Uncertain Futures

Why do we respond so strongly to dystopian futures? Is it because we’re all born with a deep fear of the unknown and we have to know how it’s going to turn out? Or are audiences “tricked” into watching political and social statements under the guise of entertainment?

Probably both, I think? We’re all a little obsessed with the future (it’s in our nature) but so many people are repelled by what they see as being ‘preached at’ even if they fundamentally agree with the message, that they avoid “straight” calls to action. Art circumvents “head in the sand” avoidance and draws in the audience by entertaining them as it delivers a message.

I’ve picked twenty-five cinematic dystopias (I could have picked a hundred)…


Many of these films are portraying modernist societies through a postmodern eye. These cinematic worlds are in thrall to the development of science and technology, to mass production and a single truth.  Filmmakers use these hyperbolic representations of modernism to underline why they rejected it in the postmodern shift.

In many ways these films are a reminder of the oft quoted line that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. They may portray a future, but much of the detail of oppression, repression and fear is taken from our past.

Reading George Orwell’s quote that “nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward” (Orwell, 1941) I’m reminded of totalitarianism and the way that it attempts to fix society in one static position; to say  ‘this works, don’t change anything’.

But this is never, ever possible, even under the most brutal authoritarian rule. Change will always finds a way through the cracks. Trying to stop culture moving forward only makes society degenerate. Dystopian art uses reminders of our past to stop us sliding complacently into the future.


Boyle, D., (2002) 28 Days Later, DNA Films

Cameron, J., (1984) The Terminator, Pacific Western

Carpenter, J., (1981) Escape from New York, Goldcrest Films

Carpenter, J., (1988) They Live, Alive Films

Cuarón, A., (2006) Children of Men, Strike Entertainment

Gilliam, T., (1985) Brazil, Embassy International Pictures

Gilliam, T., (1995) Twelve Monkeys, Atlas Entertainment

Haskin, B., (1953) The War of the Worlds, Paramount Pictures

Kubrick, S., (1971) A Clockwork Orange, Polaris Productions

Lang, F., (1927) Metropolis, Kino Lorber

McTeigue, J., (2006) V for Vendetta, Virtual Studios

Morel, P., (2004) Banlieue 13, EuropaCor

Niccol, A., (1997) Gattaca, Jersey Films

Orwell, G., (1941) The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, London: Secker & Warburg

Proyas, A., (1998) Dark City, Mystery Clock Cinema

Proyas, A., (2004) I, Robot, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Schaffner, F.J., (1968) Planet of the Apes, APJAC Productions

Scott, R., (1982) Blade Runner, The Ladd Company

Spielberg, S., (2001) A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Amblin Entertainment

Spielberg, S., (2002) Minority Report, Amblin Entertainment

Verhoeven, P., (1987) Robocop, Orion Pictures

Verhoeven, P., (1990) Total Recall, Carolco Pictures

Verhoeven, P., (1997) Starship Troopers, TriStar Pictures

Wachowski, L. & Wachowski, L., (1999) The Matrix, Village Roadshow Pictures

Whedon, J., (2005) Serenity, Universal Pictures

Wimmer, K., (2002) Equilibrium, Dimension Films


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