The 50 Best Dystopian Movies of All Time

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The 50 Best Dystopian Movies of All Time

That dystopian movies have become a genre all their own speaks to our fears of the future. As oppressive regimes across the globe turn to technology to control their populaces—and we see our own government putting kids in cages and eroding privacies we’ve long taken for granted—we get a glimpse the terrifying possibilities of where we may be headed. It’s natural for us to explore those what-if scenarios in film, something we’ve been doing since at least 1932 when Fritz Lang brought Metropolis to life.

Not to be confused with post-apocalyptic films (though the two may overlap), dystopian films deal with a decidedly human threat from those in control. Dystopian societies are marked by mass suffering and great injustice, and we don’t always have to look for fiction to see examples. For our purposes here, we’ve focused on earth, eliminating films where the threat is from another planet. We’ve also eliminated post-apocalyptic films where society hasn’t been rebuilt to the point of a functioning government. That’s left a still very wide swath of cinema to consider, from sci-fi looks into the distant future to cautionary tales of a much more recognizable world in our present or even past. This may not be escapism, but as the increasing number of dystopian movies, novels and TV series prove, we remain captivated by stories of societies gone wrong and the struggle of individuals to overcome.

Here are the 50 best dystopian movies of all time:

50. The Running Man (1987)
Director: Paul Michael Glaser

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While The Running Man lacks the sophistication and dynamic pacing of a certain other Schwarzenegger-starring/dystopian sci-fi/satire film, its entertainment value is nothing to sneer at. Adapted loosely from a Stephen King novel of the same name, The Running Man depicts a future where everyone dresses like they’re at an ’80s-themed Halloween party and citizens regularly tune into a show where convicted criminals must fight to survive against both their fellow contestants and professional killers. Insert Hunger Games reference here. Between the absurd production design and Paula Abdul-choreographed dance sequences, any attempted satire is all but buried in a thick layer of silly. Still, in terms of sheer fun value, this film is quite the gem. —Mark Rozeman


49. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Director:   Robert Rodriguez  

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Alita: Battle Angel begins with Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz), doctor to cyborgs, scavenging through a junkyard full of spare parts in order to find anything he can use. What better way to start a film than with a metaphor about itself? Just like Dr. Ito, director Robert Rodriguez and co-writer/co-producer James Cameron sift through the remnants of established sci-fi and cyberpunk properties in order to glue together a recognizable and cohesive narrative within the confines of its genre. Considering the talent involved, it’s not surprising that the finished product is a frequently fun and kinetic, visually pleasing sci-fi/actioner, albeit one that doesn’t have a single new or fresh part embedded in it. Based on the popular manga, Gunnm, Alita: Battle Angel mostly takes its visual cues and narrative structure from a 1993 anime adaptation by the same name. That anime is barely an hour long, yet manages to pack in a sprawling cyberpunk universe with a deep and complex lore that supports whatever over-the-top tech fetish cyber action it throws at you. The story follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), whom Dr. Ito finds during his junk hunt and brings back to life. Her brain is human, but the rest of her is artificial. Just like a cyborg version of Jason Bourne, she doesn’t remember her past, but has supreme ass-kicking instincts, leading Ito to suspect some sinister military use in her past. The future world that Battle Angel inhabits is the lovechild of Blade Runner and Mad Max, a grimy post-apocalyptic city that’s also a grand, overpopulated cyberpunk metropolis. When the fighting finally begins, Battle Angel gets its metallic ass in gear. Rodriguez pushes the confines of the PG-13 rating to create some genre- and source-material-appropriate hack-and-slash gruesomeness with a significant amount of cyborg bodies split in half, decapitated and torn to pieces. For fans of futuristic sci-fi/action, it should provide an engaging if somewhat forgettable experience. —Oktay Ege Kozak


48. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Director: Mark Romanek

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An adaptation of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is just as poignant and melancholy, centering on a group of young people who grow up with a seemingly carefree life in an English boarding school. The beautiful pastoral setting hides the disturbing truth that Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and their classmates are clones, fated to be compulsory organ donors for their rich counterparts when they grow up. Confronted with this grim and unavoidable future, characters are faced with urgent questions about love, relationships, family and death. Pensive about matters of life and death, about what makes life worth living, Never Let Me Go features dark reminders of death’s inevitability while offering hope in the opportunity to reflect on what we should hold closest in whatever time we have left. —Kara Landhuis


