What makes a good sci-fi movie? That is a question I have been asking myself since a coworker of mine said that Star Trek Into Darkness was everything he wanted in a sci-fi movie. Since I did not like the movie as much as he did it got me thinking what do I like in a sci-fi movie. As I was thinking of some of my favorite sci-fi movies of recent years I realized that two movies coming out this year are from directors whose previous movies are some of my recent favorites. Gravity is directed by Alfonso Cuaron who also directed Children of Men and Elysium is directed by Neill Blomkamp who also directed District 9. Children of Men and District 9 are easily my two favorite movies of the past 10 years. So I decided to make a list of my 5 favorite sci-fi movies of the past 10 years and see what they have in common. In making this list I did not include any comic book movies like Iron Man or The Avengers even though they are technically sci-fi in my mind a comic book movie is something completely different. Here is the list.
1. Children of Men (2006)- A post-apocalyptic movie that never really explains what happens but thrusts you into the dark world. While some movies unanswered questions are frustrating this one does it in a way that works. After I saw it in the theaters I didn’t know what to think, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it. Why did humans stop having babies? What will happened now that a baby has been born? Who knows. But the movie is brilliantly written and it got a well deserve Oscar nomination.
2. District 9 (2009)- This movie came out of nowhere and blew me away. The movie felt new and original and at the same time had everything you would expect in an alien invasion movie. It is a throwback to when sci-fi movies where metaphors for societal issues but updated with some amazing action.
3. Inception (2010)- One of the most original stories in a long time. Love him or hate him but Christopher Nolan knows how to craft a fun movie with twists and turns that under further scrutiny maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense but it is fun to go on the ride. Here he gets some incredible acting from Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt and it just keeps you on the edge of your seat once it gets going. Of course the ending is frustrating but I like that it leaves the viewer to come up with their own theories.
4. Attack the Block (2011)- Ever wonder what would happen if an alien invaded the hood? Well this movie hilariously explores that idea. It is one of the few sci-fi movies to combine humor with great action. The movie feels really low budget but the aliens look awesome and scary.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)-Wasn’t sure what to expect from this prequel but it captured everything that was great about the first and still felt fresh.
Honorable Mentions go to -Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Moon (2009), Primer (2004)
Based on that list what does that tell me. Well first off besides Rise of the Planet of the Apes none of them are sequels or prequels and Children of Men is based on a book but the rest are purely original works. Also, they all have action and a adventure mixed with a little humor. But, I think what I like most about these movies and sci-fi in general is that they take an out of the world idea to expose truths of our society. District 9 is probably the best example of this. It takes place in South Africa and is about having aliens quarantined in a specific area. It doesn't take much to realize that this movie is exploring themes of apartheid and racism while having giant spaceships and crazy gadgets. Afterward it leaves you thinking. Not only can they be great fun but they can make you think. Don’t get me wrong I like movies like Transformers because it is a lot of fun to watch giant robots fight each other but it doesn't compare to a movie that can explore complex situations at the same time. I look at classic sci-fi from the 50’s like The Day the Earth Stood Still that was clearly about the dangers of nuclear war but at the same time it was just a fun movie. Now just because you have a message in your movie doesn't mean it works for me either. Avatar felt like the message was too in your face and the characters we too clichéd.
So what do I think was lacking in Star Trek Into Darkness? It had the action and comedy but it didn't make me think. It was mindless fun but not enough to get on my list.
What are your thoughts? What movies do you think belongs on the list? I know I left off some pretty popular ones like Avatar, Looper, Wall-E, and Prometheus.