Dystopian Governments in Film and Literature

From nuclear annihilation and alien attacks to evil robots and totalitarian regimes, dystopian film and literature showcase all of our wildest fears about what could happen in the future. By taking violence and oppression to the extreme, dystopian stories question the role of government and shed light on real-world issues such as disease, warfare, politics, and climate change.

 

Dystopian governments in books like The Hunger Games capture the imagination of teenagers and adults alike. The genre has been popular since the turn of the 20th century. For a wide selection of dystopian books and films, check out the 30 examples highlighted below.

1. District 9
A suppressive government forces an extraterrestrial race to live in slum-like conditions on Earth, until they receive help from a kindred spirit who is a government agent.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Main Actors: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Year: 2009

2. Elysium
Ghetto Earth is ruled by the elitist space station Elysium, which is protected from the Earth-dwelling “illegals” who are destroyed if they attempt to enter.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Major Actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Year: 2013

3. Ender’s Game
Government agencies breed children to be geniuses and then train them as soldiers to defend against an anticipated attack from an alien race.
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1985

4. Equilibrium
A fascist government has made all forms of emotion illegal, and a law-enforcement officer attempts to overthrow the system.
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Main Actors: Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Taye Diggs
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Year: 2002

5. Fahrenheit 451
A government worker transforms from a “company man” into an independent thinker who fights against the numbing effects of pop culture on a society that has lost sight of its rights and responsibilities.
Author: Ray Bradbury
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1953

6. Gattaca
A government requires implantation of optimal genetic codes in children prior to birth to create “valids,” who are considered superior to naturally conceived “invalids.”
Director: Andrew Niccol
Major Actors: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Gore Vidal
Genre: Romance/Sci-Fi
Year: 1997

7. The Giver
In what initially appears to be a utopian society, there is only one human who is chosen to receive the complete range of human emotions and knowledge of the past.
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1993

8. The Handmaid’s Tale
In a post-nuclear world, fertile women are few and are forced into breeding to maintain population growth.
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Romance/Sci-Fi
Year: 1985

9. The Hunger Games
An elitist government requires each of the twelve districts under its rule to send one girl and one boy to hunt and kill each other as part of an annual televised game.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Year: 2008

10. I, Robot
In a society overrun by technology, a cop investigates a crime that may have been committed by a robot and begins to question the larger threat robots might pose to humankind.
Director: Alex Proyas
Main Actors: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, Alan Tudyk
Genre: Mystery/Sci-Fi
Year: 2004

11. In Time
A future society engineers people to stop aging at 25, but programs them to live only one more year.
Director: Andrew Niccol
Main Actors: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Shyloh Oostwald
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Year: 2011

12. Looper
The mafia uses time travel to send targets 30 years into the past to encounter a hired gun that’s waiting to kill them.
Director: Rian Johnson
Main Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi
Year: 2012

13. Lord of the Flies
A dysfunctional society of little boys stranded on an island disintegrates into a desperate fight for survival.
Author: William Golding
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1954

14. The Matrix
A computer hacker teams up with a group of rebels to fight back and overthrow the machines that are enslaving humanity through a computer-simulated reality.
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Main Actors: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Genre: Adventure/Sci-Fi
Year: 1999

15. Metropolis
In a futuristic city, the working class is at extreme odds with autocratic city planners who have every intention of controlling them.
Director: Fritz Lang
Main Actors: Brigette Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Year: 1927

16. Minority Report
A special police unit doesn’t wait for criminals to be proven guilty; they arrest them before they commit their crimes.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Main Actors: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow
Genre: Action/Mystery/Sci-Fi
Year: 2002

17. Neuromancer
In this novel, government rule is powered by artificial intelligence, virtual reality, genetic engineering, and corporations that overpower nations.
Author: William Gibson
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1984

18. Oblivion
Earth has been devastated and the few remaining “humans” who have been assigned to guard the planet aren’t aware they’re actually clones and the government they’re now serving is alien.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Major Actors: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Joseph Kosinski, Morgan Freeman
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Year: 2013

19. Oryx and Crake
In this post-apocalyptic world devastated by a lethal virus, one human seems to be the only survivor and fights to stay alive.
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 2003

20. Planet of the Apes
A crew of astronauts crashes onto a planet run by intelligent talking apes that oppress and enslave humans.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Major Actors: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Genre: Mystery/Sci-Fi
Year: 1968

21. Robocop
Detroit is filled with crime and dysfunction when a mortally wounded cop returns as a powerful cyborg that is haunted by suppressed memories.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Major Actors: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy
Genre: Crime/Sci-Fi
Year: 1987

22. Testament
After nuclear war in the United States, isolation abounds in a devastated society as a woman struggles to care for her family in a small town outside of San Francisco.
Director: Lynne Littman
Major Actors: Jane Alexander, William Devane, Rossie Harris
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Year: 1983

23. The Road
In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son travel together along a road that leads to the coast, mostly defenseless against bands of lawless thugs.
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Year: 2006

24. The Running Man
A twisted government uses a game show gauntlet to try to publicly execute an innocent man.
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Main Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Year: 1987

25. The Time Machine
The “Time Traveler” voyages into the distant future to discover a seemingly peaceful society filled with cannibalistic predators who harvest people for food.
Author: H.G. Wells
Genre: Sci-Fi
Year: 1895

26.Total Recall
In a society where nothing is what it seems, a customer of Rekall finds himself on the run after the company implants fake memories of his life as a spy.
Director: Len Wiseman
Main Actors: Colin Farrell, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Year: 2012

27. Twelve Monkeys
On an Earth where most of the human population has been eliminated, a convict is forced to go back in time to learn about the man-made virus that caused the devastation.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Major Actors: Joseph Melito, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Year: 1995

28. V for Vendetta
An elusive freedom fighter battles a totalitarian government in near-future London.
Director: James McTeigue
Main Actors: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Rupert Graves, Stephen Rea
Genre: Crime/Fantasy
Year: 2005

29. Waterworld
After the melting of the polar ice caps, the world is mostly underwater and dominated by outlaw “smokers” who are plagued by the mutant seafarer who battles against them.
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Major Actors: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Year: 1995

30. Wall-E
The future of mankind rests on the success of a bumbling waste-collecting robot’s mistaken journey into space.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Major Actors: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
Genre: Animation/Family
Year: 2008