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    18 Of The Best Dystopian Films And TV Shows To Really Get You Thinking

    Yes, both Blade Runner films are on the list.

    Sometimes it's interesting to imagine where society could be going, or what the world would look like under different circumstances. Dystopias provide us with a fascinating view of an alternative version of reality, which is why I'm personally a big fan of them!

    Warner Bros. Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

    If you're looking to get into dystopias, here are some standout TV shows and films I suggest you explore.

    FYI, I've included some general plot outlines, but nothing spoiler-heavy.

    1. Years and Years

    BBC One

    What it's about: This six-part limited series follows an extended family living in a politically fractured version of the UK; society is being shaken up by right-wing radicalism, economic volatility, and technological advancement. Beginning in 2019, the show fast-forwards with every episode, and each member of the Lyons family receives their own individual storyline. 

    Why I liked it: This one really got to me! Each character's story feels incredibly important and is super emotional. I found the acting and writing incredibly engaging, but some parts definitely hit a little too close to home.

    Starring: Emma Thompson, Russell Tovey, T'Nia Miller.

    Where to watch: BBC iPlayer (UK), HBO Max (US). 

    Check out the trailer:

    View this video on YouTube

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    2. Counterpart

    Starz

    What it's about: I watched this during lockdown number one in the UK, which was unsettling enough! I won't go into too much detail, but this two-season long show is set in Berlin and deals with issues involving bureaucracy, mystery, and espionage... And that's all I can really say!

    Why I liked it: Despite the disconcerting themes of Counterpart, I thoroughly enjoyed it. J.K Simmons and Olivia Williams put in excellent performances, and the development of both characters is fascinating. It's a show that I don't hear talked about enough, but it's honestly amazing!

    Starring: J.K Simmons, Olivia Williams, Nazanin Boniadi.

    Where to watch: Starz, Amazon Prime Video.

    Check out the trailer:

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    3. V for Vendetta

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    What it's about: V for Vendetta is a quintessentially Orwellian dystopia set in London. In the film, the main character – known only as V – dons a Guy Fawkes mask as he sets out to destroy an oppressive authoritarian regime. The film had such an impact that it has inspired protestors the world over to sport the same mask that V wears in the movie! Indeed, these masks have now become synonymous with protests and resistance.

    Why I liked it: The script is masterful and elegantly performed by Hugo Weaving as V. The dystopian aspect is wonderfully gripping, and the backstory of V is fascinating too.

    Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Fry.

    Where to watch: Netflix & Amazon Prime Video (UK), HBO Max (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    4. Blade Runner

    Warner Bros.

    What it's about: Based on the famous Philip K. Dick novel Do Android's Dream of Electric Sleep, Blade Runner takes us to a futuristic Los Angeles in 2019. In this dystopian vision of LA, synthetic humans are commonplace, and an off-planet rebel group of "replicas" have to be hunted down by Harrison Ford's character, Rick Deckard.

    Why I liked it: There's a very organic feeling when you watch this film that it's building to something, and the way the visuals and the score work together makes for great viewing. It was released in 1982 – 37 years before its time setting – so for some people the effects may seem visually dated, but I still think this movie holds up.

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer. 

    Where to watch: Sky & NOW (UK), Amazon Prime Video & Apple TV (US).


    Check out the trailer:

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    5. Blade Runner 2049

    Warner Bros. Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

    What it's about: This sequel to Blade Runner is set 20 years on from the original. In this film, we follow replica-hunter K as he discovers shocking facts about the replicas, and uncovers game-changing mysteries about the world he lives in.

    Why I liked it: Both Blade Runner movies have received mixed reviews, but I think this sequel is beautifully shot and has a strong story. The narrative development is super engrossing, and the casting is spot on.

    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford.

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (UK), HBO Max (US). 

    Check out the trailer:

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    6. The Matrix

    Warner Bros.

    What it's about: Is life real, or are we all plugged into the matrix? This iconic reality-bending movie follows Keanu Reeves as Neo in a fight for control over both his "real life", and a virtual reality known as the matrix. 

    Why I liked it: I mean, here we have one of the best sci-fi dystopias of all time! The Matrix has an epic plot and features action scenes that were totally innovative at the time. I would save yourself the trouble of watching the sequels though. That being said, the latest instalment in the series is coming out in December so maybe they'll get back to their best, but I'm not holding out hope.

    Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne.

    Where to watch: Sky & NOW (UK), HBO Max (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    7. Brazil

    20th Century Fox/Universal Pictures

    What it's about: Another plot in the Orwellian mould, Brazil is a prototypical dystopia, but with a strong comedic essence that really comes through. Overwhelmed by a futuristic world full of bureaucracy and technology, Sam Lowry becomes an enemy of the state when he meets the woman of his dreams. 

    Why I liked it: The humour is spot-on in this film, and the imagery is truly bizarre and utterly unforgettable. It's a unique black comedy take on the dystopia genre, and one that's definitely worth a watch. 

    Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro.

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (UK), Apple TV (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    8. The Handmaid's Tale

    Hulu

    What it's about: In this TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's famous novel, totalitarian leaders and religious fanatics dictate a society in which women are mercilessly subjugated. Mass infertility rates mean that the few fertile women left are commodified by the rich in order to supply them with children.

    Why I liked it: This series does a really good job of adapting Atwood's vision. The sharp production and amazing cast make for a gripping series. 

    Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Max Minghella.

    Where to watch: Channel 4 & Amazon Prime Video (UK), Hulu (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    9. The Man in the High Castle

    Amazon Prime Video

    What's it about: Here's another one from the mind of Philip K. Dick! This alternative history dystopia depicts a universe in which Germany and Japan won the Second World War. The US is now split into three zones – the Greater Nazi Reich, the Japanese Pacific States, and the neutral zone. The story follows an ensemble of individuals who are brought together when they discover newsreels that show Germany and Japan losing the war.

    Why I liked it: The plot and the imagined universe make for an intriguing and fairly disconcerting watch that is pretty unique. Alternative histories tend to be quite hard to buy into, but The Man in the High Castle does a great job of setting the scene.

    Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente. 

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video.

    Check out the trailer:

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    10. Gattaca

    Sony Pictures Releasing

    What it's about: Set in a future in which people are judged solely on the quality of their genetic make-up – and bad genes can land you with a menial job for life – a man strives to fulfil his dream of becoming an astronaut by deceiving the DNA-based class system.

    Why I liked it: Every performance is really entertaining, and the unique plot and the stylish style really hold up, despite the film's somewhat slow pace. 

    Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law. 

    Where to watch: NOW & Sky (UK), Hulu (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    11. Black Mirror

    Channel 4/Netflix

    What it's about: This dark anthology series creates a brand new world in every episode, and frequently presents a disturbing version of reality that is centred around our use of technology.

    Why I liked it: The creators do an excellent job of highlighting some of the more unsettling developments we have already seen regarding technology in society, and ominously show us how they could be our downfall. The inventiveness of every plot makes Black Mirror a supremely watchable series.

    Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, John Hamm, Bryce Dallas Howard. 

    Where to watch: Netflix.

    Check out the trailer:

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    12. 12 Monkeys

    Universal Pictures

    What it's about: In a plague-ridden future, a prisoner is sent back in time to prevent the devastating spread of a disease. However, his constant foretelling of certain disaster gets him detained in a psychiatric facility, which eventually causes him to question his own sanity. In 2015, a TV adaptation of 12 Monkeys aired, so you should check that out too!

    Why I liked it: I had to watch this a few times before I figured out what was going on, but to be fair, I was much younger then! This dystopian movie mixes elements of sci-fi and thriller, but somehow it all works. Also, the performances are excellent throughout.

    Starring: Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe.

    Where to watch: BBC iPlayer (UK), HBO Max (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    13. Altered Carbon

    Netflix

    What it's about: This cyberpunk series follows a prisoner who has to solve a baffling murder in order to gain his freedom. In this story, consciousness can be digitalised, and bodies or "sleeves" can be swapped and replaced. 

    Why I liked it: This is a little bit of a slow-burn, but by the time it gets going the series is really fun and engaging, and the visual effects don't let it down at all. 

    Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Martha Higareda.

    Where to watch: Netflix.

    Check out the trailer:

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    14. Snowpiercer

    CJ Entertainment

    What it's about: The Earth has frozen over and is uninhabitable – the only remaining humans survive aboard the Snowpiercer train, which goes round and round unendingly. Aboard the vessel, the rich and wealthy reside in luxury meanwhile the poor are crammed together and under constant watch. Naturally, class tensions soon give way to full-on mutiny. There's also a Netflix series of the same name, so if you want more Snowpiercer action, head there for two whole seasons of it!

    Why I liked it: This film uses a variety of classic dystopian tropes, but it doesn't come off as hackneyed in the slightest! Bong Joon-ho's typical vivid violence works really well here, and imbues Snowpiercer with a mesmerising quality.

    Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-Ho. 

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (UK), Netflix (US).

    Check out the trailer:

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    15. Children of Men

    Universal Pictures

    What it's about: Based on P. D. James's novel, this is a film about a futuristic world in which mass infertility has fractured society. Britain is a police state, and is funnelling immigrants into refugee camps, much to the outrage of activist groups who are deemed terrorists by the authorities. However, an unexpected pregnancy soon turns everything on its head.

    Why I liked it: This film is visually epic, and it's a shame I've never managed to see it in a movie theatre because I'm positive it would be a spectacular viewing experience. The story is thought-provoking, and doesn't just rely on its main premise to drive the narrative.

    Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine.

    Where to watch: BritBox & Amazon Prime Video (UK), Apple TV+ (US). 

    Check out the trailer:

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    16. WALL-E

    Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    What it's about: On a deserted, rubbish-covered Earth, one robot is left to clean up all the trash. In the name of love, WALL-E follows a probe across space and encounters what has become of humankind. 

    Why I liked it: I remember seeing WALL-E in the cinema when it came out and I was shocked at just how poignant it was! While it has all the usual Pixar charm, WALL-E's story covers consumerism, over-consumption, and climate catastrophe in an interesting and animated way. Also, WALL-E is pretty damn cute!

    Starring: Elissa Knight, Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin.

    Where to watch: Disney+.

    Check out the trailer:

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    17. The Lobster

    Sony Pictures Releasing

    What it's about: Imagine having to couple up with someone within 45 days, and if you don't, you get turned into an animal for the rest of your life. Well, that's the gist of The Lobster. 

    Why I liked it: Though this film is very much an acquired taste, if you do like this film, you'll probably love it! Deeply satirical and fairly unsettling, I personally found this offbeat movie highly enjoyable.

    Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux.

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (UK), Apple TV+ (US). 

    Check out the trailer:

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    18. Mad Max: Fury Road

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    What it's about: Fury Road is the fourth feature film in the iconic Mad Max series. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled over by a chaotic tyrant, we follow two rebels attempting to survive and find order where there really isn't any. 

    Why I liked it: If you're a fan of high-speed, high-octane chases through deserted wastelands, then this is most definitely a movie for you. This film is very full-on – in a good way – and the set and costume design are really superb. I'd also recommend watching Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior if you like this film!

    Starring: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult.

    Where to watch: Sky & NOW (UK), HBO Max (US). 

    Check out the trailer:

    View this video on YouTube

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    Did we miss out any dystopian classics? Let us know your suggestions in the comments below!