George Orwell has been cited as one of the most influential authors in human history, thanks largely to a series of works that speak about the dangers of social conformity and the possible rise of totalitarian police states. Throughout the decades, his seminal work 1984 has been used as a full-bore warning for humans to maintain vigilance, lest they be overwhelmed by fascistic entities.
Filmmakers have picked up on Orwell’s message for years, and they’ve made some spectacular movies that continue to spread his urgent message. Here’s ten of the best that all deserve to be watched, regardless of whether one believes in Orwell’s warning or not.
10 THX 1138 (1970)
Future Star Wars mega-director George Lucas crafted his first work in 1971 with THX-1138, based on his 1967 student film. It’s a horrific vision of a future where humanity has been sanitized and forced to reject any semblance of individualism in favor of groupthink and submission to the state.
Meanwhile, the corrupt government has completely de-humanized the population by drugging them, shaving their heads, referring to them with letter and digit combinations, and outlawing all concepts of the traditional family unit, love, or reproduction. In many ways, it’s an even more terrifying vision of humanity’s future than Orwell was capable of conceiving.
9 Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 serves as a chilling message for modern audiences about the dangers of suppressing disagreeable viewpoints. The title is a reference to the temperature at which books burn, which is a direct allegorical reference to the Third Reich’s practice of book-burning in Nazi Germany.
When a fireman named Montag finds his conscience and rejects the burning of books, he begins trying to convince others of their merit and value. Frustrated by the system, he becomes part of an exiled group of “book lovers” seeking to retain the concept of intellectual independence.
8 Equilibrium (2002)
The ever-versatile thespian Christian Bale starred in this sci-fi dystopian flick about a society that has rejected all forms of emotion and anything connected to them, including music and art. As a member of the “Clerics,” his job is to seek out anyone still harboring emotions and execute them on sight.
When he misses a dose of the drug used to suppress his emotions, he quickly becomes affected by them. It’s enough to turn him against the totalitarian mega-state that trained him in the deadly combat art known as Gun-Kata, and he puts those skills to good use in an attempt to overthrow the system.
7 They Live (1988)
John Carpenter’s late 80’s take on Orwellian warnings was a comedic one, but it did serve a purpose. By using his signature satire style, Carpenter reached an entirely new audience with his message about the dangers of forced social conformity and groupthink. Roddy Piper starred as John Nada, a homeless man who discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to spot nefarious aliens masquerading as humans.
When he discovers they’ve been using subliminal messaging in an attempt to force humanity to obey and conform to the mainstream message, he rebels against those in power. Carpenter made the film as a warning for humans not to get sidetracked by fancy gadgets and entertainment, and instead question the predominant narrative.
6 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Famed director Stanley Kubrick crafted this disturbing classic about a dystopian future that is ready to come apart at the seams. When a punk named Alex commits a series of heinous crimes, he is taken by the government and reconditioned to obey the state’s official doctrine.
Kubrick makes a case for the unsustainability of large government, especially in times of crisis where oil and food shortages lead to societal breakdown that teeters on the edge of collapse.
5 V For Vendetta (2005)
The Wachowskis crafted this Orwellian-style hit about a future Britain ruled by an iron-fisted, merciless government who utilizes secret police to bludgeon its populace into submission. Versatile actor Hugo Weaving plays V, a mysterious man who dons a Guy Fawkes mask and starts a revolt against the corrupt government.
V for Vendetta has a strong message for any government that thinks total suppression of its populace will lead to permanent authoritative rule. The harder a government cracks down on citizens and stamps on their rights and freedoms, the more resistance is bred among the populace who will lash out in retaliation.
4 Snowpiercer (2013)
Captain America alum Chris Evans starred in this 2013 film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, and it was one of the most underrated hits of the year. Evans plays Curtis Everett, a man living in a chaotic future where mankind’s attempt to reverse climate change creates a devastating ice age.
A pocket of humanity’s survivors travels the globe in a train which represents the compartmentalization of people based on social classes. It’s an intriguing and clever way of speaking about the dangers of snobby government elites imposing their will on everyone else, and the revolts that eventually break out because of it.
3 Children Of Men (2006)
This dystopian film took the concept of Orwellianism in a different direction, this time via genetics. In the year 2027, mankind faces extinction when it is revealed that humans can no longer procreate. This revelation devastates the public and leaves them feeling so hopeless that suicide kits called Quietus are openly advertised.
Meanwhile, the fracturing government attempts to maintain iron-fisted control over the population, even as regimes around the world collapse. When a young woman is revealed to be pregnant however, it threatens the government’s totalitarianism in a way they did not expect. It’s a dystopian sci-fi film unlike any other in movie history.
2 Brazil (1985)
In many ways, Brazil is a spiritual sibling to Orwell’s 1984, but relies more heavily on abstract visuals and dark satire to sell its message. The story focuses on Sam Lowry, a man caught in the vice of a police state who yearns for freedom and the company of his ideal dream girl.
Heavy attention is paid to the ridiculous inefficiency of the government’s totalitarianism, and the gadgets they use to keep the populace distracted. The bizarre visuals and quirky story culminate in a final act that is no less disturbing than Orwell’s narrative.
1 1984 (1984)
The original Orwellian work got an adaption in (ironically) the same year as its own title. John Hurt played Winston Smith, a nobody caught up in the cogs of the totalitarian super-state known as Oceania. Winston and the rest of the human populace are bombarded day in and day out by ritualized media propaganda messages demanding subservience to the state’s groupthink policies.
They also employ Thought Police who surveil the entire population and watch for any breaks in conformity. Once found, they subject humans to a cruel and terrifying “re-education” process designed to torment them into submission. The goal is to socially engineer the entire populace to believe the state’s lies and accept them as truth, such as the infamous 2+2=5 scenario. To this day, Orwell’s message continues to reverberate throughout the world as a warning that such a reality could, in fact take place in our time.
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