Which fictional dystopia would be the worst to live in?

Rich Pelley
·3-min read

Before we work out which dystopia is worst, it might be useful to define what exactly a dystopia is. According to the dictionary, a dystopia is “a society in which there is great suffering, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic”. Some may say that we are already in a dystopia, but compared to apes revolting or aliens blowing us to smithereens, 2020 has not been that bad. It’s not as if we’ve run out of bog roll – or telly. Take Charlie Brooker, scoop out his brain, wire it up to a movie projector, dim the lights and you’ll really find out what dystopia is like.

The Time Machine by HG Wells (1895) is widely regarded as the prototype of dystopian literature, but, er, that involves reading a book, whereas 2002’s The Time Machine has got Guy Pearce mucking about with time travel, so maybe watch that instead. You have witnessed hundreds of fictional dystopias already: Mad Max, Blade Runner, The Hunger Games, Interstellar, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and Westworld are prime examples. Robots often feature, as in I, Robot, so too do deadly plagues, as in I Am Legend. So does Will Smith, for some reason.

Liam Hemsworth, Sam Clafin, Evan Ross and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.
Liam Hemsworth, Sam Clafin, Evan Ross and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. Photograph: Murray Close/AP

Pinning down the worst fictional dystopia can be tricky if you feel we are already living in one, what with Covid becoming “the new norm”. If the movies are to be believed, then – according to 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – apes taking over the world is due to become “the new norm” in 2021. Going by 2014’s RoboCop, cyborgs rebelling against their programming to go on revenge killings is due to become “the new norm” in 2028. And 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate claims Judgment Day has been postponed beyond 2022.

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To best compare and contrast fictional dystopias, you have to imagine you’re la-di-da-ing along perfectly happily, then – blam! – you take the red pill and suddenly discover the human race are merely batteries in a world of machines; or – kapow! – all your friends and family have suddenly been replaced with imposters. Most dystopias seem to involve human-enslaving robots (The Matrix), body-snatching aliens (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), nuclear war (Mad Max), fatal viruses (Contagion) or pesky apes. So, in a contest, it basically boils down to which is worse: aliens, robots, nuclear oblivion, deadly flu or primates?

However, there is one dystopian nightmare so dark it makes being forced to fight to the death in The Hunger Games, watch After Earth with Will and Jaden Smith or go on holiday with Charlie Brooker seem like a picnic. There is something much worse than evil aliens, robots, nukes, plagues and simians. That’s right: superglue. Imagine the horror on waking to find your iPhone glued to the bedside table. The toilet is glued. The kettle is glued. Now you’re glued. All that awaits is a sticky death. The world’s most evil businessman and president of the Octan Corporation (Will Ferrell) has stolen the world’s most dangerous superweapon (the Kragle), with which he plans to stick the whole world together with superglue. And only Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks can thwart him by finding the Piece of Resistance. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Lego Movie and its sequels, you should. It’s dystopia for the whole family.