One of Judge’s most underrated comedies, Idiocracy belongs on this list because it may be the most believable dystopia, precisely because of its soft-paternalism. Unlike movies that take 1984 as their inspiration, there’s no brilliant mastermind at work here, no evil cabal of businessmen. Instead, it’s just humanity at its most craven and stupid, looking for affirmation from greeters at Costco (“Welcome to Costco, I love you.”), confusing brand loyalty for identity, and choosing flamboyant buffoons as president.
Children of Men (2006)
By this point, it’s more than a cliche to say that humanity is the real monster. We’re not completely surprised when the heroes of Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later find themselves assaulted not by zombies, but by other humans. But few movies capture that intense cynicism better than Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Set in a world where an unknown disease has stripped humans of the ability to have children, Children of Men follows bitter loner Theo (Clive Owen, never better) as he helps the one pregnant woman in the world, an immigrant called Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), escape a fascist UK.
Children of Men signals its worldview in the opening seconds, when people gather in a coffee shop to watch news of the death of the world’s youngest person. Cuarón uses a single, shaky take to follow Theo as he briskly moves past the mourners to get his coffee and head out to the street, only to be nearly destroyed by a random bomb. As a ringing fills the soundtrack and we catch a glimpse of a stumbling figure grasping his now-severed arm, we realize that Cuarón has placed us in a world where the loss of a future has driven humanity to its worst, most hateful impulses. And yet, despite that bleakness, the movie builds to a beautiful climax, an equally jaw-dropping oner that shows hope for humanity, even at the end of the world.
Captain America eats a baby. That’s not really the plot of Snowpiercer, Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s adaptation of the French comic book Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s not even a scene in the movie, as Chris Evans’s Curtis merely mentions in a self-loathing speech that he knows what an infant tastes like. But it is a good example of what makes Snowpiercer such a powerful movie, casting an actor who became synonymous with guileless freedom fighting in an openly-Leftist allegory about a train containing the only survivors of a climate apocalypse.
Most of the people live in squalor in the back of the train, including Jamie Bell’s Edgar, Octavia Spencer’s Tanya, and Song Kang-ho’s Namgoong Minsoo. But as Curtis leads a desperate charge toward the front of the train, he and the others discover layers of inequality. The result is less an allegory for the very real class division in our world, and more a visceral scream against the ruling classes, who live in luxury sustained by the suffering of the lower classes.
The Lobster (2015)
What can be more dystopian than being lonely in love? That’s the question posed by The Lobster, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s attempt at a romantic comedy. Set in a hotel filled with other single people, The Lobster follows the newly divorced David (Colin Farrell at his most pathetic) as he tries to find a mate before being forced to transform into an animal of their choice. If he fails, David plans to become a lobster, because “lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives.”