They call it science fiction, but only too rarely does the cinematic genre tackle a subject which focuses primarily on the science. Thankfully, the US authorities have just built a secret subterranean research facility for exactly such eventualities. Buy, rent or watch 'The Andromeda Strain'. Colin Clive brings fierce conviction to the role of re-animator Baron Frankenstein and the lab design remains a wonder.
Kudos to English theatre director James Whale for highlighting this startling contradiction in a film with an incalculable influence on subsequent genre cinema. Buy, rent or watch 'Frankenstein'. For good or for ill, producer Alexander Korda allowed HG Wells to have creative control over this future-gazing epic and adaptation of his own novel — marking a rare occasion when a literary sci-fi giant has guided their own work on celluloid. To start, he uncannily predicts the ravages of enemy air raids in , then maps out decades of subsequent carnage and disease before a new breed of utopian technocrats put mankind back on track — at the expense of wiping out all resistance.
His absolute certainty that science will provide a better tomorrow delivers an antiseptically dull fate for us.
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Buy, rent or watch 'Things to Come'. The concept-heavy film takes us quite literally inside the mind of year-old Riley. Buy, rent or watch 'The Iron Giant'. Chris Pine is perfectly broody as Captain Kirk, while Zachary Quinto adds an added layer of pathos to his interpretation of Spock. Buy, rent or watch 'Star Trek'. But beneath the layers of hi-tech delirium and political intrigue lies a fairly simple idea: that human identity is a function of memory, and so in theory indistinguishable from a digital hard drive.
A strange and subtle work of anime. Buy, rent or watch 'Ghost in the Shell'. So, so much style. But, typically, Cameron went and did it bigger and better than anyone else. The results are awe-inspiring, especially in 3D, bagging the film Oscars for Cinematography, Visual Effects and Art Direction, as well as helping it claim the title of the highest grossing movie of all time at the box office. This, of course, helped Cameron realise that there should be numerous sequels there are four more movies currently being worked on.
Buy, rent or watch 'Avatar'. Big-scale moviemaking embroidered with small human moments and done on 'Avatar's canteen budget, 'Arrival' is the kind of cerebral sci-fi moviemaking that scores its director a gig like, say, 'Blade Runner ' or 'Dune'. Director Denis Villeneuve that marries the cool intellectualism of Kubrick and the heart of Spielberg in a deceptively simple story of communication, family and the need to find common ground in the face of catastrophe.
Buy, rent or watch 'Arrival'.
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But there's still so much of the movie that really does work: the sail barge escape from Jabba the Hut is glorious swashbuckling action at its finest, the speeder bike chase through the forests of Endor is full-throttle fun and the monumental three-way climax is a Wagnerian crescendo that caps this trilogoy of the series in fine style. Buy, rent or watch 'Return of the Jedi'. Of course, once it was out in the world the whole thing made some kind of twisted, outrageous sense, and it still does. And yet somehow this Technicolor tale of heroic muscle-bound lunks, preening goateed villains, boisterous bird-men Blessed sealed his reputation here , hapless maidens and doomed Blue Peter presenters works like a charm.
Buy, rent or watch 'Flash Gordon'.
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No money? No problem. Writer-director-star Cory McAbee used imaginative dodges — such as action sequences filmed as musical numbers in silhouette — to make up for a relatively small budget of between one and two million dollars the exact figure remains sketchy. What major Hollywood star would have felt more at home with the idea of total self-transformation than Rock Hudson?
It also benefits from arguably the greatest opening title sequence in film history: a warped kaleidoscope of malformed flesh — directed, of course, by the legendary Saul Bass. Buy, rent or watch 'Seconds'. The Victorian age was an unprecedented time of scientific discovery, where the impossible was being made possible with every new invention — just like magic. But at what cost? Christopher Nolan pulls a rabbit out of the hat with a gripping, suspenseful ta-da finish.
Buy, rent or watch 'The Prestige'. It all started here. The sprawling multimedia soap opera that is the Marvel movie series now dominates our summer viewing and our end-of-year box office charts — with no signs of slowing.
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Buy, rent or watch 'Iron Man'. Buy, rent or watch 'Westworld'. The setup — Arctic scientists find something vast and otherworldly buried in the ice — is magical, and the script doctored by an uncredited Howard Hawks, king of the masculine-archetypes-in-peril movie fizzes with invention. Best of all, director Christian Nyby creates a genuinely irksome sense of impending dread, keeping the creature in shadow for much of the film.
Buy, rent or watch 'The War of the Worlds'. The sci-fi set-up is mostly an excuse for Woody to indulge some fairly slapstick physical comedy revolving around a man quite literally out of time and place. But when the project goes awry, Ridder finds himself lost in time, reliving the breakdown of his relationship with early-model Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Catrine Georges-Picot. In the unnamed urban sprawl of the title, a killer is on the loose.
Starting from a simple murder mystery and building inexorably outwards from there, Proyas introduces us to a world where — in that overused but here entirely appropriate phrase — nothing is as it seems. The ending is a stone-cold brain-melter. With his follow-up, writer-director George Miller went all out: the world is now a dustbowl populated by rampaging mutants, petrified normals and one brutal lawgiver, and they all have one thing in common — a lust for the black gold. It opens with engineering works at the fictional Hobbs End Underground station, where workers uncover the remains of early human ancestors.
Excavation on the site reveals what the army believe is a massive, unexploded World War Two bomb. But not even the Nazis masterminded explosives containing insectoid alien dwarfs with horns…. The result is one of the great communal movie-going experiences of the modern age, and a gauntlet thrown down to all future sci-fi blockbuster directors: get real, or go home.
Buy, rent or watch 'Gravity'. Regardless, the film found a passionate audience, one that dug the lanky, thoughtful style of breakout newcomer Jake Gyllenhaal and his equally appealing older sister Maggie. The plot concerns alternate realities, personal sacrifice, a fateful Halloween party and, yes, Sparkle Motion. Buy, rent or watch 'Donnie Darko'. The most controversial film on this list? But most of all we love it for its ambition: how a movie this dense, allusive, thematically complex, ridiculously pricey and just downright weird ever got made is impossible to imagine, but thank the Maker that it did.
Buy, rent or watch 'Dune'. Buy, rent or watch 'The Time Machine'. So few films stand entirely alone. Buy, rent or watch 'Repo Man'. Make Room! Where our food comes from today is more shady and dystopian than ever. Show this one to an organics-only freak you love. Buy, rent or watch 'Soylent Green'.
The most renowned anime film made outside Studio Ghibli opens with an apparent nuclear explosion in Tokyo, ends with a Big Bang and hardly lets up in between. The plot is far too unwieldy to be summarised here; suffice to say that it involves biker gangs, wrinkled little children and psychokinetic mutants wreaking havoc in a post-apocalyptic Japan. Buy, rent or watch 'Akira'.
All of which gave screenwriting brothers Jim and John Thomas an idea…. With Sly tied up with 'Rocky V', Arnie stepped in to play Dutch, the military tough guy who takes his top team of wisecracking mercenaries into the Latin American jungle to rescue American hostages, before terrorists turn out to be the least of their problems. But of course the climax sees Old Ironballs taking the creature on single-handed, duking it out in the mud, mano-a-mano.
Buy, rent or watch 'Predator'. The world that the characters inhabit, at once futuristic and primordial, looks like a cross between Tatooine and a Dali dreamscape: dinosaurs mingle with tentacled aliens while headless humanoid statues abruptly spring to life.