This list is inspired by a recent viewing of the restored version of Fritz Lang's classic film "Metropolis" that I saw at the Detroit Film Theatre. Although the film was made in 1927, the warnings that it made about the future have still made it relevant, especially the theme of class conflict which is becoming more and more likely. Although technology has opened the door to many great innovations, it has also caused us to question how much innovation is a good thing, and what does it mean for humanity. Please also note that I have decided to limit this list to just one dystopian film per director. Anyway, if you have any comments please feel free to post, now onto the list!
10. Children of Men (2006)- The most recent film on our list, Children of Men owes a lot to the films that came before it in terms of setting, cinematography and plot device. Basically in the future everyone has become infertile due to the decaying world and environment around them (i.e. Climate Change). Anyway, when a woman somehow finds herself pregnant, Clive Owen must find a way to get her to safety, fighting against left-wing terrorists and a repressive military government in the UK. Although I personally felt that the ending was a bit too optimistic for my tastes, Children of Men serves as a good starting point for anyone looking to get into the dystopian genre.
9. They Live (1989)- John Carpenter's classic film deals with a mysterious stranger (played by the one and only "Rowdy" Roddy Piper) who stumbles upon a worldwide conspiracy where the mass media and government promotes excessive greed, consumption and obedience (no doubt a reference to the Reagan Years). Did also mention that the people in charge are aliens who have taken human form? Awesome! Well basically its up to Piper to stop these guys with the help of a magical pair of sunglasses and Keith David. Although the premise sounds far fetched, the film actually contains themes that wind up permeating through other dystopian films: what does it mean to be human? what would people do to gain power? etc. Also how can you hate a movie that has one of the greatest fight scenes ever, and this classic line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp_K8prLfso
8. Gattaca (1997)- Released in 1997 and immediately disappearing from theaters, Gattaca in recent years has become extremely prophetic with regards to its dystopian message: the warning of laboratory eugenics and genetic engineering. The story goes as follows: A young man (Ethan Hawke) who is genetically inferior because he was conceived the old fashioned way (i.e. through intercourse) has taken the identity of a genetically superior person (Jude Law) in order to realize his dream of going to outer space. With the advent of genetic engineering which now guarantees that parents can choose what sex, eye color and hair color their children can have, the warnings that Gattaca made have become startlingly true, and the film still contains great relevance. In fact, Gattaca has been cited by many opponents of genetic engineering to show people what consequences genetic engineering has.
7. Mad Max/The Road Warrior (1979, 1981)- Alright, I know I'm cheating by putting two films on the list, but God damn it, I love both of them and I couldn't choose, so there! Anyway, the Mad Max films deal with an Australia that has been made to waste and is now run by deadly motor cycle gangs and marauding tribes where Oil is the most valuable commodity and the police have basically become judge, jury and executioner. Into this fray comes Max (a pre-insane Mel Gibson) who goes bat shit crazy after the Toe Cutter wipes out his best friend, wife, kid and dog. Wouldn't you too? In The Road Warrior, Max has become a vagabond, who is eventually enlisted to help get Oil from various tribes. Obviously, the film deals with what happens if society runs out of Oil and how we all go from being civilized to essentially being savages.
6. The Last Man on Earth (1964)- The reason this movie gets on the list isn't so much for its technical breakthroughs or acting, but for single-handled creating a whole subplot of the dystopian genre: that of the last human against a swarm of unearthly like beings. The remnants of this plot idea can be found in later films such as The Omega Man, I Am Legend, Night of The Living Dead, Planet of the Apes and much much more. Plus any movie with Vincent Price is automatically awesome.
5. Modern Times (1934)- Now we get into serious classic film territory with Chaplin's classic parable of man vs. machine in Modern Times. Chaplin basically controlled every aspect of the production, handling starring, directing, writing, producing, and composing the films score. Wow. Anyway, The film is a meditation on the inefficiency of technology and what Man's place is in it. Although seemingly benign today, the film was attacked by Chaplin's detractors by claiming it was anti-capitalist. Personally the film isn't as anti-capitalist as people claim, but it is certainly a critique on capitalism and technology and what role does the worker or consumer play.
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)- The truth is I could have picked other Stanley Kubrick films such as Dr. Strangelove or 2001, both of which have heavy dystopian themes; but since the former is more of a political satire and 2001 is more straight up sci-fi, I figured that A Clockwork Orange is more dystopian not only in its themes, but also in its setting and story. The film deals with Alex DeLarge (Macolm McDowell in his best film role) a youth that leads a gang of hooligans in dystopian England where hooligans wreck havoc and people go to milk bars. When Alex is caught, he is sent to prison where he takes a part in a weird experiment meant to "cure" him of his psychopathic tendencies. In addition to the standard dystopian themes of a decaying society, the film also discusses the role of rehabilitation and whether or not it is a possibility in a violent society. The film proved especially controversial on its release, garnering bans not only in the UK but in the United States as well.
3. Metropolis (1927)- One of the movies that set all the rules with regards to dystopian movies, Metropolis is a triumph not only of dystopian films, but of films in general. Made on a budget that was equivalent to the big blockbusters of today, the films achievement is even more spectacular considering that it was made during Weimar Germany, where money was extremely tight. Basically the story follows a typical dystopian spiel: Overworked workers seek to rebel against the oppressive authority that is undermining them. But what makes Metropolis stand out is not only the impressive set designs, or story, but the great acting by all the main players involved. I know silent films are kind of seen as antiques these days, but you owe yourself as a film buff to see Metropolis at least some point in your life.
2. Brazil (1985)- Terry Gilliam's bureaucratic nightmare vision of the future may have seemed like a far fetched idea when it was first released, but has now come closer to reality. Basically the film foretells of a world where everything is ruled by paperwork, machines and computer are constantly breaking down, and people have lost their collective soul in service to the bureaucracy. Enter into this fray is Sam Lowery (Johnathan Pryce), a bookish civil servant that hopes to escape this bureaucratic society and become free. The film can be seen as a meditation on bureaucracy and technology and what it has done to society, especially since the whole idea of what is man's role in the world of bureaucrats and technology. This film would perhaps be the no. 1 dystopian film of all time, if it hadn't been for the next one...
1. Blade Runner (1982, 1992, 2007)- The film that all dystopian films must be measured against has all the hallmarks of a dystopian film that it is no wonder that the genre is essentially indebted to it. Decaying societies, technological nightmares, and what it means to be human are all themes explored by Blade Runner and help make it a film classic. Although the experience of Blade Runner may very on the version you see, the best versions are perhaps the 1992 director's cut and the 2007 final cut; but make no mistake, Blade Runner is a true classic in every sense of the word and a movie where the future truly sucks.