1. 'Blade Runner' (1982)
Philip K. Dick is quoted as saying: "You would have to kill me and prop me up in the seat of my car with a smile painted on my face to get me to go near Hollywood." He never lived to see a film made from his work, but before he died in 1982 he did see a portion of Blade Runner and was supposedly pleased. Blade Runner is far from faithful in adapting Dick's novel but it brought the sci-fi writer to a broader audience, and made Hollywood sit up and take note of him. So while it's not the most accurate adaptation, it is the best-made film taken from one of his works.
Ridley Scott’s dark, dank, claustrophobic vision of the future has informed much of the cinematic science fiction that followed and colored Japanese anime from Akira and Ghost in the Shell on. The Final Cut version -- which removes Harrison Ford's film noir-style voice-over narration and restores a dream sequence -- is the version that comes closest to Dick's themes about the fragile nature of reality and how that defines one's personal identity. In this case, it involves characters whose perceptions of reality change when they discover who is a replicant.
Writer-director Richard Linklater delivers what is probably the most faithful adaptation of Dick's work and maybe that's because it's animated. When Linklater was making Waking Life (see below), he raised this question: How do you make a film about something that most likely happens entirely in the mind? That question led to Linklater adapting Dick's A Scanner Darkly. To convey the dream-state of Dick's world, Linklater shot on digital video and then put it through a computer animating process called "interpolated rotoscoping." The process creates a very impressionistic style of animation in which colors, objects, and brush strokes float from frame to frame. This free form, slightly unstable visual look is perfect for the surreal, altered-states of A Scanner Darkly.
Based on Dick's own drug experiences, the film conveys the highly subjective perspective of the main character Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves). Linklater sought approval from Dick's daughters before making the film and he displays a sincere respect for the material. He effectively taps into the paranoia, perceptual distortions, and hallucinogenic ambiguities of the book.
The 1990 film is not the best adaptation of Dick's work but it is one of the most financially successful (Minority Report is the other box office hit). The mind-bender here has to with memory, and whether the memories of the main character, Douglas Quaid, are real, implanted, or erased. Dick's themes of paranoia and greedy corporations are addressed here as Quaid discovers that the people he worked for may have messed with his memories... or did he willingly submit as part of his job? It's like looking down a hall of mirrors and trying to figure out what Quaid's real memories and identity are. But one character suggests, "A man is defined by his actions not his memories." The notion of what reality is is carried to the bitter end.
The 1990 film ends with Melina looking out over Mars and saying, "It's like a dream." To which Quaid responds, "I had a terrible thought, what if it is all a dream?" Arnold Schwarzenegger played Quaid in the 1990 film directed by Paul Verhoeven; Colin Farrell takes on the role in Len Wiseman's 2012 remake.
4. 'Screamers' (1995)
This adaptation makes a number of changes but keeps the basic premise of Dick's story the same. What happens if you create technology to fight a war and then the devices starts to self-replicate and continue to fight long after they need to? The film has a similar sense of paranoia as John Carpenter's The Thing. It's hindered by an extremely low budget but displays B-movie smarts and benefits immensely from Peter (Robocop) Weller as Hendrickson, a commander who believes the fighting has been deemed irrelevant by those above. Underrated and worth checking out.
What appears to be just a fleeting romance between a politician and a ballerina turns out to be a crucial cog in the machinations of the universe as the men of the Adjustment Bureau work to keep them apart. Clever and imaginative, the film raises questions about fate, free will, and pre-determined destinies. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt play the lovers trying to unite, but it is the stiff and slightly awkward men of the Adjustment Bureau -- with their hats and maze of doors -- that prove delightful. Not entirely successful but ambitious and often fun.
7. 'Dark City' (1998)
8. 'eXistenZ' (1999)
Kaufman raises questions about how reality is defined, how we define ourselves, and how realities can be altered. In the case of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it's a young woman who wants to remove the memory of an ex lover. The couple agrees to undergo a procedure to erase each other from their respective memories but along the way the man changes his mind. Trippy, imaginative, poignant, scary, and engagingly metaphysical. Kaufman may be the screenwriter most in tune with Dick's knack for bending the rules of reality.