We all love to sit down to a good movie. We all have our favourite genres, but those depicting a dystopian way of life are some of the most popular.
Dystopian movies are often blockbusters, not only because they depict a depressing reality that makes us more appreciative of whatever our current society is, but they also represent several themes that we may be able to relate to in our current lives.
Through the years, there have been many great dystopian movies that have come out. Here are just some of the best that we have seen so far. If you haven’t seen some of these films yet, then we recommend that you give them a try.
This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you.
Total Recall is a 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie depicts a world where the Earth has conquered Mars and people take vacations in the form of memory implants rather than actual travel. After taking such a vacation, the protagonist Douglas Quaid discovers that he is actually a spy.
The movie follows Quaid as he is pursued by a mysterious group. Quaid is also torn as to which of his memories are actually true. His adventures take him to Mars where a resistance comprising of human and mutant rebels aim to take down the corrupt and oppressive government.
Total Recall is a movie that represents how we perceive reality, as well as the dangers of technology and the potential shape of our environment in the future. This movie, which was also remade in 2012, is still timely today with the widespread use of virtual reality as well as the continued destruction of our ecosystem.
Gattaca, starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, is a 1997 science fiction movie set in a future where selective breeding and eugenics are common. There are segregation and discrimination between what is considered as valids and invalids, whether it be in relationships or employment.
Gattaca follows Anton, an invalid that, through deception, was given the chance to go to space. In order to keep the charade up, he uses genetic samples from Jerome Eugene Morrow, a valid yet failed swimmer who attempted to take his own life and is now stuck in a wheelchair.
Discrimination, the ethics of eugenics, and the concept of destiny are the main themes in Gattaca. Its moral is that your fate is not set in stone nor in your genetic makeup. As there are those that are born into greatness but fail, so too will those born at a disadvantage can reach the stars, both literally and figuratively.
Snowpiercer, starring an ensemble cast consisting of Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris, among others, is a 2013 film that depicts an Earth enveloped in a new ice age. This is due to efforts to reverse global warning backfiring, which ended the world as we knew it.
Snowpiercer takes place in a train where the last remnants of humanity are circumnavigating the destroyed world. The elites are in the front, while the poor are in the back. Slaves, on the other hand, are used for keeping the train running.
As the tail end of the train attempts to revolt, the backstories of the main characters and how they have survived are revealed. Horrors such as cannibalism and culling of the population for sustainability makes us question the lengths that we will go to so that we can survive. Segregation, oppression, and slavery are also major themes in the film.
A Clockwork Orange, a 1971 film helmed by the genius director Stanley Kubrick and starring Malcolm McDowell, tells the story of a young delinquent named Alex who, after being captured, is forced into aversion therapy called the Ludovico technique.
After the successful treatment, the now model citizen Alex suffers what could be called karmic justice as he is left homeless and is attacked by his former victims and colleagues. Different factions also tried to use him as a political weapon to advance their own agendas.
A Clockwork Orange represents issues in morality, especially when it comes to sapping delinquents of their identity and free will through intrusive means. This classic dystopian film also questions the definition of goodness and if the ends truly justify the means, no matter how perverse.
The Purge is a 2013 film that depicts a dystopian society where government-sanctioned crime, including murder, is allowed for 12 hours every year to maintain a utopia-like existence and peace in the community. This thriller stars Ethan Hunt as a family man that tries to ensure the safety of his family and himself during this period.
The Purge has spawned several sequels as well as a television series. The movie represents totalitarianism, segregation of the entitled and non-entitled, and the idea of crime and accountability. There are also issues regarding humanity and ethics that are tackled within this thrilling and dark story.
The Purge symbolizes the evils that can happen when governments are given complete control, as well as when the public chooses to be complacent with these acts. A political and psychological thriller, The Purge is one of our favorites to watch as it is a dystopia that can be all too real.
The Platform begins with the main character, Goreng, waking up with an old man in a cell. Every day, a platform filled with food goes from the top of the building to the very bottom floor. Prisoners can eat however much they want for as long as the platform is on their floor, and whatever remaining scraps are brought down.
However, each month the prisoners switch floors. Whether they will be at higher-numbered floors where food is abundant, or at the lower floors where scraps are scarce to nil, is anybody’s guess. Obviously, this 2019 Spanish film is about the unequal distribution of wealth, although the movie delves deeper than that.
The Platform is a critique of both capitalism and socialist forms of society, as well as the inherent selfishness of humans. In some ways, it also symbolizes mental health issues, especially as the film utilizes isolation, depression, loss, and even hallucinations heavily in numerous scenes.
