The Odds are Never in Your Favor: Neoliberal dystopias in American cinema

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This article explores the ways in which dystopian cinema that emerged in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 provided pointed critique of two aspects of neoliberalism’s economic and social policies: the deliberate imposition of precariousness across the working population which neutralizes dissent and forestalls collective opposition, and spatial segregation of rich and poor that is rigidly enforced. In In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011), The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012) and Elysium (Neil Blomkamp, 2013), the poor are plagued by uncertain employment, housing and healthcare, barely surviving under authoritarian regimes organized in favor of the rich and powerful. Despite the pointedness of this critique, however, this article also demonstrates how all three examples remain preoccupied with the possibility that heroic individuals can effect radical change, thereby providing a buttress to one of neoliberalism’s central animating constructs. In some senses, they indulge in a form of ‘cruel optimism,’ suggesting that precariousness and inequality could be overcome by individuals with special qualities, when real solutions to these problems seem so elusive. This article therefore questions the purpose of these films in the contemporary moment, where neoliberalism is in its death throes, but nothing coherent has yet emerged to replace it.


  • Neoliberalism, Dystopia, Cinema, Precarity, Class divedes, Cruel optimism
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-397
JournalNew Review of Film and Television Studies
Issue number3
Early online date29 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
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