Mind-Bending Philip K. Dick Movies - A Countdown
The eternal tension between the real and the virtual. The ethics behind the development of technology. The apocalyptic scenario where our inventions threaten our humanity. The manipulation of time and its impact on our daily lives. The imprint of Philip K. Dick's literature in cinema is undeniable, thanks to the creative ways the American writer explored these issues.
However, when talking about film adaptations, the vision of a new set of artists can modify, deny or boost the quality of the original work.
Here is a ranking of the 11 Philip K. Dick movie adaptations that have been made to this date. We didn't include the sci-fi comedy Confessions d'un Barjo (1992) (which would be the equivalent of considering the baseball year in a Michael Jordan's NBA season rank) and Screamers: The Hunting, which is derivative of Screamers and not a direct adaptation of Dick's work. Similarly, we didn't include Blade Runner 2049 as a separate entry in the movie list.
This is our Philip K. Dick movies countdown.
11) Radio Free Albemuth (2010)
Although the great Shea Whigham plays an interesting Philip K. Dick, the ambition of this project far surpassed the final product. Radio Free Albemuth displays a lazy script adaptation (thus the insane amount of dialogue and voiceovers explaining everything during the entire film), a rather simplistic-amateur direction and special effects that look like a low-budget 1991 flick.
Only for Philip K. Dick's completists (or Alanis Morissette as an actress enthusiasts, if any).
10) Impostor (2002)
I like to see Impostor as the unsuccessful younger brother of Minority Report. Both came out the same year and although their themes are different, they have a similar structure. The seemingly, wrongfully accused hero persecuted by the security forces to which he dedicated his life. All while the protagonist is receiving help, and understanding the existence, of anti-system underground groups.
Impostor begins with strength and culminates with a couple of interesting enough twists, but the bulk of the middle suffers a lot of little engaging action and, quite honestly, a boring pace.
Gary Sinise is ideal as both the empathetic victim and the maker of raised eyebrows, but his histrionic quality isn't enough to rescue this film from oblivion.
9) Screamers (1995)
The best thing about Screamers, besides the music lover, weird-badass Peter Weller character, are its small details, like the VR scenes scored with heavy metal solos or the low-budget android extras that attract genuine laughter by the cute-but-not-enough art department's effort.
The rest of the movie is full of too many expected twists, cheap FX worthy of a SyFy's unappreciated movie and an ending that is supposed to be scary but really is some great piece of unintentional comedy.
8) Total Recall (2012)
The reimagining of Paul Verhoeven's classic has a good rhythm, great action sequences, a solid cast, and good special effects.
But without the social intelligence, an acute sense of humor, character development and emotionality of the original, this ends up being a completely unnecessary remake.
The only really refreshing thing about this experiment is the physical performance of Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. Both women steal the spotlight, with a kick-ass, intense, muscular performance.
7) Next (2007)
Nicolas Cage is a magician called Frank Cadillac, who has a mutation that allows him to see up to 2 minutes in his future, therefore giving him the power to change his destiny. Faced with a serious nuclear threat, the FBI, led by Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), desperately tries to capture Cadillac to take advantage of his ability.
Obviously, this is both a failed film and a wonderful guilty pleasure.
The problem is that Next exploits the future-a-la-carte premise too many times and in the process leaves the story and its characters incomplete. But, as I said, it has Nicolas Cage playing a magician, and in a scene with Jessica Biel, he makes the most overacted, intense and unforgettable seductive move in recent memory. You have to see this.
6) Paycheck (2003)
If you manage to ignore the non-existent chemistry between an awkward Ben Affleck and a cringer Uma Thurman, in addition to their mediocre performances (especially Thurman, who is painfully unrecognizable with that "cute" character ), Paycheck is an enjoyable flick, thanks in large degree to John Woo's exceptional direction and the smart "reverse engineering" structure (which is also the protagonist's profession) of the Dean Georgaris' script.
5) The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
The romantic entry of the list. David (Matt Damon) and Elise (Emily Blunt) have fantastic chemistry from the moment they meet, but the adjustment bureau, a kind of high-tech heaven division that supervises and manipulate actions in order to control the "destiny plan" of humans, doesn't have that union in its plans. Agents Richardson (John Slattery) and Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) are sent to stop that imminent relationship.
This is an entertaining film about perseverance and the human need to have free will when the main motivator is love. And once you accept the Fedora "magical" hats, the love story against--literally--destiny will move you, at least a little.
4) Minority Report (2002)
Spielberg's vision of Dick's work is a clever, futuristic and complex blockbuster starring Tom Cruise. Go figure.
In addition to the wonderfully directed Cat-and-Mouse action between Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow and Colin Farrell, Minority Report takes its time in establishing its message on the moral and ethical compass of an enforcer capable of predicting and avoiding crime. To what extent are citizens responsible for society's peace? How absolute should the State's monopoly of violence be?
Minority Report has survived the passage of time thanks to many factors, but it doesn't reach the top of this list. Blame that pair of plot holes and that dissonant ending which different tone doesn't match the rest of the movie.
3) A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater commits to the fatalistic tone of Dick's original work, setting the turmoil of a hardcore drug-dominated California, with an unnerving atmosphere of constant tension, thanks to the fantastic use of rotoscoped animation.
A Scanner Darkly is an outstanding exercise of controlled chaos. In addition to the visuals, the deluxe casting of Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson embody a gallery of erratic, suspicious and fragile characters.
The journey of A Scanner Darkly is one full of addictions. A society addicted to drugs, appearances and above all, control. In the process, the concept of identity will lose its value.
2) Total Recall (1990)
At first glance, Total Recall could be perceived as a highly entertaining action flick filled with Schwarzenegger's one-liners and visual oddities like the three-boobed prostitute or the machine gun-bearer female-stripper dwarf.
But the genius of Dick's work and the interpretation of the great Paul Verhoeven is that inside that brilliant blockbuster glitter package lies the motif on the threat of technologies being at the exclusive service of mercantilism. Rekall is the incarnation of the dangers of a perfect simulated life controlled by a private corporation.
Its structure is also a genius work. It's a frenzy sci-fi adventure, full of betrayals, twists, and blood. It also has a Schrödinger's-cat-route that, depending on the level of the viewer's cynicism, will result in two very different, equally awesome films.
What Is the Best Philip K. Dick Movie?
1) Blade Runner (1982)
It just wasn't possible that Ridley Scott's masterpiece was some other place than the very top.
Blade Runner not only changed the rules of the game and influenced dozens of works that are also considered classics, but continues to generate countless philosophical relevant debates, more than 30 years after its release.
All elements in this movie are near-perfect. From the performances of Harrison Ford, Sean Young and Rutger Hauer to Jordan Cronenweth's neon-filled cinematography or Vangelis' timeless dreamscape soundtrack, this is a film that will still be discussed 50 years from now.
And is that its symbolic ambiguity is perfect for the most ambitious motif that any film can have:
What is human?Why is that question so important to us?
Also watch Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original. It's an excellent movie and deserves to share the first place with the original Blade Runner. It is less inspired by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep of Philip K. Dick and more of a sequel in the same world.
We hope you enjoyed our ranking of these excellent Philip K. Dick movies. His writing has been an inspiration for a lot of science fiction movies. His ideas about reality and identity remain timeless in a world of ever-changing technologies.
© 2019 Sam Shepards