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4 Fictional Apocalypses That Shattered the Box Office

December 23, 2008
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Whether it's an alien attack in the 1953 adaptation of War of the Worlds, waves of famished George Romero-style zombies or blindness-inducing killer plants in the 1962 cheez-fest Day of the Triffids, moviegoers have always loved watching the world be reduced to rubble -- and discovering the grim new reality that rises from its ashes. Let's take a look at four end-of-days flicks that destroyed more than the world -- but box office records, as well.

1. Independence Day

independence_day_ver3.jpgReleased on July 2, 1996, Independence Day grossed a whopping $816,969,268 worldwide, which at the time made it the second highest-grossing film ever. Legend has it that director Roland Emmerich conceived of the film while on a press tour for his 1994 sci-fi blockbuster, Stargate, when producer Dean Devlin wondered aloud why the aliens in Stargate would've traveled light years from their world just to hide in ours. Why are the aliens in movies always lurking in cornfields and barns and the middle of remote desert testing facilities, they wondered? According to the DVD commentary, Devlin asked a report to imagine "what it would be like to wake up one morning and discover that 15-mile-wide spaceships were hovering over the largest cities in the world" -- and that was the birth of the idea for Independence Day.


While not exactly wowing the critics (Kenneth Turan dubbed it "The Day the Script Stood Still"), audiences couldn't part with their money fast enough. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996, breaking Jurassic Park's then three-year-old record. Critics did give it props for its amazing special effects sequences, however, and even Turan wrote that the movie did "an excellent job conveying the boggling immensity of [the] extraterrestrial vehicles [...] and panic in the streets" and the scenes of the alien attack were "disturbing, unsettling and completely convincing." It won an Oscar for visual effects.

Of course, impending doom is a great excuse to give inspirational speeches, and Bill Pullman's in Independence Day ranks with the best of 'em (in the cheesiest sense imaginable):

2. I Am Legend

This is a movie with quite a pedigree: the original novel by Richard Matheson ranks among the greats of sci-fi literature, and is one of the first in which a plague of zombies destroys the world as we know it. It was adapted to film three times: as 1964's The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and in 2007 as the Will Smith starrer I Am Legend.

I have a particular fondness for its most recent filmic incarnation (save its off-key ending) -- especially the first act, which explores in gritty, hyper-realistic detail the landscape of an empty, gone-to-seed Manhattan. (I was reminded of the book The World Without Us, which points out that in just a matter of months, NYC's subways would flood, collapsing the streets above them and creating rivers where, say, Lexington Avenue used to be. Jungle would reclaim much of the city within a few decades.)

Add to that mix a healthy colony of robust, sunlight-hating vampiric zombies, and I'm a kid in a cinematic candy shop. Other moviegoers clearly felt the same way: earning some $584 million worldwide, it's one of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time. Rumor has it that a sequel is in the works, with a release slated for 2011.

Just for the sake of comparison, here's the trailer for the 1964 version:

... and the 1971 version:

... and the 2007 version:

3. War of the Worlds

Speaking of adaptations and remakes, few stories have been told as many times, or as many ways, as War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells' 1898 science fiction novel has been adapted no fewer than twenty-two times, as a radio play, a film, a staged musical, a TV series, a cartoon, a comic book, a board game, a theatrical production and even a series of trading cards. In addition, a number of authors have written unauthorized sequels, including more than one positing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson during the alien invasion of London.

Some think that Wells' story tapped into pre-WWI paranoia about invading armies -- but rather than soldiers of the terrestrial, European type marching through the streets of foreign cities, Wells conjured a race of highly-evolved blood-sucking Martians. Ironically, they could wipe out thousands of Earthlings at a time while sustaining relatively few casualties themselves, but it was a tiny bacterium -- an alien pathogen -- against which they could not defend. If that sounds familiar to students of colonial history, it should -- aliens rampaging through the streets of London could easily have been inspired by European army regiments machine-gunning columns of spear-armed Africans -- and then succumbing to malaria or yellow fever. Wells himself broaches this theme in his introduction to the book:

And before we judge [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Steven Spielberg's 2005 film adaptation was received in a generally positive light, raking in $591,745,540 worldwide to make it the fourth highest-grossing film of its year. Its opening weekend tally of $65 million was a record for studio Paramount -- and a personal best for star Tom Cruise.

Check out this trailer for the 1953 film adaptation, the narration of which makes it sound like a movie about a Nazi invasion: "a super-race from Mars!" ... "is there nothing that man stop the alien death machine?!"

4. 28 Days Later

28 Days may not have shattered the box office in a traditional sense, but considering it cost less than $10 million to make, its $82 million take was a stunning success. It still ranks as one of the most viscerally scary films I've seen, and the realism with which they were able to create an eerie, almost-deserted London -- on a tiny budget -- is amazing.

Also amazing is the fact that it was shot primarily on consumer-grade Canon XL1 video cameras -- one of which I owned at the time -- giving it a gritty realism which works perfectly for the subject matter (and certainly helped keep costs down). It also reinvented the zombie film, which previously had been the province of slow-moving, dim-witted George Romero-type zombies, who could be picked off like cattle in a field and were only dangerous in close quarters or great numbers. Days' zombies were motion-blur fast, savage, and their insane, berserker-style behavior was itself viscerally frightening in a way that made the old-school zombies seem like bedtime story characters.

