set around 2800, after the Earth has been polluted and abandoned by a gluttonous population that became reliant on corporate consumerism, WALL-E is at heart a simple chase story about one robot’s quest to save a plant and restore life to the planet. But on another level it’s a haunting look at what happens when we take automation too far and trade active life for passive consumption. There’s a ton of comedy and heart to WALL-E’s adventure and search for love, but the peripheral glimpses of a population gone to rot and a world conquered by trash are downright sobering. It’s enough to make you get back on the treadmill.
The Quiet Earth: Based on Craig Harrison’s novel, this 1985 New Zealand film plays like a stripped-down version of The Omega Man (which appears later on this list): one morning, a scientist wakes up to find the world deserted. No people, animals, nothing. Everything looks recently deserted, Crotoan-style, but he can’t figure out why. He eventually meets up with a pair of other survivors and pieces together a possible explanation for their presence — they were all at the moment of death when whatever incident made everyone else disappear occurred — and decides to act on new information to make sure such an event doesn’t happen again. It’s a high-concept and enjoyable movie, and places a premium on character interaction instead of just special effects.
The Road: Cormac McCarthy’s bestselling novel The Road isn’t exactly a whimsical romp, and the film adaptation is suitably brutal. Even for a story about the end of the world, this is a rough go. The year in which the story takes place isn’t clear, nor is the event that brought an end to most of the life on Earth. The plot revolves around a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son who travel the land hoping to find warmer and slightly more hospitable climes. Food is scarce, cannibals are everywhere, and life is generally terrible. It sounds a little weird to talk about a postapocalyptic film as being a downer — shouldn’t they all be kind of depressing? — but The Road is a grim but compelling tale. Not a date movie, but still, worth your time.
The Omega Man: There was a period where Charlton Heston was a go-to lead for postapocalyptic movies — Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green — but there’s something about 1971′s The Omega Man that gives it an edge. Chalk it up to the source material, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which has been adapted into multiple films since its 1954 publication. Heston plays Robert Neville, a scientist who uses a vaccine to escape the biological warfare that’s wiping out the world’s population. The original book dealt with a virus that caused a kind of vampirism, while in the movie those people that survive the plague become nocturnal albino mutants, which is close enough. It’s got a special kind of 1970s edge to its tale of paranoia and survival of the fittest, and Heston’s a perfect choice.
12 Monkeys: Terry Gilliam’s trippy, heartbreaking sci-fi film borrows heavily from the 1962 short French film La Jetee; it’s not a remake per se, but there are enough similarities that "inspired by" doesn’t feel strong enough. The story goes that a virus wiped out most of humanity in the mid-1990s, forcing the rest to live underground. In an unspecified future date, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to stop the virus by learning about its origins and leaving messages for the scientists of the future to find a cure. The film deals with the twisty nature of time and perception, with Cole’s life skipping around erratically as he travels between the future and various points in the past. Gilliam’s trademark style makes for a gorgeous if somewhat cold movie, though it’s one of the better entries in the field.
The Matrix: Much of the action in The Matrix unfolds within the version of 1999 that the computers emulate for people, but those people who have unplugged from the system are living in 2199, scavenging for sustenance underground as they fight the robots that have enslaved mankind. Forget the clunky early-1990s movies about the dangers of online shopping; this is the real robotic apocalypse, and the Wachowski brothers pull it off with style to spare. The sequels are, well, pretty terrible. They trade a lot of the style away for generic CGI mayhem, and they get even more tangled up in a plot that feels increasingly disconnected with what’s actually happening. (There’s something about a keymaker.) Still, it’s tough to beat the original.
On the Beach: The story for On the Beach has a great hook: What if the world ended, but you had to wait for death to come? The premise is that World War III has broken out, and retaliatory strikes have left most of the world an irradiated mass of destruction. Australia has survived, but only temporarily, since winds will eventually blow the fallout down south. An American sub that was at sea when the event happened has been spared, and the crew works with the Australian government to monitor what’s happening. Parts of the film are typical 1950s melodrama, but they stand out thanks to the fearsome and intriguing story of life at the end of the world. This one is well worth revisiting.