47. Idiocracy (2006)
Director: Mike Judge

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Idiocracy’s dystopian setting is based on the idea of runaway “dysgenics,” the opposite of selective breeding: the inverse of natural selection, once the intelligent segment of the population gets “outbred” by the stupid. It’s an interesting idea to drop on Everyman Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), who arrives as a time traveler from 500 years earlier only to have himself proclaimed as the smartest man in creation. The average person in this setting, though, is facing a rather featureless, bland and frankly obnoxious day-to-day life, with a crippled economy, food shortages and poor mental and physical health. The upside? They’re mostly too stupid to notice or care theirs is an existence of boring, mushy pablum. —Jim Vorel


46. Punishment Park (1971)
Director: Peter Watkins

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Pseudo-documentary-style surveyor of both past and future Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park is willfully confrontational—it’s why Hollywood studios refused to distribute the film on release. (It played at one New York cinema for four days before it was pulled.) In the California desert, a group of young activists are given an option: Go to jail, or go to Punishment Park, and run to the American flag planted 50 miles away over scorching sands before the police catch you first. Most everyone chooses the park, where trigger-happy cops and soldiers lie in wait. Punishment Park is critical both of the regime oh-so-close to the real one of 1971, and of the activists turning to violence as a means to bring peace. This isn’t an easy watch, primarily because what makes the activists angry—police brutality, inequality, bureaucratic injustice, pointless wars—are still making people angry today, 44 years down the line. The real world’s inability to learn and move on is keeping Watkins’ film relevant. —Brogan Morris


45. Snowpiercer (2014)
Director: Bong Joon-ho

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic world: Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine and governed by a ruthless caste system. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman


44. Alphaville (1965)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

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Science-fiction isn’t particularly suited to Godard’s gaze—so erratic and tongue-in-cheek, so uninterested in the exigencies and peculiarities of world-building is the legendary French director—but there is also no better visionary to attack the mind-fuck that is this weirdo Lemmy Caution adventure. Alphaville is as much an experimental noir as it is speculative fiction, steeped in the tropes of the former while blissfully tinkering with the world of the latter, never quite justifying the hybridizing of both but never quite caring, either. As such, the pulpy story of a secret agent (Eddie Constantine) who’s sent into the “galaxy” of Alphaville to assassinate, amongst a few, the creator of the artificial intelligence (Alpha 60) which runs all facets of Alphavillian society by pretty much outlawing all emotion—meanwhile falling in love with the daughter of the inventor (Godard muse Anna Karina)—is as goofy as it is compelling, fully committed to the confusing premise and aware, as most Godard films are, of the leaps required of the audience to follow the meandering plot. Saturated with anachronism and stylized to the point of parody, Alphaville isn’t interested in immersing a viewer in a not-so-distant dystopian future as it is in laying bare science fiction as a genre which demands we dramatically re-conceptualize everything about the genre we take for granted: language, humanity and a future we’ll at least kind of understand. —Dom Sinacola


43. Equilibrium (2002)
Director: Kurt Wimmer

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In Equilibrium, Taye Diggs plays a future fascist law enforcement officer named Brandt, and near the climax of the film, Brandt gets his face cut off. That’s his whole face, impeccably separated from his head, hair- to jawline. This follows a kind of lightning-quick, future samurai sword fight in which Christian Bale’s character, the heroically named John Preston, has singlehandedly massacred his way, gun in one hand and sword in the other, through one law enforcement officer after another, determined to wrench humanity from the binds of a totalitarian state that has outlawed—you guessed it—feelings. Much like Taye Diggs’ face, Equilibrium is quite pretty in its action, very symmetrical. But also like his face, the fact that I just gave away a meaty part of the climax should be easily disconnected from whether or not you should still watch Equilibrium. You should: it’s all as simultaneously bonkers and well-mannered as the moment in which Taye Diggs’ face slides off the front of his head like salami from a meat slicer. —Dom Sinacola


42. Sleeper (1973)
Director:   Woody Allen  

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Sleeper’s sci-fi slapstick is Woody Allen comedy at the peak of the legendary filmmaker’s powers. Miles Monroe (Allen), as a cryogenically unfrozen man out of time, is drafted into an underground resistance movement against a tyrannical, robot-enforced police state. (In today’s political climate, its prescience feels eerie, if obvious.) What follows is pinpoint physical comedy, hilariously Allen-esque one-liners and some side-splittingly funny sight gags (not to mention the incomparably talented Diane Keaton) pervading the future dystopian America of 2173. Thankfully, for Miles, the police state of the future is evidently more incompetent than him. Would that we were so lucky today. —Scott Wold


