Apocalypse Wow - Top 10 Movie & TV Dystopian Futures

Top 10 Movie & TV Dystopian Futures

Ever since the Disco era, calamity has been cool at the movies. There is something about viewing the human race at the end of its collective rope that fascinates us. And if cool machinery and Will Smith are involved, all the better.

And with Terminator Salvation – the continuation of the preeminent post-apocalyptic saga – hitting theaters Thursday, it got us wondering – why is dystopia such a box office draw?

We can’t deny the appeal of the apocalypse. Just because Star Trek and it’s retro 1960s Space Age vibe are top dog at the water cooler right now, we shouldn’t expect a slew of movies in depicting Earth as the second coming of Zenn-La.

Last we checked, there was no online petition calling for a live-action remake of “The Jetsons.”

Thankfully, the prognostication skills of most filmmakers leave much to be desired. Nearly every type of disaster predicted at the multiplex has failed to materialize.

We’re nearly halfway through 2009 and "Judgment Day" is still just a WWE pay-per-view event, "Big Brother" lets you watch wannabe celebrities, Soylent Green isn’t people (yet), and the only prison in Manhattan is run by your friendly neighborhood Co-Op board.

Accurate or not, we’ve had some unforgettable glimpses into what our future probably won’t look like. And whether it was by nuclear holocaust or technological warfare, one thing is certain – IT’S ALL OUR FAULT!

So in honor of John Connor and his gloomy outlook on life, here are the Top 10 Dystopian Futures.

10. Escape from New York (1981)

Using an ingenious plot device – New York City as a maximum-security prison! – John Carpenter fashioned a clever observation on the rising crime of the era. It’s easy to forget with the theme park atmosphere of Times Square today, but when this film was released, Manhattan was a crime-ridden, nearly bankrupt shell of a Big Apple.

Kurt Russell turned Snake Plissken into one of the great modern anti-heroes – and then squandered that nihilistic goodwill with Escape From L.A. Ernest Borgnine’s cabbie, jiggle queen Adrienne Barbeau, a nice cameo by wrestler Ox Baker and a movie poster so cool, it inspired the money shot in Cloverfield, all add to the film’s cult cred.

9. Reign of Fire (2002)

This one makes the list but had the potential to rate much higher. Fire-spewing dragons running amok in modern times seemed like a can’t-miss disaster movie idea. Too bad the filmmakers either ran out of money or imagination because outside of a quick montage, we barely saw any Dragons in Metropolis.

Still, the scorched Earth landscape, the tinted ash wastelands were impressive and remain the most memorable aspects of a film that featured future fanboy icons Christian Bale and Gerard Butler.

8. 28 Days Later (2002)

Bloodthirsty, Rage Virus-infected zombies tearing through London like Norse Vikings on vacation are scary enough. The fact that a major city was leveled by a bio-disaster in four weeks – FOUR WEEKS! – made it even more unsettling. Danny Boyle’s resourceful production included portable DV cameras to capture quick shots of pre-dawn London used to recreate the film’s desolate atmosphere. Few post-apocalyptic films show the immediate aftermath of said disaster. This one does, brilliantly.

7. The Day After (1983)

Speaking of films set right after the bombs are fired, this TV movie caused all sorts of national hand-wringing when it first aired. It focused on the effects of the radiation, the destruction to our cities. We’re not talking 15-20 years down the road; this was set in the present day, in the middle of what was the Cold War. Cold War movies usually stink. One of the many reasons this one didn’t was that it was never quite clear if the U.S. or Russia fired first.

6. WALL-E (2008)

During the first half-hour of this ingenious movie, an environmental message hidden inside a sweet love story, the audience is giving a tour of the world we created, ruined, and ultimately abandoned. This wasn’t war, or alien invasion; it was the human race’s pathological dependence on clutter that destroys the Earth.

It’s one of the most brilliant segments of animated moviemaking ever, and as disturbing as Pinocchio’s visit to Pleasure Island or the death of Bambi’s mom.

5. Planet of the Apes (1968)

How long do you think you would last if you suddenly found yourself on a planet where Apes were top dog? Besides blessing sci-fi geeks with our first taste of post-apocalyptic Charlton Heston, POTA set the bar ridiculously high for all future dystopian films. Impossibly high in many regards. How can you top the ending, and the discovery Taylor makes?

John Chambers’ legendary makeup work always gets kudos, and they’re all well deserved. But let’s tip our Ape masks to the film’s location scouts. They deserve tons of credit for finding the Arizona terrain and California coastline used to capture this film’s barren look.

4. The Matrix (1999)

The first Doomsday movie for the Internet Age, the Wachowski brothers collected some of their favorite pop culture elements – the ‘digital rain’ effect from Ghost in the Shell, Akira’s cyberpunk attitude – and used them to create their own hybrid, virtual reality universe. [We won’t get into the stuff others accuse the siblings of lifting without permission.]

3. Mad Max (1979)

When it comes to doing more with less, science fiction filmmakers are in a class by themselves. On a runway model-thin $400,000 budget, director George Miller crafted the perfect low-budget post-war film. No sky-high cities here, or advanced weaponry. Post-war survivors spend their time wandering the desert in their big, battered vehicles, in search of their new God – Gasoline. People will do anything for it, drive anywhere for it.

If you’ve been on the fence about buying an eco-friendly hybrid vehicle, watching this film may help you make up your mind.

2. Terminator (1984)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a bleaker vision for our future than James Cameron’s Judgment Day, when machines pull the plug on the human race and take over. The actual future wasteland has only been seen in brief glimpses (until Terminator Salvation), yet it’s sustained an entire franchise for 25 years. Does that mean we’re optimistic, or delusional?

Because outside of a few destroyed Terminators, what does John Connor’s group of resistance fighters really have to show for all their time-traveling trouble? Have they really made any progress?

1. Blade Runner (1982)

"Its too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?"

Crowded cities, steady, polluted rain...2019 Los Angeles is not exactly a high point for human society. [What is it about L.A. that makes it such a popular backdrop for living out mankind’s worst nightmare? I’ve lived in Atlanta and trust me; it’s not that great.]

Even now, 27 years after its release, the production design remains impressive – and influential. The film’s impact on the architectural industry has been cited numerous times. The film’s impact period is indisputable. Several movies on this list owe much of their futuristic perspective to Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott’s movie remains the benchmark for our most pessimistic vision of the future because of its plausibility. Because while self-aware machines and talking Apes remain firmly footed in fiction, the world Rick Deckard inhabits – where the line between man and replicant becomes increasingly blurred – doesn’t seem so far-fetched at all.

Writer Michael Avila is the producer for the nationally syndicated movie show Lyons & Bailes REEL TALK. Visit www.REELTALKtv.com to check your local listings.

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