It has been 10 years since A24 has changed the film industry as we know it. And yes, their contributions to the horror genre are their most notable. But I’ll be damned if they haven’t made some of the most ambitious, game-changing sci-fi/fantasy films of the past decade.
The ethereal nature of so many of their brand of fantasy is, by now, a trademark of the company itself. Various filmmakers have crafted a wonderfully unique identity for these genres, vastly different from what else is being offered on the market. And these are the very best.
10. High Life (2018)
And what better way to continue on that opening than with High Life. It is so cold, haunting, and mysterious. It sucks all the fun and glamor out of science fiction into the vacuum of space and delivers one of the most A24 experiences yet. Directed by Claire Denis, High Life is as visually captivating as recent sci-fi greats, but none of the film feels like a spectacle.
The film is intensely grounded in reality. It never strays into dystopia territory, but it is frequently a showcase of the many evils of humankind. Pattinson and Binoche are phenomenal and bring to life the visceral psychosexual elements of the film. But there is a reason High Life is on the lower half. Yes, it is a fascinating sci-fi vision unlike maybe anything seen before. But High Life certainly feel like a pretentious slog seemingly trying to be as obtuse as possible. Denis sacrifices pacing and downright watchability for her assortment of ideas. It, naturally, is worth praise but it does not hold up against some of the other top dogs.
9. After Yang (2021)
After Yang may be the latest film on the list but it grapples with some of Sci-Fi’s oldest questions. Namely, what it means to be human. After a family’s robot, Yang, breaks down, the father of the family goes through the usual tedium of life in order to repair it. In the process of repairing Yang and looking at Yang’s past experiences, Jake goes on an odyssey of sorts as he reevaluates the limits of human connection. Kogonada’s sci-fi creation is a tribute to life. It does not revel in breaking the viewer down but delivers softs emotional blows only to rebuild the strength of this family by the very end.
The sci-fi vision here is sleek but still has fascinating traces of modernity to it. The environment, like the core family is intentionally familiar. From its opening dance scene, After Yang puts its viewers in a comfort zone. It goes through all the small problems a family faces bonding with each other because the larger themes are sometimes too massive to comprehend on their own. After Yang is continued proof A24 has faith in its sci-fi stories, even if it pales in comparison to some of the higher entries.
8. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Before the Daniels went on to make perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the 2020s so far, they made Swiss Army Man. A movie where a man deserted on an island can use a body’s farts to propel himself across the ocean. The miracle of A24 ladies and gentlemen. That a movie so on its face stupid can be made and better yet, be something special. The melodramatic third act is a weak conclusion, but wow are the first two acts a triumph.
Swiss Army Man deftly blends humor and raw emotion. It drags Hank (an excellent Paul Dano) through the mud. This is a main character on the verge of emotional breakdown. His moments of sadness hurt but then make his tiny victories all the more impactful. Radcliffe also excels. He wanted to prove he could do something outside of Harry Potter and boy did he do it. This is a seriously underappreciated performance with virtually no glory to it. But his tireless grin as he occasionally helps, and tortures, Dano’s Hank makes the film what it is. Swiss Army Man is a display of two actors brilliantly bouncing off each other and graceful tonal gymnastics by the Daniels. A shame the end is not quite put together, but the journey is so good along the way.
7. Under the Skin (2013)
Like High life, Under the Skin wants to alienate some people. It may have some dull, confusing moments to it, but it manages to be a good amount more intoxicating than the aforementioned film. And it is because Glazer initially takes this film about seduction and runs absolutely crazy with the idea, going as far as to examine humanity at its absolute best and worst.
If the argument is that the best sci-fi is about ideas, then Under the Skin effectively prioritizes themes without letting go of engagement. Its eye-catching cinematography, done by Daniel Landin, is a never-ending highlight of the film. So is Glazer’s penchant for horror, as he sickly lulls you into security before assaulting you with horrifying scenarios. Without doubt, a film not for everyone. It is understandable to particularly find issue with the early dialogue exchanges that lack any interesting rhythm or realism to them. However, it is clear upon repeated viewings that this deserves a spot on this list and is a more than impressive feature.
6. The Green Knight (2021)
The Green Knight contains the most fully formed fantasy world on the list. A big part of A24 and their relationship with sci-fi/fantasy is making small worlds feel big, about using tricks to make even the smallest budgets feel larger than life. David Lowery does not take such measures. The Green Knight feels about as richly detailed as a fantasy film of the 21st century can be outside Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. To no one’s surprise, it also tells a radically different story than those films.
The Green Knight excels most in letting the viewer interpret what the film truly is. Does Gawain actually pass the test and survive by the end? Is the Green Knight merely jesting and teaching him a moral lesson? Or does he meet his untimely demise as he faces up to his fate? The Green Knight can be looked at through so many lenses. It can be a scathing takedown of all things medieval, or a sly appraisal the knight archetype. Not dissimilar to other films on the list, its occasional inability to be profound without being insultingly obtuse is an issue. The scene with Winifred feels especially meaningless. But there is a reason it is on the list. The power of the visuals mixed with the endless value of the psychology of the film makes it a can’t miss.