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Which movie is The quintessential post-apocalypse movie? Is it a classic action thriller like Escape from New York or crazy maxor something more modern and satirical Don’t look up? Perhaps your favorite has a supernatural twist, such as World War Z or I am Legend. Well, this 2002 film combines all three of those elements to make a product so incredibly “out of its time” that 20 years later it somehow feels like a timeless experience and a time capsule into a bygone era at the same time.

2002 Reign of Fire was directed by Rob Bowman and stars Christian Bale, Gerard Butler and Matthew McConaughey in roles so uniquely perfect for each of them that it’s almost hard to believe. The film follows Quinn (Bale), a miner’s son, who narrowly escapes from a mine after workers discover a hidden dragon that immediately rampages.

Years later, dragons rule the earth while Quinn leads a small group of survivors in a medieval castle. Raising a group of children along with his sidekick Creedy (Butler), they try to cling to some semblance of hope as the odds of extinction grow ever more evident. Just when things seem at their worst, a tank rolls towards their castle. Out comes Denton Van Zan (McConaughey), a bald, bearded American military man who has a plan to wipe out all dragons forever.

The showdown that follows is completely overlooked in film history, but it is one of the most exciting yet heartbreaking climaxes in a post-apocalyptic film. As in any survival thriller, there are many moments of suspense and sacrifices that must be made for the good of mankind. Without spoiling too much, don’t get attached to any of these characters.

While Reign of Fire is an absolutely perfect example of a post-apocalyptic thriller, there’s a definite 2002 quality throughout. Post-9/11 fear is prevalent in all sorts of films from the period, but the term is usually used to describe contemporary films that deal with sudden shifts in the political climate. Reign of Fire handles that sociocultural angst with the detachment that gives it such an inherently fantastic premise (but still plenty of American firepower). There’s a constant fear of invasion, which is understandable for a film released just months after the world changed.

A defeated dragon enters Reign of Fire.Buena Vista pictures

Reign of Fire doesn’t try to convince you that its characters are anything more than predictable archetypes. Such caricatures have sunk so many genre films in the past, but if anything, it reinforces this film’s inherent ridiculousness. It almost feels like a myth that people in the distant future might tell about how a ragtag group of survivors banded together to eliminate a threat that was putting the entire planet in peril. It’s an Arthurian legend, the hero of the castle facing the dragon, updated for the 21st century – for better or for worse.

Reign of Fire is a film for those who miss the once-in-a-lifetime adventures of the old days, when a premise could be established in the first 10 minutes and fully resolved within the next 90 minutes. It might not be the kind of film we’ll see in our future, but it’s a vision of the future that’s totally worth revisiting.

Reign of Fire streams on Hulu.

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