Dystopia describes a world with mass inequality and injustice, usually post-apocalyptic or totalitarian and generally pretty grim. The opposite, of course, is utopia where things are fair and near-perfect.
It’s always interesting to imagine what the globe will look like in the future, and whether or not the quality of life will improve or decline. Dystopian films present to us a bleak future, which is fascinating because it just might happen. Often dystopian stories have aspects we can recognise, like Black Mirror, which focuses on the perils of advancing technology.
In this article, we’ll take you through the absolute best dystopian movies on Netflix to get you in the mood for disaster.
Top 10 Dystopian Movies on Netflix
The director of Dune (2021), Denis Villeneuve adores sci-fi adaptations. Arrival is based on a 1998 short story titled “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. The plot follows the life of a linguist, played by Amy Adams, who is recruited by the US army to attempt to communicate and begin peace proceedings with aliens who have just arrived on Earth.
The movie was met with critical claim, and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Directing, among numerous other accolades.
V for Vendetta (2005)
The beloved political action classic, V for Vendetta, is certainly one of the best dystopian movies on Netflix.
Written by the Wachowski’s and directed by McTeigue, the film is based on the 1988 DC Comic series of the same name. Taking place in an imagined future where a neo-fascist regime has taken hold of Britain, the plot follows V (Hugo Weaving), an anarchist and freedom fighter who tries to incite a revolution through acts of terrorism. Natalie Portman also stars as a young, lower-class girl mixed up in the uprising.
The Guy Fawkes mask worn by V in the film has become a symbol of standing up to oppression, and the movie as a whole is often considered a pro-anarchist, anti-establishment piece of art.
Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men is set in the near future, two decades after infertility has rendered humanity endangered. When one woman miraculously becomes pregnant, civil servant Theo Faron helps get her to safety. An impressive cast appears in the film, including Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and Clive Owen.
Children of Men went on to win a number of Academy Awards and is often featured in top 100 lists of the best films of the 21st century.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick brought Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel to life in his dystopian crime movie. The plot is centred around Alex, a young psychopathic delinquent incarcerated for horrific crimes. In order to reduce his sentence, he takes part in experimental rehabilitation therapy which leads to unforeseen consequences.
A Clockwork Orange was a game-changing film for its depiction of violence on screen, and the unique aesthetic and direction seen in the movie made waves in popular culture. Even today, the film’s influence is still felt in the world of cinema.
Before Parasite (2019), director Bong Joon Ho adapted the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” for the big screen.
The film follows a group of climate disaster survivors onboard the train, the Snowpiercer. This train has strict socio-economic divisions, with the poorest at the rear and the wealthiest close to the front. When a group of rebels from the lower class carriages start a revolt, the elaborate system begins to collapse.
In 2020, the novel was was re-adapted into a television series with the same name, starring Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly. This is also available to watch on Netflix.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The chef d’oeuvre of Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is still a hugely influential film essential to the canon of cinematic history.
With a screenplay penned by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, the film follows a team on an expedition to Jupiter with sentient computer HAL. Addressing themes such as the threat of AI, the purpose of human existence, and the possibility of alien life, this film is deeply philosophical and darkly dystopian.
In part based on the 1950s EC comic “50 Girls 50”, the movie Passengers follows two individuals who wake up 90 years to soon onboard a spaceship transporting passengers to a colony planet.
With a thought-provoking premise, and stellar performances from both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, the film raises a lot of competing questions about life, death and the future of humanity.
Ready Player One (2018)
Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One certainly deserves a mention when discussing the best dystopian movies on Netflix.
This ambitious production depicts what might happen if much of humanity lived their lives through virtual reality. The plot follows a young orphan who sets out to discover the fortune of the VR designer within his creation, but winds up discovering much more.
The Platform (2019)
In this Spanish production by David Desola, prisoners held in cells close to the top of the tower receive first access to a plentiful table of food. As this table is lowered through the platforms, greed means less and less remains for the prisoners beneath.
An interesting look at unfair wealth division in society, The Platform is probably one of the most relevant and best dystopian movies on Netflix.
The Bad Batch (2016)
Level 16 (2018)
What Happened to Monday (2017)
From the above list, it seems you’re not short of quality dystopian movies to enjoy on Netflix. If you’re looking for more Apocalyptic content — albeit on the cheesy side — check out Top Disaster Movies to Watch High.