In Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp continues the long cinematic tradition of creating a future world that is completely unfit for humanity. In the film, the poor live on a filthy and overcrowded Earth, the rich and the privileged live on a titular space station, where every comfort is extended and life is easy. It's a nightmare scenario, the kind of thing that makes you wonder what the future will actually look like.
And let's be honest: if the movies accurately predict the future, we're in for some pretty grim times.
We decided it was time to look at the various horrifying futures seen in the movies and decide which ones are the worst. Which bad futures could we live with? Which ones are completely unbearable? We whittled down the world of awful cinematic futures to 34 titles and ranked them using some very precise scientific criteria (aka, we put them all side by side and decided which ones stunk more). Now, join as as we travel from "Bad, but Not Too Bad" to "Why Would I Even Want to Be Alive?"
34. Gattaca (1997)
Why It's Horrible: People who are born traditionally don't have the same opportunities or place in society as "valids," people who have been genetically engineered to be superior.
Why We Can Deal with It: Unless you want to get in on the whole space-travel thing or be a wealthy figure with societal influence, the world of Gattaca seems perfectly livable. Its sucks for sure, but as far as sci-fi futures go, you could do a lot worse.
33. Wall-E (2008)
Why It's Horrible: The Earth is a polluted junkyard and humanity has retreated into space, where everyone spends their entire existence devolving, growing fat and stupid, communicating entirely through computers while robots serve their every need.
Why We Can Deal with It: Because if you're going to be a fat, horrible slob, you might as well belong to an entire society of fat horrible slobs and let robots take care of your every need.
32. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Why It's Horrible: Violent gangs in gaudy costumes roam the streets, murdering homeless people and performing brutal home invasions in between regular visits to milk bars.
Why We Can Deal with It: We'll buy extra locks and hope for the best. What are the odds that a roving gang of Droogs will find our home? At least society is still standing in some fashion.
31. Escape from New York (1981)
Why It's Horrible: The entire city of New York has been walled off and transformed into the world's largest penitentiary, where violent criminals have transformed the metropolis into a wasteland of violence and feudal warfare.
Why We Can Deal with It: Because if we don't break the law, we stay out of New York. We stay out of New York, we continue to live a (hopefully) decent existence. If everyone lived in New York, this would occupy a very different spot on the list.
30. Punishment Park (1971)
Why It's Horrible: Those whom the government decides are a "risk to internal security" (aka, hippies and other members of the counterculture) are given an option -- a prison sentence or three days in "Punishment Park," a stretch of desert where they will be hunted by armed soldiers.
Why We Can Deal with It: As long as we keep our hair cut and don't talk about the war in Vietnam, we should be able to fly under the radar. Richard Nixon can't be president forever, right?
29. Death Race (2008)
Why It's Horrible: Prisons are a full-time business and nothing generates more revenue than "Death Race," a televised event where inmates attempt to be the fastest and deadliest on the track.
Why We Can Deal with It: We'll just live squeaky-clean lives and stay out of prison. With a little luck, we won't get wrongly accused on any crimes and forced to race for our lives.
28. RoboCop (1987)
Why It's Horrible: Violent criminals control the streets and the privately owned police forces seem woefully incapable of stopping them. Who the hell thought corporate-owned police for profit was a good idea?!
Why We Can Deal with It: Because RoboCop is out there, protecting the citizenry from the army of cocaine-sniffing bad guys who have been making life so difficult for so long. A dystopia gets a little better for every dangerous cyborg defending its streets.
27. Death Race 2000 (1975)
Why It's Horrible: The fascist government of what used to be the United States of America distracts the citizens with a massively popular cross-country race, where drivers earn extra points by killing each other and random pedestrians.
Why We Can Deal with It: We'll just stay indoors.
26. The Running Man (1987)
Why It's Horrible: An oppressive government controls the country with an iron fist, putting any and all dissenters on a life-and-death gladiatorial game show called The Running Man.
Why We Can Deal with It: Because we get to watch a new episode of The Running Man every week and that would be kind of cool, we guess.
25. Metropolis (1927)
Why It's Horrible: The beautiful, wealthy city on the surface is powered by the blood and sweat of the working classes, who live underground, stewing in their revolutionary juices. There is also a killer robot on the loose.
Why We Can Deal with It: We have a 50/50 shot of being one the wealthy and oblivious people inhabiting the upper half of civilization. That sounds like a pretty kick-ass life as long as we're not murdered in our beds by the dissenting proletariat.
24. Monsters (2010)
Why It's Horrible: Strange, extraterrestrial creatures arrive on Earth and occupy the border between the United States and Mexico. No one enters the quarantine zone if they value their life.
Why We Can Deal with It: If we stay away from the border, we'll probably buy ourselves at least a little time. it's a temporary solution, but at least it's an option.
23. Doomsday (2008)
Why It's Horrible: Scotland has been quarantined due to a deadly and contagious virus. Those who are left behind revert to savagery and violence, killing anyone and everyone who trespasses in their barbaric home.
Why We Can Deal with It: We're not in Scotland! HAHAHAHAHA!
22. Blade Runner (1982)
Why It's Horrible: The world is a polluted urban nightmare filled with rebellious androids known as Replicants. It never stops raining. The skies are thick with smog. Everything looks hopeless, dirty and unpleasant... and since we're stuck in the muck, we'll never see attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or see c-beams glitter in the dark near the tannhauser gate.
Why We Can Deal with It: It's the kind of setting that will allow us to work on our badass interior monologues and wear trenchcoats every day. We can make sci-fi misery look cool.
21. Children of Men (2006)
Why It's Horrible: For reasons unknown, children are no longer being born. The aging population has given up hope, with many people giving in to their most barbaric tendencies. For the first time, humanity could look forward and not see any kind of future.
Why We Can Deal with It: We still have each other... and we've heard rumors of the first baby being born in almost two decades. Surely there's some truth to that.
20. V For Vendetta (2005)
Why It's Horrible: An evil government controls England with an iron fist, performing unethical experiments on dissenters and violently silencing anyone who speaks out or knows too much.
Why We Can Deal with It: There's a revolution brewing. The world is damaged, but it's still damage that can be undone with a some explosives and a cool mask to rally behind.
19. Pacific Rim (2013)
Why It's Horrible: Giant monsters are crawling out of a dimensional portal in the middle of the ocean and wrecking the entire Earth. it kinda stinks.
Why We Can Deal with It: At least we have brave pilots and a fleet of giant robots to protect our coastlines. Any world where massive mechs defend us from monsters is pretty cool, actually.
18. Starship Troopers (1997)
Why It's Horrible: Fascism won! You can't be a citizen or have a voice in society unless you join the military and fight a needless war against vicious alien bugs! Everyone is forced to shower together and that looks totally embarrassing!
Why We Can Deal with It: In theory, we could simply live in the background and avoid all of the military and governmental nastiness altogether. Sure, we couldn't vote and if would be difficult to get a license to have a child, but that's a small price to pay to avoid getting eviscerated by alien-spider things.
17. Idiocracy (2006)
Why It's Horrible: The stupidest people in society have outbred reasonable and intelligent people, creating a future world composed entirely of morons who water their plants with energy drinks and make Ass: The Movie a smash hit.
Why We Can Deal with It: If we're living in the world of Idiocracy, chances are strong that we're just as dumb as everyone else and have no idea how awful things are. That's small compensation, but at least it's something.
16. Soylent Green (1973)
Why It's Horrible: The world is overcrowded and the government is corrupt and the only sustenance keeping humanity alive is actually made of people! Soylent Green is peeeeeople!
Why We Can Deal with It: Ignorance is bliss. If we have to live in this world. we'll just cover our ears, hum really loudly over the screams of Charlton Heston and devour our delicious Soylent Green.
15. Brazil (1985)
Why It's Horrible: The only thing worse than the domineering government that tortures and executes its citizens is the overwhelmingly incompetent bureaucracy running it. It's bad that your government is detaining you for unspecified crimes, but it's even worse that your family needs to fill out paperwork and pay a fee to ensure your execution.
Why We Can Deal with It: The government can't hurt us in our dreams! Right? Right?!
14. Dredd (2012)
Why It's Horrible: Most of the world is an irradiated wasteland, forcing the surviving remnants of humanity to live in massive walled cities where crime is rampant and the law and order is maintained by deadly "judges," police officers who have the authority to judge and execute criminals on the spot.
Why We Can Deal with It: This is an awful, awful future, but at least it's not total anarchy. The judges may be frightening, but they are keeping the world from becoming a completely lawless land. That's not much, but it's something.
13. Logan's Run (1976)
Why It's Horrible: The world has been devastated by an unknown conflict, but society keeps on keeping on in an isolated dome where every pleasure is available... but everyone is killed when they turn 30.
Why We Can Deal with It: Having to be executed when you turn 30 pretty much stinks, but at least you get to live a swanky existence in what's essentially the world's largest swingers' club for three decades.
12. Equilibrium (2002)
Why It's Horrible: Emotions and artistic expression have been outlawed, so if you don't take your emotion-suppressing medication or decide you happen to like a painting, a special agent trained in a wacky form of gun-fu will show up at your door and murder you.
Why We Can Deal with It: What we lack in emotions we'll more than make up for in the above-mentioned "gun kata." Actually, it's not. What's the point of being a total badass if you can't brag about it? Boo, world of Equilibrium. Boo.
11. The Hunger Games (2012)
Why It's Horrible: The forces of the Capitol keep the various rural districts in line through sheer terror and force, sending a representative from each of them to the annual Hunger Games, where they are forced to fight to the death.
Why We Can Deal with It: Like with Metropolis, there's always a chance you'll be one of the lucky rich people living at the Capitol. Also, you at least stand a fighting chance when the government tosses you into the Hunger Games, which is more than you can say for some of these futures.
10. The Matrix (1999)
Why It's Horrible: The vast majority of humanity lives carefree existences in a virtual reality prison, unaware that they are being used as batteries for a race of machines who destroyed humanity ages ago. A ragtag resistance battles for control of the junkyard that was the planet.
Why We Can Deal with It: The vast majority of postapocalypses don't offer a VR fantasy land to live in. It's not exactly a great option, but at least it's better than nothing.
9. The Postman (1997)
Why It's Horrible: It's your standard everyone-fends-for-themselves wasteland postapocalypse, which means it's generally a bad place to be and everyone is sad because their lives are destined to be ended at the hands of fascist troops led by Will Patton. How embarrassing is it to get killed by Will Patton?
Why We Can Deal with It: Because Kevin Costner will save us!
8. The Omega Man (1971)
Why It's Horrible: Biological warfare has transformed the bulk of the population into albino mutants with a distaste for technology. During the day, it's safe to go outside, but during the night, you better have an impenetrable bunker and a bunch of guns.
Why We Can Deal with It: Those creepy hooded mutants will tear you limb from limb if given a chance, but their antitechnology stance means that they'll always be bringing torches to a gunfight.
7. The Book of Eli (2010)
Why It's Horrible: It's like the Wild West except that the desert never ends, every cowboy wants to kill you and you have to hunt cats in order to survive. It's all so very unpleasant.
Why We Can Deal with It: It may not seem like much, but at least this world gives you some control over your own actions. It may not seem like much, but at least when you die a violent death, you'll know that you had a fighting chance.
6. The Road Warrior (1981)
Why It's Horrible: While most terrifying movie futures (even those set in desert wastelands) depict some people attempting to lead civilized lives, this world seems entirely populated by menacing sociopaths driving menacing cars who will kill you very slowly in order to obtain your gasoline.
Why We Can Deal with It: Once again, at least you have control over your destiny. Get a fast car. Find some gasoline. Survive. Silver linings, right?
5. Waterworld (1995)
Why It's Horrible: Take all of the postapocalyptic nightmare stuff from the likes of The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli, but put it on the water. Water, water everywhere and Dennis Hopper wants to kill you.
Why We Can Deal with It: Because, once again, Kevin Costner will save us! He's good at this kind of thing.
4. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Why It's Horrible: Most postapocalyptic worlds are the result of a nuclear war -- this is the result of two. That means the entire world is a desert wasteland populated by psychos and mutants and other horrible adversaries. The only way to survive is to have a psychic dog and those are fairly rare.
Why We Can Deal with It: We can't. There is no upside to this world. You win, movie.
3. THX 1138 (1971)
Why It's Horrible: All citizens are required to take heavy drugs so they won't question their government and will continue to perform their incredibly dangerous jobs. Sex is banned. Everyone is bald.
Why We Can Deal with It: Is there any upside to living here? At least postapocalypses give you some degree of free will. There is no silver lining to this dystopia. It's the pits.
2. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Why It's Horrible: A virus so deadly and unstoppable has ravaged the world, leaving only a tiny remnant of humanity left alive. Those who still have a pulse live a hellish existence underground and the only solution is time travel. That's how bad it is. The only way to get out of this is to travel back in time!
Why We Can Deal with It: With luck, we can be one of those selected to journey back in time and find a cure. If not... well, crap.
1. The Road (2009)
Why It's Horrible: Imagine the postapocalypse of every movie in the bottom half of this list but remove anything that made those worlds remotely exciting. There has never been a less appealing movie world and there has never been less room for heroics. Not even Kevin Costner can fix this.
Why We Can Deal with It: We can't. We won't. Better to be dead than alive in this world.