Top 10 Dystopian Films

soylent green elysium 2

Some of the best sci-fi films present dark futures depicting societal and social collapse. They serve as a warning to us with their vivid imagery of how things may go horribly wrong in the future. Dystopian depictions are a mainstay in sci-fi films with Elysium being the latest to feature a broken world thanks to humanity’s abusive and negligent ways. Keep in mind these are different from post-apocalyptic films where civilization has fallen due to war, alien attacks, and other catastrophes. Here are the best films of this sub-genre.

hunger games

10. TIE: The Hunger Games/V For Vendetta: In The Hunger Games, poor districts in Panem, a futuristic North American nation, are forced to send young people to participate in deadly games. Contrasting these backwards districts is the opulent and morally corrupt Capitol that seems like a futuristic Rome. That and the combination of the intrusive and empty media coverage of the games is quite a damnation of this future society. V For Vendetta is an adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic book mini-series about a future London ruled by a brutal, Orwellian regime that subjugates its citizens. V (Hugo Weaving) is a mysterious anarchist out to topple the despotic government via acts of terror and sabotage.

idiocracy 29. Idiocracy: Mike Judge directed this humorous look at our future that satirizes our current obsession with sex, violence and consumerism. In Idiocracy, unintelligent people are out-reproducing smarter people today. Eventually by the 26th century, the dim-witted will inherit the Earth as society declines due to stupidity and low-brow tastes. Their only hope lies with a modern-day soldier (Luke Wilson) with average intelligence who is frozen and revived into this dumb society.

8. THX 1138: George Lucas made his directorial debut with this film about a futuristic, underground society controlled thxby oppressive AIs. The stark, monochromatic production design added to film’s unnerving atmosphere. Robert Duvall stars as the title character, who along with other citizens, is kept in a passive drug-induced state of mind. One day, THX 1138’s drugs wear off, allowing him to feel emotions. When he fails to function properly in the cold, sterile society, he is arrested, but his new emotional state enables him to rebel against the system.

7. Escape From New York: Kurt Russell stars in John Carpenter’s classic tale of an America where crime is rampant and New York City has been turned into a penal colony for hardened criminals. Russell is Snake Plissken, a former vet-turned-criminal who is forcibly deployed into Manhattan to rescue the president of the U.S. (Donald Pleasance). Carpenter’s vision of a nightmarish New York alarmed many who were convinced the city was headed in that direction. Maybe they should’ve been concerned about Detroit instead.

6. Elysium: The world in Elysium is an overpopulated and polluted nightmare. Los Angeles in 2154 looks more like a third-world country with bombed out and decaying streets and shanty homes. Basic necessities like proper housing and healthcare are rare commodities. As in many of these dystopian films, the elite live in a separate, idyllic society; in this case an orbiting habitat. Even though Elysium has a heavy-handed message about the haves and have-nots, its harsh depiction of a ruined Earth will resonate with viewers.

walle 35. WALL-E: This animated classic from Pixar is about a lone robot cleaning up an abandoned and overly polluted Earth in 2805. For the first half of WALL-E there isn’t any dialogue as the titular robot explores the dun-colored and filthy landscapes. Somehow, WALL-E is able to experience emotions and appreciate the remnants of a now-gone civilization. Eventually he discovers humans, who have been taking refuge aboard a luxurious starship. But humans over the centuries have become morbidly obese and atrophied thanks to their too-convenient lifestyle provided by service robots. It’s up to them to learn to be fully human again.

4. A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick directed this bleak and desensitizing look at the nature of clockwork 2violent behavior and society. Its opening scenes, which featured tight, unnerving closeups of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a young, vicious gang member are haunting. In the future, violent gangs freely roam the streets of London. Dosed on drug-laced milk, these gangs rob, rape and pillage without abandon. What was jarring and disturbing for viewers was the use of classical and Broadway-style music as these young thugs committed violent acts. Eventually, Alex is captured by authorities and is brainwashed to abhor violence with unfortunate results.

