The genre of science fiction expands and evolves continuously through its expressive mediums —film, television, fiction, comic books, video games. Its ever-changing nature and endless possibility are why leading-edge filmmakers choose it as the genre in which to experiment with alternate realities and imagined universes. Every year, science fiction cinema treats audiences with new imagined worlds, and 2017 has been no different.
Some highlights: 2018 brought a new entry in the Star Wars franchise, Blade Runner lived to see another day, and humans learned to control their inner demons while wrestling the monsters that terrorized planets. But the best science fiction films of 2017 haven’t just been the big budget extravaganzas audiences have become used to, the are smartly written, intelligently paced, and popcorn-worthy fare.
The new year might bring larger budgets, more sequels and a reboot or ten (at this rate!), but the truth of the matter is, science fiction cinema will never stop making the world question and imagine a life beyond our every day. In no particular order and without further ado, these are the best science fiction films of 2017…
The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson // Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher
It seems like the future will see continual Star Wars journeys and the latest installment by Rian Johnson is a worthy entry. The Resistance, led by Princess Leia, attacks the evil Empire led by a conflicted Kylo Ren, Leia and Han Solo’s son. Meanwhile, Rey is an emerging Jedi looking for guidance with The Force from the legendary albeit reluctant Luke Skywalker. All their stories come together in a final showdown that is in keeping with the Star Wars canon.
The Last Jedi is action packed and it gives old and new viewers alike, unexpected thrills all the while honoring the universe’s canon. There are new creatures, complex allies, and takes the story into unexpected places. It’s interesting to see a narrative that people grew up watching in the 1970s grow into an even bigger phenomena. The passing of the late Carrie Fisher emboldens the story and makes her appearance around this new generation all the more poignant.
Keep a look out for the many celebrity cameos, including the ones cleverly hidden in the voice work. May The Force continue!
Director: Nacho Vigalondo // Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a recently unemployed alcoholic writer who is forced to move back to her hometown in order to get her life back together. There, she meets up with an old friend and begins to work at his bar. In the meantime, in a city faraway a monster appears and disappears wreaking havoc in its wake. Soon Gloria realizes she is somehow controlling the monster and her whole world begins to unravel.
Vigalondo’s reinterprets the monster film with a psychological twist. Gloria is a complicated character, a kind of anti-hero that not everyone is meant to like. She’s flawed and even when the audience might root for her in the war against her own mind, she’s seen as vulnerable and prone to make the awful mistakes. The monster itself serves as a shell to the heroine, but ultimately Colossal makes this monster a vessel for all of the audience’s weaknesses. It’s an empowering film of personal struggles, but also a tale of life’s enduring comedic bends.
Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve // Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
The original Blade Runner is part of the sacred science fiction foundation, so it is with no surprise that this much-anticipated sequel made many fans a little bit nervous. Director Denis Villeneuve, known for hard-hitting, but pensive films like Arrival (2016) and Sicario (2015), showcases his love for isolation themes with this film.
A replicant named K, played by Ryan Gosling, is a blade runner who hunts down rogue replicants. He finds a box that contains the body parts of a replicant who died during childbirth, an occurrence that defies the theory that replicants are sterile. This discovery leads him on a journey to find the child and its father.
This movie is confection for the eyes, as Villeneuve serves up a picturesque landscape at every turn. Dystopian deserts are regaled with gorgeous monuments and glossy cities never sleep, as our characters play out the noir tension at an even pace. Harrison Ford comes back as Deckard and in many (good) ways it feels like he’s never left.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Director: Luc Besson // Cast: Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan, Rihanna
Many will remember Luc Besson’s previous quirky sci-fi blockbuster,The Fifth Element (1997). Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets takes that eccentricity and cranks it up to eleven. It’s the 28th Century and the International Space Station has grown too big so it is shot out into deep space. Over time it becomes a planet of its own with inhabitants from a thousand planets working and living in its nooks and crannies. Major Valerian and his companion Sergeant Laureline are two of the many guardians that police this world.
In a far off place an entire species of creatures faces a catastrophic event that destroys their planet, but not before one of them sends out a telepathic signal into Valerian’s mind. Cue a tumbling out of whopping events and thus begins a film full of non-stop action and entertaining escapist fare. Besson fashions a beautiful environment of inter-dimensional travel and it’s awe-inspiring to witness. Aliens populate a great deal of the screen time, popping up wherever they can, but the story’s true strength lies in the humanity of its characters.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos // Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone
In keeping with unconventional sci-fi, Yorgos Lanthimos is a filmmaker that stretches and subverts the genre into his own unique direction. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is partly inspired by Greek mythology and set in a place where language is a stilted means of communication. It’s hard to explain, but let’s get to it.
