Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top Ten - Science Fiction Films Circa 2000 to 2013

My friend and fellow blogger John Muir took another science fiction related reader poll. This was one of his toughest assignments yet - to pick the top 10 science fiction films from the years 2000 to 2013. Lots of great lists were provided and you can check out the results here.

This one was very difficult for me. As I mentioned to John, I haven't been as voracious with my movie watching in the last five to ten years as I used to be. Well, let me qualify that, I haven't been up on my new movies as much as I used to be. Instead I've been delving back into the past, seeking out gems and seeing if I can unearth some new favorites. I've also been delving deep (and some may say too deep) into nostalgia. Ten years ago, I would have jumped at seeing Primer or Sunshine. These days, I've heard of the films, but haven't sought them out. The sad thing is, the recent movies I have seen haven't left much more than a surface impression on me. I found it difficult to find make selections on movies I'd only seen once and didn't remember too well.

So that's what I ended up with here, a list of movies that at the very least entrained me.  But I also found a few that made me think and some that did both (the highest praise for a sci-fi film in my opinion). I have no idea if these will go down as classics, I think we are still too close to most of them to determine that. In about five years, I'd like to revisit this list and see what I've added and which films have declined. So lets get started.

10. Serenity - 2005
After the television series Firefly got cancelled all too quickly, it felt like fans weren't going to get the closure they so desired. Then Joss Whedan did the impossible and got a big screen final episode created and launched into theaters. It has everything you want in a fun space opera flick, great dialogue, lots of action, interesting characters and an emotional punch at the end. It was a bit sad to say goodbye to some of my favorite characters from the television series, but Serenity ends our journeys with style (and leaves enough wiggle room for further adventures if Whedon decides to come back to this world).

9. Minority Report - 2002
Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg - I'll admit it, I wasn't too thrilled with that match. And yet against all the odds, the whole thing worked. I liked how Spielberg made what is essentially a very paranoid and dark story visually filled with over-saturated white light. This look has been copied many times since, but the impact in this film is impressive. It's also got a momentum to it, something that this director is always good at. Even Cruise works in the role, and the whole thing clicks well. The world created here is impressive and feels like it expands well past the screen. Overall it's an engaging and thought provoking movie.

8. Wall-E - 2008
Pixar was on a roll of making one great film after the other. Wall-E falls in the middle of that run, mixing so many disparate elements together to create a cohesive whole. The idea of having the protagonist be a mute garbage robot should not work (something Pixar did repeatedly in their most creative days). But the combination of amazing animation, an effective musical score by Thomas Newman, and a dazzling work of animation created a character you connect with and then thrill to when his adventure takes flight. While the movie's message may be a bit heavy handed at the end, the whole thing still works wonderfully and makes this one of Pixar's best (and you could argue, THE best).

7. Prometheus - 2012
Ridley Scott returns to the world of science fiction, something he did so well in Alien and Blade Runner, two films that appear on my list of greatest science fiction films. He does an admirable job, crafting a story of space exploration that delves into the true wonder and horror of the unknown. That alone should be enough to tie it to the film Alien, but in the end he went that extra step, directly connecting the two films in a way that just didn't click. For some viewers this was a deal breaker, for me, I found it to be an unfortunate coda. All that said, Prometheus has so many good points, amazing production design, some top notch performances and a tale of humans seeking their source and finding that the cosmic joke is on them. Lovecraft would love this movie.

6. Donnie Darko - 2001
There really isn't another movie like Donnie Darko. It combines teen angst, surreal visuals, dimensional travel and one of the creepiest imaginary friends ever into one film. It is another one of those movies that just shouldn't work, and yet it all comes together in a satisfying (although melancholy) way. You could argue that this isn't sci-fi, and you'd be right. But you could also argue that it is sci-fi and you'd be right. Not many movies straddle the genre lines so well. In end I enjoyed the film a great deal, thought about it a great deal and have watched it multiple times. It has to go on a list somewhere, and this seemed like a good spot. Besides, Frank told me to put it here.