3. Soylent Green: The film’s shock ending overshadowed the bleak portrait of a future where overpopulation and scarce resources are strangling society. Despite Robert Thorn’s (Charlton Heston) famous last lines in the film, the rest of Soylent Green is compelling to watch. Resources we take for granted like food and living space are rare, while the streets of New York in 2022 are depressingly crowded and decaying. What’s really touching are Edward G. Robinson’s final film scenes. In despair over the true nature of the Soylent Green substance, his character chooses to be euthanized and is treated to hauntingly beautiful images of a once-pastoral Earth. These scenes still resonate to this day, as does Thorn’s warning to the ignorant masses.

children of men 22. Children Of Men: By 2027, humanity can no longer reproduce, causing a downward spiral for civilization as it becomes clear humanity will soon be extinct. Terrorism and anarchism are commonplace as disorder inevitably takes hold in society. Reminders of a more civilized time are spotted and add to the bleak tone since they reinforce the notion that humanity’s days are numbered. Clive Owen plays an embittered government bureaucrat who finds a cause to believe in. He encounters a pregnant woman who represents humanity’s best hope, and is forced to protect her from various radical factions. Children Of Men’s director, Alfonso Cuarón shot the film using a harsh, realistic tone that engages viewers and brings them into the action. This was best seen in the film’s third act, which takes place in a hellish refugee camp that is attacked by the British army.

blade runner

1. Blade Runner: Ridley Scott’s dystopic masterpiece proves that just because the future may have flying cars and cool neon lighting, it doesn’t mean it will be bright. Taking place just a few years from now (2019) in an overcrowded and drenched Los Angeles, Blade Runner wasn’t a simple shoot-em-up with Harrison Ford’s character chasing down evil androids. Blade Runner is rather an ambitious example blade runner 3of future noir combined with a moody, smoky atmosphere, ethereal score and ambivalent characters. In the film, Ford plays Deckard, a former cop drafted to hunt down rogue, illegal humanoids called replicants. While everyone in the film wonders if replicants have souls, the humans should’ve reflected about their own souls. Blade Runner resonated with so many not just because of the above reasons but for its intricate and crumbling cityscape. It almost seemed beautiful, even though it represented a world that had seen better days.

Lewis T. Grove

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Elysium Is Neill Blomkamp’s Uneven Second Effort

elysium posterDirector Neill Blomkamp has returned after his triumphant debut film District 9 with his sophomore effort Elysium.

The film takes place in the year 2154 in Los Angeles and a giant orbital space habitat called Elysium. Earth is overpopulated and overpolluted, it’s a literal hellhole. Think of Brazilian favelos, mixed with dusty shantytowns and that is life on the planet. There’s little vegetation, rubble is everywhere and the landscape is overrun with desperate people. Meanwhile, life is idyllic up in Elysium. The habitat is a luxurious refuge for Earth’s richest elite with beautiful mansions, perfectly tended yards and gardens, and the best that money can buy. Including the best health systems that can rebuild damaged bodies and cure cancer. As expected, not everyone can afford to live in Elysium, even though everyone on the ruined Earth want nothing more than to go to the habitat.

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Elysium stars Matt Damon as Max Da Costa, a former criminal who wants to eke out an honest living as a laborer at a robotics factory. His ultimate dream is to be able to afford a ticket to Elysium. It takes an industrial accident to accelerate that ambition. Max is dying of radiation poisoning and like everyone  living on Earth, there is little that can be done to help him. Max’s only hope is to somehow make it to Elysium and its miraculous medical services.

