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Best dystopian movies of all time

  • Best dystopian movies of all time

    The word “dystopia” might conjure a range of associations, but as a standalone concept, it remains somewhat elusive. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dystopian as: “An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.” Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, offers a second definition: “Anti-utopia.” Also worthy of consideration is the word's Greek origin, which loosely translates to “not-good place.” Clearly, you can develop endless interpretations of what makes for a “dystopia” and, by extension, a “dystopian” movie.

    Stacker ultimately qualified a dystopian movie by the OED definition. Hence, the best dystopian movies present societies in a state of great suffering or injustice. Springing from the collective well of human experience, each holds up a foreboding mirror in its exaggerated depiction of a potential reality. In turn, these dystopian films cultivate a sense of unsettling familiarity, as if today's peaceful civilizations are just a few disastrous events or decisions away from the stuff of nightmares.

    To compile a list of the best dystopian films of all time, Stacker used IMDb advanced searches, in-depth film journalism, and academic research. Each title needed at least 1,000 IMDb user rating votes to qualify, and in the case of a rating tie, the title with more votes ranked higher on the list. Zombie movies and isolated post-apocalyptic survival movies were intentionally excluded. While some consider these types of films to be dystopian, they don't feature an oppressive ruling body or a large enough mass of people to warrant “great suffering or injustice.” For these reasons, movies like “I Am Legend” were left off, while movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” were included. Any other cases of questionable “dystopian” films were assessed on a case-by-case basis.

    Without further ado, here are the best dystopian movies of all time. May they forever be the stuff of imagination.

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  • #100. THX 1138 (1971)

    - Director: George Lucas
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Votes: 47,337
    - Metascore: 75
    - Runtime: 86 minutes

    George Lucas adapted his own student film for this feature debut, which takes place in a rigidly controlled future society. Confined to a seemingly inescapable fortress, human beings are reduced to alpha-numerical designations and deprived of their basic desires. Upon snapping out of his brainwashed state, factory worker THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) formulates an exit plan.

  • #99. The Last Battle (1983)

    - Director: Luc Besson
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 5,536
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 92 minutes

    Director Luc Besson's first feature-length film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where all remaining humans have lost the ability to speak. Relying purely on non-verbal communication, two loners team up in a harrowing fight for survival. Between its lack of dialogue and grueling premise, the movie occasionally resembles a wildlife documentary.

  • #98. The Element of Crime (1984)

    - Director: Lars von Trier
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 9,116
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 104 minutes

    Controversial director Lars von Trier presents Europe as a dark and dystopian world in his feature-length debut. While hunting down a vicious serial killer, a detective (Michael Elphick) resorts to unorthodox methods. The director appears as a character named Schmuck of Ages, which is a role his biggest detractors might say he was born to play.

  • #97. The Quiet Earth (1985)

    - Director: Geoff Murphy
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 24,241
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 91 minutes

    After his scientific creation destroys virtually every living creature on earth, a man (Bruno Lawrence) finds himself quite literally alone in the world. He eventually comes upon two other survivors, but can he trust them? So goes this sci-fi drama from 1985, which critic Tom Keogh described as a “strange, vivid movie.”

  • #96. Logan's Run (1976)

    - Director: Michael Anderson
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 51,053
    - Metascore: 53
    - Runtime: 119 minutes

    Drawing upon youth culture's distrust of adults, this semi-iconic flick imagines a future in which every human is secretly executed when they reach 30 years of age. After pulling back the curtain on their city's utopian veneer, Logan 5 (Michael York) and Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) flee in search of a place called Sanctuary. A modern-day remake is reportedly in the works.

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  • #95. eXistenZ (1999)

    - Director: David Cronenberg
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 92,758
    - Metascore: 68
    - Runtime: 97 minutes

    Released the same year as similarly themed films like “The Matrix” and “The 13th Floor,” this unconventional thriller blends science fiction and body horror as only David Cronenberg can. It follows a game designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her marketing trainee (Jude Law) as they try to salvage her latest virtual reality creation. Or have they been playing the game this whole time?

  • #94. Warm Bodies (2013)

    - Director: Jonathan Levine
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 217,474
    - Metascore: 60
    - Runtime: 98 minutes

    Putting a clever twist on the zombie genre, this 2013 horror comedy chronicles the relationship between an infected boy (Nicholas Hoult) and a living girl (Teresa Palmer). As the zombie boy regains his sense of humanity, a number of the walking dead are brought back to life. In her review for Empire Magazine, critic Helen O'Hara claimed that the film “manages to make the apocalypse seem charming.”

  • #93. The Island (2005)

    - Director: Michael Bay
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 298,314
    - Metascore: 50
    - Runtime: 136 minutes

    A rare box-office misfire for director Michael Bay, this big-budget thriller stars Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson as two subjugated humans living in a post-outbreak world. Their only hope for salvation is an uncontaminated paradise known as The Island, but it turns out there's no room for paradise in a dystopia.

  • #92. The Maze Runner (2014)

    - Director: Wes Ball
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Votes: 411,152
    - Metascore: 57
    - Runtime: 113 minutes

    The first installment of “The Maze Runner” trilogy finds young Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) waking up in a strange place called The Glade, with no memory of where he came from. Surrounded by others who underwent the same experience, Thomas discovers that the only way to escape is through a deadly maze. As per the movie's initial tagline: Get ready to run.

  • #91. White God (2014)

    - Director: Kornél Mundruczó
    - IMDb user rating: 6.9
    - Votes: 14,925
    - Metascore: 80
    - Runtime: 121 minutes

    At the heart of this Hungarian drama are 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her dog, Hagen. When the two are separated, they undertake a long and arduous journey toward reunification. According to Variety critic Guy Lodge, the movie is both a story of “interspecies hierarchy” and a “simple but elegant metaphor for racial and class oppression.”

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