Science fiction can be a breeding ground for creativity in the world of film where auteurs thrive. The rules often don’t apply because the creators make their own rules, shaping the world to their own unique vision. With the release of the highly anticipated Alien: Covenant (which you can totally check out Ryan and Draz’s review here) what better time to have a look at some of the best modern science fiction movies.
This list will be comprised of “modern” Sci-Fi movies and to me modern means within the last 15 years. Also these films are in no particular order, so, enjoy.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Probably one of the more underrated sci-fi movies of the past few years, Edge of Tomorrow is certainly entertaining from start to finish. While the concept of repeating the same day over and over may not be groundhog – I mean, groundbreaking, this film manages to put a fresh spin to the formula. Loosely based on the “light novel” All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow has a great, light-hearted and often funny performance from Tom Cruise and also presents Emily Blunt as an absolute badass.
Sure it certainly has a few plot holes with the time loop stuff it presents. Not to mention some of the expository dialogue doesn’t actually make sense, but it makes up for it with great action, funny moments and two great lead performances.
It’s a shame the bad title and even worse marketing for the movie didn’t make it more of a hit with audiences but director Doug Liman believes a sequel isn’t too far off, teasing us with a not-at-all-stupid title of Live, Die, Repeat And Repeat.
Do you like being confused? If yes then Primer is the movie for you. Written, produced, directed and starring Shane Carruth on a micro-budget of around $7,000, Primer is the story of two engineers who accidentally discover time travel one day.
With a non-linear narrative, a lot of technical jargon and just enough exposition to keep your brain from exploding, Primer can be a bit of a chore to watch at times but if it hooks you, you certainly won’t mind giving it multiple viewings.
The film has gained a bit of a cult following, not just among sci-fi fans but from independent film makers. It just goes to show what you can do with an idea and about seven grand. Confuse people, that is. Multiple viewings are required.
Danny Boyle is a master at what he does and he really shines (pun intended) here with Sunshine. Following a group of astronauts as they travel to reignite our dying sun with a massive bomb, Sunshine is more than just a grim look at a future several billion years away. Exploring themes of isolation, mortality and God, the film has a sense about it that feels fundamentally real and human.
The visual effects are great, as is the score by John Murphy. There may be a few scientific inaccuracies here and there but the average movie goer shouldn’t be too bothered by them. Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne and Chris Evans lead the ensemble cast in a movie that is depressing as it is beautiful.
The film loses steam in the last act as it devolves into something of a slasher flick. However, as a whole, Sunshine is a shining example of subtle film-making. It is never overly loud or bombastic in its action. Rather it focuses on the characters and the difficult choices they have to make in their last ditch effort to save mankind.
There was a lot riding on Arrival for me. Why? Because not only is director Denis Villenueve my favourite working director right now, but Arrival would be his first sci-fi film before he tackles Blade Runner 2049 later this year.
This isn’t an alien invasion film but rather an alien translation film. Arrival is the story of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, two scientists tasked with figuring out a way to communicate with the occupants of mysterious spacecraft that have suddenly arrived in various parts of the world.
Beautifully directed, shot, scored and performed, Arrival was one of my favourite films of 2016. How Amy Adams wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar is beyond me. She plays the character with such nuance and vulnerability but with a great sense of strength,
The film is thought provoking with moments of tension and awe that will captivate any film goer. Make sure you check this one out if you haven’t already and let’s hope that Villenueve can bring the same level of excellent film making to the Blade Runner universe.
Duncan Jones is an interesting director and I always want to see what he is working on next. Source Code was not too bad of a sci-fi film and I didn’t think Warcraft was as bad as everyone said (it still wasn’t good). His first movie was the one that got me so invested in his career however and it was Moon.
Starring Sam Rockwell as a lone overseer on a mining base on the moon which harvests alternative fuels. Nearing the end of his 3 year contract, isolation may be beginning to get the better of him as he begins hallucinating and strange things begin occurring. I don’t want to get too far into the film to avoid spoilers but I was completely blown away by this movie.
Not only does Sam Rockwell carry the entire film on his back, but the visuals and artistry going on can really suck you into this barren world on the moon. Kevin Spacey loans his voice as an onboard computer named GERTY, giving a fresh life to the film and a lone companion for Sam.
Moon was my second favourite movie of 2009 and in my eyes is a science fiction masterpiece. I am eagerly awaiting Duncan Jones’ next film Mute which he has described as a “spiritual successor” to Moon.
I could go on and on about South Korean cinema and how great it is, but if you’re nervous about jumping into foreign film and all those subtitles then I highly recommend you check out Snowpierecer. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and more, Snowpiercer is a train that carries the last of humanity after we accidentally triggered a global ice age.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho who also did the excellent 2006 film The Host, Snowpiercer is a kick-ass train ride from start to finish. Chris Evans leads the slums in the rear of the train in a revolution as they begin to fight their way to the front. This movie also features Chris Evans’ most badass moment in a film, ever. Each train car they progress through shows a different world – one full of fish, a strange school, a spa, a nightclub; the set design in this movie is impeccable.
Under the Skin (2014)
Alright it is time to get creepy. This movie scares the shit out of me. Everything about it is so foreign and unnerving that it legitimately sends chills up my spine. Starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien masquerading in a human woman’s skin who goes around Scotland preying upon men.
Not everyone will gel with this movie. The slow pace and somewhat directionless feel of the film can be off-putting. I can’t deny just how beautifully it is shot however. Scenes with backdrops of pure white or deep blacks are so uncanny you wonder just how they managed to shoot and light such a shot.
Some sections of the film were made with hidden cameras, notably the scenes where Johansson picks up her male victims. A haunting score plays over the entire movie, only now unseated as the creepiest thing I’ve heard by the music in the new IT trailers.
Filled to the brim with subtext on immigration, gender politics, rape, sexuality and much more, Under the Skin is certainly not for everyone, but for a select few they will find something so much more if they look just a little bit deeper into it.
Another film with Scarlett Johansson, albeit only her voice, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely letter writer who begins dating his Operating System (Johansson). As unusual a premise as it sounds, in universe the concept of someone dating an OS is seen as completely normal. The world of Her is one where technology is evolving at such a rate that sexuality and gender seem to no longer matter.
Writer and director Spike Jonze crafts a future that doesn’t seem too far off from our own. The line between humanity and technology is becoming ever blurry as artificial intelligence advances at a staggering rate.
The bond that forms between Phoenix’s Theodore and Johansson’s Samantha during Her feels so incredibly genuine and real that some recent movies should take notes (looking at you 50 Shades of Shit). Plus it has a small role for Chris Pratt – everyone loves a bit of Pratt.
Children of Men (2006)
A look at a grim future where women have been barren for almost twenty years was beautifully brought to the screen in 2006 by Alfonso Cuarón. Clive Owen’s Theo is tasked with getting the first pregnant woman in two decades to safety as the world collapses around them.
One of my fruitless hobbies is to read screenplays after watching films and Children of Men’s screenplay is a fantastic read. The film made from it is even better. Dystopian futures are seen all the time in science fiction, but none of them feel so real or possible as the one presented in Children of Men.
Supporting roles by Julianne Moore, Chiwtel Ejiofor and Michael Caine elevate an already great film with their performances. The direction is flawless and the fact that Cuarón wasn’t even nominated at the Academy Awards is almost reason enough to start a riot. Not to mention Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography didn’t win, either. Hell, just Google “Children of Men Car Scene” and then tell me the movie didn’t deserve to win.
It is a masterfully put together film and a science fiction marvel – people often forget that science fiction doesn’t just mean “set in space”. The film is shrouded in bleakness and the small glimmer of hope that threatens to be extinguished at any moment throughout the film makes the viewer want to dive through the screen to help. Children of Men is raw and depressing but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Alex Garland, who also wrote the earlier entry Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with 2015s Ex Machina. Oscar Isaac plays an enigmatic tech billionaire and Domhnall Gleeson is an employee selected to take part in a highly secret test. The test: to see if an artificial intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) is capable to genuine thought and emotion.
What follows is a series of “sessions”; conversations between Gleeson’s Caleb and Ava, all closely monitored by Isaac’s Nathan. Ex Machina really boils down to just that – a lot of conversations on things like humanity, life, choice, sexuality and manipulation. Each of the three stars play their characters with guarded subtlety that it is impossible to know what they’re really thinking until the very end.
With great dialogue, performances, and dark, twisting narrative turns, Ex Machina stayed with me long after the movie ended. Garland already proved himself as screenwriter of movies like Sunshine and Dredd and he certainly proved himself as a capable director here. I’m eagerly awaiting his next film Annihilation set to come out next year.
So those are my picks for Top 10 Modern Sci-Fi Movies! Are there any I missed? Dredd certainly gets an honourable mention. Any you disagree with? Sound off in the comments below and on Facebook.
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