I’m obviously a huge fan of all things post-apocalyptic, but I’m almost equally fanatic about movies, TV shows, games, and books with a high fantasy theme as well. I enjoy quoting the original Mad Max just as much as I enjoy nerding out about the origins of Gandalf. In fact, if you do a Google search for “the story of Gandalf lore” you’ll see an article I wrote in 2008 for Engadget on that very topic. Talk about ancient!
But I would honestly say that nothing gets my nerd synapses firing quite like the mixing of the two genres. Give me a good rusty scrap-metal-knight story any day of the week!
So I wanted to compile my own list of some of my favorite forms of media that combine the two worlds most effectively. This isn’t a comprehensive list of every single fantasy/post-apocalyptic crossover, but only what I feel are the best to me. And my rules are simple: the story must contain elements of the opposing genre, but doesn’t necessarily have to be too obvious.
Here are my top 10 fantasy/post-apocalyptic crossovers in reverse order:
10. The Prince of Nothing (2004 Book Series)
This trilogy is an extensively detailed high fantasy epic from R. Scott Bakker that easily rivals those of Tolkien or Martin. It’s set many years after a great apocalypse and centers around a group aiming to stop the Second Apocalypse.
9. The Dying Earth (1950 Book Series)
The sun is burning itself out and magic has returned to the earth in this classic series of novels that has served as the inspiration for many of today’s post-apocalyptic and fantasy works. The magic system described in the books is so intricate and unique that Gary Gygax once revealed his own appreciation by bringing parts of it into the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.
8. The Emberverse (2004-2018 Book Series)
The Emberverse series starts out as a post-apocalyptic story with fantasy elements introduced in the first book, Dies the Fire. Astrid Larsson is a prominent character who is obsessed with Lord of the Rings and goes on to create a group called the Dúnedain Rangers who must learn Tolkien’s Elvish language to join.
7. Sweet Tooth (2009-2021 Comic Series)
This comic book series remained a cult classic for several years before Netflix turned it into a blockbuster TV show that just came out earlier this year. The story combines fantasy animal/human hybrid characters with an end-of-times scenario. If you were introduced to the series through the Netflix show, it’s definitely worth going back and reading the comics for a darker take on the plot.
6. See (2019-? TV Series)
The main focus of Apple’s See revolves around a clan of people who are surviving in a tribal society where (almost) everyone lost their sense of sight. The fantasy elements (melee weapons and armor) are more caveman than He-Man, but there’s certainly a strong fantasy presence there. The first season of the show is one of my favorites while the second season is set to debut in August of this year and a third season has already been confirmed.
5. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009 Book)
This story is a great example of how “fantasy” doesn’t necessarily have to be medieval fantasy to count. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the story of a young woman who was raised to believe that her entire life starts and ends at the border of her small village and no one is ever to venture out into the forest. Why? Zombies, of course.
4. Reign of Fire (2002 Movie)
A tunneling project in London accidentally wakes sleeping dragons from deep below the surface, and the world is a fiery mess 20 years later (in the distant future time of 2020!). Despite the fact that this movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, a young Gerard Butler, and some impressive dragons, it was not well-received by critics at the time. I say it’s just tragically misunderstood because I loved this movie.
3. Shanarra (1977-2020 Book Series)
This Terry Brooks masterpiece novel series has everything you’d expect in a high fantasy story, including elves, dwarves, and gnomes, but it takes place in the distant future after a nuclear holocaust wipes out humanity. If you’ve only seen the TV series, just wipe that from your mind and check out the books.
2. Doomsday (2008 Movie)
While most of this film is your basic action-packed modern-day zombie movie, there’s a whole subplot about a king (played by Malcolm McDowell) who has recreated medieval feudalism in a genuine dark ages Scottish castle. The scrap metal suits of armor are simply amazing.
1. Guild Wars (2005 Video Game)
I’m a huge, huge fan of the original Guild Wars and have been playing since it released in 2005. The game’s lore revolves around several apocalyptic events spread out over tens of thousands of years from the mysterious disappearance of the Great Giants to the Guild Wars themselves to the Searing that ultimately devastated the land of Orr. Most of the game’s intricate storyline (which continues into Guild Wars 2) focuses on recovering remnants of those apocalyptic events to prevent further destruction.
Almost Post-Apocalyptic Honorable Mentions
Game of Thrones
While George R.R. Martin doesn’t come out and say that Game of Thrones is post-apocalyptic, there are clues that have spawned entire theories. As a primer, check out this video and this article that will surely convince you that Westeros is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In short, the theory states that the northern wall was built by an ancient technology (referred to as “magic”) and the Red Waste is actually a nuclear detonation site.
Conan the Barbarian
I wrote about this back in January, but I’m forever fascinated by the possibility that 1982’s Conan the Barbarian movie was almost transformed into a post-apocalyptic tale by a young Oliver Stone still trying to make a name for himself. Of course, it didn’t happen, but there are still some remnants of that idea in the film.
What if the original Disney classic from 1992 isn’t set in the deserts of the Middle East, but instead it takes place 11,000 years into the future after a nuclear war? I wrote an article on this back in 2019, but, unfortunately, the animated film’s creators have ultimately denounced the theory.
What are your favorite fantasy/post-apocalyptic crossovers? Let us know in the comments below!