A New Era of Sci-Fi is Upon Us - Looking Ahead to Worlds That Await
by Alex Billington
March 27, 2013
9 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Past Five Years
by Ethan Anderton
Very rarely have science fiction movies been nominated for Academy Awards. Only recently have they gotten their due diligence with particularly outstanding films like District 9, Avatar and Inception grabbing the Academy's attention, and that's only within the past few years when the number of nominees could be up to 10 films. However, plenty of cinema's most influential films comes from the genre including Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Spielberg's Jurassic Park. But we wanted to look at the more recent influential sci-fi films from this new era. Therefore, we've sifted through the last five years of sci-fi as it rises to greatness again and picked the nine best of the bunch.
Before we run down this list, we wanted to point out that we decided not to include most comic book movies in our consideration of the best sci-fi. While many comic book films undoubtedly have overwhelming sci-fi elements, and some like Green Lantern and Fantastic Four are science fiction through and through (but they wouldn't make the cut anyway), the films adapting characters from Marvel and DC are in a league all their own. So without further adieu, here's my picks for the 9 best science fiction films of the past five years.
#9 - Matt Reeves' Cloverfield (2008)
This might be the most divisive film on this list if only because it has just as much of a place in the horror genre as it does sci-fi. After all, Matt Reeves' film was one of the first in the recent trend of found footage films (an element that had never really been used to explore sci-fi before), and the revived an interest in movie monsters. The film was getting plenty of attention with a cast of unknowns essentially because the monster of the film itself became a white whale of sorts as audiences were overly obsessed with catching any glimpse of the creature. Though one might say the marketing leading up to the release trumps the film itself, Cloverfield is certainly an influential sci-fi monster movie whose impact can be seen today, specifically when it comes to the mystery and hype surrounding sci-fi, especially anything produced by J.J. Abrams.
#8 - James Cameron's Avatar (2009)
This writer has significantly tried to keep the hype that surrounded Avatar in check, mostly because of the derivative story and a mediocre leading man in Sam Worthington, but there's no denying that Avatar is still a great science fiction movie. Director James Cameron created new technology to get this film off the ground after developing it for years and years, and it shows with the sheer beauty and scale of Pandora and the tall, blue Na'vi inhabitants. Pretty much every single scene in Avatar is a breathtaking visual effects shot that transports audiences to another world. If only Worthington had been a better actor, it might have been easier to get lost in Cameron's stunning creations, but still, Avatar is a modern sci-fi staple.
#7 - Joe Cornish's Attack the Block (2011)
Much like Cloverfield, this debut film from British writer/director Joe Cornish has just as many horror elements as sci-fi, but the storytelling style, alien monsters and callbacks to films like Gremlins and Alien make it sci-fi goodness to the max. What makes Attack the Block so appealing is the thrill, suspense and fun of a film with a low budget considering it's a high-concept, visual effects-reliance. The aliens themselves are simplistic, but it's that design that makes that that much more terrifying and captivating, not to mention the fantastic cast of kids making them feel all the more realistic. Attack the Block is the sci-fi equivalent of Shaun of the Dead, but goes for even more sci-fi adventure and excitement than just laughs and homages.
#6 - Rian Johnson's Looper (2012)
In what might be the best time travel film since Back to the Future (though Primer could give it a run for its money), director Rian Johnson can seemingly do no wrong after a string of critical darlings in Brick and The Brothers Bloom. From a subtle and fantastic performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a young Bruce Willis to a compelling story in a rich universe, Looper has it all. Aside from the leads, supporting actors Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Noah Segan and Pierce Gagnon make this a must-see film that makes for a gritty, provoking sci-fi along the same lines as Blade Runner. Sure, there are plotholes, but no time travel film can escape those, and everything else in the film is so damn good that you just get lost in it.
#5 - J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009)
Surely some Star Trek fans are going to get bent out of shape about this, but I think J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot from 2009 is the best that the Trek film series has ever been. While I respect "Star Trek" the TV series, not to mention "The Next Generation," I don't believe the film franchise does the legacy of the sci-fi favorite justice. Yes, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan is by far the best film of the old series, but the action, adventure and young cast of Star Trek just made the film pure ecstasy while still respecting the universe that Trekkies have come to love unconditionally. Star Trek is the definition of blockbuster sci-fi that's smart, engaging and just a fantastic experience in movie theaters. We can't wait to see this summer's sequel.
#4 - Duncan Jones' Moon (2009)
It's no wonder than director Duncan Jones has landed himself the World of Warcraft film after turning in this indie sci-fi gem that gets the award for best use of Sam Rockwell. Jones is a director who has his head firmly in the sci-fi mindset, even as he entered the blockbuster world with Source Code (a more grounded sci-fi thriller version of Groundhog Day). Moon is probably one of the best directing debuts by any feature filmmaker, but as a sci-fi indie, with tons of visual effects work to allow Rockwell to interact with his own clones, not to mention a lunar station robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, all taking place on the moon, this is a truly magnificent achievement in science fiction and filmmaking in general.
#3 - Pixar's WALL-E (2008)
Who would have thought that a family film would make the list of the best sci-fi films, especially among pieces of work that are gritty and serious. But the charming story of a waste consolidation robot (who can't really talk) falling in love on Earth in the wake of the human population abandoning an over-polluted planet is just lovely. Complete with social commentary on the laziness of humans and their complete lack of responsibility for sustaining the only planet they've got, Pixar's WALL-E, directed by Andrew Stanton, is a simple and beautiful story, something that we don't normally see in the sci-fi genre, and is far more revered than his live-action sci-fi attempt John Carter (though we think that sci-fi is sorely underrated).
#2 - Neill Blomkamp's District 9 (2009)
What's truly fascinating about District 9 is if you replace the aliens in the story with any other immigrant, especially those trying to get into the United States, this film becomes just another drama. But the fact that a story like this, with an emotional core and such human elements, can be told with aliens at the center is quite an achievement from director Neill Blomkamp. The film isn't subtle by any means, but it's probably one of the most bureaucratic and grounded sci-fi stories ever crafted. You can bet that any aliens smart enough to communicate with humans would be forced to fill out some sort of paperwork and be treated as sub-human, and that's depressing. District 9 captures that splendidly, but it also packs a thoughtful punch.
#1 - Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010)
I hope you're happy. For all the comments that get thrown around the Christopher Nolan should direct anything and everything, fans should be happy that Inception is the best sci-fi movie of the past five years. The film is wholly original, gorgeously shot, well-acted with a dream cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, and weaves a complex tale that takes multiple viewings to soak everything in, subtleties, dream layers and all. The high-concept story has as many layers as our characters dive through in the dream world, and it still has audiences and cinephiles debating about the ending after the film cuts to black and the credits start rolling.
And there you have it. Sci-fi has been rising to another level of greatness again after falling off the radar for a little bit, and it shows no signs of going anywhere but up, especially with Marvel's upcoming projects like Guardians of the Galaxy and the next phases of their cinematic universe looking to take the comic book action to space. Plus, this year we have films like Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness, M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity all coming this year, with many more projects on the horizon. We're excited about all sci-fi films coming, but...What are your top sci-fi films of the past 5 years?