5. The Lobster (2015)
The most subtle of sci-fi films on the list, The Lobster offers up a quaint dystopia. Can’t find a romantic partner in 45 days? Get turned into an animal and become the hunted. Such as simple but captivating premise that leads to one of the most fascinating visions of the future to date. Like Her, The Lobster’s refusal to fully give itself over to the hyper-advanced technologies of the future makes its world so interesting. The production design and cinematography pair well to create the perfect “meh” atmosphere. It is kind of stunning in its own way but would be outright boring to inhabit if you lived in the world. Or maybe it wouldn’t with all the nutty personality types.
Lanthimos doubles down on his bizarre comedic inclinations. The toaster scene is the standout and Colman throughout is a delight as the covertly villainous hotel manager. But it would be a mistake to limit The Lobster as merely being another strange output from the A24 content machine. Because it really is one of their most thoughtful films to date. Not only does it offer this bountiful thesis on love, the harm of our expectations for it, and the danger of manipulating people into relationships, but it is one of the few films on the list that by no means sacrifices entertainment for the conveying of those ideas.
The Lobster is so consistent, so entertaining while simultaneously dishing out its points one by one to leave you time to digest. It is more than just a brainy sci-fi film we know A24 can deliver. From its mysterious opening scene, it is a lesson in how to keep audiences hooked and constantly keep a story interesting.
4. Enemy (2013)
Falling more firmly into the fantasy category, Enemy was the first true look at what Denis Villenueve could accomplish. Enemy is a precise blend of minimalist style but massive ambition. Gyllenhaal’s Adam lives in a mostly empty, ugly world with very little to it. There is no rich cast of ensemble characters here and the story reaches just over ninety minutes. But in said ninety minutes, Enemy is able to deliver an insanely giving narrative.
Whether it is about infidelity, personal demons, or paranoia, Enemy does not give conclusive answers. It begs viewers to watch again and again for hidden meanings but still offers a dizzying experience for a first viewing. And Jake Gyllenhaal is his spectacular self but plays two characters. Enemy is a prioritization of ideas over pacing like other films mentioned. However, like The Lobster, the director’s confidence in the story and the lack of narrative fat makes it a stellar fantasy entry. The ending remains one of A24’s most defining moments and marked one of the company’s early triumphs.
3. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
One day soon, it will be borderline intolerable to hear about Everything Everywhere All at Once. It is destined to become a film such as The Dark Knight, where anything that could possibly be said about it has been repeated ten times over. But while the stove is (relatively) hot, it still is worth diving into it as a feat of science fiction and of the A24 brand. As a science fiction movie, it proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. It is unafraid to be overtly a homage to the likes of The Matrix or Inception, or even non science fiction films as well. It finally figured out the potential of the multiverse, how to utilize such a crazy concept to the film’s advantage. And the product is a film with break neck pacing, still naturally flowing from action masterclass to heartbreaking dramatic moment.
A24 occasionally lets its heart shine through, but it is rare. Usually, the films are so cynical and filled with hate, but Everything Everywhere openly rejects that. It rejoices over the power of love and empathy and decries the evil, life-sucking nature of nihilism. Unlike so many of the other films on the list, Everything Everywhere is not about the failures of humans and their inherent weaknesses. Unlike much of science fiction, it does not predict a future in which we will inevitably cause our own downfall. Instead, it chooses to see the best in all of us, in our ability to change, while being truthful about the unusually cruel aspects of life and regret. It does all of this without betraying the signature weirdness that makes the Daniels so fascinating. Like everyone has said, it is a triumph. Not just for the Daniels or A24 but for the movies. And the love for that medium bleeds through in each and every moment.
2. A Ghost Story (2017)
If it’s not clear already, an A24 film is defined by a feeling more than anything else. That hollow feeling in your soul. It is a feeling that is bone-chilling, a feeling of despair in the overwhelming sadness and evils present in A24 productions. A Ghost Story does not give you that feeling but it does not offer the antithesis either. Besides one truly bad, self-indulgent scene with the vexing overall guy monologuing over the work of Beethoven, A Ghost Story is borderline perfection. If not for that one moment, it may be number one. In some respects, a more proper title of the film is A Love Story. That is where most of the value is anyway. Affleck and Mara magically convey years’ worth of love and connection in the opening moments all for it to be stripped away in a matter of minutes.
For so much of the runtime, A Ghost Story is painful, but it is uplifting. Seeing Mara alone is upsetting but the devotion of her lover brings warmth to the film. It only gets really into depression once the ghost no longer follows her. As he sees the house he once shared with his loved one inhabited by more and more strangers, he descends further into depression. He wants to end it all, but he’s dead, it’s already over.
A Ghost Story strays further from love and moves closer to the severe pain of loss and depression. It muses on the nature of time before going full circle and becoming a love story once again, leaving the audiences on not a haunting note, but a cathartic and poetic one. A Ghost Story does not heavily invoke fantasy elements, but the mere fantasy premise allows for a story to be told that could not have worked without the fantasy genre itself, which makes it more than deserving of so high a spot.
1. Ex Machina (2015)
The harsh lights and chilling interiors of Nathan’s home bury something warm and alive within it: life. Well, to the audience, we know Nathan makes creations. Ava and Kyoko are creations. They are AI meant to simulate and replicate. But to Caleb, they are alive. Ava is not just human but a mechanical slave he must be a liberator of. Caleb detests Nathan’s attitude toward AI, but Caleb is the one who has been seduced by manmade creations, Caleb is the one who forgets why he was called out to Nathan’s home in the first place.
This ingenious conceit helps make Ex Machina such an essential science fiction story. We have two characters in perpetual tension with each other, always annoyed by the other’s ideology. The whole film, structurally, is an extended conflict in which any scene can break down into anarchy. We are meant to take the side of the “hero” and hopes he evades doom at the hands of Nathan, but in the end, we have been manipulated by our compassion. Just like Caleb.
The main plot of Ex Machina is riveting and rewarding in its own right. But it is the film’s additional flourishes that locks it in at the top spot. Its visuals were top notch. The use of effects felt unbelievably real at a time when the very look of science fiction was in danger of being captured entirely by off-putting CGI. Ex Machina manifested a new look and tone for science fiction that persists to this day, even outside of A24.
The film is able to dabble with feminism and the place of God in the current world but is never overcommitted to a single secret element of the story. Alex Garland’s exceptional work respects viewers and has led them to theorize for years since its release. Ex Machina was a watershed moment for A24 and science fiction itself. It signaled a renewed dedication to the deceptively simple beauty of sci-fi and to stories that only fully revealed themselves after you discussed it with peers. That is why Ex Machina is number one.