List of Dystopian Movies - The Best Dystopian Films
Since the 80s the dystopian fiction, in particular with a B tier movies has been growing in popularity. We have compiled a list of dystopian films that are worth watching. Some of these are cult classics; some are big budget event movies, some are underground indies, etc. but all of them, even the bad ones have some unique perceptive on dystopian societies and are worthy of your time.
For more, seemingly optimistic movies (but seldom very dystopic) check out our utopian movie list too!
1984 – Movie (1956)
1984 is the first film adaptation of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It is atmospheric version concerning two citizens of the New World Order involved in illicit, illegal love in a society controlled by "Big Brother. The movie follows novel quite closely.
Edmund O'Brien turned in an excellent performance as Winston Smith. Like in many old dystopian adaptations, the fact that the movie is in black and white makes a very visual impression.
28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later is British dystopian horror film starring Cillian Murphy. Animal rights activists release infected chimps from laboratory who starts to attack people. 28 days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma in deserted hospital. He tries to find what happened, only to be attacked by zombies.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
28 Weeks Later is a sequel to the critically acclaimed movie 28 Days Layer. Twenty-eight weeks after the devastating rage virus annihilated population of Great Britain, the infected have died, and London is considered a safe place. British survivors return under the coordination of the American Army that keeps the city under permanent watch. Tammy and her younger brother Andy travel back from Spain to live with their father Don in London.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 dystopian SF movie adaptation based on the Harlan Ellison novella. A boy communicates telepathically with his dog as they scavenge for food and sex, and they stumble into an underground society where the old society is preserved.
The main protagonist is Alex, a violent hooligan in a futuristic Britain. He and his gang (droogs) go every night and have a good time, beating and raping helpless victims. Alex gets jailed by the police, and he chooses to take genuine but controversial "The Ludovico" treatment that will make it impossible for him to be violent again.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
In a dystopian society in the near future, the war on drugs has been lost. The undercover narcotics officer Bob Arctor is working with a small group of drug users trying to reach the big distributors of an addictive brain-damaging substance simply named the "D". However, while posing as a drug user, Arctor also becomes addicted to Substance D.
Aachi & Ssipak (2006)
In the futuristic city, all energy sources are depleted. However, humans learned how to harness human waste to become energy. Aachi and Ssipak are two delinquents earning for living by trading black market Juicybars in an energy depleted future dystopia.
Æon Flux (2005)
The story is set 408 years into a post-apocalyptic future after a deadly disease has wiped out the majority of the Earth's 2011 population. The last city on Earth is Bregna, protected by a wall from the outside world, is ruled by a descendant of the scientist who found a cure for the deadly virus, Trevor Goodchild. Æon Flux is the assassin that has been assigned by the underground rebels to kill a government leader. This task will lead her to deeper secrets and conspiracies.
On July 16, 1988, Tokyo was destroyed by what seems to be a nuclear explosion. The story is set thirty-one years later in a newly-created dystopian city, Neo-Tokyo. 16-year-old delinquent Shotaro Kaneda is a leader of a gang of teenage bikers. His best friend Tetsuo gets involved in a secret government project after an accident with a strange young boy. On his way to save Tetsuo, Kaneda involves in something that can result in total destruction of Neo-Tokyo.
Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1956)
Alphaville is French science fiction dystopian noir movie from 1956. An American secret agent arrives in the city of Alphaville on another planet to find a missing agent and to capture or eliminate Professor von Braun, the founder of the city and creator of the Alpha 60 - sentient computer that has outlawed free thought.
Although set in the future, on the distant planet, no futuristic sets were used, and the characters refer to real events of 20th century.
Avalon is a Japanese/Polish dystopian SF movie directed by Mamoru Oshii from 2001. The story takes place in a chaotic cyberpunk city. The only real enjoyment for young population exists in an illegal battle simulation game called Avalon. The game can be fatal, leaving players' brain-dead in real life. Ash is a young woman and professional Avalon top-level player. She's current quest is to reach the legendary game level "class real".
Battle Royale (2000)
A random class of 42 ninth-grade students in dystopian Japan is selected by a fascist government lottery. They are taken to a deserted island and forced to fight each other to the death, in a game called the Battle Royale Act. Could you kill your best friend?
Director and screenwriter Terry Gilliam managed in 1985 to create one of the most influential and best-remembered dystopian science fiction films of all time. He channeled his frustrations with the modern world of bureaucracy, dysfunctional industrialism and government control into a movie that centers on a quest of ordinary worker Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce) to find the woman that appears in his dreams. The dystopian world of Brazil was crafted utilizing very cleverly implemented style of “retro-futurism” (also known as sci-fi noir) in which the 1980s are depicted from the view of 1940s filmmaker, taking many cues from older films such as Metropolis (1927), M (1931) and noir films of Humphrey Bogart and various movies from 1920s film movement of German Expressionism.
"Blade Runner" (1982) is a cult science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott. It follows one of the cases of Deckard, a member of a special police force created to hunt and destroy violent androids in the urban, overcrowded and resource starved cities. During the movie, Deckard encounters several androids that have come to the Earth to beg their creator for a chance to extend their short life.
Dystopian science fiction thriller film, Children of Men managed immediately after its release in 2006 to distinguish itself as one of the best science fiction films of the first decade of 21st century. Directed and co-written by the Alfonso Cuarón, this movie is set in the near future where a modern civilization of mankind was placed on the brink of collapse after the appearance of the global human infertility. Faced with the imminent extinction of entire mankind, destruction of modern society and the rise of violence, hero of this film (played by Clive Owen) is tasked to transport the only pregnant woman in the UK to members of the surviving group of scientist that that still work on finding the cure.
City of Lost Children (1995)
This 1995 science fantasy drama film has remained remembered as one of the most daring and visually striking dystopian projects ever put on a film screen. It is set in a dark and fantasy-like biomechanical future where the demented scientist has started to kidnap children from the nearby city with a goal to slow down the aging process by stealing children's dreams. The kidnapping of one of the children puts a whaler named One (played by Ron Perlman) and young girl Miette (Judith Vittet) on a quest to find the legendary “city of the lost children” and stop the kidnappings from happening ever again.
Dark City (1998)
Dark City is a neo-noir science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas, starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly. The movie follows protagonist John Murdoc, who awakens in the icy bathtub of the strange hotel and cannot remember who he is and how he got there. Wanted for a series of brutal murders he knows nothing about, Murdoc finds himself in underworld controlled by encounters a group of ominous beings known as the Strangers who are experimenting with people’s memory. Now Murdoch must find a way to stop them and find out why nobody can tell him a way to leave the city.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Death Race 2000 is set in a desolate dystopian society where the only form of popular entertainment for the elite few is a deadly sport in which ruthless car drivers drive across America and gather points by committing acts of violence such as running down of pedestrians. The movie follows the quest of the secret resistance group that has infiltrated one of the Death Race events with a goal to not only dismantle it but also bring down the totalitarian regime that rules over America.
Dark dystopian comedy Delicatessen is centered on a future society where food has become so valuable it has became viewed as the only form of currency. The movie follows the events in a tenant building that is owned by a restaurant chef (Delicatessen) that demands from his tenants to pay him in grain. When one day his maintenance man disappears, he hires a local clown with a goal to eventually cook him and sell him, but the clown and chef’s daughter managed to defy him by calling the favors from the underground sect of people that don’t view food as money.
District B13 (2004)
In the near future, large walls are erected around a Parisian ghetto (Banlieue) called District 13, in an attempt to contain violence and drugs. A young man named Leïto is determined to bring down the so cold Lord Taha of B13. However, Taha abducts Leïto's sister Lola to use her against him.
Equilibrium is a 2002s movie directed by Kurt Wimmer with Christian Bale in lead role. In a dystopian state Libria, after a nuclear war, a strict regime forced people to take drug "Prozium" that removes all emotions. John Preston (Christian Bale) is an elite law soldier who track down and eliminate people who resist the rules - "Sense Offenders". One day, Preston accidentally breaks his dose of Prozium and begins to understand the beauty of the feelings.
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Escape from L.A. is a sequel to the acclaimed John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, that takes place in the year of 2000. An earthquake reaching 9.6 magnitude hits the city of Los Angeles, which causes the whole city to be now situated on an island from Malibu to Anaheim. Similar to NY, from the previous movie, LA has been turned into a prison island for the most notorious criminals. An infamous outlaw who was again imprisoned, Snake Plissken, gets another raw deal when he is forced to retrieve the black box and save the president's daughter Utopia.
Escape from New York (1981)
"Escape from New York" (1981) is a science fiction action film directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell as “Snake” Plissken, a veteran soldier, turned criminal. It describes the events following the airplane crash of Air Force One on the dystopian landscape of Manhattan, who in this dark vision of the future was walled off, and transformed into an urban prison.
The movie adaptation of the Ray Bradbury’s 1951 novel of the same name follows Guy Montag, an enforcer in the dystopian government police force that has decreed that all forms of books and art are illegal and must be burned on sight. His beliefs eventually become compromised after he falls in love with Clarisse, a young woman who hides a large stash of books from them government. After reading some of the books, he starts to question the policies of the government and ponders whether or not he can continue working for them. Fahrenheit 451 is today regarded as one of the most famous dystopian cult films of all time.
Idiocracy is a satirical dark comedy film that follows the adventures of two average American citizens Joe Bowers (played by Luke Wilson) and Rita (played by Maya Rudolph) who got placed into a hibernation machine for a short experiment but were instead accidentally awaken 500 years in the future. There they find that the natural selection and the advances in the technology have made the entire population of the United States to lose intelligence, making them two the most intelligent people in the world. Faced with the eerie dystopian world that promotes marketing and profanity, they two race against time to find the remnants of the old time machine that will bring them 500 years back to their time.
Mad Max (1979)
This dystopian story is set in apocalyptic Australia. The police unit called the Main Force Patrol (MFP) is battling violent bikers who have constantly terrorized the innocent people and turned all highways into a battleground. The main protagonist is policeman Max Rockatansky who seeks bloody revenge after bikers kill his family.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Apocalyptic Australia is now in the even worse state, destroyed in nuclear war. A former police officer Max is now a lone wanderer. Traveling through dystopian wastelands, he finds himself in a position of rescuer as he lends his aid and protection to a small group of fortified survivors who are losing their struggle to protect an oil refinery that is under siege by a gang of marauders.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Lone nomad, Max, has all of his possession and supplies looted while traveling through the Australian wastelands. He manages to stumble upon a desert town called Bartertown, a trading place for all smugglers and criminals and governed by Aunt Entity. He is hired by the leader of the city to fight in an arena called Thunderdome so that he can kill her arch-rival Master Blaster.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The fourth film set in the Mad Max universe returns to the desolate dystopian world where catastrophic global warming disaster has turned our planet into a vast endless desert, and the modern civilization has long ago crumbled to dust where only small bands of survivors fight for resources such as water, weapons, and fuel. One of such survivors is an ex-cop Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy) who become road warrior drifter who in this film gets involved in the feud between the leader of one surviving enclave Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his subordinate Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has freed his imprisoned slave wives.
Neon City (1991)
The story of this dystopian movie is set in 2053. With the ozone layer almost destroyed by science experiments, the earth is ruined and ruled by mutants. The story follows the group of eight strangers that travel to the Neon City, one of the few remaining cities.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a 1984 British dystopian movie, based on 1984, George Orwell's novel. It stars John Hurt as Winston Smith in one of his most iconic roles. This is probably the most famous adaptation of the 1984 novel.
Origin: Spirits of the Past (2006)
The story is set in a dystopian Japan set 300 years in the future. The plant-life on earth became conscious and aggressive and is at constant war with man. Agito is a village boy who unwittingly triggers the potential mass destruction by awakening Toola, a girl who has been asleep for the past 300 years.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
This movie is a first film adaptation of the Planet of the Apes novel by Pierre Boulle. In the year 3978 A.D. Taylor and two other surviving astronauts come out of deep hibernation to find that their spaceship has crashed on an unknown planet ruled by talking apes, which use humans as slaves.
Resident Evil (2002)
In one of the most powerful companies in the world, Umbrella Corporation, a deadly T-virus has escaped and turned the employees into hungry man-eating zombies. The company supercomputer, Red Queen, has sealed all entrances and exits to contain the leak. Alice and Rain are two members of a commando team assigned to infiltrate corporation and isolate T-virus before the virus infects the rest of world.
In dystopic Detroit, a police officer Alex J. Murphy is killed by the gang led by Clarence J. Boddicker. His department decides to reconstruct Alex by putting his body in a steel shell. With the new name, Robocop, he is indestructible and future of law enforcement. His encounter with one of his killers wakes up human side in him.
Screamers is a 1995 dystopian horror movie adaptation of the short story Second Variety by Philip K. Dick. The story is set in the year 2078 on the planet Sirius 6B, distant mining wasteland devastated by a nuclear war. Survivors are in constant war with The New Economic Block's (N.E.B.) mechanical creatures, screamers, that slice and slash humans with razor sharp blades. The main character, Col. Hendricksson (Peter Weller) decides to seek N.E.B. forces for a peace agreement.
Soylent Green (1973)
In addition to Woody Allen’s fun utopian comedy Sleeper, 1973 was also the year in which one of the most celebrated dystopian films of all time was released. Soylent Green is set in the dark future in which the overpopulation and harsh climate changes have put significant strain on food production. The movie follows police detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) who is tasked to examine suspicious circumstances around the death of one of the owners of the largest food manufacturer company Soylent. His investigation places him not only very close to the mystery of the death of the one most powerful men in the world, but also to the secret of how his company was manufacturing the Soylent Green.
Strange Days (1995)
"Strange Days" (1995) is a dark dystopian science fiction film directed by Kathryn Bigelow. It follows the life of ex-cop and street hustler (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) who discovers the conspiracy made by the totalitarian police government.
Tank Girl (1995)
Tank Girl is a 1995 movie adaptation based on the Tank Girl comic book created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. Tank Girl (Lori Petty) and her comrades are the citizens living in the dystopian wasteland, Earth, that doesn't receive a drop of water from the rain anymore. Her group is part of the resistance against mighty “Water & Power”, a powerful force that controls the remaining water on planet led by Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell).
The Matrix (1999)
"The Matrix" (1999) is cult science fiction film directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. This dark vision of a future follows the life of Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) who finds out that his society is only computer simulation created by the technological machine overlords in an attempt to enslave the human race and harvest their internal thermal power.
The Omega Man (1971)
Dystopian movie The Omega Man from 1971 is set in the dark future where biological warfare has decimated the world, killing almost every human being and leaving alive only few mutated survivors who are filled with homicidal rage and are set on destroying the remnants of old world that they view were responsible for the end of the world. The main character of the film is army doctor Robert Neville, who developed an experimental vaccine that left him to the deadly plague that ravaged the world.
Although based on the Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend, the movie does not share many similarities with a source material.
The Postman (1997)
The Postman is dystopian 1997 American film, produced and directed by Ken Coster, who also stars as the titular character - The Postman. Based on the 1985 Davin Brin's novel of the same name, the story follows an enigmatic drifter with a postman's uniform and an uncanny ability to spread hope in the apocalyptic remains of the United States.
The Running Man (1987)
1987 movie The Running Man is set in the year 2017 where militarized and oppressive government of The United States has removed the democratic freedom, sealed borders and transformed the America into the police state where art and free speech is heavily censored. To provide entertainment and control the media, the government establishes deadly and sadistic televised game show tournament where criminals must fight for their lives. The main character of the film is a wrongly convicted man Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who uses his skill and connections to the small resistance movement to game the system and fight back against the bloody show game show he found himself in.
Running Man is based on Stephen Kings 1982 novel of the same name, penned under pseudonym Richard Bachman. Characters and some of the dystopic elements are changed dramatically in the movie, to accommodate Arnold Schwarzenegger's action Star status.
The Trial (1962)
The movie adaptation of the Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name is one of the best showcases of the dystopian genre that depicts the futility of the fight between ordinary man against the oppressive government who can intrude on citizens lives, however, they wish to, without any limit or even the need to provide reasons why they are doing so. This 1962 movie follows the trial of the ordinary man who is suddenly brought to sentencing for a crime that he did not commit. After realizing that the court officials don’t even want to tell him for what charges he is imprisoned, he tries to look discover the truth behind a corrupt system that leaves him no chance for escape from the living nightmare.
They Live (1988)
They Live is John Carpenter’s 1988 dystopian movie. The film follows the down-on-his-luck construction worker Nada (played by Roddy Piper) who by chance discovers the special sunglasses that enables him to see the true reality that surrounds him. Using the glasses, he spots the oppressive marketing forces that shove products and beliefs to the mankind that is oblivious of those influences. More worryingly, he discovers that some of the people are in facts disguised disfigured aliens who are in facts in charge of subliminal forces that keep the humanity subdued.
Before filming the legendary Star Wars, young and up and coming director George Lucas created a small low budget film that immediately showed his talent to the world. The futuristic world of THX1138 is one of the absolute dystopian government control where ordinary people are forced to take daily doses of a drug that suppresses their emotions, desires, relationships and sexual intercourse. However, one of the ordinary workers in the factory that makes police robots suddenly starts developing strange feelings, which prompts him to slowly break the control of his brainwashing and get to experience emotions with his government-appointed female roommate and her surveillance college.
Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall (1990) is action science fiction film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as ordinary worker Douglas Quaid who has one problem in his otherwise perfect life – he has vivid dreams of struggle and horror on the human colony on the Mars. Troubled by this experience, he visits the company that specializes in providing customers with fake memories of adventures and buys “the special agent package”. However, this procedure wakes up his erased memories, enabling him to remember that he was, in fact, a secret agent who has to save the oppressed people of Mars who live under a foot of the corporation that owns the Mars infrastructure. Not knowing what’s real, is he really a secret agent or that he is just a fake implemented persona, Quaid travels to Mars to find answers about himself and to confront the evil mega-corporation and learn more about the ancient secret hidden deep below Martian human dwellings.
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Twelve Monkeys is an award-winning science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam. It follows the life of main protagonist (played by Bruce Willis) who time-travels back from dystopian society devastated by the deadly virus to the past, in the attempt to prevent the catastrophic events of the future.
UltraViolet takes place in the late 21st century, in the years following a global outbreak of a genetically-engineered virus known as Hemophagia, which in humans causes vampiric symptoms like improved speed and strength, but also a limited lifespan of 12 years. The main character, Violet Song jat Shariff (Milla Jovovich) is a young infected woman, who joins the underground resistance, that tries to protect infected people from government.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Based on the comic book series of the same name, V for Vendetta is a dystopian, futuristic tale set in a totalitarian Britain, which is ruled by a fascist dictator named Sutler. "V for Vendetta," tells the story of a charismatic freedom fighter known as V, who uses terrorist tactics to fight the oppressive society. Coprotagonist is a young woman accidentally involved in a life-and-death situation. She was rescued by V from the secret police and became his ally in a fight against the government who promises security, at the price of freedom. V’s role model was Guy Fawkes, a sort of a XVII century terrorist, who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. V for Vendetta, a swift and smugly entertaining and controversy portrait of revolution had a very positive critical reception.
Sometime in the future, the polar ice caps have melted, and the Earth is entirely covered with water. The people who survived are living in small “floating” communities and travel the seas, in search of survival. The mysterious Mariner (Kevin Costner) aids a girl and her guardian in searching for Dry-land, a mythical place that a group of savage bandits "Smokers" seek out as well.
Your favorite dystopian movie missing? Perhaps it’s on our utopian film list? Send us suggestions of your favorite missing dystopias!