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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