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(Credits: Far Out / Press)

Film

The 10 most underrated dystopian sci-fi movies of all time

Blade Runner, 1984, The Matrix, the finest dystopian movies of all time are well-known to even the most tentative movie buff, with such aforementioned films setting the standard for genre films to come. Revolutionary in their cinematic and narrative visions, multiple films would attempt to copy their recipe to varying degrees of success, often creating big-budget flashy disasters that made for good trailers and poor movies. 

There are plenty of modern diamonds in the rough, however, as well as classic older movies that have long gone under the radar of appreciation. Our list of the ten most underrated dystopian sci-fi movies reaches a hand out to those smaller films which leap for the stars and reach them, only to turn around and realise that no one saw them achieve their feat of greatness. 

Including such filmmaking icons as Michael Winterbottom, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Richard Linklater and Kathryn Bigelow, take a look at our list below and judge for yourselves whether these films should be resurrected from obscurity or left to fester in bubbling sci-fi juices. 

The 10 underrated dystopian sci-fi movies:

10. Code 46 (Michael Winterbottom, 2003)

A futuristic version of the David Lean 1945 classic Brief Encounter, Code 46 adds to Michael Winterbottom’s eclectic filmography, telling a love story about a world where genetic incompatibility defines your life and relationships. Whilst not perfect, the premise for Winterbottom’s film is compelling enough that it makes for a thrilling watch that twists romance, drama and tragedy.

With the likes of Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Togo Igawa and Om Puri, Code 46 is worth your time, even just to explore its intriguing premise. 

9. Renaissance (Christian Volckman, 2006)

A revolutionary French animated feature, Christian Volckman’s Renaissance is a gothic tale that plays out like a bleak nightmare, following a young gene researcher who is kidnapped in a future version of Paris. With strong performances, a compelling intricate world and sleek monochrome animation, Volckman puts together a sci-fi wonderland that melds genres with a classic noir. 

On top of all this, the film features a surprisingly great voice cast, starring the likes of Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce and more.

8. Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012)

Let’s take some time out to raise a candle for the 2012 sci-fi thriller, Dredd, directed by Pete Travis. 

Done? Quite how this movie, beloved by a select community, was never picked up for a sequel is beyond us, with the modern take on the 2000 AD character, Judge Dredd, being a fantastic synthesis of compelling storytelling and bombastic action. Using the fictional drug ‘slow-mo’ as an impressive visual device, Travis and writer Alex Garland crafted a film that captured the dead-pan comedy of the character, as well as his stylistic brutality. 

If you’re yet to watch the movie, get to it now. 

7. Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997)

Yes, there are a certain group of movie lovers who adore Gattaca, though that love doesn’t quite extend to modern audiences who are none the wiser to this ‘90s sci-fi. Starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman, the story follows a genetically inferior man who assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel, falling in love in the process. 

Juggling concepts of self and social status, Gattaca is an intricate film that is made all the better with the otherworldly set design that elevates it far beyond its worth.  

6. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

Celebrated by a small circle of fans and critics, Never Let Me Go has a brutal premise, telling the story of a group of young students at a mysterious school who are raised to harvest their organs. A love story and a tragic drama, Romanek’s movie is a true modern great that delicately plays with its dystopian themes, as, for the most part, the film is set in a fairly normal present-day reality. 

Where the premise and screenplay is utterly compelling, it is the performances of trio Andrew Garfield, Kiera Knightley and Carey Mulligan that truly elevates the film into something extraordinary. 

5. The Rover (David Michôd, 2014)

Australian filmmaker David Michôd is a bit of a cinematic oddity, fluctuating in quality from movie to movie. Though he has recently failed to make it big in Hollywood, his early films were quite extraordinary, namely the peculiar 2014 dystopian film, The Rover, starring Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy and Guy Pearce, which failed to gain the traction it deserved upon its release almost a decade ago. 

Featuring a spectacular car crash sequence that can be seen in the trailer, The Rover is a marvel of low-scale world-building, making something out of nothing as it crafts a landscape of pure brutality and hopelessness. 

4. City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro, 1995)

Thriving off its own ingenious premise, City of Lost Children tells the story of a scientist who kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping this will slow his ageing process. From the same minds as the post-apocalyptic comedy Delicatessen as well as the beloved romance Amélie, this 1995 flick is something of an amalgamation between the two, utilising the filmmaker’s dark imagination and charming storytelling capabilities. 

For fans of Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry, this should be a must-watch, particularly as the plot is filled with rousing performances from the likes of Ron Perlman, Rufus and Dominique Pinon.

3. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006)

Based on the book of the same name by the iconic science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly by the proudly indie American filmmaker Richard Linklater is too often slept upon. Using the animation technique interpolated rotoscoping, Linklater tells the story of an undercover cop in the future who becomes involved with a dangerous new drug that begins to alter his identity. 

Teeming with dread, Linklater’s tale is one that carefully cranks tension and paranoia whilst offering several compelling moments led by lead actor Keanu Reeves and quality supporting performances from Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson.

2. The Tenth Victim (Elio Petri, 1965)

Part action, part comedy and part romance, this peculiar sci-fi flick from 1965 is set way off in the 21st century *wink wink* where a human vs. human ‘Big Hunt’ is used as an alternative to war. In the midst of such chaos, a veteran huntress is offered a major TV deal if she agrees to kill a certain victim, only for her love for the victim to considerably complicate matters. Think of it as a stylish free-for-all Hunger Games.

A sleek Italian thriller with a killer premise, the movie is worth checking out for the concept alone, which is surprisingly yet to have been replicated in modern cinema. Check out the trailer below and see for yourself. 

1. Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)

Known as one of the greatest female filmmakers of all time, Kathryn Bigelow earned great critical acclaim in 2008 for her Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, but she was making innovative genre movies long before this time. Though Point Break came out four years prior, it is the release of her 1995 sci-fi flick Strange Days that too often goes unnoticed, telling a compelling story of genuine creativity and ingenious flair. 

It all follows the tale of Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a former police officer turned street-hustler who accidentally uncovers a conspiracy in LA at the turn of the 21st century. Crammed with stylish imagination, Bigelow’s impression of America at the precipice of the new millennium is extraordinary to behold, teeming with life, promise and a gripping plot held together by several terrific and undoubtedly camp performances.