These incredible movies all feature harrowing dystopias.
Sometimes movies can be a fun escape (such as the optimism of Star Trek or the space fantasies of Star Wars), while other times they can act as cautionary tales. Dystopian movies certainly fall into the latter category, as they often draw eye-opening parallels to real-life issues like corporate greed, government corruption, bodily autonomy, and more. If you’re ready to dive headfirst into these all too-relevant films, here’s your list of the best dystopian movies to get started.
10. The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
Fans of the Elisabeth Moss-starring TV series of the same name will be familiar with the dystopian society of the Republic of Gilead and the story of Offred. However, you might have missed the 1990 film that stars Natasha Richardson as Offred. The film also features supporting performances by Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Elizabeth McGovern.
Also based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale tells a chilling tale of the United States in the future, where women’s rights have been abolished, and their only purpose is to procreate. Richardson’s Offred is a handmaid that is assigned to a high-ranking official as she must figure out a way to survive the oppressive regime of Gilead. The film includes themes of bodily autonomy and oppression, which helps set it apart as one of the best dystopian movies.
9. Escape from New York (1981)
Next is the 1981 classic Escape from New York, which stars Kurt Russell as the grizzled Snake Plissken. If you like your dystopian movies a little more action-oriented, Escape from New York might be up your alley. The John Carpenter-directed film depicts a dystopian future where Manhattan has been turned into a lawless maximum security prison.
The film follows Snake after he’s sent to the prison to save the President after Air Force One crashes on the island and he’s taken hostage. Supporting performances from Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Pleasence tie the movie together, and the incredible score by Carpenter adds to the film’s iconic status. If you enjoy this film, there’s even a sequel to check out with Escape from LA.
8. The Road (2009)
The Road is adapted from the haunting Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. While The Road might fall into the “post-apocalyptic” category more than the dystopian movies category, its themes of the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of hopeless odds feel plenty relevant. The film follows a man and his young son who navigate the ravaged landscape after a cataclysmic event.
Along with surviving their own hunger, the two must avoid other survivors throughout their harrowing journey. The film is anchored by the performances of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi-Smit McPhee. It’s hard to say The Road will leave you feeling uplifted at the end, but it’s a good watch nonetheless.
7. Snowpiercer (2013)
Before director Bong Joon-Ho made his wealth disparity-themed masterpiece Parasite, he made a dystopian wealth disparity-themed thriller set on a train. Snowpiercer may not be as subtle in its messaging as Parasite, but it’s still a great film with an interesting setting. In Snowpiercer, a global ice age has ravaged the Earth and the only survivors live on a train.
The train is divided into classes, with the richest living near the front and the poorest living in the back. This leads to a rebellion led by a man named Curtis (Chris Evans) to push back against the oppressive regime. It’s a classic theme of dystopian movies, but Bong Joon-Ho manages to breathe new life into it with gorgeous visuals and a unique setting.
6. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Next on the list of best dystopian movies is the mind-bending thriller 12 Monkeys. 12 Monkeys follows James Cole, a prisoner who is sent back to the past to stop the spread of a deadly outbreak that wiped out most of humanity. The film was directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, and Christopher Plummer.
12 Monkeys features great performances from Willis and Pitt and is probably one of the more underrated films from both of their filmographies. If you like dystopian movies filled with twists and psychological themes, you’re probably going to like 12 Monkeys. Just ignore the fact that the part where humanity is wiped out in the future takes place in the 2030s.
5. Brazil (1985)
If you thought Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys was off the wall, you only need to go ten years back in his filmography to find an even wilder film with Brazil. Brazil follows squarely in the satire categories of dystopian movies, and the film has a more darkly humorous edge than most of the other entries on the list.
In the world of Brazil, the government controls everything – even the dreams of its citizens. Brazil follows a low-level bureaucrat who becomes wrapped up in a surreal journey to save the woman he loves while investigating a case that led to the wrongful execution of an innocent man. The film stars Jonathan Pryce along with Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Katherine Helmond, and Ian Holm.
4. V for Vendetta (2006)
V for Vendetta is a violent and vital film filled with visceral visuals, valor, and vindication. The film stars Hugo Weaving as V, a vigilante living in a villainous world where a vile government violates and victimizes its people. Driven by virtuous vengeance, V utilizes his virtuosic skills and vast vocabulary to fight against this regime.
Phew, ok that’s enough of the “v” stuff. In short, V for Vendetta is a great dystopian film. It co-stars Natalie Portman along with supporting performances Stephen Rea, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. And it’s definitely one of Hugo Weaving’s best performances, even if he’s behind a mask the whole time.
3. Children of Men (2006)
Director Alfonso Cuaron has quite a few classics to his name, but Children of Men might just be his masterpiece. This dystopian movie takes place in a future where humanity has been rendered infertile, with no children being born for over two decades. The movie follows Theo, a former activist, who suddenly finds himself on a mission to transport a pregnant woman who could be the last hope for humanity.
The movie stars Clive Owen as Theo, with supporting performances by Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Caine. The film is considered a classic in the dystopian genre for a reason. The incredible world-building and dynamic cinematography draw you in, but the hopeful story against incredible odds will be what sticks.
2. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
For years, Blade Runner stood on the top of the stack as not only one of the best dystopian movies of all time but one of the best sci-fi films in general. Would it be possible to live up to those lofty expectations with a sequel over 30 years later? Thanks to Denis Villeneuve, the answer turned out to be yes.
Blade Runner 2049 managed to build on the themes of the original, enrich the story of the original, and tell its own story in the meantime. The story follows a blade runner, someone who tracks down and retires rogue replicants, named K (Ryan Gosling) who discovers a secret that could change society forever. Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, and Jared Leto also star.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Just like Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road was a sequel no one really saw coming. But when George Miller decides to revive one of the best dystopian movie franchises of all time, you pay him the money to do it. The studios did just that, and now we can all ride eternal, shiny, and chrome on the fury road.
Mad Max: Fury Road stars Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, who enlists Tom Hardy’s titular Max to get five wives out of the clutches of the despot warlord Immortan Joe. If you want high-speed chase scenes and incredible action, this film has you covered. Far from just mindless action, the film also has a memorable story that will stick with you, and that cements it as one of the best dystopian films of all time.
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.