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29+ Top Dystopian Films Throughout The Years, Ranked


| LAST UPDATE 07/06/2022

By Arianna Morgan

Dystopian films have been made since the beginning of time, but some stand out more than others. From Bladerunner to Terminator, here are some of the best ones - just try not to get too freaked out along the way!

30. Metropolis (1927)

Gross profit (worldwide): $1,349,711

IMDb score: 8.3/10

Dystopian films can transform audiences far and wide within just a 90-minute film, and Metropolis was no different. In fact, it was one of the first dystopian films of our time that simply blew our minds!

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Metropolis was a major production for its time, with its cutting-edge special effects and clear vision. However, it wasn't until decades later that audiences could fully appreciate the film and understand the cultural and political issues regarding Germany during that period.

29. Interstellar (2014)

Gross profit (worldwide): $701,729,206

IMDb score: 8.6/10

This epic Christopher Nolan film is set in a dystopian future where climate change threatens all humanity, making it impossible to survive. So, a team of dedicated astronauts made it their mission to travel throughout a wormhole near Saturn to look for a new location for humankind.

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Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, and more, this movie was a major success upon its release. The team brought on a Caltech theoretical physicist as an executive producer and scientific consultant to successfully capture the theoretical vision.

28. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Gross profit (worldwide): $168,839,459

IMDb score: 8.0/10

Terry Gilliam's dystopian whirlwind of a film, 12 Monkeys, transports audiences to a future world that has been overrun by a deadly disease. Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt, the sci-fi/ thriller film follows Willis as he volunteers to travel back in time to find answers about this dangerously violent virus.

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After humankind is forced to take extreme measures to avoid the virus, Willis goes on a mission to stop this deadly virus from making it into the future. The message behind 12 Monkeys shows audiences that the past is the past, and it simply can't be changed.

27. Gattaca (1997)

Gross profit (worldwide): $12,532,777

IMDb score: 7.8/10

The 1997 film Gattaca explores the themes of genetic manipulation and eugenics. It illustrates the set of beliefs that aim to improve the genetic quality of humankind by excluding certain groups of people thought to be "inferior" and promoting those that are "superior."

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Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, the film showcases a genetically inferior man as he takes over the body of a superior one to accomplish his dream of space travel. The cult-followed film offered some controversial messages but overall gained a massive following and was a massive hit.

26. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Gross profit (worldwide): $746,045,700

IMDb score: 7.9/10

This dystopian film, directed by Bryan Singer, brought back life to the X-Men franchise after a few misses. Starring High Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto, the acting trio we had all been waiting for, put audiences in a trance as Wolverine whisked through time to prevent a dark future.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past combines both a new cast and characters from the old films to portray one of the most successful movies of the franchise. The film further analyzes what pushes humans (and mutants) to kill and where their own survival and worldviews factor into that.

25. 1984 (1984)

Gross profit (worldwide): $8,430,492

IMDb score: 7.1/10

Based on the dystopian social science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, director Michael Radford adapted George Orwell's cautionary tale and transformed it into the 1984 film we know today. Starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, and Suzanna Hamilton, 1984 is often pointed out as a classic totalitarian state.

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1984 definitely gives audiences a lot to think about! The central theme focused on warning readers about the dangers of totalitarianism. It explored the extreme levels of control and how a government system ultimately was "big-brothering" the society until one tried to rebel.

24. The Fifth Element (1997)

Gross profit (worldwide): $263,920,180

IMDb score: 7.6/10

Bruce Willis must have had a special draw to dystopian-themed films, as he also starred in The Fifth Element. Mila Jovovich and Gary Oldman also starred in the late '90s film, and it was this sci-fi film that really launched Jovovich into the industry.

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Regarded as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, director Luc Besson captures Korben Dallas, a cab driver who searches for a mysterious fifth element to defeat an evil force. Besson wanted viewers to take away a very crucial line from the movie by Leelo, "What's the use of saving life when you see what you do with it?"

23. The Matrix (1999)

Gross profit (worldwide): $467,222,728

IMDb score: 8.7/10

This one for sure checks out. The Matrix is a legendary movie in the dystopian movie world and the not-so-dystopian movie world. From its release in the late '90s until now, The Matrix has gained an absolute cult following over the years and is still regarded as one of Keanu Reeves' most iconic movies.

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The film stars Reeves as a computer hacker who fights an underground war against computers who have manufactured reality with a system called the Matrix. The trilogy takes place in a dystopian future where humans are trapped in a simulation, and the message encourages people to choose between the real and artificial worlds.

22. The Island (2005)

Gross profit (worldwide): $162,949,164

IMDb score: 6.8/10

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, and Djimon Hounsou, The Island is a classic sci-fi/action film. Taking inspiration from other dystopian films seen on this list, such as The Matrix and Gattaca, The Island takes audiences on a trip while sharing an important message.

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Lincoln Six-Echo, played by McGregor, lives in a futuristic facility but eagerly wants to go to The Island. Described as the last safe place on Earth, he discovers some dirty secrets about the last uncontaminated spot on Earth. The film offers people to think about the delicateness of human life and to ultimately live with hope.

21. The Lobster (2015)

Gross profit (worldwide): $15,509,546

IMDb score: 7.1/10

This dystopian film deviates from the others in a sense but still follows the same "strange" guidelines. Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Jessica Barden, The Lobster takes place in a near dystopian future following the rules of The City, where single people are taken to The Hotel and have 45 days to find a romantic partner.

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If the singles don't find a partner in The Hotel, they are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods. Interesting concept for sure. The film is essentially a satire on how society views singles and how social norms are presented in daily human behaviors.

20. Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Gross profit (worldwide): $169,846,945

IMDb score: 6.3/10

Scarlett Johansson must also have a thing for dystopian sci-fi films, and we get it - critics can't get enough! Johansson stars in Ghost in the Shell as Major Mira Killiam, the world's first cyber-human whose sole purpose is to take down the growing world of cyber-terrorism.

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Directed by Rupert Sanders, Ghost in the Shell takes some aspects of the classic 1995 anime film and develops it into a more recent version. The 1995 anime director Mamoru Oshii wanted a film that portrayed the “influence and power of computers” and how humans have merged with machines over time and the power they have.

19. Logan's Run (1976)

Gross profit (worldwide): $25,000,000

IMDb score: 6.8/10

Taking place in the year 2274, Logan's Run follows an idyllic lifestyle within a confined city that believes when people turn 30, they are reincarnated. However, those who know the truth become "runners" and are hidden elsewhere. Starring Michael York as an officer, the story follows him as he uncovers the dark secrets.

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In a society today where the youth are evidently running the media through technology, Logan's Run feels oddly applicable. The film explores the idea of ageism and what extremes people will do today to make themselves feel young again, regardless of the outcome.

18. The Truman Show (1998)

Gross profit (worldwide): $264,118,201

IMDb score: 8.2/10

Starring Jim Carrey, The Truman Show showcases Carrey as an insurance salesman who finds out his entire life is actually a reality TV show. Carrey discovers that his life is a TV show, his family and friends are actors, and everything is a lie - so he does everything he can to escape.

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Evidently, the film discusses the way humankind accepts the reality that they are presented with; even if they want to break out, a lot of the time, they just stick to what they know. Ironically, reality TV is huge today; from The Kardashians to Big Brother, people are willingly being watched and recorded.

17. The Hunger Games (2012)

Gross profit (worldwide): $694,394,724

IMDb score: 7.2/10

Based on a hit book series, The Hunger Games movies became an instant overnight success. The first film, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, follows Katniss Everdeen ( Lawrence), who is put into a televised competition where those from each of the twelve Districts are chosen to fight to their deaths.

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The franchise is currently working on its fifth installment, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, after four very successful previous movies. The dystopian films explore the ability and desire to survive, as well as the importance of friendship and family in an oppressed and materialistic society.

16. Snowpiercer (2013)

Gross profit (worldwide): $86,758,912

IMDb score: 7.1/10

The early 2010s film, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, takes place in a future where a climate change experience has failed and ultimately killed off all life... except for those who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe. With this, a new class system emerges, and things get tricky.