A burgeoning fascination with luxury cars usually ends up being more than just a passing interest — it becomes a full-blown obsession that never dies. Sleek curves and incomparable performance are easy to become enchanted with and serve as an enticement for those who want stand out on the roadways. Whether you’re a lifelong car enthusiast or someone who’s never driven more than one car, there are plenty of websites to drool over while picturing yourself in your dream luxury or exotic ride. Here are a few of the best:
Excellence Magazine: "The magazine about Porsche" boasts "strong editorial content and lavish photography" for its loyal readers in the Porsche community. The print version of the magazine remains the primary source of content, but the site serves to supplement it with additional valuable material.
Forza Magazine: Composed for the hardcore Ferrari enthusiasts. Readers, many of whom are Ferrari owners as you might expect, absorb the material as they seek new ways to enhance their vehicles. Formula 1 and general racing coverage is also provided.
Ferrari News: Industry editors come together to provide news updates related to Enzo’s company. The site features lots of videos, even a few views from the cockpit with Ferrari racers, a true pulse-pounding experience.
LamboCARS: Aventador, Gallardo, Murcielago, Reventon — LamboCARS knows the ins and outs of each model, equipping fans with the Lambo knowledge they crave.
Benz Insider: All of the latest news, reviews and rumors about Mercedes vehicles are found here. The site has a section for each car type, making it easy for S-Class owners, for example, to read up on their favorite car.
Bimmer Magazine: Bimmer fans are a devoted bunch, and they require a steady diet of info to keep them satiated. Named after the proper slang for the car, as opposed to Beemer, this site features articles that cover topics relating to everything from the newest 3 Series to the M3′s 650-hp Active Autowerke supercharger conversion.
BMW Blog: Run entirely by BMW enthusiasts, BMW Blog is a place for "BMW news, reviews, test drives, photos and videos." According to Founder and Managing Editor Horatiu Boeriu, it’s "a one-stop place for your Bimmer addiction."
Audi World: This site began picking up steam just as Audi’s popularity was reaching then-all-time highs in the U.S. Originally dedicated to covering the A4, it expanded to covering all models by the turn of the century. Today, it offers model news, technical articles, show coverage and road tests.
Club Lexus: A place for Lexus owners and admirers to gather, Club Lexus has industry news and a popular forum in which visitors to discuss their favorite models and Lexus-specific topics.
The Lexus Enthusiast: Founded in 2007, The Lexus Enthusiasts, formerly The Passionate Pursuit, has appropriately attracted tons of Lexus enthusiasts due to its comprehensive write-ups on news related to the car company. In fact, it’s the No. 1 result for "Lexus news" on Google.
Cadillac Magazine: The second oldest auto manufacturer in the U.S. has long been the country’s flagship luxury brand. Despite the inundation of European brands, Cadillac still holds its own, as evidenced by its closely-knit community. Cadillac Magazine provides that community with rumors, news and history.
German Car Blog: Germany is the world’s leading maker of luxury cars — including Audi, Mercedes and Porsche — and the German Car Blog has it all covered. It provides the latest intel and spy shots of the latest models so readers can obsess over something new.
Road & Track: Known as the longest running automotive magazine in the U.S., its main focus is on the nicer, more coveted vehicles. Recently, the site has composed First Look articles previewing the 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC, 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and 2012 BMW 650i Coupe. It also has written reviews — including videos and photos — on the 2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 and 2012 Ferrari FF.
Car And Driver: Although it covers pretty much everything related to automobiles, it provides extensive coverage of luxury cars in its Reviews and News sections. Its Buyers Guide, with its multi-car comparisons, is useful for those who are looking to upgrade to a luxury car or trade in their old one.
Automoblog: Readers can find spy shots and unique info related to concept cars and car technology on Automoblog. One recent post discussed the debut of the Aston Martin Virage, the British luxury sport car maker’s latest 12-cylinder eye candy.
AutoWeek: Another publication for all auto enthusiasts, AutoWeek also focuses on exotic and luxury vehicles, including McLaren’s "next big thing" and the effort of European brands to bring new small luxury cars to the U.S.
Robb Report: The site that’s "your global luxury resource" has a solid auto section with articles for Ferrari fanatics, Lamborghini lovers and those who prefer other respected brands. The section even features an article on "The Man Who Sold Detroit."
Exotics and Luxury: By perusing the automotive section, readers can learn about festivals and events — with a nice spread of photos — and new designs and releases. It’s another great site for those who want to learn about the latest happenings in the automotive world.