41. Moon (2009)
Director: Duncan Jones

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First-time director Duncan Jones is overt about his stylistic appropriations of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to the sweeping orchestral music that frames the opening shots of the titular satellite and Earth. Yet, where Kubrick tapped into existential fears about human extinction and the future of civilization, Jones hypothesizes the logical conclusion of that dark vision: a world where the need for more energy has rendered humanity a manufactured cog of multinational corporations whose reach now extends beyond the boundaries of Earth. The film’s plot centers on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the only human on a lunar mining facility that harvests Helium-3, a clean fuel that can meet a near-future Earth’s ballooning energy demands. Base computer system GERTY (Kevin Spacey) is his sole companion on Sam’s three-year caretaking mission, since a supposed satellite failure means he can only send and receive pre-recorded messages. When an accident nearly kills Sam, he’s saved by a clone of himself and begins to unravel the sinister nature of the base, and his existence. Moon cribs heavily from the retro-futuristic look of ‘60s and ‘70s sci-fi for its claustrophobic and sanitized depiction of the moon base, but this high-tech eye candy is only the backdrop to a larger morality tale about humanity’s ever-shrinking position within a technologically-saturated society. When the human experience can be synthesized (and thus made disposable), does such a thing as “humanity” even exist? There’s a host of challenging philosophical threads throughout—cloning, masculinity, energy, corporate power—but those individual issues complement rather than engulf the larger narrative. Moon is a superlative example of science fiction that hearkens to the genre’s roots: social commentary on the human condition, without the easy catharsis of overblown special effects and space opera. It’s the ultimate rarity in modern cinema: a mature, engaging and thoughtful sci-fi movie, and proof that there’s life yet left in the genre. —Michael Saba


40. Escape From New York (1981)
Director:   John Carpenter  

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In the far future of 1997, when the president’s Air Force One flight is hijacked and crash-lands in the now-maximum security prison of Manhattan, there’s only one man who can save him, a one-eyed Kurt Russell who goes by the name of Snake. He struggles to thwart The Duke’s plans to use the President as a human shield in his march to freedom, all while maintaining his badass disdain for the US government. Written in the wake of the Watergate scandal, John Carpenter’s view of the future is a decidedly cynical one: Snake may be trying to save the president, but not without his classic sneer. —Sean Doyle


39. Silent Running (1971)
Director: Douglas Trumbull

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A precursor to both Wall-E and Moon, Silent Running was the first feature directed by Douglas Trumbull, the special-effects wizard best known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Tree of Life. Set on a spaceship hovering around Saturn, this meditative film concerns an interstellar greenhouse custodian named Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) who’s keeping watch over the last of Earth’s forests and wildlife. When Lowell is told to destroy his payload and return to Earth, he refuses, deciding instead to fake an accident and pilot his ship into the farthest reaches of space, where he and his living wards will be safe from human interference. Ecologically conscious, narratively simple, deeply affecting, Silent Running is one of those great lost gems of 1970s sci-fi. —Tim Grierson


38. Strange Days (1995)
Director:   Kathryn Bigelow  

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Before she reinvented herself as the director of award-winning docudramas, Kathryn Bigelow made her name directing crazy genre movies like Near Dark and Point Break. With all respect to Point Break, however, Strange Days remains Bigelow’s most compelling pre-War on Terror project. Written by Bigelow’s former husband James Cameron and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jay Cocks, Strange Days is a pulpy, noir-influenced sci-fi pic in the vein of Blade Runner but with more high-octane action and a lot more nudity. Developed in the era of the videotaped Rodney King beatings and the L.A. riots, the film is set in a dystopian Los Angeles where people’s memories and experiences are recorded directly from their brains to sell on the black market. Anyone who has ever wanted to experience criminal activities or perverse sexual encounters can now do so without repercussions. The trouble begins when vice-detective-turned-black-marketer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) discovers a “snuff” disc depicting the brutal murder of an acquaintance. This disc leads him down a rabbit hole into the urban underground. At nearly two and a half hours, the film’s visual pyrotechnics and beautifully stylized performances provide more than enough ammunition to justify such excess. —Mark Rozeman


