The 50 Best Dystopian Movies of All Time – Paste

What is a dystopian movie

Video What is a dystopian movie

That dystopian movies have become a genre of their own speaks to our fears about the future. As oppressive regimes around the world turn to technology to control their populations, and as we watch our own government cage children and erode the privacy we have long taken for granted, we glimpse the terrifying possibilities of where We headed. It’s natural for us to explore such hypothetical scenarios in film, something we’ve been doing since at least 1932 when Fritz Lang brought metropolis to life.

Not to be confused with post-apocalyptic films (although the two may overlap), dystopian films deal with a decidedly human threat from those in control. dystopian societies are marked by mass suffering and gross injustice, and we don’t always have to look to fiction for examples. For our purposes here, we’ve focused on Earth, cutting out movies where the threat comes from another planet. we’ve also removed post-apocalyptic movies where society hasn’t been rebuilt to the point of functional government. that leaves a still very wide swath of cinema to consider, from sci-fi glimpses into the distant future to cautionary tale of a much more recognizable world in our present or even past. This may not be escapism, but as the growing number of dystopian movies, novels, and TV shows demonstrate, we remain captivated by stories of societies gone wrong and people’s struggle to overcome them.

here are the top 50 dystopian movies of all time:

50. the runner (1987)

director: paul michael glaser

While The Running Man lacks the sophistication and dynamic pace of another sci-fi/dystopian satire/Schwarzenegger movie, its entertainment value is nothing to sneeze at. Loosely adapted from a Stephen King novel of the same name, The Runner describes a future where everyone dresses up as if they’re at an ’80s-themed Halloween party and citizens regularly tune in to a show in which convicted criminals must fight for survival against fellow contestants and professional killers. insert hunger games reference here. Between the absurd production design and the Paula Abdul-choreographed dance sequences, any attempt at satire is all but buried in a thick layer of silliness. still, in terms of sheer fun, this movie is a real gem. —rozeman brand

49. alita: battle angel (2019)

director: robert rodriguez

Alita: Battle Angel begins with Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz), doctor to the cyborgs, rummaging through a junkyard full of spare parts to find something he can use. What better way to start a movie than with a metaphor about itself? just like dr. Ito, director Robert Rodriguez, and co-writer/co-producer James Cameron sift through the remnants of established sci-fi and cyberpunk properties to weave together a recognizable and cohesive narrative within the confines of its genre. Considering the talent involved, it’s no surprise that the end product is an often fun and kinetic sci-fi/action that’s visually pleasing, albeit without a single new or fresh bit embedded. Based on the popular manga, gunnm, alita: Battle Angel primarily takes its visual cues and narrative structure from a 1993 anime adaptation of the same name. that anime is barely an hour long, but it manages to pack in a sprawling cyberpunk universe with a deep and complex lore that supports whatever over-the-top tech-fetish cyber action it throws at you. The story follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), whom Dr. ito finds during his search for scrap metal and brings him back to life. his brain is human, but the rest of it is artificial. Like a cyborg version of Jason Bourne, she has no recollection of his past, but has supreme instincts to kick ass, leading Ito to suspect some sinister military use in his past. the future world he inhabits battle angel is the love child of blade runner and mad max , a grimy post-apocalyptic city that is also a big overcrowded city. cyberpunk metropolis. when the fight finally begins, battle angel puts his metallic butt in gear. Rodriguez pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating to create some genre-appropriate hack and slash and source material with a significant amount of cyborg bodies split down the middle, decapitated and blown to pieces. for fans of sci-fi/futuristic action, it should provide an engaging if somewhat forgettable experience. —oktay ege kozak

48. never let me go (2010)

director: brand romanek

An adaptation of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is equally poignant and melancholy, focusing on a group of young people growing up with a seemingly carefree life in an English boarding school. . The beautiful pastoral setting hides the unsettling truth that Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and their classmates are clones destined to be mandatory organ donors for their wealthy counterparts when they grow up. Confronted with this bleak and inevitable future, the characters grapple with pressing questions about love, relationships, family, and death. Thoughtful on matters of life and death, on what makes life worth living, Never Let Me Go presents dark reminders of the inevitability of death while offering hope in the opportunity to reflect about what we should have closer at any time we have left. —kara landhuis

47. idiocracy (2006)

director: mike judge

The dystopian setting of idiocracy is based on the idea of ​​runaway “dysgenia”, the opposite of selective breeding: the opposite of natural selection, once the intelligent segment of the population is “exogamous” by the stupid. It’s an interesting idea for everyman Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), who arrives as a time traveler from 500 years earlier only to be heralded as the smartest man in creation. however, the average person in this environment is faced with a fairly monotonous, bland, and downright unpleasant daily life, with a crippled economy, food shortages, and poor mental and physical health. The positive? they are mostly too stupid to notice or care, theirs is a dull and bland existence. —jim vorel

46. punishment park (1971)

director: peter watkins

the pseudo-documentary style study of peter watkins’ punishment park, both past and future, is intentionally confrontational: that’s why hollywood studios refused to release the film at the time of the premiere. (It ran in a New York theater for four days before it was pulled.) In the California desert, a group of young activists are given a choice: go to jail or go to the detention park and run to the American flag planted 50 miles away on scorching sands before the police catch them first. . almost everyone chooses the park, where trigger-happy cops and soldiers lie in wait. punishment park is critical both of the regime so close to the real one of 1971 and of the activists who resort to violence as a means to achieve peace. this is not easy to see, mainly because what makes activists angry (police brutality, inequality, bureaucratic injustice, senseless wars) still makes people angry today, 44 years later. The inability of the real world to learn and move on keeps Watkins’ film relevant. —brogan morris

45. snow drill (2014)

director: bong joon-ho

There’s a sequence midway through snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer-director bong joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers working today. two armies engage in a no-holds-barred slow-motion action scene. metal crashes into metal, and the characters slice through their opponents like their bodies are made of butter. it’s gory, imaginative, horrific, beautiful, visceral, and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic world: nearly two decades earlier, in a misguided attempt to stop the global warning, the government flooded the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. now, the last of humanity resides in “snowpiercer”, a massive train powered by a perpetual motion engine and ruled by a ruthless caste system. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best in humanity. bong’s grim and brutal flick may well be playing a song we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such enthusiasm and dexterity that you can’t help but get sucked into the blast. —rozeman brand

44. alpha village (1965)

director: jean-luc godard

Science fiction is not particularly suited to godard’s gaze, so erratic and ironic, so uninterested in the exigencies and peculiarities of world-building is the legendary French director, but there is no better visionary to attack either. the fucking mind that is this strange lemmy caution adventure. alphaville is both experimental noir and speculative fiction, steeped in the tropes of the former while happily tinkering with the world of the latter, never quite justifying the hybridization of the two but not quite caring, either. . . as such, the pulpy story of a secret agent (eddie constantine) who is sent to the alphaville “galaxy” to assassinate, among a few, the creator of the artificial intelligence (alpha 60) who runs all facets of alphavillian society More or less forbidding all emotion, as he falls in love with the inventor’s daughter (godard muse anna karina), he’s as silly as he is compelling, totally committed to the confusing premise and aware, like most godard movies, of the jumps. required of the audience to follow the meandering plot. saturated with anachronism and stylized to the point of parody, alphaville is not interested in immersing the viewer in a not-too-distant dystopian future, but in exposing science fiction as a genre that requires us to dramatically reconceptualize everything related to science fiction. the genre we take for granted: language, humanity, and a future we will at least understand. —dom sinacola

43. balance (2002)

director: kurt wimmer

In equilibrium, taye diggs plays a future fascist lawman named brandt, and near the climax of the film, brandt gets his face slashed. that’s his whole face, impeccably separated from his head, from hair to jaw. This follows a lightning-quick future samurai sword fight of sorts, in which christian bale’s character, the heroically named john preston, has single-handedly slaughtered, with a gun in one hand and a sword in the another, through one law enforcement officer after another, determined. to rip humanity from the shackles of a totalitarian state that has banned, you guessed it, feelings. just like taye diggs face, equilibrium is quite pretty in its action, very symmetrical. but also like his face, the fact that i just revealed a meaty part of the climax should be easily disconnected from whether you should still watch equilibrium or not. you should: it’s all about as crazy and polite as the moment taye diggs’s face slides off the front of his head like salami from a meat slicer. —dom sinacola

42. sleeper (1973)

director: woody allen

sleeper‘s sci-fi slapstick is woody allen’s comedy at the peak of the legendary filmmaker’s powers. Miles Monroe (Allen), as a cryogenically thawed man out of time, is recruited into an underground resistance movement against a tyrannical, robot-controlled police state. (In the current political climate, his prescience feels creepy, albeit obvious.) What follows is precise physical comedy, hilariously Allen-esque one-liners, and some insanely funny sight gags (not to mention the incomparably talented Diane Keaton) that permeate the future. Dystopian America of 2173. Fortunately, by miles, the police state of the future is blatantly more incompetent than he is. I wish we were so lucky today. —scott wold

41. moon (2009)

director: duncan jones

First-time director Duncan Jones is open about his stylistic appropriations from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to the sweeping orchestral music that frames the opening shots of the titular satellite and earth. Yet where Kubrick tapped into existential fears about human extinction and the future of civilization, Jones hypothesizes the logical conclusion to that dark vision: a world where the need for more energy has turned humanity into a manufactured cog. by multinational corporations whose reach now extends beyond the world. land borders. The film’s plot centers on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the only human at a lunar mining facility harvesting helium-3, a clean fuel that may meet Earth’s growing energy demands in the near future. Computer System Base Gerty (Kevin Spacey) is his only companion on Sam’s three-year care mission, as a suspected satellite failure means he can only send and receive pre-recorded messages. When an accident nearly kills Sam, he is saved by a clone of himself and begins to unravel the sinister nature of the base and its existence. moon draws heavily on the retro-futuristic look of 1960s and 1970s sci-fi in its claustrophobic, sanitized depiction of the moon base, but this high-tech visual treat is just the backdrop. background of a larger morality tale about humanity’s shrinking position within a technologically saturated society. when the human experience can be synthesized (and thus made disposable), is there such a thing as “humanity”? there are a number of challenging philosophical threads throughout cloning, masculinity, energy, corporate power, but those individual issues complement rather than engulf the larger narrative. moon is a superlative example of sci-fi that listens to the roots of the genre: social commentary on the human condition, without the easy catharsis of over-the-top special effects and space opera. is the ultimate rarity in modern cinema: a mature, engaging and thoughtful sci-fi film, and proof that there is still life in the genre. —miguel saba

40. escape from new york (1981)

director: juan carpintero

In the distant future of 1997, when the president’s air force one flight is hijacked and crashes into the now maximum security prison in manhattan, there is only one man who can save him, a one-eyed kurt russell who goes by the name snake He struggles to thwart the Duke’s plans to use the President as a human shield in his march to freedom, all while maintaining his ruthless disdain for the United States government. Written in the wake of the Watergate scandal, John Carpenter’s vision of the future is decidedly cynical: The Serpent may be trying to save the President, but not without classic mockery of him. —Sean Doyle

39. silent run (1971)

director: douglas trumbull

A precursor to wall-e and moon, silent running was the first feature film directed by special effects wizard douglas trumbull . best known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Tree of Life. Set on a spaceship hovering around Saturn, this meditative film is about an interstellar greenhouse custodian named Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) who watches over Earth’s last forests and wildlife. When Lowell is told to destroy his payload and return to Earth, he refuses, deciding to fake an accident and pilot his ship to the farthest reaches of space, where he and his living wards will be safe from the Earth. human interference. ecologically conscious, narratively simple, deeply moving, silent running is one of those great lost gems of 1970s science fiction. —tim grierson

38. strange days (1995)

director: kathryn bigelow

Before reinventing herself as a director of award-winning docudramas, Kathryn Bigelow made her name directing wacky genre films like near dark and point break. however, with all due respect to point break, strange days remains bigelow’s most compelling pre-war on terror project. written by bigelow’s ex-husband james cameron and oscar nominated screenwriter jay cocks, strange days is a pulpy sci-fi film with film noir influences in the vein of blade runner but with more high-octane action and a lot more nudity. Set in the era of Rodney King’s videotaped beatings and the L.A. riots, the film is set in a dystopian Los Angeles where people’s memories and experiences are recorded directly from their brains to be sold on the black market. Anyone who has ever wanted to experience criminal activity or kinky sexual encounters can now do so without repercussions. Trouble begins when vice detective turned black salesman Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) discovers a snuff disc depicting the brutal murder of an acquaintance. this record takes you down a rabbit hole into the urban underground. At nearly two and a half hours, the film’s visual pyrotechnics and beautifully stylized performances provide more than enough ammunition to justify such excess. —rozeman brand

37. dark city (1998)

director: alex proyas

alex proyas’s magnum opus delivers a cerebral sci-fi extravaganza filtered through the visual tropes of film noir and german expressionism. An astonishing feat of imagination, Dark City, as its clear predecessor Blade Runner, flopped at the box office only to be later revived as a beloved cult classic. The film stars Rufus Sewell as amnesiac John Murdoch who wakes up one night to discover his town is (literally) under the manipulation of a gang of eerily pale men in trench coats and jet-black felt hats. Along the journey is Kiefer Sutherland as a mad scientist and Jennifer Connelly as the femme fatale, our hero’s estranged wife. a straight line could also be drawn between this and the matrix, released a year later. the similarities between the visual styles of the two films and the themes of slavery, techno-rebellion, and free will are nearly impossible to miss, and many visual essays have been written specifically to compare the two films. john murdoch’s arc is only slightly less portentous than that of the prophesied (keanu reeves) in the matrix—both are seemingly normal men picked up and thrown into a slowly unraveling web of secrets as they discover that they possess special powers that will eventually allow them to defeat the puppeteers who created their reality. The two films were even largely shot at the same studio, Fox Studios Australia, and possess a similar green-tinged patina of unreality. ultimately, dark city is a bit more philosophically distant than the easier to understand popcorn-eating matrix, which is probably why the latter it eventually became a cultural touchstone. but the dark city deserves to be seen, both on its own merits and as an exercise to see which of its visions may have lodged in the minds of the wachowskis, waiting to be reborn in next year’s blockbuster. —Mark Rozeman and Jim Vorel

36. a.i. artificial intelligence (2001)

a.i. may be spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, as evidenced by the many critics who pointed out its supposed flaws only to come to a new understanding of its greatness, chief among them roger ebert, who he eventually listed it as one of his great films ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. a.i. represents the perfect blend of spielberg and stanley kubrick sensibilities, as kubrick reportedly worked on the story with spielberg, and spielberg felt compelled to finish after kubrick’s death, allowing the movie hold every one of your worst instincts. under control. not as cold or aloof as kubrick movies tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as spielberg movies can be, and before the ending is held up as proof of spielberg’s failure, it should be noted account that the dark coda of the film was actually Kubrick’s. idea, be firm that the ending doesn’t get in the way any more than any other scene. Closer inspection of the film’s themes reveals a much grimmer conclusion, and no, those aren’t “aliens.” —oktay ege kozak

35. isle of dogs

director: wes anderson

isle of dogs may be the closest wes anderson will get to a science fiction movie. of course you would use stop-motion animation to do it. Set 20 years from now, amidst the ultra-urban monoliths of Megasaki City, a Japanese metropolis that also appears to be Japan, or at least a Westernized idea of ​​the small island nation, the film opens under a decree from Mayor Kobayashi (kunichi nomura), a rock of a man with equal ties to an ancient lineage of cat-loving aristocrats and, based on the elaborate tattoo on his back, we glimpse above his tight little butt in a quick bath scene, an archetype of the organized crime and political corruption. . due to a vaguely described epidemic of “dog flu” (or “snout fever”), kobayashi bans all dogs from littering the island, a massive by-product of technology and futurism, starting with spots (liev schreiber), the guard dog of 12 years. -Old Atari (Koyu Rankin), who also happens to be the mayor’s ward after Atari’s parents are killed in a horrible accident. Since bottle rocket in 1996, the more careful Anderson’s films have become (his obsessive control over his frames extends to ever grander worlds), the more likely we are to extol his achievements rather than to invest in your work. stories. And it’s probably never been easier to do that than with Isle of Dogs, so riddled with meticulousness and imagination, as is Anderson’s trademark, and so unconcerned about directing this ostensible children’s film at real children. For a director who pretty much defined a generation’s cinematic fetishization of symmetry (and quirky hipster nonsense) to then fetishize a country that Westerners primarily relate to through fetishization? much of this beautiful film just eats itself. still, the emotional weight of isle of dogs depends on knowing exactly what that bond between dog and human can mean, how deep and irrational it can go. At the core of isle of dogs lies that kind of best friendship: no matter how far we advance as a civilization, how disastrously we atomize and digitize our lives, we will always have a devoted dependence on a dog, our unchanging companion to across the vast wasteland of human history. —dom sinacola

34. ghost in the shell (1995)

director: mamoru oshii

It is difficult to overstate the enormous influence that ghost in the shell exerts not only on the cultural and aesthetic evolution of Japanese animation, but also on the shape of science fiction cinema as a whole in the world. 21st Century. Adapted from Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga, the film is set in the mid-21st century, a world populated by cyborgs in artificial prosthetic bodies, in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Niihama. ghost in the shell follows the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the commander of a special operations task force known as Public Security Section 9, who begins to question the nature of her own humanity surrounded by a artificial world. When Motoko and her team are assigned to stop the mysterious Puppeteer, an elusive hacker who is believed to be one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, they set out to track down a series of crimes perpetrated by the Puppeteer’s unwitting pawns before they are killed. the apparently unrelated. the events come together in a pattern that can be traced back to a single person: the commander herself. everything about ghost in the shell screams polished and deep, from the ramshackle markets and claustrophobic halls inspired by the likeness of kowloon walled city, to the sound design, evident in kenji’s distressed score kawai, to the point of sheer shock. Hit each bullet shot across the screen. Oshii took Shirow’s source material and arguably surpassed it, transforming an already heady sci-fi action drama into a proto-Kurzweilian fable about the dawn of artificial intelligence. ghost in the shell is more than a cornerstone of cyberpunk fiction, it’s a story about what it means to make oneself in the digital age, a time when the concept of truth feels so fickle as the network. vast and infinite. —toussaint egan

33. District 9 (2009)

director: neill blomkamp

Let’s start with a number: 30 million. That’s the amount of money Neill Blomkamp spent to make District 9, a small-scale but hugely ambitious film, look like it cost four times that amount. Years later, Blomkamp’s career hasn’t lived up to all the promise shown in District 9, but here, it seems like a guy knows what he’s doing anyway. a mixed gender stew made from different measures of alien nation, watermelon man, independence day, the fly i> and robocop, District 9 traverses familiar territory in an unfamiliar place, through an unfamiliar lens, splicing documentary-style films with stomach-churning body horror and , in the end, high end. action show. At the time, the end results of Blomkamp’s wacky sci-fi cocktail felt eye-opening. feel disappointed today, a comment on what might have been and where his career might have taken him if he hadn’t gotten lost in the swamp of elysium or turned off even his most devoted followers with chappie. anyway, District 9 is still an important job for a novice, or even a third party, polished and yet rudimentary at the same time; the film is about an artist who has something to say and says it with electric urgency. —andy crump

32. the truman show (1998)

director: peter weir

peter weir’s charming and hilarious the truman show would no longer be made. It’s a star-studded event film centered around a simple, dystopian premise: Jim Carrey’s eponymous character has unknowingly been raised from birth as a reality TV star and has only now begun to suspect that everyone in his life are contract actors. Carrey’s insightful performance is a far cry from the zany roles that catapulted him to fame just a few years earlier, although, as was often the case with Carrey’s roles in the ’90s, a great deal of special effects work goes into to create a believable simulated simulation. reality for carrey’s endearing everyman to be trapped inside. the heartfelt monologues and devastating revelations as he struggles to escape his gilded cage shine even brighter. the struggle to escape control, of a sanitized and curated existence dictated by a literal white father figure in the sky, sounds alarming two decades later, when social media has turned us all into performative brand managers. Truman is an unlikely and often unlucky hero in his own story, but his eventual hijacking of his own narrative, and his ultimate defiance of his literal and figurative creative figure, form one of the arcs. most heroic films of the last 20 years. —kenneth lowe

31. dredd (2012)

director: pete travis

Seventeen years was probably too long after the fact to offer an apology to comic book fans for the abominable 1995 film adaptation of judge dredd. After that extended leave of absence, no one could blame the American public for long ago stopping wondering why the hell John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s shady lawman remained one of Britain’s most popular comic book antiheroes. . Still, 2012’s dredd 3d wastes no time in showing why: director pete travis’s film is a brutally efficient exercise in b-movie lore. No stranger to sci-fi flicks, Karl Urban features the scowl and chin of Judge Joseph Dredd, a total law-pack professional who’s clearly so uninterested in humoring his fellow rookie (Olivia Thirlby). as the script pamper him. hearing from him. A few lines of narration from an unnamed scratchy man, coupled with a superbly somber establishing shot from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, are all the generosity given by the filmmakers to understand this world before it unleashes chase sequences and explodes heads. . this is a movie that respects its source’s established fan base and cares little for casualties that can’t stick it through its grind beats. apology accepted. —scott wold

30. okja (2017)

director: bong joon-ho

okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films do in their entire span, and doesn’t stop there. is perhaps the best example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a bong movie’s rhythmic tonality: unique bong beats culminating in something like a syncopated symphony. The film opens with Lucy, Tilda Swinton’s corporate insider, leering at an expository PR dump about her new genetically engineered super pigs, which will revolutionize the food industry. We’re also introduced to Johnny Wilcox, played by Gyllenhaal as a twitch-wretched bundle, like there’s a heavily wounded anime character waiting to get rid of Gyllenhaal’s flesh, but barely contained in the meantime. Okja is the best of the super pigs, raised by a Korean farmer (byun hee-bong) and his granddaughter mija (ahn seo-hyun), an orphan. okja is mija’s best friend, a crucial part of her family. bong takes his sweet time with this idyllic life that mija and okja share. The narration slows down to watch what feels like a Miyazaki fantasy come to life. mija whispers in okja’s ear, and we wonder what she could be saying. grandpa has been lying to mija, telling her that he has saved money to buy okja from the looking corporation. you can’t buy this pig; is to be a promotional star for the company. when johnny wilcox comes to claim okja (a high note of dissonance in the peaceful setting) grandpa makes an excuse for mija to accompany him to his parents’ grave. it is there that he tells her the truth. Mija’s quest to rescue Okja leads her to ally with non-violent animal rights activist Alf, leading the film into an act of tightrope adventure where Bong’s penchant for artistic creation is takes it to new heights. The director works with a top-notch team led by one of our greatest living cinematographers, Darius Khondji, who composes every frame of okja with vibrant virtuosity. the very action of the film becomes action that cares about its own ethics. as the caricatures of certain characters get larger, and the scope of the film stretches further and further towards the edge of the surreal, one realizes that okja is a modern morality fable . It is not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find wholeness and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, including humans. the answers that okja reaches are simple and vital, and without saying them it really helps you hear those answers for yourself because he has asked all the right questions, and asked them in an intensely engaging way. . —chad betz

29. gattaca (1997)

director: andrew niccol

Less given to gadgets and special effects than to deeply felt characters, Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film imagines a near future in which nearly all children are lab-created and genetically modified to avoid any “imperfections.” mental or physical. Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, a naturally conceived and therefore irrevocably flawed “divine child.” In order to pursue his ambitious career dreams, Vincent seeks the help of a DNA broker and assumes a new, genetically superior identity. Archetypal in its construction, the film uses a beautiful orchestral score by veteran composer Michael Nyman (piano) to evoke an atmosphere that is at once melancholy and reflective, layered over impeccable production design. every visual element in the film, from color saturation to sound design, helps immerse viewers in an atmosphere, as if these beings are one semantic step away from being synthetic, both familiar and completely alien. —kara landhuis

28. thank you 1138 (1971)

director: george lucas

The genius behind George Lucas’s choice to discipline his dystopian society through android cops is that there is little difference between the machines that keep the “peace” and the people for whom they keep it. which resembles some sort of cheesy version of highway patrolmen (think townspeople, except they sing a lot less) spliced ​​with g.i. In Joe’s Destruction, the robotic police force is governed solely by the “budget”, which of course allows our THX hero (Robert Duvall) to escape the underground society and the mysterious deity, OMM 0910, who is holding him back. however being left to their own devices after omm determines that going after thx would put the robotic police force 6% “over budget” even thx’s humanity is further reduced to a matter of balance of numbers. It may be a point of triumph for our protagonist, but in perhaps the most subtle thematic move the director has ever made, Lucas is implying that even the organic characters in thx 1138 are mere tools for a higher power. . . —dom sinacola

27. a dark scanner

director:richard linklater

a scanner darkly, richard linklater’s second live-action animated film, can be hard to remember without recalling a specific circumstance. it hits so deep, it hits that kind of nerve: you see what it all feels like when you’re filled with anesthesia for surgery, nothing in any still frame, all crawling like hallucinated insects in the opening scene of the film. About a future where the war on drugs is lost and a new drug called Substance D is sweeping the nation, A Dark Scanner adapts the Philip K. dick novel that follows bob arctor (keanu reeves) as an undercover detective who becomes addicted, the drug splitting his personality in two. Arctor takes D with his friends James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and things have turned ugly. those bugs? they’re not real, but they creep up on him at any moment. consequently, rdj and harrelson are not actors who move in stillness, in constant movement, always with some nervous tic that shows a desperate itch that asks to be scratched. add an animation that dances from frame to frame, and we’re a long way from the beautiful vienna of before sunrise or the suburban high school of dazed and confused. Still, Linklater masterfully guides each scene to maintain the sense of dread that pervades Dick’s dystopian work. —travis m. Andrew

26. logan’s run (1976)

director: michael anderson

In the distant future of 2274, 30 is the new 80. Unfortunately for those who believe they are entitled to a second act in life, like Logan 5 (Michael York), escaping can get you sentenced to a ” deep sleep” by the gestapo-like sandmen. and even if you outsmart the human killers, you might still end up in front of the chrome grill with the crate, the gorgeously melodramatic robot that ran out of fish! and plankton! and greens from the sea! and protein from the sea! so he decided to flash freeze some fresh runners instead i cant prove it but i have a sneaking suspicion that billy west modeled his interpretation of the dramatic robot calculus from futurama from roscoe lee browne’s positively shakespearean box “my birds! my birds! my birds!! —scott wold

25. x-men: days of future past (2014)

director: bryan singer

Bryan Singer’s ambitious blockbuster clears the deck of questionable dramatic decisions (not to mention ones that infuriate fans) made in lesser efforts after X2: X-Men United. it also doubles as compelling evidence that the singer’s DNA may harbor a special mutant power of its own. And it’s necessary: ​​Given the sheer volume of both character and plot, Days of Future Past could easily have turned out to be an incomprehensible work even for true Marvel believers. Happily, just like in previous singer-led X-Men movies, the director seems to instinctively know exactly when to back off the thrilling action scenes and push his absurdly overrated actors while upholding the film’s central themes of second chances and opt-outs. for walking the hardest path of justice instead of self-righteousness. At 131 minutes, Days of Future Past fills to almost bursting as its massive cast makes its way through the quirks of its time-travel paradox-rich design, and singer thread the needle with such apparent ease to tie it all together. together, the seams are virtually invisible. it may not be as flashy as telekinesis or plasma laser eyes, but it’s an amazing gift nonetheless. —scott wold