JustLuxe: An "affluent lifestyle guide" with an auto section, it offers well-written content tailored to fans of luxury cars. Visit the site to read about return of the Bentley R and the exceptional performance of the 2011 Jaguar XJ Sedan.
Wrecked Exotics: This one’s just for fun. As the title indicates, Wrecked Exotics showcases all the beautiful, seemingly unbreakable cars in their ugliest states. Needless to say, lots of money was lost on these luxury and exotic vehicles turned jalopies.
Playing sports at the highest level requires an intense competitive drive in which failure is never an accepted result. Michael Jordan’s desire to win, for example, was unparalleled during his time in the NBA, which is why he never lost an NBA Finals and is unanimously regarded as the greatest basketball player the game has ever seen. It’s what separates the elite ones from the good ones. Each player or team below achieved greatness — a much-coveted record or championship — but received some unfair help along the way. Of course, how much that help tainted their accomplishments varies; some deserve asterisks, while others ought to be stricken from the record books altogether. Ultimately, though, it’s the popular opinion of sport fans that determines the athletes’ legacies.
Barry Bonds’ single-season homerun record (73): Already one of the game’s best players before he began setting homerun records, Bonds didn’t need steroids to cement his status as a Hall of Famer. He already struck fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the time he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded by Buck Showalter’s Diamondbacks. But for Bonds, that’s wasn’t enough. In the bestselling book Game of Shadows, reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams claim that his jealousy of the acclaim received by McGwire during the 1998 homerun chase inspired him to juice. Bonds was implicated as a possible user when the BALCO scandal broke in 2003, two years after he broke the single-season homerun record. He has since been convicted for obstruction of justice for testifying that he never knowingly took steroids.
Barry Bonds’ career homerun record (762): Baseball fans who remember watching Bonds before 1998 know that he was a consistent power threat who really didn’t really need steroids. During his first 12 seasons in the league (1986 to 1997), he hit 374 homeruns, leading the National League with 46 in 1993. During his final 10 seasons (1998 to 2007), however, when he was in his mid-30s to mid-40s, his power stroke was at its all-time best. He hit 388 homeruns during that period, including 45 in the season he turned 40 years old. Never before has a player experienced such a surge at such an age. BALCO scandal aside, it’s easy to understand why so many eyebrows were raised as it all was unfolding.
Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5): Everyone was cheering for Strahan to break Mark Gastineau’s single-season record of 22 sacks, even Brett Favre. In the waning moments of the final game of the 2001 season, Strahan was stuck on 21.5, and it appeared as though he’d end up forever stuck in second place. That’s when Favre, with a comfy lead and fewer than three minutes remaining, took it upon himself to ensure his buddy made history, running a naked bootleg toward Strahan without a blocker. The sack and record were subsequently recorded, and everyone involved had a good chuckle.
New England Patriots’ 2007 undefeated regular season: Finishing the regular season undefeated was an impressive feat by the Patriots, regardless of their ultimate demise in the Super Bowl. Now if they had done it without any hint of cheating, it would’ve been even more impressive — just ask Don Shula. Spygate broke after the Patriots’ first game of the season against the rival Jets when it was revealed that Bill Belichick’s staff videotaped the Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals. As a result, the NFL levied steep penalties, fining Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 and revoking the team’s 2008 first round draft pick. Additional accusations were made by former team video assistant Matt Walsh — including that the Patriots had recorded the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXVI — but nothing came of it.
Nykesha Sales’ UConn women’s basketball all-time scoring record (2,178): Given the illustrious history of the UConn women’s basketball program, it’s no surprise that one of its best players would covet the program’s all-time scoring record. Sales was well on her way until she suffered a collegiate career-ending Achilles tendon injury, preventing her from getting the one basket she needed to reach 2,178 points. Instead of accepting it as tough luck, coach Geno Auriemma, with the approval of the Big East Commissioner and previous record-holder Kerry Bascom, orchestrated a staged, uncontested layup against Villanova that enabled her to get the total and end her career on a positive note. According to Auriemma, it was done to make up for all the occasions he made her sit during blowouts.
