The year’s nearly half over, and we’ve already experienced a range of genre movies, some great, some less so.
But with the summer season finally here and about six months left before the terrifying prospect of 2015 hoves into view, there are still plenty more science fiction offerings to be found in a cinema near you.
Here’s a pick of 11 of our favourites, plus a selection of honourable mentions at the end, which includes films that don’t yet have a firm release date in the US or UK.
Edge Of Tomorrow
In terms of sheer entertainment value, Edge Of Tomorrow could be this summer’s dark horse. That it’s based on a relatively obscure Japanese novel (All You Need Is Kill – the film’s original, far less generic title) might make it something of an underdog in a season more typically dominated by superheroes, but Edge Of Tomorrow provide a satisfying burst of big-screen entertainment.
Tom Cruise stars as a soldier fighting an alien invasion, who dies on the battlefield and is forced to return to the same fateful day again and again until he can find a way to win the war. The exo-suit designs and action sequences look thoroughly solid from what we’ve seen, but it’s the casting that intrigues us most. Cruise’s talent as a leading man is somewhat taken for granted of late, and he’s the perfect fit for Edge Of Tomorrow’s high-concept premise.
It’s great to see Emily Blunt cast in a tough, prominent role, too – she teams up with Cruise to defeat the aliens – and we’re also excited to see the great Bill Paxton in an Aliens-type military role.
Release date: 30th May in the UK, 6th June in the US
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes emerged as one of summer cinema’s most pleasant surprises in 2011. Successfully reviving a series that had remained dormant since Tim Burton’s disappointing Planet Of The Apes a decade earlier, it was technically remarkable, intelligently made and ended on a daringly bleak note.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes picks up the thread years later, with much of humanity swept away by disease and its remainder teetering on the brink of war with an army of intelligent apes led by the first film’s hero, Caesar. Matt Reeves is the director this time around (replacing Rise’s Rupert Wyatt), with Andy Serkis and Terry Notary returning as the motion-captured apes, while Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell are among the human cast.
The sequel has much to live up to, but the trailer hints at a balanced and weighty mix of post-apocalyptic war film and decidedly hairy drama.
Release date: 11th July in the US, 17th July in the UK.
Following on from the admirably ambitious and sometimes enthralling Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis (minus co-director Tom Tkywer) are back in slightly more commercial territory with Jupiter Ascending – a kitsch, high-tech sci-fi fairytale starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. Kunis plays a toilet cleaner who discovers that she has a genetic birthright that could make her queen of the universe (or something), while Channing Tatum plays a half man, half wolf who becomes her protector.
As you can tell, it’s all quite eccentric for a summer movie, but whether it’s a hit for the Wachowskis or not, it’s clear that Jupiter Ascending will be anything but bland. Eddie Redmayne plays a preening, shouting villain, and in one explicable scene captured in the trailer above, Mila Kunis appears to control a swarm of bees. Den Of Geek favourite Sean Bean also stars, and there’s even a cameo from Terry Gilliam.
Release date: 18th July in the US, 25th July in the UK.
The Purge: Anarchy
Writer-director James DeMonaco’s The Purge was far from perfect, but it had lots going for it, not least its premise: in a future America, the population’s violent tendencies are kept in check by the promise of an annual jamboree called the Purge, in which every citizen has 12 years to commit whatever crimes they choose, consequence-free. It’s a bit like when Activision releases a Call Of Duty game each November.
The Purge: Anarchy takes this premise from the decidedly interior, claustrophobic setting of a plush house and out onto the streets of Los Angeles, where a young couple (played by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) must survive a 12 hour onslaught of chaos and violence. If The Purge channelled the spirit of John Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13, DeMonaco’s sequel seems vaguely reminiscent of Walter Hill’s The Warriors.
DeMonaco’s only had a year to get Anarchy into cinemas, which is a bit of a tight turnaround, but he proved adept at staging scenes of tension and horror in The Purge, and he may yet improve on that with his sequel.
Release date: 18th July in the US, 25th July in the UK.
Transformers: Age Of Extinction
You’ll probably know what to expect from Michael Bay’s latest explosions-and-robots extravaganza. With a new cast and the addition of the Dinobots, there’s still a chance that Bay might change the formula up a bit this time around. The slow-motion explosions are still present and correct, though.
Release date: 27th June in the US, 10th July in the UK.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
If there’s one expensive science fiction film practically guaranteed to make a box-office splash this summer, it’s Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. What makes this sprawling space opera so exciting is Marvel Studios’ willingness to take a chance on a director less than versed in large-budget filmmaking (Slither and Super writer/director James Gunn) and let him make his own swaggering, anarchic take on the comic book material.
The result is a film that appears to contain all the crashes and bangs we’d expect from a Marvel film, but with a welcome dose of knowing humour. Reflecting the plot, which sees a group of rogues form to create the most unlikely saviours of the galaxy you could think of, Guardians’ cast list is delightfully eclectic: Chris Pratt stars as the outlaw Peter Quill (also known as Star-Lord), backed by Zoe Saldana, former wrestler Dave Bautista, while Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper provide the voices of walking tree Groot and Rocket the raccoon respectively. Among the rest of the cast, there’s Glenn Close, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillen, John C Reilly, Benicio del Toro and Lee Pace.
Can James Gunn make a film to match the feel-good quality of Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s trailers? We remain highly optimistic. A superhero movie that wants to have fun could be just the tonic this summer.
Release date: 31st July in the UK, 1st August in the US.
At the opposite end of the SF movie spectrum, we have David Michod’s The Rover. Michod made his name internationally with the acclaimed and mercilessly bleak Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom. There’s a similarly sharp tone to The Rover, a futuristic thriller which takes place in the Australian outback. Guy Pearce stars as an embittered hero who’s lost everything – including his car (not, sadly, a Rover), when it’s stolen by a vicious gang. When one of those criminal scumbags leaves one of their number behind (played by Robert Pattinson), Pearce employs the young lout’s help as he pursues the thieves.
With its cars and dusty, post-apocalyptic feel , comparisons with the seminal Mad Max are inevitable, but Michod appears to be going for something far more low-key and despairing here – think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road crossed with a particularly moody episode of Home & Away.
Release date: 15th August in the UK.
Scarlett Johansson’s already starred in one science fiction film so far this year, and it was an absolutely corking one: Jonathan Glazer’s unique, button-pushing space oddity, Under The Skin, with a superb and brave performance from Johansson as a predatory alien. The actress plays a powerful being of a different kind in Lucy, a sci-fi action thriller from Luc Besson.
As the title character, Scarlett Johansson gets to strut around with guns, kick bad guys around prison chambers and show off all kinds of other paranormal powers after she’s infected with some kind of experimental drug. The result looks like a mix of Besson’s action back catalogue, as well as such recent genre fare as Chronicle, Limitless and maybe a bit of Nicolas Winding Refn – a scene where Johansson stabs South Korean actor Choi Min-sik in both knees even recalls Refn’s polarising revenge nightmare, Only God Forgives.
Lucy doesn’t exactly look subtle, but it’s great to see Johansson taking on the lead role in an action movie – we’re still waiting on that Black Widow spin-off – and with Besson’s form in the genre, we could be in for a late-summer treat here.
Release date: 8th August in the US, 22nd August in the UK.
Monsters: Dark Continent
Monsters director Gareth Edwards may have headed off to pastures new with Godzilla, but that hasn’t stopped Vertigo Entertainment from producing a sequel to his 2010 indie breakout. With a change of director (Misfits‘ Tom Green takes over from Edwards) comes a change of genre, with the road trip romance of Monsters giving way to what appears to be a Starship Troopers in Africa-type action premise.
Joe Dempsie, Sofia Boutella and Johnny Harris star, and the special effects look extremely good from what we’ve seen so far. There are hints in the synopsis, meanwhile, that Dark Continent won’t be all gung-ho slaughter; that title hints at a link to Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, and like the 2010 Monsters, this could prove to be far more thought-provoking than your average creature feature.
Release date: 26th September in the UK.
As we wrote a short while ago in these very pages, Interstellar could well prove to be something of a departure for director Christopher Nolan. He’s said in early interviews that his sci-fi odyssey is his own take on the golden age of blockbusters, as pioneered by Steven Spielberg – and Interstellar could well be Nolan’s own Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Not that Interstellar and Close Encounters share a common storyline, but they do both appear to have a similar balance of familial drama and cosmic awe.
Matthew McConaughey plays a pilot, engineer and family man who discovers that, as crops around the world fail for unspecified reasons, he may have to leave his children behind in order to save them. At the behest of a posh scientist (Michael Caine), he heads out in a space shuttle with Wes Bentley and Anne Hathaway, and by travelling through a wormhole in space, hopes to find salvation for humanity out there among the stars.
Interstellar’s second trailer is light on space travel and heavy on homestead drama, but we suspect that the always-secretive Nolan has something far more grand and mind-expanding in store than he’s currently letting on.
Release date: 7th November in the US and UK.
Back in 2011, we were lucky enough to see writer and director William Eubank’s Love, a lonely, beautifully-shot sci-fi film made for just $500,000. If Stanley Kubrick had made 2001: A Space Odyssey in his back garden, it probably would have looked something like this.
The Signal is Eubank’s second feature, and it looks like a more commercial outing for the director, while still retaining his talent for poetic visuals. Like Luc Besson’s Lucy, The Signal’s about an ordinary human being given extraordinary abilities, and there are shades of the classic Akira in here, as well as the gritty, hardware-heavy SF of Neill Blomkamp.
We aren’t short of films about people with superpowers these days, but with Eubank’s involvement in The Signal – and his suggestion that it’s inspired by the twist-heavy plotting of The Twilight Zone – suggests that there’s far more to his film than initially meets the eye.
Release date: 13th June in the US. UK date currently unavailable.
In 2012, Mike Cahill brought us the meditative sci-fi drama, Another Earth. It was a great debut, and I Origins looks equally intriguing. Like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, I Origins follows a scientist’s obsessive search for answers: in this instance, an investigation into the evolution of the human eye leads to a discovery that could change our understanding of the universe.
Early word suggests that Cahill’s served up a great piece of work here – “the best science versus faith film since Contact, says Slash Film – and that it has far more twist-laden things going on in it than the trailer above is willing to give away. Brit Marling, who was excellent in Another Earth, stars again here. We’re very much looking forward to this one getting a UK theatrical release.
Release date: 18th July in the US. UK release date currently unavailable.
Snowpiercer – Bong Joon-ho’s magnificent 2013 dystopia, still awaiting a US and UK release date.
The Congress – a sumptuous mix of live-action and animation from Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman. Like Snowpiercer, it came out in 2013 in some territories. No wider release date announced yet.
The Giver – there’s the promise of director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Salt) behind this futuristic dystopia, plus a cast which includes Jeff Bridge and Meryl Streep. Based on Lois Lowry’s children’s novel of the same name, it’s about a future society where crime and disease have been eradicated, but at the cost of individuality or privacy. Out on the 15th August in America, The Giver doesn’t appear to have a UK release date yet. We do know that it features an appearance from pop Taylor Swift, though, so that’s something.
Ex Machina – Writer Alex Garland has great form in science fiction, having previously written the screenplays for 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go (adapted from the novel of the same name) and of course, Dredd. Ex Machina is Garland’s directorial debut, and it stars Domhnall Gleeson (set to appear in Star Wars: Episode VII), Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander; the latter plays an artificially intelligent robot, while Isaac plays a billionaire programmer who hires Gleeson’s character to engage in some form of test with said robot. Ex Machina’s tentatively scheduled for release this year, and if a firm release date comes through, we’ll update you accordingly.
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