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From the acclaimed The Walking Dead novels and adapted television show to the cult-classic Mad Max video game series, the science-fiction sub-genre of the post-apocalypse is ever-present in popular culture. 

If you’re new to this niche world, you may find yourself wondering: What does post-apocalyptic world mean? And what is the difference between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic? 

Keep reading for all you need to know about this dark, futuristic world!  

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What Does Post-Apocalyptic Mean?

Post-apocalyptic is defined as occurring after a catastrophe or destructive disaster. It literally means to exist after the apocalypse, or a world-ending event. Post-apocalyptic movies and books showcase fictional, futuristic worlds that have been destroyed by extreme climatic events, such as fires, floods, and earthquakes; a spatial catastrophe, such as gigantic meteors or asteroids crashing to Earth; man-made events, such as nuclear warfare or the total depletion of resources; or health crises, such as a global pandemic. 

In these futuristic worlds, Earth as we know it no longer exists. The status quo is no more, and what it means to live and survive looks completely different from today’s societal norms.  The best post-apocalyptic books and stories, more often than not, focus on the themes of survival, the human spirit, and the human condition.

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What Does Apocalyptic Mean? What’s the Difference?

While post-apocalypse means occurring after the catastrophic event, apocalyptic means taking place during said event. The apocalypse, in both Biblical and pop cultural understandings, is the final event that destroys the world as we know it. So while post-apocalyptic books and movies depict the human struggle after the destruction of the world, apocalyptic stories take place during that event or the attempt to prevent it.  

movie posters
Source: Prepping Insider
The best post-apocalyptic movies, such as the ones pictured here, have done well at the box offices!

Examples of Post-Apocalyptic Books

Blindness by José Saramago

After an unknown plague causing “white blindness” sweeps an entire city, authorities confine the inflicted to a mental hospital. In this hellish place, humans are diminished to their most feral qualities, fighting to survive. 

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

After America burns to ashes, a father and son are left traveling a desolate journey, heading toward the coast. They are unsure what, if anything, will be there, but they are determined to stay alive together. Cannibals, ashen snow, and darkness are just a few of the ghastly things they encounter on their journey. 

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This 1954 novel tells the story of Robert Neville, the last living human on Earth. Everyone else has become a vampire. He not only fights off the real demons around him, but he also battles the demons in his own mind, asking him how long he can go on like this. 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In her acclaimed trilogy, Collins crafts a futuristic world where the poor become pawns in a game for the wealthy’s entertainment. Only by surviving a game of life and death do people get resources for their own communities to survive. 

Examples of Apocalyptic Movies

This is the End

This comedy is about six Hollywood friends trapped in a house as catastrophe strikes. Seemingly the end of the world, the group has to stick together to make it out alive. 

Independence Day

Disaster strikes when extraterrestrials descend on earth. The aliens’ mission: annihilation. With the end of the world upon them, Americans fight for their lives and the future of the planet. 

The Happening

A mysterious virus is sweeping the world. Traveling in the wind and causing people to violently take their own lives, this invisible killer threatens to end the human race unless a small town science teacher solves the crisis before it takes his family. 


An asteroid is heading straight toward Earth, requiring NASA to come up with a plan before the entire planet explodes from the collision. 

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