Best scifi movies 2012

Best scifi movies 2012 DEFAULT

The Top 40 Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century

Ask any science-fiction movie fanatic what their go-to films are, and you&#;ll get a lot of great answers back: Metropolis, Blade Runner, , The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original Godzilla, The Thing etc. But let&#;s face it – those answers are so last century. Great sci-fi movies didn&#;t decide to party like it&#;s then call it a day; a host of thrilling, intelligent, offbeat, funny and frightening SF films have hit art houses and multiplexes since Y2K.

In , we concocted a list of the Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century — a quick and dirty survey of the best the genre has had to offer since the millennium&#;s beginning. More than a few major science-fiction flicks, however – from franchise-expanding blockbusters to arthouse headscratchers – have dropped since then, so it was time for an overhaul and an update. We&#;ve now expanded our list to 40 titles, to better highlight the best and brightest SF films of our still-new–ish millennium. Some noteworthy favorites of ours just barely missed the cut (very sorry, Alex Rivera&#;s Sleep Dealer) or some major titles were dinged on quality-control issues. (Avatar may have been a gamechanging film for 3D, but &#;unobtainium&#;? Really?!?) We&#;re confident, however, that there&#;s a place in the canon for these relative latecomers.


Science-fiction movies aren’t just an opportunity to show off the vibrating hum and power of laser swords, the mammoth size of spaceships or incredible alien civilisations. Those things are cool, don’t get us wrong, but some of the best sci-fi also acts as an opportunity to teach us about foibles, flaws, heart and resilience of humanity. Films like Ex-Machina and WALL-E interrogate our humanity’s ethics and our propensity for destruction, while Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stanley Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey provide poetic meditations on grief, ambition and evolution.

Of course, the genre gives filmmakers a chance to get creative, too, providing them with a long leash to be as inventive and innovative as they like. Want killer space robots hellbent on destroying the galaxy? Go for it. How about an algorithm that can predict murders? Perhaps not as far-fetched as it initially seemed. Space wizards with daddy issues? Sure. The possibilities are truly endless.

In order to choose the best sci-fi movies, then, we decided that it was only right to enlist the assistance of a team of turbocharged experts, including Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, film director Guillermo del Toro, and the mind behind Game of Thrones, George RR Martin. We then threw in a few Time Out writers just for good measure.

The result is a list as expansive as the universe; a definitive selection housing all-time classics like Blade Runner to leftfield entries such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s such a good list, you’ll want to clone it.

Written by Alex Plim, Tom Huddleston, Geoff Andrew, Catherine Bray, Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, Alex Dudok de Wit, Eddy Frankel, Trevor Johnston, Alim Kheraj, Joshua Rothkopf, Phil de Semlyen, Anna Smith & Keith Uhlich

Want more brilliant film recommendations? Check out our lists for the best horror movies and the best thrillers ever made.

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Independence Day ()

 Independence Day ()

Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s noisy. Yes, it’s about as subtle as a starship in the face. But good God, it’s so much fun. Emmerich may not be as bold or as crafty a sci-fi satirist as his fellow Euro-export Paul Verhoeven, and on first release there were many who took all the flag-waving and Presidential speechifying in ‘Independence Day’ at face value. But look again, and this is a sly little slice of myth-busting entertainment. Who else had the balls to blow up the White House, full frame, just for kicks? Who else depicted an American administration all too willing to use nuclear weapons – only to find they have no effect whatsoever?

Lest we forget, this is the first major summer blockbuster to feature a central black character who’s neither a sidekick, a comic aside or simply dead meat. Oh, and Jeff Goldblum’s final walk across the flaming desert might actually be the coolest thing ever. TH

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Superman ()

 Superman ()

Director: Richard Donner

Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman

If it seems like you can’t walk into a cinema these days without encountering the adventures of a keen young man in tights, blame Richard Donner. Fresh from the massive success of ‘The Omen’, the director turned his attentions to a script by ‘Godfather’ scribe Mario Puzo, inspired by an old comic strip most moviegoers had forgotten… and the rest is history. And present. And, seemingly, future.

If ‘Superman’ is low on this list, that has to be because most of our voters don’t really view it as science fiction: sure, it kicks off with the destruction of an alien planet, but the superhero movie has now become its own genre, largely divorced from those that bore it. But ‘Superman’ remains an absolute blast, at once celebrating and lampooning its patriotic roots and delivering one of the all-time great sass-talking heroines in Margot Kidder’s screwball Lois Lane. TH

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Annihilation ()

 Annihilation ()

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac

A sci-fi-horror hybrid with more grey matter than your average movie, 'Annihilation' has grand concepts in mind, ideas about self-destruction and rebirth. The film follows cellular biologist Lena (Portman) as she ventures into the Shimmer, an anomalous electromagnetic field that looks a bit like a jellyfish screensaver. There, she discovers the truth about what happened to her husband Kane (Isaac), who visited the Shimmer and returned in poor health and with his memory missing.

Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Nebula-winning novel, the film might borrow some tricks from out of the Ridley Scott playbook, but this is a visually rapturous and sometimes unsettling movie. Garland’s creeping pace lulls you on an almost molecular level; he’s made something akin to an end-of-the-world film, but one in which the changes afoot might not be wholly bad. AK

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The Endless

 The Endless

Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Cast: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Two brothers (played by actor-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) return to the remote cult they fled many years ago. The group’s leader, Hal (Tate Ellington) is preternaturally calm, but there are warning signs all around that things are not quite as peaceful as they seem. Gradually transcending its low-budget indie constraints, ‘The Endless’ builds into a clever piece of sci-fi with some pleasingly bizarre and jarringly violent moments.

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Serenity ()

 Serenity ()

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Nathan Fillion, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gina Torres

How in hell did ‘Serenity’ ever get made? Its parent TV show, cowboys-in-space adventure ‘Firefly’, had been cancelled two years previously after a mere 11 episodes. Its creator, Joss Whedon, had never directed a feature film before, and his one small-screen success, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, had itself just been kicked off the air. Yet still, someone at Universal Pictures thought it’d be a good idea to give Whedon a free hand and a parcel of cash to resurrect his baby as a standalone feature.

It was a terrible economic decision, of course, as ‘Serenity’ predictably failed to recoup its budget. But it was a spectacular boon to those of us who adore Whedon’s idiosyncratic art: ‘Serenity’ is whip-smart, action-packed and wildly inventive. Following ‘The Avengers’, our Joss is now one of the most successful filmmakers in the world. We told you so. TH

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 Alphaville ()

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cast: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff

French New Wave mover and shaker Jean-Luc Godard seems an unlikely filmmaker to turn his hand to sci-fi, yet here he created one of his most accessible offerings by setting an affectionate piss-take of Gallic pulp cinema’s long running Lemmy Caution spy series in a ‘futuristic’ dystopia ruled by supercomputer Alpha

With typical Godardian insouciance it’s all filmed in contrasty black-and-white, in and around contemporary Paris, but its enduring appeal is the combination of don’t-care larkishness, amiable big lug Eddie Constantine doing his tough-guy thing, and a profound underlying seriousness drawing cogent connections between the brutality of fascism and technology’s inhuman reasoning. Moreover, in a city where the illogicality of emotion is punishable by death, there’s no one better than winsome Anna Karina to make us believe that falling in love is well worth the risk. TJ

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendlelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker.

Directed by a childhood uber-fan of the franchise, Gareth Edwards’s prequel (the action’s set sometime before the first ‘Star Wars’ film) is a punchy standalone action tale about a spunky resistance group within the Rebel Alliance. Okay, it’s a little baffling in parts, but it can’t be faulted for its energy levels or commitment to being constantly fun. It also explains how Princess Leia ends up with the plans for the Death Star in the movie, and fleshes out the rebels with compelling individual backstories. 

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THX ()

 THX ()

Director: George Lucas

Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie

George Lucas and his pal Francis Ford Coppola persuaded Warner Brothers to take a flyer on expanding George’s earlier student short into this Orwell and Huxley-influenced fable about free love and free will versus all-powerful totalitarianism. The studio hated the result and the subsequent box-office debacle almost killed both their careers.

Viewed today – the only version available is Lucas and co-writer Walter Murch’s digitally spruced-up ‘Director’s Cut’ – its shaven headed-cast, chillingly benign language intoning state propaganda and oppressive widescreen palette of glacial whites make for genuinely unnerving viewing. Young Lucas evidently believed in heroic individualism, fast cars and the possibility of escape, yet it’s the visualisation of an entire society shaped by universal surveillance, government-supplied sedatives and android police carrying very big sticks which rings darker and truer than the director’s subsequent, significantly more populist output. TJ

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Black Panther

 Black Panther

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boesman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright

With its killer Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, eye-popping Afrofuturist world and some stupidly charismatic performances, ‘Black Panther’ is sleek, fast-moving and tons of fun. We walked away wanting to see Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Londoners Letitia Wright and Daniel Kaluuya in another superhero movie as soon as possible – which thanks to the epic Wakandan bits of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, we shortly did.

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Solaris ()

 Solaris ()

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies

It’s hard to imagine a Hollywood exec even sitting through Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris’ (), never mind stumping up for Steven Soderbergh’s US remake, but perhaps the presence of producer James Cameron facilitated this most introspective of space operas. As writer-director-editor and cinematographer, Soderbergh does a remarkable job of echoing the original’s Soviet-era look and solemnity, yet moves the story along without compromising its intriguing musings on the knowability of self and others.

Investigating a stricken space station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris, shrink Clooney finds he has a ‘visitor’ – a spooky reincarnation of his late wife. Or rather, a reincarnation of his memories of her, which isn’t quite the same thing. Cliff Martinez’s seductive yet unsettling score sets the tone as we ponder the difference in this graceful, thought-provoking affair, where the never-better McElhone is heartbreaking as the woman discovering she’s not truly herself. TJ

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Attack the Block ()

 Attack the Block ()

Director: Joe Cornish

Cast: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail

When Joe Cornish’s scrappy, snappy, happy-slappy debut was first released, several notable British critics took umbrage with what they perceived as a tasteless tendency towards leftist hoodie-hugging. The film’s central characters weren’t heroes, they argued, they were little criminals, plain and simple.

And it’s true, ‘Attack the Block’ does open with a fairly vicious mugging scene, which we’re expected to forgive as the story unfolds. But surely this was Cornish’s point: by writing off our nation’s youth as a bunch of knife-wielding thugs, we not only criminalise an entire generation, we risk our own futures. Because who knows when we’ll need their help fending off an alien invasion?

So whatever you think about the film’s fuzzy, community-organising ethos, there’s no ignoring the technical skill on display here: the oh-so-London script crackles like a fistful of sparklers, and the direction is tight as hell. TH

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension ()

 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension ()

Director: WD Richter

Cast: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin

Ground zero for a pervasive geek culture that was still years away from materialising, WD Richter’s unclassifiable whatsit would have to settle for being a cult film in the dark days of VHS. It should have been huger. A pre-‘RoboCop’ Peter Weller effortlessly embodies the title character: physicist, rock star, the leader of the Hong Kong Cavaliers, he was a comic book hero in his own time.

Working from a brilliantly Pynchon-esque script (writer Earl Mac Rauch took several passes at it, resulting in a page ‘bible’), Richter helms the action with the confidence that his story is weirder and wilder than virtually anything else out there. All the better, then, to steer the great John Lithgow toward his deranged, Italian-accented villain, Dr Emilio Lizardo, whose every line is a keeper (‘Laugh while you can, monkey boy!’). Kevin Smith and Wes Anderson are superfans. We’re still waiting for the sequel promised in the euphoric final credits. JR

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Fantastic Voyage ()

 Fantastic Voyage ()

Director: Richard Fleischer

Cast: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasence

The tension between its highly imaginative central conceit and the available special-effects technology struggling to put it on screen gives movies like Richard Fleischer’s intravenous thriller a special charm that no longer exists in the era of CGI. Rooted in Cold War paranoia, the story has a crack medical team miniaturised in a submarine to venture within the circulatory system of a comatose defecting scientist.

