The 15 Best Dystopian Movies of The 21st Century So Far

8. V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006)

V for Vendetta

The film that popularized Guy Fawkes masks as a symbol of anti-establishment rebellion, V for Vendetta was actually adapted from a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It shows the United Kingdom as a fascist dictatorship, with many references to 1984, as well as historical figures and events.

Norsefire Party has established a tyranny, forcing their political opponents to concentration camps, as well as Muslims and homosexuals. Hugo Weaving is V, a mysterious masked rebel who rescues Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) from rape by government thugs, after she is caught walking the streets of London after curfew.

This happens just in time for him to demonstrate his insurrectionary tactics, as they watch the Criminal Court building explode to the music of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. This and other following events strengthen Evey’s newfound beliefs, and she dedicates herself to V’s cause.


7. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006)


Made in 2006, Linklater’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel takes place “seven years from today”. In this short time span, the only technological advances seem to be made either in the area of police surveillance, or drug production.

The story follows Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover cop in a small drug-using group, whose efforts police believe will lead them to someone involved with distribution or production of a new dangerous drug called Substance D. He is subject to psychological tests in the department, due to the drugs taking a toll on his psyche. His superiors, however, are unaware of the real reason and attribute it to stress.

Very much in the vein of other Linklater’s films, it is mostly centered on a group of Gen-X slackers, who are in this case also severe drug users (played by Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane). Not much happens in terms of plot, and non-events serve to give depth to the universe and the characters.

Digital rotoscoping technology was cleverly used and resulted in a unique feel that allows for a dose of humor and lightheartedness in the way characters are treated. It also enables some of the demanding aspects of the story to be presented in an elegant manner.


6. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)


After the Coen brothers successfully adapted No Country For Old Men, the world suddenly discovered the appeal of Cormac McCarthy, at least for a short while. Riding the tail end of this short wave was another adaptation of one of his bleak, pessimistic tales, this time set in the post-apocalyptic North America.

An unmentioned catastrophic event has disintegrated society and, most importantly, destroyed much of the plant and animal life. The remaining humans are forced to scavenge for food, but many resort to cannibalism. A father and son try to reach the coast with a vague hope that it will be warmer and more hospitable there.

Not explicitly showing a dystopian society, but rather a lack thereof, The Road leaves us wondering what exactly is there when the thin veneer of civilization is removed?


5. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

Mad Max Fury Road movie

This long-standing franchise developed much through time, but it seems to have made the largest leap with this latest reboot. Max is now played by Tom Hardy, and roams the desolate post-atomic wasteland haunted by the people whose lives he failed to save. In a moment of carelessness, he is found and captured by the War Boys, the fanatical army of Immortan Joe. Joe controls the only source of water in the wasteland, and through it he controls the people.

Max is forcibly bound with the ailing War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), as his blood donor, and the two join a posse to go after Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who stole Joe’s slave wives. Max is no agent in this combat, merely a hood ornament, but he manages to set himself free, and eventually join Furiosa in her struggle to get to the Green Place, an oasis she remembers from her childhood.

The unusual twist of introducing not just a female heroine that even outshines Max, but also a number of women who fight for their survival against patriarchal tyranny managed to anger some sensitive male souls, but this feminist approach was well incorporated into the story and is far from forced. It is also one of more original scenarios in post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction.


4. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer/The Watchowskis, 2009)


Although much of the film takes place in the 19th and 20th centuries, two of its plotlines have futuristic settings very unfavorable for mankind in general. One is 22nd century South Korea, with clones toiling their short lives away as slaves for the service industry. One such slave, Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae) is liberated, and has her existence enlightened by her liberator, after which she acknowledges the unjustness of the current order.

The other takes place in Hawaii a century after the Big Fall, an unexplained catastrophic event. The people live in tribes, some more peaceful than the others. Zachry (Tom Hanks), a member of one such tribe, comes across Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the Prescient, a technologically advanced society, who seeks his guidance through the mountains.

The film itself is an adaptation of the eponymous novel by David Mitchell, which was considered by some as unfilmable, given the sprawling, overarching story which connects generations of characters and their acts in very subtle ways. This link was emphasized by casting same actors for different roles in different plotlines.


3. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam, 2014)

The Zero Theorem (2013)

Terry Gilliam, Monty Python’s only American member, is known for incorporating dystopian and sci-fi themes in his films, his most famous film being practically an homage to Kafka and Orwell at the same time. In The Zero Theorem, which unfortunately didn’t deserve as much praise, he has treated us with a similar universe.

Christoph Waltz plays an oddball programmer, Qohen Leth, who is “crunching entities” for the Ontological Department of Mancom. On his request, he is sent to work from home, operating a supercomputer which stores all the entities previously crunched by workers, the data he needs in order to solve “The Zero Theorem”. He is distraught when he finds out that the purpose of the theorem is to prove that life has no meaning, as meaning is something he has been searching for, but never found.


2. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)


There is a common understanding that dystopian stories cannot be very uplifting and their characters too cute, and it seems like a reasonable statement. However, WALL-E proves that belief to be open to debate to say the least.

Indeed, the world of WALL-E isn’t a very uplifting one. He is a lonely robot on an Earth entirely covered in garbage left by the wasteful humans, particularly products of one megacorporation – Buy’n’Large. Centuries of collecting waste turned WALL-E into a sort of sentient being, consistently fascinated by his surroundings and human relics.

Developing both sense and sensibility, he falls in love with EVE, a robot sent by the corporation’s starliner on a quest to assess Earth’s living conditions. A turn of events will get them both aboard the starliner, where the last remnants of human society are to be found, morbidly obese and reliant on technology.


1. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)


Most famous for its long tracking shots of some very intense action scenes (courtesy of cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki, rewarded by the Academy for his later work on Gravity and Birdman), Children of Men was also a poignant allegorical tale about the state of the world today, vision of mankind’s future, where it is impossible to conceive for reasons unknown.

Such a state of affairs has led societies to the brink of collapse, where the United Kingdom has the only functioning government. The pressure of refugees flooding the country led to an establishment of a government responds by brutal police repression.

Loosely adapted from the eponymous novel by P. D. James, it features many Christian undertones alongside not-so-subtle references about the world. But it also shows a near-fascist government which uses fear to promote its goals.

Author Bio: Ivan Maksimović is a recent anthropology graduate from Serbia, currently doing an internship in a museum. He views film as an important outlet for ideas, especially those regarding social problems.