There has been a lot of good science fiction movies in the past few years, and there have been some blockbusters. But those haven’t always been the same. Think of a Venn Diagram, two circles overlapping, there’s a few movies that appear in the overlap (perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy or Mad Max: Fury Road), but most fall outside one way or the other. Here’s a list of some great-to-decent science fiction films that weren’t blockbusters, but weren’t bad. They cover a spectrum of styles and moods. You can probably find one or two that you haven’t already seen.
Seriously, not enough people saw this, and the only reason I can think of is because it stars Tom Cruise. I’m not a big fan of his political/religious views, and I’m always weary going into one of his movies in case it’s trying to proselytize Scientology, but this film was quite good. Hollywood noticed, although not enough viewers did. It did a respectable $369m worldwide, but only $100m domestically. Don’t like Tom Cruise? He dies! Repeatedly! It wasn’t just a good actioner, it was funny, too (and made you think, just a little). Also, it’s being rebranded as Live, Die, Repeat so look for it under that title too.
Who is it for: Anyone desiring a good action/war movie with a lot of humour sprinkled in. Rotten Tomatoes:90% My Rating:4.5 out of 5 Stars
Why oh why didn’t this excellent, thoughtful movie about Artificial Intelligence and ethics get seen by more people? This was a metaphysical film about intelligence and morals involving indistinguishable-from-human AIs. If you have no remorse in killing them, should they really have remorse in killing you? It’s the most Kubrick-ish film I’ve seen since Kubrick died — not to mention the amazing effects used to create Ava’s transparent body. Maybe if they’d said ‘you’ll see a cute actresses nude!’ more people would have gone, but nudity wasn’t what this film was about (yes, it’s in there, perv).
Who is it for: Anyone who wants a thoughtful, slow movie that will stay with you. Rotten Tomatoes:91% My Rating:4.5 out of 5 Stars
My second Tom Cruise entry, what’s going on? Have I become a Scientologist? Seriously, this was much better than expected. Not only were the effects pitch perfect, the smallness and intimacy of the story, painted on a large canvas, was fascinating. Two quibbles (one’s a spoiler): Morgan Freeman was under-utilized, which is a crime in itself; and I’m not sure that it’s true love if you’re banging a clone of your lover. (highlight with your mouse to view the missing text).
Who is it for: Old School Sci Fi short story buffs – think Heinlein or Bradbury. Rotten Tomatoes:54% My Rating:4 out of 5 Stars
I joked on twitter about this film when it opened, more a stab at the marketing than the film itself. I liked this movie, keeping in mind that it was very much an old school Disney kid’s film. They’ve taken the old formula (think The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, or Blackbeard’s Ghost), and update the storytelling for modern audiences – less humour, more threat. My 11-year-old students didn’t like it because it had ‘too much science’ which I translate as ‘not enough fun’ and I guess I can agree with that, but it’s still worth the 130 minutes of your time.
Who is it for: Anyone looking for light entertainment with just a bit of an alt-history twist. Think of it as Back to the Future lite, very lite. Rotten Tomatoes:50% My Rating:3.5 out of 5 Stars
Like Transformers? Like Jurassic World or Godzilla? Why haven’t you seen this film? Seriously, large mech warriors fight monsters from the deep to save Earth for humanity. There is more to the story than that, but not much. People die, we’re supposed to care. Buildings get crushed, we’re supposed to care. Rivals have a show down, we’re supposed to care. But really – mech warriors fighting giant monsters! Come on!
Who is it for: Fans of Michael Bay, Transformers, or Godzilla-esque movies. Anyone who wants a movie where they can take a toilet break or go grab another beer and not miss anything substantive. Rotten Tomatoes:72% My Rating:3.5 out of 5 Stars
At six years old, I’m not sure that this film should be on the list, but it was well worth seeing. Sam Rockwell is a solitary miner working a platform on the Moon’s far side when his reality starts to come undone.
Who is it for: A quiet night, a mystery. It’s good but slow. Rotten Tomatoes: 89% My Rating:3.5 out of 5 Stars
Want something more grounded in Americana, perhaps a little weird and UFO-y? This is your film. I’ve got to admit that the ending was unsatisfying, but parts of the journey were worth taking. In the beginning, the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be a horror film or a Kerouac road movie, then it morphs, and they really don’t want you to know more about it than that. But Laurence Fishburne’s presence kept making me thinking of The Matrix. Remember that.
Who is it for: X Files fans desperately waiting for the new show to start. Rotten Tomatoes:58% My Rating:3 out of 5 Stars
This one is on the decent-but-not-great side of the spectrum. It’s a good story, with a flawed telling. At the very end, the film gets its true title, John Carter of Mars, which is what the film should have been called, and how it should have been marketed. The casting was strange, too, although a lot of it worked well (Dominic “Jimmy McNulty” West as the villain, Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris). The one that didn’t work was Taylor Kitsch as the titular hero. Also distracting was the presence of Ciaran Hinds (Julius Caesar from HBO’s Rome) and James Purefoy (Mark Anthony from the same Rome) playing roles too similar those they played in… HBO’s Rome? Yeah, you get it. And the whole Ned storyline needed to die. Maybe just binge watch HBO’s Rome instead?
Who is it for: Taylor Kitsch fans, Vin Deisel fans on a drunken nights, those going through Jimmy McNulty withdrawal. Rotten Tomatoes:51% My Rating:3 out of 5 Stars