ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

A simplified translation of the greek word 'dystopia' gives us the English phrase, 'not-good place', which, I think we can all agree, is a bit of an understatement.

Dystopian fiction has now become a cornerstone of literature, film and video games, with the genre taking on even more popularity as we moved into the politically and economically turbulent 21st century. Although the founding monoliths of dystopia might lie in the post-war years, with books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Fahrenheit 451 and A Clockwork Orange creating the basis of the modern genre, dystopia has also found a successful and increasingly lucrative home on the big screen.

Of course, you can't have a dystopia without an oppressive, tyrannical and sinister overlord - although these can come in many flavors. Some might wield power through overt repression and domination, others might spread fear and insecurity through propaganda and psychological manipulation, while others might infiltrate their insidious tendrils through society from the shadows. Here are 7 of the most sinister dystopian overlords to appear in movies.

1. Immortan Joe - Mad Max: Fury Road

Physically and morally repugnant, Immortan Joe is the leader of The Citadel - one of the Wastelands only sources of fresh water. With the aquifer under his command, he rations the release of water to his underlings, deliberately limiting their intake in the name of weening them from their 'water addiction'.

He is backed up by the fanatical War Boys, this brainwashed soldiery who follow all his orders - even those to the death - with glee and enthusiasm. Although some have claimed Immortan Joe has an altruistic side - after all, at least he gives his people some water - any moral defence of Joe falls apart when you consider he also keeps a harem of 'wives' which he treats as his property.

Check out his introduction speech below:

2. The Duke - Escape From New York

Another despot with a penchant for flashy automobiles, The Duke (played by Issac Hayes) is the de facto ruler of Manhattan Island, the entirety of which has been turned into a maximum security prison.

With no official law enforcement inside the island, The Duke has taken to ruling Manhattan with an iron fist (which is most likely inside a pimpin' velvet glove). Apart from garden-variety tyranny, The Duke is also known to torment prisoners by lining them against a wall and shooting around them and entering them into 'thunderdome-esque' fights to the death with each other.

His funky introduction is below:

3. WCKD - Maze Runner: Scorch Trials

As if the name wasn't enough of a give-away, the sinister organization behind the Maze Runner series of books and films is indeed wicked. However, it wasn't always this way, with the organisation originally established to cure the Flare - a pandemic that is ravishing the world.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, WCKD decided their only chance of finding a cure was to place adolescent boys and girls through a series of deadly and arduous trials. With the manipulative Assistant Director Janson heading operations, WCKD has created legions of monsters and obstacles designed to challenge, and if necessary, kill the few remaining immune people on Earth. With the world placing all its resources and faith in WCKD, its change of policy is a perfect example of the old maxim "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Watch a clip from Maze Runner: Scorch Trials below:

4. Coriolanus Snow - The Hunger Games

The ruthless President of Panem, Coriolanus Snow is the main instigator of the deadly Hunger Games. Designed to suppress dissent among the districts while simultaneously acting as gaudy entertainment for The Capitol, the Hunger Games see young men and woman forced into deadly combat with one another.

Perhaps the most sinister quality of Snow is his calm, and seemingly logical demeanour. He appears to execute most of his plans without emotion, instead relying on insidious manipulation, oratory and a machiavellian guile.

Snow addresses Panem in one of his propaganda videos below:

5. The British Government - Children of Men

Children of Men depicts a world in which an unexplainable infertility has led to no human child being born for 18 years. Faced with the death of the species, the world has understandably gone to hell. According to their state propaganda, Britain is only functioning government left, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants attempting to breach its borders.

Faced with this, a fascist government has taken over, declaring all immigrants illegal and sending any who make it to Britain into ghettos and concentration camps - if they're not killed outright. The terror of Children of Men primarily comes from how recognizable the regime is, with Cuarón deliberately drawing on contemporary images and events - such as the War on Terror and Abu Graib prison - to show how even self-confessed democracies can turn sour when faced with insecurity and fear. This concept is may be more pertinent today than it was in 2006.

Watch things go to hell in Britain's largest immigrant prison camp in this Children of Men clip:

6. Wilford - Snowpiercer

Acknowledged as a God by its inhabitants, Wilford is the creator of the Snowpiercer, a perpetually powered train which circumnavigates the globe. Following the ecological collapse of the Earth, the Snowpiercer becomes the only place capable of supporting human life.

However, the Snowpiercer is separated into several distinct and rigorously maintained social classes, with the upper class living in luxury and the lower classes forced into the gruelling and degrading tail of the train. As well as the figurehead of the oppressive security forces, Wilford is also a master manipulator, and proves he'll do whatever it takes, including killing large numbers of people, to maintain his god-like persona.

Watch the start of the uprising below:

7. The Republic of Greater East Asia - Battle Royale

Although similar to the story of The Hunger Games, Battle Royale's original book and film actually predate Suzanne Collins series by several years.

In Battle Royale, the Japanese government has expanded and become a police state which has rebranded itself as the Republic of Greater East Asia. In order to respond to increasing crime, youth delinquency and dissent, the government introduced the Battle Royale Act, an event which sees a school class randomly selected and moved onto a deserted island. Once there, they are given a random weapon and told to kill each other off - with the survivor being granted their freedom. The events, similar to The Hunger Games, are designed to crush dissent, sow suspicion and act as distasteful entertainment.

The 'rules' of Battle Royale are explained in the video clip below:


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