Experience a vicarious dystopian nightmare by watching these thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Everyone is familiar with George Orwell's classic work, 1984. It is perhaps the most famous dystopia in recent history. The principles of Newspeak such as war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is power have become part and parcel of our popular culture and are even being used by some news outlets to shape the public narrative of events.
The adaptation closely follows the book. It centres on Winston Smith, a man living in a totalitarian society in which the worst kind of crime is thought crime. He begins a secret affair with Julia. What makes both the book and the movie really disturbing is the uncanny resemblance of a lot of the story’s elements to today’s political correctness, self-imposed woke censorship and cancel culture.
2. Clockwork Orange
This cult Stanley Kubric adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s famous novel may not seem like it belongs on this list as it’s not usually billed as a dystopian story per se. It does have quite a few dystopian elements, though, in terms of how it questions basic morality, takes a close look at violent behaviour and depicts the government-imposed re-education that the main character is put through.
Everything is broken in this violent new world, both society and the way the government tries to deal with its problems. Debate about rehabilitation versus punishment is ongoing to this day. What would happen if we were to re-educate criminals by brainwashing them to a point where they are no longer capable of making their own decisions. Wouldn’t a society like that be the ultimate dystopia?
3. Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury's novel was published in 1953. 13 years later, cult French new wave director François Truffaut adapted it for the big screen in England. It was also Truffaut’s first colour film.
The movie is set in a totalitarian society that has banned books and firemen burn any books that are found. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman whose job it is to burn books. He lives an ordinary life and never asks questions until a chance encounter with a young girl that makes him question everything. Truffaut didn’t follow the book to the letter, but he did manage to make a unique film that stresses the importance of literature for the human spirit and personal development.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a satirical dystopia depicting a world drowning in red tape and bureaucracy.
The film follows Jonathan Pryce(Sam Lowry), a clerk trying to find the woman he keeps seeing in his dreams. Jonathan works a dull paper-pushing job, lives in a small apartment in a society run by a powerful bureaucratic system that claims to be infallible. Then a typo sets off a chain reaction of mistakes.
The film offers a grim depiction of the kind of society that excess bureaucracy and red tape can land us in.
5. Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón's film is a disturbing philosophical dystopia about a future world in which people have stopped having children: not a single child has been born in 18 years.
The main character barely survives a terrorist attack and then gets tasked by a dubious resistance group to escort the only pregnant woman in the world to a ship that will supposedly take her and her newborn child to safety. There is a chance though, that the woman and her child will be used as pawns in political games so the protagonist must make a choice. The film builds a most convincing dystopian world that looks and feels eerily like our own.
6. V for Vendetta
The film could probably inspire many an aspiring revolutionary but it’s also very likely the film that kicked off the demise of the very cult that inspired it.
The movie is based on an Alan Moore graphic novel that follows a mysterious vigilante and freedom fighter known as V. His goal is to expose the brutal regime that’s running Britain and stir mass public revolt against it. It’s set in a world that was thrown into chaos by a series of biochemical disasters, which then led to the emergence of an all powerful totalitarian government. V rescues Evey, a young woman detained by the police, who V then develops a rather curious relationship with.
The film has had a major impact on popular culture: the Guy Fawkes mask used by the main character has become a meme and been adopted by the activist group Anonymous.
Metropolis is the oldest film on this list. Director Fritz Lang made it all the way back in 1927, so in a way it was a cyberpunk movie before cyberpunk was mainstream. It centres on the class struggle and was an extremely ambitious project at the time, ending up being the most expensive film of its era and breaking heaps of new ground with visual effects.
The film follows Freder, the son of the ruler of Metropolis, who becomes disillusioned with wealth when he discovers the true cost of maintaining the lush lifestyle of the upper class elites.
It deals with technological progress and the risks associated with it, examining the class struggle and depicting a future that is entirely different from what actually happened.