June 14, 2024

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Movies and shows like The Last of Us to watch next

The Last of Us, the post-apocalyptic HBO drama adapted from Naughty Dog’s 2013 game of the same name by Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin and series co-creator Neil Druckmann, concluded its first season earlier this month.

The series stars Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones) as Joel, a middle-aged survivor of a deadly pandemic who is hired to shepherd Ellie (played by fellow Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey), a girl born with a mysterious immunity to the infection, across the country to a research outpost with the intent of finding a cure. Along the way, the pair are forced to contend with the myriad horrors of this strange new world — including zombie-like creatures, militant factions, and cannibalistic cult leaders — all while growing closer together. It may not be a story about love, but it certainly is one that resonated with audiences, with the first six episodes of the show averaging over 30 million viewers.

The ninth and final episode of the season, which has reignited debate about the ending between fans new and old, achieved a series high of over 8.2 million viewers despite competition from this year’s Oscars. Another season has already been greenlit, with star Bella Ramsey stating that we probably won’t see Joel and Ellie again until “end of 2024, early 2025” at the earliest.

If you’re looking for another show to fill the void left by The Last of Us’ finale, not to worry: We’ve tapped the mycelial network that is Polygon’s staff to create a list of the best post-apocalyptic-adjacent shows to watch while we patiently wait for the series’ next chapter. Obviously, everyone’s going to mention The Mandalorian — which also stars Pedro Pascal as a gruff no-nonsense father figure to a incorrigible trouble-seeking youth — but that recommendation is so obvious, we figured you already thought of it.

If you’re looking for some more recommendations, scroll through for our suggestions of the best shows to watch after HBO’s The Last of Us.

Station Eleven

A man (Himesh Patel) and a little girl (Matilda Lawler) walk through a frozen landscape dressed in winter attire.

Image: Parrish Lewis/HBO Max

What it is: A traveling theater troupe makes its way around the Great Lakes region a few decades after a flu-like pandemic brought about the end of civilization. On one stop, Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) encounters a violent cult led by a man whose past is unknowingly linked to hers.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: We’re 20 years on from a deadly pandemic. People are making do with what they have, and sometimes struggling to remember what humanity, community, and connection should feel like. Though Station Eleven and The Last of Us have very different tragic thrusts, the sense of survival — and whether mere survival is sufficient — bonds these two cosmically. They’re part of the same cultural mycelial network, is what I’m saying. —Zosha Millman

Where to watch it: Station Eleven is available to stream on HBO Max.

The Road

A disheveled man (Viggo Mortensen) in a dirty coat places his hand on the shoulder of a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) looking up at something off-screen in The Road.

Image: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

What it is: John Hillcoat’s 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel stars Viggo Mortensen (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), who trek across a world wracked by a mysterious extinction event that has caused the death of nearly all plant and animal life.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: It’s depressing as fuck! Aside from that, it’s a post-apocalyptic story that centers on a father-son relationship that evolves under the duress of several existential threats, including but not limited to heavily armed, violent cannibal gangs. You want cannibalism? Oh boy, are you gonna get cannibalism. —Toussaint Egan

Where to watch it: The Road is available to stream for free on Plex, available to stream with ads on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Vudu, and available to stream with a library card on Hoopla.

Black Summer

A very chilled zombie has ice in his beard in Black Summer.

Image: Netflix

What it is: A spinoff of Z Nation, it’s a zombie show co-created by John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Sick). Black Summer follows a mom (Jaime King) separated from her daughter at the start of a zombie apocalypse, and who sets out with a small group of allies to find her.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: In addition to the “adult seeking to protect a child in a post-apocalyptic setting” vibes, it’s also the actual best zombie show on TV. —Pete Volk

Where to watch it: Black Summer is available to watch on Netflix.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series

A samurai in a brown outfit with a knot-top haircut (Tomisaburo Wakayama) sit by a fire with his baby son (Akihiro Tomikawa) in a field of reeds.

Image: Katsu Production/Toho Company

What it is: Kenji Misumi’s 1972 chambara film (and its five sequels) based on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s classic manga of the same name stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as Itto Ogami, the disgraced former executioner of a villainous shogun, who becomes a sellsword after his wife is murdered. Taking his 3-year-old son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) along, Itto carves a swath of death and destruction through anyone who dares to threaten him and his child.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: A child learns how to handle themselves in a harsh and violent world by watching (and occasionally helping) their daddy murder a bunch of dudes who played a stupid game (tried to kill daddy) and won a stupid prize (got killed themselves). —TE

Where to watch it: All six of the Lone Wolf and Cub films are available to stream on Criterion Channel.

