The Best Movie Adaptations of Dystopian Novels

By Bea

Dystopian stories can really leave a mark by giving us a terrifying glimpse of what the future can be like when oppressive regimes are in power. This year feels more like it was written out of a dystopian novel rather than real life. With world leaders putting kids in cages and instilling hate and division among its citizens, people are terrified now more than ever of what the future holds. Dystopian stories are not just a thing of fiction, but could very well be a thing of the past, present, and future.

Over the past few decades, more and more dystopian novels are being adapted into films. This just shows that in spite of its terrifying themes, dystopian stories are able to captivate readers and viewers alike. It must be the relatability of dysfunctional societies and overcoming human pain and sufferings that make this genre so appealing. If this has piqued your interest in the genre, here are some of the best movie adaptations of dystopian novels everyone should see.

1984 (1984)

1984 is a classic dystopian novel by George Orwell in 1949. The film adaptation came out in 1956 and (yes, you might have guessed it right) 1984. It focuses on the repercussions of mass surveillance, totalitarianism, censorship, and having a repressive regime. Its head is the cult personality, Big Brother, who constantly watches over its citizens. The main character, Winston Smith, works for the Party which is the ruling body of Oceania. Secretly despising the Party, Winston starts an affair with Julia. However, the government discovers their relationship, and the two lovers experience the consequences of breaking the law.

Its second film adaptation currently has a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. On a personal note, I think this movie gave justice to the book. The film’s tone perfectly depicts the anger-inducing plot of the novel. The 1956 version may be a classic narrative of the novel, but the 1984 version gets to the core of what makes a great dystopian film.

Children of Men (2006)

Listed in BBC’s 100 Novels that Shaped Our World, The Children of Men by P.D. James depicts a society plagued by mass infertility. The last generation to be born, the Omegas, are already adults. Without children, people are slowly losing hope for the future. The story focuses on Theodore Faron as a woman seeks his help in seeing his cousin the Warden of England. The woman, Julian, is part of a small group of revolutionaries seeking the reform of the country’s situation, and is later on revealed to play a vital role in saving the human race.

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The film adaptation of this novel received critical acclaim, and has a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, the film is considered to be the 11th greatest film of the 2000s according to Metacritic. Recognized as a “superbly directed political thriller”, Children of Men has also received several awards. It won the categories for Best cinematography and Production Design at the BAFTA awards. It even received the USC Scripter Award for the movie adaptation of the dystopian novel.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go depicts a future where humans can live beyond 100 years. The novel features three friends attending a boarding school called Hailsham. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth discover that all of them were designed to be organ donors and were just clones. Believing in the possibility of a “deferral”, Kathy and Tommy confess their love to the head of Hailsham. The novel ends with the star-crossed lovers completing their roles as donors.

Though many critics found the film to be lacking, it received generally positive reviews mainly for the cast’s performance. I, for one, found the film to be emotionally-charged. Nearing the end of the film and realizing Kathy and Tommy’s destinies, I couldn’t help but feel the story’s take on mortality and survive-at-all-costs framework.

The Hunger Games Trilogy (2012-2015)

Based on the trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games is a futuristic dystopian film that terrifyingly depicts an oppressive regime punishing its 12 districts after winning a civil war against them. The punishment comes in the form of the Hunger Games, where each district must send a boy and a girl as tributes in a televised fight-to-the-death reality show. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers as tribute in place of her sister Prim. The rest of the trilogy follows Katniss and Peeta as they fight to survive the hunger games and lead the rebellion against the current regime headed by President Snow.

These films may be based on young adult novels, but they are nothing short of intelligent, relatable, exciting, thought-provoking, and shocking. It is no surprise that it is currently the 20th highest-grossing film franchise of all time. In fact, all 4 Hunger Games films finished first at the box office on its opening and second weekends. This is probably why the franchise is one of the best movie adaptations of dystopian novels.

Want to watch more dystopian films? Check this out!

How about catching up on some reading with these dystopian novels?

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