Film: Soylent Green

What is the secret of Soylent Green?
Do you really have to ask?

Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston)

Soylent Green is a Science Fiction film from 1973 starring Charlton Heston, loosely based on a 1966 Harry Harrison novel called Make Room! Make Room!. Everyone knows the big plot twist.

The year is 2022. Overpopulation has brought environmental and economic collapse. In New York City, pop. 40,000,000 (its current population is about 8 million, not much higher than in 1970), police detective Thorn (Heston) is investigating the burglary-turned-murder of wealthy businessman William Simonson (Joseph Cotten), a board member of the food rations manufacturer Soylent Corporation. Based on the fact that there were valuable food and books left for him to steal, and that his bodyguard Fielding (Chuck Connors) and 'furniture' Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) were conveniently away at the time, Thorn believes it to be an assassination. He gives Simonson's oceanographic survey (which he himself stole) to his roommate Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), a book collector, and they have a memorable scene cooking up the food he also stole from the late Mr. Simonson.

In his investigation, he discovers that Fielding has more money than his job would provide, thus placing him under suspicion. Thorn is then called off the investigation and put on riot control duty, where an attempt is made on his life. He manages to get the assassin crushed under a people-scooping bulldozer.

Roth, having uncovered a terrible secret in the oceanographic survey, has lost the will to live and decides to take government-sponsored euthanasia. Thorn finds him at the suicide clinic, only in time to hear his last words. He follows Roth's corpse along to a factory that processes the dead into soylent green biscuits. He makes a call to his chief, Hatcher (Brock Peters), and is ambushed by Fielding. Severely wounded, he urges Hatcher to tell people the truth about Soylent Green, thus providing the famous quote.

For the trope previously known as the titular food, see Powered by a Forsaken Child, Human Resources.


  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": That Soylent Green is people is generally known — and that knowledge brings some folk to the film. The big reveal ain't gonna work for them, but watching the various characters slowly learn the secret is a very interesting and emotional journey in its own right.
  • Alter Kocker: Sol Roth, a grumpy but charming N.Y. Jew who's seen better days.
  • Anti-Hero: Thorn has no problems quarms about Robbing the Dead or just in general helping himself to other people's stuff. Also, he Would Hit a Girl. Still, he is commited to doing his job and is nice to his friends.
  • Artifact Title: In the original book, Soylent Green wasn't people but soy and lentils, hence the title.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The worst aspects of 1970s New York multiplied by 100 (at least).
  • Cool Old Guy: Sol Roth.
  • Covers Always Lie: Though more of misleading in this case. Once the "Riot Control" front end loaders arrive they lift groups of people so slowly you wonder why everyone isn't jumping right off.
    • Possibly justified as a case of Reality Ensues, as the scene would have been too dangerous for the actors otherwise.
  • Crapsack World: You have people sleeping on every inch of the street, and even on the staircases of apartments, real food is expensive, there is a year long heat wave going on, not to mention the secret of Soylent Green...
  • Da Chief: Hatcher
  • Downer Ending: Thorn is badly injured and may well die, but manages to tell dozens of people the secret of Soylent Green. Whether the secret will actually take root as public knowledge, and more importantly, what the public and United Nations will actually do with that knowledge (if anything) is left ambiguous. But it's irrelevant, given the sad state of the environment. With the oceans dead, the bulk of the world's oxygen supply is gone. Almost all of the world's natural resources are used up, too, and humanity appears to be headed for its final collapse.
  • Dystopia
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: As a logical extension of Kleptomaniac Hero, Thorn doesn't pass up the chance to help himself to the food he finds in the flats he visits. Considering the lack of food though, if it hadn't been him it would have been somebody else.
  • Fascists' Bed Time
  • Food Porn: In this Crapsack World, some salad, beef stew and bourbon is enough to classify the "Sol and Thorn dining" scene as this.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Soylent red and yellow.
  • Gaia's Lament: Prime example. Earth in Soylent Green is dying, with a year-round heat wave and limited food supplies.
  • Green Aesop
  • Go Mad from the Revelation
    • Sol Roth loses his will to live when he discovers that the oceans are dying and Soylent has turned to making food out of people.
    • Thorn to a lesser extent, while he tells Hatcher the secret he is clearly in an emotional state.
    • The priest who took Simonson's confession is the clearest example of this, now roaming aimlessly around his parish in a detached, dazed state of mind, attempting only to do what he can to "make room" for the poor and needy who need beds and shelter.
  • Groin Attack: Thorn kicks Tab Fielding in the balls during their fight in Fielding's apartment.
  • Heroic BSOD: Sol, seeing an apple and some beef, is broken by seeing all this good food being so rare, asking "What have we come to?"
  • Human Resources
  • I Ate WHAT?: The Movie.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Technically, everyone who eats soylent green is this.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: The first thing Thorn does after entering somebody's home is steal anything edible. Apparently this is not unexpected behaviour for a policeman.
  • May Contain Evil
  • Mega Corp.
  • Miracle Food: The Soylent Corporation produces cheap, nutritious food to sustain Earth's overpopulated masses. Subverted with the infamous revelation that "Soylent Green is people."
  • New York Doubling: Set in New York City, filmed in California.
  • Newspeak: Live-in prostitutes are called "furniture".
  • Ms. Fanservice: Shirl struts her stuff in quite a few low cut dresses and takes it all off at least once or twice.
  • No New Fashions in the Future
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: A jar of strawberry jam will set you back $150, and not in the Ridiculous Future Inflation sense.
  • Personal Arcade: Possibly the Ur-Example Somerson's apartment has a Computer Space standing cabinet.
  • Photo Montage: The opening credits show a stream of photos depicting the industrialization of America.
  • The Reveal: When Thorn goes into the factory and sees what is done with the bodies.
  • Scenery Gorn
  • Senseless Phagia: Thorn steals a spoon that a woman is using to eat something out of a jar. He takes it home (with whatever is on it), and gives it to Sol to eat so he can tell him what it is (strawberry jam).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral).
  • Soylent Soy: What Soylent Soy is supposed to be (and actually is in the original novel).
  • Suicide by Cop
  • Trailers Always Spoil: "What is the secret of Soylent Green?" just as they're showing body bags on a conveyor belt. It also spoils Roth's Death
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: The film was made in 1973 and is set in 2022. Thorn looks to be in his forties and has no memories of when there was green vegetation or proper food. Apparently, the filmmakers expected their dystopia to materialize in less than ten years after the movie's release. This would be in keeping with other then-current predictions. For instance global overpopulation was going to cause starvation on a massive scale in the 1970s, oil and other vital resources run out in the 1980s and early 1990s, etc.
    • The book is just as bad. The world population in the book? Seven billion. One would think that the 35,000,000 people living in New York City would spread out.
  • Used Future
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Sol spouts "schmuck" and "l'chaim" all the time.
  • You Have to Believe Me