10 Movies That Expertly Criticize Capitalism

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10 Movies That Expertly Criticize Capitalism
10 Movies That Expertly Criticize Capitalism

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Capitalism is, in the eyes of many, a system that’s not perfect. It works great for a select few, makes life hard for others, and there’s a good chance most people fall within these two extremes. And of course, movies exist within capitalism. They’re not only made for artistic expression, as those involved in making movies (with very few exceptions) also do it as a way to make money and earn a living.


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That doesn’t stop filmmakers from being able to critique the system, however, even whilst operating within it (as satirically pointed out in a general manner in this famous internet image). After all, the system favors some individuals over others, and in recent years, has seemingly been working for fewer and fewer people, with a so-called “living wage” being harder to find. With that, here are 10 movies that either critique capitalism outright, or point out flawed aspects of the economic system.

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‘American Psycho’ (2000)

American Psycho is an extremely dark (but also very funny) takedown of Wall Street and the people who run it. It may focus on the 1980s, but its ideas still ring true. This story about an investment banker who’s so ruthless he’s also a serial killer (or at least believes he is) still hits hard more than 20 years since the movie’s release, and over 30 years on from the publication of the novel of the same name.

It takes the idea that extremely wealthy people are uncaring and brutal when it comes to other people (and their money) and takes it to its logical extreme… and then somehow beyond. It paints the Manhattan elite of the 1980s in unflattering detail, but depressingly, it also does little to suggest that this behavior can be countered or gotten rid of, leaving viewers with an appropriately empty feeling by the film’s end.

‘They Live’ (1988)

man takes sunglasses off

John Carpenter is probably best known for directing horror movies like The Thing and the original Halloween, but They Live deserves the same kind of recognition. It’s a satirical science-fiction/action movie about a homeless man who discovers that aliens have actually indoctrinated themselves into human life, and are controlling the population.

It’s a movie that’s anti-authority and anti-capitalism, suggesting that consumerism and the messages inherent in advertising ultimately control the world in real-life… though in the movie at least, it’s aliens who are behind it. The main characters even end up revolting against the powers that be, fighting a war most aren’t aware of, which leads to the movie’s over-the-top and entertaining action climax.

‘Parasite’ (2019)

Kim Ki-taek driving Mrs. Park

With a title like Parasite, you might expect this Best Picture winner from Bong Joon-Ho to be a horror movie featuring a literal monster. Instead, it’s more of a darkly comedic thriller about a working-class family indoctrinating themselves into the lives of a wealthier family. However, viewed another way, maybe it is a horror movie of sorts, about the terror and violence that can occur when people are divided within the system of capitalism.

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It’s not shy about its stance on capitalism and class warfare, as it’s what ends up driving the film’s most intense (and tragic) scenes. The worldwide appreciation of Parasite – and the way it struck a chord with so many – suggests that the problems the film explores extend beyond more than just one country, too.

‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ (2009)

Capitalism_ A Love Story - 2009

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone familiar with Michael Moore that the title of this 2009 documentary is entirely ironic. Made in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and subsequent global recession, Capitalism: A Love Story unpacks all the problems Moore sees with capitalism as an economic system, and explores how those problems led to a recession felt all around the world.

Given it was made in the late 2000s and focuses on events during that time, it does feel like a period piece of sorts when watched in the 2020s. However, many of the core problems outlined are still visible today, and with another global recession predicted for 2023, much of what this documentary has to say about capitalism remains relevant.

‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)

Citizen Kane

It might not seem like a scandalous movie by today’s standards, but Citizen Kane was quite controversial, when first released. Its depiction of a wealthy yet deeply flawed newspaper tycoon was seen as hitting too close to home for some, and part of the controversy may have stemmed from its critique of the American Dream.

Charles Foster Kane is a man who seems to have it all, even at a young age. He has a successful business and more money than he knows what to do with, but still feels empty, and can’t help alienating himself from romantic partners, business associates, and old friends. It’s a movie that suggests money isn’t everything, and that pursuing material wealth excessively can lead to a person’s downfall.

‘Modern Times’ (1936)

the Tramp pulling a lever in Modern Times

Before Charlie Chaplin satirized Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party in The Great Dictator, he took a similar approach in highlighting the absurdity of capitalism in Modern Times. It’s a fantastically funny (and sometimes quite sad) silent movie about a man struggling to get by as a factory worker during the Great Depression in America, and the way he feels dehumanized by all the technological change around him.

The technological changes emphasize Chaplin’s own predicament of making silent films in an industry where everyone else had moved on to using dialogue. It also does a good job at emphatically showing the plight of someone who feels like a cog in the machine, and doing so in a way that’s still funny and even heartwarming in places, rather than being too heavy or despairing.

‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)

Chris Evans in Snowpiercer

It may not have received quite the same amount of attention as Parasite, but Snowpiercer shows how that 2019 film wasn’t the first time Bong Joon-Ho criticized capitalism. Snowpiercer is a sci-fi/action movie that takes place on a train that houses the world’s population, following global disasters that decimated most of the people on Earth.

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The poor are situated at the back of the train, while the rich experience luxuries in the front carriages. Inevitably, a revolution breaks out, whereby the lower-class passengers fight their way to the front and get to see what the rich have been withholding from them. The train serves as a microcosm for a capitalist society that’s gone out of control. The metaphor’s blunt, but it works wonders (and it’s also just an entertaining, well-paced action movie).

‘WALL•E’ (2008)

For an animated family movie, WALL•E has a surprising amount of things to say about consumerism and the destruction corporations can do in pursuit of profit. Granted, it’s not quite as biting or downbeat as other films that critique capitalism, but the film’s plot itself only comes about because of consumerism, corporations, and the connected environmental damage.

Of course, it’s a pair of robots who end up saving the human race, and the crisis that sent the human race into space is implied to be solved by the film’s optimistic conclusion. Still, it has a lot to say about the worst-case scenario that could happen from too much spending and too much consumption, which is interesting to see in an animated film produced by Disney/Pixar.

‘RoboCop’ (1987)

RoboCop - 1987 (1)

RoboCop might be thought of as an action film first and foremost, and it’s understandable if that’s how it initially stands out. A simple story about a police officer who’s left for dead, only to be transformed into an anti-crime literal killing machine, it does satisfy when it comes to brutal, over-the-top action.

However, it’s also a surprisingly funny and satirical film. It presents a dystopian world that’s been torn apart by greed and crime, with many of the world’s problems caused by a giant, villainous corporation.Paul Verhoeven is no stranger to putting satirical elements in his Hollywood films, and RoboCop stands as one of his most biting.

‘Sorry to Bother You’ (2018)

Image via Annapurna Pictures

Sorry to Bother You is a wild, sometimes funny, but also extremely dark and bizarre takedown of capitalism as it functions in modern society. Broadly speaking, it follows a young telemarketer who quickly finds success in his company through his innovative marketing strategies, only for his rise to lead to uncovering a sinister and twisted conspiracy behind the scenes.

It’s hard to explain more without spoiling things, but Sorry to Bother You is undoubtedly a wildly unpredictable ride that’s worth taking, no matter how unsettled you feel about the places it goes to. It’s one of the darkest and most brutal takedowns of modern capitalism and the way it can demean and dehumanize workers, which makes it a powerful and hard-to-forget movie-watching experience.

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