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If cinema provides any indication of where humanity is headed, we’d better start appreciating the here and now – all too often, science fiction seems to tell us one thing: the future looks grim.

Dystopian futures are a genre staple, a glimpse into the fictional (and non-fictional) failures of urban life. Here’s our pick of five iconic dystopias - what would your choice be to join the list?

Blade Runner

According to Blade Runner, a lot is about to change over the next five years. By 2019 LA is a sweltering nightmare of thick smog, hazy neon and self-aware androids. The opening shot of the future city, belching flames and attracting fork lightning, remains one of sci-fi cinema's most memorable.

Children of Men

Children of Men’s vision of London in 2027 is scarily recognisable. The film plays down the futuristic technology, instead opting for a grittiness that feels tangible and real.

The Warriors

The New York presented in The Warriors isn’t your typical dystopia, and isn’t nailed to a particular year, but it holds all the right ominous qualities. The city is a sprawling urban playground for the film’s numerous violent gangs who meet in the dead of night in vibrant, flamboyant outfits. Like an urban Mad Max, The Warriors is simultaneously dark and cartoonish, an evocative visual collage of graffiti, hissing steam and eye-sizzling neon that would make any normal person want to hide behind their curtains all day and night. Can you dig it?

The Hunger Games

Get sniffy about The Hunger Games all you like, but it’s perfect gateway sci-fi, a brilliant introduction to the genre’s themes and conventions for young audiences, stuffed with plenty of ideas. As a pastiche of classic sci-fi motifs, The Hunger Games presents a brilliantly realised dystopia, combining the segregated society of Metropolis, the gritty earthiness of Children of Men and the emotionally manipulative spectacle of, er, The X Factor.


Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is still the daddy of all dystopias, incredible to look at and thematically rich over 80 years after its release. Lang presents a stratified class-based society, with the upper class enjoying a life of luxury above the ground while the workers toil below as human cogs in an unjust societal machine. Metropolis paints a chilling picture of the horrors of industrialisation in a film that still feels like it’s years ahead of the pack.
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