Top 10 Anti-Establishment Films

Michael Douglas in the seminal Falling Down

Michael Douglas in the seminal Falling Down

By Jordan

In November 1992, Rage Against the Machine released their ground-breaking, self-titled debut album which has since garnered an immense fan-base of hard-core rockers and the establishment defiant. On this album were a myriad of cult hits; Bombtrack, Killing in the name and Bullet in the Head to name a few. The most angry of these however is the perhaps lesser known gem, Know Your Enemy, and the below lyrics which are shouted at the song’s end perfectly surmise the Anti-Establishment film:

Yes I know my enemies, they’re the teachers who taught me to fight me. Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission, ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite. All of which are American dreams.

All of which are American dreams.

Prepare to raise your fist and resist as I count down my Top 10 Anti-Establishment Films of all time.

Jason Flemyng loses his identity in Romero's Bruiser

Jason Flemyng loses his identity in Romero’s Bruiser

10. Network (1976, Directed by Sidney Lumet)

When news anchor Howard Beale (an exemplary Peter Finch) is fired thanks to a decline in viewer ratings, he responds in an unexpectedly extreme fashion launching a tirade against the current state of affairs in the American media, and rather than trying to cover up the incident, UBS decide to exploit it for profit.

Pump your fist when: Howard Beale encourages his viewers to shout “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

9. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Directed by Milos Forman)

One of my top 5 films of all time, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the tale of Randall McMurphy, a recent ‘inmate’ in a mental asylum who, being appalled by the treatment of his fellow detainees, leads a revolt against the domineering and abusive Nurse Ratched.

Pump your fist when: Randall stages a breakout and he and his new-found friends go for a sail.

8. 25th Hour (2002, Directed by Spike Lee)

Montgomery Brogan has 24 hours to re-evaluate his life before he spends a large portion of it behind bars. Fun fact, on his apartment wall is a Cool Hand Luke poster, and later we see him sitting in front of an Easy Rider t-shirt… see below.

Pump your fist when: Montgomery notices a message written on a bathroom wall, sparking a monologue of inspired brilliance damning the posers and the greedy inheriting the system.

7. Bruiser (2000, Directed by George Romero)

Henry Creedlow (a never better Jason Flemyng) is belittled by his boss, cheated on by his wife and frequently robbed by his housemaid; so when he wakes up one morning with a face resembling the blank nobody the world views him as, he grabs life by the throat and lets all of his subdued thoughts and desires rule his future actions.

Pump your fist when: Henry shows his boss who’s boss.

6. They Live (1988, Directed by John Carpenter)

Nada (Roddy Piper!), a drifter moving between construction sites, discovers a pair of glasses that when worn make obvious the subliminal messages (‘Obey,’ ‘Stay Asleep,’ ‘No Imagination’) Aliens (the Government) are planting to subdue the populous and encourage drone-like behavior.

Pump your fist when: Nada delivers his famous “bubble-gum” speech and through use of a shotgun sends these Aliens a message of his own.

Cool Hand Luke. 'The man and the motion picture that simply do not conform'

Cool Hand Luke. ‘The man and the motion picture that simply do not conform’

5. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Directed by Stanley Kubrick)

Another of my all time favorite films (I’m thinking there may be a trend), Kubrick’s controversial masterpiece proposes a world where violent delinquents can be ‘cured’ by an experimental aversion technique and Britain has become a land of gang-ridden despair. A Clockwork Orange is an exceptionally made film, but raged against the machine so much the great director himself withdrew it from circulation.

Pump your fist when: Alex is laying in bed, Beethoven blaring, cured

4. Falling Down (1993, Directed by Joel Schumacher)

Michael Douglas is incendiary as William Foster, a man battling battling the prospect of not seeing his daughter on her birthday after going through a divorce, losing his job and, worst of all, being stuck in a traffic jam. After being abused by a shopkeeper and harassed by gang members he cracks, and no longer being able to witness the everyday injustices inflicted upon tax-paying citizens gives the middle finger to society in a way which will no doubt see him doomed.

Pump your fist when: Our protagonist finds good use for the rocket launcher he’s been lugging around, much to the shock of nearby construction workers.

3. Cool Hand Luke (1967, Directed by Stuart Rosenberg)

After taking the heads of parking meters while drunk, Luke (the ever-cool Paul Newman) is sentenced to a Southern chain-gang for a relatively short stay… if only he could do what he’s told. He’s a man that cannot be controlled for the pure pleasure of the oppressive warden, nor can he be relegated to the background amongst the prisoners; like Private Bozz in Tigerland, he’s ‘a natural born leader that fails to take any real responsibility.’ Will he escape? Or will he be broken?

Pump your fist when: Luke refuses to admit defeat in a boxing match with the giant Dragline.

2. Easy Rider (1969, Directed by Dennis Hopper)

The tagline says it all: ‘A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere…’ although not only could Wyatt and Billy not find America on their journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans, but they’re (Spoiler alert!) senselessly killed by ignorant rednecks for their trouble.

