It’s now been five years since I put up the list of my top 10 futurist movies, and the original post continues to be the most viewed article on this website out of the 200+ available. So, it’s about time that it got an update! All image and title links go through to Amazon, and any purchases you make help to support Future Conscience.
Without further ado, here’s the 2015 version of the Future Conscience Top 10 Futurist Films:
10. Metropolis (1927) – This film is the patriarch of futurist cinema, the great-great-grandaddy of them all. A silent film, it keeps you interested with its wonderful sets evoking the then brand new Art Deco style and using it to depict a vast future city of both luxury and hardship. It’s notable from a futurist perspective mainly for being one of the first films to feature the concept of an android, exploring the dichotomy between human and machine. It also set the groundwork for many future films in highlighting the dystopian reality that often lies behind utopian facades; here presented as a scathing attack on what could be one outcome of industrialised capitalism taken to its extreme.
This juxtaposition of utopia/dystopia is a theme that continues to run throughout the science fiction genre and for the most part we have Metropolis to thank for that. Great film, and the one that really started it all.
9. Limitless (2011) – The development of technology and medicine geared towards cognitive enhancement is a fascinating area that has sparked a lot of necessary debate about the ethics and philosophy of science. Beyond being an exciting and engaging action flick, Limitless is a film that really nails a view of what such enhancement might mean and how coveted it will be by those with deep-seated vested interests. There’s a new television series produced by Bradley Cooper about to come out that follows on as a sequel to the film, so now’s a great time to check out the original and get yourself hyped!
8. Sunshine (2007) – There are a lot of space-based movies that could be included on this list, but there’s something about the visionary confidence of Sunshine that places it into that important futurist space where philosophy, technology and a bit of madness collide. It speaks directly to the fears of the modern era, with sharp undertones of alienation from one another and isolation from our own humanity. The technology present throughout the film feels like it rests upon solid foundations, you believe that this is how we could travel and it grounds the film in a realism (for the most part) that many space films choose to forego. Beautifully shot with an excellent soundtrack, this is one of the more exciting thrillers on this list.
7. Gattaca (1997) – A film exploring just what happens when we allow our knowledge of genetics to control the way society functions down to every small detail. If that isn’t enough to put it on this list, then I’m not quite sure what is! It also manages to blend in themes of an oppressive surveillance state as well as questioning the nature of happiness and fulfillment, all wrapped up in an almost film Noir aesthetic that I enjoyed very much.
A really good exploration of the ethical struggles we are going to face with the rapidly increasing power of science and technology to influence our lives.
6. Strange Days (1995) – I’m a massive fan of the cyberpunk genre, and Strange Days is one of the few films outside of the world of anime that has really gotten it right. The futurist elements surround the notion that we might be able to relive other people’s memories (or our own) as if we were experiencing them as reality. Sensations both emotional and physical are recorded to be experienced by anybody at any time; even ones so dark and disturbing that they can only be supplied through a black market.
It’s a wonderful take on the possibilities of neurological interfacing, and a technology we are very likely to see become reality at some point in the medium-term future. Plus, the film uses MiniDiscs as props to evoke a sense of the future; something I’m always a fan of as I was one of the very few people who early-adopted the technology at the time and loved it (they can also be seen in the first Matrix movie). If you’re a fan of cyberpunk you’ve likely already seen this, but for everybody else it’s definitely worth tracking down to see an under-rated classic.
5. Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Anime and futurist worlds have always gone together, and Ghost in the Shell is arguably the pinnacle of the genre when it comes to our specific criteria. Exploring a world implicitly connected to the internet and its information network, alongside the philosophical dilemmas of artificial intelligence and the nature of reality when we are capable of replicating and manipulating it through neurological means. With detailed world-building and themes of corporate control and the emergence of sentience, the wide variety of Ghost in the Shell material (manga, anime, games) are a must have for any futurist collection.
One of those films that helped show the ‘Western’ world that cartoons weren’t just for kids and could deal with some incredibly complicated issues in a way that live action film often cannot – although they’re now working on just such a version as well.
4. District 9 (2009) & Chappie (2015) – I’m going to take the author’s prerogative to include two films in one here, as they are both directed by Neill Blomkamp. What District 9 achieves is a believable examination of what might occur where we to come into contact with an alien species. The ethical themes surrounding xenophobia are done justice, as well as delving into themes of genetic engineering (and even nanotechnology if you look into the back-story beyond the movie itself) as well as the effects of increasing the militarisation of society. You can check out my original review of District 9 here.
Chappie explores similar areas of identity and social stratification, but through the lens of artificial intelligence. It’s a film that gives us a deeply sympathetic view of how a relationship with an AI robot might develop in a paternal and familial way, and combines this with the gritty aesthetic of urban South Africa with the dark rave tones of Die Antwoord with fantastic cyberpunk results!
3. Ex Machina (2015) – When I reviewed this film I didn’t expect the article to become one of the most viewed pages on the Future Conscience website. I’m glad that it did take off though, with a US audience keen to hear anything about this UK film upon its initial release, because this is an excellent film which speaks to the core of the modern futurist dilemma. It’s another recent film that takes quite a minimalist approach, away from the explosions and gun fights that Hollywood adores so much, and is all the more unnerving and impacting because of it. Grappling with notions of sentience and our drive to dominate reality for our own selfish ends, this is a film that reminds us that we need to start paying attention to the ethical components of technology right now – because we are building the foundations of the new era of humanity and must carefully consider who we are going to trust to lead us down that path.
2. Her (2014) – Another recent film with a detailed review on this site, and my respect for it has only grown. This is one of the futurist films that doesn’t rely on flashy fantastical design elements and miraculous technology, preferring to situate itself in a near-future that is easily recognised and immediately relatable. As our relationship with technology chips away at our ability to relate to one another on a deeply personal level, what will emerge to help us deal with the loss of such important emotional connections? This movie explores a highly-probably near future scenario with a soft melancholy that speaks to the core of the modern crisis of disillusionment and ennui felt by many in developed economies. As I mention in the review, it also has a wonderful vision of the singularity that puts humanity as an irrelevance rather than a victim of the next phase of identity formation.
1. The Films of Philip K Dick – There were way too many films created from Philip K Dick stories that deserved to be on this list. In my original list from 2010 I had Blade Runner placed at #3 and Minority Report in the top slot (an ordering I don’t agree with myself on now!). For this list I’m going to combine all of these derivative works into one, as he deserves all the recognition he can get as one of the 20th Century’s most visionary and subversive science fiction authors. Fact remains, Philip K Dick is one of the most underrated authors of the 20th century and mainstream audiences are only just starting to truly appreciate his body of work. Blade Runner is widely recognised as a cinematic masterpiece, and Minority Report encapsulates so many great elements of futurist design.
Hollywood has been mining his back catalogue for years (Total Recall, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly et al.), and continue to do so with force with relatively recent films such as the fantastic Radio Free Albemuth and The Adjustment Bureau. The television series The Man in the High Castle has been picked up following a successful pilot, a sequel to Blade Runner from Ridley Scott is imminent – and you can be sure that there will be more to come before too long!
Did I miss anything? What are your favourite futurist movies?