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The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world brought on due to humans abusing technology and ultimately altering the weather to change dramatically, bringing on the ice age events. The thriller also explores the wide gaps in social classes, and ultimately a revolution breaks out due to such struggles.

15. The Running Man (1987)

Gross profit (worldwide): $38,122,105

IMDb score: 6.6/10

Taking place in a dystopian America, the late 80's film follows a falsely convicted police officer as he finally gets a shot at freedom. However, he is forced to participate in a TV game show where runners and convicts battle killers for their freedom.

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Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Conchita Alonso, the film explored a scientific diction dystopia where capitalism and game shows have taken over society. Based on a novel written by Stephen King, the film highlights how uncivilized the world can become and how people are willing to partake in it.

14. Soylent Green (1973)

Gross profit (worldwide): $3,600,000

IMDb score: 7.0/10

The 1973 ecological dystopian thriller film, Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Edward G. Robinson, was loosely based on the science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. The film crosses over science fiction and police procedural themes.

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The movie takes place in NYC in a futuristic setting where we are dropped into a world that is overcrowded, heavily polluted, and dealing with heavy climate change. Only the wealthy can afford clean waters and real foods, and the rest of the population relies on a food supply called Soylent. Ironically, the film takes place in 2022…

13. Watchmen (2009)

Gross profit (worldwide): $185,382,813

IMDb score: 7.6/10

Loosely based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, Watchmen drifts far from the original comic. Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, and Carla Gugino, the movie magnifies the dark modern world and the effects of the quick technological changes affecting the core of the universe.

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The action drama film follows Rorschach, a vigilante who goes on a mission to investigate how a fellow superhero of his has died. Living in 1985, an era after superheroes existed, we follow the vigilante as he finds out secrets that could potentially alter the course of history for years to come.

12. Children of Men (2006)

Gross profit (worldwide): $70,595,464

IMDb: 7.9/10

This dystopian action thriller takes place in 2027 (which feels oddly close to now) but is based on the 1992 novel by P.D. James, The Children of Men. Starring Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film dives into a world where women have become infertile.

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In this disastrous world, a former activist helps transport the one pregnant woman to a sanctuary where she will be safe. But of course, she comes across many hurdles along the way. Director Alfonso Cuaron told Vulture that the message behind the film is to be aware of "What's really relevant now" and "to stop being complacent."

11. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Gross profit (worldwide): $404,980,543

IMDb score: 7.3/10

Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, and Jennifer Connelly, Alita: Battle Angel dives into the cyborg world. This dystopian film follows a deactivated cyborg who comes back to life and is determined to find out who she is after not remembering a single thing.

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The cyborg initially has no memory but then remembers she was a powerful warrior over 300 years ago. The film highlights important questions about death, life, and immortality that have constantly been a conversation for years and will continue to be for years to come.

10. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Gross profit (worldwide): $26,960,374

IMDb score: 8.3/10

This early '70s drama and crime film follows Alex, a psychopathic delinquent who is put in prison for murder and assault. However, to shorten his sentence, he volunteers as tribute for an experimental therapy that is conducted through the government - but things go completely wrong.

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A Clockwork Orange looks deeper at the true freedom of choice and what choices individuals make that could end up being problematic when the decisions affect their safety. The film highlights how the state is willing to protect society by eliminating the freedom of choice from people.

9. The Road (2009)

Gross profit (worldwide): $27,639,579

IMDb score: 7.2/10

Another movie in a post-apocalyptic world, so hold on! Starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, this sci-fi drama film follows a father and son duo who are on a journey to head towards a safe environment - but first, they have to get through a dangerous and challenging trek to get there.

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As the man and his son journey through this post-apocalyptic world in order to reach a civilized nation, the duo does what they can to try and survive. Viewers toy with the idea of humanity and the dignity of death when watching the film while acknowledging the tough reality of loss as well.

8. Blade Runner (1982)

Gross profit (worldwide): $41,722,424

IMDb score: 8.1/10

Starring the charming Harrison Ford, Blade Runner transports its audiences to a whole different dark futuristic world. The early '80s film raises an important question on what it really means to be a human being, and how do we as humans know that any of our memories are real?