Pump your fist when: The motors are revving, and Steppenwolf is blaring.

1. If… (1968, Directed by Lindsay Anderson)

Mick (Malcolm McDowell, a name synonymous with this type of film) incites a bloody rebellion at his oppressive boarding school in this counter-culture classic that still remains unavailable to purchase in Australia. For anyone wanting to watch a film that perfectly captures the essence of disenfranchised youth, this is it. Actually, its as simple as if you haven’t seen this film, just do so now no matter what your filmic taste!

Pump your fist when: Founder’s Day comes around…

Lindsay Anderson's tremendous If...

Lindsay Anderson’s tremendous If…

For those wishing to contribute to the kick-starting of an upcoming McDowell project, Bereave, more info lies here!

38 responses to “Top 10 Anti-Establishment Films

  1. I enjoyed your post and agree with most of your list. A couple of them I haven’t seen, though. My favorite movie that I consider “anti-establishment” is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. I watched it a few times before I came to the realization (in my mind) that the Travis Bickle character felt as if he was outcast by the “normal” society … and he was damned and determined to prove that he was just as good or better than “them”. Sadly, in the end he gets his wish.

    • Yeah you’ll find nothing but love and admiration for Taxi Driver here mate! one of my favorite movies also, and that’s an interesting (and very likely correct) take you have. For some reason I don’t view it an Anti-Establishment film, I think because I see Travis’ struggle as more of an internal one and his disconnect from society due largely to his own fractured, post-Vietnam outlook.
      One things for sure; its a powerful, masterful film.
      Cheers, Jordan.

  2. Awesome list! Thanks for giving me some new ones to watch. “Stick it to the man” type movies are kind of my thing too, so I appreciate this list; ESPECIALLY Falling Down.

  3. Always enjoy your lists and this was a topic I had not considered before. Have to agree with Alex above that the big one missing is Fight Club. Never even heard of “If…,” so clearly this goes on my “must watch” list.

    • Yeah I was considering Fight Club, and it appears I should’ve given it a mention ha. The first R-Rated film I saw, from memory.
      Far too many people haven’t heard of If… Watch it with O Lucky Man! to give you a new appreciation for McDowell.

  4. I would agree with Taxi Driver and I would also add Rollerball (1975) – when I was young I thought it was a film about a weird and violent sport, when I watched it recently I realized, the company I work for also dictates the way I live. Rollerball reminds me of what Charlie Sheen got all crazy about. He showed up for work every day and felt CBS had no business in what he did when he was off. CBS felt differently.

  5. Solid list! My honorable mentions would be:
    Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)
    Cube (Natali, 1997)
    The Face of Another (Teshigahara, 1966)
    Modern Times (Chaplin, 1936)
    Office Space (Judge, 1999)
    Strike (Eisenstein, 1925)

    • Yeah I can see how those would fit the criteria too. I’m keen to do a bit of a retrospective on Vietnam war films, I went through a period of renting them every weekend as the disdain the director’s have for the conflict is so apparent in 90% of the titles… Platoon being the obvious one.

  6. Would you consider 1984, Soylent Green, and Logan’s Run as anti-establishment? I wouldn’t have thought of them until I A Clockwork Orange on your list, but fighting the establishment in a dystopian future is not the same as fighting one which exists in the here-and-now.

    • 1984, definitely! Though I don’t rate the film as highly as the novel. I agree that it has more of an impact if the film is set in the present; if it were a Top 10 Distopian films I certainly couldn’t go past Soylent Green and Logan’s Run, actually on the subject of Heston, Planet of the Apes would have to rate there also.

  7. I really do love that speech by Beale in Network and great to see him mentioned. I would have Fight Club in there too if only for that speech by Tyler Durden about “an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars” Maybe Battle Royale too. A really clever idea for a set and some very good choices. Nice read 🙂

    • Ha, we’ve changed our header image around a fair bit but can’t bring ourselves to part with the Clerks pic. It’s my favourite comedy as well; never get tired of visiting the Quick Stop.

      • Haha, a mate of mine made a film in college that I acted in which rift directly on the opening. Song included. So long as you like Dante and Randall it really is a film with no weak moments at all though.

  8. No love for V for Vendetta? Decent film but get’s too much love from Hipsters over here in the UK where people think if they have a poster with that mask on it they are a true anarchist!

    • Ha, yeah fantastic graphic novel and I do quite like the film as well (doesn’t quite have the same notoriety down here), but couldn’t quite crack the 10.
      Cheers, Jordan

  9. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a terrific ant-establihsment film. It’s basically about the cleansing of the world through the elimination of the politicians, big businessmen, and press. Most of his work has an ant-establishment flavor, though it’s usually just one theme amongst many.

  10. Pingback: Film Review – Wild Tales (2014) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  11. Really enjoyed the list! My one minor gripe is that Shawshank belongs on any list of anti-establishment classics, in my mind anyways.

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