One of the best decisions I ever made was taking a science fiction class during my first year of college. Not only is it where I met a lot of the people who became my closest companions during my college years, but it gave me the opportunity to explore one my favorite genres in more depth.
The class combined SciFi literature and film study, which I think is essential for any in-depth analysis of the subject. But what made things really interesting was the combination of books and movies that was chosen by my professor. While nearly all of the movies we watched were well-known, blockbuster films (like Star Wars: A New Hope, Minority Report, Terminator 2, Blade Runner, The Matrix, etc.), all of the books we read were written by women.
The titles that immediately come to mind when I think about that class are: Egalia’s Daughters, by Gerd Brantenberg; Powers That Be, by Anne McCaffrey; The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin; and Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler. If you’re looking for some great SciFi books, all four titles are well worth your time!
Reading these books not only helped me find some new favorite authors, but also drove me to seek out SciFi movies that are not quite as well known. Here are some of my favorite SciFi movies that you might not have had the opportunity to see…
Believe it or not, I actually learned about this movie through a Twitter post written by Chris Evans. He had encountered and shared a fan video that explored the similarities between Snowpiercer and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; and which ultimately theorized that Snowpiercer was a sequel to that story. If you’d like to watch the video for yourself, you can find it here. Just be aware that it is full of spoilers for both movies.
I thought the fan video was really interesting, so I got myself a copy of the movie. While I won’t share my opinion of this particular fan theory with you at this time (mostly because I don’t want to influence you one way or another), I will say that I was very impressed with Snowpiercer.
One of the best things about the movie is the surprisingly plausible context of the story. The movie is set in a future where a global catastrophe has turned our planet into a frozen wasteland, forcing the last human survivors to relocate to a train known as the Snowpiercer. The train is in constant motion, and is home to a diverse (and segregated) population. The wealthiest people live at the front of the train, while the poorest are confined to the back and kept under oppression. There have been several attempts at rebellion over the years, all of which have failed, but the passengers at the back of the train are not yet ready to give up…
Okay, so on the surface it doesn’t really seem that plausible, does it? Well, think about this. Not only is a weather-related global catastrophe theoretically possible, but the one in Snowpiercer comes about because of humans trying to reverse the damage that we are currently doing to our planet today, in real life. In addition to the dangers of climate change, issues of segregation and inequality are not only problems in our history books; they’re problems that continue to this day. I think the plot of Snowpiercer is very relevant to us in the 21st Century, and can serve as a cautionary tale if we’re paying attention.
The movie was filled with action and had a phenomenal cast, but the performance that most stands out in my mind was the one delivered by Chris Evans as Curtis. He really made me care about (and root for) the character as he and his companions attempt to reach the front of the train. There’s a lot of emotional depth to Curtis, which only continues to develop over the course of the movie. Honestly, Snowpiercer is worth watching just for Evans’s performance alone.
If you haven’t had a chance to see Snowpiercer, I highly recommend it as a great example of dystopian science fiction. Fair warning though…the movie definitely earns its R rating, especially when it comes to the violence (which I would say is on a similar level to the violence in Game of Thrones).
While there’s something fascinating about the idea of psychic abilities, the concept of people being able to read minds, see the future, or move objects with their minds is not new. We’ve seen countless examples of these powers in superhero movies and comic books, and in science fiction movies such as Minority Report and Scanners. So why am I recommending a movie like Push, which is all about people with psychic abilities?
What makes Push such as great movie is how these abilities are portrayed. The movie opens with Cassie (played by Dakota Fanning) talking about people with psychic abilities: Watchers, Movers, Pushers, Shadows, etc. She also talks about how these people are being exploited…
“It started in 1945. The Nazis were conducting experiments in psychic warfare, trying to turn those of us with psychic abilities into soldiers. Lots of us died. The war ended, but the experiments never stopped. Other governments around the world set up what they called “divisions,” trying to do what the Nazis couldn’t, to turn us into weapons.” ~ Cassie Holmes (Push)
Cassie is a Watcher who sees, and then draws, glimpses of the future. When a Pusher manages to escape from Division after being successfully injected with a drug that enhances psychic powers, Cassie goes to a person she’s been seeing in her visions for help, a Mover named Nick (played by Chris Evans). Nick doesn’t really have full control over his telekenetic abilities, but he eventually agrees to help her. Unfortunately, every move they make is being monitored by another Watcher, and Cassie’s drawings keep including her and Nick’s dead bodies.
While I will admit that my fondness for Chris Evans as an actor is one of my reasons for including this movie on my list, Push is an awesome movie! It’s exciting, filled with action and adventure, and has wonderful characters. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just a little bit out of the ordinary, this is a good one to choose.
It was one of my college roommates who actually introduced me to Equilibrium. She was really impressed with the movie, and thought that I would enjoy it as well…and I did.
Equilibrium takes place in a society where people regulate their emotions through the use of drugs, basically ridding themselves of emotions entirely. Those who refuse to take the drugs have been forced into hiding, as the government has labeled them as dangerous. The main character, Cleric John Preston (played by Christian Bale), is one of the people who is supposed to eliminate those who refuse to take the drugs; but he accidentally misses one of his doses one day and gets a surprising insight into the feelings that the government has been denying its citizens.
The coolest thing about this movie is all of the action sequences. There is a specific fighting style used by the Clerics that is absolutely enthralling to watch. It’s hard to describe in writing, but seems to be a mixture of martial arts and marksmanship. It’s also extremely effective in close quarters combat situations. The action is awesome, but it does make Equilibrium one of the more violent movies on this list and helps it earn its R rating.
The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element is a family favorite, and yet another movie that I initially watched because of my former roommate’s glowing recommendation. My dad and I absolutely love this movie, and we can often be heard quoting some of its more memorable lines.
This movie takes place in a future where the universe is in danger from an evil force. The only things that can stop it are four stones that represent the elements: water, fire, wind, earth…and a fifth element, a “perfect being” who goes by the name of Leeloo.
There’s a lot to love about The Fifth Element, but the best part of the movie for me is the uniqueness of the characters. I’ve seen a lot of movies that feature Bruce Willis, and Korben Dallas is one of my favorite roles that he has played. There’s a tremendous amount of toughness to Korben, and he has a strong sense of loyalty that makes him really appealing as a character. Leeloo is a fantastic character as well. She’s very strong (both physically and with regard to her convictions), but she also has an innocence to her that gets tested throughout the movie. She and Korben have an interesting relationship with each other, which really drives the action. In addition to Leeloo and Korben, I also love Ruby Rhod and Father Cornelius, who provide several comedic moments throughout the movie.
Of all of the movies on this list, this is the one that I would recommend if you’re looking for something with action, a lot of heart, and some humor.
I mentioned in a previous post that there are two actors who I can honestly say have made me experience the full range of human emotions while watching their movies. Christopher Eccleston is one of those actors, and Jeremy Renner is the other. The first time I saw Jeremy Renner in a movie was when I first watched 28 Weeks Later, but it was after seeing Marvel’s The Avengers that I actively began to seek out more of his work.
Jeremy Renner has been in some amazing movies, and I fully confess that I bought Arrival solely because I found out that he was one of the cast members. It turned out to be a great decision on my part because it was a phenomenal film!
Arrival is different than your typical alien invasion movie because there’s no direct military conflict that is taking place…at least, not yet. The movie is primarily about attempting to communicate with the species that has come to Earth; something made incredibly difficult because of the differences in languages.
Overall, I would describe Arrival as a quiet, thought-provoking movie. It’s really more of a science fiction drama, which makes it unique with respect to the other movies on this list. It’s definitely worth seeing!
Technically it’s a mini-series, not a movie, but there was no way that I could leave Taken off of this list. It’s one of my all-time favorite SciFi stories. Besides, I think that a mini-series can be considered an honorary movie if you can watch the entire thing in one sitting (which I have).
Taken focuses on the events surrounding the Roswell crash of 1947. It follows the effects of the crash on three families. One family has active ties to the investigation and cover-up of the crash, another has members who are regularly being abducted, and the final family has members who have both human and alien DNA. As the event and subsequent investigation unfold, the families become increasingly interconnected.
The show is a character-driven drama, and each episode leaves you wanting to watch more (hence the reason I watched the entire series in one day). Of all of the titles on this list, Taken is the one that I’ve watched the most…and not just because I love the characters and story.
“What if?” That’s a question that science fiction often seeks to answer, and I feel like Taken does a remarkable job of answering that question in a way that is more grounded in reality than any other movie on this list. While there is some sense of plausibility in the plots of movies like Snowpiercer and Arrival, Taken is fully focused on our world. It takes a historic event, the crash of a weather balloon in Roswell, New Mexico, and asks the same question that people have been asking for years: “Was it really a weather balloon that crashed out there?” In addition, the series includes many elements that are commonly discussed with regard to Roswell: government cover-ups and conspiracies, alien abductions, attempts to contact extraterrestrial life using homemade radios, people fabricating evidence of UFOs and creating crop circles, etc.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to see Taken, I highly recommend it, but be aware that it may not be easy to find a brand new copy at this point. It looks like the box set is currently only available on Amazon through third party sellers, but it may be available through sellers on eBay as well.
I hope that this list inspires you to go out and try some new SciFi. I am continuing my never-ending quest to find more great titles, which I will definitely pass along to you. In the meantime, if you have a favorite SciFi movie (or series) that you think I should try, please leave a comment on this post. I would love to hear from you!