10 Dystopian Movies (You May Not Know)
I present you with 10 of the most interesting movies about the future you may never have heard of. These are all from the past, mostly from the 60’s to 70’s when the premise of the future by science fiction writers was, to say the least, grim. In no particular order, these are movies I really enjoyed because the stories were compelling, even if the productions and/or acting wasn’t stellar.
- Logan’s Run
I always wondered what this movie would have been like with a bigger budget and a more committed Hollywood to the story and sticking to it. There were production issues around the story and typical movie studio practices at the time, they wanted to control the script and the way the story was told. One of the most interesting changes was taking the age of Carousel (also not part of the book) from 21 to 30 years of age. I think they wanted to tell the dystopian story but not make it so — dystopian.
2. Soylent Green
This movie really stands out for me because the catch phrase “it’s people, they’re eating people” became a bit of a joke that we enjoyed exclaiming out loud in the school yard. It was quirky and weird. The premise is pretty dark but in a world over populated (stop me if you’ve heard this) where there is a food shortage in 2022, they figured out how to process humans into a food source where everyone would line up for their soylent green, much like the bread lines during the depression. It was weird seeing Charlton Heston playing something other than Moses or Ben Hur and honestly, I thought the movie was as campy as it was oddly depressing.
I put this forth as it is one of my favorite novels of all time. The thing for me that makes the book so beautiful is it has the potential to be adapted to any time frame and it fits. The book is an accurate depiction of life in a world where political affiliations, religious leanings and our own moral compass compel us to make decisions almost daily in regards to loyalty to family, friend and country. While I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t my favorite adaptation. I think they missed some of the nuances the book had and honestly, it didn’t feel as dark. Still, some great performances and I think the movie could compel a person to read one of the greatest novels of our time.
4. The Quiet Earth
Easily one of my favorite science fiction movies about the future, when the world essentially ends. This is one of those movies that few people under the age of 50 have heard of. It’s an Australian release that garnered little fan fare in North America and it was fairly low budget. Seriously, there were three actors central to the story in a world where as they knew it, survived a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. The human interactions, the frailties of who we are at our core and how we behave are on the screen for everyone to see. It makes you feel uncomfortable at times but also forces you to consider the idea and what would you do, if you were — the last man on Earth.
5. SlaughterHouse Five
An adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s book by the same name, this isn’t so much about a dystopian future but perhaps, depending on your perception, a dystopian present, past, future — all balled into one. Vonnegut is hands down, my favorite author. So I need to preface with a disclaimer: Do not watch the movie if you have not read the book. Personally, I love the adaptation and Howard Campbell’s portrayal of Billy Pilgrim, the central character to the story, is remarkable. If I could explain the premise down to one sentence it would read something like — escaping the pain and isolation of a world that neither understands you or that you understand. There’s a little Pilgrim in all of us…
6. Fahrenheit 451
I’ll be honest. When I was in high school, I couldn’t grasp the book or the ideas contained within. Ray Bradbury (a name all sci-fi aficionados know too well) penned this novel of a future where books were banned and they had a police type force whose only job was to enforce the law, insuring punishment to those who owned books and to make sure those books were destroyed. When I saw the movie, it all made more sense. The idea of a government that would forbid the arts and learning, making it easier to oppress — is not a new idea. What was amazing to me is how this story is now the closest to our present time of all the great dystopian novels. A medium which interacts with you, controls your thoughts and ideas and goes further by rewarding your participation replaces the need for reading and/or learning. If you’re interested, youtube has a free copy for viewing, which is incredibly ironic.
This almost didn’t make the list. A reboot of the original has done remarkably well in the last few years so many people have heard of the story. Now I couldn’t guess how many of the current fans knew there was an original movie from the 70’s (starring Yul Brenner) but this was my first taste of science fiction relating to androids or, robots as you would. A far cry from the robots I had come to know from silly sci-fi shows like Lost In Space. This was a really enjoyable movie for me as a kid — the idea of a future world where you could interact with completely autonomous androids and the sheer terror of them becoming self-aware made for an incredible story. It’s also interesting that we have almost caught up to this story and a future where AI is starting to interact with us in remarkable ways.
If you buy into MK Ultra and conspiracy theories and how the government used mind control on people, this may be the movie for you. Released in 1978, it was an unusual movie because it laid out how the moon landing could have been faked. It was especially confusing because the NASA logo and what appears to be some of their technology was used to create a film which cast doubt about whether the moon landing ever happened and, how surprisingly easy it would be to pull off. The conspiracies about Stanley Kubrick creating the whole thing in a Hollywood studio is the thing of folklore and songs since the astronauts first touched down (or didn’t) on the surface. It’s low budget but great entertainment.
9. Omega Man
Charlton Heston is back again — after a long run of playing larger than life historical figures, his career in the 70’s seemed to focus on nothing but dystopian fare. From Soylent Green to Planet of the Apes to this adaptation of the novel — I Am Legend (see Wil Smith) Charlton Heston provided the acting chops to make this movie an exciting thriller as we looked into the future after a global pandemic. There are times where it’s campy and maybe by design. There’s no doubt, a world where only a few can survive on the surface and everyone else is forced underground is a reality we can all relate to as we ponder climate change and future generations. Some say Heston slept through this performance but hey, when you’re that good — you can sell ice to Eskimos. One last note; there are similarities between this and The Quiet Earth that can’t be ignored.
10. Buckaroo Bonzai (across the 8th dimension)
Depending on who you talk to — this movie was either brilliant or one of the dumbest theatrical releases of the 80’s. It’s easily one of my favorite science fiction movies of all time. It’s quirky, some of the performances are way over the top (Ellen Barkin is perhaps my least favorite actor of all time) and the characters are something out of a comic book. It’s actually based loosely on the Kung Fu movies of the time. Quirky, over the top performances with some action thrown in for good measure. The story actually surprises when you see some of the topics they touch on within and the often subtle cues on societal norms and how we perceive one another. Buckaroo Bonzai feels like an early iteration of Tony Stark…but don’t overthink it. It’s better this way.
I hope you enjoyed this and if not, that’s OK too. Just give hand up (clap) if you can to let me know you were here.