10 Amazing Dystopian Fiction Stories That Should Be TV Shows

With The Handmaid's Tale hitting Hulu today and an HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 on the way, there's never been a better time to be a fan of dystopian fiction. As we hurtle towards an uncertain future, it's perhaps best to look at the authors among us who managed to predict things yet to come, and realize how easily we can tip over into a new world.

There are tons of great stories that have never been adapted, and in this golden age of TV we live in, it's entirely possible to get some great shows or mini-series out of them. Sit...and let the events of the world happen as we gaze into our televisions. Sit. And consume.

Judge Dredd

Everyone knows that Judge Dredd is one of the future's finest "street judges", a role that combines the positions of cop and judge and allows Dredd to sentence criminals to years of prison (or even death) for the slightest infractions. But if you haven't read the original Judge Dredd comic, you have no idea how much of a brilliant and scathing political satire it was, a brutal takedown of the British government of the 1980s. As you'd expect from the imposing main character, it's hardly subtle – the fascist nature of the judges and the over-the-top characters didn't leave much wiggle room for interpretation – but somehow, the two movie adaptations have eschewed this to bring us more straight-up action movies. This has always been the wrong approach, as the scariest part of Judge Dredd was when you realized he was just a cog in the wheel of a scary, authoritative future.

This is where a TV show could correct things. With over 40 years of stories to draw from, the show could be a police procedural like few others, lampooning our society and casting a new light on all of our modern issues (police brutality, immigration, social movements of every type) with ease. They just gotta find someone with the right chin.

Transmetropolitan- Spider Jerusalem


If "unfilmable" comics like Preacher can get TV adaptations, there's no excuse for Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's finest creation to lack one.

Best described as the story of a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson, main protagonist Spider Jerusalem uses his formidable powers of gonzo journalism to fight corrupt politicians. We meet him as he's about to return to the megacity known only as "The City" after a five-year defection to the mountains. The City has lost any sense of shame or decency – child prostitution is legal, Jeffrey Dahmer is the mascot of a chain restaurant bearing his name, and the police crack down on anything outside the approved normalcy. The series starts as a bunch of one-off stories following him writing his new column, but the overarching story features him facing a corrupt president, just as his inspiration did.

Best of all, it is angry. Spider Jerusalem wields the truth like bullets and never hesitates to fire them at any and all atrocities he sees being submitted. This show would be catharsis in its purest form.

Brave New World

Brave New World 

1984 gets all the respect, but it's Brave New World that's fast becoming our future...if it isn't already our present.

Take a look back at the two books and it's obvious which is most in danger of happening, at least in the United States. While Orwell dreamed of an authoritative government stripping us of pleasures, Huxley imagined a world in which we were inundated with all sorts of garbage noise that would make us forget our way, being controlled by pleasure over pain. Think of how many times you check your phone a day and how much you worry about buying and doing things that means absolutely nothing. Think of the amount of drugs we are pumping into our population... and then realize that Huxley predicted this ninety years ago. The few things that haven't come to pass in the book feel like they could slip in at any moment. This would make for a compelling, if depressing, miniseries.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

Now that we have the Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid's Tale) adaptations coming in, perhaps it's time for Octavia E. Butler to come to television. Her most famous (and arguably best) novel, Parable of the Sower, touches upon issues of race and religion in ways few writers have ever tried.

18-year-old Lauren Olamina lives in a walled-off community in LA, one of the few middle class enclaves left. No one can leave without an armed escort. Police and firefighters only show up if you've got the cash to pay them.

The president promises to "make America great again" (Seriously; exact quote) and does so by giving corporations breaks and cutting the budget of the space program. Lauren has been born with a condition known as hyper-empathy that allows her to feel whatever kind of pain she inflicts on others. Being one of the few people in the world that actually has empathy, she starts making her very own religion and bringing new converts on board after her walled community is attacked and overrun. Like the best dystopias this one is so fascinating because it doesn't feel so far off.

The Tripods Trilogy

The Tripods Trilogy

If The CW needed a show to follow up The 100, this is where they could head next. John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy shows what would happen if H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians weren't so lame and disease-prone and actually managed to take over the world. After decimating the cities from inside their massive metal tripods, the remains of humanity are "Capped" with metal mesh devices that get fused with their brains and prevent them from thinking about things too much. The story begins generations after civilization has been brought low and basically thrust into the dark ages. There's no technology or even electricity to speak of, and the main character's dad has a wristwatch that is the only one of its kind in the whole town. The story follows a couple of kids who escape their village a year before their capping ceremony (kids are capped at age 14, when their heads have mostly grown) and head off The White Mountains, a place where free people are said to live, to fight back against their captors.

Subsequent books (not including a prequel that details the invasion of the tripods and the start of the resistance) show what happens when our heroes find out what the alien invaders actually look like, and live inside their domed, gravity-controlled habitats as their slaves.

They're young adult novels, but like the best ones, they touch on universal issues, all compounded under the hormones of a scared teenager. Most uniquely, the protagonist is somewhat of a sidekick to the real heroes that are his friends, as he tries to stay out of trouble and lay low while they get things done. It's a rarity in YA stories that always seem to go with a "chosen one" type. Personally, this trilogy was my first introduction to the genre and one that's always stuck with me, and could provide that same kind of introduction to dystopian TV.

It Can't Happen Here

It Can’t Happen Here

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel was published during the rise of European fascism, when the title was something spoken by Americans. It's a wake-up call, and one we still need to heed.

It Can't Happen Here is about a populist politician that becomes President of the United States after running on a platform that promises to pay people cold hard cash and bring America back to the greatness it once was. Not even Lewis could have believed he'd be a game show host, though.

Things start to spiral out of control as the President rages against those that defied him, jailing them and eventually opening up concentration camps for his political enemies. The population goes along with each new minor atrocity, not realizing what they're losing. Women and minority rights start getting stripped one by one, and congress is disbanded. Military judges rule over the land and send non-Americans to the camps at the slightest offense. Soon, it's too late, and a resistance is formed to take back the country.

Fun fact: It Can't Happen Here sold out on Amazon following the 2016 election.

Player Piano

Player Piano

In Kurt Vonnegut's very first novel, the people that have ruined the world aren't fascists, but engineers. The story begins ten years after WWIII. While most of the population was away fighting and dying in the war, the people left behind turned to automated machines to keep the effort going, and the veterans returned to a world with dwindling employment opportunities.

We follow a man named Paul who has managed to climb his way up the corporate ladder to become a factory manager, one of the few safe jobs in a place that's descending into chaos due to unemployment.

Vonnegut drew upon his experience working at GE as a publicist to write this novel and he brutally tears apart the concept of climbing the corporate ladder. Paul eventually realizes that he belongs on the side of the working man and tries to help lead a revolt against the machines. As this is one of the few dystopia stories featuring a character who's part of the elite class that decides to defect, it could be both hilariously dark and a vicious satire on where we're going, especially considering the real and incoming threat of robots taking our jobs.



If Marvel wanted to go for its bleakest TV show yet, this is the story to tackle. It's ironic, as Warren Ellis intended Ruins to be a comedy, although it's almost impossible to see how once you've read it.

First, some history. In 1994 Marvel released a four-issue limited series called Marvels, which features a Daily Bugle reporter exploring everyday life in a world of superheroes. It's charming and light and shows the human side to this fantastic new world.

Ruins is the opposite story, set in an alternate universe where things aren't going well. The government rules with an iron fist and superheroes aren't allowed, prompting the Avengers to start as a secessionist movement. Iron Man gets killed by a grenade thrown by a National Guardsman. Black Panther is thrown in jail in San Francisco. The alien Kree live on a concentration camp in a nuclear test zone and are slowly dying from cancer. In short, it's a world where heroes simply haven't been allowed to be. The rub? Professor X is the American President presiding over all of this. And you thought Legion got dark...

We follow the reporter as he sees atrocity after atrocity being committed and while Ellis might have intended it to be light-hearted, it sure doesn't feel this way. Case in point: the last words of the first comic, as spoken by our reporter after he literally stumbles over the bullet-riddled corpse of The Punisher are "Death is everywhere. It's falling on us all. Let me find an answer before I go. Let me show them all how this happened. Please don't let me die in this place." Sheesh.

The Forever War

The Forever War

The title may not be appropriate anymore, as "The Forever War" has been used to describe the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this book was influential like few others.

Joe Haldeman's story about a war against an alien threat known only as the Taurans was written after his experience serving in the Vietnam War, and that explains why the combat scenes are so short, brutal, and ultimately pointless. It follows a group of space marines as they fight an impossibly long war that lasts well past any understanding why the conflict began in the first place, starting in 1997 and lasting until the 3000s.

The brilliance of this novel is in how authentic it is. Our ships are sent to the far reaches of space in order to fight an alien threat, but but due to time dilation years and years pass every trip they take even though they never age. Sometimes they end up in a fight with no clear idea what is going on, or completely outgunned because of advances in technology the aliens have made since their last encounter.

This could be the Battlestar Galactica follow-up we've all been waiting for, with plenty of human drama, space battles, and the crushing feeling of fighting a war for nothing.



Now that the floodgates have opened, who will be the one to adapt Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam? What? Did you think that Atwood only had one dystopia in her? Please.

MaddAddam has actually been in the works for years, with news hitting a couple of years ago that HBO would adapt the entire trilogy of books: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam. But even with Darren Aranofsky behind it, plans were recently dashed.

The difference between the two is that The Handmaid's Tale is scarier because it's more plausible. As you can see from many of the entries on this list, it's the dystopias that start off slowly and take away your freedoms bit by bit that feel the most likely, because they have happened before in actual human history. Oryx and Crake is a more fantastical ruined world, but one that's no less scary or compelling, and indeed, might be even more cinematic. In this world, things are ruined by corporations and scientists who have unleashed a plague upon the world that decimated the population. Translating Atwood's frankly astonishing prose onto screen is always a pointless task, but if Handmaid's Tale is as great as early word indicates, there could be hope for future adaptations.