The production team – including legendary design wizard Harper Goff – bring a brightly-coloured tangibility to the recreation of a world that lies inside us all. Less impressive is the only-too-obvious back-projection, but the smart idea of an admittedly arbitrary minute limit before the crew start growing back to normal size generates cumulatively effective tension as debut gal Raquel Welch provides the glam and ever-reliable Donald Pleasence offers more than a hint of twitchy menace. TJ

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Minority Report ()

 Minority Report ()

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

In , just when it was safe to assume Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise were both past their freshest, along came ‘Minority Report’ – a dark, heart-pounding futuristic film-noir whodunit adapted from a Philip K Dick story.

It’s Scientists haven’t found the cure for the common cold, but they have reduced the murder rate to zero in Washington, DC, with ‘Pre-crime’ – a police unit that taps into a trio of psychic ‘precogs’ to predict murders and arrest the perpetrators before they do anything wrong.

Cruise (properly acting as well as running around in a leather jacket) is the bureau chief fingered as a future murderer. Spielberg consulted leading scientists to furnish a plausible future world, and a decade later – from retina scanners to personalised advertising – he was spot on. ‘Minority Report’ is still creepy as hell. CC

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 High Life

Director: Claire Denis

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliet Binoche 

Robert Pattinson further cemented his post-’Twilight’ career with this elusive, elliptical sci-fi film. Directed by Claire Denis (making her English-language debut), the action takes place on a drifting spaceship occupied by the survivors of a previous mission involving death row convicts who volunteered to help investigate black holes in exchange for commuted sentences. It’s also quite possibly the only sci-fi film out there to involve a ‘fuckbox’ and a ‘shaman of semen’ (as played by Juliette Binoche).

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The Damned ()

 The Damned ()

Director: Joseph Losey

Cast: MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed

One of the strangest and – we’re guessing – least seen films on our list is this British New Wave oddity from blacklisted American filmmaker Joseph Losey, who later the same year would go on to pick apart the English class system in his scalpel-sharp satire ‘The Servant’.

‘The Damned’ isn’t quite so cutting in its observations (it doesn’t have the benefit of a Harold Pinter screenplay, after all), but it is perhaps the more unusual and intriguing film, blending every strand of popular post-war paranoia – nuclear, sexual, social – into a murky, unpredictable psychodramatic stew.

In one of his earliest big-screen roles, an overbearing Oliver Reed is a grotesque parody of teen rebellion as King, the leather-clad mugger who stumbles upon a cave society of mutant children. A troubling film, and a deeply peculiar one. TH

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The Andromeda Strain ()

 The Andromeda Strain ()

Director: Robert Wise

Cast: Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne

They call it science fiction, but only too rarely does the cinematic genre tackle a subject which focuses primarily on the science. This screen adaptation of Michael Crichton’s first bestseller tackles the crisis that unfolds when a space probe falls to Earth carrying an extraterrestrial virus that instantly turns human blood to powder. Thankfully, the US authorities have just built a secret subterranean research facility for exactly such eventualities. But it’s by no means a given that the boffins will be able to isolate and neutralise the threat – and there’s a nuclear self-destruct option to prevent wider contamination.

Veteran director Robert Wise, still riding on the box-office bonanza of ‘The Sound of Music’, approaches it all with an austere documentary rigour that at first seems to underplay the drama, but builds an almost unbearable degree of claustrophobic anxiety. TJ

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Frankenstein ()

 Frankenstein ()

Director: James Whale

Cast: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke

With the heavy brow-line, cranial flat-top and bolts to the neck, the creature featured in Universal’s landmark retelling of the Mary Shelley tale is one of the true icons of fantasy cinema. It’s the deep pools of emotion in Boris Karloff’s eyes which make this a classic however, providing an extra element of humanity to the celluloid archetype of the brilliant but morally unhinged scientist who goes way too far.

Colin Clive brings fierce conviction to the role of re-animator Baron Frankenstein and the lab design remains a wonder. But it’s the combination of superhuman force and childlike vulnerability Karloff finds in the monster role which makes this a potent viewing experience even now. Kudos to English theatre director James Whale for highlighting this startling contradiction in a film with an incalculable influence on subsequent genre cinema. TJ

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Things to Come ()

 Things to Come ()

Director: William Cameron Menzies

Cast: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman

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.

The remarkable effects work and the production design charts a twenty-first century shaped by an art-deco aesthetic, though it’s also clear that Wells was more interested in speechifying than engaging the audience’s emotions. His absolute certainty that science will provide a better tomorrow delivers an antiseptically dull fate for us. And counter to his intentions, it’s the scrappy, combative rebels who appear the most engagingly, if fallibly, human. TJ

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 Cloud Atlas ()

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Lilly Wachowski

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw

It may have polarised critics upon its release, but the Wachowski sisters and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel is one of the most ambitious, epic and enthralling cinematic experiences of the century. Consisting of six interconnected stories that span time (from to ) and distance (the Pacific islands to Edinburgh to ‘Neo Seoul’), as well as an excellent cast led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and a gaggle of notable British thespians, it’s not afraid to pile on the action, romance, comedy, a plot involving cloning, space travel and philosophical inquiry in quick succession. But the results are often breathtaking and brilliantly unique.

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The Iron Giant ()

 The Iron Giant ()

Director: Brad Bird

Cast (voices): Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel

In the wake of the Sputnik launch in , a towering metal robot crash-lands in a small Maine community (relocated from the rural England of Ted Hughes’s source novel), inadvertently scaring the bejesus out of everyone it encounters. In fact it’s a benign, selfless giant, intent only on munching scrap metal and protecting a young boy who saves its ‘life’.

To adults, Brad Bird’s animated classic is a well-observed evocation of the anti-communist paranoia that permeated life in the s – the golden age of sci-fi. To kids, it’s a universal tale of tolerance and trusting friendship; you could replace the giant with ET or Totoro and you’d have much the same film. It may be voiced by Vin Diesel, but the giant itself is a thing of beauty: a distant relative of the robots in ‘Castle in the Sky’ or ‘The King and the Mockingbird’, it conveys a wealth of emotions despite not saying or doing much at all. ADDW

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Star Trek ()

 Star Trek ()

Director: JJ Abrams

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Bruce Greenwood

In its later years, both on the large and small screen, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise had grown awfully po-faced – the final TV series, ‘Enterprise’, was unbearably dull and pompous, while the last two ‘Next Generation’ movies were tedious extended-episode trudges lacking any real emotion, freshness or – to quote James T Kirk’s dying words: ‘fun’. Of course, the hardcore Trekkers made an almighty fuss when TV mogul JJ Abrams came along and transformed their precious franchise into something the wider movie-going audience might actually enjoy, but it’s their loss.

This new interation of ‘Star Trek’ is a kneecracking rollercoaster of a film, rocketing from set-piece to set-piece and having a barrel of in-jokey laughs that all help reinvent the now iconic characters we know and love. Chris Pine is perfectly broody as Captain Kirk, while Zachary Quinto adds an added layer of pathos to his interpretation of Spock. The sequels, ‘Into Darkness’ and 'Beyond', have both divided critics and fans alike, but it'd be unfair to discount this reboot as just another money-making cog in the Hollywood machine. TH

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Ghost in the Shell ()

 Ghost in the Shell ()

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Cast (voices): Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka

It’s the year , and humanity exists in a society managed by an electronic network that takes possession of their consciousness (‘ghost’) when they don a special cybernetic suit (‘shell’). 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.

Far from a run-of-the-mill slice of millennial angst, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ abounds in mysteries and paradoxes. The film is Japanese, but the world appears to be a version of Hong Kong; the setting is futuristic, but the soundtrack features ancient Japanese chant; the main characters are robots, yet they can’t relinquish certain human obsessions. A strange and subtle work of anime. ADDW

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World on a Wire (()

 World on a Wire (()

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Klaus Löwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben

‘World on a Wire’ was the first, last and only foray into speculative science fiction for New Wave maestro Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The result is an opulent and elaborate epic – though it was first shown as a three-part TV serial which plays like ‘Chinatown’, if that film’s hero Jake Gittes had traded his cream linen suit for a bank of old-school computers and a sparkly crash helmet.

Loosely adapted from Daniel F Galouye’s pulp sci-fi novella, ‘Simulacron-3’, this staggering work (which triumphantly resurfaced in after years in the distribution doldrums) prefigures pretty much any film that deals with the concept of concentric realities (‘Inception’, ‘Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace’ et al), and does so with economy, rigour and style. So, so much style. DJ

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Avatar ()

 Avatar ()

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Director James Cameron has acknowledged that ‘Avatar’ has many influences, from the jungles of ‘Tarzan’ to the themes of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series. But, typically, Cameron went and did it bigger and better than anyone else. Having come up with the idea in his ‘Titanic’ days, he literally waited for technology to catch up, requiring seriously sophisticated motion-capture photography and effects to plunge us into planet Pandora, along with the avatar of earthly soldier Jake Sully (Worthington).

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). Nonetheless, ‘Avatar’ is more than just a spectacle and box office juggernaut: it’s a familiar yet heart-warming story of a military man who switches sides after integrating with a peaceful people. AS

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Arrival ()

 Arrival ()

Director: Denis Villeneuve Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Best quote: 'We don't know if they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool.

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. As the world wonders if giant, oddly-iPod-speaker-shaped alien craft are going to unleash hellfire or not, Amy Adams’ linguist sets to work understanding their true purpose. She begs for less fear and anger, and more calmness and understanding from the world’s leaders. Can’t think how that would be a message for our times. PDS

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Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

 Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Director: Richard Marquand

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

The last and, our voters agree, least of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy may have its problems, but it’s one heck of a ride. Sure, detractors might argue about the cuddly-Ewoks, the surprisingly whimpish depiction of Princess Leia (not just the gold bikini incident, but her general reluctance to play the blaster-wielding badass) and the writers’ lacklustre plot decision to revive the Death Star from the first movie rather than going for a full-on assault against the heart of Imperial power. 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. TH

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Flash Gordon ()

 Flash Gordon ()

Director: Mike Hodges

Cast: Sam J Jones, Max von Sydow, Brian Blessed

Watching ‘Flash Gordon’, you can only wonder whether someone thought there was an as-yet untapped audience of sci-fi fans who were also, as the wonderful original Time Out review puts it, ‘gentlemen who prefer blonds’? Of course, once it was out in the world the whole thing made some kind of twisted, outrageous sense, and it still does.

It’s not exactly funny – the humour’s too broad and ridiculous. And it’s not exactly exciting – the special effects are knowingly daft, and the action scenes feel haphazardly glued together. 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. Queen’s operatic, whammy-whanging soundtrack doesn’t hurt a bit. TH

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The American Astronaut ()

 The American Astronaut ()

Director: Cory McAbee

Cast: Cory McAbee, Gregory Russell Cook, Joshua Taylor

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).

The film’s premise suggests high camp, ‘Barbarella’-style, but in fact this 35mm black-and-white effort combines kitschy elements with the roughneck machismo of a Western – imagine a tumbler of neat Jack Daniels with a cocktail umbrella perched inexplicably on the rim.

McAbee's charmingly ramshackle antics slightly run out of steam by the end of a wisely brief 91 minute runtime, but this idiosyncratic yarn’s inspired highlights make it a must-see passion project for anyone who enjoys combing science fiction’s farthest shores for the weirder pieces of flotsam and jetsam. CB

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Seconds ()

 Seconds ()

Director: John Frankenheimer

Cast: Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Salome Jens

What major Hollywood star would have felt more at home with the idea of total self-transformation than Rock Hudson? The macho matinee idol who was secretly gay, the serious artist trapped, by the mid-’60s, in a roundelay of outdated, featherweight romcoms, Hudson must have been desperate for an escape route.

As with so much great sci-fi, the concept of ‘Seconds’ is perfectly simple: an ageing, downtrodden salary man pays to be surgically transformed into a chiselled hunk, but life among the beautiful people isn’t quite as he’d dreamed it would be.

Drawing equally on post-war film noir, countercultural me-generation wish fulfilment and pre-Watergate paranoia, ‘Seconds’ is one of the most radical, disturbing and downright terrifying thrillers ever released by a major Hollywood studio. 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. TH

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The Prestige ()

 The Prestige ()

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine

Late s London is the perfect setting for Christopher Nolan’s twisty tale of rival magicians. The Victorian age was an unprecedented time of scientific discovery, where the impossible was being made possible with every new invention – just like magic.