Lance Armstrong’s consecutive Tour de France wins (7): It’s a remarkable story no matter what. Armstrong survived metastatic testicular cancer and proceeded to compete at the highest level of cycling. But his seven consecutive Tour de France victories are heavily scrutinized, as numerous accusations of doping have been made by journalists and cyclists, including teammate and confirmed doper Floyd Landis. Suspicion has arisen primarily due to his relationship with controversial trainer Michele Ferrari, and more infamously, a 2006 report from the French sports newspaper L’Equipe claiming to have six urine samples collected during the 1999 Tour de France that tested positive for erythropoietin, a hormone that control red blood cell production. Because Armstrong’s accomplishments were so improbable, many cycling fans will never accept them as legitimate, even if the accusations are never proven.
Ben Johnson’s 100m world record and gold medal: Johnson became the story of the 1988 Olympics after he defeated Carl Lewis in the 100m final, broke his own world record and was disqualified after it was revealed his urine samples contained stanozolol, an anabolic steroid derived from testosterone. The episode led to him admitting that he used steroids before he set the world record in the 1987 World Championships, which resulted in it being rescinded. Charlie Francis, his coach, later admitted that he introduced Johnson to steroids in 1981. Johnson went from Canadian hero to international villain in characteristically quick fashion, and has since been one of the first names associated with Olympic cheating.
Marion Jones’ five Olympic medals: Like Johnson and many other athletes who use steroids, the initial reason people were suspicious of Jones was her association with dirty coaches, including Charlie Francis. The association that truly did her in, however, was with BALCO. In 2004, founder Victor Conte claimed that he provided her with performance enhancing drugs before and during the 2000 Olympics, and testimony from her ex-husband CJ Hunter, a shot putter who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs prior to the same Olympics, indicated that he knew of her use of PEDs. Three years later, Jones admitted to lying to federal agents about her pre-2000 Olympics steroid use, and publically apologized for betraying the trust of Americans. Consequently, she forfeited all five of her medals that she won during the 2000 Olympics, including the three golds.
USSR’s 1972 men’s basketball gold medal: A classic red versus red, white and blue showdown, the 1972 basketball final featured two formidable clubs. The American team was composed of amateurs, and it had never lost a game in the Olympics. The Soviets were experienced and hungry for their first gold, and it showed as they took a 10-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game. The Americans made a gutsy comeback to take the lead with three seconds to play, with Doug Collins’ two free throws capping off the run. That’s when the chaos began. The Soviets inbounded the ball, the referee stopped the game with a second left and the clock was reset to three seconds because the Soviets weren’t given the timeout they called between Collins’ free throws. The Soviets failed to score on their second chance and the Americans thought they had secured the gold, but the game still wasn’t over. Because the clock wasn’t properly reset, the Soviets got a third chance. This time, Alexander Belov scored the game-winning layup. The Americans reacted by filing a formal complaint with the International Basketball Federation, which sided with the Soviets, and the team never claimed its silver medals.
Argentina’s 1986 World Cup victory: The "Hand of God" goal still lives in World Cup infamy, somewhat overshadowing an otherwise magnificent tournament performance from one of soccer’s legends, Diego Maradona. The Argentine captain tallied five assists and five goals, including the one that shouldn’t have counted — the first goal in his team’s 2-1 victory over England. His second goal, in which he swiveled around defenders and dribbled half the length of the field, is widely regarded as one of greatest in World Cup history. Expectedly, the Brits took the handball goal and loss hard. The game came four years after the Falklands War, and given the two nations’ proficiency in soccer, it held extra meaning. Years later, Maradona admitted that he intended to hit the ball with his hand.
Suburbia is endlessly fascinating to novelists and sociologists, largely because it’s a modern phenomenon. The suburbs as we know them now didn’t appear until after World War II, and their planned layouts and often rigid communities proved to be breeding grounds for emotional turmoil and economic sea changes. As such, any book about the suburbs, fictional or otherwise, is going to inherently deal with themes of alienation, conformity, and the cost of fitting in. The books below are a great place to start learning about the weird culture of suburbia or to dig deeper into familiar territory. Enjoy them on a well-manicured lawn as the neighbors stroll past.
Crossing California, Adam Langer: Adam Langer’s loving if harsh ode to 1970s suburbia is peppered with awkward humor and genuine heartache, cycling the narrative between disaffected youths and lonely parents. The author explores a variety of standard-issue suburban problems, including class- and race-based tensions, as he paints a portrait of the Chicago neighborhoods of 1979 that’s sharply observed and perfectly bittersweet.
