As a version of speculative fiction, dystopian narratives explore social and political structures in a cataclysmic decline. In movies, books, and tv shows, the storylines revolve around characters battling environmental ruin, government oppression, technological control, and other crises that stem from some sense of reality. In middle school, I was entranced by dystopian content across all genres, and many dystopian movies were popular in mainstream media.
With the recent resurfacing of Hunger Games content, at least on my side of TikTok, I have rediscovered my love for dystopian teen movies. The young adult dystopian film genre developed a few successful projects nearly every year throughout the 2010s. I want to mention a few of my favorites and take a journey back to my middle school era. Most of these films come from a dystopia novel or trilogy series, so I also recommend reading the books.
- The Hunger Games
Author Suzanne Collins created the masterpiece of the Hunger Games book series, following characters living in Panem, which is a dystopian representation of the United States in the future. An annual reaping day forces two children between the ages of twelve and eighteen via a lottery system to enter into a gamified battle to the death. As the primary protagonist, Katniss enters the games and pursues an ongoing battle revolving around themes of love, familial duty, and rebellion. The movie series directly depicts the storylines from the book series, and the characters are brought to life in a new way. The high production quality, incredible music soundtracks, and tremendous acting make this a must-watch movie series. My favorite within the series is the second film Catching Fire, but watch them all and form your own opinions.
Movies in Order: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay pt.1, Mockingjay pt.2
- The Divergent Series
Based on the book series by Veronica Roth, the Divergent series exists in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where everyone gets divided into distinct factions based on specific human virtues. The film’s main teenage characters complete an aptitude test and a choosing ceremony to determine their future faction. However, Tris Prior discovers that she is Divergent and must uncover what that means for her. Throughout the series, Tris and the other main characters pursue solutions to sinister plots that aim to destroy their society.
I read the book series before watching the films, so I went into the movies with a more detailed version of the story. I recommend watching the film series, but the later films strayed further and further away from the original books.
Movies in Order: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant
- The Giver
As another book adaptation, The Giver movie derives from the story written by Lois Lowry. After a major crisis, the narrative exists in a world void of emotions and feelings. Babies are “born” through genetic engineering, and sexual desire gets chemically suppressed. Additionally, all memories of the past only exist in the mind of the Receiver of Memory and their protege. The main character Jonas begins to explore the idea of defying the rules and embracing emotions.
This is a classic young adult dystopian movie with a fantastic music soundtrack.
- The Maze Runner Series
This dystopian science fiction film documented the story of a 16-year-old Thomas, played by actor Dylan O’Brien, who arrives at the Glade via a rusty underground elevator. Unaware of who he is or how he got there, Thomas builds strong bonds with the other boys in the Glade and learns to sustain himself there while also searching for a way out. Designated Runners journey through the Maze with hopes of finding a path out while other Glade members strive to make the place habitable. They battle Grievers, the Maze, and conflicts between themselves.
The bond shared between the boys (and eventually someone else) is one of my favorite aspects of the movie.
Movies in Order: The Maze Runner, The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, The Maze Runner: Death Cure
- The 5th Wave
This science fiction action movie follows Cassie when a massive alien spaceship unleashes waves of chaos on Earth. The first wave knocked out all electrical power and communication around the world. From then on, Cassie and others endure an apocalyptic scenario filled with refugee camps, death, and military operations aimed at stopping the ongoing waves.
I loved the multiple layers of chaos riddled throughout the narrative. Compared to other dystopian films, it seemed to have a more jumbled storyline, but it continued to be fun to watch. However, the corresponding book series did a better job of constructing the intended narrative.
Also, I want to mention some of my favorite young adult dystopian books that deserve everyone’s attention.
My Recommendations: City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1984 by George Orwell, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Matched by Ally Condie, Legend by Marie Lu, Delirium by Lauren Oliver