It’s fair to say that sci-fi cinema has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Once deemed fodder for children and little more, science fiction has lost its baby teeth, grown up, and gotten big and this has never been more evident than in the last few years with big hits like Arrival (2016), Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), and The Shape of Water (2017).
But with so many sci-fi pictures vying for attention, it does in deed feel like a crowded field, and one where it’s easy to have several gems get away from you.
The list that follows contains an assorted lineup of first-rate fictions, each one emblematic of fantastic cinema at its best.
10. Midnight Special (2016)
Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter , Loving ) offers something a little different in this moody sci-fi thriller that delightfully pastiches Steven Spielberg’s Golden Age (that’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.) with some of John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) thrown in for added zip.
The atmospheric and always withholding story revolves around one Roy Tomlin (Nichols regular Michael Shannon) and his 8-year-old son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who’ve escaped from a wackadoodle religious cult in rural Texas
. The government want Roy and Alton, too, particularly as it seems the boy has some spooky special powers that may have an extraterrestrial origin. An ambitious film about fatherhood, faith, and hard science fiction, Midnight Special is a calculating and studious thrill.
9. Turbo Kid (2015)
Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of an alternate 1997, Munro Chambers plays an orphaned teen who must do battle with a ruthless warlord named Zeus (Michael Ironside) to save Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), his dream girl.
After the film’s SXSW premiere in 2015, We Got This Covered’s Matt Donato raved that “[Turbo Kid] is a magical can’t-miss experience that’s like a Saturday morning cartoon turned into an apocalyptic 80s fever-dream […] A stunning visual masterpiece that redefines the phrase ‘low-budget filmmaking’.” Other genre-appreciative blogs son chimed in, with Dread Central calling it, “Funny, gory, hugely enjoyable and – most importantly – shining with spirit […] Everyone involved should be thoroughly proud of themselves.”
Written and directed by the pastiche-loving triumvirate of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Turbo Kid is a goofy, gory, and fist-pumping cult film offering, and finger’s crossed the rumored sequel will materialize before too long.
8. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Colm McCarthy, of Peaky Blinders fame, adapts M.R. Carey’s 2014 sci-fi novel “The Girl With All the Gifts” and what results is a tense, intelligent, chillingly provocative, and exciting British horror film.
Essentially the zombie film that World War Z (2013) should have been, this film takes the overdone undead genre and resuscitates it, while also revamping a handful of well-established genre tropes –– apocalypse premise, creepy kids, mad scientists –– and tweaks them in eccentric, imaginative, and awesome new ways.
Newcomer Sennia Nanua is wonderful as the titular heroine, Melanie, a second generation “hungry” who could hold the key to humanity’s future. The Girl With All The Gifts is a sharp synthesis of George Romero, Children of Men (2006) and 28 Days Later (2003) with it’s own biting revelations. Genre fans rejoice!
7. Colossal (2017)
Disorientingly strange and utterly original, but what else would you expect from the Spanish writer-director behind Timecrimes (2007), Nacho Vigalondo? Another genre-defying mash-up, Colossal is a sci-fi psychodrama creature feature in black comedy dress with a thing or two to say about alcoholism, the frustrations of being single, childhood nostalgia, sexual harassment and male privilege, too.
Anne Hathaway is excellent as our put upon protagonist Gloria, a (barely) functioning alcoholic and struggling writer, freshly jilted by her long term boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), she finds herself struggling against her self-destructive impulses and fleeing the Big Apple for her hometown in New England. Oh, and she’s also somehow at the crux of a giant reptilian monster that keeps materializing in Seoul, South Korea, and shattering large sections of the city.
Colossal is a godsend for niche audiences and will certainly be something of a challenge for more mainstream tastes –– but therein lays so much of the appeal. If you’re adventurous and can get on Vigalondo’s warped wavelength, this semi-ironic, semi-sentimental monster mash will be a smash.
6. Coherence (2013)
Coherence marks the assured directorial debut of James Ward Byrkit — who also wrote the screenplay (though admittedly much of it was largely improvised) — in a reality-warping low-budgeted but high-concept science-fiction smorgasbord. When a low-flying comet passes over the Santa Monica suburbs, a gathering of old chums at a dinner party are in for an evening of intrigue involving alternate dimensions, duplicate selves (and then some!), all cleverly garbed in ‘locked room’ thriller dress.
Em (Emily Foxler), a guest at the party, is privy, somewhat, to the potential effects the comet may have, and, venturing out of the house during the resulting power-failure triggered by the comet, makes a startling discovery that involves a portal to someplace eerily similar to home. Is it a surrogate reality? An alternate dimension? Fans of the analytical and mystifying mindfucks of Christopher Nolan or Shane Carruth will find much pleasure making Coherence coherent, and the results, as the film unravels and enshrouds itself, is deeply and rewardingly satisfying.