Youth in Revolt, C.D. Payne: This epistolary novel from C.D. Payne digs into the seedier side of suburbia, chronicling the sexual and self-pleasuring misadventures of Nick Twisp, a 14-year-old California boy with an active imagination and a penchant for romantic mischief.
The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides: Jeffrey Eugenides’ haunting and spare novel perfectly captures the feeling of confusion and innocence that marks the transition from child to adult, and his story of a family of depresses young girls walled off from their suburban neighbors is a moving read. The story was later turned into an equally impressive film by Sofia Coppola.
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen: Jonathan Franzen’s not exactly what you could call a cheerful writer, but his blunt observations of flawed characters make for compelling reading precisely because they’re so unfraid to deal with sadness. Freedom traces the emotional rise and fall of a Minnesota family, showcasing them in all their complexity and making a valid case that, at a certain point, everyone’s reasons for living are their own.
Little Children, Tom Perotta: Tom Perotta’s no stranger to scathing satire or inverting the roles of adults and children — he managed both pretty brilliantly in Election — and Little Children takes those twin ideas and runs with them, mixing in sexual dysfunction, marital impropriety, and emotional disillusionment to tell a story of ultimate suburban isolation. Bracing but beautiful.
The Ice Storm, Rick Moody: The 1970s are pretty popular fodder for modern authors, thanks to the era’s suburban explosion and the impressive manner in which the decade’s general malaise and crappiness were reflected in the wood-paneled lives of suburban dwellers. The Ice Storm, therefore, covers some familiar ground, but Rick Moody’s attention to detail make the story wholly his own. It’s a powerful tragedy done on a small scale.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower: The level of bleakness in Wells Tower’s short story collection is off the charts, so this set isn’t for everyone. For those who are willing to push through, though, the stories yield some compelling emotional rewards. The author builds a theme throughout of self-destructive choices, and the final tale ties them together beautifully.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates: Published in 1961, Richard Yates’ fantastic novel of suburban unfulfillment in the 1950s is a classic for the way it speaks to timeless issues of loneliness and insecurity. The ’50s were a kind of high-water mark for the discrepancy between outward perfection and inward turmoil, and Yates examines the way that dichotomy weighed on a generation.
Liars and Saints, Maile Meloy: Maile Maloy’s 2004 debut traces the lives of a sprawling Catholic family over the second half of the 20th century, using their personal successes and failures as mirrors for the societal changes happening around them.
This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper: Tropper’s hilarious style and quick wit turn what could have been a depressing (or just boring) tale of family dysfunction into something highly entertaining. The central narrative revolves around a recently divorced man who winds up back home for a week after his father’s funeral and has to deal with the crazy characters to which he’s relucnatly related. A great look at suburban dynamics with a light touch.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon: Chabon’s first novel tends to get overlooked because of the (justifiable) praise directed at later works like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but it’s well worth revisiting, especially for recent grads feeling adrift in the ‘burbs or anyone looking to reconnect with that feeling of weird transition that happens between college and the real world.
White Noise, Don DeLillo: Released in 1985 and set in an unnamed college in the American Midwest, Don DeLillo’s modern classic satirizes the cultural mores of 20th-century consumers like few other books before or since. A postmodern titan at work.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita is mainly remembered for, well, being Lolita. But Vladimir Nabokov’s novel is as much about suburban ennui and American loneliness as it is about the sexual perversions of Humbert Humbert. If all you remember are the movies, give this one another look.
The Maytrees, Annie Dillard: Known for her spare and natural style, Annie Dillard writes in The Maytrees of complicated relationships and the complex web of love and pain woven in one couple’s lives together. The action partly revolves around the landscape of Provincetown, but the real focus is on the ebb and flow of human caring.
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King: Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis is a collection of novellas and short stories revolving around the same characters and dealing with the cost of growing up in the suburbs of the Vietnam era. It’s one of his rare forays into (mostly) straight-ahead adult fiction, and it’s fantastic in its devotion to detail and observation.
Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise And Fall Of Suburbia, Robert Fishman: Historian Robert Fishman’s Bourgeois Utopias came out in 1989, at the end of a decade whose suburban slickness mirrored that of the 1950s. His book traces the history of American neighborhoods in the 1800s and charts their spread and structure through the 20th century.