37. Dark City (1998)
Director: Alex Proyas

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Alex Proyas’s magnum opus serves up a cerebral sci-fi extravaganza as filtered through the visual tropes of film noir and German Expressionism. A staggering achievement in imagination, Dark City, like clear predecessor Blade Runner, flopped at the box office only to be revived later as a beloved cult classic. The film casts Rufus Sewell as amnesiac John Murdoch who wakes up one night to discover that his city is (quite literally) under the manipulation of a band of mysteriously pale men in jet-black trench coats and fedoras. Along for the ride is Kiefer Sutherland as a crazed scientist and Jennifer Connelly as the femme fatale, our hero’s estranged wife. One might also draw a straight line between this and The Matrix, released a year later. The similarities between the two films’ visual styles and themes of slavery, techno-rebellion and free will are nigh-impossible to miss, and many visual essays have been written specifically to compare the two movies. John Murdoch’s arc is only slightly less portentous than that of the prophesied One (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix—both are seemingly normal men scooped up and thrust into a web of slowly untangling secrets while discovering that they possess special powers that will eventually allow them to defeat the puppetmasters who created their reality. The two films were even largely filmed at the same studio—Fox Studios Australia—and possess a similar green-tinged patina of unreality. Ultimately, Dark City is a bit more philosophically aloof than the popcorn-munching, easier to grasp Matrix, which is probably the reason the latter eventually became a cultural touchstone. But Dark City deserves to be seen, both on its own merits and as an exercise to see which of its sights may have lodged in the mind of the Wachowskis, waiting to be reborn in the next year’s blockbuster. —Mark Rozeman and Jim Vorel


36. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


35. Isle of Dogs
Director:   Wes Anderson  

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Isle of Dogs may be the closest Wes Anderson will ever get to a sci-fi film. Of course he would use stop-motion animation to make it. Set 20 years from now, amidst the ultra-urban monoliths of Megasaki City—a Japanese metropolis that also seems to be Japan, or at least a Westernized idea of the small island nation—the film begins care of a decree by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), a boulder of a man with equal ties to an ancient lineage of cat-loving aristocrats and to, based on the elaborate back tattoo we glimpse atop his tight little butt in a quick bath scene, an archetype of organized crime and political corruption. Due to a vaguely described epidemic of "dog flu" (or "snout fever"), Kobayashi bans all dogs to Trash Island, a massive byproduct of technology and futurism, beginning with Spots (Liev Schreiber), the guard dog of 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin), who also happens to be the Mayor’s ward after Atari’s parents died in a horrible accident. Since Bottle Rocket in 1996, the more manicured Anderson’s films have become—his obsessive control over his frames broadening into grander and grander worlds—the more we may be apt to extol his accomplishments rather than get invested in his stories. And it’s probably never been easier to do that than with Isle of Dogs, so rife with meticulousness and imagination, as is Anderson’s brand, and so unconcerned with steering this ostensible children’s movie towards actual children. For a director who pretty much defined a generation’s cinematic fetishization for symmetry (and quirky hipster nonsense) to then fetishize a country to which Westerners mainly relate through fetishization? So much of this beautiful movie just sort of eats itself. Still, the emotional weight of Isle of Dogs depends on knowing exactly what that bond between dog and human can mean, how deeply and irrationally it can go. At the core of Isle of Dogs is that kind of best-friendship: No matter how far we advance as a civilization, how disastrously we atomize and digitalize our lives, we’ll always have the devoted dependence of a dog, our immutable companion across the vast wasteland of human history. —Dom Sinacola


34. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Director: Mamoru Oshii

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It’s difficult to overstate how enormous of an influence Ghost in the Shell exerts over not only the cultural and aesthetic evolution of Japanese animation, but over the shape of science-fiction cinema as a whole in the 21st century. Adapted from Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga, the film is set in the mid-21st century, a world populated by cyborgs in artificial prosthetic bodies, in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Niihama. Ghost in the Shell follows the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the commander of a domestic special ops task-force known as Public Security Section 9, who begins to question the nature of her own humanity surrounded by a world of artificiality. When Motoko and her team are assigned to apprehend the mysterious Puppet Master, an elusive hacker thought to be one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, they are set chasing after a series of crimes perpetrated by the Puppet Master’s unwitting pawns before the seemingly unrelated events coalesce into a pattern that circles back to one person: the Major herself. Everything about Ghost in the Shell shouts polish and depth, from the ramshackle markets and claustrophobic corridors inspired by the likeness of Kowloon Walled City, to the sound design, evident from Kenji Kawai’s sorrowful score, to the sheer concussive punch of every bullet firing across the screen. Oshii took Shirow’s source material and arguably surpassed it, transforming an already heady science-fiction action drama into a proto-Kurzweil-ian fable about the dawn of machine intelligence. Ghost in the Shell is more than a cornerstone of cyberpunk fiction, it’s a story about what it means to craft one’s self in the digital age, a time where the concept of truth feels as mercurial as the net is vast and infinite. —Toussaint Egan


33. District 9 (2012)
Director:   Neill Blomkamp  

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Let’s begin with a number: 30 million. That’s how much money Neill Blomkamp spent to make District 9, a movie small in scale but great in ambition, look like it cost four times that amount. Years later, Blomkamp’s career hasn’t realized the full promise shown in District 9, but here, he looks like a guy knows what he’s doing all the same. A genre stew blended from varying measurements of Alien Nation, Watermelon Man, Independence Day, The Fly and RoboCop, District 9 treads familiar territory in an unfamiliar place, through an unfamiliar lens, splicing documentary-style filmmaking together with stomach-churning body horror and, by the end, high-end action spectacle. At the time, the end results of Blomkamp’s mad sci-fi cocktail felt revelatory. Today they feel disappointing, a remark on what he could have been and where his career might have taken him if he’d not lost himself in the morass of Elysium or turned off even his more devoted followers with Chappie. All the same, District 9 remains a major work for a first-timer, or even a third-timer, polished and yet scrappy at the same time; the film tells of an artist with something to say, and saying it with electric urgency. —Andy Crump


32. The Truman Show (1998)
Director: Peter Weir

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Peter Weir’s delightful, hilarious The Truman Show wouldn’t get made anymore. It’s a star-studded event film centered around a simple and dystopian premise: Jim Carrey’s eponymous character has unwittingly been raised from birth as a reality TV star and only now has begun to suspect that everybody in his life is a hired actor. Carrey’s clear-eyed acting is worlds away from the zany roles that catapulted him to fame a few short years prior, though, as was typically the case with Carrey roles in the ’90s, copious amounts of special effects work go toward creating a believable simulated reality for Carrey’s endearing everyman to be trapped within. The heartfelt monologues and devastating revelations as he fights to escape his gilded cage shine all the brighter for it. The fight to break away from control, from a sanitized and curated existence dictated by a literal white father figure in the sky, rings alarmingly two decades years later, when social media has made performative brand managers of us all. Truman is an unlikely and often hapless hero in his own story, but his eventual hijacking of his own narrative—and his final defiance of his literal and figurative creator figure—form one of the most heroic cinematic arcs of the last 20 years. —Kenneth Lowe


31. Dredd (2012)
Director: Pete Travis

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Seventeen years was probably far too long after the fact to offer an apology to comic book fans for 1995’s abominable film adaptation of Judge Dredd. After that extended leave of absence, no one could blame American audiences for having long since stopped wondering why the hell John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s grim lawman endured as one of Britain’s most popular comic book anti-heroes. Still, 2012’s Dredd 3D wastes no time showing why—director Pete Travis’s film is a brutally efficient exercise in B-movie know-how. Karl Urban, who’s no stranger to tightly wound sci-fi fare, provides the scowl and chin of Judge Joseph Dredd, a total-law package professional who is clearly as disinterested in humoring his rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby) as the script is in coddling its audience. A few lines of raspy Man with No Name narration, coupled with a superbly bleak establishing shot from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, are all the generosity afforded by the filmmakers toward understanding this world before it unleashes chase sequences and bursting heads. This is a film that respects its source’s established fan base, and cares little for casualties who can’t hang on through its grindhouse paces. Apology accepted. —Scott Wold


