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Dystopian Films – Pre-fifties

Early Films | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

1920s

At the time Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis was the most expensive film ever released.  Set in the year 2026, it included elements such as an autonomous robot, a mad scientist, a dystopian society, and elaborate futuristic sets.  The film Things to Come, written by H. G. Wells, projected the world 100 years into the future and forecast the advent of World War II, however it was a box-office flop, and films with serious speculation and visual spectacle of the future would largely disappear until the 1950s.

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

A truly legendary silent film, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler had a major impact on the development of the crime thriller, building upon the work of the pioneering French film serialist Louis Feuillade (Les Vampires) and firmly establishing it as a significant film genre. This epic two-part tale was originally released as two separate films, respectively subtitled The Great Gambler and Inferno, and that format is reproduced here. The plot revolves around the pursuit of arch fiend Dr. Mabuse, a gambler, hypnotist, master of disguises and all-around criminal mastermind. Mabuse was the prototype for the sort of evil genius super-villains that would later become common in movies, whether it be in the James Bond pictures or in comic book adaptations like Superman and Batman. The film is dominated by the presence of Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Mabuse. A top German actor of the silent era, he is best known today for his performance as the mad scientist Rotwang in Lang’s Metropolis. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler contains many of the elements that were expected from the crime genre at the time, including characters who slip in and out of disguise, mind control, gambling clubs, exotic women, brutal henchmen and unexpected plot twists. Lang’s directorial ability to handle such pulp material in a masterful fashion, while also using it as a way to examine the decadence of Germany in the 1920s, reaffirms his status as one of the true greats of the silent era.

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler [Blu-ray]*
  • Kino Lorber (09/13/2016)
  • Blu-ray, NR (Not Rated)
  • Running time: 269 minutes
  • Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede-Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel, Bernhard Goetzke
  • English, German

Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis takes place in the year 2026, when the populace is divided between workers, who must live in the dark underground, and the rich who enjoy a futuristic city of splendor. The tense balance of these two societies is realized through images that are among the most famous of the 20th century, many of which presage such sci-fi landmarks as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. Lavish and spectacular, with elaborate sets, heart-pounding action and modern science fiction style, Metropolis stands today as the crowning achievement of classic science fiction cinema.

The Complete Metropolis*
  • Shrink-wrapped
  • Kino Lorber films (11/16/2010)
  • DVD, NR (Not Rated)
  • Running time: 147 minutes
  • Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

1930s

Things To Come (1936)

A landmark collaboration between writer H. G. Wells (Island of Lost Souls), producer Alexander Korda (The Thief of Bagdad), and designer and director William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind), Things to Come is a science fiction film like no other, a prescient political work that predicts a century of turmoil and progress. Skipping through time, Things to Come bears witness to world war, dictatorship, disease, the rise of television, and finally, utopia. Conceived, written, and overseen by Wells himself as an adaptation of his own work, this mega budgeted production, the most ambitious ever from Korda’s London Films, is a triumph of imagination and technical audacity.

Things to Come [Blu-ray]*
  • Shrink-wrapped
  • Criterion Collection (06/18/2013)
  • Blu-ray, NR (Not Rated)
  • Running time: 97 minutes
  • Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott

Next: 1950s

Last update on 2019-06-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API