“The Purge” & 10 Other Bleak Future Scenarios in Movies

May 30, 2013

Ethan Hawke's latest film "The Purge" is set in the not too distant future and imagines a world where all crime is legal for one twelve hour period every year. The idea behind it, as explained in the film, is that it allows people to get all the pent-up frustrations, aggressions, and negativity out of their systems. Participation is even seen as patriotic. The truth, however, may be more sinister.

Of course, just like any good dystopian story, the film explores the sociological ramifications of a policy that only the rich can afford to protect themselves from and addresses the alternative motives behind it. It joins a list of films that have presented some troubling scenarios for the future. Let's take a look at ten of the better examples of this theme.


This cult classic stars Kurt Russell as "Snake Plissken" (what a great name), a World War III(!) veteran in the far-off year 1997(!!!). After Air Force One crashes onto the island of Manhattan, which after decades of decay has been transformed into a penitentiary, Plissken is sent in because they know he's a bad enough dude to rescue the President. This movie still holds up and is a Hell of a lot of fun, as is the 1996 sequel "Escape from L.A."


Source: Warner Bros.

Mel Gibson put in a lot of great performances during the late seventies and early eighties (including a stirring turn in the 1981 World War I drama "Gallipoli"), but he made a real name for himself playing Max in the post-apocalyptic "Mad Max" trilogy. Here, we see a future after a nuclear war where the open road has become a battlefield and gasoline is akin to gold.


In this French action film, crime has gotten so bad in Paris that authorities have basically given up on entire sections of the city and erected giant walls around troublesome neighborhoods. The result is basically a microcosm of anarchy, although one man decides to stand up to the drug gangs using his parkour skills. Seriously. In fact, the guy who plays the hero is credited with essentially creating parkour.


Source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

This sci-fi classic starring Charlton Heston is probably best known for the single line he screams at the film's climax, which is also the reveal of the terrible secret the future holds: the food used to sustain the population, Soylent Green, is people. This is probably the most disturbing of all the possible futures in this list, even in this modern world where tacos are served in Dorito shells.


In this future, we don't have to take any extraordinary steps or pass any insane laws to "fix" our problems. The decision is made for us by the machines after the computer network SkyNet becomes self-aware and sets off several nukes. Deciding that humanity was a threat, the machines set about to ensure its complete eradication. Unfortunately it's never explained why the computer network programs its killer robots to have Austrian accents.


Source: Orion Pictures

Here's another film where a robot is the answer, although this one is a little more helpful. In this future, the police force of Detroit has been privatized. After one of its cops (played by Peter Weller, who we just saw in "Star Trek Into Darkness" as Admiral Marcus) is all but blown to bits by thugs, the corporation brings him back as a cyborg. Naturally, their attempts to suppress his moral instincts fail.


Ideally you want to stop crime before it happens. To some that means social programs or trying to keep kids on the right track. In this movie, however, it means literally arresting people before they commit the crimes that pre-cognitive humans envision. Naturally, there's the whole problem of free will as well as the fact that ideas and thoughts alone aren't crimes. According to this film, though, the bigger problem is that you can pre-emptively trick psychic people that live in pools into seeing one thing while you do another.


Source: Toei Company

If you ever thought "kids these days…" and didn't end that thought with "…should be forced to fight each other to the death until only one remains," then you're a better person than the people in this alternate future where an annual televised tournament of murder and mayhem is held to both entertain the populace and keep the younger population in check. If that premise sounds familiar, it's because it does bear some resemblance to the "Hunger Games" series. That's not to say it borrowed from "Battle Royale," however, since the idea is as old as recorded history (i.e. Roman gladiators).


On the other hand, maybe adults are the problem. The depletion of vital resources is a common theme in these movies, and in "Logan's Run" the answer isn't to pin the blame on the younger population, but to celebrate youth and executing people when they reach the age of 30. Which is a terrifying thought, because it means a world where Bob Dylan never got old enough to record "Blood on the Tracks" and without stuff like "The Fast & The Furious" franchise. Speaking of which…


This one may surprise some people, but bear with us: every installment of the "Fast & Furious" franchise following this is, technically, a prequel. That means that this movie takes place in the future. Sure, you could argue that "Tokyo Drift" is set in the here and now and all the other movies take place in the past. But that's highly unlikely because none of the plots of the other movies center around the collapse of the housing market and none of the characters talk about how much they loved "The Avengers" - two elephants in the room that would need to be addressed if these films happened in the recent past. The only logical explanation is that, like the other movies on the list, "Tokyo Drift" shows us a future that we could be headed towards where cars are drifting a lot. We need to stop it before it's too late.

"The Purge" is in theaters June 7th. Like the other films on this list, it's a gripping action film, but it also uses its futuristic premise to address some pretty serious philosophical questions regarding our contemporary approach to crime and society.

See the film's star, Ethan Hawke, talk about the movie and much more in the latest episode of All Access Weekly: