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15 Underseen And Overlooked Dystopian Futures In Film

Features
by Gabe Toro
March 19, 2014 1:19 PM
19 Comments
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Zardoz” (1974)
You can’t really be a leading man in Hollywood unless you hit the gym a few times. But in the seventies, if you had an action role, you just showed up, which is exactly what Sean Connery did following his early stints as James Bond for director John Boorman’s sci-fi trip-out. As a result, for those who haven’t seen the film, it’s impossible to not think of Sean Connery looking adorably doughy in those red leotard overalls with an impossible ponytail, his very presence promising audiences a trip into the unknown. But once you have seen this film, Connery’s questionable sartorial choices represent the least of your questions. This futuristic world finds the Earth divided between celestial beings of eternal life, and savage mortal hunters serving the ancient god Zardoz. Promoting violence over sex, Zardoz becomes the final word for the Brutals which Connery’s Zed counts himself as a member. But a plot by the Eternals turns Zed into a pawn for a deadly game that, ultimately, will bring death into the Eternals’ world. While Zed’s world is built on a lie, it’s the Eternals and their supposed utopia that proves to be rotten, a place where death has no presence, and life has henceforth ceased to have meaning. Everybody tends to dress better than Zed, however. That getup has not aged well at all.

"Time of The Wolf" (2003)
The apocalypse has come and gone by the opening of Michael Haneke's "Time Of The Wolf," the Austrian helmer's sole entry into the science fiction genre, but that doesn't mean that the worst is over. Far from it. Society is still crumbling around the central family, led by matriarch Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who are struggling to survive in a world in the aftermath of an catastrophe (drinking water is scarce, and livestock are set aflame). And in the opening minutes, they're robbed, and have to watch as the patriarch (Daniel Duval) is murdered, forcing them to flee, until they eventually come under the questionable protection of tinpot despot Olivier Gourmet, who has control of the uncontaminated water. It's about as much fun as you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic Michael Haneke film—i.e. no fucking fun whatsoever—but it's impeccably directed and performed, by Huppert especially. And what elevates it above, say, "The Road," are the hints that the director gives—without ever over-egging it—that he's not really talking about some futuristic dystopia, but about the places in the world—Kosovo, Somalia, wherever—where people eke out desperate existences in circumstances all too similar to those of Anne and her family.

A Boy And His Dog” (1975)
Vic and Blood are the characters of the title, a simple orphaned teenage boy and his lovable canine friend. And that’s just about where the normal elements of this Harlan Ellison adaptation end, as Vic is milling about in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Blood is a telepathic dog helping the boy get laid. This may be the end of the world, a nuclear wasteland that’s mutated some and killed most, but Vic just wants to spend time with his buddy. The two of them lay about and amuse themselves as the world around them sits in tatters, but this dissonance discontinues as the duo comes across a small town not only preserved from the destruction, but rendered in a 1950’s style suburbia. With nothing left, we only have the ability to retreat. Of course, this society is paranoid and self-destructive, and Vic ultimately ends up getting involved in their dangerously reductive horseplay, tied to a girl and a plot to overthrow the town’s leadership. Most dystopias feature this idea, that some will yearn for structure and clash with others who actively reject it. Ultimately, the latter strategy proves appealing for Vic, who won’t bend his allegiance to Blood, his very best friend at the end of the world. —With additional contributions from Jessica Kiang

Now we're at the end... of this feature, not the world, so we want to hear from you. Any end of everything movies we missed that you like? Do any of the ones listed here deserve more love? Let us know in the comments section. Also, additional must-reading for the syllabus: 20 Oddball Sci-Fi Films Of The 1970s.

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19 Comments

  • Nix | July 10, 2014 5:06 AMReply

    A dystopia, or the opposite utopia, signifies that there is some kind of government.
    And not the total lack of one as in Walking Dead.
    Though I like walking dead it is not a dystopian future film.

    I agree with THX1138 and Soylent Green as a dystopian future films.
    I think Daybreakers is one as well.
    I'd call a society of blooddrinkers pretty dystopian.
    It is based on the Omega man and The last man on Earth.
    But I'm not sure if those are Dystopian films.
    They're pretty movies though.

    ps: English is not my native language. So all you spelling nazi's can f*** off.

  • Sen | April 23, 2014 1:41 AMReply

    Never Let Me Go isn't set in the future. In the world of the film, medical breakthroughs occurred in the 1950s that led to longer human life spans (as a result of cloning and organ donation). So the film is set in an alternate present.

  • Ian | April 7, 2014 3:58 PMReply

    I'm gona add Cathal Black's "Pigs". "Cosmopolis" is also worth a look.

  • hardbonemac | April 6, 2014 7:38 AMReply

    " N O W " our 24 7 365 reality....and brought by a mass of asholes who want us....
    the list is about 45 lightyears long..... nsa, goverment,other goverment, and so on...
    number 234.456.000 then is realty tv like tunglecamp...

    more dystopia is not able...

  • Tomahawk #57 | March 25, 2014 12:40 AMReply

    In response to the last line in the "Blood of Heroes" review, The Game/Jugger is not only "playable" but there are currently leagues in Australia, Poland, Germany, the UK, and within the US there are leagues in Colorado, Ohio, and Southern California. It must be noted, though, that the sport is played with padded weapons and heavy on safety rules, usually playing in uniforms or jerseys, with So. Cal. (Juggers of the Wasteland) as the only armored, full-contact League. Videos of games in various countries are on YouTube, with the Juggers of the Wasteland playing at post-apocalyptic events.

  • pol | March 21, 2014 1:15 AMReply

    Yeah, some bad celluloid above. However, Code 46 was pretty good, as was Blood of Heroes. But Zardoz?

    I have a script with something along the lines of Branded, which I thought dropped the ball. A pretty cool dystopian vampire society showed up in Daybreakers.

  • Rob C | March 20, 2014 12:51 PMReply

    I really liked pre-Batman Christian Bale in "Equilibrium". Sure, the action scenes were a little far-fetched with all the "gun-fu" going on but the idea was intriguing.

  • Jan | March 20, 2014 11:50 AMReply

    Forgot the 1971 classic, THX 1138, with Robert Duvall.

  • Jamie T D | March 19, 2014 3:59 PMReply

    Never Let Me Go is underrated and tonally very sad. It is a fantastic film with great performances from the three leads.

  • Nope | March 19, 2014 5:27 PM

    Never bought for 1/2 of 1 second that anyone in their right mind would have any interest in whatsername over Keira Knightley. Talk about unrealistic. Have always despised her as an actress, and despised her in the film. Also hated the overwhelming need to prioritize the bland, terrible, completely unbelievable threesome over what was actually an intriguing personal journey in the novel.

  • Crazyxcrazy | March 19, 2014 2:23 PMReply

    Some films are better unseen and forgotten

    Don't waste your time on shit like Code 46 and Southland Tales

  • Will | March 20, 2014 1:44 AM

    Southland Tales is bizarre, terrible, incomprehensible, and everyone should see it at least once.

  • James | March 19, 2014 9:02 PM

    Meanwhile I love Code 46. Saw it twice in theaters and own the DVD, as well as the German Blu-Ray even though the audio is out of synch:) I think it's a highly underrated sci-fi film with stunning photography, a beautiful score and a design aesthetic that quite clearly influenced Spike Jonze's HER, which originally costarred Code 46's Samantha Morton. As they say opinions are like a certain body part, we all have them.

  • MAL | March 19, 2014 4:04 PM

    I really liked Code 46 when I saw it several years ago and have been meaning to have another look. Glad to see Never Let Me Go and The Quiet Earth on this list as well. Zardoz is a jaw-droppingly must-see gawdawful film.

  • Jaymole | March 19, 2014 1:43 PMReply

    There are some turkeys in there and I'm not talking about Turkey Shoot.

  • SherlockJr | March 19, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    Le Jetee, World on a Wire, Death Watch, Soylent Green, et cetera. But good list.

  • Brett | March 29, 2014 2:01 PM

    Good list. I'll add On a Silver Globe.

  • Fear Death By Water | March 24, 2014 11:20 PM

    The Omega Man is not the Grandaddy ... you forgot The Last Man On Earth! For shame!

    Missed: Delicatessen, Logan's Run, and The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Bartleby | March 21, 2014 6:59 PM

    I second Soylent Green! And while we're at it, how about the great grandaddy of The Walking Dead? The Omega Man

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