With the future uncertain, artists over the years have provided their own—sometimes horrific—visions of what this world may become. In response, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 of the Most Terrifying Pop Culture Dystopias to remind us all that things could be a lot worse.
Whether through books, films or music, looking at worst-case scenarios can serve as a warning against the darker sides of our own society. Here’s our list of 10 of the darkest visions of the not-so-distant future.
10. Twelve Monkeys – (Film)
This 1995 film directed by Terry Gilliam is set merely a few years in the future and sees the world riddled by a virus so deadly, it’s forced the human population (that is, the surviving 1%) to live underground. In order to earn a pardon, a criminal (played by Bruce Willis) volunteers to travel back in time in order to help the government collect information on the virus and the mysterious terrorist organization known as the Army of Twelve Monkeys who are thought to have been responsible for the spreading of the virus.
9. The/Children of Men – (Book, Film)
In the year 2021 (2027 in the film adaptation) the world has not seen a new childbirth in the years since sperm counts in men fell to zero and all women became infertile. Since humans have lost all interest in politics, democracy has been abolished along with any real glimpse of hope for the future. However, all of this changes when it’s discovered one known pregnancy exists who very well may represents humanity’s only real hope for continued existence.
8. Metropolis – (Film)
Arguably one of the first “epics” in film history, Fritz Lang’s sprawling Metropolis came with serious political undertones in its prediction of a fully separated working class and upper class in futuristic Germany. Released in 1927, the film is revered as much for its special effects as it is its message, which continues to resonate today.
7. Battle Royale – (Book, Film)
Originally a novel written by Koushun Takami and later adapted into two films, these works offer a truly horrific vision of a futuristic Japanese culture, and undoubtedly provided at least a bit of inspiration for Suzanne Collins’ record-breaking dystopian series, The Hunger Games. In order to stop uprisings against an oppressive government, a single class of schoolmates are sent to an isolated island and forced to fight to the death until only one remains.
6. The Matrix – (Film)
In 1999 Larry and Andy Wachowski crafted a future of illusion with The Matrix, a vision of an unreal existence created by the machines who have taken control of the human race. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is shown this false reality when he learns the world he’s been living in is, in fact, a simulation of the world as it was in 1999, and intelligent machines now control the earth’s surface and harvest humans for the bioelectrical energy that fuels them. “Unplugged” and brought into true reality (near the year 2199) Neo joins a rebellion against the machines.
5. The Wall by Pink Floyd – (Album, Movie)
Pink Floyd’s sprawling 1979 rock opera The Wall provided music with some of its most recognizable tunes. However, the album represents the dangerous effects of personal isolation and abandonment by watching its main character transform into a fascist dictator. Through the obvious metaphor of barriers between one another, Pink Floyd has constructed a possible future resulting from the distance we keep from one another.
4. Blade Runner – (Film)
Highlighting the dangers of technology and its effects on nature and society, Ridley Scott’s vision of Los Angeles in the year 2019 centers around the capability to genetically manufacture robots named “replicants,” who are visually indiscernible from humans. However, the creation of replicants is strictly outlawed and their use is limited to menial tasks on distant planets away from Earth. In the event a replicant returns to Earth, special police officers called Blade Runners are trained to “retire” them.
3. Fahrenheit 451 – (Book, Film)
In 1953, famed American author Ray Bradbury created a future society in which books have been outlawed and firemen have been ordered to burn any house that contains even a scrap of written documentation. Though numerous interpretations have been discussed over the years, Bradbury maintains the story is not about censorship but rather speaks of the dangers of television replacing literature as the primary source of knowledge. Through the metaphorical book burning, Bradbury is discussing the harms of suppressing ideas void of any context as would be in a society of this nature.
2. A Clockwork Orange – (Book, Film)
One of Stanley Kubrick’s many filmic masterpieces, A Clockwork Orange was first created as a novella by Anthony Burgess in 1962. A satire portraying a society that includes a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence, A Clockwork Orange is a careful examination of violent animalistic tendencies within humans and our freedom to choose between good and evil.
1. Nineteen Eighty-Four – (Book, Film)
George Orwell’s iconic vision of a totalitarian society within the province of Oceania, Nineteen Eighty-Four represents perhaps the most frightening dystopian possibility due to its horrifying themes of omnipresent government surveillance, mind control and everlasting war. Under the watchful eye of Big Brother, The Party leader, humans are in a constant state of illusion and therefore blind to their own reality.