Thursday, 22 March 2012

Dystopian Visions: The Future is Bleak

I love a disturbing vision of the future.  In honour of The Hunger Games and it's tributes, districts, peacekeepers and televised battles to the death, here's my top 10 depressing movie dystopias.

But before I start, there are some films that are possibly disputed dystopian visions that need a mention here.  The documentary Collapse features Michael Ruppert dishing out his version of what he sees as the future of the human race and it is disturbing and terrifying and I have not been able to forget it.

The Truman Show, A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty Four, The Running Man, Battle Royale and Series 7: The Contenders must also get a mention here.  Some of these are clearly big influences on The Hunger Games.

But on to the main event.  Here's my top 10:

10. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)

Viggo Mortensen and son trudge the road to nowhere in a grey, depressing future full of cannibal survivors of environmental devastation.  Relentlessly grim and mournful, it's a bleak, miserable, whimpering end to the human race.  And even the planet itself is dying in this post-apocalyptic misery-fest!

9. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

Not sure if this is actually an alternative present but it feels like a not too distant future as aliens have got themselves shipwrecked in the townships of South Africa and humans go about treating them in much the same way we've been treating each other for the last god knows how many years.

8. 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1996)

Disease has wiped out 99% of the population of the planet and the remainder live underground and send convict Bruce Willis back in time to find out what caused the epidemic.  Trippy, twisty, terribly clever tale of time travel that may not spend much time in it's terrible future but still has a big enough impact to make this list.

7. Planet of the Apes (Franklin J.Schaffner, 1968)

SPOILER!  One of the best twists of all time.  The planet of the apes is Earth!  We've been overrun by talking apes and now we are slaves on our own planet.  Of course this only becomes clear in the final moments of the film, but what a knockout ending and brilliant vision of the future.

6. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Earth has become a (strangely beautiful) bin planet.  The corporations have taken the fat, lazy human race into spaceships and left the Earth to little rubbish robots like our hero Wall-E.  I'm not sure what's more frightening; the endless mountains of trash that cover the Earth or the depressing vision of what the human race becomes when they no longer have to get out of their seats anymore.

5. Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995)

Mad Max on water.  Beginning with the flooding of the Earth by the melting of the polar caps, Waterworld takes us into a future where the human race live on floating atolls, terrorised by The Smokers with their oil tanker and jet ski's and mad leader Dennis Hopper.  The sight of cities below the sea as revealed by the mutated hero (Kevin Costner with gills!) and the quest to find mythical dy land make this an exciting but worrying vision of the future.

4. Demolition Man (Marco Brambilla, 1993) 

You can't swear, you can't eat red meat, you can't have sex and you have to use three seashells to wipe your ass.  This is about the most joyless dystopia there is.  Ok so everyone seems fine, there's no murder etc etc but this is a vision of a nanny state gone mad.  So fortunately a killer from the past escapes which then requires a cop from the past to take him down.  Denis Leary leads the underground revolutionaries and Stallone swears and fights his way to a showdown with Wesley Snipes' loony.

3. The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)

Humans have been imprisoned by machines.  We're used as batteries and plugged into a grid that allows us to think we're living in the real world but actually it's a simulation created by the machines.  The real world however is even worse.  Those who have escaped the Matrix have to live in Zion, an underground hell of terrible raves and the constant threat of destuction from giant mechanical squids.  Ignorance is bliss.  Plug me back in.

2. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)

Only briefly glimpsed until Terminator: Salvation, this franchise created a similar vision to The Matrix.  Technology has become our downfall with machines taking over and waging war on the human race.  The resistance is led by John Connor but only if he can survive time travelling attacks on his mother in the 80s and then his teenage self in the 90s.  Fortunately for every terminator the machines send back in time, the John Connor of the future has a saviour of his own to send back to save his former self.

1.  Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

The best dystopias are recognisable from the present.  And they don't come any more recognisable than this.  In the not too distant future, the human race has become sterile.  Displaced immigrants are locked up and treated worse than animals in refugee camps by the sea.  Bombings are regular occurences as terrorist organisations spring up.  The human race is hopeless, obsessed with the youngest man on the planet who is killed in the first scenes of the film.  Patriotism is encouraged by the powers that be, but the people are downtrodden, miserable and ready to give up.  Only when Clive Owen hooks up with a miraculously pregnant young woman is there any sign of hope in this bleak vision of future England.

Now it's your turn!  What are your favourite movie dystopias?  Did anyone else like Michael Bay's The Island?  Would The Hunger Games make your list?


  1. Great list, dystopia is one of my favourite genres. Particularly like District 9 and Twelve Monkeys. Few I really love you've missed out: 1984, V for Vendetta & 28 Days Later (which is probably more zombie, but still counts in my eyes.)

    1. Thanks! Yeah me too, love a bit of miserable future stuff! 1984 is ridiculously influential, it really should be here but I just like the way so many of its ideas have been nicked and reformed! V for Vendetta also a close choice. I didn't realise 28 Days Later was meant to be the future. I absolutely love that film and it's definitely in my top 10 horrors. Not sure I'd put it in this list!

  2. This is a great list!!!

    Well done Pete!

    I saw THE ROAD for the first time last week and I had to chuck some COMMUNITY on afterward as it was so depressing. LOL

    Have you submitted this to IMDb, it would make a great hitlist article!

    1. Thanks Scott! Yeah I read the book of The Road too and I couldn't wait to bloody finish it! Miserable as hell. I'll have to figure out how to do that hitlist thing, thanks for the advice!

  3. Great list Pete! i haven't seen all of them but they are great movies.
    Looking at the picture of Stallone in Demolition Man however brought back memories to me of another dystopian film of his, Judge Dredd! And that was extremely forgettable.

    1. Thanls Asrap! Love that pic of Stallone, it's my favourite moment of the movie. Judge Dredd was awful! I remember being an idiot in the cinema because I was so bored! Now I feel bad for anyone who was enjoying it!

  4. Fantastic list! The Road is such a bleak, sad vision of the world. I'd add Equilibrium and AI to the bunch.

  5. Excellent list!! The only ones I haven't seen are The Road and Waterworld. I'd add Equilibrium, it's such an underrated sci-fi that's also set in a dystopian future. Christian Bale is excellent in it.

    I love all your Hunger Games-related posts, Pete, I'm quite psyched about the movie, hope to see it on Saturday!

    1. Btw I've added you to my blog-roll :D Been meaning to do that for a while but finally got around to do it today.

    2. Yeah Equilibrium was pretty good. Definitely another great example of a dystopian vision. Waterworld's pretty fun. I never quite understood why it was a flop (apart from it costing a fortune!)

      Yeah I'm hopefully seeing Hunger Games too on Saturday!

    3. Waterworld never appealed to me even though I quite like Costner, I dunno, it just looks overly bleak, ahah. Might give it a chance one day since you rated it so highly.

    4. It's not overly bleak but it's not overly great either. Don't raise your expectations too high!

  6. I couldn't have a list like this without including Blade Runner. Another one from a movie that gets a lot of flack is Equilibrium. I love reading about Dystopian societies. Looking forward to Hunger Games tonight.

    I always forget about WALL-E because it's done in such a bright colorful manner, but it's very valid.

    1. Good call on Blade Runner. Another great dystopia! Enjoy the movie! It's getting pretty decent reviews!

      Yeah Wall-E's amazing!

  7. Wow, cool list, Pete! I like the inspiration. I Am Legend and Equilibrium would make my list too. Good call on The Matrix, The Terminator, and the hilarious twist in The Planet of the Apes.

    Personally, I didn't enjoy The Road so much, although I heard that it was a really good adaptation of the book.

    1. I understand not liking The Road, it's bleak, slow and depressing but just feels ever so real to me. And I found the movie to be much easier to get through than the book! Lot of love for Equilibrium flying about! Yeah I am Legend was cool too but I wished it had been better!

  8. Indeed it's bleak, I mean we are in the year 2012... ;p

    Great list Pete, some of my favorite movies in there, I've always had a fascination with these kind of dystopian settings.

  9. Thanks Castor, yeah me too! I'm almost looking forward to our future raging against the machines!


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