We live in unprecedented times. With rapidly advancing technology, social networks that keep us connected to everyone we've ever met, and artificial intelligence threatening to fundamentally change society's structure, there's plenty of material to work with when it comes to societal critiques in film. These 20 films critique or highlight the flaws of modern society, whether to the tune of a comedy, drama, or horror thriller. Some pose solutions, while others leave us with the chilling possibility that we're a part of these problems.
1 – Brazil (1985)
Set in a dystopian future, Brazil follows the story of Sam Lowry, a low-level government employee trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare. As he navigates a totalitarian society, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the dehumanizing effects of technology, government control, and the loss of individuality.
2 – They Live (1988)
They Live tells the tale of Nada, a drifter who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that reveal a hidden reality. He discovers that aliens have infiltrated society and are manipulating people through subliminal messages. The film serves as a biting critique of consumerism, mass media, and the control exerted by those in power.
3 – The Running Man (1987)
The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, presents a scathing critique of modern society through its dystopian portrayal of a reality television show turned-bloodsport. Set in a near future where the government manipulates the masses through violent entertainment, the film unveils a chilling reflection of our obsession with reality TV, celebrity culture, and the exploitation of human lives for entertainment purposes.
With its thrilling action and social commentary, The Running Man forces us to confront the dehumanization of individuals for the sake of ratings and profit. It's a powerful indictment of a society that values spectacle over empathy, where the powerful control the narrative and exploit the vulnerable for their own gain.
4 – Soylent Green (1973)
Set in a polluted and overpopulated world, Soylent Green follows detective Frank Thorn as he investigates a murder that leads to a disturbing revelation about the main food source for society. This thought-provoking film serves as a critique of overconsumption, ecological disaster, and the exploitation of resources.
5 – Network (1976)
Network explores the power of media and the blurred lines between news and entertainment. The story follows news anchor Howard Beale, who unleashes a series of incendiary rants on live television in a fit of frustration. The film satirically critiques sensationalism and corporate manipulation of public opinion.
6 – Her (2013)
In a near-future Los Angeles, a lonely man named Theodore develops an emotional relationship with an artificial intelligence operating system named Samantha. Her reflects on the impact of technology on human connection and the paradox of isolation in a hyperconnected world. As artificial intelligence continues to advance, this film serves as a cautionary tale for the anthropomorphization of devices can have devastating psychological consequences on humans.
7 – Natural Born Killers (1994)
Directed by Oliver Stone, Natural Born Killers follows the homicidal spree of Mickey and Mallory, a young couple glorified by the media. This intense and visually stylized film critiques the media's obsession with violence, the glamorization of criminals, and society's desensitization to brutality.
8 – Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
This horror satire that pokes fun at gen z internet culture and Zoomers' relationship between class and technology takes place amid a powerful hurricane, where a group of young adults finds themselves trapped within a secluded mansion. What begins as an innocent party game turns sinister when a lifeless body is discovered, exposing a web of deceit among their supposed friends. With suspicion hanging heavy in the air, they embark on a desperate quest to uncover the identity of the murderer lurking in the shadows, betraying their trust.
9 – Sorry To Bother You (2018)
Sorry to Bother You presents a surreal take on capitalism and corporate culture. It follows Cassius Green, a telemarketer who rises through the ranks by using his “white voice.” The film is a funny exploration of racial dynamics, exploitation, and the loss of personal integrity in the pursuit of success.
10 – The Truman Show (1998)
Truman Burbank's seemingly perfect life is revealed to be an elaborate reality TV show where every aspect is staged. The movie is a critique of our society's embracement of invasions of privacy, media manipulation, and the loss of individual autonomy in a society obsessed with voyeurism and entertainment.
11 – Wag The Dog (1997)
In a satirical portrayal of political spin, Wag the Dog tells the story of a political strategist and a Hollywood producer collaborating to fabricate a war to divert public attention from a scandal. Through its satirical lens, the film skewers the manipulative mechanisms employed by those in power to shape public perception and divert attention from crucial issues. As the lines blur between reality and manufactured narratives, this thought-provoking masterpiece raises questions about the influence of media, political spin, and the manipulation of truth in an era where appearances often triumph over substance.