24. minority report (2002)

director: steven spielberg

The more we connect, the more any sense of personal privacy completely evaporates. Such is Steven Spielberg’s vision for our near future, expressed in the signifiers of a neo-noir, primarily because the veil of security has been, today, in 2002, and for decades to come, irrevocably torn from our eyes. What we see (and everything we don’t see) becomes a matter of life and death in this dark thriller, based on a film by Philip K. dick story, about a pre-crime cop, john anderton (tom cruise), whose loyalty and dedication to his job cannot save him from more evil bureaucratic forces. The plot from screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen falls seamlessly into place, buoyed by breathtaking action sets: Ticking metallic spider spiders swarm across the floor of a decrepit apartment to find Anderton, the man submerged in an icy bathtub. With his eyes recently changed via black market surgery, he immediately springs to mind, but what’s most impressive is the sophistication of Spielberg, who is unafraid of the bad news his film prophesies, even as he fakes a storybook ending. . —dom sinacola

23. videodrome (1985)

director: david cronenberg

videodrome Wears Many Skins: It’s a near-future thriller about the blurring of the lines between man and machine, a sadomasochistic fantasy, a chronicle of one man’s tragic descent into madness and even a diatribe against the abuse of society. relation to theatrical violence. yet more than any dermis it claims as its own, videodrome is horror to the core, a piece of spooky mania wielded by the genre’s most cerebral master. The mind is where Cronenberg crawls, taking the darkest wanderings of his imagination, steeped in symbolism and subconscious detritus, to visceral extremes. The same could be said for itinerant smut peddler Max Renn (the ever-sweaty James Woods), manager of a cable TV channel dedicated to finding new, boundary-breaking entertainment, who stumbles upon a pirated broadcast signal bearing “videodrome “, an apparently unsimulated series filled with graphic torture and death. As Cronenberg’s dark dreams often do, “Videodrome” begins to distort Renn’s reality (our mind’s eye, as one episode explains to her, is the television screen), and the malevolent forces behind “Videodrome” convince him to go on a killing spree, armed with his newly developed mutant cyborg hand (which could be a hallucination, but probably isn’t). Throughout, Cronenberg literalizes Renn’s grossest thoughts, opening a vaginal orifice in his stomach (into which he lewdly sticks his gun) or transforming his television into a throbbing vein organ, manifesting each apocalyptic vision with a immediate tactile reality. In Videodrome, perhaps more prominently than in any of his other films, Cronenberg squeezes evidence from the numbed mind like toothpaste from a tube in sickening daylight, unable to push them in. Long live the new flesh, because the old can no longer hold us together. —dom sinacola

22. soylent green (1973)

director: richard fleischer

cannibalism is usually a very intimate affair. not so in soylent green, a loose adaptation of harry harrison’s 1966 novel, make room! make room!, in which “soylent green is people!” Along with his famous call for cleaner, less palpable ape hands, charlton heston’s delivery of the soylent green signature line has proven to be one of his most enduring contributions to pop culture, as well as one of the great spoilers. of the history of cinema. —michael burgin

21. the lego movie (2014)

directors: chris miller, phil lord

the lego movie is a really entertaining movie from start to finish, so much so that it’s easy to totally forget, “oh, this is a pretty awful dystopia isn’t it?” Follows the life of a generic little man, Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), in his happy daily life as a construction worker. Unaware of the forced and bland conformity of his lay society, Emmett blithely participates in this particular dystopia, following the rules to the letter until his simple forms are torn to pieces when he is mistaken for “the special one”, a savior. construction master. the kind that is prophesied to save the world. Though Emmet feels he has neither the talent nor the ability to truly be “the special one,” he falls in love with a rebellious Lego girl, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). from here on, the film builds on the expected dystopian thriller beats in rather light-hearted ways. if dark sci-fi is your thing, but you’d love your kids to not be scarred for life, or at the very least, become overly cynical at a young age, the lego movie is a good place to go. —maryann koopman kelly

20. the city of lost children (1998)

directors: jean-pierre jeunet, marc caro

ron perlman stars as the reluctant hero as a circus strongman named one looking for his adopted little brother denree (joseph lucien), as marc caro (delicatessen) and jean-pierre jeunet (amélie , also delicatessen) come together to create a wildly imaginative dystopian universe. Krank (Daniel Emilfort), the evil creation of a mad scientist, is harvesting children’s dreams to stay young, so he must enlist the help of an orphaned street thief (Judith Vittet) to retrieve kidnapped Denree. Populated with clones, conjoined twins, trained circus fleas, and a cyborg cult named Cyclops, this steampunk fever dream has plenty for fans of Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry. —josh jackson

19. bladerunner 2049 (2017)

director: denis villeneuve

the debate between what makes something “real” or not has become a staple of adult science fiction in the more than three decades since ridley scott made genre masterpiece after genre dithering about same debate, but the strength of blade runner 2049 is how villeneuve (and writers hampton fancher and michael green) try to make us experience this world through the unreal eyes of a replicant, k (ryan gosling). ideally, we are forced to think about what “humanity” is when empathy, caring for these robots, is the natural result of the filmmakers’ storytelling. revisiting blade runner, one can realize that there isn’t much of a story there. the same could be said of dick’s novel, as well as many of his novels: there is impressive world-building, impressive use of language, and speculative ideas expanded and thought out for painstakingly conceived ends, but our characters are just people who exist in this world. , and blade runner is really just the story of a policeman chasing four dangerous criminals. 2049, despite its heavy themes and heavier exposition, is about a cop who must find a very special robot before the evil mega-corporation does. the scale of the film is matched only by the constant fear of the dark: the lighting changes endlessly, the dust and smog magnify and choke the sense-shattering corporate buildings and the hyper-stylized rooms in which humanity retreats from the world. dying natural they have created. . There’s a huge world, a solar system, orbiting this miserable city, so overblown that San Diego is now literally a giant dumpster for New L.A.’s trash, but much of it lies in shadow and opacity, forever out of reach. What Scott and Cronenweth achieved with the original film, placing a cauldron inside a superbly conceived alternate reality, Villeneuve and Deakins have respected by insisting on its limits. there’s no other way to describe what they’ve done other than offering a light compliment: they get it. —dom sinacola

18. Planet of the Apes (1968)

director: franklin j. schaffner

“what will you find there, doctor?” “his fate of him” that’s what conservative ape scientist dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) tells compassionate ape “veterinarian” Dr. zira (kim hunter) at the end of the original planet of the apes, as misanthropic astronaut george taylor (charlton heston) wanders into the forbidden zone of this upside-down planet, where intelligent, talking apes are the dominant species and humans are dumb beasts, to find out what really happened to their species. Unless he has lived under a rock for the last 50 years, he knows exactly what he will find. but why does zaius call this literally momentous revelation taylor’s fate, and not his past, which is technically the case? the answer for that lies within the role of zaius in ape society. Unlike all other apes, Zaius knows the story of the painful and complex relationship between apes and humans. he knows how the natural human attraction to war, persecution, prejudice, and cruelty sealed his ultimate fate, and he is (perhaps in vain) trying to prevent that “intellectual virus” from spreading to the beloved apes. of the. he knows that once an intelligent human like taylor gets a chance to restart another attempt at civilization for his kind, the same ugliness and destruction that comes with his inner nature will surely affect his descendants. he therefore knows that taylor will find both his past and his future on that beach. Today, the Planet of the Apes franchise is still going strong. the timeless appeal of these films comes from the fact that they explore high-concept themes, such as the inherent cruelty and fragility of human nature, with brutal clarity, told with a refreshing lack of patronage and philosophical understanding. presenting a fabled world where what we now think of as animals dominate humanity, they are a mirror of our ugliness, arrogance and, perhaps, our chance at redemption. Co-written by Rod Serling, co-creator of Twilight Zone, the novel adaptation’s sci-fi fable structure suits Serling’s sensibility so flawlessly that Planet of the Apes i>Original might be the closest we’ll ever get to a single-story feature-length twilight zone movie, creating a kind of balanced synergy between raw genre thrills and no-nonsense morality tale. —oktay ege kozak

17. world on a wire (1973)

director: rainer werner fassbinder

those still drumming for the apparent “innovation” of the matrix should reserve a four-hour slot for rainer werner fassbinder’s ornate sci-fi drama world on a wire , and discovering that the idea of ​​our world as a simulation (within a simulation, within a simulation…) had already been addressed 26 years earlier. recently revived as a fassbinder “lost classic,” it’s hard to imagine how the forward-thinking world on a cable must have appeared at the time, originally broadcast on german television in 1973. a technical director from a company that has created a simulation of an entire world inside its computers, dr. Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitch) investigates personally after his colleagues begin to disappear, and the people around him insist that those who are now missing never existed. Beautifully framed among the mirrors and tacky futuristic decor of early 1970s Germany, the film is in the style of the paranoid thrillers that were so popular at the time, only here mistrust grows epidemic. from initially bringing in stiller’s partners, then the government, to finally including stiller. fellow citizens and the very world in which he lives. fashion has grown old; ideas don’t. —brogan morris

16. seconds (1966)

director: john frankenheimer

Setting the story from coast to coast in prosperous 1960s America, John Frankenheimer takes a look through a thin sci-fi veil at what he sees as a failingly lonely way of life. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a middle-aged family man who becomes close to him, is given the chance to fake his death and start over as bohemian Californian painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Taking advantage of the existential core, however, “tony” only finds his new life as hollow as the previous one, a construction populated by actors from the company and other “reborn” who only want to maintain the illusion. James Wong Howe’s shadowy cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s anxious horror score apply paranoid sheen to what is really a grim examination of the contemporary domesticated worker, grim because, minus the presence of the elusive and amoral company, seconds‘ the dystopian land is really ours. —brogan morris

15. battle royale (2000)

directors: kinji fukasaku

it’s okay to compare battle royale to the hunger games movies or rather to find how the lasting achievements of the last franchise were essentially made better and with minus a lot more efficiency for the former, because it probably will anyway. battle royale, like the hugely successful four-movie crash course on creating an action star who’s really just a symbol of an action star, chronicles a battle sanctioned by the government until the end. death among a group of teenagers on a strange island full of weapons. (there are even regular announcements throughout the island of the dead of the day when the sun sets on the remaining children). however, battle royale is so poor in its exposition, so uninterested in lengthening its symbolism or metaphor. , that one can’t help but marvel at how neatly fukasaku (who had a full career behind him when he did this, just three years before he died) can give depth to these kids, building stakes around them to the point that their Matter deaths and their doomed predicaments sting. what the director can do with such a tenuous premise (which The Hunger Games requires multiple movies to make, and without an ounce of frivolity) is amazing; In addition, he disputed with Takeshi Kitano to play the president. Snow-type character, which Kitano does almost perfectly. that battle royale ii is out to raise the stakes of the first movie, especially given the huge success of the first movie in japan, it is to be expected, but stick to the first: battle royale i> i> will make you care about kids killing each other more than you (probably) would anyway. —dom sinacola

14. 1984 (1984)

director: michael radford

god only knows the depth of cliché one can draw from comparing the totalitarian fable 1984, and especially the book on which it is based, to our current situation, our time. As we witness the rise of fascism at home and abroad, countless miseries unfolding on such short notice around the world, a book and its movie seem as easy as most of us feel, passive observers powerless to do a lot of nothing The hard-earned beauty, then, of Michael Radford’s adaptation is how tactile it makes an allegorical world. immediately and oppressively dusty, roger deakins cinematography weighs in on all of george orwell’s ideas about thought control and language manipulation and changing reality through changing history with the mundane consequences of an actual totalitarian society : total and complete decay. We follow Winston (John Hurt, empathic skeleton and dystopian movie mainstay) as he goes about his day, watching propaganda and smoking cigarettes and rewriting newspaper headlines at the state-sanctioned fake news headquarters and drinking gin. and lusting after a co-worker (suzanna hamilton) and hating that lust and writing about it in a secret notebook she bought at a junk shop outside of inner city: a gray, purposeless life slipping into some sort of meaningless future. when our protagonist’s will is broken, we also endure that pain, understanding the threat of it in our guts. we are weak and fragile things, prone to breaking but full of fear at the thought of it. Radford’s 1984, more than 35 years later, keeps that fear alive in a way that Orwell’s book never could. —dom sinacola

13. the lobster (2015)

director: yorgos lanthimos

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to the international hit Dog’s Tooth abandons that film’s knotted familial pathology, but refuses to be any less insular. instead, it expands, even inflates, the dogtooth logic as far as it can stretch. I know: that doesn’t make much sense, but stick with me, which is exactly how Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou assume the audience will approach the lobster, starting with Colin Farrell’s familiar lead male face, completely drunk. -bod for a role that is arguably the actor’s best example of his as yet unannounced genius. With a noticeable lack of charm, Farrell inhabits David, a man who, upon learning his wife has cheated on him and thus must end their relationship, is legally bound to check into a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new wife. partner. , so that he doesn’t transform into an animal of his choosing. David easily settles on the titular namesake, the lobster, which he explains he chooses because of his seemingly immortal life, the creatures like human ears grow and grow endlessly until his supposed deaths. At the hotel, David does his best to sympathize with a soulless beautiful woman, knowing his remaining days are numbered, but the depth to which she bends his resolve ultimately encourages him to plan an escape, through which he enrolls. in an off-the-grid conglomerate of single people, run by léa seydoux. There, of course, against all the rules, she has a cute encounter with another outsider (Rachel Weisz) involving elaborate sign language (perhaps a metaphor, at best in the world of Lanthimos, for the strange ritual of the dates), and they fall in love. the world of the lobster is not a dystopian future, but rather a kind of mundane suburb everywhere in an allegorical alternate universe. Regardless, Lanthimos and Filippou find no pleasure in explaining the foundation of their film, but are more busy building an absurdly funny edifice upon which they can layer the tensions and anxieties of modern romance. in that sense, the locust is a strangely feminist film, obsessed with time and the pressure it puts on people, especially women, to seek and find someone, no matter the cost. if you’ve ever had a conversation with an important person concerned about the growing dangers of getting pregnant in your 30s, then the lobster, and its ambiguous but no less striking final shot, will come uncomfortably close. to the house you were told you should already have but probably can’t afford. —dom sinacola

12. total memory (1990)

director: paul verhoeven

very loosely based on philip k. dick tale “we can remember it for you wholesale” (and aren’t all pkd adaptations “very loose”?), total recall works as a construct for paul verhoeven to take a high premise concept about memory implants and identity loss and motivational uncertainty and turning it into an arnold schwarzenegger schlock-fest. it should be bad, but it isn’t; It should be, at best, cheesy fun, but it’s even more than that. Unlike many of his sci-fi action partners, Total Recall never runs out of steam or ideas; starts off with the memory implant stuff but ultimately gives us a vividly imagined mars society with an oppressed mutant population (which is, like, the best special makeup effects portfolio) and a secret alien reactor that’s a macguffin but also a deus ex machina. the plot is a mess, but so is arnold. everything works the $60 million production budget of total recollection was absolutely huge for its time, but unlike similar ventures in hollywood that spend money on glitz (like the 2012 remake, so clever it’s out of your head), verhoeven uses the loot to give us more dust, more gravel, more decrepit outfits, more twisted prosthetics, and maximum arnold. Verhoeven, in fact, uses Arnold as much as anything else on the budget to tell this darkly lush story, from the twisted mishap of staging to the surprising ending. results in a science fiction ruler written in the form of a hundred ahh-nuld faces, absurd and unforgettable. Since Dick has been adapted so many times, this is perhaps the only time the energy and imagination of his work has made it to film (blade runner is something else entirely). the full recall may have little in common with the actual content of the story it explodes, but it knows the vibe. and pkd vibes are the best. —chad betz

11. the trial (1962)

director: orson welles

it is difficult to classify the trial of orson welles; he is certainly not of this world, but is apparently the product of some muted parallel universe. A cynical mix of defeatist anti-thriller and jet-black comedy set in a sparse, loveless town shrouded in perpetual twilight, the film stars Anthony Perkins (hopelessly comical) as Josef K, an office drone who is put on trial. unaware of the nature of his crime fluctuating between satire and outright nightmare, the trial is packed with ideas and themes for the viewer to explore along with k, as he is seduced by harpies and weirdos they taunt him on his way to discover that there is no direct answer to why he is on trial, and for a man to ask the question “why?” in such a world it is in itself a crime. The term “ahead of its time” is often applied to Welles’ films, and it becomes even more so as we re-evaluate his work and realize that there is much more to Citizen Kane. in his back catalogue. however, there is a feeling that the trial will always seem ahead of its time: it is almost impenetrable more than 50 years later. it is also absolutely unforgettable. —brogan morris

10. a clockwork orange (1971)

director: stanley kubrick

as with most (well, probably all) of stanley kubric’s book-to-screen adaptations, a clockwork orange remixes various aspects of stanley kubric’s novel Anthony Burgess, and probably for the better (at least Alex [a terrifyingly electric Malcolm McDowell] isn’t a pedophile in Kubrick’s movie, for example). remains a relentlessly vicious satire portraying a permissive society of brutal youth culture, in which modern science and psychology are the best countermeasures to combat ultraviolence™ committed by men like alex and his fellow “droogs.” It’s painfully clear that when the British Home Secretary (Anthony Sharp) casts Alex as a victim, that—spoiler alert!—evil wins. Christ, will any of us be able to listen to “singing in the rain” again after this nightmare? —scott wold

9. sons of men (2006)

director: alfonso cuaron

we remember the most terrifying: the sense of relentless and inevitable doom, from its literally explosive opening moments to its breathless, ambiguous final seconds, the entirety of children of men pierced with a gloomy grayscale, as if the human race was still coming to terms with its combustion, though they all walked through the ashes. In 2027, embattled former activist and current bureaucrat Theo (Clive Owen) wanders amidst growing civil unrest fueled by the British military cracking down on refugees fleeing civilizational decline in the rest of the world. Cynical and cornered by death at every turn, Theo can’t help but help his estranged ex-wife (Julianne Moore), from whom he is estranged, by taking on the protection of Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey), a Virgin Mary figure, and the last known pregnant woman on earth. . theo’s odyssey takes him through the last vestiges of a broken world, director alfonso cuaron stages terrifying spectacles: a carjacking, a nightmarish refugee camp, a war-torn urban battlefield, often in long shots (or digitally edited to look like long shots) and loaded with incredibly visceral stakes. Yet for all of Cuaron’s technical bravura, what remains long after Children of Men ends is his refusal to resolve Theo’s journey, to attribute any hope to what he has accomplished. , hoping that there is still time. but with no hope that there’s anything left we can do. the apocalypse has never felt so immersive. —dom sinacola

8. stalker (1979)

director: andrei tarkovsky

“Once, the future was just a continuation of the present. all his changes loomed somewhere beyond the horizon. but now the future is part of the present.” so says the writer (anatoli solonitsyn) in andrei tarkovsky’s stalker, somewhere deep in the zone, contemplating the deepest trenches of his subconscious, of his fears and life and any “filth” that exist within him. “Are you ready for this?” he asks. In Tarkovsky’s latest Soviet film, the director seems to be admitting that what he most feared has happened.

What that means is, of course, confusing to a viewer who doesn’t know the director’s life or the history of the country that was his home and hostile to him and his work for most of his life. Very loosely based on roadside picnic, a novel by brothers boris and arkady strugatsky (who also wrote the screenplay), stalker imagines a dystopian future not far from our present, or Tarkovsky’s. present, before the fall of the berlin wall or the devastation of chernobyl, in which some kind of otherworldly force has deposited a place that humans have called “the zone” on earth. there, the laws of nature do not apply, time and space are thwarted by the hidden desires and wills of all who enter it.

Of course, the government has cordoned off the area and entry is strictly prohibited. guides/liaisons called “stalkers” lead illegal expeditions into the area, taking clients (often intellectual elites who can pay for the trip) into the heart of the restricted and alien area, in search of, as we learn as the film slowly progresses, the called “bedroom”, where a person’s deepest desires come true. one such stalker (aleksandr kaidanovsky) is hired by the aforementioned writer and a physicist (or something) known only as the professor (nikolai grinko) to guide them to the area, spurred on by vague ideas of what they will find when they reach the zone. room. The audience is similarly in the dark, and through Tarkovsky’s (almost intolerably) patient shots, the three men come to discover, as do those watching their journey, what has really brought them to such a dire end as hiring a spirit criminal to guide them to the almost certain destination of whatever the area is waiting for them.

and yet no context adequately prepares the viewer for the harrowing and hypnotic experience of watching stalker. between the sepia wasteland outside the zone (so detailed in its grime and suspended misery that you may need to take a shower afterwards) and the oversaturated greens and blues of the wreckage inside, tarkovsky moves almost imperceptibly, following the rhythms of industry and empty breaks. of post-industrial life to the point of making manifestly overwhelming the barely mystical. Throughout that tug-of-war, there is a growing sense of escape—of Tarkovsky escaping from the Soviet Union and his restrictions on his films, perhaps—as well as a sense that escape should never be attempted. some freedom, some knowledge, the director seems to say, is not for us. —dom sinacola

