Science Fiction in Films: A Great Discovery
Science fiction isn’t easily defined, but in determining the top 35 sci-fi movies of the last 20 years, we’ve done our best. No fantasy-centric superhero movies here, same goes for space-borne fantasies like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”; for an action, horror, or animated movie to make it onto this list, it needs to be firmly rooted in sci-fi origins.
And let’s get this out of the way: While we adore these films and consider them among the very best of the century, we decided they didn’t qualify or were better suited for a different list: “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Gravity,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Holy Motors,” and “Battle Royale.” Drum roll, please. In 123movies tv you can have the best choices now.
With one room and $50,000, director James Ward Byrkit showed there are no limits to what’s possible in the sci-fi genre. A filmmaking lesson in activating offscreen space and building mystery into the unseen, the story centers around eight friends gathered for a dinner party when a comet swooshes overhead, kills the electricity, and opens up a portal for the dinner guests to pass into other realities, which take the form of nearby houses that mirror the one they are in (low-budget problem-solving 101).
Byrkit keeps the rules of his world digestible: They don’t interfere with our involvement in the drama, which does a great job of presenting the characters with existential questions that you can’t help but ponder for yourself.
Jeff Nichols’ remarkable filmmaking career has been marked by deeply felt, refreshingly sincere films that place human experience and emotion at the forefront. On the surface, a sci-fi feature like “Midnight Special” might not sound like the right vessel for such work, but Nichols’ film uses the best tropes of the genre to tell a new story that feels richly lived in and very satisfying.
Featuring his frequent leading man, Michael Shannon, “Midnight Special” evokes classic sci-fi features like “Starman” and “Close Encounters,” all mixed up with road outings and an added dash of supernatural mystery. Shannon plays devoted dad Roy, who has recently liberated his gifted son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a religious cult that’s built its beliefs around his very special powers. The pair go on the road with an old friend (Joel Edgerton) and Alton’s mom (Kirsten Dunst), in an attempt to reach a very special destination and, oh yeah, escape the scads of government officials that are after them. It’s tense, taunt, and emotional, with a creative sci-fi bent that speaks to an ever-evolving genre.
Despite its quick logline — it’s a superhero movie about a Black woman! — Julia Hart’s winsome and wise “Fast Color” hardly fits into the superhero movie mold that the MCU and DCEU have hammered into place over the past two decades. Instead, it’s really, as IndieWire’s own Eric Kohn put it in his review, “an allegorical story about generations of Black women who are forced to suppress their strengths, and the mounting courage they find in finally taking charge.”
The superhero stuff might be cool (and it is), but the film is less a “superhero movie” than it is a sci-fi-inflected, incredibly earnest exploration of seizing your own power and using it, truly, for good. Bolstered by a class act cast that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth (our primary heroine), Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, and David Strathairn, Hart ably turns a heartfelt family drama into a soaring sci-fi feature that’s built on real ingenuity.
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