30. Okja (2017)
Director: Bong Joon-ho

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. It’s perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality—the culmination of Bong’s unique rhythms into something like a syncopated symphony. The film opens with Tilda Swinton’s corporate maven Lucy Mirando leering out an expository dump of public relations about her new genetically created super-pigs, which will revolutionize the food industry. We’re also introduced to Johnny Wilcox, played by Gyllenhaal as a bundle of wretched tics, like there’s a tightly-wound anime character just waiting to rid itself of its Gyllenhaal flesh, but in the meantime barely contained. Okja is the finest of the super-pigs, raised by a Korean farmer (Byun Hee-bong) and his granddaughter Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), an orphan. Okja is Mija’s best friend, a crucial part of her family. Bong takes his sweet time with this idyllic life Mija and Okja share. The narrative slows down to observe what feels like a Miyazaki fantasy come to life. Mija whispers in Okja’s ear, and we’re left to wonder what she could possibly be saying. The grandfather has been lying to Mija, telling her he has saved money to buy Okja from the Mirando corporation. There is no buying this pig; it is to be a promotional star for the enterprise. When Johnny Wilcox comes to claim Okja (a sharp note of dissonance in the peaceful surroundings) the grandfather makes up an excuse for Mija to come with him to her parents’ grave. It is there he tells her the truth. Mija’s quest to rescue Okja brings her in alliance with non-violent animal rights activists ALF, which ushers the film into a high-wire act of an adventure where Bong’s penchant for artful set-piece is pushed to new heights. The director works with an ace crew frontlined by one of our greatest living cinematographers, Darius Khondji, who composes every frame of Okja with vibrant virtuosity. The very action of the film becomes action that is concerned with its own ethics. As the caricatures of certain characters loom larger, and the scope of the film stretches more and more into the borderline surreal, one realizes that the Okja is a modern, moral fable. It’s not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


29. Gattaca (1997)
Director: Andrew Niccol

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Less given to gadgetry and special effects than deeply felt characters, Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film envision a near-future in which almost all children are lab-created and genetically modified to prevent any mental or physical “imperfections.” Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, a “God child” conceived naturally and therefore irrevocably flawed. In order to pursue his ambitious career dreams, Vincent seeks help from a DNA broker and assumes a new, genetically superior identity. Archetypal in construction, the film uses a beautiful orchestral score by veteran composer Michael Nyman (The Piano) to evoke an atmosphere that both melancholic and reflective, layered over impeccable production design. The film’s every visual element, from color saturation to sound design, assists in immersing viewers in an atmosphere, like those beings one semantic step from being synthetic, simultaneously familiar and completely alien. —Kara Landhuis


28. THX 1138 (1971)
Director:   George Lucas  

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The brilliance behind George Lucas’s choice to have his dystopic society disciplined via android cops is that there’s little difference between the machines who keep the “peace” and the people for whom they’re keeping it. Resembling a sort of campy take on highway patrolmen (think the Village People, except with way less singing) spliced with G.I. Joe’s Destro, the robot police force is governed solely on “budget,” which of course allows our hero THX (Robert Duvall) to escape the underground society, and the mysterious deity, OMM 0910, that represses him. Yet, in being left to his own devices after OMM determines that chasing after THX would put the robot police force 6% “over budget,” even THX’s humanity is further reduced to a matter of balancing numbers. It may be a point of triumph for our protagonist, but in perhaps the most subtle thematic move the director has ever made, Lucas is implying that even the organic characters in THX 1138 are mere tools for a higher power. —Dom Sinacola


27. A Scanner Darkly
Director:   Richard Linklater  

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A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater’s second animated-over-live-footage film, can be hard to remember without recalling specific circumstance. It hits that deeply, touches that kind of nerve—looks the way everything feels when pumped full of anesthesia for surgery, nothing in any frame still, everything crawling like hallucinated bugs in the film’s opening scene. About a future in which the War on Drugs is lost and a new drug named Substance D is sweeping the nation, A Scanner Darkly adapts the Philip K. Dick novel to follow Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) as an undercover detective who becomes an addict, the drug splitting his personality into two. Arctor takes D with his friends James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and things have gotten bad. Those bugs? They’re not real, but they’re crawling all over him at any given moment. Accordingly, RDJ and Harrelson are not actors who deal in stillness, constantly moving, always some nervous twitch displaying some desperate itch that begs to be scratched. Toss in animation that dances from frame to frame, and we’re a long way from the gorgeous Vienna of Before Sunrise or the suburban high school of Dazed and Confused. Still, Linklater masterfully guides each scene to maintain the sense of dread permeating Dick’s dystopian work. —Travis M. Andrews


26. Logan’s Run (1976)
Director: Michael Anderson

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In the far-flung future of 2274, 30 is the new 80. Unfortunately for those who think they’re entitled to a second act in life, like Logan 5 (Michael York), escaping can get you sentenced to “Deep Sleep” by the Gestapo-like Sandmen. And even if you make it past the human assassins, you could still wind up face-to-chrome grill with Box, the magnificently melodramatic robot who ran out of fish! And plankton! And sea greens! And protein from the sea!, and so decided it might as well flash-freeze some fresh Runners instead. I can’t prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion Billy West modeled his performance of thespian robot Calculon from Futurama after Roscoe Lee Browne’s positively Shakespearean Box. “My birds! My birds! My birds!! —Scott Wold

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