The Quiet Earth (film)

The Quiet Earth is a 1985 New Zealand post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Geoff Murphy and starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Peter Smith as three survivors of a cataclysmic disaster. It is loosely based on the 1981 science fiction novel of the same name by Craig Harrison.[2][3] Other sources of inspiration have been suggested: the 1954 novel I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, and especially the 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil, of which it has been called an unofficial remake.[4][5][6][7][8]

The Quiet Earth
Directed byGeoff Murphy
Screenplay by
Based onThe Quiet Earth
by Craig Harrison
Produced by
  • Sam Pillsbury
  • Don Reynolds
CinematographyJames Bartle
Edited byMichael J. Horton
Music byJohn Charles
Release date
  • 18 October 1985 (1985-10-18) (US)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryNew Zealand
Box officeNZ$600,000 (New Zealand)[1]


5 July begins as a normal winter morning near Hamilton, New Zealand. At 6:12 a.m., the sun darkens for a moment, and a red light surrounded by darkness is briefly seen.

Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is a scientist employed by Delenco, part of an international consortium working on "Project Flashlight", an experiment to create a global energy grid. He awakens abruptly; when he turns on his radio, he is unable to receive any transmissions. He gets dressed and drives into the deserted city. Investigating a fire, he discovers the wreckage of a passenger jet, but there are no bodies, only empty seats.

Zac enters his laboratory but fails to contact any of the other labs around the world. Descending to an underground lab, he discovers the dead body of a colleague at a control panel; a monitor displays the message "Project Flashlight Complete". The mass disappearance seems to coincide with the moment Flashlight was activated. The lab is suddenly and automatically sealed because of radiation, so he improvises a bomb to free himself. He listens to his own voice on a tape recorder describing the project as having "phenomenal destructive potential", then notes: "Zac Hobson, July 5th. One: there has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results. Two: it seems I am the only person left on Earth." From this point onward, he refers to the crucial moment and its result as "The Effect".

After a week of vain attempts to contact another human being, Zac moves into a mansion and acquires numerous goods from a mall, but his mental state begins to deteriorate. He puts on a woman's night gown and alternates between exhilaration and despair. He assembles cardboard cutouts of famous people (including Adolf Hitler, Elizabeth II, and Pope John Paul II), plays a loud fanfare and cheers from large speakers, and addresses the cutouts from a balcony. He declares himself "President of this Quiet Earth", then goes on a destructive rampage after the power blacks out. He bursts into a church, shoots a statue of Jesus off a crucifix, and announces that he is God. After accidentally crushing an empty pram with an enormous earthmover, he puts the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth but finally comes to his senses.

Zac settles into a more normal routine. One morning, a young woman named Joanne (Alison Routledge) appears. Zac is attracted to her, and after a few days together they have sex. They scour the city and find a third survivor, a large Māori man named Api (Pete Smith). The three determine why they survived: at the instant of The Effect, they were all at the moment of death: Api was being drowned in a fight, Joanne was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer, and Zac had overdosed on pills in a suicide attempt. He had realized the experiment posed serious dangers and was guilt-ridden for not speaking out.

A love triangle develops, but Zac is more concerned about his observations: universal physical constants are changing, causing the Sun's output to fluctuate. Zac fears The Effect will occur again and decides to destroy the Delenco facility in an attempt to stop it. The three put aside their personal conflicts and drive a truckload of explosives to the installation, only to be stopped at the perimeter when Zac detects dangerous levels of ionising radiation emanating from the plant. He says that he will go to town to retrieve a remote control device that will allow them to send the truck into the facility.

While Zac is gone, Joanne and Api have sex. Afterward, Api tells Joanne that he will sacrifice himself by driving the truck; he doubts that Zac's device will be capable of controlling the vehicle. They then hear the truck and realise that Zac did not go to town after all. He drives the truck onto the weakened roof of the underground portion of the laboratory, which collapses. Just as the effect reaches a maximum, he triggers the explosives.

Once again a red light is seen surrounded by the dark tunnel. Zac finds himself lying face down on a beach. There are strange cloud formations, resembling waterspouts, rising out of the ocean. As he walks to the water's edge, an enormous ringed planet slowly appears over the horizon.


The precise meaning of the final scene is left to the audience. In his commentary on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release, writer/producer Sam Pillsbury states, "...we all thought it was quite simple; I mean, our intention was just that, what happened was, he died at the moment of the effect for a second time and he's now found himself in another world, what the hell's he gonna do...", he then says, more or less jokingly, that director Geoff Murphy being "a Catholic or lapsed Catholic, [it] may well have been something to do with purgatory, and y'know, you being trapped in cyclical and going back into having to relive your thing until you work out your karma, [something; possibly 'if I'm not'] mixing my metaphors; anyway, enigmatic is good, I think, to a certain extent..."



Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that five of eight surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.2/10.[9] Walter Goodman of The New York Times wrote, "'s easy to watch most of the time and never positively painful."[10] Variety wrote, "One of New Zealand's top directors, Geoff Murphy has taken a man-alone theme and turned it imaginatively to strong and refreshing effect in The Quiet Earth."[11] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called Lawrence's screen presence "electrifying".[12]

It has since become a cult film.[13] In 2014, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson named it one of his favorite science fiction films.[14] The film placed tenth in a 2014 public poll by of the best New Zealand films of all time.[15]


  1. ^ Mike Nicolaidi, "New Zealand", Cinema Papers, March 1986 p8
  2. ^ "Film: 'The Quiet Earth'". The New York Times. 28 March 1986. Archived from the original on 13 October 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  3. ^ DVD Talk
  4. ^ Stafford, Jeff, The World, the Flesh and the Devil
  5. ^ Jerome Franklin Shapiro (2002), Atomic bomb cinema: the apocalyptic imagination on film, p. 79, ISBN 9780415936606, …it was remade, sans bomb, by a New Zealand filmmaker as The Quiet Earth (Geoff Murphy, 1985).
  6. ^ Kane, Joe (2000), The Phantom of the Movies' videoscope, p. 292, ISBN 9780812931495, Murphy's New Zealand–set reworking of The World, the Flesh and the Devil, replete with racial angle…
  7. ^ "The Quiet Earth", Cineforum, 29: 19, 1989, Infatti, The Quiet Earth è quasi il remake del classico The World, the Flesh and the Devil…
  8. ^ Baehr, Theodore; Grimes, Bruce; Rice, Lisa Ann (1987), The movie & video guide for Christian families, p. 168, The Quiet Earth is a New Zealand remake of The Night of the Comet and The World, the Flesh and the Devil
  9. ^ "The Quiet Earth (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  10. ^ New York Times
  11. ^ "Review: 'The Quiet Earth'". Variety. 1985. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  12. ^ Benson, Sheila (18 October 1985). "Movie Review : 'Earth,' Star Are Out of This World". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  13. ^ "The 10 Best "Last Man on Earth" Movies". Indiewire. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  14. ^ Tyson, Neil deGrasse (6 June 2014). "'2001' and beyond: Neil deGrasse Tyson names his top 10 sci-fi films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  15. ^ "Kiwis pick their favourite movie". 25 January 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2015.

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