Children of Men

Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey in Children of Men (2006)

Image: Universal Pictures

What it is: Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopian action thriller centers on Theo (Clive Owen), a civil servant living in a future where human infertility has left society on the brink of collapse. He is recruited by his ex-wife to safeguard a pregnant woman — the first in over two decades — through a harsh and violent world to safety. While initially devoid of hope, Theo eventually becomes willing to risk everything — including his own life — in the hope that the woman’s child may be the key to a better future.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Children of Men takes place in world inexplicably wracked by a global catastrophe. Although not as immediately severe as the Cordyceps fungus in The Last of Us, the film’s infertility crisis basically transforms the entire planet into one big hospice with society collapsing into despotism as humanity slowly yet surely races toward extinction. So yeah, it’s a lot like The Last of Us! —TE

Where to watch it: Children of Men is available to rent for $3.99 on Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.


Pedro Pascal wears a space suit while walking in a forest in Prospect

Image: Gunpowder & Sky

What it is: This 2018 indie sci-fi adventure film stars Sophie Thatcher (Yellowjackets) and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair) as a daughter and father who journey to harvest gems in the poisonous forest of a remote alien moon. When the pair are ambushed by two rival prospectors, Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and his partner Number Two (Luke Pitzrick), the girl’s father and Ezra’s partner are killed in the scuffle — forcing the surviving two to forge a desperate alliance to fend off mercenaries, escape the planet, and make off with their haul of space gems.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Pedro Pascal and a smart-alecky kid are forced to work together to survive a hostile environment and murderous adversaries… in space! —TE

Where to watch it: Prospect is available to stream on Hulu, with a library card on Kanopy, and to rent for $1.99 on Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Sweet Tooth

Christian Convery as Gus in the first episode of Sweet Tooth

Photo: Kirsty Griffin/Warner Bros.

What it is: A post-apocalyptic fantasy show adapted from a comic book where a virus kills most of humanity and part-human, part-animal babies start being born.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: A special child with a “gruff protector” works to survive in an apocalyptic world. —PV

Where to watch it: Sweet Tooth is available to watch on Netflix.


wolverine and x-1 in logan

Image: 20th Century Fox

What it is: James Mangold’s 2017 superhero film adapts Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s “Old Man Logan” comics storyline, following the adamantium-clawed mutant (Hugh Jackman) as he attempts to survive in a dystopian future where no mutants have been born in over two decades and nearly all of the X-Men — save for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) — are dead. When Logan agrees to escort a mysterious girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a refuge on the American-Canadian border, he soon discovers that not only is she a mutant on the run from a nefarious biotech conglomerate, but that they share a profound connection deeper than either of them previously knew or understood.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: A deadly pandemic, a society steadily slouching toward systemic collapse, unemployment exacerbated by the outsourcing of labor via automation… Sorry, what was the question again? Oh yeah, how is Logan like The Last of Us? Well, it’s about a violent old man with “a particular set of skills” (that is, an aptitude for killing) who becomes the surrogate daddy figure to an equally violent little girl. The two journey across the country, take in the sights, and yes, bond over the murder of tons of desperate and malicious assholes along the way. —TE

Where to watch it: Logan is available to stream on Disney Plus.

The Passage

A woman with blood around her mouth, a pale complexion, reddened eyes, and prominent veins along her face stares at a man opposite a pane of glass in The Passage.

Image: Eliza Morse/Fox

What it is: An adaptation on Justin Cronin’s trilogy of novels from Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights), The Passage follows a young woman who is chosen to be the test subject for a dangerous virus, and the man who decides to protect her instead. Sound familiar?

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Swap out “zombies” for “vampires” and “immunity” for “chosen test subject,” and you’re pretty dang close. —PV

Where to watch it: The Passage is available for digital purchase on Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu.

The Girl With All the Gifts

A young girl wears a Hannibal Lecter-style clear mask around her face, with blood around her mouth, in The Girl With All the Gifts.

Image: Poison Chef

What it is: TV veteran Colm McCarthy adapted Mike Carey’s book about a post-apocalyptic future after a deadly fungal infection, and a special young girl who may hold the key to a cure. Please note: The movie is best experienced without knowing much more.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: This one’s so on the nose, it’s even got apocalyptic fungi! —PV

Where to watch it: The Girl With All the Gifts is available to stream for free with ads on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Vudu, or for free with a library card on Hoopla and Kanopy.

Over the Garden Wall

A boy holding a frog with an upside down tea kettle on his head (Greg) and an older boy wearing a red pointed hat and a navy blue cape stand in a river in Over the Garden Wall.

