This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Did you see Coherence? Or maybe Predestination? They’re but two examples of relatively low-budget, original genre films that were both beautifully made and endlessly watchable. What they lacked in expensive special effects they more than made up for in mesmerising concepts and superb performances, whether it was from a cast of relative unknowns in Coherence or the perfect pairing of Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook in Predestination.
Only time will tell whether 2016 will play host to films as good as those, but we have to say, there are some potentially great sci-fi films on the horizon this year. Some have generous budgets and top-line casts, others are independently produced. For different reasons, all look well worth keeping an eye on…
Even in the distant future, at a point where we’ve managed to colonize other planets far away from our own, our technology will still have a tendency to go wrong.
Case in point: a malfunctioning cryosleep pod is the flashpoint for Passengers, the next film from Headhunters and The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum. Said malfunction sees one of the occupants of a transport ship (Chris Pratt’s Jim Preston) destined for a distant colony waking up decades too early; faced with the dreary prospect of spending years alone in a huge, probably rather cold vessel, the passenger wakes up another occupant (Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora) to keep them company.
Screenwriter Jon Spaihts’ interstellar romance will also star Michael Sheen as the voice of a robot named Arthur, while Laurence Fishburne’s in the role of one Colonel Alexander. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a sci-fi film entirely set on a space ship (even Star Wars: The Force Awakens was largely planet bound), so it’ll be intriguing to see what complications Passengers has in store for us. The course of true love never did run smooth – especially when you throw space travel into the equation.
Sony appear to have set aside a considerable budget for what is potentially a risky, original genre project; the box-office allure of Lawrence and Pratt should give Passengers the gravitational pull it will need to attract audiences.
The 5th Wave
The various young-adult novel adaptations released in the wake of The Hunger Games have varied considerably in quality and success, from the solidly popular Divergent to the tepid (2013‘s The Host). The 5th Wave, adapted from the novel of the same name by Rick Yancey, has a well-received base to build on, and a decent cast and crew to bring it to life.
Chloe Grace Mortz plays Cassie, a young woman who’s survived four successive waves of alien attack, and is now fighting to save her brother from a fifth. Yancey’s source novel vividly describes an alien invasion on multiple fronts, from EMP blasts to devastating tsunamis to a grotesque virus. It’s likely that the gorier excesses of the book will have to be toned down for the screen, but The 5th Wave could nevertheless be a thoroughly absorbing invasion yarn. And just look at the quality of the supporting cast: Maria Bello, Liev Schreiber and Maika Monroe (the star from last year’s spine-tingling It Follows) are all along for the ride.
This one may not have the budget of, say, an Independence Day sequel, but Terminus looks like a cracking bit of indie SF. The story sees an ordinary man encounter a crashing meteorite during a drive home one night – and the meteorite appears to be carrying something alien and very powerful.
The latest film from South African director Marc Furmie, Terminus looks like a sharply-shot and intense genre thriller. Responses to Terminus were positive at last year’s Sci-Fi London Film Festival, and we’re looking forward to seeing it get a wider release in 2016.
This film’s title might sound like the nickname we’d give to a curry or a kebab we’d pick up on the way home from the pub, but the quality of its cast and filmmakers makes Midnight Special an even more appetising prospect. Director Jeff Nichols previously brought us the superb dramas Take Shelter and Mud, and Midnight Special represents his first foray into sci-fi territory.
For it, he’s brought in Michael Shannon to play Roy, the father of a young boy with the kind of powers that leave them both pursued across America by sinister forces – from one angle a religious group led by Sam Shepard, and from another direction government agents, represented by Kylo Ren himself, Adam Driver.
Nichols has cited John Carpenter’s cult classic Starman as an inspiration for his chase story, and it’s possible to see more than a trace of that film’s influence on Midnight Special’s elegant camerawork. The wonderful Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst also star.
The Space Between Us
Confusingly, a sci-fi film called The Space Between Us emerged from the Netherlands last year, and concerned the relationship between a boy named Adam and a merman with glowing skin.
The movie of the same name coming out of America this year is a rather different proposition, coming as it does from British director Peter Chisholm (Serendipity, Hector And The Search For Happiness, er, Hannah Montana: The Movie). It takes in a human colony on Mars, a teenage boy born on the planet (played by Asa Butterfield), an internet romance, and the boy’s determination to reach the girl he loves, who happens to live on Earth.
Yes, it’s another genre romance, but the prior interest of some particularly great directors – Jonathan Demme, Gareth Edwards, and Danny Boyle were among those on the shortlist – suggests there’s more original to this tale than we currently know. The notion that Butterfield’s character, the Mars-born Elliot, can’t survive on Earth’s gravity is certainly a potentially dramatic plot point all by itself. Throw in a supporting performance from Gary Oldman, and you have a genre yarn that could be well worth looking forward to.
(Yes, we know that’s an image of Butterfield from Ender’s Game above. Sorry, but it was all we could find.)
She Who Brings Gifts
A familiar-sounding zombie apocalypse is given a genuine emotional charge in this sci-fi thriller, adapted from MR Carey’s novel The Girl With All The Gifts. A fungal infection has devastated much of the UK, leaving enclaves of healthy survivors holed up in secure bases while swarms of flesh-eating “Hungries” and aggressive scavengers called Junkers roam outside.
There are some Hungries, however, who have managed to retain control of their mental faculties, and don’t pose a threat if they’re kept at arm’s length from humans. Should they be experimented on in order to save the human race? That’s a question Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) initially wrestles with that question, before deciding to protect a 10-year-old girl from the attention of scientist Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close).
She Who Brings Gifts is adapted by Carey himself, a comic book writer and novelist whose lengthy career runs the gamut from Marvel superheroes to 2000 AD. With director Colm McCarthy at the helm (he previously made such TV treats as Doctor Who’s The Bells Of St John and Sherlock’s The Sign Of Three), She Who Brings Gifts promises to be a taut and very dark sci-fi treat.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties
Neil Gaiman’s original 2006 short story was nominated for a Hugo Award, and it isn’t difficult to see why: it’s intelligent, funny, surprising, and blessed with that dramatic lightness of touch found in all of Gaimain’s best work.
Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig And The Angry Inch) faces the challenge of spinning that story – about two boys who go to a party and meet some very unusual young women – into a full-length feature. Elle Fanning, Ruth Wilson and Nicole Kidman are among the cast, and if they can bring the same spark from Gaiman’s prose to the screen, this could be a great genre comedy.
You can read Gaiman’s original story here.
Story Of Your Life
Ted Chiang’s short story of the same name managed a difficult feat: it described an alien species that seemed truly otherworldly. Indeed, their language seems so utterly different from our own that it initially appears that humanity will never find a way of communicating with them – that is, until linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks gradually begins to solve their tongue’s extraordinarily complex riddle.
A sci-fi drama about language, memory and communication might not sound like the obvious stuff of cinematic dreams, but consider who’s directing it: Denis Villeneuve, the Sicario, Enemy, Incendies, and Prisoners filmmaker who’s capable of summoning up extraordinary drama and atmosphere from all kinds of stoties and genres. Amy Adams is to play the lead, Dr. Banks, and she’s the kind of actress who’s talented enough to shoulder the powerful emotional turns of events that Story Of Your Life has in store.
Plenty of genre movies will bring us the lasers and explosions we all love in our genre fare, but of course, sci-fi is a far broader church than action and eye candy. It’s also a genre about ideas and infinite possibilities, and from this perspective, Story Of Your Life might prove to be one of the most effective movies of its type we’ll see this year.