Another primary difference between Days and other zombie films: this wasn't a zombie apocalypse, it was a viral apocalypse; it played on the new paranoia of the 21st century, when we were just starting to get used to terms like "ebola" and "H5N1 virus." These infected zombies don't even have to bite you to do you in -- just a drop of their blood or saliva will do the trick just as well, both of which they're constantly spattering around in liberal quantities.

Frightening indeed. Enjoy the NSFW trailer:

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Portable Chargers RAVPower 16750mAh External Battery Pack 4.5A Dual USB Output External Phone Charger Battery Bank Power Bank (iSmart 2.0 Technology) for Nintendo Switch, iPhone 7, Galaxy S8 - Black for $27.99 (list price $99.99)

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Bluetooth Headphones, Hussar Magicbuds Best Wireless Sports Earphones with Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Sound for $26.99 (list price $169.99)

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CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $7.44 (list price $12.99)

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Sandwich Cutter Taidea Best Adorable Animals Pocket Bread Cutter, Hand Tools Sandwich Kit for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill for $34.99 (list price $44.99)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $99.99 

Plater Fast Defrosting Tray - Defrost Meat or Frozen Food Quickly Without Electricity, Microwave, Hot Water or Any Other Tools for $18.90 (list price $32.90)

Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch for $14.29 (list price $24.00)

Lifewit Height Adjustable Pan Pot Organizer Rack, 5-Tier Kitchenware Cookware Holder for $24.99 (list price $49.99)

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Container, BPA-Free Plastic, 6-Piece Set for $6.18

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Fat Ninja Extra Large Roll Up Dish Drying Rack (19.8 x 14in) Over the Sink Stainless Steel Tier Drainer including Set of 2 Microfiber Kitchen Towels for $16.77 (list price $28.99)

Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

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Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

Cuisinart CIL22-30HR CastLite Non-Stick Cast Iron Fry Pan with Helper, 12-Inch, Red for $49.95 (list price $62.29)

Culina Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, Silver, Set of 3 for $7.99 (list price $12.99)

Top Rated Bellemain Cooling Rack - Baking Rack , Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch - Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan for $11.95 (list price $18.95)

Baker's Secret 1061483 10-by-16-Inch Nonstick Cooling Rack, Set of 2 for $6.00 (list price $19.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

Prepworks by Progressive Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Keeper - 1.9 Quart for $9.96 (list price $11.99)

Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

ChefLand 3-Compartment Microwave Safe Food Container with Lid/Divided Plate/Bento Box/Lunch Tray with Cover, Black, 10-Pack for $6.78 (list price $19.95)

DRAGONN Zester Grater Sharp Stainless Steel Blade with Black Handle, Safety Cover and Rubber Footings for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Accuweight Digital Multifunction Food Meat Scale with LCD Display Perfect for Baking Kitchen Cooking, 11lb Capacity by 0.1oz, Tempered Glass surface, Black for $9.49 (list price $49.99)

Best Ice Cube Trays - 2 Large Silicone Pack - 16 Giant 2 Inch Ice Cubes Molds for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

Banana Hook - Ripen Bananas Naturally with Under Cabinet Banana Hanger / Banana Holder. Self-stick and Adheres Under Cabinets. for $6.00 (list price $11.99)

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Gardinesca Beard Oil for $12.99 (list price $31.99)

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"Touch Me" Dry Skin Body Brush - Natural Bristle for $6.99 (list price $14.99)

ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Top 8 Essential Oils, 100% Pure of The Highest Quality, Therapeutic Grade for $16.95 (list price $20.00)

Daily Power Scrub Facial Cleanser For Men - 8 OZ - Face Wash + Energizing Toner + Exfoliating Scrub All-In-One - Natural & Certified Organic Ingredients for $24.95 (list price $39.00)

Arabica Coffee Scrub 15 oz, Anjou Body Scrub with Honey, Sea Salt, VB, VE for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Men’s Razor Blades 8 Refills - Packaging May Vary, Mens Razors / Blades for $29.97 (list price $35.71)

Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder Natural for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

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Gillette Series 3X Action Shave Gel, Sensitive, 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $12.48 (list price $23.94)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.40 (list price $44.99)

Philips Norelco Bodygroom Series 7100, BG2040 for $59.95 (list price $69.99)

Tweezerman LTD Stainless Steel Mini Slant Tweezer (Colors May Vary) for $9.19 (list price $14.00)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub, 5 Oz for $4.78 (list price $7.69)

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge (2 sponges in each pack) for $8.24 (list price $10.99)

GNC Mega Men Energy & Metabolism Tablets, 90 Count for $9.99 (list price $22.99)

Dial Antibacterial Deodorant Bar Soap, White, 4 Ounce Bars, 10 Count (Pack of 3) for $14.64 (list price $18.93)

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BESTOPE Blackhead Remover Pimple Comedone Extractor Tool Best Acne Removal Kit for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

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Honey-Can-Do TBL-03539 Portable Laptop Lap Desk with Handle, Blue, 23 L x 16 W x 2.5 H for $16.24 (list price $26.99)

MagniViz Magnifying Glass with Light and Stand - Handheld or Hands Free LED Lighted Magnifier (3x) - Bonus Cloth for $8.99 (list price $19.99)

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ALEX Toys DIY Wear So Many Headbands, 10 headbands for $13.54 (list price $29.50)

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Warner Bros., IStock
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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