12 – Wall-E (2008)
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Wall-E follows the last remaining robot on Earth, Wall-E, who tirelessly cleans up the abandoned planet. The film presents a cautionary tale in a future overwhelmed by consumerism and environmental neglect. Through the endearing robot protagonist, Wall-E, audiences witness the consequences of excessive consumption, mass production, and disregard for the planet.
This thought-provoking animation sheds light on the potential implications of a society disconnected from nature, highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainable living. As Wall-E and his companions embark on a remarkable journey, the film challenges us to reflect on our own habits, encouraging a reevaluation of our relationship with the Earth and a collective responsibility towards a more sustainable future.
13 – Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men is set in a bleak, dystopian world where infertility has plagued humanity. Theo, a former activist, is entrusted with protecting a miraculously pregnant woman, igniting hope in a society on the brink of collapse.
The film unveils a dystopian reflection of our present world. Its gripping narrative exposes a bleak future as a result of rampant nationalism, political unrest, and social division. As the last generation stands on the precipice of extinction, the movie challenges us to examine the erosion of compassion, empathy, and hope in our society, urging us to stand for unity, understanding, and collective action.
14 – Margin Call (2011)
Margin Call delivers a searing critique of modern society with its unflinching exploration of the 2008 financial crisis. Set in the high-stakes world of investment banking, the film exposes the moral bankruptcy and greed that permeate the financial industry. Through its gripping narrative, it unveils the devastating consequences of unchecked capitalism, highlighting the systemic flaws and ethical compromises that led to the collapse
15 – Spring Breakers (2012)
Spring Breakers offers a provocative critique of modern-day society, delving into the dark underbelly of youth culture and excess. The film follows a group of college girls who, driven by a thirst for thrills and freedom, descend into a hedonistic world of drugs, crime, and moral decay during their spring break vacation.
Through its stylized visuals and unflinching portrayal of the consequences of unchecked desires, the movie holds up a mirror to our obsession with instant gratification, materialism, and the pursuit of superficial pleasures. It exposes the emptiness and shallow values that pervade contemporary society, questioning the true meaning of freedom and the depths to which individuals are willing to go in search of it.
16 – Parasite (2019)
Parasite has been praised by so many for its story, the cinematography, and most importantly, how this film talks about class and class dynamics.
When a lower-class family is desperate for money and to move up their social status, they abuse and take advantage of their higher-class employers. But while they need their new employees for money and to move up in the world, the upper-class society needs the lower-class family to teach them, drive them around, and take care of their home. It's a vicious, parasitical cycle.
17 – Fight Club (1999)
While Fight Club is memorable for the number of quotable lines and a wild ending, the classic movie also has a lot to say about capitalism and consumerist society. The film also takes a stab at talking about what it's like to lose your manhood and masculinity in society. The entire movie has a lot to say about our society, even today over 20 years later.
18 – Idiocracy (2006)
Idiocracy is a satirical film where a U.S. Army librarian is selected for a government program where he will go into a top-secret hibernation experiment. When he's forgotten, he awakens into a future that's so ridiculous and he ends up being the smartest person there.
This movie has a lot to say about where our society could be heading in some ways. The film focuses a lot on overpopulation, the lack of intelligence, and an overindulgent world where capitalism rules everything. Many fans like to watch it today and try to see fun parallels to our own world.
19 – Triangle of Sadness (2022)
This 2022 satirical movie is in general about a group of people on a luxury yachting trip with celebrities and other wealthy guests that goes horribly wrong.
But under the surface, though, the movie focuses on a lot of class issues, especially the mega-rich and how ridiculous their lives are compared to the average, everyday person.
20 – V for Vendetta (2005)
In V for Vendetta, a fascist group controls Britain in the near future. They have decided a lot of groups are undesirable and have imprisoned or executed them, just for being different.
The film takes on government and how groups can be so controlling in our society. Some political groups have seen this film as an allegory for government oppression, and many anarchist groups may use this film as a way to promote their beliefs.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.