Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Dystopian Movies - Rolling Stone
Home Movies Movie Lists

Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Dystopian Movies

‘The Matrix,’ ‘Children of Men’ and eight more unforgettable accounts of a world gone wrong

the road warrior mel gibson


Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Maze Runner made $32.5 million this past weekend, proving once again that there's an endless appetite for movies that take place in horrific dystopian futures. The third chapter in The Hunger Comes is coming in two months, and that's guaranteed to be one of the biggest movies of the year. We figured it was a good time have our readers select their favorite dystopian movies. Here are the results. 


‘The Matrix’

The Matrix paints a particularly bleak vision of the future in which super intelligent robots have enslaved the human race, placing them in pods and harvesting their energy while making them think they are living on earth circa 1999. (It's been pointed out they could have simply used cows, who are less likely to figure out what's going on and fight back.) Keanu Reeves plays a hacker that learns the truth and joins a group of rebels fighting back. It's an amazing concept and a great first movie, but the series couldn't maintain the momentum and the sequels were disappointing. 


‘The Hunger Games’

Like many dystopian movies, the events of The Hunger Games take place on Earth after some ill-defined apocalyptic event. Society is divided into 13 districts, all of which focus on one specific task, producing things energy, grain and lumber. They are ruled by a decadent class that throw a yearly competition in which two members from each district fight to the death. Author Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the book after flipping between reality shows and news footage of the war in Iraq.


‘The Road’

There have been a lot of awful visions of the future created by Hollywood over the past few decades, but none are quite as grim as that seen in The Road. Based on the 2006 Cormac McCarthy book, The Road is the tale of a father and son traveling across the remains of a society that was destroyed many years in the past. The survivors have limited food and have largely turned to cannibalism, even eating newborn babies. It's a story of endurance and survival in the face of overwhelming odds and should not be watched by the easily disturbed. 


‘Escape From New York’

New York was so bleak in the early 1980s that one could almost imaginable the city turning into a closed-off prison colony. That's the premise of this John Carpenter-directed classic, which features Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a former soldier that's given one day to land on the island and rescue the President of the United States. The film was shot for just $6 million, and it became a huge hit, spawning the 1996 sequel Escape From L.A.



Nearly every dystopian tale of the past 65 years owes a major debt of gratitude to George Orwell's classic book Nineteen Eighty-Four, a tale of life under the brutal regime of a leader known as Big Brother. His minions, the Thought Police, rule every facet of people's lives, though one man rebels by falling in love. The public is told everything is being done for the greater good, even though the world is in a state of constant war. Hollywood wasn't going to let the actual 1984 pass without turning the novel into a movie, and eventually they put together an adaptation starring John Hurt, Richard Burton and Suzanna Hamilton. It received mixes reviews, though nothing could compare to the original book. 



Leave it to Monty Python's Terry Gilliam to explore the absurd aspects of living in a dystopian future. His 1985 cult classic Brazil focuses on a bored, run-of-the-mill government worker, played by Jonathan Pryce, that has frequent daydreams of a beautiful woman. One day, a fly gets jammed in a printer, resulting in the torture and death of the wrong man, kicking off an insane series of events that results in Pryce coming face to face with the cruel overlords of his society. European crowds embraced the movie, but it took many years before it found a faithful audience in America. 

"Brazil's going to be on my gravestone," Gilliam recently told Rolling Stone. "I know that. But with Brazil, what people don't remember is half the audience would walk out. Now it's held as a classic, blah, blah, blah – bullshit!"


‘A Clockwork Orange’

In this 1971 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece (based on a novel by Anthony Burgess), Malcolm McDowell plays the leader of a cruel gang that commits a series of vicious crimes in a futuristic version of London. After finally getting caught, McDowell is sent to prison and eventually subjected to an experiment designed to cure him of his violent tendencies. It's a deeply cynical story and many scenes were shocking to Kubrick fans expecting another film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's also an enormously influential film, inspiring much of the fashion worn by punk rockers later in the decade. 


‘The Road Warrior’

Mel Gibson made his name with the low-budget 1979 film Mad Max, and just two years later he returned with this amazing sequel. This time around, director George Miller had a decent budget, and he used it to flesh out Max's back story and create an elaborate world where our hero battles marauders in the desert. This is a particularly dusty and dirty vision of the future, where gas is an extremely rare commodity and decent people are hard to find. Max returned for a third chapter in 1985, and a the long-awaited fourth film is coming next summer. Mel's not in this one. 


‘Children of Men’

It's 2027 and no children have been born for nearly 20 years, leading to a complete breakdown of society. England is the one country that's held onto order, but it became a police state after getting flooded with refugees. When it's discovered that a young refugee is pregnant, Clive Owen helps smuggle her out to the Azores. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the film scored reviews and was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, but wasn't a huge hit at the box office. 


‘Blade Runner’

In this 1982 Ridley Scott classic, a police force hunts down robots (known as replicants) that have come to earth in an effort to extend their limited lifespan. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a retired police officer tasked with tracking down these rogue replicants, a tricky job considering that some of them legitimately believe they are humans. Rumors have circulated about a sequel for years and wheels seem to be in motion, but it's unclear whether or not Harrison Ford will take part. 

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.