7. akira (1988)

director: katsuhiro otomo

The sum total of anime cinema from the early 1990s to the present day is marked by the precedent of katsuhiro otomo’s akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and a cinematic benchmark that shocked the entire industry. Taking place 31 years after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the previous one and tottering precariously. on the cusp of social upheaval. . The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two young biker gang members whose lives change irrevocably one fateful night on the outskirts of town. While taking on a rival biker gang during a dispute over territory, Tetsuo collides with a strange boy and is quickly whisked away by an underground military team as Kaneda and his friends watch helplessly. Thereafter, Tetsuo begins to develop terrifying new psychic abilities while Kaneda desperately tries to mount a rescue. Eventually, the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and collide in a spectacular series of showdowns surrounding a sinister secret whose origins lie at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like the ghost in the shell that followed, akira is considered a cornerstone of the cyberpunk genre, though his inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to the neuromancer or ridley scott’s blade runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetics are inextricably rooted in the history of postwar Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “anpo” student protests of that time to the economic boom of the country and the then-nascent counterculture of bosozoku racing. akira is a film of many messages, the least of which is a coded anti-nuclear parable and tirade against unbridled capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” but perhaps the most moving, deep down, is the story of seeing your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost solely responsible for the rise of anime in the West in the early 1990s, his aesthetic vision spread across all major art forms, inspiring a whole generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in their wake. For these reasons and many more, every anime fan must at some point or another grapple with Akira‘s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. —toussaint egan

6. metropolis (1927)

director: fritz lang

metropolis never slows down, delivering a constant stream of iconic images. Fritz Lang filled his parable with every sci-fi and adventure trope he could: the mad scientist, the robot, the rooftop chase, the catacombs, and, as a result, a devious henchman. metropolis is also a great reminder of how difficult it is to judge an incomplete film. indeed, many silent films are missing material, even when it is not made clear in screenings or on home video. Although Lang’s film has always been known for its spectacular special effects (he is legally required to use the phrase “visionary” when talking about it), it wasn’t until a few years ago that modern audiences saw a film that resembled the film. which premiered for the first time. it turned out that metropolis‘s best performance, fritz rasp as a ruthless spy for the corporate state, was some of that missing material, and it gives the film a greater sense of urgency, heightening the sense of antagonism of class. with that unknown excellence that lurks in one of the most famous movies of all time, he leaves us wondering what else was lost in the nitrate flames. —jeremy mathews

5. e-wall (2008)

director: andrew stanton

Opening with a sublime 45 minutes of almost no dialogue, wall-e was a major gamble for Pixar, whose remarkable string of hits up to that point fell within a fairly narrow range. wall-e rests firmly in the realm of childhood fantasy, but writer-director andrew stanton banished celebrity voices from the center of the film and was clearly looking for something new. in a post-post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone into space and left behind an army of machines to clean up the place, 700 years have passed without much progress, and even the machines have gone bankrupt, except one, a ruinous ottoman-sized trash compactor called wall-e that is still honoring its directive and pining for a lost world. When Wall-E meets a gleaming white probe named Eve, their tentative relationship, like the rest of the film, evolves in a nutshell. even as the setting shifts to the ship containing the aforementioned humans and the pacing shifts to action sequences with confusing targets, the film’s promise boils down to a well-executed but ordinary need for adrenaline, wall-e is a noble experiment, one that stays in mind long after movies like cars have faded. —robert davis

4. robocop (1987)

director: paul verhoeven

Throughout the late 1970s and indulgent 1980s, “industry” became pejorative and corporate America whitewashed all but the most functional of blue collars. Broadly speaking, of course: manufacturing was booming, but the local “big three” auto companies in detroit, facing astronomical gas prices through opec growth as well as increased foreign competition and decentralizing their workforce, they resorted to drastic costs. -cut measures, invest in automation (which, of course, put thousands of people out of work, close several plants) and move facilities to “low wage” countries (further decimating any hope of secure work on the line assembly in the area) . the impact of such a massive tectonic shift at the very foundation of the auto industry triggered aftershocks that were felt, of course, throughout the rust belt and midwest, but for detroit, whose essence seemed composed almost entirely of exhaust gases. escape, the change left the city. in an ever-present state of decomposition. And so, even though it was filmed in Pittsburgh and around Texas, Detroit is the only logical city for a robocop to inhabit. A virtually unparalleled, putrid, unabashed mix of social consciousness, ultra-violence, and existential curiosity, Paul Verhoeven’s first Hollywood feature made its tenor clear: A new industrial revolution must take place not within the ranks of unions or inside movie theaters. boards, but within the self in 1987, much of the city was already in complete disarray, the closure of michigan central station and the admission that detroit was no longer a vital center of commerce, barely a year later, but its role as a symbol of the fall of western civilization had yet to gain any real traction. Verhoeven shouted this notion alive. He made Detroit’s decay tactile, visceral, and immeasurably loud, delineating it in ideas about the limits of human identity and the hilarity of consumer culture. when verhoeven walked past a christ-like cyborg, a true fusion of man and savior, through the crumbling post-apocalyptic fringes of a part of the world that once had so much prosperity and hope, he wasn’t pointing to the hell of the future detroit as the battlefield in which the working class will fight against the greedy 1%, but the police robot, murphy (peter weller), as the battlefield itself. How can any of us save a place like Detroit? in robocop, it’s a deeply personal matter. —dom sinacola

3. the matrix (1999)

directors: the wachowskis

there is little to add about what has already been codified about the movie that made cyberpunk not stupid and is therefore the greatest cyberpunk movie of all time, amidst its many achievements, or that made keanu reeves a respectable figure in american kung fu. , or that finally made martial arts movies a hot commodity outside of asia. the story of a hacker who realized that everything he knows is an illusion built to placate humanity under the reign of a super race of robot squid, the matrix is, next to the wu – tang clan: which proved to a new generation that martial arts movies were worth scrutinizing, and on that reputation builds college classes, hero journeys, and impossible expectations of special effects. even today, we still have this film to thank for much of what we love about modern kinetic cinema, about how malleable great science fiction can be, about how deep our connection to mythmaking, to the religiosity of the symbols of civilization. this is our red pill; everything else is an illusion of grandeur and everything else is an allusion to what the wachowskis achieved, including the two sequels, bloated and beautiful and unlike anything anyone could have expected from the relatively independent original, which itself was won stage distinction. the direction of all multi-part franchises to come —dom sinacola

2. brazil

Set in a dystopian future a bit sillier than the classic Orwellian version (though no less sinister), the world of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film is the lovechild that results when bureaucratic nightmare meets fantasy. escapist the result is lyrical and beautiful, as well as horrifying and disturbing. Though decades of grim and tumultuous productions awaited the Monty Python alum, Brazil remains one of the purest and most desirable expressions of Gilliam’s unique vision. -michael burgin

1. blade runner (1982)

director: ridley scott

Just as the road warrior set the look and tone of countless post-apocalyptic cinematic landscapes that followed, so did the world of ridley scott, the grim, dank, and crowded blade runner set the standard for the depiction of pre-apocalyptic dystopias. but it also had harrison ford, sean young, rutger hauer and a cast of actors who bring this philip k. Dick-inspired story of a replicant cop who retires to a gritty, believable life. Beneath the stunning set design and film-inspired performances lies a compelling meditation on the loneliness lurking in the human (and, perhaps, inhuman) condition that continues to resonate (and spark new creations, like the blade runner 2049 de villeneuve) for this day. -michael burgin

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