A puzzle of a film, ‘The Prestige’ opens with a murder and unfolds in flashback. Alfred Bordern (Bale) and Robert Angier (Jackman) meet as young magicians’ apprentices. Driven by rivalry, for years they steal each other’s tricks, finally coming to blows over Bordern’s ‘The Transported Man’ illusion. Angier can’t figure it out, and insane with jealousy, asks the (real) inventor Nikola Tesla to build him a machine to compete with Bordern. But at what cost? Christopher Nolan pulls a rabbit out of the hat with a gripping, suspenseful ta-da finish. CC

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Iron Man ()

 Iron Man ()

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges

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. Oddly, their record-shattering crowning achievement, ’s heavily sci-fi flavoured ‘The Avengers’, didn’t place in this list, with our voters preferring to go back to the source. And as a statement of intent, ‘Iron Man’ is pretty near unbeatable.

Here, fully formed, is the template for all future Marvel movies: wisecracking heroes, world-threatening villains, explosive action sequences, throwaway gags and just a hint of a social conscience (the movie could probably have leant harder on the weapons-industry-is-bad subtext, but we’ll let it go). Robert Downey Jr has now officially shuffled off the iron suit (next year’s ‘Avengers 2’ notwithstanding), but he leaves a pretty feisty legacy behind him. TH

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Logan’s Run ()

 Logan’s Run ()

Director: Michael Anderson

Cast: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Peter Ustinov

Life ends at 30 in this sci-fi that presents a typically ’60s/’70s vision of the future: a doomed society that’s outwardly bright, white and polite yet with a heart as black as night.

Loosely based on the novel by William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, it stars a chiseled Michael York as Logan 5, a Sandman who processes inhabitants for ‘renewal’ at the age of Of course, they’re actually killed. Jessica 6 (Agutter) suspects as much and soon Logan’s joining her on the run.

While not unanimously well received at the time, ‘Logan’s Run’ has become a cult classic, much beloved for its style, stars and themes. Talk of a remake – possibly overseen by ‘Drive’ director Nicolas Winding Refn – rumbles on. AS

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Westworld ()

 Westworld ()

Director: Michael Crichton

Cast: Yul Brynner, James Brolin, Richard Benjamin

Twenty-four years before creating ‘Jurassic Park’, Michael Crichton directed his own screenplay for the first time with this cautionary tale about another fail-safe theme park attraction going seriously awry. In so doing, he tapped into America’s most secret desires – shooting people in Westworld, playing out power games in Medievalworld and enjoying Romanworld’s guilt-free sexual indulgence.

Clearly though, the movie is most interested in going way out west, exploring the ingrained story tropes of B-Westerns on faded MGM’s remaining back lot. Its ace card is a genuine celluloid icon in ‘Magnificent Seven’ alpha male Yul Brynner, delivering a perfectly judged turn as the black-clad android gunslinger who turns from malleable playmate into deadly foe when the park’s circuits get crossed. Hard not to imagine the genesis of James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ in his determined walk and steely, cold-eyed gaze. TJ

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The Thing from Another World ()

 The Thing from Another World ()

Director: Christian Nyby

Cast: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spencer

Admittedly, this loose adaptation of sci-fi legend John W Campbell’s novella ‘Who Goes There’ hasn’t entirely escaped the ravages of time: the effects are clunky, the action a little tame and the creature, when it arrives, really does look like a big carrot with fangs. But let’s focus on the positives, of which there are many.

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.

Our voters agree that John Carpenter’s remake, ‘The Thing’, which drew more heavily on Campbell’s story, is the superior film – but there’s plenty here to chill the blood and spark the imagination. TH

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The Abyss ()

 The Abyss ()

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn

Fresh off the massive success of ‘Aliens’, James Cameron spent three years and a boatload of studio cash bringing this daunting pet project to the screen. A lifelong deep-sea obsessive, Cameron’s dedication to the nuts-and-bolts reality of life on the ocean floor makes for a uniquely gritty, tactile experience, even as his midlife swing towards sentimentality begins to undermine the toughness of his vision.

It’s that old chestnut of the civilian team hauled in to help out the military, as Ed Harris and his oil-drilling roughnecks come to the aid of a downed nuclear sub and find themselves facing something altogether more otherworldly. The action sequences are relentless, and if the film is somewhat let down by its gushy ending (improved but not entirely sorted out in the Special Edition recut), it’s a small price to pay for greatness elsewhere. TH

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The War of the Worlds ()

 The War of the Worlds ()

Director: Byron Haskin

Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne

Orson Welles had already terrified America with his radio adaptation, and producer George Pal first brought HG Wells’s novel to cinema screens in this still-bracing account of a full-scale Martian attack. Spielberg’s post-9/11 remake from certainly upped the destructive spectacle, but here there’s something insidiously chilling about the design of the invaders’ death-ray-spewing craft and the eerie electronic pulsing which accompanies their progress from fiery landing to global onslaught.

The notion of a truly implacable, remorseless alien foe is a key element of every similar celluloid invasion story which has followed, and though the religious certainties on display here certainly date the film, the fears it reveals – annihilation of home and family, breakdown of social order – are extremely telling for being played out in news footage that’s obviously documentary material capturing the real-life carnage of World War Two. TJ

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Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Sci-fi and Woody Allen aren’t words you’d normally expect in the same sentence, but the Brooklyn-born filmmaker’s fifth feature saw Woody playing a vegetarian store owner who wakes up from a cryogenically frozen state in , years after dying during a routine operation (the ultimate hypochondriac’s nightmare?). 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.

Woody’s madcap vision of the future is an autocratic regime where an organisation called the Underground struggles against the government and decadent members of high society get their rocks off by rolling a metal ball in their hands or stepping into a machine called the Orgasmatron. But this is still very much a Woody Allen film, complete with a pair of bickering Jewish tailors, Ginsberg & Cohen, who measure up Miles for a new suit. The only difference is they’re robots. DC

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Je t’aime, je t’aime ()

 Je t’aime, je t’aime ()

Director: Alain Resnais

Cast: Claude Rich, Olga Georges-Picot, Anouk Ferjac

was a helluva year for science fiction. As Vietnam raged and global revolution beckoned, a small group of filmmakers found solace in other worlds, whether the chilly future of ‘’ or the satirical apocalypse of ‘Planet of the Apes’. But with his often overlooked ‘Je t’aime je t’aime’, French filmmaker Alain Resnais chose to use sci-fi to look within.

It’s the tale of suicidal author Claude Ridder (Rich), who’s asked to take part in a government experiment employing a vast papier-mâché brain sculpture and a number of confused-looking mice. 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).

Benefitting from a clanging score by legendary Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and exploring many of the same themes of memory, regret and empathy as Resnais’s earlier ‘Last Year in Marienbad’, this is a dreamlike experiment that deserves wider attention. TH

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Dark City ()

 Dark City ()

Director: Alex Proyas

Cast: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland

Like science itself, sci-fi loves to probe the nature of what we call reality – in films as diverse as ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Solaris’, questions about subjective perception versus objective fact form the core of the story. But few dig as deep to find the answers as ‘Dark City’, Alex Proyas’s grimy slice of existential angst masquerading as a noir-inflected thriller.

In the unnamed urban sprawl of the title, a killer is on the loose. It might be John (Sewell), he’s not really sure. In fact, he’s not certain of much any more – what he does for a living, what he did yesterday, or if there even was a yesterday…

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. TH

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior ()

 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior ()

Director: George Miller

Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

The first ‘Mad Max’ had a faint whiff of sci-fi, but that could have been the desolation of the Aussie landscape conjuring up visions of post-nuclear hell. 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.

But ‘The Road Warrior’ isn’t just a prescient futuristic parable, it’s also perhaps the finest pedal-to-the-metal action movie ever made: no director before or since has made such a gladiatorial spectacle out of grinding gears, burning rubber and the screech of brakes. The film’s other great strength is its unabashed Aussie-ness: resisting the temptation to play Hollywood at its own game, ‘The Road Warrior’ is as gloriously Strine as Ned Kelly drinking Castlemaine tinnies in a ute. TH

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Top 25 SF And Fantasy Films of

Despite some notable high points, hasn’t been the strongest year for sci-fi and fantasy films.

Your knee-jerk reaction to a statement like that might be, “Hang on! Avengers ? Dark Knight Rises ? Looper ? Has SFX gone mad?”

And yeah, there are some great, great films in the Top 10, but the quality starts to dip quite drastically as you head into the mid and lower reaches of the chart. So much so, we seriously considered only doing a Top 20 this year to save the ignominy of having to include John Carter .

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t have as much of a downer on John Carter as some people, but, well, one of the top films of the year?

Between Carter and the behemoths at the top of the chart there are a lot of good-but-not-great films. This year, animated movies have done particularly well almost by default; they’re jolly, fun, well-made and a darn site less irritating to watch than vacuous action movies. , then, is the triumph of the not-bad sci-fi and fantasy movie.

But there have been some pleasant surprises. Especially the number of original movies (ie, not sequels or based on comics or books) in the Top See, Hollywood, you do have it in you. It’s also been a great year for quirky, low-budget films.

This list was compiled by votes from a vast range of SFX writers, both on staff and freelance (about 40 people in all). So it’s the critics’ choice. Which doesn’t make it more or less valid than a reader-voted choice, but it does mean it hasn’t been knobbled by Joss Whedon fans block voting. What that means for The Avengers and The Cabin In The Wood …? Well, read on and find out.

Countdown starts on the next page…

25 John Carter

Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton

Poor old John Carter, a film which will forever be synonymous with the word flop. Not quite the Heaven’s Gate of sci-fi cinema – it didn’t bring down the company (Disney knew it had Avengers up its sleeve anyway, and didn’t seem too worried about writing off this expensive vanity project) – it nevertheless made a Michael Cimino out of Andrew Stanton; he entered the film as one of Hollywood’s hottest directors and exited it as a laughing stock with a reputation for excess, reluctantly forced to make a follow-up to his biggest success, Finding Nemo . His confrontational style when it came to any less than glowing comments about the film in promotional interviews didn’t help win him many friends either.

And poor old Taylor Kitsch, who must have entered thinking this was his year; he was the star of two hugely expensive potential blockbusters ( Battleship being the other one) which fell flat at the box office.

But not so poor us, the audience. Because although hardly anyone went to see it, those that did were pleasantly surprised to discover that John Carter was actually not that bad. Deeply flawed, sure: overlong, tortuously plotted, ponderous where it should have zipped along, hampered by Kitsch’s hollow central performance and set on a Mars that looked uncannily (and often dully) like Arizona with CG knobs on.

It was also, perhaps, a little too slavishly loyal to its source material. Pre-publicity for the film kept trying to ram home how Star Wars owed much to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s pulp novels, but audiences didn’t care about that. They just saw a load of Stars Wars tropes being trotted out again, with less interesting characters.

But there was fun to be had. The four-armed Tharks were marvellous motion-capture creations, with the actors’ subtle performances shining through. Lynn Collins was a fantastic feisty princess. There was a stunningly-realised walking city. The action scenes were amazing. And the comedy alien dog – despite looking like a potential Jar Jar in the trailers – was actually cute and funny.

John Carter is not a work of flawed genius that French film critics will rediscover in 30 years’ time and hail as a classic. It’s more of a flawed folly, crippled by very odd, somewhat self-defeating creative decisions from the outset (why no “Of Mars?”). But at times it is great pulpy, sci-fi action that’ll be fun to watch on TV on soggy Sunday afternoons for years to come.

Dave Golder

24 Sinister

Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Clare Foley, James Ransome, Juliet Rylance

Ellison Oswalt is a true crime author whose career is on the wane. He’s so desperate for fame that he moves his family into a home that, not long ago, was the site of a horrific family murder and disappearance. His plan is simple: write about the case again, become famous and his family will forgive him.

Then he finds a box full of old Super 8 movies; one of which shows the murders at the house. Ellison is terrified but presses on, little realising that whilst he’s watching the movies, the movies are also watching him…

Sinister shouldn’t work. Ellison is such an unbelievably horrible person that you should cheer when it becomes apparent just how much trouble he’s in. However, Scott Derrickson and Robert Cargill’s script cleverly mirrors the gradual unpacking of the family with the gradual unpacking of the story as we discover just what happened, to terrifying effect. The movies in particular are wonderful; silent apart from the projector whirring, they’re small trips into hell with huge reveals coded into each and a growing sense of menace that builds to unbearable levels by the end of the movie.

