A lot of people are feeling like things are feeling a little apocalyptic right now. Whether your country just elected a former reality star for president, opted to leave the EU, or some other crazy form of political suicide, it’s hard not to sense a little hint of pre-apocalypse in the air. Even if you’re not worried about things going all Mad Max, there are worries of Orwellian dystopias. Thankfully, we have plenty of heroes to look to in pop culture. These are characters who survived the apocalypse with their humanity intact or who stood up against tyranny even in the darkest times. Whenever things feel bleak, remember your favorite survivor hero and keep on keeping on.
Imperator Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road
Imperator. It’s a Latin word that means “commander” which the Republic of Rome granted to its finest generals. Later, it became the word from which we derive “Emperor.” Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road deserves that title more than any fictional character, ever.
Furiosa is unstoppable. She is the ultimate action hero. A crack shot, a master of close quarters combat, and a juggernaut even in the face of grievous injury. Most importantly, she has a cause worth fighting for: saving the young “wives” of Immortan Joe from imprisonment and servitude.
She also has a rare quality for someone in an apocalyptic setting: she inspires loyalty. Immortan’s soldiers trust her implicitly, initially failing to grasp that they’ve aided her in acting against their autocratic patron. The young women she is transporting seem willing to follow her anywhere. Even Max, when suggesting his own plan for getting the young women to freedom, defers to Furiosa’s judgment and experience, acknowledging her as a capable leader. But she has no ambitions for personal gain. Deep down, Furiosa is committed to bettering humanity’s lot in a benighted world. She holds within her that most precious fuel: hope. [R.W.V. Mitchell]
Snake Plissken – Escape from New York
Don’t call him Mr. Plissken. Snake, the protagonist of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (and its nutty sequel, Escape from L.A.), is one of the coolest heroes to ever survive a dystopian society. After Air Force One crashes into Manhattan island, which is now the country’s highest security prison, they send Snake in to rescue him. Snake is like the Man with No Name with a sweet cobra tattoo, eye-patch, and machine gun. He’s the kind of all-American badass every dystopian future deserves.
1980s icon Kurt Russell plays Snake with just the right amount of self-awareness. He’s the prototype for a number of video game characters, especially (and not-so-subtly) Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series. Snake can get out of any tricky situation, even if it seems like the odds are nearly impossible. He’s got two Purple Hearts and was the youngest soldier ever recognized for bravery by the President for his efforts in World War III. In Escape from L.A., he even surfs down a sewage drain and jumps into Steve Buscemi’s convertible. He can do anything. He’s Snake m-f-ing Plissken. [Danielle Ryan]
The Pines Family – Gravity Falls
The characters of Gravity Falls can certainly boast that they’ve survived one of the stranger catastrophes in pop culture by making it through Weirdmageddon. This “Oddpocalypse” was created by triangular demon Bill Cipher, and ended when Bill was erased from Stan Pines‘ mind.
Most of the physical damage to the town was reversed when all the madness was sucked back into the Nightmare Realm. As for the townsfolk’s mental recovery, they didn’t understand what exactly happened, nor did they want to, so they took the path of denial. Mayor Tyler enacted the “Never Mind All That” Act, which was to be their answer in case anyone asked about Weirdmageddon. It may be a bit naive, but by forgetting, they could start to move on and rebuild.
More specifically within Gravity Falls, the Pines family had to recuperate after Stan lost his memory when Bill was erased. In a bittersweet moment, it made Ford finally appreciate his brother for the hero he was. But Mabel refused to give up and used her scrapbook to successfully trigger Stan’s mind again. Weirdmageddon may have nearly broken the Pines family up, but instead, they came out stronger and more united because of it. [Chrissie Miille]
John Trent – In the Mouth of Madness
John Trent from In the Mouth of Madness survives a very unique and different kind of apocalypse. He’s basically the last sane human being on earth who hasn’t been mutated and driven mad by the writings of a horror novelist akin to of Stephen King, John Saul, Clive Barker and the like. John Carpenter’s ode to H.P. Lovecraft and supernatural horror fiction is just as devastating in its depiction of global descent as any other tale of humanity’s fall from stable society into chaos.
Sutter Cane is a horror pulp author who becomes a vessel for creatures from beyond the natural realm. It’s a very Lovecraftian premise rooted deep in the lore and mythos of intergalactic and inter-dimensional monsters, but John Carpenter still manages to make it palatable and entertaining to watch. The story opens with Trent locked up in an asylum after trying to find Cane and all hell has broken loose.
The newest book in the Hobb’s End series is released after a publicity stunt leads Trent on a wild goose chase to find the supposedly missing Cane. Once the book is out, it basically drives readers insane and transforms them into murderous humanoids. The idea is similar to any kind of plague movie that takes normal characters and turns them against the good guys, but Carpenter’s take on the trope is something special. Despite winding up alone in a world of madness and monsters, he manages to laugh in the face of everything all the way to the end. [Andrew Hawkins]
Ellie and Joel – The Last of Us
In The Last of Us, the world is hanging on by threads after a spore outbreak kills most of humanity and turns those infected with the brain virus into zombie-like spore hosts. Joel has survived for years looking out only for himself, but The Last of Us gives him something to hope for — 14-year-old Ellie. The teenager is immune to the spores and serves as humanity’s only hope for existence. Joel and Ellie embark on a long, dangerous road trip across the USA in search of that cure, and at every turn, it hardens them as survivors.
Together Joel and Ellie avoid infected air, rabid creatures, and marauders out to kill them at every turn. And they make it through all of that, though not without their fair share of scars. The Last of Us shows you that you’ll need to cooperate and find solace in sticking together to truly survive the harsh world out there. [Henry Gilbert]
Theo – Children of Men
There is a lot of darkness and dread in Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian masterpiece about a society unable to have children. It’s a world that has given up and has self-destructed. War, poverty, and xenophobia all run rampant as civilization takes its last dying breath. It’s sad and far too believable.
But there is hope at the core of Children of Men. Hope that people can be good and can come together for a greater good. That’s no more apparent than with Clive Owen’s Theo. He starts the film as a resigned drunk, going through the motions of his mundane life. In the end, when he has something to believe in, he becomes a hero willing to risk it all. That’s inspiring and also, thankfully, believable too. We can be a destructive, ugly species but we can also care and fight for what’s right. At the end of the day, we are good people.
Apocalyptic fiction is usually scary, showing us the darkest sides of humanity. It can also be inspiring. Children of Men is both. [Brandon Marcus]
Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games
So the latest President-elect of the United States is Donald Trump. Mr. “Why have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them?” Trump. If President Trump makes good with his threat and does, in fact, use the nuclear arsenal he has at his fingertips, then things could go very bad very fast.
Enter Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games‘ District 12. Katniss lives on what was once known as the North American continent. Following a brutal war, the people turned on their government. The government struck back and carved the population into districts. Then came the restriction of food and power. Katniss survived by illegally hunting wildlife and scavenging whatever food she could find. With no firmly established timeline in Hunger Games, Katniss could be living as early as next century or even a few decades from now. A few rules of survival we can learn from Katniss are:
- Get back to basics — learn to live with only what is absolutely vital to your survival.
- Learn the bow — bows have been around for centuries with good reason. Treated right, they can last years and arrows can be easily made if you know how.
- Botany — although this might sound a bit odd, learn plants. Certain herbs will kill you overnight, but others can make you better. Learn which is which.
- Rough it — while you still have a chance, put yourself through some harsh camping.
That’s about it. Bows, herbs, camping, essentials. If you don’t happen to have an underground complex, learn to get by in the wild. It’s your best hope. [Graham Host]