The best dystopian movies cause us to question current human behaviour, ponder trends in society, and think about where our world is heading. Because of this, these movies can be subtle yet powerful tools for awakening and change.
In this article I’m going to discuss what the best dystopian movies have in common and list my favourite ones. If you haven’t seen any of these movies, then definitely check them out!
Dystopian movies (and dystopian books) feature bleak and damaged worlds. Widespread environmental destruction, post-apocalyptic landscapes, highly controlled and dictated societies, and so on. These worlds have usually turned dystopian because of human behaviour.
More dystopian movies have been made in the last fifteen years than they were in the whole of the 20th century. This isn’t surprising, given that we now have more alarming global trends stacking up than you could shake a dodo at.
Things like environmental disaster, mass extinction, global surveillance and control of Earth’s citizens, dictatorship of life by all-powerful corporations/a global elite…even the creation of artificial intelligence. All of these are alarmingly plausible scenarios when you consider our current thinking and behaviour.
This is the sort of stuff depicted in recent dystopian films. Art tends to reflect the consciousness of its time. So is the increase in popularity of dystopian movies a sign that humanity is dreaming its last and dying dream?
On the surface, perhaps. But if you dig deeper, maybe something else is going on. Because at the heart of the best dystopian movies, is an inspiring story of awakening and revolution.
Indeed. Although the conditions at the beginning of the best dystopian movies seem irreversible, it’s not too long before we meet a main character who, in going through their own process of transformation, is able to create massive and lasting positive change for the rest of society. What’s more, is that they usually do this in a totally awesome, kick-ass way. This is symbolic of the awakening and transformation of the self. It goes something like this:
1. Conditions suck.
There is something horribly wrong with the story world. Whether it’s a mass surveillance police state, a post-apocalyptic world, discrimination or a dictated way of life, things aren’t too peachy.
2. There is a nasty powerful force…
There is someone or something at the top, making life miserable for everyone else. For example, a tyrannical Big Brother Orwellian-style government, an all-powerful/all-knowing corporation, a ubiquitous artificial intelligence, or even a covert extraterrestrial entity.
3. …who is controlling the story world.
The nasty powerful force is controlling the story world and the lives of the people who live in it. This is usually through the use of stimuli such as subliminal messages, mass media manipulation, drugs, propaganda, restricted freedom to travel, etc. Sometimes the nasty powerful force is able to control the story world to such a degree that the people living there actually believe it is a utopia.
4. And thinks they’re doing everyone a favour.
Whether because of some kind of God-complex or just complete delusion, the nasty powerful force thinks that they have the authority to dictate life and that their way is the right (and only) way.
5. But wait, there’s a hero…
Along comes a hero. At the start, they’re someone who is either unaware that the story world is being controlled to the extent that it is, or they’re someone who doesn’t think that anything can be done about it.
6. …who grows restless.
Restlessness, intuition and frustration usually coincide within the hero and he or she begins to realise that something is wrong.
7. The hero starts to awaken and deprogram.
The hero finally snaps and/or a catalyst occurs in the story world. This initiates a process of inner awakening. The hero realises that things need to change, and they begin to deprogram from the dominant paradigm.
8. In doing so, the hero must battle their old self.
The hero must battle their old belief systems, doubts and fears in order to transform. This is symbolised metaphorically in the plot, through the hero’s trials and tribulations.
9. And the hero must battle the nasty powerful force.
Someone usually dies at this point. It could be the hero, the nasty powerful force, or both. This represents the death of the old self and the old paradigm within the hero.
10. There is a revolution, and balance is restored.
Once the nasty powerful force has been vanquished, the hero is changed forever, and the dystopian story world can begin to heal. It might not happen overnight, but we know that conditions will eventually be okay again.
11. Thus expressing an inspiring message about transformation.
The best dystopian movies aren’t really about dystopia at all. They’re about transformation. They’re about awakening. They’re about the importance of thinking for yourself, having the courage to fight the good fight, and the power of the individual to make a difference. The best dystopian movies show that, even against all odds, change is possible.
Maybe there is hope for us human yet.
The Best Dystopian Movies
So, what are the best dystopian movies? I’ve listed my favourites below.
If you happen to resonate with this sort of storytelling, then you’ll enjoy reading my sci-fi fantasy/metaphysical novel, The Twelve Attunements. It contains many of these elements.
“For a few to be immortal, many must die.”
“When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.”
“You’re special. You have a very special purpose in life. You’ve been chosen.”
“Don’t ask too many questions. They lied to you. It’s time to learn the truth.”
The Truman Show
“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”
The Divergent Series
“You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you.”
“In the late 21st century Earth was diseased, polluted and vastly overpopulated. Earth’s wealthiest inhabitants fled the planet to preserve their way of life.”
“It’s not the message that is important but our obedience to it.”
V for Vendetta
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
The Hunger Games Series
“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.”
The Matrix Trilogy
“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”