It helps that the film is chock full of great actors too, with Vincent D’Onofrio turning up as an occult phenomena expert and James Ransone and Fred Dalton Thompson as local police officers all doing great work. Likewise Ethan Hawke, who revels in these slightly feral writer roles, is the perfect combination of hateful and sympathetic. Ellison just wants another 15 minutes of fame - is that so much to ask?

Yes, it is. And watching him pay that price will take you through one of the most inventive, disturbing horror movies of the last five years. You’ll never look at a Super 8 projector the same way again.

Alasdair Stuart

23 Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron

If, at the start of , you’d drawn up a list of the year’s most anticipated movies, Prometheus would have been at the top. A prequel to Alien directed by Ridley Scott? Count us in. Scott's insistence on secrecy, followed by a thrilling teaser trailer, raised expectations to a dizzying high.

It disappointed, of course. How could it not? But even accounting for the hype factor, Prometheus feels like a film that's been compromised. From the studio's apparent directive to ditch most of the Alien elements, to the replacement of a truly frightening Fifield mutant (look it up on YouTube…) with a lame latex-faced zombie, it’s a movie filled with odd creative decisions.

Still, those calling it a disaster are, frankly, wrong. It’s a beautifully made, often awe-inspiring piece of work. The performances from Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are excellent. There's a fantastic, questing score from Marc Streitenfeld. Even the 3D felt justified – especially contrasted with the muddy mess of The Avengers . As a cinematic experience, it’s easily one of the year’s best and most immersive.
It’s also far more coherent than its reputation suggests. Many of the supposed plot-holes and questions can be easily resolved just by thinking about what's happening on screen. It’s a movie about faith that requires you to make up your own mind about a few things. That's the sign of a filmmaker crediting his audience with intelligence – isn't that a good thing?

Will Salmon

22 Ted

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis

Seth ( Family Guy ) MacFarlane’s feature debut was a dizzyingly original fusion of children’s fantasy and gross-out comedy. Taking an idea that would easily be the basis for any U-rated Jim Carrey comedy – what if your imaginary childhood friend became real and grew up with you – MacFarlane takes this idea and turns it into a potty-mouthed bromance as Mark Wahlberg’s John Bennett has to balance the needs of his girlfriend (a drop-dead Mila Kunis) with that of his dope-smoking bear, Ted.

Surprisingly sweet-natured beyond the f-ing and blinding, Ted also threw up an unexpected Flash Gordon tribute, with Sam J Jones cameoing as himself, and also indulging in a fantasy sequence where he dons his old Flash Gordon garb in a perfectly-recreated scene with John on the back of a rocket cycle en route to Sky City. Not dubbed this time, mind.

Steve O’Brien

21 Frankenweenie

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder

We’ve almost got so used to the regular disappointment of a Tim Burton opening that we’ve forgotten why we fell in love with him in the first place. Arriving hotfoot after the wretched Dark Shadows came Frankenweenie , a small-scale gem of a family flick that took Burton right back to his beginnings.

In , Disney sacked Burton after he completed his short film, Frankenweenie , about a boy who brings his pet dog back from dead, fearing it was too dark and too scary for the Mouse House brand. 28 years later, a full-length Frankenweenie arrived in cinemas, under a Burtonised rejig of the Walt Disney logo, still in black and white and with its black-clad spirit immaculately intact.

This was Burton returning to the sources that originally inspired him: Universal horror, ’50s suburbia and movie homages. Frankenweenie is probably his best film since Ed Wood , a similarly economically-budgeted monochrome love letter to cinema’s dreamy past.

Steve O’Brien

20 Hotel Transylvania

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi

Dracula, traumatised by the loss of his wife and the birth of their daughter Mavis, creates a five-star hotel where monsters can be themselves and Mavis will be safe forever. Except she’s just turned and wants out…

Genndy Tartakovsky’s unique design style is all over the movie, and the Hotel is a joy to spend time in, crammed full of secret packages, rooms with talking door knockers and a swimming pool that, of course, has a huge plug in the bottom. It’d be easy to give him all the credit, but Adam Sandler’s voice performance and Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel’s script can’t be faulted either. There are some wonderful, smart jokes in here (Zombie Beethoven is fantastic), and Sandler brings a real charm and intensity to the role as well as playing an amiable undead dad.

It’s sweet-natured without being sickly and Sandler, Steve Buscemi (as the world’s most put upon Wolfman), Cee Lo Green (as Murray the Mummy) and Kevin James (as Frankenstein) are a hugely entertaining set of central characters. It’s constantly inventive, very funny, frequently beautiful and there’s a Twilight joke in the last ten minutes which makes the entire movie worthwhile all by itself. One of the year’s real gems.

Alasdair Stuart

19 The Lorax

Directors: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda
Cast: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift

If you love Dr Seuss you'll love The Lorax , although you'll probably be wondering how such a flimsy story could ever be padded out to film length. The team behind Despicable Me don't let us down, thankfully, and while The Lorax is sometimes a muddle of flashbacks, it's also an interesting, often daring tale of eco-friendliness and “love the Earth” ideology.

Wait! Come back! Sure, the film's message is a simple environmental one: “Don't chop down all the trees, you'll regret it.” But it's not enough to make you puke. Plus it's told in a bonkers, carefree way that will appeal to true kids (young or old) everywhere, in a world of colourful candyfloss trees, singing forest critters and showtunes about doing the right thing.

Actually, now we've written that, it does sound a bit trite, doesn't it? And it probably is. But pah! If you're willing to let the colours, tunes and singing bears wash over you, you'll find yourself absorbed in a gloriously simple and imaginative fantasy. If you're feeling a bit of a Grinch, it's not for you. But hey, you're a Grinch, so there's no hope for you anyway.

Jayne Nelson

18 The Woman In Black

Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Mischa Handley, Liz White

Though the revived Hammer had already popped its head up with the US-set Hilary Swank shocker The Resident , it wasn’t until the more clipped British tones of The Woman In Black arrived in cinemas that we could say a proper hello again to the world of Hammer horror.

Refreshingly old-fashioned in its cinematic sensibilities, this was a tight, effective retelling of Susan Hill’s novel. Daniel Radcliffe may not yet be a Day-Lewis or an Oldman, but he’s far better than eight Harry Potter films and not much else would suggest, ably acquitting himself as the widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps.

Part of why The Woman In Black felt so bracing was that it was an attempt by Hammer to embrace its gothic horror past, and James Watkins’s restrained direction lent this adaptation a rousingly grown-up feel. The fact that it quickly became the highest grossing horror film in Britain for 20 years suggests that public appetite for the genre may be more with the kind of films Hammer used to make than with the new-school shocks of The Resident .

Steve O’Brien

17 Cockneys vs Zombies

Director: Matthias Hoene
Cast: Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman

I could be accused of being biased when it comes to Cockneys Vs Zombies , because I was in it, spending two days on set as an extra (keep your eyes peeled when the robbers come out of the bank – I’m the zombie in the red and black check shirt). That explains why I didn’t review either the cinema release, or the DVD release: I’m too close to it!

Not that it made a spot of difference. Both of SFX ’s reviewers (for the film and DVD release respectively) adored Cockneys Vs Zombies – probably a bit more than I did, in fact. This high rating (pretty impressive for a low-budget British indie which got only a limited theatrical run) proves that they weren’t alone.

Not seen it? Three words of advice: ignore the title. It’s hard not to feel that Cockneys Vs Zombies may have shot itself in the foot there, putting off as many punters as were attracted. Sure, it tells you the basic premise, and its cheeky simplicity prepares you for something comical. But it also puts you in mind of the rubbish mockney gangster flicks that came in the wake of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels , and the low-grade direct-to-video zombie flicks that now seem to come out every month. And it’s far, far superior to that kind of thing.

Starring ex- EastEnder Michelle Ryan, it sees a bunch of Lahndahn types robbing a bank to find the funds to save their grandfather’s old people’s home. Unfortunately for them, the job takes place at exactly the same time as a zombie infection starts spreading through the East End, and they emerge to find the streets crawling with the undead. Cue a frantic struggle to get across London and make sure that their hardnut pater familias is safe.

It’s not quite perfect. The motivation of the protagonists is a little hard to swallow (can you really save an old people’s home with a bag of stolen loot?). The, “We’re family, we stick together,” message is arguably hammered home a little unsubtly. And veteran Alan Ford’s performance as the head of the family is more shouting than acting.

But there are some truly hilarious moments, including the unforgettable sight of a doddery Richard Briers machine-gunning the undead as he leans on a Zimmer frame, and if there’s ever been a more triumphant use of the theme from Grandstand, we’ve yet to see it!

More importantly, Cockneys Vs Zombies is a movie with real heart, possessing believable characters that you can care about (even if some of them are a bit on the dopey side) – something that’s pretty rare when it comes to films about the undead apocalypse. That’s why it’s the zombie film of the year.

Ian Berriman

16 The Amazing Spider-Man

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka

For a helping of hearty superhero fun down the ol’ multiplex there’s little else that’s quite as reliable as a dose of Spider-Man. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s brilliant creation, 50 years young, is perennially the superhero kids want to be and the wider public want to watch.

This summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t let any of us down. A tough act to pull off after Sam Raimi’s thrilling trilogy (yes, this writer holds a big torch for the third one too), it could have bombed and bored, but it didn’t. Let’s be eternally thankful they didn’t go down the wearisome “dark and darker” route, because that really wouldn’t have suited such an effervescent, youthful superhero as our wallcrawler. Yes it wasn’t quite as “’60s comic strip” as Raimi’s films but it still had oodles of fun with Peter Parker and the bully, with Spidey and the Lizard beating each other senseless, with Spidey and the street criminals he “sneezes” his webbing at, and lots more.

The special effects were terrific, the performances uniformly good and the 3D intelligently utilised. Plus, it also had what may be Stan Lee’s best ever cameo.

Russell Lewin

15 ParaNorman

Directors: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Stop motion zombies.

You need to hear any more?

Okay then. ParaNorman is a children’s film that opens with the word, “Braaaaaiiiiiinnnnnsssss!!!!!” as its young central character, Norman, watches zombie horror films with his dead Grandma next to him on the sofa. His best friend at one point turns up wearing a Friday The 13th Jason mask.

Hang on, is this sounding like the most subversive film ever?

It’s not. It’s actually quite sweet, and though there are moments of deliciously black humour (there’s a ghost bird which has clearly been killed by getting its neck caught in those discarded plastic lager can holders) it’s the slapstick fun and colourful characters you recall with most fondness.

And the zombies…? They’re not really after your brains. In fact, you end up sympathising with them as the townsfolk of Blithe Hollow go all flaming-torches-and-pitchforks on them. It’s a clever inversion.

They do look marvellous though. Zombies are made for stop motion.

Dave Golder

14 Brave

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Cast: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane

Never has fake hair looked this damn good. Seriously, if we were Donald Trump we’d be hiring the Pixar gang to furnish us with a new ’do based solely on Princess Merida's mane, which is a thing of magnificent follicular beauty.

But enough about the hair and more about the bear! After all, this is the story of what happens when a bad choice of spell turns one of Merida’s loved ones into a grizzly and the slapstick antics that follow are a right royal treat. While not quite in the same comedic league as something like Pixar stablemate Monsters, Inc , Brave 's still bloody hilarious, using the kind of physical comedy you'd see in a West End farce interspersed with truly pretty magic and gorgeous landscapes.

Brave isn't going to go down as one of Pixar's greatest films – and it certainly didn't set the box office alight – but it's still miles ahead of most other ’toons. It also features a rare thing indeed: a heroine in a children's fairy tale who isn't looking for her prince, but living life on her own terms. If that's not an inspiration to little girls, then we're a big, shaggy bear.