5. Avalon - 2001
Mamoru Oshii always makes interesting films. I may not like all of them, but I always find them worth watching. His visual style is unique. He is methodical in his approach to storytelling, often slowing everything down to indulge in hypnotic visuals and philosophical discussions. Avalon has all these elements going on in it, but it also creates it's own world visually. The real world our heroine inhabits feels lived in, dirty and moist. The virtual world of Avalon with it's yellow tinged hue and apocalyptic surroundings doesn't seem like much of  an improvement. But it is the way the worlds meld that makes the film worth exploring. Besides how often to you see a Polish Japanese co-production. Less action packed than The Matrix, but also delves deeper into some of the ideas the Hollywood film explored.

4. Children of Men - 2006
This movie is a rough one. It was bleak, relentless and even the glimmer of hope at the end, didn't seem like much. Director Alfonso Cuaron crafts a movie that builds on humanity falling apart. It feels so real that it is disturbing to experience. Clive Owen does a superb job in the lead role. But I think it is Cuaron's camera work, pacing and editing that make the whole thing work so well. This movie was hard to watch, but it was impossible to forget. 

3. Paprika - 2006
You know there had to be some anime on there somewhere. Satoshi Kon's swan song picks up all the themes and ideas he's been exploring throughout his career and fuses them into a single film. The result is an explosion of color, creativity and off the wall visuals. The idea of dreams leaving our minds and exploding into our world seems ridiculous and yet Kon makes the whole thing work, adding in a wonderful heroine, Paprika to save the day. Like Kon's previous films all elements work together to create a roller coaster of realities, interesting characters, unique visuals and plenty of humor. The ending is a bit on the weak side, but for the most part this is one of the most dazzling displays of animation I saw in the 2000s. Well worth checking out.

2. District 9 - 2009
This movie has quite a few things going for it. You've got a wonderful performance by Copley  to give us a believable (but not likable) protagonist. Then you have a world crafted so well that it feels real. Much like Children of Men you can see our world twisting into this fate. But District 9 doesn't wallow in the darkness, and makes it's first steps toward a better future for that world. In the end, I clicked a bit more with this film (and having some anime inspired mecha suits didn't hurt). Worth checking out, but not for the squeamish, some of the action scenes are very intense and brutal. 

1. Moon - 2009
Everything about this movie worked for me. The big key was Sam Rockwell's performance. He is on screen for the entire film and plays the part perfectly. The script is well crafted building on a mystery and then delving into the social and scientific issues of the main problem. The production design is inspired, creating such a realistic setting on a restricted budget. Everything about Moon feels authentic. I even enjoyed the slow pace of the film, finding that it built up to it's conclusion very well. The pace worked for the film, allowing us to really understand Sam's state of mind and his final solution to the very disturbing problem. This is one of the few films on this list that feel certain will remain on it in the next five years.

I also had a few other films that I enjoyed, but didn't quite make the list.
So, are you up to the challenge? Do you have any favorites from this era of film making?

Looking for more top ten lists? Check out this link.


  1. Like you, I’ve missed a good portion of the 21st century fare, having seen, as 2013 examples, neither Elysium, nor Star Trek: Into Darkness, nor Oblivion, though it is likely I will see one or more eventually.

    I like the films on your list – those I have seen, anyway – including Prometheus. The Alien tie-in didn’t much bother me, although, since word got out pretty early, it lacked any surprise punch.

    I’ll add 10, in no particular order while (again) admitting to big gaps in my viewing:

    Looper/Safety Not Guaranteed (well written and acted little flick)/A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (a project begun by Kubrick and finished by Spielberg, the former’s darkness mixes oddly with the latter’s warm-&-fuzzies, but the result still has something)/K-Pax/Paycheck/Alien Trespass (an homage to 1950s scifi that probably works only for those of us familiar with and fond of 50s scifi)/A Scanner Darkly (not for everyone, but definitely different)/Jumper (troubled teen learns he can teleport)/9 (the animated post-apocalypse, not the Rob Marshall film about a Fellini-esque director)/The Hunger Games.

    Some others were painless, such as the kid-friendly animated Planet 51. Avatar was beautifully filmed, and was enjoyable to watch in 3D on a big screen, but still doesn’t make the first ten that come to mind – perhaps because it was too much a rehash of Dances with Wolves but with blue people. Still others were of the so-bad-it’s-good type that I wouldn’t seriously recommend to anyone even though I enjoyed them, e.g. Decoys 1 & 2. There were plenty of so-bad-it’s-really-bad too, such as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine (also beautifully filmed, but just off in a lot of ways), and Upside Down.

    1. Yeah I really enjoyed "Safety Not Guaranteed". I'll add that to my "runners up list". I thought "The Hunger Games" was a very good adaptation of the book, but I enjoyed the book more. The level of detail in the book really helped flesh out things and make the stakes clearer.

      I need to see "Alien Trespass". You've mentioned it before, and another friend saw it and loved it.

      I told John I was surprised that both "Avatar" and the Star Wars prequels didn't make it onto his list. I think that "Avatar" was a bit too fluffy for some of the more hard core sci-fi viewers. I thought it was a good movie, visually impressive, but was lacking that extra something to really put it on the list. I felt the same way about "Inception" which was a good action film with a neat premise, but could have been a bit better if he exploited the concept of entering dreams.

      "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" came up on a few people's lists. That was an interesting movie. Still not sure what I thought about it. It doesn't quite feel like a science fiction to me, more like a fantasy in sci-fi clothing.

      I was curious to see "9", it looked really interesting. Thanks for reminding me about it.

  2. Enjoyed your list and summations very much Roman and many on it I still need to see.

    I have much work to do including a re-evaluation of Moon.

    I also loved how you framed your choices. I would echo that feeling as well. My list would be subject to change and I really need to think about it again. But I plan to re-post my own somewhere down the road.

    Cheers Roman!

    1. Thanks!

      I need to see "Pacific Rim". After your praise and seeing it appear on quite a few lists, I'm very curious to see it. Del Toro always makes interesting movies, and when he's on, he's really on.

      Yeah, I can see how "Moon" wouldn't work for everyone. Definitely give it another shot. I've lost track of the number of times I've revisited a film, known better what it was going to be like, and enjoyed it and appreciated it much more the second viewing.

  3. You made a good list and I could agree with most of them. I forget why exactly I didn't care for District 9 other than the main character was awful goofy acting, but iirc I also thought if the law was going to investigate the aliens about drugs (or whatever it was) wouldn't they get another alien agent on the inside to infiltrate the system? I need to watch that film again perhaps.

    I need to add Avalon to my Q as well as Paprika. Here's mine, subject to change with time:

    1. Pacific Rim
    2. Prometheus
    3. The Road
    4. John Carter
    5. Children of Men
    6. Star Trek reboot
    7. A. I.
    8. The Thing (prequel)
    9. Limitless
    10. The Hunger Games

    I would have honorable mentions of: Moon, Splice, A Scanner Darkly, The 6th Day, Wall-E, Avatar, the Star Wars movies and cartoons, Sky Captain, Slither, Source Code, Outlander, Cowboys & Aliens, Serenity, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Super 8, the first Transformers movie, Jurassic Park III, Pandorum, Pitch Black, & I''m probably omitting something cool. I didn't care for Inception or Eternal Sunshine either. I like post like this as it gets you to re-evaluate things you've seen, and how others perceive what's best in genre. As I think back over the decade plus, I think we've had some good SF movies made.

    1. Another fan of "Pacific Rim". I need to check out that movie! "A.I." keeps coming up as well. I need to see it, if only to see (mostly) Kubrick's final film. I'm on the fence about seeing "The Road". It looks like a dark movie, nearly along the lines of "Children of Men". I've got to be in the right frame of mind to delve into that much despair. But thanks for posting. These lists are fun to read and get ideas from.

  4. The Road is pretty dark indeed. But there's also a tad bit of optimism there that the Dad shares with his son. It's sad and brutal, and amazing and not as action packed like Children of Men.