Here’s a watchlist of mostly apocalyptic, horrific, and dystopian-like, but oftentimes cathartic films that are sure to help stoke rightful anger against capitalism.
Watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold has been a harrowing experience. For a lot of folks, it is really beginning to sink in just how arbitrarily constructed many of our social systems are, and how foundational capitalism and its interests are to those systems. From the halting of rent, utility charges, and evictions, to providing healthcare access that should have been free all along. This global crisis is bringing to light the extreme vulnerability and exposure of the poor and unhoused, as well as widespread ableism and disregard for the lives of others.
For people like myself, however, this has merely added flames to an already raging fire of burning hatred for capitalism and its agents. We know that capitalism has always been this violent and callous and fatal, and we know that the most marginalized have always been this disposable to the ruling class. But regardless of how intimately familiar we are with the inner workings of this system, it never gets easier to watch people suffer under it.
I often curate watchlists as a small measure to help myself cope with things that seem too big, and I’ve decided to share this one with you. This is my “Watchlist For The End Of The World” (hyperbolic and dramatic, I know). Here, you will find mostly apocalyptic, horrific, and dystopian-like, but oftentimes cathartic films that are sure to help stoke rightful anger against capitalism, wealth hoarders, elitists, class traitors, labor exploiters, fearmongers, incompetent world leaders, and policymakers who keep this ravenous economic and political machine and its propaganda going. At the very least, they remind us of how deeply embedded these systems are in our world and of the many different ways storytellers can weave these inequalities into our cultural artifacts. They also remind us of the power of organizing and resistance.
Be advised that this list is in no way extensive and many of these films are sometimes difficult to take in, as they are often bloody and violent due to the nature of their subject matter. Please use discretion.
It should surprise absolutely no one that this is first on my list. I had such a visceral reaction to this film when I saw it in theaters that I kind of never want to see it again—in the best way. Parasite is not a horror film, but it is often a horrific and unnerving spectacle, even with its dark comedy. It’s an unflinching look at the insidiousness of climbing the social and economic ladder at the expense of others. The obvious message in it is that capitalism is parasitic—it attaches itself to a host, leaching from any source of nourishment and giving nothing in return to replenish what it has stolen. In the film, there is a literal stench of poverty that follows the poor characters. It’s like a parasite too, like a brand on the body, and the film uses it and other clever elements to hammer home the sense of desperation caused by a widening wealth gap, as well as how environmental devastation impacts poor communities more significantly while the wealthy are often able to insulate themselves from the brunt of the impact. More than anything, it offers an intricate portrait of how wealth can only be accrued and a hierarchical economic class can only be maintained through the intentional deprivation, disregard, and devaluation of others.
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This thriller uses the specter of climate change and environmental ruin as an entry point into a much larger story about class warfare. The literal physical separation of “first-class” and “basic economy” passengers that already exists in our world serves as the framework for life aboard a fictional futuristic train that continually circles the globe now that Earth has plunged into another uninhabitable ice age. Poor passengers are subjected to inhumane and unsanitary conditions at the back of the train, heavily policed by a militarized regime, while the rich live freely in the other train cars. Through this premise, Snowpiercer demonstrates the viciousness endemic to hierarchical class structures—including labor exploitation, social/economic immobility, and the active teaching of biased prejudice. It also highlights the demagoguery and idolatry of obscenely wealthy “Great Men” who maintain their pedestals through revisionist narrative control. The film makes evident how oppressive systems thrive on the anxieties and fears of all demarcated classes, but especially the desperation of those at the bottom. It’s also a lesson in class solidarity, and in how that desperation can lead to resistance and revolution.
Train to Busan (2016)
Train to Busan is a perfect horror film to me, and I do not say this lightly. I read this Korean zombie epic as a commentary on propaganda and fearmongering. It’s about the control of information and government lies, but it is also about selfishness, especially the political kind. The kind of selfishness and need for self-preservation that comes at the expense of the lives of others. The kind that keeps millions of people under the oppressive boot of an authoritarian ruling system, because the “important” people at the top must survive and they will orchestrate or permit the deaths of countless others in order to ensure that survival. Aside from its biting social commentary (no pun intended, I swear), it’s a thrilling watch with genuine scares, a compelling story with true emotional weight, and the only horror film to ever bring me to tears.
Seoul Station (2016)
This animated Train to Busan prequel addresses a lot: poverty, homelessness, healthcare inequality, government rule, police incompetence, class warfare, elitism, and the lie that poorer people’s lives are somehow worth less than others. It indicts people who love to talk about how bad the economy is to sound smart and important, but never do a damn thing to help those most affected by it. In fact, these people often dehumanize, silence, and ignore the marginalized folks around them. One unhoused character’s assessment that, “This country doesn’t care about its people” sums it up rather astutely. The film also demonstrates how systemic poverty keeps women locked in abusive relationships and unsafe situations. As such, it is also about the cruel misogyny of men and the different forms of violence they subject us to, often directing their anger and economic anxieties at us. It’s a reminder of how social factors like gender must be taken into account when we think about economic justice.
Knives Out (2019)
As I wrote in my initial review of this Whodunit mystery, Knives Out takes on the “self-made” success story that many of the wealthy love to tell, disingenuously. They ignore the level of exploitation required for them to amass their wealth, the fact that other wealthy people helped them get where they are, and that white people who have such a level of wealth are in such a position specifically because of the history of intentional racial economic disparities. It also addresses white American nationalism, xenophobia, immigration rights, and colonialism, as well as white liberalism, faux white allyship, and white obliviousness. The racism, dishonesty, and entitlement of the family involved in the murder mystery perfectly demonstrates white hypocrisy. Their solidarity with each other is purely conditional, as they only come together when they have the opportunity to stand against an immigrant of color, choosing their whiteness over all else. When their access to the resources that they believe they have the right to hoard is threatened, the nastiness beneath the veneer of white liberalism quickly bubbles to the surface. And it’s beyond entertaining to watch it all unfold.
One of the best things about Us is that it offers itself to many types of interpretation. The most significant to me is its framing of manufactured inequality. More than anything, I think it demonstrates how class warfare means unavoidable casualties as long as we live under capitalism, a system that intentionally creates unequal conditions in order to maintain itself. It forces us to fight for resources, and warmth, and air, and deludes many of us into thinking that certain people only deserve so much, while others deserve everything. Jeremiah 11:11, a Bible verse about “evil” being brought upon people for worshiping false idols, hangs in the air as an omen before the action of the film fully unfolds. I see the “evil”—the ascension and arrival of the Tethered, characters representative of disenfranchised, unhoused peoples—as punishment for the worship of capitalism and its demagogues. This is why I have always maintained that Us is not about an invasion. It’s about an uprising.
The First Purge (2018)
The most recent installment of the Purge film franchise is its best entry, in my opinion. As a prequel to the first three films, it shows us what led up to the very first Purge, a “social experiment” conjured up by The New Founding Fathers—a group of racist and classist political leaders who have recently come into power. The experiment takes place on Staten Island, where the population is predominantly poor people of color, especially Black people, many of whom cannot afford to evacuate and escape the impending Purge. Impoverished BIPOC are left to defend themselves against the government-orchestrated and sanctioned violences, particularly from organized white nationalists. This one hits very close to home for me—ancient and current history considered.
A dark horror comedy about corporate greed, told in a way unlike anything I had ever seen before its release. When a virus leaves everyone who contracts it under the total rule of their most base urges for 8 hours, literal mayhem erupts in an office building. Our main character must then embark on a quest to the penthouse to confront his bosses for their disregard of their workers. It’s a high-intensity story that only ramps up more and more as it goes, with murder, sex, drugs, and the unhinged emotions of hundreds of office employees finally letting loose. It’s a lot bloody, a little gory, and tons of fun.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
One thing that has been highlighted in the social consciousness in the past few years is the fact that water is a right, not a privilege. Mad Max: Fury Road shows us what happens when water becomes a hoarded resource by a tyrant who tells the poor citizens, “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” The myth of scarcity haunts us as the wealthy, who hold political and economic power, tell the rest of us that our demands for basic needs are nothing but greed and entitlement, even as they continue to partake of them freely—hoarding resources, access, and capital. Fury Road may be mostly made up of an over-saturated, high-octane car chase and shoot-out, but—with its pointed exploration of property, necessity, bodily autonomy, and labor exploitation via capitalist and patriarchal violences—it is also an argument for workers uniting and organizing to seize both resources and infrastructure from the ruling class for equitable redistribution.
The People Under The Stairs (1991)
This is a perfectly 90s horror film about racism, poverty, gentrification, capitalistic greed, and white heteropatriarchal nuclear family ideals. I know, it’s a lot. But it works. And I must say that it still holds up after almost 30 years. The Wes Craven masterpiece follows a young boy who is pressured into stealing from a rich landlord’s house so his poor family doesn’t get evicted from their apartment. Once inside the house, it is soon discovered that there are horrors inside that may be impossible to escape. And even though the poor tenants already fear the landlords, the homeowners are far more dangerous than anyone ever imagined.
Chicken Run (2000)
This children’s film is surprisingly about the power of organized working-class resistance and attempts to quell said resistance from those who profit from the exploitation of the workers. It served as the starting point of my own foray into radical Marxist and socialist thought 20 years ago (though it would be many years before I had the vocabulary to understand and talk about this, of course), plainly laying out capitalist concepts and demonstrating their wickedness—from the laborer’s life being dependent upon their ability to produce to the cold reality of our very bodies being seen as disposable in this system. It even has abolitionist undertones, with the chickens under continued surveillance, relegated to what is essentially prison labor, and with any attempt to escape being a punishable offense that leads to solitary confinement. Ultimately, this film introduces children to the idea of the self-emancipation of the working class through seizing the means of production, which means it’s also a great watch for adults.
The Lego Movie (2014)
Anti-capitalist indoctrination for the new generation. Not only does this children’s film critique capitalist greed and labor exploitation, but it also offers commentary on consumer culture, sameness, and forced positivity with the refrain of, “Everything is awesome!” Capitalists want us complacent in and uncritical of our working and living (and dying) conditions, never questioning the world we live in and, therefore, never demanding a better one. Among the laughs, what The Lego Movie gives us is a full-on (albeit satirical) anarchist class revolt in the face of corporate oligarch, Lord Business—also known as “President Business”—and his quest for eternal sameness and permanency, which he plans to achieve by super gluing all the Lego bricks in place to prevent any form of change or individuality and ensure his continued control. For me, it conjures up memories of Fight Club‘s narrator’s line about everything under consumer capitalism being “a copy of a copy of a copy,” as well as culture critics Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis that, “Culture today is infecting everything with sameness” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which is something I never expected to get from a movie about colorful building blocks.