10 potentially great sci-fi movies coming in 2012

From big-budget Hollywood tentpoles to tiny indie features, 2012 is full of sci-fi. Here are 10 potentially great genre films due to land next year...

As you’ve probably gathered, 2012 is an absolutely gigantic year for geek movies. From The Muppets arriving in the UK at the beginning of the year, via The Dark Knight Rises in the summer, to the first Hobbit movie near its end, 2012 is so packed full of potentially great films, we’re not quite sure how we’ll find the time to watch them all.

Next year’s also a promising one for sci-fi fanatics. And as this list aims to prove, there are some genuinely intriguing genre films coming out in 2012, from low-budget oddities to expensive epics. In compiling a run-down of the ten SF movies we’re most looking forward to, then, we’ve tried to weight it in favour of the less well-known pictures that we think deserve a little more exposure.

So bear in mind that, although we’re looking forward to, say, Battleship, The Hunger Games or Men In Black 3, we’ve decided to highlight some less obvious indie fare instead – and as this year’s Another Earth once again proved, it’s from this side of the moviemaking fence that the best ideas and performances often hail.

Chronicle Released: 1 February

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“What are you capable of?” asked the trailer for this mash-up of found-footage movie and sci-fi superhero thriller. It’s about a group of teenagers who possess telekinetic powers that gradually increase in destructive strength. Hollywood may be busily converting the classic Akira for western audiences, but it looks as though director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis may have beaten them to it; as the youths use their new-found abilities to pull off various pranks, one of their group begins to display a murderous appetite for destruction, a bit like Tetsuo in Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal anime.

The trailer that arrived last month placed Chronicle high up on our must-watch list, and while we’re growing a little weary of the found footage genre, the grungy, quasi-realism of Trank’s movie could make for a great alternative to next year’s glossier comicbook movies. There are some fantastic images and special effects in here, too, including a fantastic bit where half a dozen police cars are swept away by a gigantic telekinetic wave, and an amusing moment where a child is menaced by a floating teddy bear.

After that trailer, Chronicle went from being a film we’d barely heard of to one we’re eagerly anticipating.

John CarterReleased: 9 March

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We’ve already written lots and lots about John Carter in previous posts, but that’s because we’ve every faith that director Andrew Stanton can pull this one off. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original John Carter books inspired an entire generation of writers and filmmakers, and movies such as Star Wars and Avatar can all be traced back to his much-loved pulp adventures.

Stanton has a rich well-spring of inspiration to draw on, then, in this tall tale about Carter, an American Civil War veteran who ends up fighting exotic creatures and falling love with a princess on Mars. The special effects look stunning, and the director’s experience in computer animation really shows here, with Willem Defoe unrecognisable under a layer of pixels as Carter’s 12-foot-tall alien ally, Tars Tarkas.

A rip-roaring pulp yarn, John Carter doesn’t boast the fascinating concepts of some of the other sci-fi movies on this list, but its spectacle alone makes this one of our most anticipated movies of 2012.

LockoutReleased: 13 April

Luc Besson co-wrote and produced this action thriller, which looks rather like Escape From New York relocated to an orbiting space station. Guy Pearce is the laconic, cigarette-smoking hero, who gets a shot at freedom when he’s tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter, played by Maggie Grace. 

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Everything points to a fun, breezy and pleasingly retro adventure – the international trailer released last week even features lots of blazing laser cannons (it feels like ages since we’ve seen one of those in a genre film), and Pearce looks to be on form as a wise-cracking, unreconstructed hero.

It’s also thought that Lockout will get an R rating in the US, so it’s likely to be one of the more violent, sweary movies on this list.PrometheusReleased: 1 June

Ridley Scott makes what we hope will be a triumphant return to the sci-fi genre with Prometheus. Scott and his fellow filmmakers may have been reluctant to describe this as a prequel to Alien, but whatever its relationship to that 1979 classic proves to be, we’re clamouring to see it. Filling in the history of the Space Jockeys, the creators of the strange, horseshoe-shaped ship carrying the xenomorph eggs in Alien, Prometheus stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron as a group of explorers who encounter something nightmarish on the edge of space.

One of the most secretive film productions we’ve seen in years, the few bits of information Fox has divulged have been quite encouraging. Scott’s built some huge and spectacular-looking sets for Prometheus, which gives us hope that the film doesn’t suffer from the same depressing over-use of green screens and digital sets that made the Star Wars prequels look so cold and unengaging.

If we could pick fault with anything, though, the promo pictures released a couple of weeks ago showed Rapace and her fellow actors looking extremely polished and air-brushed, though, with Fassbender displaying the sort of slick, well-oiled side-parting you’d expect to see on a 30s matinee idol – we were rather hoping that Prometheus would have the same battered, lived-in look as Alien. Maybe the characters’ extra-terrestrial encounters will leave them looking rather less pristine.Total RecallReleased: 22 August

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Like last year’s The Thing prequel, Total Recall’s one of those movies that some might argue shouldn’t be made. Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original is a fondly-remembered action staple, even if it is rather less mordantly satirical than his other sci-fi masterpieces, RoboCop and Starship Troopers.

It’s evident, though, that director Len Wiseman’s trying to do something different with his version of Total Recall. For one thing, Doug Quaid (played by Colin Farrell) won’t be getting his ass to Mars this time, with his identity crisis adventures taking place in future city on Earth. What we appear to be looking at, then, is a sort of futuristic Bourne Identity, with Farrell running around trying to discover the facts behind his erased past.

Various images, both official and otherwise, have shown off some rather cool-looking floating cars and stylish sets, and from a visual standpoint, Total Recall 2012 looks more like Minority Report than Verhoeven’s bloodthirsty blockbuster. If you’re still not convinced, there’s still the presence of the great Bryan Cranston to consider; he’s stepping into Ronny Cox’s old shoes as sneering corporate bad guy, Vilos Cohaagen. Even if this Total Recall can’t match the brilliance of the 90s Schwarzenegger vehicle, at least we know it’ll have a highly watchable villain.

LooperReleased: 28 September

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There are many reasons to look forward to this time-travel sci-fi thriller. First, it’s written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom). Second, its cast is excellent, and includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, who play the same character at two different points in time.

And then there’s the premise itself, which sounds complicated yet fascinating – so complicated, in fact, that we’ll let the filmmakers’ synopsis do the explaining: “The story takes place in a world where a crime syndicate can send their enemies back in time and a group of killers known as ‘loopers’ eliminate those enemies, so there’s no evidence of the murder in the crime syndicate’s present time.”

Johnson apparently worked with Shane Carruth on the script, which might explain why it sounds so intricate – Carruth was responsible for the brain-melting yet fantastic Primer, after all. Looper sounds like a twist on such films as Twelve Monkeys (or going further back, the film that inspired Gilliam, 1962’s La Jetée), and if it’s anywhere near as good as those, then we’ll be very happy indeed.

GravityReleased: 19 October

Sci-fi cinema seems to be producing fewer and fewer space-based movies these days – maybe it’s the retirement of the NASA space shuttle that’s to blame. At any rate, the space station setting of Gravity is one of the reasons we’re so excited about it – the presence of Alfonso Cuarón at the helm is another. After the stunning Children Of Men, we’re anxious to see what he does next, and by all accounts (not least the director’s chum, Guillermo del Toro), Gravity is just as grand and ambitious as that dystopian classic.

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George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as a pair of astronauts who find themselves trapped on a crippled space station after it’s struck by debris. With Cuarón’s talent for constructing mind-blowing set-pieces and unforgettable images, this slight race-against-time thriller template could provide the springboard for one of the best-looking movies of 2012.

Cloud AtlasReleased: 26 October

It’s been a while since the Wachowski brothers had a box-office hit, but maybe this unusual sci-fi epic will change their fortunes. Based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, it’s a sprawling tale with six interweaving story lines set across different ages in history. The cast is quite remarkable: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Jim Broadbent are among the stars, who play multiple characters in each plot strand. Halle Berry, for example, plays a 70s journalist, a Jewish woman living in the 1930s, and a member of an advanced race from the 6th century.

The reaction to a six minute preview of Cloud Atlas screened in LA earlier this year was highly positive, and its distributor has described it as “phantasmagorical” and “unlike anything I’ve seen in 40 years in this business”. We do wonder about its chances at the box-office, though, particularly when one considers the unfortunate history behind Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, a similarly sprawling sci-fi parable that, after a troubled production, eventually made a disappointing $16 million return on its $35 million budget.

It’s also been said that some actors will not only play multiple characters in Cloud Atlas, but also characters of different races and genders – we’re not sure how well that will come across in the finished film. Tom Hanks dressed as a woman? Susan Sarandon with a beard? It could be the weirdest sci-fi flick since Zardoz.

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With a budget of $100 million drawn together from international investors (Hollywood financiers thought the project too risky), Cloud Atlas sounds big, bold and ambitious. It could be a triumph or a catastrophe. However it turns out, Cloud Atlas certainly sounds intriguing.

Iron SkyReleased: TBA

Nazis in space, flying saucers, and Udo Kier. Iron Sky sounds like great fun, and its makers should be applauded for embarking on such a grand idea on an indie budget. Made for just £6.5 million, Iron Sky bring us lunar bases on the dark side of the moon and huge invading space armadas.

Iron Sky also represents a growing trend in independent filmmaking: crowdfunding. As well as traditional investors, the money for the film’s been raised via merchandise sales and pre-orders. It’s one example of a project that’s used social media to drum up interest and support – its trailer’s been a huge hit on YouTube, and Iron Sky’s due out in Japan, France and much of Europe in 2012, with UK and US release date still to be confirmed. Its Finnish premiere, meanwhile, is on the 4th of April.

The more support Iron Sky gets, the more quickly we’ll get to see it – there’s every reason, then, to visit the film’s website and find out how you can get involved.

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The CosmonautReleased: TBA

Like Iron Sky, The Cosmonaut is an indie sci-fi funded by donations and advertising as well as traditional investments. Made for an absolutely tiny £735,000 (or thereabouts), the film is from Spanish director Nicolás Alcalá, and covers the apparent disappearance of a Soviet cosmonaut during a trip to the moon.

Shortly after the explorer’s empty ship is found seven months later, a childhood friend begins to receive strange radio signals, apparently from the cosmonaut, saying that he’s returned to Earth, and found it to be completely deserted. It’s a great-sounding idea, and sounds very much Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a film Alcalá cites as an influence.

Unlike the other films on this list, The Cosmonaut won’t be released theatrically, but made available on the Internet. But while it’s the smallest movie in this run-down, it’s nevertheless among our most anticipated, based on its premise alone. We just hope both The Cosmonaut and Iron Sky get the attention they deserve, and will that they’ll inspire other filmmakers to bring their own unique science fiction ideas to the screen.

See also:The top 25 must-see movies of 2012

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