Jayne Nelson

13 Rise Of The Guardians

Director: Peter Ramsey
Cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher

Hats off to whoever it was who thought, “Hey, let's call Hugh Jackman's agent to see if he'd like to play the Easter Bunny!” The rabbit in question, voiced in his native Aussie twang by Wolverine himself, is the highlight of this kiddie flick, doing all sorts of funny-bunny things while being effortlessly, Jackman-ly cool at the same time.

Bunny is only one of the great things about this feelgood tale, which also boasts Alec Baldwin as a burly Russian Santa (complete with battered worker Elves) and Chris Pine as Jack Frost. Oh, and Jude Law smarms his way through the film as villain Pitch, clearly enjoying the fact he gets to scare the nappies off smaller kids (although who doesn't?).

The action does tend to rush at times and there's so much crammed into the plot that by the end you're feeling a tad dizzy, but it's a small price to pay for what is, thankfully, a highly entertaining ensemble piece about a group of superpowered heroes saving the world (who aren't Avengers).

Just don't call Bunny a kangaroo. He doesn't like that.

Jayne Nelson

12 The Hunger Games

Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz

It looked like the successor to Twilight , a film franchise aiming to insinuate itself into the hearts of tweenage girls everywhere once the last set of Robert Pattinson-themed hair straighteners had been sold (no, seriously, they exist , and they even sparkle). But there's much more to The Hunger Games than an angst-filled love triangle between a pouty brunette and two brooding boys. Although, yes, there is that too.

The Hunger Games was incredibly – perhaps surprisingly – good. Jennifer Lawrence was a charismatic lead, but the whole cast threw themselves into the mythology of Panem with aplomb. Woody Harrelson hasn't been this fun since Zombieland , Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland added some gravitas to proceedings, and who knew Lenny Kravitz could act? Admittedly, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are unlikely to be the most interesting elements of the film to anyone outside of their target demographic, but they weren't actively bad, more overshadowed by more nuanced performances and more interesting characters.

Accusations that the film was derivative have some merit. As well as Twilight comparisons (sadly only likely to get worse as the love triangle story deepens and the film producers split books into multiple films to milk as much money from the franchise as possible), there were echoes of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Battle Royale . But they're two visually striking and emotionally impactful films to be borrowing from, and while The Hunger Games didn't reach the heights of either it was a solidly good film, much better than you might have expected from the trailer or the premise.

Narin Bahar

11 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Sylvester McCoy, James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage

“Have you got any chips?” Oddly, we don’t remember that line from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit . Nor about 75% of the rest of the film…

Not that it mattered. Many critics became hung up on the fact that Peter Jackson was making a trilogy out of a page book, but that was missing the point. Jackson wasn’t really making an adaptation of The Hobbit ; he was making a prequel trilogy to The Lord Of The Rings . Sure, he could have just stuck to The Hobbit , and made one lean, to-the-point movie in the light, children’s fantasy adventure tone of the book, but he knew that’s not what fans actually wanted; they wanted more Lord Of The Rings .

And he gave them that by expanding the book using appendices from The Lord Of The Rings and parts of the Silmarillion to expand The Hobbit and set it in the wider world and mythology of Middle-earth. The result: a prequel that felt like a prequel.

Admittedly, the straightforward, linear plot structure of the book gives the film a little of the feeling of getting the hors d'oeuvres after the main course. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t quite as good as any of the Rings films. But the Rings films were stunningly brilliant. Being slightly less than stunningly brilliant is okay in our book.

While the film has some stand-out action sequences, it’s at its best in its less frantic moments, when its stellar cast are required to act. Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo and Ian McKellen is possibly even more fun to watch than he was in the Rings trilogy. The “Riddle In The Dark” scene is absolutely perfect, and the Dwarves (including some of the sexiest Dwarves ever seen on screen) are a loveable bunch.

Sometimes the action goes a little too video-gamey, and the 48fps version may not have been to everybody’s taste (we’re not sure that’s just a case of “the shock of the new” so much as a filmmaker being a little overambitious with new technology before working out how to take the best advantage of it) but the quibbles are minor. This is a worthy continuation of the movie Middle-earth tales, and one that was well worth the wait.

Jonathan Norton

10 The Cabin In The Woods

Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker

The Avengers may have taken all the cash, but for many Joss Whedon fans, this was the better flick. The irony? Whedon didn’t direct it. That role fell to Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard. The result of this collaboration was one of the year’s most original and exciting movies.

To say too much about the plot would spoil it for newcomers, so we’ll leave it at this: five teens go on holiday to a remote cabin. They are not alone. Bad things happen. The film’s genius lies in the way that it both subverts and celebrates this clichéd setup and the genre that spawned it. We experience all the traditional horror thrills (Death! Boobs! Gore!) while the film probes deeper and asks questions about cinema, and about society itself. It's meaningful stuff.

Whedon called the movie a “very loving hate letter” to the torture porn flicks that ruled at the start of the decade ( Cabin was originally due for release in ). Some have taken that as a stab against horror in general, but nothing could be further from the truth. Watch the sequence in the basement, or the reveal of what exactly is in the cubes, and it's clear that this is the work of two fanboys having the time of their lives. It's riotous fun. At times it feels like the great horror film Quentin Tarantino is yet to make. It's funny, tragic, heartwarming and frightening all at the same time. And it features a unicorn.

Will Salmon

9 Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana

With a title that whiffs of being a nature documentary, a cast of unknowns – including a small child in her first film, the horror! – and a budget that would be just enough to whip up three minutes of something like The Hobbit , Beasts Of The Southern Wild really shouldn't be this good.

But it's good. Very good. And it's absolutely unforgettable to boot.

It's a beautiful, yet often visceral, fairy tale and social drama combined, set in the swamps of the American Deep South just before the ice caps melt away and the entire land floods to nothing. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her volatile father Wink (Dwight Henry) live an existence on the edge, struggling to survive both everyday life and each other's presence. But when the waters finally rise, the burden falls on Hushpuppy to seek out her dreams

Young Wallis was a mere five years old when she made the film, yet her acting style is so natural and fluid she makes Meryl Streep look like a panto dame. She had great material, though; this is the kind of messed-up, disturbing story the Brothers Grimm would be writing today, but with a socio-political edge that grounds it in reality. Dark, blistering, supernatural Southern magic.

Jayne Nelson

8 Skyfall

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris

So how did Skyfall do it? How did the 23rd Bond movie become a bona fide phenomenon, trousering the kind of silly money usually only obtained by threatening the UN with an orbital laser platform?

Let’s not rule out the simple power of patriotism – this summer saw Her Majesty’s secret servant recruited for security detail at the London Olympics (with Her Majesty herself on comic relief duty) and a little of that red, white and blue bulldog buzz undoubtedly attached itself to the film’s release.

But Skyfall has taken a staggering $,, worldwide (at time of writing). This is a global smash, edging Ian Fleming’s superspy into the dizzying, high-altitude realm of Avatar and The Lord Of The Rings . The Bond brand has a half-century advantage at the box office, of course, and the franchise’s golden anniversary undoubtedly triggered a groundswell of appreciation and affection for the old boy – but that doesn’t quite explain it either. And Skyfall does an awful lot of things that, on the surface, screw with the time-honoured sacraments of a Bond film: the new Q brings a snotty hipster attitude to the cherished gizmology of yesterday, there’s no grand world-threatening scheme, Dame Judi Dench becomes the de facto Bond babe and, in a sense, our hero fails.

But, in the broader creative sense, Bond triumphs. Skyfall is a juggernaut because it’s built on some mighty talents: Sam Mendes, transitioning from arthouse to blockbuster mode but keeping his core emotional values intact; Javier Bardem, making the Bond villain be an outsized, crowdpleasing turn again; cinematographer Roger Deakins, painting the East as some shimmering fever dream; Daniel Craig, finally allowing glimmers of wit and irony to puncture his hard man shell. Plus, it has komodo dragons. And komodo dragons rock.

By the end of Skyfall it feels as though the house of Bond has been rebuilt from the foundations up, completing the mission begun by Casino Royale in We’re back in business, and reporting for duty.

Nick Setchfield

7 Ruby Sparks

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas

If you didn’t know better you’d swear that Ruby Sparks was a Michel Gondry film. In look, feel, tone, attitude and theme Ruby Sparks resembles the quirky, oddball oeuvre of the Gallic weird-meister. It even starts off sweetly, then takes an eerie, freaky turn towards the end.

It’s a high concept film: what if you could write your ideal partner into existence? What makes it slightly chilling even from the start is that the fictional ideal partner here, the eponymous Ruby Sparks, has no idea she isn’t real. And the social misfit author who creates her, Calvin, can keep rewriting her, so that if she decides that the relationship isn’t going anywhere, he can make sure she changes her mind.

So what starts out as whimsical comedy (“Let’s make her talk French!”) rapidly becomes a deeper tale about free will and obsession. It’s the kind of thing you need to watch with a mixed-sex group so you can all argue about it afterwards. Entertaining and thought-provoking – what more could you want from a film?

Intriguingly, the film is not only written by Zoe Kazan – the actress playing Ruby – but Kazan has also been dating the film’s star, Paul Dano, for five years. Knowing that somehow makes the film operate on a whole other meta level.

Dave Golder

6 Holy Motors

Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue

There was nothing else like Holy Motors this year. In terms of giddy self-knowing lunacy and sheer audacity, nothing even came close. Suffice to say, director Leos Carax really broke the mould with this one.

Following the exploits of Monsieur Oscar, a chameleonic actor who is ferried around Paris to various appointments, Holy Motors is an artistic examination of the masks we must wear everyday, that retains an incredible sense of fun and experimentation.

Denis Lavant gave one of the performances of the year as the actor, and whether eating a supermodel’s hair as the grotesque Mr Merde or performing an erotic dance for a strange computer simulation, he brought a commitment and physicality to the role that marked him out as a master of the craft.

More than anything else released this year, Holy Motors was highly affecting. Scenes of supreme sadness rubbed up against exuberant musical performances and beautifully-detailed character studies, shocking imagery quickly punctured by belly laughs. It didn’t just stay with you after you left the cinema; it infected your consciousness, making it one of the most memorable and downright impressive films of the year, hands down.

Rob Power

5 Dredd

Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson

Finally, a screen version of the AD character fans can respect. It gets to the heart of the comic we've loved for 35 years – it isn't about the width of Dredd's Lawmaster tyres, it's about his attitude and the way he enforces the law no matter what preposterous situation he encounters.

Karl Urban simmers as the badass lawman and although his world is even grimier than we were expecting, every performance in the film is note perfect.

It's also beautifully brutal; slow-mo action scenes linger on every punctured body part, the hyperreal colours and editing giving the action scenes a balletic edge. Short, punchy and containing a few well-placed nods to the source material, ultimately Dredd is a deceptively simple cop-buddy drama.

What a shame nobody went to see it and we won’t get a sequel!

David Bradley

4 The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

Even Christopher Nolan couldn’t top The Dark Knight . He knew it. We all knew it. But rather than let The Joker have the last laugh, Nolan and his screenwriter-brother Jonathan delivered a very different breed of bat with The Dark Knight Rises .

Instead of a battle of wits, Rises is a physical war of attrition. Bruce Wayne is a physical wreck, Bane is a force of nature and the action is more muscular than ever before. Nolan keeps the action grounded while still allowing this threequel to be the most comic-booky of the trilogy, bringing the themes of the first film full circle in the process.

But it isn’t the heavy-duty set-pieces that impress the most – it’s the emotion.

Women have been short-changed in Nolan’s Bat-verse to date, but not so here. Anne Hathaway’s sassy Selina Kyle is the highlight of an already spectacular ensemble. Her budding love affair with Bruce is the light at the end of the tunnel for the billionaire playboy, but the real love story is between Bruce and the men in his life – Alfred and Gordon. We defy even hardened cinemagoers not to feel a lump in their throat when Batman reveals: “A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy's shoulder to let him know that the world hadn't ended.” Or the moment Alfred’s dream becomes reality in a Florence café.

The Dark Knight Rises has its fair share of problems and plot holes, but the sublime final 20 minutes, when Nolan fully realises the mantra he established at the beginning of Batman Begins – that as a symbol Batman can be everlasting (with a little help from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake) – goes a long way to obliterating any misgivings about what comes before.

