Even if you have never read his science-fiction writings or even know his name, chances are you’ve watched a film or TV series inspired by Philip K. Dick. Nearly four decades after his death, Dick’s body of work, which includes 44 published novels and more than 120 short stories, continues to influence popular culture.
In fact, his exceptionally vivid tales questioning the nature of reality have spawned several adaptations. A few became cult hits. Some achieved critical and commercial success. Others flopped and quickly vanished from mainstream memory.
Yet although Dick has left this earthly plane, here we share ten notable films that prove his power to provoke and fascinate the human mind has undoubtedly grown over the years. (Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.)
Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049
Loosely based on Dick’s 1968 novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?, the original Blade Runner wasn’t well-received when first released in 1982. However, the neo-noir film starring Harrison Ford as bounty hunter Rick Deckard eventually grew into a cult classic.
Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, Deckard chases down synthetic humans called replicants with the help of a Voigt-Kampff machine. Thirty-five years later, Ford reprised his famous role alongside Ryan Gosling in the 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049. Both plots revolve around the theme of what it means to be human and the concept of identity.
The 1990 movie Total Recall triumphed at the box office and received praise from critics. It adapted the storyline of Dick’s 1966 short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”
In the future world of 2089, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays construction worker Douglas Quaid who is burdened with disturbing dreams about Mars. When he decides to ease his troubles by using a memory implant to take a vacation, a hidden truth comes to light that leads to a lot of action and violence.
The movie’s success led to a 2012 remake starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, and Bryan Cranston. Despite the talented cast, the sequel failed to impress most audiences.
The Academy Award-nominated film Minority Report is inspired by Dick’s 1956 story of the same name. Viewers are forced to confront the theme of fate versus free will in this 2002 science-fiction thriller directed by Steven Spielberg.
Tom Cruise plays a detective in the PreCrime police department, which arrests criminals before they break the law by foreseeing their misdeeds. But Cruise’s character is forced to prove his own innocence when he’s predicted to commit a murder.
A Scanner Darkly
Applying rotoscoping techniques to overlay animation on live-action images, the trippy vibe of A Scanner Darkly suits the film’s dystopian future that is facing a drug epidemic. Keanu Reeves play the 2006 movie’s lead character, an undercover detective named Bob Arctor that’s borrowed from the pages of Dick’s 1977 novel of the same name.
While Arctor tries to infiltrate the drug underworld that peddles Substance D., he struggles not only with addiction himself but with his own identity.
The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt starred opposite one another in the 2011 thriller The Adjustment Bureau based on Dick’s 1954 short story “Adjustment Team.” Damon and Blunt’s characters fall in love after a chance meeting that was never supposed to take place. Their romance comes under fire when a crew of mysterious hat-wearing men begins chasing the couple, adamant on returning them to a fate in which they never meet.
The Man in the High Castle
What would the world be like if the Axis Powers had won World War II? Based on Dick’s Hugo Award-winning 1962 novel also called The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon TV series portrays this alternative timeline.
Set in 1962, the show presents an America divided between Nazis and the Japanese. After premiering in 2015, The Man in the High Castle became Amazon’s most-streamed original series.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
The 10-episode anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, which premiered on Channel 4 in 2017, is based on several short stories by the writer. Each stand-alone episode takes place in a uniquely different world, yet together they explore the common themes of Dick’s work that focus on what it means to be human and the shifting boundaries between real and unreal.
The 2003 film Paycheck contributed to lead actor Ben Affleck winning the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor. Most people didn’t enjoy his portrayal of a reverse engineer whose life collapses after having his memory wiped, which is based on Dick’s 1952 short story also named “Paycheck.”
Performances by Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, and Aaron Eckhart couldn’t save the movie either. Perhaps it had something to do with Roger Ebert’s criticism, which was that the film exploited the story for its action, but never developed it. Reverence for Dick’s legacy may be too deep for a shallow interpretation.
Image sources: Warner Bros. Pictures