With George Orwell’s classic novel back in the news again, people shouldn’t overlook its film version–or any of the other excellent, downbeat cinematic visions here. Whether you watch these movies feeling fear for the future or hope that we’ll avoid these fates, dystopian films rank among my favorites–and the medium’s best.
Between the resurgence of its source novel and actor John Hurt’s recent death, Michael Radford’s adaptation is a must-watch. Hurt stars as Winston Smith, who lives under the totalitarian government of Oceania.
2. The Mad Max Franchise
I can’t pick just one entry in George Miller’s series as the best, since each film brings something new to the screen. Whether it’s the low-budget world of the original or the amped-up 2015 favorite Mad Max: Fury Road, these films feature plenty of action and intriguing ideas.
Terry Gilliam’s best film attacks bureaucracy, totalitarianism, plastic surgery, and more, using both incisive satire and a wicked sense of humor. Be sure to watch the 142-minute cut, rather than the “Love Conquers All” version.
Disney doesn’t seem like the best source for dystopian cinema, but this Pixar cartoon doesn’t shy away from commentary on consumerism and waste. As a bonus, viewers get treated to the sweetest love story between two robots you’d ever imagine.
Set on an always-moving train in a world overtaken by snow, Bong Joon-Ho’s epic is simultaneously packed with action and thought-provoking ideas about class. Chris Evans leads a cast that also includes John Hurt (sniff), Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, and Jamie Bell.
You may not have seen this silent sci-fi classic, but its visuals will seem very familiar. Metropolis influenced a number of films on this list, as well as Star Wars, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Incredibles, and more.
7. Children of Men
Set in 2027, Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar nominee features a world where humans have lost the ability to reproduce. Come for the awesome action sequences (that car attack scene!), stay for the fascinatingly bleak view of the future.
8. The Matrix
Millions took the red pill with this game changer from the Wachowskis. Bullet time, epic fight scenes, and philosophy: The Matrix has it all.
9. Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s neo-noir is always worth watching for its rainy, futuristic city and are-they-or-aren’t-they-replicants plot, but it’s especially worth a view with this year’s upcoming sequel Blade Runner 2049, also starring Harrison Ford.
This blacker-than-black comedy is set in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce but the business of the title somehow keeps fresh meat in supply. Also from directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, The City of Lost Children could have been on this list as well.
11. Death Race 2000
Speed, violence, and sports are at the pounding heart of this 1975 classic. This is a super fun B-movie with an early starring role from Sylvester Stallone.
12. Battle Royale
Unreleased in the U.S. for over a decade, this Hunger Games precursor is definitely not for the teenage set. A class of junior high school students must fight to the death, making Battle Royale truly live up to its violent name.
13. Minority Report
The second Philip K. Dick adaptation on this list (after Blade Runner), this Steven Spielberg hit explores the idea of a society where “precogs” have visions of crimes that haven’t happened yet and the pre-criminals are imprisoned for what they would’ve done. Tom Cruise is a fugitive, so he runs. A lot.
Did I leave off your favorite dystopian film?