Bane’s peculiar voice, Hans Zimmer’s powerful score, Wally Pfister’s stellar cinematography… there’s little about The Dark Knight Rises that doesn’t scream class, and how often is that the case in blockbuster cinema, let alone the superhero genre? No-one will ever top Nolan’s bat-trilogy on the big screen, and while this might not be the best of the three, it easily ranks among the best of the year.

Jordan Farley

3 Avengers Assemble

Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johannson, Samuel L Jackson

Over the past twelve months, we’ve seen Christopher Nolan complete his Batman trilogy, Peter Jackson return to Middle-earth and Andrew Garfield rejuvenate Spidey. But have no doubt: belonged to the Avengers.

It’s easy to see why. Joss Whedon is a genius, we all know that, and he brought together Marvel’s mightiest like the genre-striding colossus that he is. Herding superheroes like he’d been doing it all his life, Whedon produced a sparkling script full of instantly quotable one-liners and city-shattering action.

Somehow, Avengers was better than anyone had dared to hope. For the first time in the Marvel movie universe, multiple big-name superheroes clamoured for our attention on the screen, an embarrassment of riches when you consider the cast and characters involved. Robert Downey Jr, now firmly settled as the brightest star in the big screen Marvel firmament, dazzled as usual, alongside a supremely sultry Scarlett Johansson and a simply sublime Mark Ruffalo. Yes, Joss even got the Hulk right – who’d have thought it was possible?

The Avengers movie most of us never thought we’d see, it confirmed Marvel’s ascent to big screen dominance and had us all panting for more. The second instalment can’t come quickly enough.

Rob Power

2 Chronicle

Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan

Chronicle achieved the impossible; it was so good that nobody cared it was a found-footage film. In fact, any criticism leveled at the film tended to be about how ludicrous it had to be to stretch credulity to justify the found-footage conceit at times. Few moaned about having to stretch credulity to believe that a slacker teen could fly.

That’s because Chronicle is exquisitely written, directed and acted. And while ostensibly it’s a film about three teenagers who discover they have superpowers, from the very first scene – with socially awkward Andrew making a video diary in his bedroom as his drunken, abusive dad beats on the door and swears at him – you realise that this is going to be more, so much more than a low budget X-Men . It’s a film about relationships. Broken ones, mainly.

While the film has many grim moments, it also has moments filled with an intoxicating joie de vivre, especially when Andrew and his friends are learning to fly. Amazingly for a low-budget production, it has some of the most believable and exhilarating "you’ll believe a man can fly” scenes ever committed to film. This possibly has less to do with the FX and more to do with the performances and direction.

Chronicle also boasts a stunning final battle. It’s pure comic strip action, underpinned by raw emotion and a sense of tragedy. The Avengers ’ finale may have been more spectacular, but Chronicle ’s somehow has just as much impact.

Dave Golder

1 Looper

Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Noah Segan, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Garrett Dillahunt

In a year dominated by prequels, sequels and trips to long-established worlds, Looper scores points simply for being set in an entirely new universe. Far more important, however, is the fact it’s also the brainiest, most inventive and most tightly-plotted sci-fi film of

Rian Johnson’s previous movies, Brick and The Brothers Bloom , had marked him out as a writer/director to watch, and he puts his considerable storytelling talents to brilliant use here. Working with the highest of high concepts – a hitman employed to kill victims sent back from the future misses when his older self is the target – Johnson packs the film with time travel, action, family drama and loads more, not to mention a couple of dramatic curveballs.

As with all time travel movies, Looper doesn’t make sense if you analyse it too closely, but that doesn’t matter, because Johnson has a Back To The Future -like knack for keeping his logic consistent. Besides, the time travel is a tiny part of the story, essentially just a cunning ruse to get the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a room with his older self (a similarly ace Bruce Willis). It’s unashamedly complicated, but with Johnson to hold your hand – every plot twist feels totally organic within the flawless whole – it’s one hell of a ride. An instant classic.

Richard Edwards

Oh, in case you’re interested, the bottom 10 films were (with worst at the top):

1 The Devil Inside
2 Piranha 3DD
3 The Darkest Hour
4 House At The End Of The Street
5 Love Bite
6 The Watch
7 Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
8 Wrath Of The Titans
9 Chernobyl Diaries
10 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


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 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


Scifi 2012 best movies

Aliens, astronauts, time travel – you name it, there’s a dazzling sci-fi film about it. That makes compiling a list of the best sci-fi nigh on impossible. For one, where do you start?

To understand where sci-fi films came from, you need to head back to the dawn of the cinema age. Right at the start of it all, Metropolis, released in , used groundbreaking visuals to create a reference point for all future urban dystopias – it’s no fluke, for example, that the aesthetic of Blade Runner bares more than a passing resemblance to Fritz Lang’s prophetic urban hell-scape.

Then along came War of the Worlds (), a gripping tale of alien invasion adapted from H.G. Wells’ classic novel. In , Dr. Strangelove did more than most films before or since to ossify the fear of a nuclear holocaust. Then, in , perhaps the most influential sci-fi film of them all: A Space Odyssey. Say no more.

This is our ever evolving selection of the sci-fi movies everyone should watch, starting with something a little obscure but hugely influential. You may also enjoy our guides to best sci-fi books of all time and the best space movies.

La Jetée ()

This short film, composed only of black and white photos and background narration, inspired 12 Monkeys, another sci-fi classic that's also in our list. In the aftermath of World War III, scientists invent time travel in the hope that they can send a person back to change the present. A man, imprisoned underground in post-apocalyptic Paris, has vague memories of a woman on a pier, and witnessing a murder as a child. The scientists choose him, and his memories turn out to be key to his time travel. A masterpiece that shows you don’t need a large budget or spectacular special effects to make great sci-fi. Buy on Amazon

A Clockwork Orange ()

Based on the novel of the same name, Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange is a classic of the dystopian genre. Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, is a teenage delinquent with a fetish for classical music and violence. As his crimes catch up to him, he’s eventually sent to prison, in the hopes that he will be cured of his taste for violence and sex by experimental aversion therapy. Shot with extreme wide-angle lenses to create the dreamy, fantastical quality that pervades the film, it went on to become one of the era’s most controversial films. Buy on Amazon

The Andromeda Strain ()

Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name served as the basis for this sci-fi thriller, where a team of scientists race against time to investigate an organism with deadly goals. When all the residents of the town of Piedmont, New Mexico, turn up dead, the US Air Force is sent to investigate what went wrong. The film’s intense, claustrophobic action unfolds over four days in the town’s underground lab, a facility readied for nuclear self-destruction should any of its extraterrestrial investigations turn out dangerous. The Andromeda Strain was one of the first commercial films to use advanced computerised effects, and scientists have since described the level of detail as remarkably accurate. Buy on Amazon

Solaris ()

Solaris tells the story of a psychologist who’s sent to an orbiting space station to try to understand the strange behaviour of resident scientists. When he arrives, he’s not prepared for the unnerving world he finds – nor the unexpected characters onboard. Andrei Tarkovsky, the writer and director, set out to bring emotional feeling and depth to the genre of sci-fi, something which has served as an inspiration for current sci-fi hits like Arrival and Gravity. A remake, starring George Clooney, was less well received. Buy on Amazon

Westworld ()

Westworldthe film is far less cerebral and far more weird than the recent Anthony Hopkins-driven TV series. Although, the premise is broadly the same: Westworld is a theme park of the future populated by human-imitating AIs whose primary function is to accommodate the macabre wish-fulfilment of the park’s paying guests. But there’s no pontificating on the state of the human condition in this one: it’s a chase movie. Fear the steely-eyed robot Yul Brynner! Buy on Amazon

Logan's Run ()

In , everyone lives clustered under geodesic domes, killed off by the time they’re 30, but able to live hedonistically until then. Maintained by a computer, this is the optimal way to maintain the resources for everyone involved, until glitches in the system reveals that there might be another way for people to stay alive past the optimal age. Logan’s Run was a sophisticated sci-fi film at the time, although the dialogue may feel a little dated but it’s worth a watch just for the costumes alone. Buy on Amazon

Demon Seed ()

A brilliant, committed scientist develops Proteus IV (an intelligent supercomputer), which soon becomes the source of marital problems. As he tries to market the Proteus IV technology to corporations and research laboratories, the supercomputer itself searches for a human form, settling on the scientist’s wife as a potential host. Horror and sci-fi are inexplicably intertwined in this late 70s thriller, although it had mixed reviews upon its release. Buy on Amazon

Close Encounters of the Third Kind ()

Stranger and harsher than some of Spielberg’s other early films, Close Encounters isn’t all aliens and kids looking up at the sky. This is more than naive wonder and whimsy at the prospect of visitors from another planet – as seen in the slow pacing, the spectre of "sunburn", Roy Neary's relationship with his family and the mystery of Claude Lacombe's program. The effects are stunning for a film released in and the musical notes used to communicate with the UFOs are a stroke of genius from John Williams. Buy on Amazon

Stalker ()

Andrei Tarkovsky's Soviet art film might sit more on the sci-phi side of things, but it’s still essential viewing. The film follows three men – a writer, a scientist and a guide – into The Zone, a treacherous wasteland that confuses and confounds all who enter it. At almost three hours long, and very much in Russian, Stalker isn't so much entertaining as transfixing thanks to those long, long Tarkovsky shots. Its influence can be felt in TV shows such as Westworld and, more recently and clearly, Alex Garland’s Annihilation. Buy on Amazon

Alien ()

Directed by sci-fi pioneer Ridley Scott, Alien follows the crew of a commercial space ship, who encounter Alien, a deadly creature that leaves a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere was inspired by classic sci-fi stories, but it struggled to get funding until Star Wars showed that spectacular sci-fi could bring in the big bucks. One of the film’s stand-out techniques was to never show the full horror of the eponymous Alien – it’s a brilliant and terrifying way to build suspense that’s been endlessly copied and riffed on ever since. Buy on Amazon

Altered States ()

Based on noted scientist John C.Reilly’s experiments with sensory deprivation and psychedelic drugs, a blend of sci-fi and horror earned Altered States a cult following many years after. It follows a psychiatrist, Edward Jessup, who becomes obsessed with the idea of altered states of consciousness – such as hallucinations or visions that people may experience when they’re taking drugs or suffering from a mental break. The film’s generally delirious atmosphere – as when Jessup takes a kind of drug similar to ayahuasca, which sends him into a kind of frenzy that he chases through taking more of it – contributes to the creeping sense of unease viewers feel, but it’s not one for the lighthearted. Buy on Amazon

Scanners ()

An unlikely entry, this science horror film is about a group of people who want to take over the world – renegade scanners, who are people with telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Crucially, they possess the ability to make other people’s heads explode – something which a group of renegade scanners decide to use to their favour. A classic of the horror/sci-fi intersection, Scannersfeatures the iconic exploding head scene which set the bar for vfx at the time, with a serious bent on other gore films. Buy on Amazon

Blade Runner ()

Set in Los Angeles, , Rick Deckard is one of the titular blade runners – someone who tracks down replicants, which are unnatural, bioengineered beings, and kills them. He is sent on a mission to find four who are on Earth illegally, and to administer a test – the Voigt-Kampff test – which is supposed to distinguish replicants from humans. The original Blade Runner drew from classic Edward Hopper paintings and the skyline in Hong Kong to create the film’s iconic, technology infused film-noir look. Buy on Amazon

The Thing ()

Antarctica. John Carpenter. Kurt Russell. The Thing is one of those sci-fi horror classics that was panned by critics when it was first released but gets better and better with repeat viewings. The tension ramps up and up as the scientists, quarantined in a remote research station, descend into paranoia trying to take down the ancient, shape-shifting (and delightfully gross) alien they've disturbed. Buy on Amazon

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ()

E.T. is a classic sci-fi film – a sweet, sappy take on friendship – without any of the heavy handedness of its contemporaries. The basic plot is recognisable - an alien, E.T., is left behind on Earth, and a ten year old boy ends up befriending it, ensuing in shenanigans. Where E.T. differs from other films with a similar conceit is in how Spielberg chooses to focus on the heady experience of childhood and forming emotional bonds, as opposed to creating a special effects blockbuster. Buy on Amazon

Tron ()

Tron did in the 80s what The Matrix did in the 90s. At a time when special effects were often more miss than hit, it put on a dazzling display of technical wizardry. In the simplest terms, Tron is an action adventure film starring Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer trapped inside a funky world of software. More than that, Tron is a film about what it means to be human – albeit one heavily disguised by a stylish, computeristic wonderscape. This film was a landmark moment in computer animation, but also ossified ideas and themes that still fascinate sci-fi fans and auters to this day. Buy on Amazon

The Terminator ()

A cyborg assassin is sent from the year to the year to kill a woman whose son could be the saviour in a post apocalyptic future. Featuring a freakishly robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger, it arguably launched James Cameron’s career as an action director. Its relentless, violent pace evened out what could be a cheesy script, and it went on to become a vital piece of pop culture. Buy on Amazon

Brazil ()

Directed by Terry Gilliam, Brazilis a grandly realised masterpiece of absurdist, dystopian sci-fi. It features Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, initially resigned to life as a cog in a totalitarian society clogged by dysfunctional bureaucracy, where people end up in body bags for crimes they didn’t commit and restaurants are routinely ripped apart by explosives. But soon he becomes infatuated with a political activist and turns into her unwitting accomplice, erratically rebelling against the state – but not for long. Watching the increasingly disordered world unravel around him alongside his mental state is a true pleasure. As are the fantastical, and oftentimes terrifying, dream sequences that slice through what passes for the day to day reality. An unforgettable watch.

