5 Things Every Movie Gets Wrong About the Apocalypse

Hollywood seems pretty confident that at some point humanity will find itself at the mercy of a world-resetting apocalypse. Over the years, movies have provided us with a complete visual library of survival guides covering each and every possible scenario, from the plausible (the world is enslaved by sentient robot overlords) to the ludicrous (the world is poisoned by angry trees, because for some reason M. Night Shyamalan gets to keep making movies).

Unfortunately, Hollywood will leave you ill-prepared, because it has managed to completely overlook several key aspects of life on post-apocalyptic Earth. For example ...

#5. No, Everyone Won't Immediately Turn into Crazy Assholes

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According to Hollywood ...

Pretty much every zombie franchise from Night of the Living Dead on has taught us that humans are the real monsters in an apocalypse -- most survivors will be psychopaths who are more dangerous than the undead. The Road tells us that even the good guy isn't necessarily a "good guy" when he's doing what he thinks is necessary to survive, and that literally everyone else is a rapist or a cannibal or both. War of the Worlds showed us that Tom Cruise isn't afraid to beat Tim Robbins to death to keep his daughter safe.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
World War Z showed us that Brad Pitt can run like Tom Cruise.

The lesson is always the same: When society breaks down, the remaining humans treat the world as a nonstop cannibalistic rape festival.

But Actually ...

Ask yourself this: If humans naturally become murderous sociopaths in the absence of modern society, then how did modern society ever form in the first place?

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Man, I am so bored, there's nothing to do ... oh, wait, I got it: civilization."
"Dude, brilliant."

The whole freaking reason we have a civilization for the zombies to destroy is because humans are naturally cooperative. You don't need to take our word for it -- studies performed by researchers at Harvard and Yale found that our basic human nature dictates an overwhelming need to cooperate with other humans, even if said cooperation results in some measure of harm to ourselves. Biologists say the same thing. Despite what the self-checkout line at Harris Teeter may have led you to believe, humans actually give a decent-sized shit about one another.

In recent regional crises like Atlanta's blizzard-induced traffic gridlock and Hurricane Sandy, examples of basic human kindness weren't difficult to find. When serious tragedy hits a community, most people's first impulse is to see what they can to do help their neighbors, rather than to carry all of their canned food into the basement and start loading their shotguns. It's not even because we're nice guys -- it's because instinctively we know that we might need that person down the road. So even if some worldwide crisis were to transform us all into selfish mutants, the theory of reciprocal altruism suggests that we'd probably still be willing to share that can of beanie weenies if it meant we could get something in return later, even if that something is just "an extra person I can feed to the zombies to make my getaway."

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It is not advisable to offer yourself as zombie fodder in return for a future favor.

That's the biggest thing missing from a show like The Walking Dead or a movie like The Road: commerce. They shouldn't have to scavenge in vacant houses for food or medicine; somebody should be going camp to camp selling that shit in exchange for bullets, sex, protection, or whatever. Hell, even monkeys can figure that out.

#4. The Apocalypse Itself Is the Least of Your Problems

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According to Hollywood ...

Every apocalypse movie can be boiled down to this:

"Almost everyone has been killed by ______, so now some survivors must fight the _______ and maybe the other survivors who turned out to be assholes."

And nobody will shoot the annoying kid.

And that's the same whether the blank is filled in by zombies, robots, or inclement weather. The number one cause of death in The Walking Dead universe is getting eaten by a zombie, and the number two cause of death is getting murdered by a psychopath. Those who survive are the ones who best learn to adapt to those threats.

Lesson 1: Quit fucking wandering off on your own.

But Actually ...

Some apocalypse stories involve diseases wiping everyone out (like Contagion or Stephen King's The Stand), but in reality, that would be every apocalypse.

Think of it this way: In the Civil War, only 1 out of every 3 deaths was caused by getting shot or blown apart by a cannon. The rest were caused by disease. Today, 85 percent of American military medical evacuations from the Middle East are the result of non-battle injuries and disease. In other words, the moment you remove someone from everyday health care and hygiene, you find out that sickness and infections are the real apocalypse. So, for millions upon millions of people, the crisis would be "I can't treat my chronic, debilitating illness anymore," not "My zombie neighbor Chad is trying to eat me again."

TheNightRaven/iStock/Getty Images
"A moderately sturdy door! Our one weakness!"

For example, about 20 million Americans have diabetes and require medication to control it, not to mention another 7 million or so who haven't been diagnosed. Around 3 million have Type 1, which means they need insulin shots every single day to live. What the hell are they supposed to do once Godzilla tramples their local health care provider into radioactive dust? What about the 26 million who have asthma?

It gets worse. Close to half a million Americans require dialysis on a weekly basis. There'll be around 1.6 million new cancer patients in 2014 alone (that's new cancer patients, in addition to the countless millions already coping with some form of the disease). How about the 12.7 million people with COPD, a serious respiratory illness, or the scores of people awaiting an organ transplant? Or the 1.5 million living in nursing homes? Or the people being treated for serious psychological disorders?

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To say nothing of the rampant, untreated IBS.

Conquering the robotic zombie monsoon isn't going to make much of a difference to them when they aren't going to live through the week regardless of what happens. In the Walking Dead universe, it should be fairly rare to run into someone who actually lost their whole family to zombie bites -- the far more common story would be "The zombies overran Walgreens and Mom couldn't get her pills refilled."

#3. Gasoline Goes Bad (Quickly)

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According to Hollywood ...

One of the cool things about the post-apocalypse is being able to tear around the countryside in a kickass vehicle with big-ass guns strapped to it, like the human resistance in the Terminator movies:

Orion Pictures
Even the apocalypse can't escape having an insipid vehicle section.

Or in The Road Warrior, which takes place in a universe where muscle cars are more important than food or pants. Even drowning the Earth in seawater, dinosaur fish, and Kevin Costner's terrible acting in Waterworld didn't do much to lessen the remaining population's dependence on the bubbling crude, with the bad guys zipping around on Jet Skis.

Sure, all of these take place several decades in the future, but you figure there's enough gasoline sitting around in storage tanks and such that the reduced population can happily go around ramping shit with abandon. And don't they make a point of fighting over the dwindling supplies?

Andy Reynolds/Photodisc/Getty
"They have a single gas can! Bring in the fleet of heavily armored SUVs!"

But Actually ...

Finding some gasoline a decade after the apocalypse would be no more helpful than finding an old jug of milk. Both go bad over time, and at least you can make cheese or something with the latter.

While you might conceivably spend the first several months after the apocalypse riding your motorcycle through the smoldering remains of civilization, it won't long before cars (and anything else with an internal combustion engine) are reduced to nothing more than potential hiding spots from patrolling maniacs. Gasoline is a highly refined product, and that means it degrades over time. The more volatile elements gradually evaporate, and the gasoline begins to oxidize, which is another way of saying that any car, boat, or plane left with gas sitting in it through the apocalypse will rust from the inside out in relatively short order.

sanjagrujic/iStock/Getty Images

Your best bet is to keep a stockpile of gas in airtight containers and pump it full of fuel stabilizer, but even then you're only delaying the inevitable, sort of like putting a flower in a vase of water or watching the first two Back to the Future movies. After the first year or two, everyone would be bombing around on roller skates and bicycles, which admittedly would've changed the entire tone of The Road Warrior.

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