Movies that involve plot lines related to survival in the wake of an apocalypse tend to fall under the horror, action and science fiction genres, which happen to be rare in terms of getting the type of critical acclaim that would get them nominated to an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2016, film audiences were surprised to learn that Mad Max: Fury Road was the film that received the most Oscars that year. Out of six nominations, Mad Max received six Academy Awards; the film was even considered for the Oscars in the categories of Best Director and Best Picture. Thanks to the masterful direction of George Hill and the prowess of his production team, the post-apocalyptic film genre finally received rightful acclaim.
Before Mad Max, the following post-apocalyptic movies were also praised by critics:
Children of Men (2006)
Directed by respected filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men is a riveting cautionary tale about what could happen to humanity if society continues to make the same mistakes over and over. In this film, the apocalypse is a long and violent struggle that transformed the United Kingdom into a dangerous dystopia where babies stopped being born in the midst of a world war. Children of Men was nominated to three Oscars. 10 years later, the film is seen as one of the most relevant films of our time. (You can stream it on Amazon here.)
The Day After (1983)
Although it is easy to dismiss this ABC production as just another highbrow film made for television, The Day After stands as one of the most important broadcasts of the Cold War. This movie shows the aftermath of a nuclear exchange between the United States and the former Soviet Union as a result of fighting between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact. This harrowing film even displayed a stern warning during the closing credits, explaining that the effects of nuclear fallout were greatly downplayed for the purpose of having a story to tell. (Watch it online here.)
This dark comedy approaches life after an apocalypse in a very interesting manner. The setting is an apartment building in a French city, where a devious landlord runs a butcher shop and deli for his tenants. The apocalypse is implied but not shown much since the landlord wishes to create a small utopia for his renters. Among the various subplots, there is a shocking revelation about the deli meat and why some rebel factions fighting across France are strict vegetarians. (Stream it on Amazon here.)
The Terminator Film Series
Since 1984, various directors have been weaving the post-apocalyptic story of Skynet, a massive artificial intelligence construct that turns against humans in a quest for global domination. Purists believe that the first two films in the series should not have been followed by sequels since the Skynet apocalypse was still in the future. By the time Rise of the Machines was released, the Skynet universe was getting ludicrous with regard to time traveling. The most recent films in the series show the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles after the Skynet takeover, and it is as bleak as the time travelers explained it. (Find it on Amazon here.)