Back to the Future ()

While it doesn’t have the cinematic seriousness of its 80s sci-fi contemporaries, Back to the Future nonetheless captured the spirit of the age. Or at least a very Michael J. Fox portrayal of it. Back to the Future Part II, released in , took the somewhat less successful leap to a fanciful The final installment in the trilogy, released in , added a Western spin on a tried-and-tested formula. But, in combination, the franchise’s self-lacing shoes, DeLoreans and hoverboards have all rightfully earned Back to the Future a place in sci-fi cinema history. Buy on Amazon

Robocop ()

The premise of Robocop seems laughable – a police officer is murdered by a gang, and then brought back to life by a mega corporation to patrol the streets as a kind of half cyborg, half police officer, called Robocop. But Robocop turns it into an examination of capitalism and the power of corporations, despite the action scenes with a lot of violence, because it’s set in a recognisable version of the future (Detroit, as it crumbles) that feels more familiar as time passes. Buy on Amazon

Akira ()

Akira is credited for popularising anime in the West and this feature film, which is a condensed version of a long-running manga comic, remains one of the most ambitious animated features ever made. It's set in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo, several decades after a massive event destroyed the old city, where gangs, terrorists and religious fanatics vie for control of a corrupt and decaying society. When Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang, comes into contact with an escaped child from a government lab, he begins to develop incredible psychic powers which he abuses and struggles to control. His best friend, Kaneda, seeks to rescue him, but quickly realises more drastic action is necessary as they’re both engulfed in events beyond their comprehension. Buy on Amazon

They Live ()

If you like your sci-fi with B-movie horror undertones, don't skip over John Carpenter's campy late 80s cult classic They Live. Finding its way into the brains of director Darren Aronofsky, pop punk band Green Day and street artist Shepard Fairey, it follows two down and out construction workers – pro wrestler Roddy Piper and a young Keith David – who find and start wearing sunglasses that show the truth about aliens in human suits and secret propaganda in ads, signs and media on every corner of the city. Based on an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type short story/comic by Ray Nelson, the film wasn't especially revered on arrival but how can you deny the epic scrappy brawl, the extra-terrestrial newsreaders and lines like "I've come here to kick ass and chew bubble gum and I'm all out of bubble gum." Buy on Amazon

Coneheads ()

A sci-fi comedy from the early 90s, Coneheads is based on the NBC Saturday Night Live comedy sketches starring Dan Ackroyd of Ghostbusters fame. Ackroyd and Jane Curtin play the Coneheads, an alien race with big cones for heads. On a recon mission, the pair are stranded on earth, and must raise their daughter and dodge ICE, while waiting for their rescue ship from the planet Remulak. Woke before its time, and hilarious to boot – “pay attention to your parental unit!

Ghost in the Shell ()

Based on a manga of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is a direct influence on numerous modern sci-fi films, most notably The Matrix. Set in , it depicts a future where cybernetic technology is widespread and most people have cyberbrain augmentation, which allows them to connect directly to the internet. New technology brings new risks and thrust into them is Major Kusanagi, an assault-team leader and investigator who is unusual in that her body is entirely cybernetic. When an "escaped AI" starts causing havoc, she and her team are tasked with tracking it down, but her investigation reveals a darker conspiracy and makes her question reality. Buy on Amazon

12 Monkeys ()

Directed by Terry Gilliam at his peak and starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys is a brilliant noir-ish time travel movie where a deadly virus, released in , kills most of humanity. Survivors in live underground where a group of desperate scientists send a convict, played by Willis, back in time with orders to stop the virus, believed to be released by a group known as the 12 Monkeys. When he's sent to the wrong time, he's immediately arrested and put in a mental hospital where he meets a fanatical patient, played by Pitt, and tries to convince a psychiatrist he's telling the truth. What follows is a brilliant web of paradoxical events that often stretches plausibility, but never fails to enthral.

Star Trek: First Contact ()

First Contact pulled off the trickiest of balancing acts. It wasn’t just a big-budget sci-fi adventure beloved by Trek fans, but also accessible enough to bring in a whole new audience. That extra money gave the world of Next Generation even more detail, bringing the Enterprise to life and making the fiendish Borg more believable and complex. The pioneering story of Zefram Cochran is a great contrast to that doom-laden world and finally explains a formative moment in Trek history – how humanity first made its faster-than-light leap into the stars. Buy on Amazon

Fifth Element ()

One of the most polarising sci-fi films of all time, director Luc Besson came up with the idea for Fifth Element when he was 16 (it was filmed and released 20 years later). A taxicab driver becomes responsible for the fate of the Earth, two centuries from now, when a mysterious woman falls into his cab. They embark on a quest to find four stones which can maintain peace on Earth. When it was released, The Fifth Element was alternately panned and lauded for its special effects and storyline, but since then, it has gained the notoriety of a cult classic. Buy on Amazon

Gattaca ()

Gattaca’s focus on the dystopian end-game of genetic engineering was significantly ahead of its time. A relative box office flop, it has nonetheless become the go-to film for geneticists looking to understand how ordinary people view their work, and ordinary people looking for a thoughtful, stylish film about the future of genetics. It’s a thriller with a brain that, more than most people realise, has framed popular debates around eugenics that still rumble on today. Buy on Amazon

Contact ()

Based on the Carl Sagan novel of the same name, Contact follows two scientists who make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, touching on science and religion in the process. Dr. Ellie Arroway works at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where she has been attempting to make contact with extraterrestrials for years. When a repeating signal eventually appears from the Vega star system, she enters into an international race to decipher it, in the hope of being selected to respond to the message. Buy on Amazon

Men in Black ()

Men in Black, based on the comic book series of the same name, was a fun, science fiction film which proved that the genre didn’t have to be serious in order to be worth watching. A secret organisation, the Men in Black, is tasked with supervising extraterrestrial being on Earth – making sure they don’t get into any trouble, but also keeping the human beings around them safe, using memory-erasing “neuralysers”. The original film was turned into a franchise and spin-offs, but nothing comes close to capturing the delight of the first. Buy on Amazon

The Truman Show ()

To a modern viewer, this might not seem like science fiction, but when The Truman Show came out in , anxieties about mass surveillance were just that. Now, we live in a world of cameras – watching from above, and welcomed into our homes and pockets. The movie, which follows Jim Carrey as he slowly realises he’s the star of his own ‘reality’ TV show, remains a must-watch, and has had a huge cultural impact, even inspiring the name of a psychological condition.

The Matrix ()

Commercial science fiction films could be stylish – like Blade Runner – but studios and filmmakers often focused on bringing science fiction elements to an otherwise human story. With The Matrix, released in , the Wachowskis turned that on its head – depicting a dystopian future, where all of humanity had been trapped in a simulated reality, being used as an energy source for artificially intelligent creatures. A hacker, Neo, is alerted to the falseness of the world they live in, and soon starts on a quest to uncover the truth. Several of the film’s stylistic inventions – such as the digital rain of the code that composes the Matrix – are iconic parts of contemporary culture. The Matrix brought questions about existential philosophy and nihilism to the forefront of the story and coupled them with intense action scenes that drew from martial arts and Japanese animation, to create an enduring cyberpunk sci-fi film that reverberates around contemporary culture. Buy on Amazon

eXistenZ ()

At the time of its release, David Cronenberg’s body-horror eXistenZ was constantly compared to the Wachowski’s sleek science fiction film The Matrix. But disgruntled cinemagoers soon realised that eXistenZ was the complete antithesis to the film they were told they were going to see. eXistenZ is a psychotropic trip into a mad world of bone-shaped guns that shoot out teeth, icky human plug sockets, game pods and fish. It follows celebrity game developer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she flees into her own virtual reality creation to escape an assassin trying to kill her in the real world. She teams up with Ted Pickle, a hapless marketing trainee played by a young Jude Law, who is tasked, bizarrely, with protecting her as they wander through the game. It’s a subtle story about existence, as the name suggests, the blurring of reality and fantasy, and will have you thinking about what it means long after the credits roll. Cronenberg’s signature vintage gooeyness will have you writhing in disgust, but that’s what makes it so much better. The film came at a time when cinema was filled with mainstream blockbuster science fiction films, so it was nice to have eXistenZ around to provide viewers with something repulsively different. Buy on Amazon

A.I Artificial Intelligence ()

David, a robotic boy, longs to become a human child so that he can regain the love of his human mother, who abandoned him. He embarks on a journey to make his dreams come true. Starring the strange boy from The Sixth Sense (Haley Joel Osment) and Jude Law (who looks remarkably like himself in any other film despite being a robot gigolo on the run) band together in this very strange and memorable take on Pinocchio. In this dystopian world, robots are numerous and have evolved past being mere helpers to becoming sentient beings in their own right. But not everything is hunky-dory: there are still plenty of cars (to dispose of unwanted robot children in lakes), sex robots, and rampant racism. Granted, this Stanley Kubrick/Stephen Spielberg combo fails at making anyone feel sorry for its butter-faced protagonist David, but it inadvertently achieves something much, much better. The big eyes and baby voice, coupled with a penchant for cutting locks of people's hair and preserving them in perpetuity, makes this creepy homage a classic. Buy on Amazon

Minority Report ()

With hallmarks of neo-noir and thriller films, Minority Report’s unique visual atmosphere was groundbreaking and oddly prescient, warning of a world where advanced technology can predict people’s crimes before they even commit them. Three mutated humans, known as Precogs, make these predictions – when they predict that Chief Anderton (Tom Cruise) will kill a man 36 hours from now, he goes on the run. The film’s futuristic aesthetic set the benchmark for a new kind of stylised sci-fi – one which was heavily informed by technologists and scientists working at the cutting edge of what was possible at the time – through its use of colour and imagery. Buy on Amazon

Primer ()

Primer shuns big-budget special effects with director Shane Carruth opting for a low budget but high intensity film about two engineers, Aaron and Abe, who accidentally discover the secrets to time travel in their garage. When it was released Primer was noted for its originality – the film takes on complex topics like quantum physics and doesn’t dumb them down for the viewer, instead using real jargon and terms that real-life researchers would – and for its commitment to a lo-fi aesthetic. Much of the film is set in garages and car parks, and the with the exception of the two lead roles, every other character is played by a friend or family member of the cast. Buy on Amazon

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ()

Much contemporary sci-fi tends to dwell on the terrifying aspects of technology on a large scale. In Eternal Sunshine, director Michael Gondry and writer Brian Kaufman wanted to focus on the relationship between Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey), strangers who meet on a train to Montauk and fall helplessly in love. Eventually, they realise that they had met and fallen in love before. The rest of the film charts how this happened – from the memory-erasing firm Lacuna technologies, and the relationships between the employees there – to the difficult decision that they must then make. Shot in a beautifully dreamy style and with an uncharacteristically heartfelt performance from Carrey, Eternal Sunshine has gone to achieve both a cult following and widespread acclaim, both as sci-fi and a romantic comedy. Buy on Amazon

