Four decades ago, legendary sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick passed away only a few months before seeing the first cinematic adaptation of his work, Blade Runner, on the big screen. Since then, Dick’s books have proven to be popular among filmmakers who wanted to bring his vision of the future to their sci-fi movies. That’s because many of Dick’s themes were timeless as he explored questions about identity, artificial intelligence, technology, and even the nature of reality itself.
However, not every movie based on a Philip K. Dick book was created equal. And we’ve left Blade Runner 2049 off the list because it was a sequel to the film rather than an adaptation of Dick’s original story. These are the films that stand as Dick’s contributions to cinema. And until some new adaptations come along these are the ten best sci-fi movies based on Philip K. Dick books.
One thing you’ll find from watching a lot of Dick’s movies is that he really loved to create paranoia among his characters while making them question who and what they really are. Impostor takes place in a dark future where humanity has barely held off an alien attack, but the enemy can create nearly perfect copies of humans to use as weapons against them.
Spencer (Gary Sinise) and Maya Olham (Madeleine Stowe) are blissfully happy together until Major D.H. Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio) accuses Spencer of being an alien duplicate. And despite himself, even Spencer can’t necessarily be sure that he is who he thinks he is. But if he can’t prove that he’s human then Spencer won’t be able to save himself or his wife from Hathaway.
Some of the ideas from Apple TV+‘s Severance may have come from Paycheck, particularly the notion about workplaces erasing the memories of their employees. In this film, Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) takes a lucrative job offer from James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), with the catch that after three years, Jennings’ mind will wiped about everything that happened to him while he was employed by the company.
When Jennings finishes up three years later, he’s stunned to learn that he apparently got rid of his stock options and money. Instead, Jennings has left himself clues that Rethrick’s agenda for the world has to be stopped. During his quest to stop Rethrick, Jennings also reunites with Rachael Porter (Uma Thurman), the woman who was his lover during the missing three years of his life.
You’ll see precognition pop up in more than one of Dick’s stories. For example, Next, which is based on Dick’s The Golden Man, features Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson, a man who can see into the future…but only two minutes at a time. That may not seem like much, but it’s a gift that proves far too enticing for the government to ignore. That’s why NSA Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) wants to use Cris’ abilities to neutralize terrorist threats.
But Cris would much rather make time with Elizabeth Cooper (Jessica Biel), a woman who somehow expands the scope of his gift just by being in his life. Unfortunately for the newfound couple, that proximity will soon put Elizabeth in danger and force Cris into action.
Watch Next on Hoopla.
RoboCop‘s Peter Weller headlined Screamers, a loose adaptation of Dick’s short story, Second Variety. In the future, a mining colony is torn apart by a costly civil war, which leads to the creation of Screamers, robots who are armed with artificial intelligence and deadly weapons that kill any humans they come across if they aren’t wearing a device to deter them.
Realizing that the war can not continue, Commander Joseph A. Hendricksson (Weller) and Private Michael “Ace” Jefferson (Andrew Lauer) accept an invitation to meet with the other side and work out a truce. Much to their horror, they discover that the new model of Screamers has advanced beyond the deterrent devices. And some of them can even pass for human.
Watch Screamers on Prime Video.
There’s a good chance that you’ll never get to see Radio Free Albemuth, since it wasn’t made by a major studio and it’s currently unavailable in any digital format. This was one of the very last stories that Dick wrote, and it features him as one of the main characters. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse‘s Shea Whigham plays Dick in this film, but he takes a backseat to Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe).
The story takes place in an alternate version of 1985 that is under an authoritarian regime. Somehow, Nick is receiving visions that help him subvert the regime. Soon after saving the life of his infant son, Nick meets a singer named Sylvia (Alanis Morissette) who experiences the same kind of visions that he does. Together, Nick and Sylvia plan to secretly spread the word about their visions and resist the regime. Unfortunately, the regime may catch up with them first.
Radio Free Albemuth is not available to stream, rent or buy.
The Adjustment Bureau puts forth the idea that humanity only has the illusion of free will. David Norris (Matt Damon) discovers this the hard way after meeting Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). David is instantly attracted to Elise, but he soon learns from Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) that he was never supposed to meet Elise more than once.
In fact, Harry and his adjustment team aren’t even human at all, and they threaten to erase David’s memories and ruin Elise’s life if he tries to defy their plans for their respective destinies. Yet David can’t stay away from Elise forever, even though both of them may ultimately pay the price for their forbidden romance.
Watch The Adjustment Bureau on Freevee.
Steven Spielberg (making one of the best movies of his career) and Tom Cruise teamed up to bring Minority Report to the big screen. And if you’re wondering what a minority report is, we’ll try to keep it brief. In the future, there’s a Precrime police division that catches murderers before they can kill. It’s driven by the powers of three precognitive individuals, who are almost always correct. A minority report is the rare instance when one of the precogs sees a different version of the future than the other two.
This information comes into play when Precime’s top cop, John Anderton (Cruise), is targeted by his own division when a vision comes down of him murdering a man named Leo Crow (Mike Binder). And despite John’s best efforts to keep that future from coming to pass, fate seems to conspire to put him in the same room as Crow at the time of his murder.
Watch Minority Report on Paramount+.
Director Richard Linklater took a unique visual approach to A Scanner Darkly by filming everything and then having every frame traced over in rotoscope animation to make it look like an animated movie. The story comes from one of Dick’s more personal novels, as he used heavy drugs and lived with other addicts at certain points in his life.
Keanu Reeves stars as Bob Arctor, an undercover police officer who has been assigned to spy on his housemates, James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). While living among them, Bob has become seriously addicted to Substance D, and he is openly attracted to his dealer, Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). But as Bob succumbs to the side effects of D, his paranoia increases…and for good reasons. Because he’s not the only informant in the house, or in his life.
Watch A Scanner Darkly on Tubi.
There are two Total Recall adaptations, and it’s not a coincidence that the 2012 remake didn’t make this list. The 1990 Paul Verhoeven version, one of the director’s best movies, is by far the better of the two, although both adaptations deal with Dick’s high concept of virtual vacations that can be implanted as memories. That’s exactly what Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) thinks that he needs, so he purchases the scenario where he’s a secret agent on Mars from the virtual travel agency, Rekall. But much to the horror of the Rekall techs, they discover that Quaid’s fantasy was apparently a reality when they inadvertently awaken his real personality.
Not even Rekall’s attempt to hide their involvement spares Quaid from what comes next. The techs wiped his memory again, which is why Quaid is mystified when his own wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), suddenly tries to kill him. And she’s not the only one who wants Quaid dead as he tries to make his way to Mars to discover who he truly is.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner wasn’t a success in theaters, but it attracted a cult following and it is now recognized as one of the greatest and most influential sci-fi movies ever made. At the time of its release in 1982, the story was set in the then-far-off year of 2019. Although the film’s vision of the future didn’t come to pass (yet), it had a huge influence on many of the sci-fi flicks that came after it.
Harrison Ford starred as Rick Deckard, a somewhat reluctant Blade Runner who is tasked with hunting down renegade Replicants and “retiring” them. The Replicants were created to do the dangerous off-world jobs that humans couldn’t, but they’ve been getting dangerous ideas that they deserve to live as well. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Pris (Daryl Hannah), and their crew of Replicants even seem more human than Deckard! However, Deckard is especially shaken after meeting Rachael (Sean Young), a Replicant who is so convincingly human that not even she knows who or what she really is.
Rent or Buy Blade Runner on Prime Video.