A dystopia is a fictional society or a country in near future, represented in films and literary works, often characterized by dehumanization, post apocalyptic environment, totalitarian governments, political imbalance, and well advanced technologies. Films set under such environments are said to be dystopian films, that mostly fall under science fiction film genre. They are usually set in a future world, sometimes as an allegory to present day economic, political and social conditions. Below is the list of my ten most favorite dystopian films that I consider to be the best (films are not listed in any specific order).
1. Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi fantasy film Brazil is about Sam Lowry, a harried technocrat who is accused by the government for terrorist activities along with Jill Lanton, the girl he dreams often, while attempting to help a man named Harry Tuttle. Set in an unspecified futuristic society occupied by machines and overpowering technology, Brazil is a political satire that showcases a desolate future under a totalitarian, inefficient and bureaucratic government, in a hilarious way. With its stunning and distinct photography and its thematic explorations, Brazil is considered to be a well made classic.
2. Children of Men (2006)
For two decades, the society is facing human infertility and restlessness due to oppressive immigration laws on illegal entrants by the government, a civil servant Theo Faron must save a pregnant refugee woman amidst all the chaos, to deliver the baby safely. The film brilliantly explores various themes of hope, redemption, faith, spirituality, hardships that are being faced by immigrants, rebel communities trying to overpower and so on. The story is told in a more dramatic way with less stunt jargons and more emotional context.
3. Equilibrium (2002)
After third world war has devastated the Earth and human emotions are suppressed by the brutal authoritarian government by enforcing the citizens to take daily dose of emotion controlling drug, a law enforcement officer John Preston accidentally misses out his daily dose and begins to feel and express emotions. Meanwhile a resistance group is operating secretly against the regime. Though the themes in the film are reminiscent of many other yesteryear sci-fi classics, Equilibrium has a pretty appealing visual tone and catchy action sequences. If you are fond of heavy action films and just want to see one good action thriller, this will be an apt choice.
4. V for Vendetta (2005)
Set in 2030s futuristic London, a masked vigilante only known as V, a bold, charismatic and determined fighter, whose sole aim is to ignite a revolution against brutal fascist regime. This comic book adaption is politically controversial as it is an attempt to represent many totalitarian regimes prevailing in the world. Despite the fact that V’s face is not shown in the film, Hugo Weaving has given out neat performance, and also Natalie Portman as Evelyn, a working class woman who gets caught up with V. For those who like political thrillers with some good thought provoking dialogues, V is a good choice.
5. District 9 (2009)
In Johannesburg where a group of alien race named The Prawns is put in slum like refugee camps in District 9 ghetto, a soft-hearted government official is accidentally exposed to biotechnology of the aliens and started to transform into one of them slowly. Unlike the usual Hollywood alien films, the usual sci-fi atmosphere is ruled out here. District 9 is technically brilliant, well acted, emotionally valued and thoughtful sci-fi thriller. For those who like to see a sci-fi film without any mind numbing and stereotypic action jargons, this is highly recommended.
6. The Matrix (1999)
In the near future, human population is controlled by sentinel machines by a simulated reality called The Matrix. Computer programmer and hacker Neo Anderson, after learning this truth, joins the rebellion forces led by Morpheus who are in war against the machines. Written and directed by The Wachowski brothers, The Matrix is a science fiction film with technically superior and innovative visual effects, gripping plot and action scenes that are not seen before in many films. Though the theme of the film is almost same as The Terminator films, this is far more superior in its visual presentation. Two direct sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution continue the same plot in fighting the machines.
7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Set in near future, where the government has lost the control of harmful drug Substance D, and amidst high tech surveillance systems for counter measures, a detective is sent undercover to infiltrate the drug underworld and break the supply chain of the drug dealers. He works with a small group of drug sellers and as he goes deeper in the drug world, he starts losing his own identity due to the exposure to Substance D. The film is based on real life drug experiences of noted sci-fi writer Philip K Dick. The film’s intelligence lies with the hypnotic, appealing visual presentation of hallucinative drug world using rotoscopic animation technology, suspenseful plot and powerful performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu Reaves, making it one of the best written sci-fi films.
8. Sunshine (2007)
In 2057, the sun has lost its lighting power and slowly dying, and a group of scientists are sent to attempt to reignite it by detonating a nuclear bomb as large as Manhattan. Rather than the simple space film, the film could be seen as a psychological journey of scientists involved in the mission, with an ensemble cast of international actors. Throughout the film, the characters undergo various hurdles and setbacks in the form of opinion difference among themselves, loss of a spaceship sent in previous mission, the urge to get back to their families. Danny Boyle’s direction, well crafted screenplay, perfect casting and well shot visuals render us with a pretty good psychological thriller.
9. Minority Report (2002)
Set in the year 2054, where technology is well advanced to apprehend and arrest criminals by specialized police force PreCrime, using the future knowledge provided by three specialized precogs, PreCrime Captain Anderton is predicted to commit a murder and on the run from arrest, to prove his innocence. The film centers on its main theme of free will as to whether it will be perceived with the existence of future prediction technologies, incorporation of electronic advancements and its effects on humanity. This high profile thriller offers a murder mystery plot with excellent, nail biting, edgy and fast paced action, very clever visuals, writing and editing. In every way, be it murder mystery, action, acting, sci-fi elements, this surely is a must watch.
10. In Time (2011)
In 2169, where human race is genetically altered to stop from aging and living time has replaced the currency system, a young man fights against the brutal government and the system to eradicate the inequalities based on the living time and to bring equality among different time zones. The film pays an allegory to the social inequalities prevailing in across the society, where those who are rich have many years of living time whereas the poor have only a few days, and they must work as daily labors for their survival. The film has an intriguing plot and good acting but spoiled by too much action and poor handled script. Despite the downfalls, it is worth watching for its new and different concept of time currency.
Apart from the above listed movies, some of the other notable films under this genre are I am Legend, I robot, The Terminator series, Serenity, 1984, A Clockwork orange, A.I - Artificial Intelligence, Renaissance, etc.