Leave the World Behind hits No. 1 on Netflix — but audiences are trashing it on Rotten Tomatoes

(left to right) Mahershala Ali, Myha'la Herrold, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke in Leave the World Behind
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix has released several top performers this year. Some have been critical darlings, like One Piece, winning the hearts of fans and reviewers alike. But the new Netflix movie Leave the World Behind has received a lukewarm reception from critics — and an absolute bludgeoning from audiences. 

That hasn't kept the psychological thriller from shooting to the top of Netflix's rankings, securing the No. 1 spot just days after its debut and passing the kid-friendly Family Switch. Obviously, its so-so 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes from over 100 reviewers isn't keeping viewers away, nor is its drastically lower 37% audience score, culled from over 2,500 reviews. Most of those are slamming Leave No Behind's ending. 

Trying to decide if this polarizing new movie is worth sitting down to watch?  Here's what you need to know before you decide to sit down with the top-rated movie on Netflix. 

What is Leave the World Behind about?

Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail's apocalyptic thriller follows Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) and husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) as they take their kids Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans) on a surprise trip to Long Island, New York. They make their way to a rented house. There, they find they have no cell service and people acting erratically around them. The same day, a man named George "G.H." Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha'la) show up at their doorstep. 

G.H. reveals that the home is actually his, and he and Ruth have returned home due to a blackout in the city. Though Amanda and her family initially are wary of the family, she eventually acquiesces and lets them spend the night. By morning, it's revealed via news alerts on Amanda's phone, service seemingly restored, that there are hackers responsible for the blackout. There are also some eerie symbols along with them, which disturb Amanda and the rest of the family. 

Despite being confused, afraid and concerned for their future, both families must live together and work to figure out what kind of situation they've found themselves in while the world around them begins to devolve into madness for both man and animal. Who's telling the truth and who's not, and what's the apocalyptic event that could end up changing the world as they know it forever?

What the critics are saying 

Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts in Leave the World Behind

(Image credit: Netflix)

Critics from outlets like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, and RogerEbert.com offered mostly positive reviews of the film, though there were some outliers that didn't find it so palatable. 

Rolling Stone's David Fear attested that the movie "pokes at" the notion that we've planted our own "seeds of destruction," claiming that "it could be a documentary with movie stars." Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson called it a "dreary, harrowing sit" that was all the more "invigorating" because of those properties. 

The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber praised the "fine performances" that "bolster the problematic picture."

RogerEbert.com's Robert Daniels was much less kind, contending that the movie "struggles where it matters most, fashioning real stakes to accompany the turmoil". 

Why everyone is talking about the ending of Leave the World Behind

One topic pops up over and over again in the audience reactions: the ending. 

Tim G praised the "good acting" but lamented the movie "had no real ending or climax at the end. A bad ending kills the entire movie for me anyways even if the rest of the movie were good. But it wasn't."

Eric M doesn't hold back, writing, "I created an account just so I could give this trash the lowest review possible. What a waste of time this movie was. Absolutely nothing is explained."

Bryan B compared it to one of the most infamous finales of all time: "The ending was (incredibly) worse than "The Sopranos."

But there were some audience members who disagreed. Angela P. said, "I think the ending was genius."

So what exactly happened — or it seems more like didn't happen — at the end? Spoilers ahead!

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

After spending much of the movie together in an atmosphere of confusion, distrust and paranoia, the two families split up. G.H. (Ali) and Clay (Hawke) have a tense standoff with neighbor Danny (Kevin Bacon). Amanda (Roberts) and Ruth (Myha'la) wander the woods in search of Amanda's daughter Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). 

Amanda sees a mansion nearby, where she thinks Rose might have gone (she's right). Then, the two see New York City being bombed in the far distance. 

Rose has broken into the mansion and found a bunker, where an emergency alert reveals the U.S. is at war with rogue armed forces — and a nuclear attack may be imminent. She finds a DVD with the final season of Friends and begins to watch the finale "The Last One." 

The movie ends with "I'll Be There For You" by The Rembrandts playing over the end credits.

Is Leave the World Behind getting a sequel?

It's unclear yet if Leave the World Behind will receive a sequel or follow-up in some way. While the open-ended ending that could allow for the continuation of a story on some level, this Netflix hit may not receive one. It's not the type of film that's built for a sequel to begin with, even if it does stray from the original novel by Rumaan Alam's planned ending. 

Alam, according to Variety, isn't even sure what happens in the end. In fact, writer and director Sam Esmail explained to Digital Spy that making the decision to fashion the movie's vague ending was something of a risk. 

"We shouldn't pull punches here because, like in life, we have to face ambiguities all the time," he said. "That was essential to the book and central to what I wanted to do in the film — there are no easy answers and solutions and we have to face that and go on regardless."

With all that in mind, it's highly possible that Netflix could decide the movie needs a follow-up, or perhaps a similar story set during the same timeframe. But while the answer is a resounding "we don't know" right now, it doesn't mean things will stay that way. 

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Brittany Vincent

Brittany Vincent has been covering video games and tech for over 13 years for publications including Tom's Guide, MTV, Rolling Stone, CNN, Popular Science, Playboy, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, and more. She's also appeared as a panelist at video game conventions like PAX East and PAX West and has coordinated social media for companies like CNET. When she's not writing or gaming, she's looking for the next great visual novel in the vein of Saya no Uta. You can follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake.