Movies like “Leave the World Behind”: Post-apocalyptic narratives are interesting as storytelling experiments. What’s fascinating is how much of the storytelling revolves around self-involved people realizing that they are in a post-apocalyptic environment or being inundated with the dread of having to overprepare for such a calamity to occur. What these become then are stories of internal dread, mental breakdown, and societal collapse through the microcosm of a single location, which might expand as the characters finally learn the effect of the apocalypse in the outside world.

Similar to all of the lists being published here, the ranking is mostly arbitrary. And because the genre itself is so vast, and there are multiple ideas being explored in these movies, the list of movies widens as a result. Thus there are some honorable mentions that don’t make the final cut but are still fascinating films to watch overall.

Honorable Mentions:

How I Live Now (2013)

The apocalypse could come from any direction. Most of it is caused by human follies. In the case of Peter MacDonald’s 2013 film, the apocalypse is caused by a terrorist attack in Paris and later London, which throws the world into chaos after London imposes martial law. Unlike “Leave the World Behind,” which explores the connections between strangers in a mostly singular location, How I Live Now, as its name suggests, focuses on the separation between two lovers as they are mostly shuttled from one closed room to another, and the exploration of deep bonds strengthened through a crucible.

Don’t Look Up (2021)

While not sharing the basic premise of Esmail’s “Leave the World Behind,” Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up’ shares the same amount of skepticism of 21st-century humanity. After learning that a meteor would hit Earth in six months, two amateur astronomers set out to warn the public, but they encounter an unresponsive and non-believing populace. By design, this is a movie for the moment—a satire too biting to be actually elegant in terms of filmmaking. McKay forgoes elegance or subtlety for broad comics and blunt hammering of the messaging, and it still works.

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Very much takes the post-apocalyptic story (here, the protagonists are survivors of a nuclear meltdown) and takes it seriously in the way of young adult novels. Focusing on a love triangle between three characters, Z for Zachariah shares the singular location and the microcosm through which humanity readjusts and remakes itself, like “Leave the World Behind” too does. It shares similar cynical and complex views on relationships and distrust in a world already with a dwindling (or perhaps none) populace though lacking the acerbic wit or cynical messaging like “Leave the World Behind”.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the main list of movies similar to “Leave the World Behind”:

8. White Noise (2022)

Movies like Leave the World Behind White Noise (2022)

The Noah Baumbach-directed adaptation of the Don DeLillo book of the same name follows Jack Gladney, professor of Hitler studies at The College on the Hill, husband to Babette, and father to four children/stepchildren, who is torn asunder by a chemical spill from a rail car that releases an “airborne toxic event” and forced to deal with an existential crisis of his own. Like “Don’t Look Up” and “Leave the World Behind,” “White Noise” also deals with the American way of distancing themselves from the reality of the world ending as a method to cope.

In “White Noise,” the emphasis is on shopping and spectacle, acting as a reflection of the 80s. Similarly for the 2020s, it is obsession with media and content and the paranoia stemming as a result of said obsession. It leaves humanity unmoored against reality. Unlike the dread in “Leave the World Behind,” “White Noise” takes a decidedly comedic approach, but it all is in the service of exploring humanity’s response to the apocalypse—to not respond and simply hope for it to pass.

7. Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Movies like Leave the World Behind Knock at the Cabin (2023)

A young girl and her parents are kidnapped by four armed strangers while on vacation in a secluded cabin. The strangers demand that the family make an impossible decision in order to stop the end of the world. The family has to choose their beliefs before everything is gone because they have little access to the world outside. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” shares stylistic flourishes with Sam Esmail’s “Leave the World Behind.”

Esmail also shares a similar amount of clunky dialogue, acting as an exposition of the characters’ perspectives and their internal thoughts. But the pulp religiosity and the family’s anger and fear do manage to give the movie an air of confusion and dread, as does Dave Bautista’s committed performance. It is profoundly silly, but the conviction and commitment to its silliness without any hint of malice make it a decent watch.

6. Retreat (2011)

Movies like Leave the World Behind Retreat (2011)

“Leave the World Behind” is very much about isolation with strangers as the world begins to fall apart, with the tension rising from the characters not believing the true state of the world and suspicious of much more insidious instances of a more personal nature from the strangers. A similar incident occurs in Carl Tibbets’ Retreat, where an architect and his wife visit an isolated island for their annual retreat until they are visited by a soldier, who warns them that the world is under the thrall of an airborne disease that has expanded into a pandemic.

The soldier warns the couple to seal themselves up inside their homes. However, the erratic behavior of the soldier over the next couple of days makes the couple suspicious that the news of the pandemic might be a lie and they might be hostage to the whims of a madman. Like “Leave the World Behind,” “Retreat” is very much focused on the buildup of tension and paranoia in the microcosm of a location removed from civilization, with the promised return to civilization being snatched away and the “survivors” trying to rationalize it through their paranoia and foreboding. And like “Leave the World Behind,” “Retreat” too ends on a note of dread and helplessness, though it doesn’t have the mic-drop punchline moment of the film.

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Movies like Leave the World Behind 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

A woman is detained at a shelter with two guys after being involved in an automobile accident. They maintain that there has been a widespread chemical attack. The second installment in the Cloverfield anthology series takes the “survival thriller in a bomb shelter” and dials the tension up to 11. If one had to compare it to “Leave the World Behind,” this would be the story if Kevin Bacon’s character in the film was the protagonist. John Goodman shares similarities with Bacon’s character in terms of the basic form and structure, but Goodman’s creepiness and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s winning curiosity ground the film.

As long as the film remains in the genre of survival horror, Trachtenberg manages to maintain a tense narrative. The only reason it isn’t ranked higher is because of its third act, where the revelation of the “attack” spawns a major confrontation, though that doesn’t mean the shifting into the third act isn’t a smooth one. It just produces a very different movie than “Leave the World Behind.”

4. Take Shelter (2011)

Movies like Leave the World Behind Take Shelter (2011)

Jeff Nichols’ take on the post-apocalyptic genre is bewitching in that it is more interested in a “prophetic vision” of the encroaching storm or the beginning of the apocalypse through Michael Shannon’s character and then chooses to dive in deeper to ask whether the dangers in the family are the visions of the imminent apocalypse or the receptacle of that vision, the patriarch of said family. When belief becomes so absolute, or the belief of the end slowly starts to encroach, the grasp on reality becomes tenuous.

“Leave the World Behind” chooses to explore the realization of the apocalypse for these characters through their inaction or confusion, while “Take Shelter” focuses on the tormented and psychological turmoil of the protagonist. Like “Leave the World Behind,” “Take Shelter” is helmed by a precise directorial voice, whose sense of static and still images enhances the sense of dread as well as Esmail’s dynamic use of the camera.

3. It Comes At Night (2017)

It Comes At Night (2017) -hof

A father has created a precarious household framework with his wife and son while hiding out in a desolate home as a highly contagious disease terrorizes the globe. However, this order will soon be tested when a desperate young family shows up seeking safety. Like “Leave the World Behind,” Schults’ film captures the complexities and nuances of isolation and how relationship dynamics change or threaten to upend the domestic framework. There is also the fear of the unseen or the unfamiliar, but it is also fascinating how much most of these post-apocalyptic movies deal with a pandemic as an inciting incident and how “Leave the World Behind” actually distances itself while maintaining the atmosphere stemming from the paranoia and fear of living and powering through a pandemic.

Unlike “Leave the World Behind,” the reality in “It Comes at Night” is much more heightened with its desolation, which makes the movie more unsettling, which is further increased with its ending, a similar effect to “Leave the World Behind.” There is a similar focus on the layout of the house which is notable for its vastness and spartan nature, but “It Comes at Night” manages to be unsettling because of it trying to make the house’s layout undefinable.

2. Miracle Mile (1988)

Miracle Mile (1988)

Miracle Mile is hilarious because it starts off as a romantic comedy, where the man has met the girl of his dreams but is late for the meeting of their next date – late at night in a coffee shop. All his plans fall to the wayside when he intercepts a cross-connection call and learns of an apparent doomsday scenario of a nuclear attack in downtown Los Angeles leading to the end of the world in 70 minutes. It is pretty easy to see the DNA of De Jarnatt’s film in Esmail’s “Leave the World Behind.” The unsettling part is how much 80s America, fueled by conspiracy theories, becomes astonishingly similar to the America of the 2020s.

A conspiracy theory coming to life through a governmental test plan would look outlandish and part of a comic book life until disaster strikes and the results are terrifyingly real. But unlike “Leave the World Behind,” “Miracle Mile” is definitely a battle to retain the idealism against the bleak prospect of reality ending, as shown by the man searching and later trying to escape with his soulmate. It is a fever dream and yet speculative fiction fueled by anger and frustration, created by the production of glorious 80s shlock and neon.

1. Us (2019)

Us (2019)

Gabe and Adelaide Wilson take their family to the beach house for a night of unwinding. However, their impromptu vacation takes a turn for the worse when some strangers turn up unannounced at the door late in the night. Shares the premise of “Leave the World Behind” with a tee, except the differences are more potent, and the inciting incident produces a horror trope of a doppelganger more terrifying than one would expect.

Unlike “Leave the World Behind,” its commentary on racial politics is far more potent, and like “Leave the World Behind,” the entire movie functions as a looking glass, showing Americans the dark reality beyond the glass bubble or echo chamber they live in and then asking them to live with themselves armed with that knowledge. Both use dark humor in delivering that message, but Us is far more subtle with the messaging of the American dissonance than “Leave the World Behind,” which perhaps makes this a very well-made companion piece, even though the scope of the apocalypse is only revealed towards the end.

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