The movie V for Vendetta sees a tyrannical neo-fascist government subjugating the people of the United Kingdom, with masked vigilante V (Hugo Weaving) inciting freedom-fighting acts of ‘terrorism’. Years after its initial release, many mainstream and DC comic fans still hail V For Vendetta as one of the best dystopian movies ever made – and undoubtedly stands among the Wachowskis’ greatest cinematic achievements. Indeed, movies like V For Vendetta give us reason to believe that comic-to-screen adaptations can occasionally produce cult cinematic classics, even if some narrative nuances are sacrificed.
There have been many other dystopian films which have explored similar themes of declining societies and social turmoil. But which of these are worth your viewing time? Here is my recommendation of ten dystopian movies similar to V for Vendetta which, in my opinion, equally invites us to reflect on our own real-world environmental, cultural, and political challenges.
Selection Criteria for Dystopian Movies Like V For Vendetta:
- Each movie showcases an oppressive controlled system and/or subjugation of the masses through subtle propaganda and/or explicitly violent control.
- Portrays a fictional world plagued by environmental destruction, resource scarcity, and/or pandemic catastrophes.
- Depicts social classism and/or elitism
- Explores the virtues and vices of human nature
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1. Blade Runner
You had to know this dystopian film classic would be on this list, right? Deckard’s reluctant quest to hunt down rogue replicants in Los Angeles still sets the gold standard for sci-fi and dystopian movies today. It’s a shining testament to director Ridley Scott’s genius. Blade Runner thrives in its ability to question the true nature of humanity within a dark and oppressive reality (i.e. the Empathy Test used to uncover replicants is particularly brilliant in highlighting the selfish human denizens of Blade Runner). Such dystopian themes are also heavily covered in V for Vendetta, albeit with less futuristic fanfare.
Blade Runner has earned a sizable cult following through the decades and is now considered by many (including 60 prominent world scientists) to be one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. Do yourself a favor and watch it!
V For Vendetta is regarded by many as a film nod to George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, also adapted to a movie. For starters, both movies are entrenched in depictions of humanity oppressed by a totalitarian regime, with plenty of severe punishments dished out to ‘dissenting citizens’. These dystopian films also highlight how forms of state propaganda (both explicit and subtle) can be used to subdue the masses into panoptic obedience. Even without the presence of an enigmatic freedom-fighting ‘hero’, 1984 is definitely a dystopian classic worth watching for anyone looking for more movies like V For Vendetta.
3. The Matrix series
Much like in V For Vendetta, human subjugation and widespread deceit form the thematic centerpiece of The Matrix series. The films defined an entire genre of sci-fi cinematography with its still (mostly) impressive visual effects, over the top action, and mind-bending premise. Critical reviews for the sequels are mixed at best, although the original installment remains among the Wachowskis’ best works.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the fact that the Matrix’s implicit commentary on technological determinism has become all the more relevant in today’s digital-obsessed world filled with simulated realities and virtual connectedness. Baudrillard would be proud.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
The Mad Max franchise isn’t new, but the most recent edition is the most visually impressive yet. At its heart, Fury Road depicts a struggle for control of scarce resources and a compelling tale of human perseverance. The plot pits protagonists against a tyrannical gang known as the War Boys. The desert wasteland in Fury Road is also a terrifying if over the top warning against the real-world destruction of our environment.
Anyone looking for more dystopian movies like V For Vendetta will thoroughly enjoy the similar themes treading through this Oscar-winning modern classic. Both movies also favour visceral down-to-earth action over CGI excesses.
5. District 9
Typically, dystopian movies like V for Vendetta are told from the perspective of the lower class. However, District 9 tells its disturbing tale from the perspective of the subjugators – that is, us human beings.
After an alien ship arrives on Earth, the government segregates and degrades the alien visitors through class captivity. The alien ‘Prawn’ are held in internment camps eerily reminiscent of those seen during the South African apartheid. In such subtle ways, the film is a chilling reminder of what can actually happen when absolute power is left unchecked, giving us a glimpse into the eviler dimensions of the human soul.
Human laws are ruthless in Dredd’s unique post-apocalyptic setting. In Mega City One, Judges are heavily armored cops with the authority to act independently as judge, jury, and executioner, keeping the 800 million inhabitants from ripping apart the last bastion of civilization.
Dredd features a dystopian world which sees humanity clinging desperately for survival. Cramped quarters and scarcity have prompted the formation of cartels and rings of influence outside that of the law. Like V For Vendetta, Judge Dredd’s efforts to keep the peace invites us to reflect on our real-world milieus where violence is often used by both sides of the divide to clamp down on any and all opposing voices.
Serenity is a space western based on the criminally short-lived TV show Firefly. In it, a space freight crew attempt to make their way in a galaxy controlled by an oppressive corporation obsessed with civilizational ownership and order. For maximum narrative impact, you’ll want to watch Firefly first (which, in my opinion, is one of the most charming and fantastic sci-fi series’ ever produced). Without a doubt, both the TV series and Serenity can be collectively considered one of the greatest sci-fi David and Goliath dystopian tales ever written.
However, there’s a little bit of a perspective twist with Joss Whedon [director / screenwriter] suggesting that much of Firefly and Serenity tell a tale from the singular “viewpoint of those hostile to the Alliance”. Thus what is seen as ‘dystopian’ may in fact be highly subjective. This gives us reason to pause and ponder over what kind of ‘hero’ V may really be in using violence as a means to end violence – and if, just perhaps, he could be a savior that the masses did not actually ask for. Food for thought.
8. Minority Report
An original aspect of Minority Report’s dystopian world is the presence of future-reading telepaths and ‘thought police’ who dole out punishments for crimes yet to be committed. Other thematic threads include debates on free will vs. determinism and explorations on the extent in which governments should be allowed to regulate the freedoms of their citizens. Pretty deep stuff.
As with other dystopian movies like V For Vendetta, Minority Report is in essence a critique of what happens when a deeply entrenched societal system begins to implode. How do the characters deal with such institutionalised oppression? Do they get in line with the rest, like herded sheep, or does rebellion naturally ensue? You’ll have to watch to find out!
Similar to Dredd, Robocop (the original movie, not the crappy remake) is the story of a city consumed by corruption, and the few principled individuals dedicated to cleaning up the grime. The movie’s one-liners may be a little cheesy by today’s standards, but its overall storyline still resonates with many critics and sci-fi fans today.
Action-sequences and special effects notwithstanding, Robocop is also one of a handful of dystopian movies like V For Vendetta insofar as it invites us to consider themes of media manipulation, authoritarianism, greed, and human nature.
10. The Running Man
This pick may be controversial to some, but The Running Man undoubtedly falls in the genre of dystopian films in its depiction of corporate greed, economic collapse, cultural censorship, and world violence. Moreover, the movie’s portrayal of systematic surveillance, money in exchange for ‘entertainment’ , and ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra isn’t too far off from the reality of the world we live in today. It also stands among movies like V For Vendetta in showcasing one man’s rebellious fight to ‘stick it to the Man’.
Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Running Man is a case study in the excellence of 80’s Schwarzenegger, and has some incredibly inspired casting with Richard Dawson as Killian.
Of course, it’s pretty much impossible to include all the great dystopian movies ever released in a short list of ten. So here are a few other honorable mentions: