Our quest for the truth about the future is a universal phenomenon that defines humanity. It also makes for some great storytelling opportunities. But what happens when the futures we imagine are warnings about where our present may lead us? From The Lawnmower Man to The Hunger Games, these 25 dystopian movies will stick with you.
1. Snowpiercer (2020)
When Earth's second ice age shatters humanity, the remaining people form a new society on a train. The rich at the front of the train horde resources from the poor who live in squalor in the back of the train. Can those in poverty work together to take over the engine room and take control?
2. What Happened to Monday (2017)
In an overpopulated world, parents are only allowed one child per household. When a mother gives birth to seven identical septuplets and dies in childbirth, her father takes care of the daughters. To protect their lives, he names each child after a day of the week, teaches them to live as one single person, and only allows them to go outside on their specified day.
3. The Rover (2014)
In the wasteland that was once a prospering society, one man scours the Earth for its limited resources in his one lasting possession from before: his beloved car. When a gang steals his vehicle, he teams up with the man the gang abandoned to retrieve his invaluable stolen goods.
4. Children of Men (2006)
It's 2027 and humanity is in a constant state of warfare. It's been eight years since anyone reproduced and the youngest man on Earth was recently murdered in a bombing. When a bureaucrat is abducted by an immigrant rights group, he soon discovers that humanity may have one last hope for survival. Can he protect this new hope, or will the militant society surrounding him quash it?
5. 12 Monkeys (1995)
When one prisoner in 2030 is scouted for a secret time-traveling project, he's instructed to return to the 1990s. While there, he must find a way to prevent the deathly plague that eradicated a massive chunk of humanity. However, once he arrives, he discovers that convincing people from the 90s to change their ways could be futile.
6. The Platform (2019)
In a strange prison in a mysterious dystopian world, prisoners are assigned new cells once every month. Those who receive a low number are lucky because they get the first pickings of food. Nourishment for the whole prison is provided by a platform that begins at the top of the vertical prison and is lowered down each level, leaving those towards the bottom to starve.
7. Don't Look Up (2021)
This cynical take on society's response to preventable natural disasters follows two astronomers on a mission to convince humanity of an impending threat: there is a comet careening towards Earth in outer space that could wipe out life on the planet. Can the two convince corrupt politicians and a desensitized populous to enact change?
8. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
In a near-future dystopian reality, one young man believes he'll do whatever it takes to rise to the top of the corporate ladder. He soon discovers a key to financial success but finds that the cost is higher than he could ever imagine. The twist in this movie is incredible, so that's all I can say without giving too much away.
9. Equilibrium (2002)
This dystopian thriller follows Clerick John Preston (Christian Bale) as he enforces the regime's strict laws. People are no longer allowed to feel emotions, read books, or examine art of any kind. One day, John misses a critical dose of his anti-emotion medication. Can he abandon everything he's ever known to fight for feelings?
10. The Hunger Games (2012)
In a society separated into districts, the nation's children are forced to battle to the death each year in the famous Hunger Games. When the poor District 12's Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes their first volunteer tribute in the games, society begins to fall apart as viewers bond with Katniss on her quest to survive.
11. Ghost in the Shell (2018)
When a woman becomes the first in the world imbibed with technology that essentially turns her into a powerful superhero, her biggest mission is to stop a sinister new form of psychological terrorism that allows a victim's mind to be corrupted. But when she learns a shocking secret about her identity, she turns towards revenge to rediscover her past.
12. District 9 (2009)
In a world where an alien spaceship visits Earth, seeking refuge from their own inhospitable planet, the South African government where they land treats them like refugees. Forced to live in the slums of a protected area called District 9, the aliens become test subjects and prisoners. But when a human field agent visits the district and notices he's beginning to transform into an alien, he seeks the advice of another alien and his son.
13. The Lawnmower Man (1992)
When a doctor prescribes a cognitively disabled man an experimental medication in the hopes of increasing his intelligence and social awareness, the drug regimen begins to work. But as the man grows smarter, he reflects on how people have exploited his disorder over the years and seeks revenge for his mistreatment.
14. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
A Scanner Darkly is a dystopian film about a near-future U.S. where a powerfully addictive synthetic substance ravages 20% of the population's lives. As authorities attempt to prevent the spread of the drug's use, one cop goes undercover on a mission and ends up addicted.
15. The Girl With All the Gifts (2016)
After the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse caused by a mind-controlling fungus, humanity's last hope is a potential cure found in children who were born infected and still have control over their minds and bodies. When zombies swarm the research facility protecting the kids, one girl escapes and goes on a journey to save the fate of humankind.
16. High-Rise (2015)
High-Rise chronicles the lives of the people who live in a new apartment building where the poorest inhabitants live at the bottom, and the richest live on the top floors. But when a shocking death occurs, and no police show up to investigate, one of the apartment's middle-class residents decides to get to the bottom of it.
17. Upgrade (2018)
After witnessing the brutal murder of his beloved wife and suffering a brutal beating that leaves him paralyzed, a man gets the opportunity of a lifetime. Technology advanced to the point that a chip is installed in the man's brain, giving him superhuman powers. Armed with his new skillset, the man hunts down the people who murdered the love of his life.
18. Looper (2012)
Time travel exists in this dystopian world but is highly regulated and extremely expensive. Corrupt criminal enterprises use time travel to assassinate their targets by tossing them into a time machine where an assassin waits with a weapon. But things go wrong when one hitman realizes his boss sent his future self back in time to murder his younger counterpart.
19. Chappie (2015)
In a futuristic world where the police are heavily armed robots, people begin to fear their domination. A rebel group abducts a police bot and programs him with emotions and cognition. Now fully sentient, the robot starts to explore his new life. But the other police bots consider him a threat and seek him out.
20. Elysium (2013)
The majority of the planet has become a barren wasteland in the year 2154 and most of humanity is forced to fight for resources to survive. But not the wealthy, who live aboard a luxurious space station that looms overhead. When one man attempts to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, the leaders aboard the spaceship do whatever it takes to continue selfishly hoarding resources.
21. After Yang (2021)
This heartwrenching sci-fi drama is about an American family who adopt a child from China and purchase a humanoid AI boy to help their daughter connect to her culture. But when the robot boy breaks down after a dance party, the girl's father assembles what little funds he has to repair the AI companion and prevent his child from grieving her brother.
22. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Never Let Me Go is a tragic and romantic dystopian film about three friends who grow up together in a strange boarding school where a teacher lets slip that they're all headed towards a terrible fate. As they grow into teenagers, they move into lovely cottages and the three friends enter a love triangle as they wait for what is to come.
23. Embers (2015)
This mind-bending sci-fi anthology film tells five stories of people coping in a world where humans no longer have memories. Years ago, a pandemic wiped out most humans and left the survivors with severe amnesia. Embers attempts to answer the question, “How would humans live if they couldn't retain or form new memories?”
24. Starfish (2018)
After her best friend's funeral, a young woman breaks into her friend's former home to feed her pets. She falls asleep and wakes up the following day to discover strange, mystical creatures roaming the land, some of which are deadly and have decimated much of the human population overnight. When she realizes her friend knew the reason for the apocalypse, she's sent on a dangerous scavenger hunt to save humanity from extinction.
25. Logan's Run (1976)
Logan's Run takes place 250 years in the future, where humanity lives in a protected dome, and an intelligent supercomputer keeps everything running. Each person must go through a ritual around age thirty where they're killed with the promise of rebirth. But many people fear a more sinister explanation behind the practice and attempt to escape the city to a legendary safe haven.
Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist from Worcester, MA with bylines in publications like Pulse Magazine, HorrorPress, CM Pride, Fangoria, and TransLash News & Narrative. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more in the entertainment and lifestyle space. She loves horror, LGBTQ+ representation, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically.