‘Star Wars’ fatigue: Sci-Fi movies to watch instead
Let’s not mince words here: we’re more than excited about Disney’s lightsaber spectacular Star Wars: The Last Jedi, released in theaters worldwide today. The eight instalment into the beloved space opera epic is expected to make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, unleashing the power of the force to pull in more than $200 million at the domestic box office.
But who among us doesn’t want something a bit different for once? In the mood for a sci-fi treat? A bit sick of the Star Wars hype? Fatigued about rhetorical questions? Have no fear: we have just the list for you. Let us whet your appetite with a bevy of sci-fi flicks that deserve to be revisited – stuff that you might’ve forgotten about.
Blade Runner isn’t on this list because that film is about transhumanism, whether or not owls are real, identity, and postmodernist commentary on the nature of existence so, uh how about something a little less heavy?
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Oh. Okay, maybe heavy is good. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 cinematic masterpiece defied all storytelling logic at the time, all brought to life with the aid of sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke. A year before the moon landings, Kubrick painted a portrait of mankind caught in an existential nightmare in the vacuum of space. Warped in battle between man and machine, and part of a larger narrative since the dawn of time. If your local cinema is playing this complete marvel of sci-fi cinema, you have to check it out on the big screen.
Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) plays a technician who helps farm minerals and do all sorts of science stuff nobody cares about on the titular satellite. There’s more than meets the eye to this film, a stark contrast to 2001 in having a much more benevolent AI in the form of GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects). Maybe current events make the robot seem a little less affectionate, but still this is an incredible film with an evocative score from Clint Mansell (The Fountain) to stand the test of time.
Some might chalk this up to be the beginnings of the sci-fi dystopia, or the warped utopia film. We think it belongs in the tradition of the likes of War of the Worlds. There’s an obvious warning beneath the black & white canvas having to do with technology and the relationship man has with machine. Sci-fi was born in the white heat of the German expressionist movement, and in Metropolis we can see all sorts of embryonic fears & wonders – stuff we take for granted in today’s flicks.
You might need a few flowcharts and Microsoft Excel to understand the plot, but Primer is the truest smart sci-fi you might ever see. It does not treat its audience like fodder, but rather assumes everyone has a Ph.D. in physics. Primer is time-travel storytelling in its most bonkers, high-concept form. A real treat, even if you’ve got no idea what’s going on.
Donnie Darko (2001)
An absolutely off-kilter psychological drama that bends sci-fi themes into a truly unsettling story. The countdown to the end of the world still has us shivering in our pajamas, and some imagery in Darko is haunting beyond compare. There’s a lot of thematic work going on underneath the hood, and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) gives the performance that put him on the map.
The runt of the litter in Danny Boyle’s filmography, Sunshine is practically overlooked when it comes to modern sci-fi. We think it’s an astonishing and epic tribute to the power of humanity. We get a good glimpse of the beautiful eyes of Cillian Murphy (Inception), and the script from Alex Garland (Annihilation) pops and fizzes with existential delight, alongside an awe-inspiring score.
Your usual sci-fi dystopian commentary on capitalism, but instead it’s The Raid. With Chris Evans (The Avengers) in the lead, this thrillride of a flick comes courtesy of director Bong Joon-ho adapting a French graphic novel. What starts off as a lowly underdog-story-turned-revolutionary-epic becomes a lot more sinister. This gritty film that isn’t scared of showing you the immoral underbelly plaguing humanity. Fun for the whole family!
Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland, scribe for Sunshine, gives you a cocktail chock-full of sci-fi topics ranging from artificial intelligence to technological control. The little dance Oscar Isaac’s character performs truly warms the soul before being stripped away by a narrative that goes in seriously cerebral directions. A smart and manipulative film that tells an original story.
Before Rian Johnson was swallowed whole by the Disney machine (releasing both The Last Jedi next month and a whole new Star Wars trilogy under his direction soon), he made Looper. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) playing a younger version of Bruce Willis’ character, Looper uses time travel to tell a story about responsibility, memory, and the necessity for sacrifice. The science fiction isn’t center stage in this watershed film – instead the focus is on the misdeeds, but also the triumphs, of humanity.
Children of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece adaptation of P.D James’ 1992 novel is a stunning, transformative work of science fiction cinema. A hall-of-famer that takes Christian allusions, ecological warnings, government control, and the almighty power of hope, all bolstered by a soundtrack from King Crimson (Buffalo ’66) & Aphex Twin (Dead Man’s Shoes). Children of Men’s single-shot sequences are some of the best, with production design that tackles the raw struggle facing humanity in its conjectured twilight years. Prophetic and an absolute assault on the senses.