In a desperate move, he offers his services to a local crime boss that he once worked for named Spider (Wagner Moura). One of Spider’s illegal activities is to try to ferry Earth citizens onto Elysium.  Usually, these efforts fail, thanks to the diligence of Elysium’s defense secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster).  ????????????????She is willing to go to extremes to keep out riff raff from Earth, which includes having illegal shuttles shot out of Elysium’s skies. After the latest round of shuttles are destroyed, killing dozens of people, the president of Elysium (Faran Tahir) warns her that her job is in danger. Angered by the politician, Delacourt arranges for a coup to replace him by having the habitat’s computer system rebooted. She enlists the services of John Carlyle (Willaim Fichtner), the CEO of Max’s company, to develop a software program to carry out her coup. This program, along with other valuable data like bank codes, are stored in Carlyle’s brain.

Enter Max. Spider wants him to steal software information from any high-level executive’s brain to get rich. He has an exoskeleton and cybernetic implants surgically attached to Max, who targets Carlyle because he blames him for his dire situation. After shooting down Carlyle’s shuttle, Max is able to download Carlyle’s data, but winds up being targeted by Delacourt’s favored mercenary, a nutjob called Kruger (Sharlto Copley). This merc is a true sociopath, who reeks of barbaric lunacy. There hasn’t been a villain this insane or vicious on film since the Joker in The Dark Knight. Continue reading

Ten Films To Look For In 2013

pacific rim

Last year saw a batch of some truly great films and…some major disappointments. But we fans always look ahead to what’s coming out next year. This year isn’t an exception, however, there will be less genre offerings especially when compared to some stellar and exciting films due in 2014 and 2015. This means there are few guaranteed, must-see event films like The Avengers for this year. Still there are some potential nuggets that look or sound promising and who knows? One of them or something else may pleasantly surprise us.

10. Evil Dead

We’ve been burned by some recent, unnecessary remakes but this one is produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the director and the star respectively of the original films. The recent trailer promises the same outrageous thrills, scares and gore that made the originals (in)famous. Only this time the production look more professional and therefore more cringe inducing. (Release Date: April 12)

9. Warm Bodies

This zombie movie seems to be in the same humorous vein as Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. Warm Bodies is told from the POV of young male zombie who slowly starts to become human again after meeting a potential meal and falling in love with her (!). Warm Bodies looks very promising and unique, which should help it stand out from the crowded field of zombie movies. (Release Date: February 1)

8. Oz, The Great And Powerful

ozDirector Sam Raimi attempts to put behind his Spider-Man films with this prequel of sorts to The Wizard Of Oz. The film focuses on the man who became the sought after wizard of that mythical land. The casting of James Franco as the future Wizard seems like a good choice and the magical landscape and characters shown in the trailers are very stunning and colorful. Can’t wait for the revelation of the Wicked Witch of the East! (Release Date: March 8)

7. Pacific Rim

Fan favorite Guillermo Del Toro returns to the directing chair (his last film was in 2008) in this ode to kaiju (giant monsters) films. Pacific Rim concerns itself with a world being decimated by giant monsters and humanity fighting back by constructing giant robots that are operated by humans inside. Truthfully, Pacific Rim seems like a mix of Transformers and Cloverfield but in a good way. (Release Date: July 12)

6. Oblivion

This Tom Cruise vehicle is directed by Joseph Kosinsky, whose last work was the unexpectedly good Tron: Legacy. Cruise plays a lone repairman working in the ruins of an abandoned Earth, and is fixated on the oblivion 2planet and its lost wonders. One day he stumbles upon a mystery when he encounters a beautiful stranger. Sure, based on that premise and what’s shown on the trailer it may seem a lot like WALL-E except it’s with a human instead of a robot, but Oblivion also hints at deeper mysteries such as is Earth really abandoned by humanity? (Release Date: April 12)

5. Thor: The Dark World

Thor surprised many viewers with its refreshing take on superheroes being that it combined superheroics with ancient gods/alien Shakespearean drama and a decent fish-out-of-water element. Even though this sequel isn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh, who did such a great job with the first Thor, what has been revealed, namely Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the God of Thunder and dark elves as the villains (the head villain is played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), promises to be a worthy followup. (Release Date: November 8)