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Directed by Ridley Scott, the film follows an ex-cop who became a special agent and goes on a mission to obliterate a group of particularly violent, dangerous androids. However, the deeper involved he gets in the assignment, the more he begins to question who he is as a human being.

7. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Gross profit (worldwide): $32,599,488

IMDb: 8.0/10

Planet of the Apes is an all-time classic; it was even re-done in 2001, starring Mark Wahlberg. The original version, however, was released in the late '60s as an all-time adventure film. In the movie, an astronaut crashes into an unknown planet to discover that the planet is ruled by intelligent talking apes and humans are enslaved.

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The film ends when *spoiler alert* George Taylor realizes he's been on Earth the entire time. He then sets off to help save his home planet. The exciting movie is a giant allegory for America's racial conflict and highlights the injustices seen in the country for centuries.

6. Total Recall (1990)

Gross profit (worldwide): $261,317,921

IMDb: 7.5/10

This science-fiction action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, and Michael Ironside takes audiences on a dystopian adventure like no other. The story follows Schwarzenegger as he searches for answers regarding why he keeps dreaming about Mars, a rather specific dream to have!

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Quaid realizes that a false memory was implanted into his mind, and the people who completed this action want him dead. However, the ending has left audiences confused for years. Was Quaid a secret agent who had these false memories implanted? Or is what we saw on camera the false memory that was embedded? Perhaps we'll never know.

5. Escape from New York (1981)

Gross profit (worldwide): $25,274,965

IMDb score: 7.1/10

This early '80s sci-fi film starring Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef takes place in 1997 when a U.S. president crashes right into Manhattan - and things get complicated. Manhattan becomes a maximum-security prison, and Gruff Snake Plissken, a soldier-turned convict, is sent to rescue the president.

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John Carpenter's Escape from New York put Kurt Russell on the map for a whole different reason - showing he can kill it in an action film. Although the film is actually a satirical science diction movie, audiences everywhere leave with a lot to think about as it highlights a lot of concerns and fears from that time period.

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Gross profit (worldwide): $520,881,154

IMDb score: 8.6/10

Another brilliantly directed James Cameron film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, stars the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator is sent on a mission to kill Sarah Connor's son, but a cyborg interferes and is on a mission to protect him - even after being initially after Sarah's life.

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The message behind the terminator movies follows the same theme; the future is not written, and we seemingly can decide our own fate. The movies deeply explore the theme of fate as well as the rise of machines and the rise of artificial intelligence - and ultimately, the position of humanity.

3. Robocop (1987)

Gross profit (worldwide): $53,425,389

IMDb score: 7.6/10

Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, and Dan O' Herlihy, Robocop tells the story of an injured police officer who rejoins the force - but this time as a cyborg. In this dystopic film, Weller returns to the force with submerged memories as he fights crime in Detroit.

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Robocop eventually became a successful franchise with three movies in total! The films offer audiences a glance inside the power and corruption police can maintain. In addition, the film addresses corporate greed and the privatization of the government, all in response to what was relevant at the time.

2. Battle Royale (2000)

Gross profit (worldwide): $1,340,715

IMDb: 7.6/10

This Japanese action/thriller movie follows a group of 42 9th graders who are sent to a deserted island with one goal: to kill everyone until one survivor is standing. The teenagers are sent away with a map, food, and weapons with an explosive collar around their neck, where if they break a rule, the collar explodes.

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This controversial-yet-cult-classic teeters on the line between extreme violence and ultimate courage. The students are a part of a "game" that tests their ability to do anything they can to survive, knowing that if they don't, they will die. The film may not be a satire of society as a whole but rather of adolescent hardships.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Gross profit (worldwide): $375,709,470

IMDb: 8.1/10

Taking place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Mad Max: Fury Road stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. The group joins forces in order to overthrow a tyrant who controls the land's water supplies. And, no surprise, they face many hurdles along the way.

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The general theme behind the film analyzes survival and the retention of humanity during apocalyptic events. The film also analyzes the theme of humanity and how objectification can seemingly happen to anyone at any time - but it is up to society to handle it.