The dystopic futures of this world show an impoverished, post-apocalyptic Australia with oil shortages and a general breakdown in society, leading Max to of course take matters into his own hands. The Mad Max style has inspired many later movies, including Steel Dawn and even Tank Girl.
This is a grim look at a future where the Earth is believed to be barren, forcing mankind to reside in domed cities. To prevent overpopulation, the authorities force all those who reach the age of thirty (twenty-one in the novel) to die. Sure, the methods used in Logan’s Run are a little extreme, but with overpopulation being a big concern, and so many baby boomers about to draw retirement, it certainly still has some relevancy.
Most people remember the end of Soylent Green, and Charlton Heston’s wonderfully overacted announcement that the processed food the city of New York has been consuming is actually people. It is definitely a classic movie moment! But it’s the themes of overpopulation and pollution that really make you think.
Let’s face it; George Orwell’s cautionary tale of governmental abuse of power has inspired dozens of other dystopic movies, many of which appear on this list. V for Vendetta is heavily influenced by 1984. Then there is Terry Gilliam’s satiric take on 1984 a la Brazil. If it weren’t for 1984 we wouldn’t have terms such as “big brother” or the term “Orwellian”, to refer to the kind of government control seen in the movie. With all this talk of Prism, it’s never been more relevant.
Escape from New York
The world teeters on the brink of another world war with the Soviet Union, and due to dramatic increases in the crime rate, Manhattan’s been turned into a giant prison. Certainly watching it today, it’s not a dystopic future that appears particularly likely. However, in 1976 when John Carpenter first came up with the idea, the people in the US were already losing faith in their government after the horrendous Watergate scandal and the Soviet Union was still a looming threat. Sure, the idea of Manhattan becoming one giant prison is unlikely, but it’s still a fun movie.
George Lucas’ first feature length movie depicts an Orwellian society, this time controlled by the use of mandatory drugs to suppress emotions, including love. It follows a similar pattern to a lot of movies of this type, with THX going off his drugs and thus becoming a fugitive, attempting to escape to the outside world. The idea of drugs used to suppress a society has inspired many later movies such as Equilibrium. In todays over prescribed society, it still leaves us with something to think about.
Dark City & The Matrix
What happens when you realize that everything around you, the whole world in fact, is a fantasy created by sinister beings? This is the premise to Dark City and also The Matrix, which was released the following year. These movies turn the idea of dystopia on its head. I’ve often joked that I can’t blame Cypher for wanting to be returned to the matrix rather than live in the real world, but freedom in the matrix, is just an illusion.
On the Beach
Based on the end of the world novel by Nevil Shute, this terrifying tale tells of the survivors of a nuclear war: a US submarine crew and the citizens of Melbourne, Australia, as they all wait for the inevitable nuclear fallout to be carried by air currents to the southern hemisphere. Unlike many of the dystopic movies on this list, this is a character study of people who are waiting to die. The US crew clings to their duty, as the only thing they have left. Meanwhile the Australian government has begun issuing suicide pills to those who would rather an easier death than radiation poisoning.
Imagine a future where books are illegal, and the job of the fireman is not to put out fires but to burn books (451 degrees being the temperature that paper is supposed to catch fire). The only thing preventing the very destruction of mankind’s knowledge is a small group of people who diligently memorize books, for the one day that books will not be outlawed. This was Ray Bradbury’s answer to a hedonistic, television-worshipping society. As both a writer and an avid reader, the very idea of a world without books is frightening indeed, and most certainly earns its place on this list.
Planet of the Apes
Okay, so maybe a society of talking apes doesn’t sound so bad. Compared to a lot of movies on this list, it could actually be a lot worse. It’s the ending that really gets it on this list. The visual of the ever-iconic Statue of Liberty half buried in sand, and Taylor’s realization that all this time he had been trying to find his way home when in fact he already was home, is and always will be, a classic dystopic movie moment.
Two warriors from the future are sent back in time. One, a machine that can pass for a human, sent back to kill the mother of the future resistance leader who will bring about the downfall of the machines; the other, a lone human, sent back to protect the mother, and, unknowingly, to help conceive the future resistance leader. We know the future itself is bleak. After a nuclear war, brought about by Skynet, a small band of humans are attempting to fight back and prevent total annihilation. What’s interesting in the first movie though is that by the end of the movie, even though the Terminator is dead and Sarah is alive, the future is as bleak and dystopic as ever.
Children of Men
Adapted by director Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton from the P.D. James novel, Children of Men shows a world in the not too distant future where civilization has been struck with global infertility. No children have been born in some 18 years and mankind is facing human extinction. This knowledge of future extinction has caused governments to collapse and the country to be rife with terrorism. The British government’s reaction is to round up the many illegal immigrants that have poured into the UK, forcing them into refugee camps. It is amongst these illegal refugees, however, that mankind’s hope for survival rests with a young, pregnant, African woman. Many stories have shown mankind faced with annihilation through nuclear war, or giant asteroids, but it is infertility on a global scale that proves our downfall as mankind finds themselves helpless to change things. Coupled with some riveting long tracking shot sequences, this is one dystopic movie that is likely to stay with you.
Blade Runner is a tough movie to discuss being that there are so many different cuts out there. The movie draws a lot from film noir, even more so, due to the voice over, which was removed in later versions. The unicorn dream-sequence also drastically changes the audience’s view of the movie. But ultimately, it is the backdrop for the movie, with globalization, the power of the corporation, and technology over the environment, which ultimately draws viewers back. Each viewing brings some new layer of meaning, which, in a way, makes the various cuts of the movie, somehow more appropriate than with most movies.
A Clockwork Orange
This post-apocalyptic film is notorious for its violent scenes of rape and murder, causing it to be banned in the UK for some 27 years. Interestingly, though the movie is less about the violence itself and more about the protagonist’s “rehabilitation.” First, by using an aversion therapy which more or less forces him to be good, against his will, and then by reversing the controversial Ludovico aversion therapy, as new government views take hold ultimately making Alex a spokesperson for their cause. The movie provides a disturbing social commentary on psychiatry, rehabilitation and the government.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is perhaps one of the earliest known dystopic futures. It is a tale set in the year 2026 that provides a social commentary on workers and capitalism. In the world of Metropolis, technology is everywhere. The wealthy rule and force the workers to build for the sake of building, while below, the workers struggle to work while poverty is rife. With the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, the issues at the heart of Metropolis are still as relevant as ever. And with the newly discovered lost pieces of Metropolis I am as curious as ever to see what a new viewing of this movie will bring. Ultimately it is Lang’s futuristic skyline of Metropolis, based a great deal on a trip to Manhattan, which audiences will remember (and of course, the robot).