Steven is a cardiac surgeon who takes a lost teen boy, Martin, under his paternal wing. Together with his wife Anna and two kids, Kim and Bob, he leads a simple life. However, after Martin is introduced to Steven’s family a dark secret and its catastrophic consequences are revealed. Kim and Bob become paralyzed as a result, even though they are medically healthy. Eventually, Steven is forced to face a rather difficult, but necessary choice in the name of survival.
I would say more, but that would mean spoiling the fun.. The odd acting and the idiosyncratic linguistics in this film’s dialogue, a Lanthimos trait, are incredibly compelling and startlingly humorous.
Director: Daniel Espinosa // Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada
The Pilgrim 7 probe returns to the International Space Station (ISS) from its mission to Mars. In a sample from the probe, a microscopic creature is discovered (they endearingly name it Calvin), proving that life can exist on other planets. Celebrations about the discovery soon sour after their extra-terrestrial guest begins to display disturbing and eventually deadly behaviors.
There are elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but by the second act, things turn into horror, much like Event Horizon (1997). Jake Gylllenhaal and Hiroyuki Sanada contribute some suspense-building performances, all which are served up in the floating scariness of a spaceship. This is director Daniel Espinosa’s first film set in a sci-fi environment, and he succeeds with this turn. He manages to keep the atmosphere tense and momentous with this intelligent thriller. Viewers will be clinging on to their seats wondering what will be coming at them next and leaving with a sense of, “This could actually happen!”
Director: Ridley Scott // Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
The Alien franchise has been going on strong for almost thirty years. Lately, Ridley Scott has returned to add more to the mythos that surrounds his H.R. Giger-styled monsters. In this current sequel of the prequels, the story focuses on the colonizing ship Covenant on its way to a remote planet called Origae-6. Once there, the crew will create a new chapter for humankind. Things go deliciously haywire when some of the crew are infected by alien spores.
Alien: Convenant keeps audiences on its toes and answers the questions they’ve had since the first film. We learn more about the origins of the Xenomorphs and their relationship to humans. Yet it is with the philosophical dialogues between David, the android from the ship Prometheus, and Walter, a newer model that the film really draws the audience in. The twists and turns are accentuated by the same blood and gore we are used to, but Scott infuses it with his signature epic style.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves // Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller
With the inception of a new Planet of the Apes trilogy, directors have taken steps to bring the simian world of the originals into the new age. Caesar, the ape that first learned to talk, has been living peacefully with his fellow apes in the forest after the failed Koba revolution. Since then the military has kept its distance, but a rebel band of paramilitaries called, Alpha-Omega, led by a crazed man called The Colonel, attack the ape community. A counter-attack ensues and the apes must stand up to fight once again.
A CGI-enhanced and motion-captured Andy Serkis is back as Caesar and is joined by Woody Harrelson as the Colonel. Director Matt Reeves pays subtle tribute to the past films with names like Nova and Cornelius. They aren’t the original characters exactly, but their appearance makes for a fascinating discussion in Planet of the Apes-lore. This enriches the story of the films, new and old, and brings these films into the now. It’s a blockbuster of special effects, but the film is so well written that the audience will forget the effects and get lost in its visual splendor.
Director: Bong Joon-ho // Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyeon Ahn
Science fiction as commentary on the world of today is a long running thread. Okja takes us into a possible future in human consumption all the while revealing a basic truth in humanity. The Mirando Corporation, headed by Lucy Mirando, has grown a species of environmentally friendly super pig. Mija has grown up and become friends with Okja, one of the super pigs up in the mountains of South Korea. The Mirando Corporation arrives to meet Okja and names her the best super pig. Mija follows Okja to Seoul intending to free her and soon realizes that all is not as it seems.
With an ensemble of A-list actors at her side, actress Ahn Seo-hyun steals every scene she’s in with an intensely sensitive portrayal as Mija. Performances by Jake Gyllenhaal as a crazed animal scientist and Tilda Swinton as the neurotic Lucy balance out this film of good versus evil versus those with just good intentions. The movie will make the audience think twice about where their food is coming from and to read media, especially social media, with a speculative mind. The film is a layered think-piece, but an entertaining one at that. Okja competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Directors: Caroline Labrèche, Steeve Léonard // Cast: Diego Klattenhoff, Charlotte Sullivan, Brett Donahue
This independent film looks like an every day drama from the poster and the first few scenes, but it succeeds in becoming one of the most acclaimed science fiction films of 2017. The plot is simple: a man wakes up from a car crash with amnesia. He heads into town for help and finds dead people around him with weird white eyes.
As a sci-fi film Radius doesn’t display any exotic locales and has very minimal special effects. However, as our protagonist peels back the layers of his personal mysteries, supernatural and possibly alien forces come to forefront. The directorial team of Labrèche and Léonard paint the background in a greenish ethereal hue even though the film is set on modern day Earth. The plot starts as a detective story, but really flourishes as a commentary on how memory is so important to our identity and how itis so intrinsically intermingled with our genetically programmed predilections. A must-see film if you’re into obscure sci-fi.