11. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
The questions: What if there was a truly human artificial intelligence? What if they could love?
True the question of artificial intelligence becoming human in its thinking has been around about as long as computers, but it perhaps has never been as artfully and realistically rendered as it is in this film. Not only does it depict AI reaching the singularity in what feels like a realistic manner, but it also deals with how the humans who love the AIs feel as they advance beyond us.
12. I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007)
The questions: What if you were the last man on earth? What if that didn’t mean you were alone?
While this particular variation of the last man on earth story has been around on film since the sixties (with the appropriately named Vincent Price film The Last Man on Earth, based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend), this is the first version to truly capture the loneliness, the boredom, and fear you would feel if you were truly all alone in the world.
13. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
The question: What if The Third Reich got what they really deserved?
Part of the trouble with making a film that takes place during the second World War is that you can’t be too surprised by whatever the resolution is. So a movie such as this, that concerns a plot to assassinate Hitler and a fair chunk of the top men in The Third Reich, the conclusion is already written.
Perhaps that’s why the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie disappointed, everyone knows an assassination attempt on Hitler was doomed because everyone knows Hitler isn’t going to be killed because he was never assassinated. Which is probably why this film is so brilliant. It eschews history for something much more cathartic: watching the asshole shot to hell, blown up, then burned to the ground.
14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
The question: What if everyone around you was replaced by something that almost completely resembles them? Almost…
The world has been taken over by aliens so many times in the movies. Perhaps what makes the “body snatcher” type invasion so terrifying is how personal it is. Not only must the aliens take over the world, they also take over your friends. Your family. You.
15. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970)
The question: What if there was someone truly above suspicion of a crime?
The killer in this film murders the woman he’s been having an affair with. He murders her while leaving a bevy of obvious clues. He murders her after many witnesses could have seen him enter or leave her apartment. He has photos of her in his apartment. No one suspects him. Why should they? He’s the chief investigator of homicide, on his way up the ladder to the political crimes department. And cops never kill someone unlawfully… Right?
16. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)
The questions: What if Christ lived life with all the temptation of any other man? What if He could choose a life where He wasn’t God?
What is the point of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? That Christ suffered for your sins? Sure, but the physical suffering that film focuses on should mean little to Him. He’s God, He should be able to handle one day of pain. The Last Temptation, on the other hand, presents something altogether more harrowing: living the life of a man. A man without sin. A man without temptation. But that’s not all. He is presented with the ultimate temptation: to actually live as a man and, maybe, be happy.
17. The Matrix (Andy and Lana Wachowski, 1999)
The question: What if all of the life you knew was just a virtual reality made to lull you into a false complacency?
The year The Matrix came out there were two other virtual reality films (Existenz & The Thirteenth Floor), but The Matrix was the only one with any longevity. It could be said that this is because of the film’s increased style and action. Maybe, but it could also be said that The Matrix is the one that makes the viewers feel as if they are the ones making the big choice the main character makes: live the comfortable life you know or open your eyes to the true reality.
18. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
The question: What if apocalypse was imminent and there was no hope for survival?
As common of a theme as the apocalypse is it’s pretty damn rare for film to destroy the earth and kill all of humanity. It’s kind of patronizing. As Von Trier said in the lead up to this film, “No more happy endings!” And yet, somehow, the film isn’t overwhelmingly sad. At the film’s conclusion you, like the characters, find a weird sort of acceptance.
19. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
The question: What if the police knew you were going to commit a crime before you did?
The idea of “pre-crime” is a troubling one. Should someone be punished for a crime they haven’t committed? The film’s answer is no, but it also gives a wide enough birth that people can come to their own conclusions. While this may not be intentional, it still lets you question what is freedom without the freedom to sin.
20. Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)
The question: What if you could go into someone else’s dreams? What if those dreams began affecting reality?
While going into someone’s subconscious is nothing new, it’s hard to argue against this film’s charms. Vivid in its hallucinogenic weirdness, this is perhaps the only “dream movie” that also wonders what would happen if the dreams escaped their mental prison were unleashed onto the real world.