1. Things to Come, 1936
This HG Wells adaptation isn’t strictly set in London but in the fictional city of Everytown – still, those white terraced houses, big red buses and stiff-lipped residents do feel awfully familiar. Three years before the outbreak of war, the film predicted that bombs would reduce the city to rubble by Christmas 1940 –which is almost exactly what happened. Thankfully, its more outlandish forecasts – a decades-long conflict, a global plague and a tribal society ruled by Ralph Richardson in an Afghan coat – haven’t come to pass. Yet.
2. The Day the Earth Caught Fire 1961
Nuclear fear may have been all the rage in the early ’60s, but there’s something nicely down-to-earth about this city disaster scenario: it gets a bit hot. When the Earth is knocked off its course by bomb testing and veers towards the sun, Londoners react as we always do during a freak weather event: the trains stop running, the pubs fill up and everyone complains.
3. The Day of the Triffids, 1962
What’s scary about ‘The Day of the Triffids’ isn’t the slightly daffy concept of carnivorous walking plants, it’s the idea of global blindness, here brought on by a freak meteor shower. The image of a man waking in hospital to find a London reduced to a ghost town strewn with abandoned automobiles and populated entirely by legions of helpless, shuffling figures still feels genuinely otherworldly. Unless you’ve ever been to Milton Keynes.
4. Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD, 1966
Like an army of pissed-off pepperpots, the Daleks reduce this fair city to a smoking ruin populated by reanimated corpses and a resistance army so fond of flat caps and corduroy they look like a particularly rowdy chapter of the NUM. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins, here to save the world by tearing about in a bread van and bombing the earth’s core.
5 No Blade of Grass, 1970
One of the great lost British sci-fi flicks, this creepy oddity sees the world under threat from a plague that kills only crops. At first the disease is just a handy excuse to look down on Johnny Foreigner – ‘It’s because them Chinese fertilise everything with human shit!’ – but when our own supplies start to dwindle there’s panic in the streets. Just when it seems things can’t get any worse, the government decide to ease the crisis by nuclear bombing the major cities. It’s the Blitz spirit, only backwards.
6. Lifeforce, 1985
Space vampires! Zombie slaves! Excessive nudity! Brent Cross Shopping Centre! The plot of this loopy sci-fi-horror hybrid from ‘Texas Chain Saw’ director Tobe Hooper may be idiotic, but the film is unmissable for a handful of brain-scrambling moments: Patrick Stewart ferociously snogs a dude, Mathilda May strolls the Strand in the buff and the climax involves the hero stabbing himself with a sword while having sex on the altar of a cathedral. Hallelujah!
7. 28 Days Later, 2002
A man wakes up in hospital to find London reduced to a ghost town strewn with… hang on a second! Yes, Danny Boyle’s zombie flick may have half-inched the opening of ‘Day of the Triffids’, but those images of Cillian Murphy shuffling across Westminster Bridge are still deeply haunting. Like the rest of the city, Parliament is presumably overrun with braindead monsters preying on the flesh of the living. Insert topical joke here…
8 Shaun of the Dead, 2004
More movie-brat fun, as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright play ‘Night of the Living Dead’ for laughs. Even though the city is never quite overrun, the scene in which our heroes barricade themselves in a pub to escape being eaten is a classically British image of apocalyptic survival. Um, what are pork scratchings made of, anyway?
9. Children of Men, 2006
In which London is brought low by a combination of rampant immigration, social disobedience and prog rock. To be fair, the city itself doesn’t look all that different – aside from a spot of shabby-chic redecoration – but that doesn’t stop our hero Clive Owen from escaping at the first opportunity and heading off into the countryside to smoke bongs with Michael Caine.
10. GI Joe: Retaliation 2013 and Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013
To paraphrase Wilde: once may be regarded as misfortune, twice looks like carelessness – or, indeed, vindictiveness. In 2013, within the space of a few weeks, London was twice laid low by Hollywood bombs. In ‘GI Joe’ it’s the fault of a shady foreign supervillain. In ‘Star Trek’, however, it’s something of an inside job, as Londoners Benedict Cumberbatch and Noel Clarke betray the town that raised them. Ben, Noel, we trusted you…
Compiled by Tom Huddleston
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