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The best dystopian trips on film

Step into a hyper-reality with the top ten most mind-boggling sci-fi dystopias to have ever been featured on the big screen

Why mess around with botox as a fading actress when you can sell your digital image to a major studio to work for you? That's the premise of Ari Folman's futuristic mind-bender The Congress, a mix of live action and animation based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem in which Robin Wright plays a version of herself who comes to oppose the alarming ramifications of the technology. With the film out in the UK today, we've gone dark with some of the least liveable dystopias on film.


After a scientific catastrophe Earth has entered another Ice Age and the only human survivors must live on a huge train perpetually travelling the globe in this brutal adaptation of a French graphic novel by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. A class system keeps the lower-rung inhabitants in cramped conditions in the back carriages - until they launch a rebellion and battle their way through the murderous security and idle party carriages toward the engine. 

2046 (2004)

Another vast rail network of tortured souls getting nowhere fast features in Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's visually lush, nostalgia-drenched sequel to In the Mood for Love. Brokenhearted writer Chow (Tony Leung) is writing a sci-fi novel set in the far future, occasioning sequences of lonely passengers trying to reach 2046 - where nothing changes, so there is never loss.

STALKER (1979)

A professional guide leads a writer and professor into the forbidden Zone, a water-drenched place of flux cordoned off by military guard toward a room said to fulfil our greatest desires - though these tragically may not be wishes they're conscious of. Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's bleak and mystical Soviet-era masterpiece eerily foreshadowed the wasteland of Chernobyl.

DECODER (1984)

A burger-shop employee in a repressive state where mind control is rampant discovers that by replacing the sedating strains of Muzak with industrial noise music he can incite revolution in this German underground cyberpunk film, directed by Muscha. It's based on the writings of William S. Burroughs, who appears in it along with other counter-cultural figures such as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Christiane F.


This vibrantly surreal, blackly witty cult classic from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro is set in a post-apocalyptic France short on food. In a dilapidated apartment building a landlord butchers victims to sell as cheap meat to his tenants - to the disapproval of the vegetarian rebels underground. A bizarre future vision for a sustainability-challenged world.


Richard Linklater's beautifully innovative animated sci-fi, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, is set in a near-future US in the grip of mass addiction to Substance D, a drug that causes bizarre hallucinations. In an attempt to combat it the government has developed a high-tech surveillance system and informant network. Assigned to infiltrate the supply chain, detective Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) develops a habit, and spends his days strung out having long, paranoid conversations.

LA ANTENA (2007)

The silent era inspired this unusual, retro-futuristic fairytale by Argentinian director Esteban Sapir about political oppression and resistance. In a surreal Buenos Aires where it snows, the citizens have been robbed of their voices by a dictator employing mind control - all except an elegant, hooded singer and her eyeless son who hold the only hope for liberation.


Indie director Shane Carruth's boldly ambitious, atmospheric and fragmentary sci-fi sees the life of a woman (Amy Seimetz) quickly fall apart after she’s drugged by a thief and left with a mysterious worm in her body, which also moves through plant life and pigs. Her trauma draws her close to Jeff (Carruth himself) who’s experienced something equivalent.


Shot on the night-time streets of Paris, Jean-Luc Godard's sci-fi noir sees a trenchcoat-wearing private eye called Lemmy Caution on a mission to destroy Alphaville, a dictatorship ruled by a sentient computer system that has banned free thought, emotion and poetry.

LA JETEE (1962)

Chris Marker's sci-fi featurette, the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, tells in still photos of a time travel experiment from a post-nuclear war Paris, where the survivors live underground in the galleries of the Palais de Chaillot.