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(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

The 10 best anti-consumerist films

@Russellisation

“We are consumers. We’re the by-products of a lifestyle obsession.” – Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

Black Friday marks a day of reductions, sales and discounts across the world of retail, encouraging consumers to spend, spend, spend ahead of the incoming Christmas period. A day to shop ’til you drop, Black Friday has been popularised in the 21st century and has even birthed a brand new day of consumerist pleasure occurring the week after, with Cyber Monday celebrating online discounts across the worldwide web. 

An objectively strange turn of phrase, the term ‘Black Friday’ first originated in 1961 for the use by the Philadelphia police force to describe the heavy pedestrian footfall and traffic that would occur the day after Thanksgiving. Rather ironically, the once negative and cautionary term has since been adopted as one of positivity by retailers who now use it to advertise a weekend of notably lower-priced goods. 

Conversely, the consumerist ethos of Black Friday has also been challenged by many social groups with ‘Buy Nothing Day’ being set up on the very same day to protest against the capitalist sentiment of incessant spending. From the likes of Fight Club directed by David Fincher to Network from filmmaker Sidney Lumet, this concept of opposing consumerism has been explored throughout the history of cinema, and there’s no better day to celebrate such films than Black Friday itself. 

The 10 best anti-consumerist films:

10. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978)

As one of the most iconic and celebrated zombie flicks of all time, Dawn of the Dead is a classic horror film from George Romero with a joyous sense of fun and a venomous attitude to consumerist culture. 

Comparing the lifeless ghouls of the undead to the consumerist population of modern-day capitalism, George Romero urges audiences to consider their own place in such a contemporary world. As well as being a compelling commentary on humanity’s need for consumption, Dawn of the Dead is also a thrilling joyride featuring one of the most novel tales ever brought to the horror genre. 

9. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)

A truly underrated comedy from The Blues Brothers director John Landis, Trading Places stars Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd and sees a wealthy businessman and homeless beggar swap lifestyles for a cynical bet. 

Murphy plays Billy Ray Valentine, a beggar who remains enthusiastic despite his living situation, who swaps with Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe, a snobby stockbroker in Landis’ ingenious and highly humorous comment on consumerist culture. Focusing on how class, social status and materialism shape how individuals are treated in the United States, Trading Places becomes one of the greatest anti-consumerist films ever made, as the once successful Louis Winthorpe becomes desperate and pathetic once his material goods are taken away.

8. Czech Dream (Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, 2004)

A small, strange university project and big-budget prank, Czech Dream is a documentary that follows filmmakers Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda set up a fake advertising campaign for a new supermarket just to see how many people will show up for its grand opening. 

Rudimental and fascinating, the directors explore the very intricacies of how individuals can be roped into corporate lies with the promise of, not only low prices, but also of access to a higher level of self-worth. A hilarious dissection of consumerist culture, the filmmakers present the film in the context of the Czech Republic’s bid to be part of the European Union, suggesting that if such lies exist in retail, perhaps the government is too selling similar lies.

7. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)

Though Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite came out only in 2019, it has quickly grown to be considered one of the finest films of the 21st century, telling a rousing story of social class and contemporary prejudice. 

Winning not only the Palme d’Or in 2019, but also Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards, Parasite became an international sensation, catapulting the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho to a household name. The story follows two households, one rich and affluent, the other living in relative poverty, as both families leech off the living of the other in one big encompassing comment on the fractures of capitalism.

6. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Pixar is known for making films for both children and adults, with their compelling stories often contextualised in life stories of childhood, parenting, the familial dynamic, and even consumerist culture, in the case of Wall-E

In one of the studio’s most ambitious films, Wall-E stars a mute, rusted robot with binoculars for eyes who journeys to save humanity by travelling through space. Holding a living, luscious plant as the key to humanity’s future, the robot travels to a cosmic cruise ship holding one of the last remaining vessels of human life where consumerism has turned humanity into ignorant, apathetic drones. 

5. American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

Starring Christian Bale in one of his most iconic film roles, American Psycho is adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name that follows a murderous investment banker slowly losing his grip on reality. 

A psychopathic, egotistical individual, Bale’s Patrick Bateman quickly descends into violent, hedonistic fantasies as his societal expectations to consume clash with his own unhinged mentality. As an unreliable narrator, it’s never truly clear whether indeed Patrick Bateman is indeed the killer he appears to be or whether he is merely a man capable of such atrocities underneath his materialistic outer shell. It’s an enigmatic, compelling investigation of modern life. 

4. They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)

Overtly anti-consumerist, John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live has become synonymous with stories that reject modern capitalism and expose the troubles that lie beneath the lies of consumerism.

Based on the short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson, Carpenter’s film follows two friends, Nada and Frank, who discover sunglasses that allow them to see the lies beneath modern society, as well as the aliens that are running the show beneath our noses. Putting the glasses on in the city centre of Los Angeles, signs saying ‘consume’, ‘buy’, ‘conform’ and ‘obey’ line the streets, revealing the truth behind the everyday lie of consumerism.

3. The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)

Unlike many of the films on this list that simply explore consumerism as a subtext, The Corporation, directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, is an overt exploration of the constructs of the corporations that support consumerism. 

From its early history to its contemporary prevalence in modern life, The Corporation looks to all corners of materialism and unpacks their process, picking apart fast fashion, technology production and more. It’s an extensive, fascinating documentary that remains unfortunately relevant despite its 18-year existence. Not only do the facts and figures in The Corporation still ring true, but it is also highly likely they are even more damning in modern times.

2. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

One of the most iconic anti-consumerist films of all time, Fight Club from David Fincher is adapted from the novel of the same name by the author Chuck Palahniuk, following the broken psychology of a man caught between the lies and promises of modern-day consumerism. 

The story is led by the fractured psychology of Edward Norton’s ‘Narrator’, a mind split between the social ideals of society and the maverick attitudes of counter-culture. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” says Edward Norton’s alter-ego, a phrase that would ultimately fuel the fires of Fight Club’s attitudes that reject capitalism and consumerism in all its facets. 

1. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

Featuring one of the best monologues in cinema history, Sidney Lumet’s Network addresses nearly each and every issue to do with modern consumerism, following the story of a furious news anchor turned deranged ‘prophet’.

Speaking to the issues with the materialistic ideals and increasing sadistic tastes of audiences that are perpetuated by news channels, Network taps into the issues of modern life with incredible foresight. Made iconic due to the rant from Peter Finch’s Howard Beale, his words scream of the anguish of contemporary individuals craving to return to the simplicity of pre-20th century life. Unfortunately, there was no way out. 

“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!”.