Never Let Me Go is a 2010 British film based on the British novel of the same name. Starring Carrey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley, the movie is about three children who, in reality, are clones used for organ donations. As they grew up, they fall in love while also awaiting their fates.
There is hope, however, as there is news that temporary deferral can be made for those who can prove that they have fallen in love. As they race against more serious surgeries that slowly sap their strength and wills to live, they discover their inherent humanity and their mutual bonds despite the artificial nature of their existence.
Serious ethics are discussed in Never Let Me Go? Can clones be considered human? If so, is harvesting organs for humans and leaving them to die acceptable if it can save a natural life? These are the questions that you may ask yourself once you go and see this film.
The Matrix, released in 1999, starred Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving. This blockbuster movie was responsible for many pop culture references that we still use today, and it has also heavily influenced filmmaking due to its theme, genre, and overall style.
The Matrix follows Neo, a seemingly normal man who discovers that the world that he is living in is a lie. In fact, the real world is a dystopian society where there is an ongoing war between man and machine. With the ability to re-enter the simulated “real” world, Neo and his team aim to discover his purpose and destiny as The One.
Filled with religious themes as well as a ton of action, The Matrix also discusses the real nature of reality, and how our technological advances will ultimately spell humanity’s doom. The Matrix is definitely a must-see movie for those who are fans of the dystopian genre.
Waterworld is an epic 1995 action film set in a water-filled dystopian world. The setting of the movie, which stars Kevin Costner, is in the year 2500 and the world as we knew it is completely submerged underwater. The remaining population survives on floating islands, and dirt is considered as currency.
The hero called the Mariner, as well as his group of allies is on a mission to find Dryland, a mythical place that is not yet swallowed up by the ocean. The Mariner is also a mutant as he has gills that allow him to breathe underwater.
While geared more towards action and adventure, Waterworld is a strong representation of environmental changes felt by the Earth due to the unscrupulous use of natural resources. This underrated movie is a good warning sign for people to better take care of the environment if they don’t want their descendants to forget what it feels to be on dry land.
Children of Men, based off the 1992 novel of the same name, is a 2006 action thriller dystopian film starring Clive Owen, Julian Moore, and Michael Caine. The story takes place in 2027, where the human population has been rendered infertile and no new babies have been born in eighteen years.
The movie follows Theo Faron as he embarks on a journey to deliver the first known pregnant woman to a research institute for the chance to reverse the infertility problem. Power struggles between the rebel forces aiming to take down the government, which has devolved to a police state, complicate matters as Theo, the woman, and her baby are trapped in the middle.
Like the novel, Children of Men discusses the problems of survival, especially when humans are on the brink of an extinction-level event. Hope and faith are also themes within the movie, with a tinge of an allegory to religion in the case of the unborn baby in the woman’s womb.
V for Vendetta, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, is a 2005 thriller that is rife with dystopian themes. The story, which stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, begins in a world ravaged by civil war and disease, with a totalitarian regime ruling the United Kingdom and its oppressed population.
The main characters in the movie are V, a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask, and Evey, a woman who soon becomes V’s follower in his quest to destabilize the police state. The film draws parallels with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as real-life events such as the Nazi rule in Germany and the Holocaust.
While seemingly glorifying anarchy through the terrorist V, V of Vendetta is actually a symbolism for people to rise up against oppression. It is also an allegory to humanity’s fight against violation of human rights, especially those included in the minorities in terms of race, gender, or religion.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a 2001 science fiction dystopian film directed by the renowned Steven Spielberg. Starring Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is set in the twenty-second century where much of the population has been wiped out due to global warming.
In this version of the future, mechas or robots that resemble human beings are normal, and one Mecha child David, who slowly develops human-like emotions towards his foster family, begins on his quest to find the Blue Fairy who he believes can turn him into a real boy.
Care for the environment, our reliance on technology, family, relationships, as well as ethical boundaries regarding robots that can assume life-like qualities and emotions are themes largely referenced in this heart-warming tale.
Watchmen, based on the DC Comics graphic novel by Alan Moore, is a 2009 superhero film set in a dystopian version of the United States. Watchmen stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jackie Earle Haley, and Billy Crudup, among others.
Set in a world where superheroes exist, Watchmen tells the story of what happens when humans live with literal gods in their midst. It is also a story that discusses the ethical dilemma of performing desperate acts that may harm a few for the purpose of saving millions.
Watchmen is also a reflection of the political climate during the 1980s, especially during the height of the Cold War. This film is a gritty take on the superhero genre that depicts them as human with their own flaws despite being blessed with amazing abilities.
Also Enjoy Reading:
Submit your review