We should have known this was coming. All we had to do was pay attention to some of our greatest filmmakers. Look around and it feels like we’re living in one of those dystopian/post-apocalypse/dark-future movies that overpopulate the sci-fi wing of our streaming-service menus.
While we haven’t reached “Outbreak”/ “Contagion”/ “28 Days Later” levels yet, you can easily see aspects of what we’re going through now in the many films that once imagined worlds with dark futures. Here are some that stand out:
“Alien” (R; Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, others)
There’s a small group of you trapped in a confined space with an unknown vector moving around in the air transfer system. You have no idea if you’re safe or if something terrifying is going to infect you by invading your airway.
Things eventually turn vicious, but, over its first hour, Ridley Scott’s 1979 film is a study in how to build tension as the xenomorph begins to emerge. The verbal interplay among the crew is pitch perfect, especially in the moments when delightful veteran character actors Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton share the screen.
As far as metaphors for our times go, “Alien” is perfection.
“Children of Men” (R; Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, others)
The government is falling apart, desperate people are fighting over dwindling supplies and the health care system is in tatters.
This 2006 Alfonso Cuarón film captures the chaos of a fracturing society in stifling detail. It’s 2027 and civilization is on the brink after decades of infertility and anarchy as humanity flees radiation and plague. In the midst of all this, a government worker played by Clive Owen attempts to get a young immigrant woman with a secret to safety. The cinematography is so seamless, you often feel you’re elbow to elbow in the desperate crowds. It’ll give you the heebie-jeebies.
“District 9” (R; Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, others)
Immigrants and the impoverished demonized by an increasingly xenophobic citizenry, internment camps and families split apart by the government, missteps in the early reaction to an unknown contagion, governments weaponizing biology.
Director Neil Blomkamp created one of sci-fi’s most visceral worlds with this 2009 film that featured a maddening bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) and a cast of buggy aliens whose strange ways succeed in making you feel vaguely uncomfortable. Copley’s character is charged with relocating a South African internment camp full of aliens, and as often happens with government actions, things spin out of control from the very first eviction notice.
“Never Let Me Go” (R; Amazon, iTunes, others)
Kids living a life of quiet fear, the daily stress of an uncertain future, uncrossable borders and the futility of hope.
Mark Romanek’s quiet, subtle 2010 film is a master class in the slow reveal as a group of kids learn the truth behind their lack of freedom and status.
“12 Monkeys” (R; Showtime, Amazon, others)
Time travel, environmental terrorism and Bruce Willis … Wait! That doesn’t sound familiar at all.
OK, use a little imagination here. In Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film, a prisoner (Willis) from a devastated future time-travels back to 1996 to stop a plague that almost wipes out mankind. It’s a jarring, nonlinear film that leaves you confused and looking for answers as those who would save us make mistake after mistake.