Image: Cartoon Network

What it is: An animated miniseries from Patrick McHale (Adventure Time, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio) that follows two brothers who end up in a strange forest and are trying to make their way back home.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Two people venture through a dangerous, uncharted land filled with potential threats, and are not sure who to trust. Also, Melanie Lynskey shows up! It’s really good. —PV

Where to watch it: Over the Garden Wall is available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu.

Midnight Special

A child (Jaedan Martell) stands in a darkened room with a light glowing from his palm.

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

What it is: Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Joel Edgerton (The Underground Railroad), and Jaeden Martell (It) star in this 2018 sci-fi road movie as Roy Tomlin, his friend Lucas, and Tomlin’s son, Alton, who race to escape a mysterious cult and a government manhunt after Alton begins to manifest mysterious telekinetic abilities.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: A father risks everything — his life, his job, potential arrest by the authorities — in order to deliver his child from harm. Also, did I mention it’s got a creepy militant cult à la Kathleen’s Hunters and David’s cannibals? —TE

Where to watch it: Midnight Special is available to rent for $2.99 on Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Train to Busan

Two men straining to hold a pair of glass doors shut as a horde of zombies barrage them, blood stains visible on the glass surface.

Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

What it is: A global smash-hit zombie movie from South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho (Psychokinesis, Hellbound), the movie depicts the breakout of a zombie apocalypse from on board a high-speed train.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: In addition to the zombie element, the protagonist of Train to Busan is on the train with his daughter, and seeks to protect her from the dangers on the train and off it. —PV

Where to watch it: Train to Busan is available to stream on Prime Video, Peacock, Shudder, and AMC Plus. It is also available for free with ads on Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi, Crackle, and Vudu, or for free with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla.

I Am Legend

A man (Will Smith) in a dark coat walks through a deserted street lined with abandoned cars beside a dog in I Am Legend

Image: Warner Bros.

What it is: Will Smith stars in Francis Lawrence’s 2007 post-apocalyptic action thriller as Robert Neville, a virologist forced to survive in a partially destroyed New York City filled with humans that have been transformed into violent nocturnal mutants. Immune to the virus himself, Neville works to develop a cure while defending a pair of other immune humans.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: You know the deal — a world ravaged by a mysterious virus, a man trying to find peace with the loss of everything he once loved and cherished, mutated humans who are nonetheless susceptible to gunfire. There’s a little kid in this movie too who Robert takes a shine to and attempts to protect like he once did for his own lost son. —TE

Where to watch it: I Am Legend is available to rent for $3.99 on Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

An anime woman in a blue outfit pilots a flying glider alongside a gigantic red-eyed insect creature

Image: Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

What it is: Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 post-apocalyptic fantasy anime follows the eponymous teenage princess of a village who becomes embroiled in the machinations of a power-hungry empire attempting to eradicate the Ohm, a race of giant mutant insects that have overtaken the planet.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: Of all the films and TV shows mentioned on this list, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind probably has one of the closest parallels to The Last of UsCordyceps fungus in the form of a poisonous forest teeming with giant mutant bugs and toxic spores. Though not immune to the spores herself, Nausicaa nonetheless represents a messianic figure equivalent to that of Ellie from The Last of Us, one who — while not capable of eliminating the forest — nonetheless possesses the power to bring balance between the insectile inhabitants of the poisonous forest and the remnants of humanity. —TE

Where to watch it: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is available to stream on HBO Max.

War of the Worlds

Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier staring up at an alien tripod in War of The Worlds (2005).

Image: DreamWorks Home Entertainment

What it is: Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning transforms H.G. Wells’ classic 1898 sci-fi novel into a post-9/11 horror drama, telling the story of a Brooklyn dock worker who struggles to protect his children in the wake of an alien invasion.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: A father protecting his child from apocalyptic threats both extraordinary and interpersonal, such as murdering a dude whose ranting behavior threatens to endanger not only his own life but the lives of those around him. —TE

Where to watch it: War of the Worlds is available to stream on HBO Max and Paramount Plus.

Leave No Trace

Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in Leave No Trace.

Image: Bleecker Street Media

What it is: Debra Granik’s masterpiece adaptation of the 2009 novel My Abandonment, about a veteran (Ben Foster) with PTSD who lives off the grid with his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie). It’s a gorgeous movie, and the two of them are fantastic in it.

Why it’s like The Last of Us: What is an apocalyptic threat if not the Grid? That’s a stretch, but the relationship between father and daughter is central to what makes Leave No Trace work, as well as the lush green environment of the setting. There’s a lot to like in this for fans of The Last of Us. —PV

Where to watch it: Leave No Trace is available to stream on Netflix, or for free with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla.