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July 17, 2021 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Paste Magazine attempts to list The 50 Best Dystopian Movies of All Time, including some unusual candidates.
posted by eotvos (130 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not a single Mad Max movie... mediocre!
posted by Pendragon at 4:03 PM on July 17 [32 favorites]


Post-apocalyptic ≠ Dystopian
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 4:07 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


True, but I'd say the Mad Max films are pretty f'n dystopian, in addition to the post-apocalypticism.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:22 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


This list is a pretty good mirror of most of all time favorite movies and that probably says something very bleak about me or my soul.

I would also include at least some of the Mad Max movies as dystopian. Immortan Joe's breeding and water cult was ultra fucked up and bleakly dystopian. Bartertown wasn't great, either, however cartoonish it was.

Fury Road should probably be on the list instead of a couple of lesser selections on the list.

Idiocracy should be way, way higher on the list, but props for putting Brazil at number 2.
posted by loquacious at 4:24 PM on July 17 [19 favorites]


Stalker is one of my favourites, but is it a dystopia? The Stalker thinks so, and maybe that's enough, but he has something of a unique perspective.
posted by rodlymight at 4:44 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


This is a good list of good movies. I could quibble about this being better than that, but I try really hard not to think about film that way.

How about Network? I don't think it was really meant to be set in a strictly fictional time or place, but as a portrait of a society damaged at a very high level, I think it hits as hard as anything.

Also, I have found an opportunity here to bring up Max Headroom and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let that pass me by. I remember it being pretty heavily rooted in the perils of media consumption and I kind of wonder how its take on that holds up, as the problem it was looking at in the 80s has only gotten deeper in the context of algorithmic recommendations and streaming entertainment.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 4:47 PM on July 17 [14 favorites]


I just saw Punishment Park on Youtube a few minutes before seeing this post: it is excellent.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 4:51 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Mod note: Fixed a small link error, carry on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:01 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I also have seen a surprising number of movies on the list; I think the editors must be about the same age as me.
posted by subdee at 5:17 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


Max Headroom is still baller. Has any time actually passed since the 80s?

His hand held camera would obviously be different in our branch of 20 minutes into the future but all the capitalism squeezes ever tighter stuff is completely accurate. Body banks, here we come.
posted by Horkus at 5:26 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I’m not sure Equilibrium really belongs on a list of anything “good” or best. The “no emotion/book burning” bad guys are just a pastiche of others done better elsewhere, it just reads like cliffs notes 1984 with, “and what if *emotion* was illegal, man…” spitballing. And then, for some reason, the Gun Fu, which seems like a really absurd action concept in search of a different movie entirely. Like, maybe Wanted? It’s an interesting concept that just sort of wants a movie making less of a “I’m Christian Bale, and I’m really serious right now” face.

And then, for some reason, in a movie where gun fu is the whole interesting thing, the climactic battle is with swords.

If you want dystopia with swords, I think you’re looking for Six String Samurai. Better music, too.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:32 PM on July 17 [23 favorites]


As other have mentioned, some missing great movies, while weird choices included - like Running Man. So glad Moon is on there. Still one of the most interesting/disturbing movies that I've seen that gets so little mention.
posted by greenhornet at 5:36 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Yeah, good list. Scary how I've seen and loved most of these.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:39 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Worth noting that the authors specifically removed from consideration "post-apocalyptic films where society hasn’t been rebuilt to the point of a functioning government." I guess you could argue whether, say, Immortan Joe's cult qualifies as functional government or not, but I do think there's a distinctly different feel to Mad Max or other post-apocalyptic movies. Post-apocalyptic settings are the realms of roving warlords or hostile environments; dystopian settings are the realms of hostile systems, whether corporate, government, or something else entirely.

Independent of all of that, I will defend The Running Man's right to be on this list until the day I die.
posted by chrominance at 5:46 PM on July 17 [19 favorites]


Fun fact about Equilibrium: the "Gun Kata" used in the film is based in part on a martial arts system the writer/director invented in his backyard. So, sorta like if the Star Wars Kid had gotten a film deal.

(and yeah, it's pretty much a paint-by-numbers sci-fi dystopia, hardly top 50 of anything, but the fight scenes can be pretty entertaining)

I gotta defend Running Man -- it's great satire. Idiocracy on the other hand... eh, the implicit "poor people are dumb" message of the film is pretty bothersome.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:49 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


What about They Live?

also, am I the only one who found Snowpiercer super overrated?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:51 PM on July 17 [34 favorites]


Glad to see Metropolis on the list. The restored version is wonderful...
posted by jim in austin at 5:56 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


They Live should definitely count.
And then, for some reason, in a movie where gun fu is the whole interesting thing, the climactic battle is with swords.
Although I haven't seen Equilibrium in over fifteen years, I want to say that the summary here gets it wrong in describing Preston holding "gun in one hand and sword in the other", when it was guns in both hands; then a sword against the praetorian guard and Taye Diggs' face; and then the final duel is actually back to gun kata, albeit against an opponent you wouldn't imagine to have any martial ability from the entirety of the film preceding it.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 5:57 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Good list but Fahrenheit 451 was missing.
posted by Rash at 6:10 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


No Woody Allen, please. Dustbin of history.

My 14 year old self was very moved by Silent Running. My 25 year old self was embarrassed for my earlier self’s succeptibility for saccharine twaddle.

THX 1138 is very dull; an excellent introduction to its creators failures as a filmmaker.

I feel like Akira makes these lists because it made the list makers feel funny in their tweens.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:11 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Equilibrium was pretty weak tea as far as science fiction goes. To my memory, the production design sits as one of the better executions of the neo-brutalist thing a lot of stylized camp sci-fi action movies were doing post-Matrix. I think it was pretty influential in a superficial way. See thereafter; Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet, The Island, etc. Probably worth a nod in that light, I think?

Naturally, I would be quick to replace it with Repo! The Genetic Opera, because every list of movies deserves a murder musical.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 6:14 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


While it’s not the main story of the film, Interstellar and it’s backstory of climate collapse, and the vague numbness towards it (still have baseball!) or outright hostility (Casey Affleck refusing treatment for his children) is a pretty solid end of days thing in its own right, and something in me doubts the ships they managed to get into orbit managed to save everyone.

There’s a pretty solid dystopia story hiding in the time elapsed while Rust is playing with black holes.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I think it was pretty influential in a superficial way. See thereafter; Aeon Flux, Ultrivolet, The Island, etc. Probably worth a nod in that light, I think?

Same writer-director as Ultraviolet. Not a fan of either of them, myself.
posted by rodlymight at 6:24 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


No Death Race? (Not the original with Carradine, or the reboot with Statham?)

What about Westworld? (The series even more than the original movie.)
posted by SPrintF at 6:27 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I find myself linking to Maggie Mae Fish quite a lot on here, but her video on Punishment Park is worth a watch.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:37 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Soylent Green could be on this list twice: once for "Soylent Green is people" (mentioned in the article) but perhaps a second time for the sex slavery (apartments include women made available as "furniture," and the misogyny runs so deep that the 'hero' is unconcerned by it and assumes it's his privilege to enjoy without discussion). Rollerball didn't make the list, but it's a popular 70s dystopia that has essentially the same issue: somehow the audience is supposed to be bothered by a sport "created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort" and not that the 'hero' thinks the problem with sex slavery is that the corporation won't reassign a particular woman to him. But having lived through the 70s, I don't think this stuff was intended to be dystopian--more like, it reveals how the 70s basically were dystopian.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:38 PM on July 17 [20 favorites]


Poor Dr. Strangelove; no cred with the dystopianistas.
posted by jamjam at 6:40 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Idiocracy on the other hand... eh, the implicit "poor people are dumb" message of the film is pretty bothersome.

This bothered me too - the charitable reading is that the movie is a farce, not a satire like Office Space, and if you accept that it's just trying to get to the premise of "average man finds himself the smartest man on the planet" the rest of the movie basically works. They could easily have gone with, like, a planet-wide gas leak.
posted by Merus at 6:53 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I continue to be embarrassed for "serious" lists that include Total Recall, let alone ranked in the top fifteen. While there is a lot to admire about the movie, it has a fundamental error fumbling through the middle of pretty much every scene which is the lead actor's performance. The violence is also gratuitous without managing to achieve the satirical levels of other films by the same director.

And having only one David Cronenberg film listed is also foolish. Videodrome should be top ten, or are we afraid of imagined dystopias that have proven genuinely accurate?

That said, Brazil probably is #2 ... on every list. Comedy, drama, adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, satire -- you name it.
posted by philip-random at 7:05 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Maybe I’m not understanding the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian but the omission of The Road and Fury Road seem glaring.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:07 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


What the hell, no "Brazil?"
posted by thivaia at 7:10 PM on July 17


Nevermind. Found it
posted by thivaia at 7:11 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Slarty Bartfast - a Dystopia is the opposite of a Utopia - a Hell vs. a Heaven. Post-apocalyptic means after the Apocalypse (which is often the Mutually Assured Destruction of a nuclear war).
posted by Rash at 7:25 PM on July 17


I'd put Brazil 1st.
Max Headroom is tv, not a film, would love to rewatch.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Idiocracy on the other hand... eh, the implicit "poor people are dumb" message of the film is pretty bothersome.

The dumb lawyer seemed pretty comfortable. Probably as a result of liking money. He liked money.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:38 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Wall-E seems more post-dystopian to me. Unless you view humanity returning to Earth as dystopian, which is a valid a view as any.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:55 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Fun fact about Equilibrium: Equilibrium is fucking awful.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:03 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Lego Movie really have no place on a serious dystopia list as the universe they inhabit has nothing to do with ours, or does in the Lego Movie case, but only tangentially, as the framing story is "the real world" and isn't a dystopia, and the story within the frame isn't much of a lens on our time, which is what a dystopia needs as a base to its extended vision. Superhero movies have minimal basis in the real and if they did they could all be considered dystopias, since relying on superpowered vigilantes to hold off constant threats of planetary annihilation is nothing but a nightmare. Even were that not the case, the first Endgame movie is much better than anything Bryan Singer has ever done, but then again so are the Resident Evil movies and they weren't considered either.

The list really needs to better define its criteria and methods, but that's a common problem with these kinds of rankings. There's little indication of why one movie is higher than another other than some vague sense of "enjoyable". If you're gonna do dystopias, then think them through and what the movie is getting at, don't just arbitrarily slot them based on "feels".

And the picture they used for Welles' The Trial is from the 1956 version of 1984, a fine movie in its own right, but, really, they should have noticed the quotes in the still are Orwell's, not Kafka/Welles.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:09 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Max Headroom is tv, not a film, would love to rewatch.

Watch the pilot made-for-tv film 20 Minutes Into the Future.

I'm with Phobos the Space Potato - it's a tidy work of early Cyberpunk dystopia.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:27 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Pleasantly surprised to see Never Let Me Go. Among the list's entries that I have seen, NLMG's central premise actually seems plausible in a distant future of extreme inequality. I love the protagonist's last lines:

What I'm not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time.
posted by fatehunter at 8:39 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Nice to see Jeunet and Caro represented, but I would choose Delicatessen for this list over City of Lost Children.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:42 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


Eh it’s an ok list, but they lost me when they claimed The Matrix to be the film that “made cyberpunk not dumb.” WTF
posted by q*ben at 8:43 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


(Also, the dystopia in Wall-E isn’t on Earth; it’s on the ship. And it’s not a dystopia for the humans; it’s a dystopia for the robots)
posted by q*ben at 8:45 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Watch the pilot made-for-tv film 20 Minutes Into the Future

If we're doing that, I recommend Machine Dreams, the pilot/movie for Total Recall 2070. And then watch the rest of it.

If you're not familiar, TR2070 is a 1999 Canadian/German production that bought the rights to do a Total Recall TV series, and then just made the Blade Runner series they obviously wanted to do in the first place.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:51 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Eh it’s an ok list, but they lost me when they claimed The Matrix to be the film that “made cyberpunk not dumb.” WTF

Yeah, the best cyberpunk film of all time is still Blade Runner. Which deserves its #1 spot. And Brazil deserves its #2 spot. I'm happy about those rankings, because they're basically my all-time faves too.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:09 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Hard to argue with Blade Runner, but for me Children of Men was so much more relatable and I think arguably was better at world building.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:29 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Children of Men is certainly the best 21st-century dystopian film I know of. I'm overdue for a rewatch.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:38 PM on July 17 [14 favorites]


Another exclusion I'd like to note: Her, by Spike Jonze. It might be a subtler dystopia than many others, but it's still a bracing meditation on the potential for technology to further fracture human connection and interaction.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 9:56 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


I'd like to see a list of utopian films that are actually dystopian, and a list (perhaps of length zero) of utopian films that aren't.
posted by chortly at 10:15 PM on July 17


To narrow down my complaint a bit more, there are a couple things I'd note, for one, just as an example, the list makes little differentiation between the forms of "dystopia" in each movie, as if it doesn't matter much, even as a couple of the authors at least try to look at the themes a little. Take Punishment Park and Logan's Run as an example, Punishment Park comes in at 46, where the author does make a mild attempt to note its themes of society set against the revolutionary young of the late sixties, with police and military forces turned against their own citizenship along with a analogy to Vietnam as the "better option" than imprisonment for protest against an unjust system.

The movie ranks low because it isn't "fun", unlike Logan's Run ranked at 26, which is, roughly speaking, an allegory of "cancel culture", where those same young people in the Watkins movie are now treated as the "real fascists", with the life ends at 30 plot device being a barely hidden extension of the "don't trust anyone over thirty" saying of the '68 protesters. That we "root" for, as the piece has it, a "gestapo-like" Sandman to overcome his training is about par for the course with these movies, where cops and elite killer quasi-cops are so often the "heroes" who must save themselves from the system and, maybe, feel bad about their previous part in it.

The rankings are the usual kind of group for these kinds of lists, mostly well known to moderately well known films readers will be likely to already have an opinion on, with a small handful of more eclectic movies thrown in to make the authors seem savvy, even though it just points out even more what they ignore or don't know if you have more than a casual interest such things. And for a piece on "dystopian" movies, one really has to wonder about their emphasis on "fun" and production design, as if a dystopia needs to look great and be enjoyable to be "good", when that suggests more the opposite, that the movie is playing it two ways, feigning towards meaning in theme, but contradicting it in effect on the viewer. That's also par for the course in Hollywood, but one would hope it'd be something people paid to write about movies would bother noting since they are taking on some vague mantle of authority as if they had some greater knowledge than the casual moviegoer. Something these lists unfortunately rarely demonstrate in practice.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:08 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


50. The Running Man (1987)

Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Heh. Starsky himself. I always forget that and relearn it every few years to my continued delight.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:09 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


In the Clockwork Orange entry:
Christ, can any of us ever hear “Singing in the Rain” the same again after this nightmare?
The story has it that McDowell improvised the singing on the spot and Kubrick, usually the most controlled and perfectionist of directors, decided he liked it and sent someone out that day to buy the rights to the song.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:35 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


The Time Machine, based on the HG Wells novel, was probably the first dystopian movie I saw in a theater. (TW: the linked preview made me so embarrassed for the actors and writers I blushed hard and had to click away.)
posted by jamjam at 11:52 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Post-apocalyptic ≠ Dystopian

Post-apocalyptic ⊂ Dystopian
posted by Pendragon at 11:54 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


My own list includes:

- Gamer (underrated 2009 sci-fi thriller b-movie by Crank directors Neveldine & Taylor)
- A Handmaid's Tale (the original 1990 film adaptation with Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall)
- V for Vendetta (screenplay by the Wachowskis)
posted by fairmettle at 11:56 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


for me Children of Men was so much more relatable and I think arguably was better at world building

There's an opening scene where the main character rides the tube to his friend, and the train has metal railing on the windows to block rocks thrown by immigrants.

I used to ride a work bus between the north Baltimore Johns Hopkins campus and their hospital in east Baltimore. Kids used to throw rocks at the bus windows, as we made our way back to campus. The driver would yell at them, but keep driving.

Interestingly, Blade Runner recreated Los Angeles, while CoM recreated the UK — and what Brexit Tories want to turn the UK into. What fallen empires already are, in some ways.

Both worlds wholly new. But intimately familiar. It's a difficult thing to pull off.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:14 AM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Arrest Official: "This is your receipt for your husband... and this is my receipt for your receipt."

-Brazil
posted by clavdivs at 1:33 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Now do a list of Dystopias which we'd probably settle for right about now.
Make it annual and it can just keep on growing.
posted by fullerine at 1:49 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Would you guys consider Repo Man a dystopian film? If so, it ought to have a place here, it would fit nicely since so many other movies i like are on this list. Come to think of it, dystopian/post-apocalyptic may be my favorite genre of film.
posted by chaz at 3:29 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Delete Sleeper from the list entirely, bump most of the the remaining entries up a slot, insert On the Beach just above Alita.

Northern hemisphere already wiped out by a nuclear war, an American sub travels to Australia a few months ahead of the fallout that will inevitably end life in the southern as well.

Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins. Cocktails, car races, and an entire continent trying to make peace with their doom.
posted by FallibleHuman at 3:54 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Maybe the real dystopia is the friends political decisions we made along the way.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:33 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I’m a little surprised neither Star Wars nor The Empire Strikes Back made the list.
posted by Ptrin at 5:04 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if AI deserves to be on there; I can accept that it may be better than I remember it being, since it's been a while since I've seen it. However, I have seen Total Recall recently, and, if it belongs on the list at all, it should be way down from #12, and maybe swapped out entirely for Starship Troopers, which posits a society in which the fascist government endlessly extolls the virtues of military service, then throws its young people into the maw of an enemy for which their senselessly brutal training has not prepared them in the slightest. And the absence of Mad Max Fury Road seems like trolling.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:15 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Le temps du loup or The Time of the Wolf in English is a great memorable one.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 7:17 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Another missing one for me would be Robocop.
posted by chaz at 7:18 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Anyone notice that within the gushing praise for The Trial, how before its time it is etc etc, that nowhere was it mentioned that it is an adaptation of Kafka? Hmph. Before its time, indeed.
posted by ananci at 7:36 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


I suggest Heartbeeps, but in the context of a film produced in a dystopia.
posted by detachd at 7:45 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Robocop is #4.
posted by biffa at 7:45 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


No Death Race? (Not the original with Carradine, or the reboot with Statham?)

The original isn't a dystopia any more at the end.

I'm not sure if AI deserves to be on there

It's very puzzling in a list of dystopic movies, especially since it's very clear that Robo Osment is a GPT-3 pointed at "make Mommy smile." What's supposed to be dystopic about it?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:48 AM on July 18


I would add:

Demolition Man: much better and funnier now than it was when it was made.

The Congress: I will never shut up about The Congress. Now that VR, deepfakes, and MMO gaming are real cultural forces, The Congress feels eerie and unsettling.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:11 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Fight Club is an interesting case because it showed a dystopian near future where radicalised incels formed terrorist militias and became a real danger to society.

Are there any other movies where the dystopia actually occurred?
posted by zymil at 8:18 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Nice to see Strange Days get recognition. I'd agree it's Bigelow's best. Somehow I never realized it's that long -- much to its credit.

Are there any other movies where the dystopia actually occurred?

Idiocracy is the usual answer there, but it's pretty problematic to take its premise that seriously.

Old friends of mine are behind Io (and Embers) -- not on the list, but suddenly felt more relevant during Covid.

Although mentioning those, I wonder if we've started to blur the genre lines between 'dystopia' and straight up post-apocalypse survival stories (be they religious, nuclear or environmental).

Isn't a dystopia supposed to be corrupted society whose rot or inequities undermine its superficial utopianism? Rather than living in the ruins of collapse? Or, at least, withdrawn from and fortified against a greater collapse outside its walls. (Edit: or, what Strutter Cane said at the top of the thread.)

I guess along those lines Zardoz should be on the list.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:30 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Are there any other movies where the dystopia actually occurred?

That's the problem with Network. When Paddy Chayefsky wrote it, it was a dystopian vision. Now, it's prime time, to the extent that modern viewers don't get Network.
posted by SPrintF at 8:52 AM on July 18 [17 favorites]


Nice to see Strange Days get recognition. I'd agree it's Bigelow's best.

I had just moved to a new place in the fall of 1995. Nearby was a twin cinema which I got to know pretty well. The two screens when I first went had Strange Days and Fight Club.

October of 1995 was a pleasingly dark time to be a moviegoer.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:53 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Fight Club came out in 1999?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:59 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Sorry: Seven. Another bleak Brad Pitt vehicle.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:44 AM on July 18


That is quite the double feature!

(Se7en was over 2h long too, and the director's cut longer if memory serves.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:46 AM on July 18


Sleep Dealer absolutely needs to be on this list. It's a great film, disturbingly relevant and prescient.

It wasn't very well reviewed, and it's not a great movie, but Repo Men (the 2010 sci film, not the 1984 cult classic) deserves a lot more credit than it gets. The premise (ridiculously expensive artificial organs sold on credit that get repossessed when you get behind) is pretty on-point, it has a well-developed world around that premise, and it has a crazy sex/surgery scene near the end that's also kind of beautiful, and very thematically appropriate. There's also some clear nods to Brazil in the story as well.

There's also a movie whose name I can't recall, a low budget Canadian (I think?) movie about a reality TV show where the contestants -- working class people in need of money -- try to kill each other for cash. The name is something like Sector Sigma 6? Sigma Episode 6? It has the number 6 in it and it has some word like sigma or sector or vector or vectron...

Stacker's Top 100 Dystopian films, which, interestingly, has just about all of the films as Paste's, adds a few that should have been there, includes a bunch of sort of questionable ones b/c of a pretty loose definition of dystopia, and, most importantly, has a totally wack ranking (spoiler: Blade Runner is #10, behind, among others, V for Vendetta and Terminator 2).

Dystopia literally means "bad place." What defines a dystopia is not whether or not the populace appear "happy" -- the humans in Wall-E are completely pacified and "content," but clearly their lives are not utopian, the mother in A.I. can get a robot child that "makes her happy," but it's hollow and illusory. Dystopian stories focus on revealing the flaws of the society, whether that society is obviously bad (1984) or superficially perfect but flawed at its core (Gattaca). Usually, there's some sort of fantasy/sci-fi element involved that highlights allegorically the essentially corrupt nature of the world; if you want to make generic distinctions, I'd say that's what differentiates dystopia from satire (so, I'd consider Network a dark satire rather than a dystopia). Post-apocalyptic stories, on the other hand, tell the story of what happens after some cataclysmic event; they usually tell the story of a humanity without the trappings and support of organized community, and sometimes of how humans try to rebuild that community. The extent to which it crosses over into dystopian territory could be thought of as the extent to which it focuses on that rebuilding.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:59 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Dystopia literally means "bad place."
I get what the roots mean when you put them together, but had always understood the genre to be about some kind of utopia-gone-wrong rather than just any fallen society hellscape. But maybe not.

Terminator movies are interesting as the flagship of the sub-genre in which today's world is visited by someone from some utopia or dystopia set in the future or mythical past. Usually a future dystopia or apocalypse, or a mythical past utopia. Freejack and Millennium come to mind. Or, Wonder Woman and Black Panther feature utopias that exist in an eternal mythic past.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:08 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Or Lost Horizon for the prototypical mythical past utopia.

And the usual take on Game of Thrones in which GRRM presents a fictionalized past England as a fantastic dystopia.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:22 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Not including A Boy and His Dog (1975), an iconic, if not great dystopian film, tells me that the compilers don't really know the genre.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:33 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


chaz: "Would you guys consider Repo Man a dystopian film? If so, it ought to have a place here, it would fit nicely since so many other movies i like are on this list. Come to think of it, dystopian/post-apocalyptic may be my favorite genre of film."

Totally agree that Repo Man is dystopian, always just a little bit into the future.
posted by chavenet at 11:12 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


For me, post-apocalypic is the aftermath of a destroyed world, and a dystopia is a bad world that got built but not as the result of (wholesale) destruction.
posted by rhizome at 11:15 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


City of Lost Children deserves a spot in the top five, IMHO.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:19 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Back to the Future II is the most glaring oversight I've noticed on this list.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:36 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


understood the genre to be about some kind of utopia-gone-wrong rather than just any fallen society hellscape

You're right that dystopia does not equal hellscape. I guess you could say that a dystopia is a utopia gone wrong, or as the revealing of the truth of the utopia (LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" being the locus classicus of that trope) in the sense that all dystopias are utopias for the people on top. I think some dystopian stories start with the sort of illusory perfection that they gradually undermine (like Omelas, Gattaca, The Island, Logan's Run) whereas in others the defining flaw/corruption of the society is more obvious from the beginning (1984, Dredd, Children of Men -- none of which are really "utopias gone wrong -- just shitty worlds as the result of shitty humans).
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:40 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


2016-2020 is the most glaring oversight from this list.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:52 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


I love the campiness of Equilibrium, but I'd swap it for the campiness (and more nuanced dystopianism) of Starship Troopers.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:07 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


a reality TV show where the contestants -- working class people in need of money -- try to kill each other for cash. The name is something like Sector Sigma 6? Sigma Episode 6?

Series 7: The contenders?
posted by biffa at 1:22 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Neither Alien or Aliens on that list, and I consider both to be explicitly coporate dystopias, not just from the expository context of the storyline, but from dialog within the movies - the dystopic element is very important to both. Which begs the question - is this a list of the best dystopian films, or the best dystopian films. 'Cause there are a number of films in that list that, true, have interesting dystopias as settings, but as films are just stinkers.
posted by eclectist at 1:22 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


A Boy and His Dog (1975)

I figure if the lister has seen Punishment Park, they've seen A Boy And His Dog, and left it out either because they consider it post-apoc like Mad Max, or because its protagonist's pointed dismissal of the personhood of women is difficult to watch or discuss, even if that's arguably the intended effect. The Land Down Under did really stick with me though, it kind of comes back every time I find myself in a gentrified shopping district or gated community - all those unsettling painted-on smiles.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:28 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I think Verhoeven would call the world of Starship Troopers a utopia. He created what is for all intents and purposes a perfect world, albeit one that is wholly fascist. All it is good for is killing stuff.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:35 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


is this a list of the best dystopian films, or the best dystopian films

The latter would elevate Demolition Man in terms of post-hoc verisimilitude.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:36 PM on July 18


The misogyny in A Boy and His Dog is severe, especially since it is suppose to be joky. However, the underworld is explicitly a utopia gone bad. The conclusion / satire is: I prefer a post-apocalyptic hell to the utopia / dystopia. Utopia is impotency.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:52 PM on July 18


Series 7: The contenders?

biffa FTW! Yes, that's it!
I was just coming back to comment that the title may have had a 7 instead of a 6 in it.

Anyway: it's a pretty good movie, from what I remember.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:56 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Minor fun fact and tangent about Strange Days:

The New Years Eve party in the film at the end was created by obtaining the permits to throw an actual rave in downtown LA featuring performances by Aphex Twin, among others.

This was kind of a big deal because at that time it was just a few years after the Rodney King riots, and raves were basically being openly and regularly attacked by LAPD in full on riot gear and in particular the Rampart Division, and it was really one of the first (and only) times that promotors managed to get the permits to do this kind of thing in the open on closed public streets like this on this kind of scale.

So they had about 50 LAPD officers on duty to watch 10,000 pissed off ravers dancing on top of prop police cars, and things got kind of intense.

It was sort of a turning point in LA's underground dance scene culture and it - for better and worse - very likely opened the gates to larger permitted parties and festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival that started appearing in the years following and that music and culture finally breaking into the main stream pop consciousness.

Somewhere in the backgrounds of those crowd scenes are a bunch of my friends and I, some of whom are likely legitimatly thizzing their faces off to Aphex Twin.
posted by loquacious at 2:03 PM on July 18 [18 favorites]


Also missing is The Stepford Wives.

And 1984. I can forgive 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 because those movies just weren't very good compared to the books.

I'm also kind of surprised Dune isn't on there, or Alien/Aliens.

Also missing is Closetland which is one of the most psychologically fucked up and tense movies I've ever seen and Alan Rickman was truly and uncomfortably evil in that movie.

Also in the "I never want to see that movie again" category is Requiem for a Dream which is about as bleakly dystopian as it gets and may be overlooked because it hits so close to home.

Or what about Kids?

I might even put Toys in my personal top 50, even though I know it generally sucks as a film. The set design and aesthetic is like something out of a really surreal nightmare.

I would also probably put Fantastic Planet on there somewhere.
posted by loquacious at 3:57 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


1984 (1984) is #14 on the list and I thought that it was a terrific movie. I'll agree on 451 though. Truffaut really didn't seem to have a feel for the material or the English language.
posted by octothorpe at 5:19 PM on July 18


And 1984....I'm also kind of surprised Dune isn't on there, or Alien/Aliens.

1984 is on the list, but they arbitrarily decided to only use movies set on Earth and non-post apocalypse flicks, so some notable choices are missing, which goes with some of their apparent non-explicit concepts that also limited their pool of options.

For some broader options, here's a few Letterboxd lists to browse for what was left off or just for the heck of it.

Cyberpunk and dystopia list
A more eclectic dystopia list
A cyberpunk list, with added links to biopunk, steampunk, and dieselpunk lists
And big list of "techsploitation" movies from early cinema to present

The lists aren't mine and they don't follow the same rules as the link in the post, with the last link in particular going off on a wider tangent, but they are more or less working along the same lines, even if they have some odd selections of their own.

(The second list has some movies well outside Hollywood, so not movies you hear discussed much or that are even seen much, but there's some gold in there too, even if just in the descriptions, like this one for The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo:

Hikari is a boy who is bullied and teased by the other boys at school because he has the odd distinction of having an electricity pole growing out of his back. However, one of his classmates, a girl named Momo, comes to his rescue. Hikari thanks her by sharing his secret possession with her: a time machine. He then activates the time machine which transports him 25 years into a dark, dystopian, world of the future. There he encounters members of the Shinsengumi Vampire Gang in the process of hunting a woman named Dr. Sariba who is revealed to be Momo’s future self. She explains to Hikari that she had been long expecting his arrival from the past and that he has a crucial role to play here – he and he alone must save the world.)

I hadn't heard of that movie before, but now I want to see it. The "techsploitation" list is much broader than dystopias, but the fear/wonder of tech changing society is often at the root of many, so the movie history of that is kinda interesting to look at. But like the main link in the post and the stacker list, there's little attempt to apply dystopian notion to films not set in the future, which could provide a whole range of other options depending on how loosely one allows the notion of a "society" to be, in the sense of something like Lord of the Flies having a dystopian element to its society in miniature.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:24 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


I'll be the one to mock The Lobster - where the premise as described is the guy must find a mate in a certain amount of time or he will be turned into an animal. Fine premise, but the lead guy is super boring and somehow joins the anarchist group not wanting to be grouped together and immediately starts dating the sexy head of the group. Of course. Maybe it gets more interesting at the very end, but an hour was all I could take. This thread has lots of way more deserving movies.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:30 PM on July 18


Dystopia literally means "bad place."

I get what the roots mean when you put them together, but had always understood the genre to be about some kind of utopia-gone-wrong rather than just any fallen society hellscape.


For what it's worth, etymologically utopia means, essentially, "no-place." It is Thomas More making a pun. I'll let Wikipedia take up the story:
Utopia is derived from the Greek prefix "ou-" (οὐ), meaning "not", and topos (τόπος), "place", with the suffix -iā (-ία) that is typical of toponyms; the name literally means "nowhere", emphasizing its fictionality. In early modern English, Utopia was spelled "Utopie", which is today rendered Utopy in some editions.[3]

In fact, More's very first name for the island was Nusquama, the Latin equivalent of "no-place", however he eventually opted for the Greek-influenced name.[4]

In the English language Utopia is pronounced the same as Eutopia (the latter word, in Greek Εὐτοπία [Eutopiā], meaning “good place,” contains the prefix εὐ- [eu-], "good", with which the οὐ of Utopia has come to be confused in the English pronunciation).[5] This is something that More himself addresses in an addendum to his book' Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.[a][7]
So a guy writing in Latin five centuries ago is making a play on words in Greek.

There's probably a great joke in here for our time regarding certain revelations in The Good Place, but I leave these as an exercise for the student.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:02 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


“Which Is the More Prescient Dystopia? Gattaca or Parable of the Sower,” David M. Perry and Niela Orr, The Nation, 16 July 2021
posted by ob1quixote at 8:51 PM on July 18


For what it's worth, etymologically utopia means, essentially, "no-place." It is Thomas More making a pun.

Ok, but what about the ‘eutopia’ it was mocking? Which we still are evidently not over.

For some adherents, Dys is just another place too. (Commonly known as hell, or some portion therof.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:03 PM on July 18


cyrusdogstar told me about this post and list last night, and read off the latter to me. One film that stuck out as "is that really dystopian?" to me is The Truman Show. I would argue that it's a dystopia for a single person, but otherwise not one in the traditional sense. If we're going by a definition in which Network fits, though, then yeah, Truman could be seen as a reality TV dystopia in the same sense that the former film is a TV news dystopia.

Ghost in the Shell's inclusion was also a mite confusing. Cyberpunk, sure, but dystopian themes are stronger in some of Shirow's other works (like Appleseed, which has been made into a movie at least once or twice, and Dominion). Akira absolutely fits, though, and the manga manages to be both dystopian and post-apocalyptic.
posted by May Kasahara at 6:43 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Ooh, one more list that fits alongside the dystopian theme that I often find even more to the point, though as with the other lists, this isn't my selections and has some movies I wouldn't choose and is missing some I would.

The World is Hell/Hopeless cinema

I personally tend to find some of these kinds of films to be much more revealing of the attitudes that lead towards the dystopian for capturing the sense of despair life sometimes brings, without making it "fun", but, when done well, providing a powerful sense of something like catharsis in the end. Some are dystopian alternative societies, but many show the dystopian elements within society as it stands, either directly or by close analogy.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:02 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Re: Alien/Aliens -- while the Weyland-Yutani Corp. is in the background of those films as the heartless capitalists that sacrifice workers for profit, neither movie is about that society per se. The movies aren't about life under the Weyland-Yutani Corp, but rather they are a horror story and an army movie in a sci-fi setting against the backdrop of barely glimpsed dystopian world.

Dune is one that I thought about as well, particularly since I just started re-reading the novel. But even though the universe is clearly dystopian for the vast majority of humans, the story centers on Paul, who is relatively high up in the techno-feudal hierarchy at the very beginning. Moreover, Paul never really questions the feudal mentality and neither does the story itself, as one level of the narrative is an aristocratic revenge story, like some 19th century adventure novel. So it's not like, say, 1984 or even The Hunger Games, in which the story is about some low-level average person who is just a cog in the machine (or grist for the mill, if you prefer that metaphor), and through whose eyes we get to see the reality of the system. There are only glimpses of that in Dune, and always through the eyes of the privileged who can barely comprehend the plight of the nameless masses around them. It's an adventure story, it's a spiritual quest, it's a deconstruction of the white savior myth, but I wouldn't count it as dystopian.

As far as Requiem For a Dream and Kids, just like with Network I would suggest that they aren't dystopias simply because they are more-or-less 100% realistic. There's very little in those films that couldn't happen in the real world -- hell, there's very little that hasn't happened already and isn't ongoing! Network gets a bit more into the realm of the surreal with Ned Beatty and all that, but I'd consider that absurdist satire rather than dystopian. I think what differentiates dystopian from satire or other forms of social critique in art is that dystopian stories have some sort of fantastic/allegorical element to it, something that could be minor but still clearly distinguishes the fictional reality from our world and that is the primary symptom/symbol of the society's corruption.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:24 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


I'll be the one to mock The Lobster .... Fine premise, but the lead guy is super boring and somehow joins the anarchist group not wanting to be grouped together and immediately starts dating the sexy head of the group. Of course. Maybe it gets more interesting at the very end, but an hour was all I could take.

The "super boring" aspect of the lead character -- and, in fact, of every character -- is one of the writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos' signature stylistic elements -- completely purposeful. He has an absurdist bent to his storytelling. In most of his feature films (Dogtooth, Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), the characters are put in bizarre situations with no explanation, but they speak and behave in complete deadpan, drained of all affect. It's part of his surreal black humor and, for me at least, what makes his films amazing AND rewatchable -- I've watched The Lobster at least 5 times, Dogtooth & Sacred Deer 2-3x, and The Favourite (which he directed by didn't write, so the dialogue is less absurd) 2-3x. But, it certainly isn't to everyone's taste, so YMMV.

minor correction: he starts seeing one of the other members of the single rebels, but not the head of the group
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:35 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


The World is Hell/Hopeless cinema

Woah, this is awesome.

Well...you know what I mean.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:37 AM on July 19


Has 12 Monkeys been mentioned?
posted by Lyme Drop at 9:38 AM on July 19


As far as Requiem For a Dream and Kids, just like with Network I would suggest that they aren't dystopias simply because they are more-or-less 100% realistic.

In the Loop fits in that box pretty well also. Actually, between Four Lions and Death of Stalin, Iannucci has that maybe-dystopic-but-not-quite box well covered.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 10:24 AM on July 19


I mean, the real world IS a dystopia. If we open the definition wide enough, any story with any sort of social critique could fit.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:56 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Logan's Run ranked at 26, which is, roughly speaking, an allegory of "cancel culture", where those same young people in the Watkins movie are now treated as the "real fascists", with the life ends at 30 plot device being a barely hidden extension of the "don't trust anyone over thirty" saying of the '68 protesters.

In the 1967 novel the film is based on, people are killed when they turn 21.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:48 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


There was that spate of ‘time’ related futures:

Timer (2009)
In Time (2011)
posted by xtian at 12:02 PM on July 19


It's arguably not really a movie, and it certainly doesn't fit the tone of most dystopian movies, but someday one of these lists should include the extended video version of Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer.
posted by vverse23 at 1:36 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


In list format btw:

50. The Running Man (1987)
49. Alita: Battle Angel (2009)
48. Never Let Me Go (2010)
47. Idiocracy (2006)
46. Punishment Park (1971)
45. Snowpiercer (2014)
44. Alphaville (1965)
43. Equilibrium (2002)
42. Sleeper (1973)
41. Moon (2009)
40. Escape From New York (1981)
39. Silent Running (1971)
38. Strange Days (1995)
37. Dark City (1998)
36. AI Artificial Intelligence (2001)
35. Isle of Dogs
34. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
33. District 9 (2009)
32. The Truman Show (1998)
31. Dredd (2012)
30. Okja (2017)
29. Gattaca (1997)
28. THX 1138 (1971)
27. A Scanner Darkly
26. Logan's Run (1976)
25. Xmen Days of Future Past (2014)
24. Minority Report (2002)
23. Videodrome (1985)
22. Soylent Green (1973)
21. The LEGO Movie (2014)
20. The City of Lost Children (1998)
19. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
18. Planet of the Apes (1968)
17. World on a Wire (1973)
16. Seconds (1966)
15. Battle Royale (2000)
14. 1984 (1984)
13. The Lobster (2015)
12. Total Recall (1990)
11. The Trial (1962)
10. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
9. Children of Men (2006)
8. Stalker (1979)
7. Akira (1988)
6. Metropolis (1927)
5. WALL-E (2008)
4. Robocop (1987)
3. The Matrix (1999)
2. Brazil
1. Blade Runner (1982)
posted by subdee at 1:57 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Almost everything we currently describe in terms of "dystopian" societies were described as features of the original Utopia, which was a very rigid society based on slave labor. But yes, I love a great many of these Utopian movies.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:20 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


In the 1967 novel the film is based on, people are killed when they turn 21.

Yeah, the book seems to have drawn on the fears of overpopulation and the effect on society and its resources, while also serving as something of a vaguely similar metaphor to many animes, where the protagonist teens are tasked with saving the world as something of a stand in for becoming adult. So they can be aimed at youngish readers, but the social fears are those of an older generation the "new" adults have to conquer in some fashion. The movie, on the other hand, was part of a pattern of films in '74-'76 that dealt with the failure of idealism, concerns over the young and a matched desire for that youth, which could take on creepy forms in the latter case, or be a swipe at the sixties ideals or be expressing disappointment in where that idealism led/died. It was a worldwide phenomenon to some degree, but is getting off track from the dystopian a bit, as its more about the failure of the utopian.

Almost everything we currently describe in terms of "dystopian" societies were described as features of the original Utopia, which was a very rigid society based on slave labor.

While it seems that most "Utopian" fiction is really more about how the illusion of perfection is itself the danger by dint of contrast to the real and the cost that perfection would entail, there have been a number of films/shows that do still sort of try to suggest a utopian ideal as the potential result of certain values and behaviors. Ironically perhaps, these kinds of movies are much more common in authoritarian regimes, where criticizing the government is not allowed. But there is the occasional Star Trek kind too, more hinted at than shown, but based in idealism, so the concept of the "dystopian" has some use as a contrast.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:20 PM on July 19


Oh, and it also might be useful to look at how movies sometimes use a comparative to establish a differentiation between a "more "dystopian" or "utopian" society to that of a "norm".

Take It's a Wonderful Life, for example, the Pottersville segment of the movie is set as a dystopian contrast to the framing Bedford Falls sections, but it's debatable which is actually mre "real" and which is the projection. Or in something like Dances with Wolves, the Lakota society becomes the more Utopian contrast to that represented by the US military, a not uncommon theme in a number of works, often influenced by the idea of the "Noble Savage" as much as they are critiquing abuse of power unfortunately.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:29 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Logan's Run ranked at 26, which is, roughly speaking, an allegory of "cancel culture", where those same young people in the Watkins movie are now treated as the "real fascists", with the life ends at 30 plot device being a barely hidden extension of the "don't trust anyone over thirty" saying of the '68 protesters.

In the 1967 novel the film is based on, people are killed when they turn 21.


I think it was practicality to adjust the age to thirty. Jenny Agutter was a winsome 23 when it came out and probably could have played a 20-year-old convincingly, but Michael York and Richard Jordan were 34 and 38, respectively, the day it was released. Might have been harder to sell them as teenagers.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:26 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I haven’t seen it mentioned here, but Make Room, Make Room, the book Soylent Green is based off of, is more than worth a read, and I’d love to see a film based on it, even if it would never happen because of how overwhelmingly *bleak* it is. There is no redemption, no happy outcome for anyone or anything in the novel. The Soylent Green in the novel is simply a foodstuff made of soy and lentils. It’s a late 60s/early 70s novel about overpopulation inspired (like a lot of others) by The Population Bomb, which also brought us The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar, among others.

John Brunner derail: I am willing to believe both that Brunner was an actual, living time traveler, and that his novels, though more than deserving of adaptation, will never be filmed because, well, we’re literally living in them right now. The absolute horror of The Sheep Look Up just seems like the world we live in, and there would be nothing “shocking” to anyone streaming a Netflix or Amazon Prime show based on Shockwave Rider, just like Neuromancer would need *heavy* revision to keep it from seeming horribly dated now.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:35 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


To add to that a bit, how do you film Stand on Zanzibar and capture the absolute terror of Muckers (people snapping and committing random acts of extreme violence and murder) in a world where mass shootings have become so frequent that they no longer make the news?
posted by Ghidorah at 6:42 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I think it was practicality to adjust the age to thirty.

Sure, that could have played a role in their decision, but the reason itself isn't all that important, just what's on screen, whether a wholly intentional "theme" or otherwise. Besides, Logan's Run was released the same year as Bad News Bears and, lord help us, Bugsy Malone, so they certainly could have gone a different route had they chosen to stick closer to the book.

The story as it is in the movie makes little to no sense as a functional society, why exactly would the adults design and build a society that is based on their elimination and how does it work when the majority of the society is made up of children? There is no sense of human reality to the desire to build such a world, though there certainly is in trying to escape it once one comes of age, which should be entirely evident to anyone living in such a world once they pass their teen years.

The shaky metaphor of the book is lost by the changes and it only really lightly works as a shallow cultural critique of the time when it was made. The movie is sometimes entertaining perhaps, but its also contradictory in ways that make little sense and provides little else to make up for it. It's only the notion of it being an amusing "dystopia" that gives it any pull and can place it on a list like this, but only if you choose to value that light bit of fun over other things and don't care about the details too much. Fun is fine, I like movies for that too, but there needs to be more to an evaluation than that.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:03 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


What a horrible list. THX1138 is way too low, and no Mad Max or Road Warrior and on and on, but their biggest sin is not having 1984 ranked number one and A Clockwork Orange ranked just below it.
posted by Beholder at 9:45 PM on July 19


Being a huge fan of the absolutely bonkers Logan's Run, I managed to track down the book many years ago and was horribly disappointed. The story (and ending) are completely different than the movie. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll simply say that the film's ending, with it's moralizing on self reliance and tradition is not how the book ends at all. The movie was clearly inspired by the writings of Robert A Heinlein, while the book is pretty conventional as far as 70s sci-fi goes.
posted by Beholder at 10:10 PM on July 19


Interestingly enough, Andrew Niccol, the guy who wrote The Truman Show, wrote and directed Gattaca, as well as the Logan's Run-reminding In Time. His 2018 Anon looks good, too.
posted by rhizome at 9:21 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


I would have included “Le Prix du Danger”, "Alphaville", "L'America", and "Catching Fire".
posted by abakua at 2:37 PM on July 21


After thinking about it some more, I guess what bothers me as much as anything, and where I think a lot of the issues I have with the list, or lists when considering others I looked at, is in treating dystopia as more a setting than a method that examines societal forms by various techniques, not all of which are "futuristic" or "alternative world" hellscapes. There's more a checklist mentality to talking about movies or writing that feels like it interferes with actually watching or reading as people check off certain tropes or attitudes sometimes. Even the Wikipedia page on dystopian films is affected by this mentality and it gets under my skin a bit, especially when something that hits the right check marks of looking grim but says nothing is given a pass when a movie that is more directly looking at how society works is ignored for not exaggerating enough.

That this has some consequence for what kinds of movies people see and discuss, as these kinds of lists serve more to reaffirm already accepted ideas and maintain positions of authority and control, the writer's own and that of Hollywood, than challenge people.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:11 AM on July 22


treating dystopia as more a setting than a method that examines societal forms by various techniques, not all of which are "futuristic" or "alternative world" hellscapes

Yeah, in my Niccol comment above I had to draw a distinction between dystopia and what I thought of as "normal science fiction," such as his S1m0ne, which I think is closer to something like Vinterberg's It's All About Love than dystopia.

It's an interesting topic!
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on July 22


It's an interesting topic!

It really is, and maybe I've pushed my issues with the list too hard and thrown off the conversation, so let me try to reframe my thoughts a different way. I may as well accept the fact that no matter what my gripes are about how we characterize dystopian movies, I've clearly lost that battle and the concept is what it is, mostly science fiction/fantasy films showing futuristic or alternative worlds where the society is severely broken in some or many ways.

Accepting then the films listed as defining the genre, not just from the main link in the post, but the stacker list, Wikipedia, and others, one of the things that stands out is how much of the genre is based on the notion of a kind of transposition of a majoritarian perspective to a minority one, or in allowing the audience to distance themselves from some aspect of society, even as the movie then dwells on that aspect for its purposes of entertainment, letting the viewer enjoy the violence the movie proports to criticize, for just one example. The movies can play this in different ways, or perhaps as accurately will be understood in different ways by how the audience justifies their response.

One of the main ways this happens is by placing a white male protagonist, either shown as a white guy, often a kind of cop or minor functionary of the government, learning some "secret truth" that places them in peril, or by casting a white actor as a kind of "duplicate" of some sort, replicant, clone, or some such, in the position of a discriminated against minority. The stories then, particularly in regards to the latter, often erase or minimize actual minorities for the purpose of making the white protagonist the one who suffers societal harm. Sometimes this is done as a more or less clear analogy, expecting the audience to note the discrepancy, but often times this is more or less indeterminate in purpose, making it problematic or at the very least of debatable effect.

Other "secrets" are often more tenuous in their application to "our world", where the filmmaker might be suggesting a different sort of analogy or none at all, or more frequently perhaps trying to do a bit of both to keep everyone happy. Sometimes this comes from having the pleasure the movie provides contradict the movie's "message", as in the case of being entertained by the violence the movie's story condemns, or it can be something more complex, where the ideology doubles up on itself to both pander to and condemn in the same moment, as in The Lego™ Movie's "anti-corporate" story elements. The stories often being as much about uncovering the "truth", that is in the way the fictional world "warps" the values of "our world" in ways that we'd find unacceptable, and thus allows the cop/bureaucrat to become more like "us", which is again usually seen as part of the white majority in US films.

Some common alternatives in "foreign" films that make the list are that the movies are animes or based on animes, manga, graphic novels, comics, where the main characters of identification are superhuman or otherwise "open" to varying audience projection, or where kids are the protagonists, thus outside the adult frame of concern, often to criticize/pander to audiences unhappy with some aspects of adulthood or teens wary about its approach. The movies where there is a female protagonist seem to tend more towards having them as something more or different than human, or develop in that direction.

While various tropes and story lines are common, the way they are used and "read" can vary a great deal, making it difficult to talk about any of them as meaning just one thing even as some elements of that commonality do point to some of the issues and contradictions that seem to be a major part of the genre as it currently appears to be considered in popular media. (Accepting of course that these issues are as much just a part of popular media as just elements of the genre.)
posted by gusottertrout at 11:30 PM on July 22


One film that stuck out as "is that really dystopian?" to me is The Truman Show. I would argue that it's a dystopia for a single person, but otherwise not one in the traditional sense.

It's a world in which society has collectively and knowingly decided that what's being done to Truman -- "the first child to have been legally adopted by a corporation" -- in the name of entertainment is okay. That always feels pretty damn bleak to me.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:32 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


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