Since George Orwell’s penultimate novel 1984, the dystopian genre grew progressively until recently hitting its peak. Some of the key ingredients include oppressive regimes, near future technology, or wealthy bureaucracies, dark tones, and the unlikelihood of a happy ending. Various filmmakers have put their own spin on this, creating some of the most compelling narratives and worlds. It’s hard to put a finger on why dystopias are so fascinating. They’re dour, depressing, and not likely to put anyone in a good mood. However, the stark contrasts and underlying subtext and social commentary bring up plenty of topics to discuss and think about. It provides a new perspective and point of view, shining a light on our own societal shortcomings. With all that said, there are some great dystopian movies out there, but which top them all? Here are the 25 Best Dystopian Movies You’ll Want To See.
In a futuristic world where police can act as judge, jury, and executioner, Dredd is about as dystopian as they come. It’s doubtful anyone would want to live in a society where police wield ultimate authority. The best dystopian stories have social commentary and in this case, the movie ironically criticizes the abuse of police authority while featuring a police officer as the hero.
The Hunger Games
The hit young adult dystopian movie The Hunger Games is more than just teen angst. Featuring a world with twelve districts that produce certain materials for the country of Panem, every year they present two children as tributes to play in The Hunger Games. The winner of the game feeds their district, but winning involves killing all the other kids. It’s an interesting spin on the Lord of the Flies.
The novel 1984 by George Orwell arguably started the dystopian genre in the first place. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the film based on the novel. About a man who re-writes history for a living, 1984 is about a man who rebels against his domineering, totalitarian society by falling in love. The dark, demented reality he lives in questions our own governments and how much big brother might be watching us.
Starring Christian Bale, Equilibrium is about a fascist society that burns books and suppresses people’s emotions by forcing everyone to take a pill. John Preston (Bale) enforces the law, but once he realizes the evil of his society, turns against it. It’s a highly under-rated film with plenty to offer with some great commentary on the double-edged sword of feeling, love, beauty, and human emotion.
Before he made Star Wars, George Lucas made the feature-length dystopian film THX 1138. Taking a lot of cues from 1984, the story revolves around a heavily controlled society and two people who rebel against it. The beauty of the film is its set and costume design and a compelling performance from Robert Duvall.
Despite its 70’s camp, Logan’s Run is a compelling utopia turned on its head. Everyone lives in a paradise world, but what they don’t know is life ends at the age of 30. It asks the question: Would we want paradise if it meant we could only have it for a short time?
In Soylent Green, Charlton Heston plays an NYPD detective in a world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and overpopulation. With little food to go around, most of the world eats a mass-produced product called Soylent Green. While he’s investigating a murder, he discovers something disturbing. It questions how far society might go when pushed against a corner and doesn’t have a comforting answer.
Released in 1927, Metropolis is a black-and-white classic about city planners and the working class of the city. A prophet tells of a coming savior to figure out their differences. The beauty of the film is its visionary set and costume design. Plus, the story is an eerie depiction of futuristic class warfare.
V for Vendetta
Taking many of its cues from 1984, V for Vendetta is about a totalitarian government in England and a terrorist named “V” out to inspire the people to bring it down. Many of themes in this film revolve around individual freedom versus security and how eventually people will want freedom.
District 9 is arguably more of a science fiction than a dystopian film. Still, it has dystopian elements. When an alien spaceship hovers over the city of Johannesburg, humanity must find a place for the millions of aliens on board to stay. The result is a large, unsanitary ghetto. Much of the film is a critique on South African apartheid.
The beauty of The Matrix is how much the storytellers mess with the idea of reality. While one dystopian world for humans is artificial intelligence feeding on human fetuses to stay alive and keeping human consciousness inside a virtual world, the Matrix can also be a dystopian world since it’s not what humans believe is reality. What is the right or wrong world if we aren’t even sure what reality is?
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road focuses heavily on minimalism and simplicity in the storytelling but doesn’t sacrifice character development and world-building in the process. Very little dialogue is in this film and yet the visuals speak volumes. In a world bereft of water and food and in constant need of gasoline, those that control those three resources control the masses. It really speaks to basic core human needs and what we’re willing to do to get them.
Dark City is a bizarre neo-noir dystopia about a man who can’t remember his past and struggles to figure out the world he lives in. It’s a nightmarish, dream-like movie probably best reserved for cinephiles and gothic lovers. However, it’s uniqueness and mind-boggling storytelling sets it apart as visionary.
The Road is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It’s dark and unforgiving post-apocalyptic landscape truly captures what things might look like if the world were to end. The durability of the human spirit is put on display as a father risks everything to ensure his son’s safety as they make their way to the sea.
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report features a world where murder has been practically eliminated due to pre-cogs, three people who can see into the future. By knowing when a murder is going to happen, the police can stop it before it does. However, this utopia has a secret which could unravel the whole system.
Brazil is another unique take on the 1984 totalitarian state with a bureaucrat trying to correct an error and becoming an enemy of the state. As the story progresses, the narrative descends into surreal madness, making the audience wonder if it’s more a dream than reality. A prophetic aspect of the movie is how common terrorism is and how desensitized people become to it.
The Road Warrior
The Road Warrior, also known as Mad Max 2, is practically a classic at this point. It’s probably the best Mad Max movie with Mel Gibson playing the pivotal role. In it, Mad Max agrees to help out a community with plenty of gasoline survive against The Humungus and his band of ravagers.
Planet of the Apes
The original Planet of the Apes is a film everyone should see at least once. When astronauts crash land on a barren planet, they discover it’s being ruled by talking apes that enslaved humans. It has one of the most classic endings in film history, and there’s plenty of philosophical, religious, and social commentary throughout.
Set in a dystopian world covered in ice, the few human survivors remain on a train called Snowpiercer. Graphic, bloody, and chalk-full of subtext criticising capitalism’s dominance over the poor, Snowpiercer is a difficult pill to swallow but will likely give you and your friends a lot to talk about.
In the dystopian world of The Lobster, single people are taken to The Hotel and are obligated to find a partner in forty-five days. If they don’t find a romantic partner in that time frame, they’ll be turned into an animal and sent out into the wild. This bizarre film deals with societies pressures on romance and relationships.
A Clockwork Orange
Violent, overtly-sexual, and deranged, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is about a gang of “Droogs” who commit ultra-violence, killing, tormenting, and raping innocent civilians. It speaks volumes on human and societies’ desire for violence and our flawed mission to rehabilitate those urges.
By visionary Terry Gilliam (who also directed Brazil), Twelve Monkeys is about a convict living in a world ravaged by disease. He’s sent back in time to find out what happened, why the disease spread, and potentially stop it from happening. The mind-twisting narrative Gilliam spins is on a whole new level of masterpiece. Without a doubt, this is a must see dystopian movie.
Set in a future where humanity is divided between the genetically inferior and the genetically modified, Gattaca is about a man who wants to travel in space and must pretend to be genetically superior to do it. Gattaca cleverly shines a light on the dangers of genetic engineering in human society.
In a futuristic Los Angeles, artificial humans, known as Replicants, try to overthrow their human masters. Blade Runners are hired to hunt down the Replicants and “retire” them at all cost. Revolutionary for its set design and special effects, Blade Runner is a visionary masterpiece from Ridley Scott, questioning what it really means to be human.
Children of Men
Children of Men is a masterful under-rated gem no one really watched. Set in a near dystopian future where all women are infertile, the world has lost hope in there being any future until one man is tasked with escorting a pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea. Children of Men examines what the world would come to if there were no more children.
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