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

hobbit 2

The middle part of The Hobbit trilogy comes out at the end of the year and should amp up the adventure quota now that the dwarves’ introduction and exposition about reclaiming their lost kingdom from the dragon Smaug was covered in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, that film turned off some fans due to its slow pace and 48 fps ratio that was unsettling for some viewers. Yet it pleased many and is a big hit worldwide. Director Peter Jackson should hope that this middle film in The Hobbit trilogy will be better received than his last middle film in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. (Release Date: December 13)

3. Gravity

This film about astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded on a decaying space station was held over from last year. Officially the reason had to do with upgrading the special effects and a 3D post-conversion. Rumor had it that the preview results were sharply mixed but after some more tweaking, the latest word of mouth is it that Gravity is a stunning piece of filmmaking. Alonso Cuarón, who directed the best sci-fi movie of the last decade (Children Of Men) and one of the better Harry Potter films (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) directs this suspenseful thriller. (Release Date: October 18)

2. Elysium

Neill Blomkamp, who directed one of the past decades very best science fiction films (District 9), returns to the big screen with damonhis next sci-fi epic. This one stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and District 9 vet Sharlto Copley and takes place in 2159. By this time, Earth is overpopulated and dying. While most of the population eke out a miserable existence on the planet, the elite live in a luxurious space station who will stop at nothing to keep the riff raff out of their artificial paradise. Damon plays an ex-con whose mission might upset the unequal balance in society. Based on Blomkamp’s last film and its high caliber of quality, Elysium would’ve rated higher on this list but to date no real details have been released, not even a teaser trailer, so it’s difficult to ascertain how promising Elysium looks. In this film’s defense, at least a couple of photos have been released, which isn’t the case with Gravity. (Release Date: August 9)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness

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J.J. Abrams directs his second Star Trek film, as fans know his first Trek film rebooted the long-running franchise. Many have mixed feelings about Abrams’ efforts, the man has admitted he isn’t a Star Trek fan and there are complaints that his previous Trek film seemed more like a Star Wars film. That is because it emphasized action and explosions over ideas and exploration. But Star Trek was an entertaining and rousing success. With Star Trek Into Darkness very little has been revealed about its mysterious plot and villain. What has been revealed is that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets taken down a few pegs and loses command of the Enterprise. But the biggest buzz online has to do with the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an alleged former Starfleet officer turned terrorist. There are the speculations that he may be a genetic superman like Khan. So far, the lack of information from Abrams and company is helping to fuel interest for Star Trek Into Darkness. (Release Date: May 17)

Keep in mind, these release dates will change and may even be pushed back a year. Other films to keep an eye out for include World War Z (some may have noticed that this film was listed in the top 12 in last year’s list of anticipated films, but news of the troubled production kept it out of the list this time, though the trailer looks interesting), Iron Man 3 (will the franchise revive itself after the listless Iron Man 2? The back to basics approach shown in the trailer seems like a step in the right direction), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wolverine(the first sequel to Suzanne Collins’ popular book series and movie about a tough girl surviving a futuristic blood sport), The Wolverine (Marvel’s most popular mutant has an adventure in Japan in his second solo film), Monsters University (Pixar’s newest animated release is a prequel to the hit Monsters, Inc.), After Earth (director M. Night Shyamalan attempts another comeback with this futuristic tale about a father and son stranded on an abandoned, hostile Earth), Area 51 (Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s delayed found-footage movie about aliens), I, Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart plays the title character in modern times who fights to save humanity from immortal forces), The Colony (Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne are among dwindling human survivors in a futuristic ice age who must contend with a terrifying threat), Kick-Ass 2 (hopefully it won’t be as graphically gruesome as the comic book mini-series it’s based on), Ender’s Game (an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s book about a gifted child trained to fight aliens in the future), and Last Days Of Mars (a group of imperiled astronauts on the red planet ).

José Soto