Top 10 Dystopian Films You Haven’t Seen

It seems that every decade brings us a new slew of science fiction dystopian films. This is because it is such a popular genre. True fans of the style will generally have seen most of the well known films (1984, Clockwork Orange), so I thought that we could look at some lesser known ones rather than simply rehash the ones you already know about. Admittedly people will probably know at least one or two from this list, but if everyone learns about at least one new film, we will have done our job! So, here is a list of the top 10 lesser known dystopian films.

A Boy and his Dog
1975, L.Q. Jones

A post-apocalyptic tale based on a novella by Harlan Ellison. A boy communicates telepathically with his dog as they scavenge for food and sex, and they stumble into an underground society where the old society is preserved. The daughter of one of the leaders of the community seduces and lures him below, where the citizens have become unable to reproduce because of being underground so long. They use him for impregnation purposes, and then plan to be rid of him.

1983, David Cronenberg

Sleazy lowlife cable TV operator Max Renn discovers a snuff broadcast called “Videodrome.” But it is more than a TV show–it’s an experiment that uses regular TV transmissions to permanently alter the viewer’s perceptions by giving them brain damage. Max is caught in the middle of the forces that created “Videodrome” and the forces that want to control it, his body itself turning into the ultimate weapon to fight this global conspiracy.

Things to Come
1936, William Cameron Menzies

Things to come was written by H. G. Wells. A global war begins in 1940. This war drags out over many decades until most of the people still alive (mostly those born after the war started) do not even know who started it or why. Nothing is being manufactured at all any more and society has broken down into primative localized communities. In 1966 a great plague wipes out most of what people are left but small numbers still survive. One day a strange aircraft lands at one of these communities and its pilot tells of an organisation which is rebuilding civilization and slowly moving across the world re-civilizing these groups of survivors. Great reconstruction takes place over the next few decades and society is once again great and strong. The world’s population is now living in underground cities. In the year 2035, on the eve of man’s first flight to the moon, a popular uprising against progress (which some people claim has caused the wars of the past) gains support and becomes violent.

1977, Robert Altman

The story takes place in a future where the world is covered by a new ice age. The seal hunter Essex (played by Paul Newman) and his wife arrive at a city where some survivors of the disaster live among technological artifacts in a primitive way. All people in the city have lost hope of surviving and the ice continuously threatens to destroy the city. When visiting a relative, Essex’s wife is killed by a bomb. When he tries to uncover the reason why the entire family was killed, he learns that in their despair the survivors are playing a game of life and death called Quintet. Being alive is the only reward in this game, and none of the people involved can quite explain why they keep playing it.

Bunker Palace Hotel
1989, Enki Bilal

In an imaginary dictature of a futuristic world, rebellion has broken out. The men in power scramble to the Bunker Palace Hotel, a bunker built long ago for just this kind of contingency. But a rebel spy sneaks in, and although her nature is very quickly suspected, she is left to observe the raving of the decadent power class, who keeps wondering what happened to their leader, who has failed to show up.

The Handmaid’s Tale
1990, Volker Schlöndorff

Set in a Fascistic future America, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Kate, a handmaid. In this America, the religious right has taken over and gone hog-wild. Kate is a criminal, guilty of the crime of trying to escape from the US, and is sentenced to become a Handmaid. The job of a Handmaid is to bear the children of the man to whom she is assigned. After ruthless group training by Serena Joy in the proper way to behave, Kate is assigned as Handmaid to the Commander. Kate is attracted to Nick, the Commander’s chauffeur. At the same time, a resistance movement begins to challenge the regime.

La Decima Vittima
1965, Elio Petri

In the near future, big wars are avoided by giving individuals with violent tendencies a chance to kill in the Big Hunt. The Hunt is the most popular form of entertainment in the world and also attracts participants who are looking for fame and fortune. It includes ten rounds for each competitor, five as the hunter and five as the victim. The survivor of the ten rounds will become the ultimate champion. Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) is the huntress armed with a bullet shooting bra looking for her tenth victim. Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni) is the victim, but is reluctant to kill Meredith as he is not sure whether she really is his hunter. Killing the wrong person would get him locked up in prison for 30 years. To maximize her financial gain, Meredith wants to get a perfect kill in front of the cameras.

1965, Jean-Luc Godard

Alphaville combines the genres of dystopian science fiction and film noir. Although set far in the future on another planet, there are no special effects or elaborate sets; instead, the film was shot in real locations in Paris, the night-time streets of the capital becoming the streets of Alphaville, while modernist glass and concrete buildings represent the city’s interiors. In addition, the characters refer to twentieth century events; for example, the hero describes himself as a Guadalcanal veteran. Lemmy Caution is an agent from “Outland”. He poses as a journalist named Ivan Johnson, and claims to work for the Figaro-Pravda. He wears a tan overcoat that stores various items. He carries a camera with him and photographs everything he sees, particularly the things that would ordinarily be unimportant to a journalist.

Harrison Bergeron
1995, Bruce Pittman

“All men are not created equal. It is the purpose of the Government to make them so.” This is the premise of the Showtime film adaption of Kurt Vonnegut’s futuristic short story Harrison Bergeron. The film centers around a young man (Harrison) who is smarter than his peers, and is not affected by the usual “Handicapping” which is used to train all Americans so everyone is of equal intelligence.

1974, John Boorman

In the distant future Earth is divided into two camps, the barely civilized group and the overly civilized one with mental powers. A plague is attacking the second group after which it’s members cease to have any interest in life and become nearly catatonic. When Sean Connery one of the barbarians, crosses over, the tenuous balance in their world is threatened.

Some synopses courtesy of IMDB

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from the Wikipedia article: Alphaville.

Alex Hanton:

View Comments (242)

  • Wow... Another film list where I haven't seen any of them! I guess dystopian films aren't really my thing then... The only ones on that list that really appeal to me are 'La Decima Vittima' and 'Zardoz'.

    Is 'A Clockwork Orange' really a dystopian film? I wouldn't have said so really.

    There's a film I saw a while ago that was quite good that I think is a dystopian one... I think it starred Ewan McGregor, & involved people living in a huge building watched over by people. There was a 'lottery' in it, where the winners got taken to 'the island' or something like that, which was meant to be some kind of paradise. Ends up with them escaping & finding out why they were created. If anyone could help me with the name I'd be grateful.

  • I remember reading "Harrison Bergeron" in high school...didn't know it was a movie...you learn something every day!

  • number 10 ans 8 look awesome. I studied the book Handmaid's Tale at school, it was very interesting as in the book, the narrator talks of people taking pictures of her walking down the street - so people from other countries go and visit them and see them as a toursit attraction.

  • Videodrome is the reddest film ever made. It's very good, but it made my eyes hurt. And my head.

    I love Alphaville. Anna Karina is the best.

    I prefer Atwood's novel to the film, but The Handmaid's Tale really disturbs me for some reason.

  • Great List; I only know of a few of these (10, 9, 5). I haven't seen any of them.
    Jfrater; which ones are actually GOOD movies? I avoided Handmaid's Tale, (even though Atwood is Canadian), I heard it was a poor movie. No?

  • dangorironhide: I think the film you are talking about is called The Island - it also had Scarlett Johansson. As for Clockwork Orange - I think it could be considered dystopian because it is set in a future with a tyrannical government.

  • Mom424: Some of them rate poorly on IMDB, but there are so many b-grade movies that I love or are cult hits, so I think it is safe to add films that some might consider "bad" in order to cover the topic broadly :)

  • andy: I certainly hope it doesn't end up being a prophetic film! Maybe we should ditch global warming and focus on global education!

  • would the 1998 movie "Dark City" be considered dystopian?
    or even Mel Gibson's "Mad Max"? (of which i watched probably 20 times between the age of 10 and 25)

    either way, great list! i watched "A Boy & His Dog" when i was a 13... mainly because my parents told me i wasn't allowed to watch it, and a friend's older brother had it on VHS.