Future Crime: Top 5 Crime Movies In Futuristic Settings
By Drew MurrayJune 3, 2020
Crime movies are often deeply linked to the settings in which they take place. The prohibition era of speakeasies and bootleggers gave us The Untouchables. The glittering casinos of Las Vegas gave us Ocean’s Eleven. The gritty streets of Los Angeles have given us everything from Training Day to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
In my upcoming novel Broken Genius, futuristic technology is the object of a race between the FBI, a Chinese hacker, Russian criminals sent by the Kremlin, and a desperate corporate executive. What that technology enables would change the world. But what if we looked into a future where the world was already changed?
A futuristic setting enables a new realm of stories unbound by constraints of the familiar. Adding a criminal element to aspects of society taken to extremes allows filmmakers to examine moral questions they couldn’t touch in a contemporary setting. The resulting films leave you thinking long after the final credits roll.
Narrowing this list down to the top five was far more challenging than I imagined it would be. I settled on a broad cross-section of movies, spanning several decades of filmmaking, but with themes that are as valid today as when they were released in theatres. Grab some popcorn and get ready for a trip to the future.
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, this Stanley Kubrick masterpiece follows young hooligan Alex and his gang of “droogs” on a crime-spree of “ultraviolence” and the consequences that follow. While the futuristic setting seems almost quaint by today’s standards, the scenes of violence are all the more shocking because of it.
Betrayed by one of his gang members, Alex is subjected to an experimental treatment which aims to remove his violent tendencies and his free will along with it. The morality of what is done to Alex in the context of punishment for a heinous crime acts as a mirror to the society that imposes it.
The major themes of disaffected youth, wealth inequality, drug use, autonomy, and the perils of an authoritarian regime resonate as much today as they did in 1971. This classic is timeless, once you get beyond the primitive special effects of the era.
4. Gattaca (1997)
Like A Clockwork Orange, this biopunk film from the ‘90s deals with state-imposed limits on individuals. Where Orange leaves you questioning whether the state or citizen is the villain, Gattaca falls definitely in favor of the individual.
In this not-too-distant future, genetics has taken over self-determination. Genetic manipulation is common, and the quality of your DNA determines roles in society. While genetic discrimination is illegal, in practice, paths are limited for a child born without the benefit of gene editing.
Physically-flawed, free-born Vincent, is determined to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut. He strikes a deal with Jerome, a genetically perfect swimmer, paralyzed by a car accident and cast aside by a society that demands perfection. It’s a fraud requiring meticulous maintenance to perpetuate.
Lighter on special effects than the other films on this list, it’s no less provocative in the questions it asks about the nature of society and the limits of science. As with the best of science fiction and crime stories, it forces the viewer to confront a slippery slope of ethics and where we each draw the line between right and wrong.
3. Elysium (2013)
This movie works on several levels. With its social commentary on class structure, overpopulation hits you over the head as you would expect from a Neill Blomkamp film. But there are subtleties here too, particularly in the way the film treats transhumanism and fanaticism.
It’s also a straight-up heart-pounding thriller. After a workplace accident, a former thief turns to a Robin Hood type underworld character to secure a trip to a wealthy utopia. There he finds the health care he needs to survive. But first, he’ll have to pull off a daring theft from a billionaire industrialist, putting him at the center of an attempted coup.
The contrast between the dystopian ground and utopian space station is stark. On Earth, everything is old, used, and filthy. Elysium is pristine, perfect, and defended by gleaming robots. The world-building is detailed and completely believable. It’s a sci-fi action thriller, a multi-level caper, and a social justice manifesto.
2. Inception (2010)
Who doesn’t love a professional thief? What if instead of stealing your material possessions they want to take knowledge from your mind?
Leonardo DiCaprio is that cat burglar, slipping into your subconscious while you sleep. In Inception he’s given the ultimate challenge: to plant an idea inside the target’s mind without them knowing. This ingenious concept launches an excellent heist movie set against a mind-bending backdrop that is stunning and surreal, like a Dali painting brought to life.
There’s an excellent supporting cast here with Tom Hardy, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, and Ellen Page, forming the motley crew that every great heist needs. There’s innovative action, using multiple physical dimensions as well as time itself. Sure, it can be confusing if you think too deeply about it, so don’t. Buckle yourself in and just enjoy the ride.
1. Minority Report (2002)
This one still blows my mind. Inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, Minority Report envisions a unique unit of law enforcement centered on a group of comatose psychic humans able to see the future. Based on their predictions, people are arrested and convicted of crimes they haven’t yet committed. The moral question of when someone becomes guilty of a crime rattles around in your head from the opening scene onward, amplified by the cruelty of the punishment that awaits those convicted of pre-crime.
The way Artificial Intelligence is applied today provides disturbing parallels as some countries identify and detain individuals it believes will become dissidents. Do we need to wait until the crime is committed and someone dies before we can hold the offender accountable? Could we not stop them before it happens and send them on their way?
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it meticulously creates a futuristic world so breathtakingly believable that some of its innovative tech has become the standard in science fiction ever since. I’m still waiting for my transparent-screen, gesture-based computer system, but I know it’s coming! Minority Report is a noir crime thriller, and science fiction blended to perfection.
About Broken Genius by Drew Murray:
For Will Parker, it’s about personal redemption after a disastrous mistake
In 2011, Will Parker, the young prodigy CEO of a big tech company makes a coding mistake that costs a college student her life. To assuage his guilt, Will pursues a career in the FBI Cyber Division.
Now, Special Agent Will Parker is called to investigate a murder scene at a Comic Con event in the Midwest, where the victim has ties to a radioactive quantum computer that Will was working on before he left his gig as CEO.
Working with smart local homicide detective Dana Lopez and FBI stuffed-shirt Thomas Decker, Will discovers the victim was holding an auction for the computer on the Dark Web—and the bidding is still live.
With bidders including a legendary Chinese hacker, Russian criminals sent by the Kremlin, and a corporate executive desperate to escape a scandal, Will once again finds a life in his hands when the victim’s daughter is taken hostage. A trail of blood and high-tech breadcrumbs leads Will deeper into mystery, danger, and a race against time to keep unlimited power out of the wrong hands.