This weekend, we're visiting the posthuman horror show of In Time, where people can tell how long they have to live by glancing at their wrists. But that's not the most outlandish dystopian future that science fiction has come up with — SF is full of ludicrous dystopias.
Here are 10 of the most insane or improbable dystopias that science fiction has hatched.
10) Café Flesh
Arguably this is a post-apocalyptic world rather than a straight-up dystopia — but the weird oppressive government pushes it over the edge. "The "Nuclear Kiss" has left 99% of the population unable to have sex - they've become "Sex Negatives". The remaining one percent of "Sex Positives" are required by the government to perform public sex acts for the benefit (torment?) of the frustrated Sex Negatives. The venue? Cafe Flesh - a sex nightclub, frequented by the Negatives, and MC-ed by an obnoxious former stand-up comedian named Max Melodramatic (Andrew Nichols). "I get off on your need," he taunts the Negatives."
9) Demolition Man
We've lavished a lot of appreciation on this false utopia in the past — it's one of our favorites, and for good reason. In the terrible future world, basically everything fun is banned. Including alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, and unhealthy food. (Sort of like Woody Allen's Sleeper and that Mickey Spillane comic book about a defrosted private eye.) Worst of all, there's no toilet paper! That's how you know it's a dystopia.
8) Max Barry's Jennifer Government
In this hideous dystopia, your job is the most important thing about you and your last name is the name of the company you work for. There's still a government, but it's weakened and has very little enforcement power over the big corporations, which have grown ever more immoral. To the point where they'll pay someone to organize a "gang-related" shooting at a Nike product launch to give the newest Nikes more cache.
7) Nigel Neale's The Year of the Sex Olympics
This television play from the creator of Quatermass takes place in a terrible future where society is divided into the "low drives" who are basically the working class, and the the "hi-drives" who control the media and society. To keep the "low-drives" pacified, the "hi-drives" give them a constant flow of crappy reality television, culminating with a family stuck on an island with a psycho killer. It's a satire on media culture that feels more prescient today than in the 1960s — but it's still kind of nutty, including the notion of having a Sex Olympics and a government-sponsored serial killer rampage. Well, let's hope, anyway. See also the Doctor Who episode "Vengeance on Varos," The Hunger Games, and countless other "bread and circuses" dystopias.
6) Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron
In this horrible future, everybody has to be "average," and if you have any special abilities, you have to suppress them. Are you smarter or more beautiful than other people? The state will use special devices to remove those advantages, so everyone's equal. (See also Facial Justice by L.P. Hartley, where everybody is required to become equally plain-looking to eliminate jealousy. And Rob Grant's Incompetence, in which it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of ability — so you have to hire people for jobs they're not qualified for.) It's been a TV movie and a big-screen movie version has been in the pipeline forever.
5) The Apple
Andrew Niccol only wishes he could create a dystopia as insane as this coke-fueled disco nightmare, in which the evil Mr. Boogaloo controls everybody through his disco music company called BIM. And you have to get your "BIM Mark" or the police will rough you up and arrest you — in a totally funky way of course. This is possibly the grooviest dystopia of them all. Plus, it's probably the only dystopia that's about the music industry and intellectual property.
4) Logan's Run
The original novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson is actually a bit more extreme than the 1976 movie — it's basically a vicious satire on hippie culture, in which the Baby Boom never stopped and the population kept getting younger and younger. (As opposed to the graying population we're actually faced with.) The youngsters take power and legislate a new order in which the maximum age is 21 — not 30, like in the movie. And when you reach 21, the flower on your hand turns black and shows that you've reached your expiration date and you have to go to the Sleepshop and get put out. But until you get put to sleep, it's all peace and love and hippy dippy shit, maaan.
3) Stars of the Roller State Disco
Another British made-for-TV movie, because the post-war Brits were just that obsessed with dystopia, for some reason. In Roller State Disco, Britain's terminally unemployed youth are forced to skate forever in a roller disco and watch instructional videos until they hopefully learn enough skills to gain employment. The hero is an apprentice carpenter who keeps turning down jobs he thinks are beneath him (because he's a craftsman.) It was filmed in just three days by Alan Clarke.
2) Prayer of the Rollerboys
Honestly, we could do a whole list of just the scariest rollerskating dystopias — there's also the fantastic Roller Blade by Donald G. Jackson. Something about roller skates makes people think dystopian thoughts. In Prayer of the Roller Boys, America is collapsing and Asia is in the ascendant, and yet everybody manages to look like a New Kid on the Block. And the super cool gang the Rollerboys sells a drug called the Mist, which contains a secret ingredient called Rope — which is designed to sterilize the underclass for the government. Check out a couple of fantastic clips here.