Although science fiction often appears to be outlandish on the surface, in reality it is a genre that explores the problems and trends of the present day. By telling a story through the lens of a strange future world, it helps the viewer lower their guard on issues they would rather not address under different circumstances. In that vein, if you look at the science fiction films of any given decade, you can discern quite a bit about the hopes, fears, and dreams of that generation.
So what will the future think of us when they study the entertainment we consume? Surely they’ll scoff at the vapid reality shows, the sports, and the news. But if they really want to get to know us and our culture, they’ll seek out our science fiction movies, and find a veritable library of post-apocalyptic and dystopian works. That says a hell of a lot about us, and our darkest fears and desires.
Of those films, there are a handful that are sure to stand out. Here are ten of those movies from the past decade that are a cut above the rest.
Children of Men will likely be remembered as a timely classic. It takes place in future where the human race has become sterile, and nobody is sure why. As the years go by and the world slowly crumbles, one woman finds herself pregnant with the only child on Earth. She seeks the help of a jaded civil servant, and together they must reach a mysterious scientific organization known as “The Human Project” who are trying to solve the world’s fertility problem.
Considering the current decline in birth and fertility rates around the world today, it has to make you wonder; will we ever face such an inexplicable decline?
This one is rare among its peers. The only other dystopian films I can think of that are also comedies through and through, are probably Brazil and Sleeper. There are hints of humor in other works, but not quite like this. It’s also had a significant influence on our culture. It seems like any time we see a video of someone doing something incredibly stupid, commenters will warn of the coming idiocracy. This is an awesome film from Mike Judge at his finest.
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick, who I might add wrote the original material for classic dystopian features such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report; A Scanner Darkly challenges the viewer on the merits of the drug war, and predicted that it would fail. The book was written in that war’s infancy, and the movie came out before most people admitted that it was a failure.
In this story, 20% of the population is addicted to a fictional drug known as Substance D, which causes bizarre hallucinations. The government responds by developing an intrusive high-tech surveillance state, and sends out informants to spy on the population. Sound familiar?
This is another rare entry in the dystopian genre for being a kids movie. Despite this, it doesn’t insult the intelligence of adult audiences. WALL-E touches upon themes consumerism and environmentalism, while also asking the one question most people are afraid to ask. What will humanity do when robots are so advanced and so numerous, that we as a species won’t have to lift a finger in our daily lives? Spoiler: we become stupid, timid, and obese. Talk about heavy stuff for a kid flick.
This short film is based on a satirical story written by Kurt Vonnegut titled “Harrison Bergeron.” It depicts a future America where inequality has been effectively outlawed. The strong must be tied down with heavy weights, the beautiful must don masks, and the intelligent must wear an electronic device that interrupts their thoughts. To top it all off, the government has created a department to enforce these laws that is headed by the “handicapper general.”
The titular character is a young man who is extraordinary in every way. He is handsome, brilliant, and incredibly athletic. In fact, he is so special that the government shackled him with the most oppressive handicaps they could find, and tried to imprison him indefinitely. Despite their efforts, he escapes and tries to overthrow the government. At its heart, this film tries to depict what would happen if political correctness and cultural sensitivity are ever allowed to reach their full potential. I can’t think of a better critique of our current culture than this.
You can catch the short film, as well as the 1995 made for tv movie on YouTube if you don’t mind the lower film quality.
Most folks seem to use the terms “post-apocalyptic” and “dystopian” interchangeably, when in reality these are two separate genres. I’ll admit that there’s a lot of common ground between the two, but these words mean different things. While one is about the end of the world, the other is really an attempt to portray tyranny and squalor, often by means of advanced technology.
I would argue that The Book of Eli is more dystopian than apocalyptic. Aesthetically it looks more like Mad Max or The Postman; however, the storyline suggests a world where Christianity has been so severely persecuted, that the few remaining humans on Earth hardly even know what this religion is. It’s kind of a post-dystopia. If you’re concerned about the future of the Christian faith, then this might be right up your alley.
Imagine a world where no matter how badly you treat your body, your organs can be replaced with a functional surrogate. Just go to the hospital and let the doctors surgically implant a working artificial replica of your failing tissue. Problem solved right?
Except in this world, the organs are so prohibitively expensive that you’ll have to take a loan out to pay for them, and the manufacturer only makes a profit on the organs that are “repossessed” and recycled.
If you fail to pay, then a repo man will knock you out and take back what belongs to the company. These men are equal parts repossession agent, hit man, and surgeon, and they rarely fail to deliver. But when one such agent has a near death experience that requires him to carry his own artificial organ, he has a change of heart.
Despite making a decent profit at the box office, In Time didn’t really make any waves among fans of the dystopian genre. That may have to do with the fact that it stars Justin Timberlake. I guess he’s just not the kind guy that thoughtful dystopian fans are looking for in a movie. It’s a shame though, because he actually manages to carry his weight throughout the film. And just because they brought him on board to bring in more sales, doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t have a solid plot worth exploring.
In Time depicts a world where humans are genetically engineered to live to the age of 25. At that point, a biological clock is illuminated on their arm, and starts counting down. Each person is given one free year, which then becomes currency. Their jobs pay them in minutes, and they can actually trade their time with other people right down to the second. Should the time run out, that person will die. The wealthy have hundreds of years on their clocks and live in segregated communities, while the poor struggle to maintain what little time they have left.
While it sounds like a pretty heavy-handed message about wealth and elitism, isn’t this what money really is in the long run? The rich can afford the best food, the best security, and the best medicine. It quite literally allows them to live longer than the poor. It seems to be a rather appropriate metaphor for wealth, don’t you think?
I almost didn’t want to include The Hunger Games because I’m sure all of you reading this have already heard of it. However, this is a list of dystopian movies that will likely be considered an iconic part of our era, so it would be a crime to not include it. But I can skip the lengthy description of this one right? You’ve all seen it? Good. Let’s move on to the cream of the crop.
I was reluctant to watch this one at first. The plot sounded kind of ridiculous, but once I gave it a shot I never looked back. I think future generations will peg Snowpiercer as one of the most important dystopian film of our era. It perfectly captures our current fears of technology gone awry, our perception of a cruel, calculating, and insane elite, and it depicts a timeless story that humans have been telling for millennia. That of an uncompromising hero fighting tyranny and evil against all odds. I think people need to hear that message now more than ever.
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Contributed by Joshua Krause of The Daily Sheeple.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .