Dystopian Sci-Fi Makes for Good Cult Classics

Originally published at Examiner.com on January 3, 2010.

Since it’s the beginning of a new year and decade, films about the future come to mind when thinking of cult classics.

In particular, there seems to be a trend of dystopia (the opposite of perfect utopia) in these sci-fi, futuristic cult films. Perhaps they are only appreciated later or by a specific audience because of their distressing, yet somewhat realistic images of the future.

For starters, there’s the silent film directed by Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1927). Released over 80 years ago, this is one of the first groundbreaking sci-fi films with a dystopian outlook. Early on, Metropolis explored themes of capitalism, technology, and urban social crises. While today it’s a landmark in film history, it is also considered a cult classic because of its then unpopular, less-than-ideal depictions of a futuristic world.

Then in 1982, there was Blade Runner, of course – one of the most recognizable of its kind. Directed by successful filmmaker Ridley Scott, the movie’s plot centers around the war between human clones (known as “replicants”) and the cops who are out to terminate them (called “Blade Runners.”) The story is set in a 2019 Los Angeles – just nine years away from our current year. Upon its theatrical release, it didn’t fair very well at the box office and critics were undecided. Today it is considered a staple in sci-fi films and is a favorite cult classic of film enthusiasts and scholars.

A few years later, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) directed a film called Brazil (1985). The film is both comedic and tragic with its themes pointing to a bleak future. The society depicted is very Orwellian and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and is eerie to watch given some of its realstic predictions of current society (like rampant plastic surgery, for example.) Again, not a box office success in 1985, but it is more highly regarded and appreciated now.

With all of the examples (and these are just a few), it seems that sci-fi, dystopia, and futuristic are good ingredients for the cult status recipe. And why? Because for some reason, they fail to make an impact upon release, yet are appreciated later. This is somewhat ironic since all of these films are set in their relative futures. Can we just not handle seeing disturbing predictions of our own world?

Take today’s case. Children of Men (2006), directed by Alfonso Cuaron, proved to be a brilliant film about a frighteningly realistic and grim 2027. It is probably the dystopian sci-fi movie of our generation, but it somehow went under the radar despite being critically acclaimed across the board.

Perhaps the trends are tried and true, and Children of Men is the next dystopian sci-fi cult classic in the making.