Dystopias, gotta love ‘em. Great artists have been scaring the crap out of us with grim prophecies of the future since time immemorial. Movies have made the visions just that much more real. We’ve put together a list of the movie dystopias that not only could happen, they probably will happen. So remember, this isn’t a list of the best dystopian films–though many of these would be on there too–it’s the most likely dystopias.
Now that we’ve got that cleared out of the way, let’s jump right into:
children of men
Children of Men was one of the more underrated sci-fi films of the last decade that’s finally now getting the credit it deserves. Though it was a flop at the box office, Director Alfonso Cuarón got what was due him with the success of Gravity. It’s not so much the lack of biological reproduction in this world, but the sheer power of the depiction of everyday life. Bombings, martial law, video advertisements on buses, political militias–it all seems to blend together in a way that hits close to home. I don’t think anyone walked out of that movie with a good feeling in their stomach, because the future depicted feels spot-on.
Blade Runner–the classic vision of a mega-corporate ruled world in which androids (Replicants) are created for dangerous off-world missions. They get smart, and super emotional and weird about it and soon go in search of their creators. Neo-noir masterpiece originally penned by Philip K. Dick, whose entirely catalog of books could really be on this list.
The depiction of the future human slob/consumer in Wall-E is uncanny. Everyone who sees this movie shutters during those scenes because it’s so likely. The Earth is a trashed wasteland and obese humans, consigned to an Elysium like off-world, fly around in easy chairs that supply them with automated food and (presumably) waste removal services. ‘Humans brainwashed by consumer society’ taken to its own logical extreme.
Strange Days depicts Los Angeles in the year 1999, when a technology known as SQUID (super-conducting quantum interference device), has made it possible to literally inhabit someone else’s experiences. The film’s protagonist, Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), is a dealer of SQUID products, whose clientele ranges from wealthy businessmen to down and out info-junkies, addicted to other people’s experiences, or perhaps simply the feeling of being outside one’s self. He’s a user himself and no longer cares to make the distinction between real experience and mediated ‘playback’. This shit’s gonna happen soon.
Peter Gabriel provides the soundtrack.
Given that the Human Genome Project wasn’t even completed when Gattaca came out in 1997, its predilection of biotechnology is astounding. The society represented uses a kind of eugenics in order to manipulate DNA for desired traits that will determine social classes. This movie was way ahead of its time in terms of visualizing the importance of biometric information.
Basically it was either DREDD or Robocop and we’ve already covered the new Robocop propaganda. Dredd is straight up one of the most underestimated sci-fi/action films of recent memory. It makes the original Judge Dredd movie look like a cartoon. The world depicted is a gritty, mono-chromatic vision of the dystopic metropolis Mega-City One, which houses 800 million residents in the middle of an irradiated wasteland known as the Cursed Earth. Law enforcement with the powers of judge/jury/executioner roam the corridors of a dark, violent corporatocracy. Rumors abound that there are two sequels planned.
Zardoz is the story of Zed (Sean Connery), a speedo-wearing Exterminator in the year 2293. Earth has been ravaged by an unspecified apocalypse. What remains of the ruling class, the Eternals, has absconded to live in secret utopian cities called Vortices. They have left their chosen warrior class, the Exterminators, in charge of administering (via rape, murder, and torture) the mammalian masses, or the Brutals, who harvest what grain remains on the sallow planet. Despite their levels of technological advancement (which includes a god-like artificial intelligence known as the Tabernacle) and wealth, the Eternals are really just rich, bored aristocrats tucked away in a Vortex, living off the sweat, blood and labor of the mortal underclass.
Brilliant fun movie, end of discussion.
One of our favorite films of all time, eXistenZ approaches near-future speculation from a different avenue: the video game industry. Directed by David Cronenburg, whose scripts often dabble in bio-technology, the film depicts a world in which video game and virtual reality technologies biologically converge. eXistenZ imagines a game world of polymorphously altered bodies, in which the bio-port has become both an invitation to play out fictional romances, as well as a new organ, subject to arousal and penetration. Unfortunately, the characters can no longer decipher what is real and what is game-based.
The world of 2018 is a global corporate state in which a murderous roller derby sport is wildly popular. We picked this movie over Mad Max, because we see the future less as an anarchistic desert of goth burnouts with guns than as a corporate-controlled arena of bloodsport. Though I suppose outside the arenas, the Mad Max world could unfold in the unregulated wastelands. Whatever, Mad Max is on every movie dystopia list, it can sit this one out!
This is the only movie on the list that depicts a near future dystopia without even taking place on the Earth. Moon chronicles the morbid adventures of Sam, who is mining for helium-3 on the far side of the moon. What he learns about the nature of his existence there says an awful lot about what’s taking place on Earth in 2035.
At its core, Orson Welles’ version of this classic shows the persecution of an individual by a masochistic, shattered society in which there is no truth outside of the machineries of bureaucracy. In an age when our civil liberties are being slowly dismantled and twisted to make room for a military-corporo police state, a dystopia in which a man is on trial for an unnamed crime couldn’t be more pertinent.
It’s not so much that Steven Spielberg perfectly envisions the rise of wireless interfacing, his version of the Philip K. Dick stories hits the nail on the head on everything from intractable police authority and police robotics surveillance to organ harvesting technology, biometrically targeted advertising, and the inevitable abuse of technology, no matter how perfect calibrated it seems. Obviously, we’re not saying people will be getting arrested for crimes they’re about to commit any time soon, but seriously who knows? The technology is actually getting eerily close. There is something called “predictive policing” being developed right now that will use advanced computer simulations to predict both human behavior and societal trends. Instead of pre-cogs, we’ll have AI.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
One of the most visually stunning science fiction films in recent memory is also a strange journey into the fictional Arboria Institute, which seeks to make humans perpetually happy. Underneath this facade is a psychopathic scientist, Dr. Barry Nyle, who is experimenting on a young girl to harvest her psychic powers. Though this movie actually takes place in the Reagan-era 80s (which is pretty much a dystopia in and of itself), it is a dark, neo-futurist look at our undeniably terrifying past, present and future of scientific experimentation.
No, I don’t think us finding and going to war with Bugs from another star system is a likely scenario for the future. However, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is wonderfully veiled satire of a society that cheerleads itself into dangerous wars. The depictions of the hyper-graphic propagandistic advertisements of war are comically spot on in how our military endeavors will continue to merge with an increasingly nationalistic entertainment world. Possibly one of the most overlooked satires of right-wing militarism there is.
We’ll be revising this of course….
Very honorable Mentions
V for Vendetta
The Hunger Games
A Clockwork Orange
The Quiet Earth