Serenity ()

Joss Whedon's movie spin-off of the cult hit TV show Firefly may seem like entertaining fluff, but there's more here than meets the eye. It depicts a frequently believable new frontier in space, centuries after humanity fled Earth due to overpopulation, where the gap between the haves and have nots is wider than ever. It touches on age-old themes such as the tension between technology and individual freedoms, and how seemingly benevolent bureaucracies can become oppressors. It challenges orthodox neo-liberalism and presents an unusually progressive take on libertarianism, all while delivering a hugely entertaining action flick. Hard sci-fi this isn't, but look hard enough and there's ample serious sci-fi woven into Serenity's breezy storytelling. Buy on Amazon

Children of Men ()

Cuarón’s knack for elevating the dystopian to high art is never more evident than in Children of Men. Set in , after two decades of global human infertility, the UK is one of the few remaining stable nations, which is inundated by asylum seekers and refugees from other nations, who are summarily rounded up and executed by the British Army. Theo Faron, a former activist, is kidnapped by an immigrant rights group, led by his ex wife. He is offering money if he can help get a young refugee, Kee, across the border safely. As they embark on a perilous journey, they encounter difficulties every step of the way – from subterfuge to murder plots – as Kee and Theo try to reach safety. While the plagues that caused infertility are the main driving force of the film, there is never a clear explanation for what they are. Cuarón draws inspiration from literature, Michelangelo sculptures and photographs of real battlefields – dwelling on faith, love and hope – to create a profoundly moving experience. Buy on Amazon

A Scanner Darkly ()

This visually stunning adaptation of a Phillip K Dick novel uses an animation technique known as 'interpolated rotoscoping,' where animators painstakingly trace over filmed footage frame-by-frame. It gives the story – which takes place in a version of America where 20 per cent of the population is hooked on the powerful Substance D – a trippy, hallucinogenic feel. Directed by Richard Linklater, it features Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder in varying states of paranoia, and follows an undercover operative (played by Keanu Reeves) working for a government that's using invasive, high-tech surveillance to get a handle on the war on drugs.

Sunshine ()

Inspired by the idea of the heat death of the universe and the inevitable death of the Sun, Alex Garland teamed up with Danny Boyle to create a sci-fi thriller about the psychological effects of space travel. In , the Earth is falling apart as the Sun slowly powers down. A crew of eight astronauts embarks on a perilous mission to jump-start it, on the ship aptly named Icarus II. As they draw closer, they find the wreck of Icarus I, which they hope to commandeer in the hopes of greater success. In designing the film, the filmmakers consulted Nasa, and the futurologist Richard Seymour and physicist Brian Cox were introduced to cast members, who lived together to create the feeling of intimacy that the crew of the Icarus II would have had. This is an emotionally intense, claustrophobic roller coaster that touches on science, faith and, eventually, hope. Buy on Amazon

Cloverfield ()

Director Matt Reeves uses found footage to great effect in Cloverfield, which tells the story of an alien invasion in New York, using clips that look as though they were filmed on a camcorder. The stakes get higher and higher, as a plan is put in place to destroy Manhattan in order to flush out the monster, told entirely through grainy camera recordings. Found footage is a staple of horror, rather than sci-fi, but Cloverfield melds the two together for a thrilling and terrifying ride. Subsequent sequels and spinoffs weren’t as well received. Buy on Amazon

Wall-E ()

One of the only animated films on this list, Wall-E touches on themes of environmental risk and devastation through the lens of a lone robot, Wall-E, who is sent to Earth to clean up the planet’s garbage. Though he lives a solitary life, another robot, EVE, eventually arrives, which he then falls in love with. Buy on Amazon

Moon ()

This beautiful, moving film from Duncan Jones starts at the end of an unusual experience: an astronaut goes through a personal crisis at the end of a three year stint mining helium on the Moon. As he struggles with what lays ahead of him, he starts to hallucinate. The desolation of the film, as well as the emotional story at its heart, stops Moon from sliding into a weird, syrupy sci-fi film. The clever cinematography, use of models rather than VFX, and an excellent performance from Sam Rockwell as the protagonist, ensures this will appeal to both film buffs and sci-fi fanatics. Buy on Amazon

District 9 ()

Set in in Johannesburg, South Africa, an alien spaceship appears and a population of insect-like aliens are found aboard, before being banished to District 9 by the government. Three decades later, the district has become reviled by the locals, and increasing unrest leads the government to believe that the aliens should be moved. In the process of doing so, three escape, setting off another chain of events. Inspired by apartheid in South Africa, District 9’s visual effects were also designed to evoke a kind of insect-like alien, but one that viewers would sympathise with as the film went on. Buy on Amazon

Monsters ()

Before Monsters, director Gareth Edwards was a little-known visual artist, but this ingenious indie flick led to him helming 's Godzilla and Rogue One. Shot on a shoestring budget with a bare bones script, Monsters follows two travellers seeking to escape a forbidden zone taken over by mysterious alien Kaiju. The two companions travel widely, interacting with locals who scrape a living in the shadow of the no-go area, and Edwards deftly combines visual effects and the real world to create hints of the unseen threat, creating a sense of curiosity and dread throughout.

Inception ()

A James Bond film inside a heist film inside a Christopher Nolan film, Inception takes a near-perfect screenplay and executes every dreamworld with precision and flair and humour. Nolan's cinematic experiments with time are always interesting (as in Interstellar and Dunkirk) but Inception still feels like the most complete entry in this trickster's obsession with time as a storytelling tool. With Hans Zimmer on soundtrack duty and stellar acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, there’s plenty here to elevate an already mind-bending story. Buy on Amazon

Source Code ()

Director Duncan Jones followed his critically acclaimed debut Moon with another critical and commercial hit, Source Code in Jake Gyllenhaal plays a US Army pilot who wakes up in the body of someone else, a school teacher aboard a commuter train. Minutes later the train explodes and he awakes again inside a cockpit, where he's told via video screen he's in a simulation and that his mission is to go back again (and again) to identify the bomber within the eight minutes available to him. The clever conceit sets up an exhilarating thriller with a sci-fi twist that's all wrapped up in a tight 90 minutes.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes ()

The original might have the best ending (You maniacs!), but the 's gritty reboot and origin story is more palatable to modern sensibilities than the campy s and 70s movies and sci-fi as a result. The first in the new series of films follows Will Rodman (played by James Franco), who is testing a potential cure for Alzheimer's on chimpanzees that goes badly wrong for humans, and pretty well for the apes, led by intelligence-enhanced chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis). Outstanding CGI and some excellent follow-ups make the rebooted series an outstanding addition to the Apes canon, so we can all forget about the Mark Walhberg-fronted effort.

Looper ()

Looper’s central conceit can be a little tricky to wrap your head around – contract killers, known as loopers, are used by gangs and criminal syndicates to send the people they kill back through time. Their final victims will be themselves – ergo, closing the loop. One breakaway looper, Joe, starts to run into problems when his future self arrives to kill him in the hopes of stopping a mystical figure ruining the whole process. Looper’s blend of action and complex plot have made it a fan favourite, though you may need a few repeat viewings to fully understand it. Buy on Amazon

Snowpiercer ()

A tightly woven, claustrophobic film set on a train barrelling towards the end of humanity can sound more like horror than sci-fi, but Snowpiercer is a different and exciting take on the genre. An attempt at climate engineering gone wrong has created a new Earth, and a train carrying the only people alive is wrecked by a mutiny. In the hands of less capable actors or screenwriters, it could have become just another action film with an ambitious storyline – but the use of mise en scène, as well as gorgeous, immersive cinematography makes the viewer fully aware of the action, which is all the more chilling through Snowpiercer’s twists and turns. Buy on Amazon

Her ()

In this romantic take on sci-fi, directed by Spike Jonze, Theodore, a depressed writer, leads a lonely life in a futuristic version of Los Angeles. He upgrades an operating system, which leads to the introduction of a virtual assistant with AI capabilities, who calls herself Samantha. As Theodore tries to move on from his impending divorce he finds that Samantha’s influence on his life stretches past the purely practical. Rather than delving into sci-fi tropes about a lonely man and his operating system, Her’s nuanced and sweet exploration of intimacy and technology brought a new dimension to how we society thinks about virtual assistants. Buy on Amazon

Gravity ()

When Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for Gravity, he didn’t set out to make a film about space itself – rather, he wanted to make a film about adversity and human resilience. This is a film about two scientists who find themselves stranded in space, and what they must overcome to get safely back to Earth. An eerie atmosphere pervades the film, with soaring, rich cinematography and compelling performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Gravity is less straightforward sci-fi and more complex masterpiece. Part of the marvel of the film was its use of visual effects, pulling the viewer right into Cuarón’s fantastical, terrifying adventure. Buy on Amazon

Under the Skin ()

Under the Skin is a cerebral, hypnotic story about an alien who’s disguised itself as a black wig-wearing Scarlett Johansson – a femme fatale drifting along the outskirts of Glasgow, seducing men in order to use them and consume them for sustenance. Accompanied by a mesmerising score that vibrates beneath a near silent film with vivid cinematography, makes Under the Skin a literal skin-crawling experience. To say much more would spoil you from being able to fully involve yourselves in the world of one of the most horrifying sci-fi films of recent years.

Ex Machina ()

Garland is no stranger to sci-fi – having written Sunshine, but Ex Machina was his directorial debut. Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a brilliant computer programmer who wins a competition to spend a week at the remote house of the CEO of the company he works for, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When he gets there, he finds out he’s been selected as the human component in a Turing test for Ava (Alicia Vikander), a fembot with a human face and robotic body. As he tests her capabilities, he finds that she may be far more intelligent than Nathan may have realised. Ex Machina could very easily have delved into standard sci-fi fare – an intelligent AI that’s far smarter than anyone realises, a reclusive, genius creator – but fuses an elegant aesthetic with clever storytelling to create a more nuanced, human film. Buy on Amazon

The Edge of Tomorrow ()

An alien race arrives in Germany and slowly mounts an invasion, one that the human race is woefully underprepared for. Major William Cage, who has no combat experience, is thrust into combat and is soon killed in combat. He finds himself reliving the last day of his life, over and over again, each time with no one to believe him, trying to use it to his advantage. The alien race in the film, Mimics, are particularly memorable, even in a crowded field, and the mixture of action with a straightforward plot (and humour) stop it from turning into a macabre version ofGroundhog Day. Buy on Amazon

Interstellar ()

Nolan’s space epic about a mission to find a new world or humanity is sometimes unfairly dismissed as spectacle exceeding substance. Sure, its story hooks are more emotional than philosophical and you could drive a bus through the gaping paradox of its time and gravity bending ending, but it’s a rare event in sci-fi: a successful blockbuster. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain all excel in their lead roles and the depiction of Earth in the final throes of a global ecological collapse has real impact. The brilliant set pieces, including a realistic depiction of a black hole, and an outstanding Hans Zimmer soundtrack, add to to sense of scale and drama. Buy on Amazon

The Martian ()

Matt Damon is stranded on Mars and there’s little hope of rescuing him. The Martian could have been a dreary attempt at intellectual sci-fi, but thankfully its clever plot and believable characters more than save the film. This may have been in part due to the significant role which Nasa ended up playing in the movie, from the inception, to advising on technical details in the script, as well as collaboration on marketing. A screening of The Martian was shown at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston too. Buy on Amazon

Mad Max: Fury Road ()

Riffing off the original Mad Max series, from the s, Fury Road takes a contemporary anxiety – scarce resources, climate change, the general apocalypse – and turns it into a dense, overwhelming thriller, with magnificent special effects and a visionary bent. In this post-apocalyptic film, petrol and water have become scarce commodities, and a group of people fleeing a cult leader have to team up to fight for their survival. With an ensemble cast led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the film’s take on the near dystopian future tends more towards action and thriller than sci-fi, but it trades on a very real fear – that of natural resources running out. The film’s dystopian aesthetic and feminist overtones form part of its unique appeal that’s bolstered by strong performances from a brilliant ensemble cast. Buy on Amazon

Arrival ()

Ted Chiang’s short novella, Story of Your Life, serves as the inspiration for this moving film about language and discovery in which humanity struggles to make sense of strange, alien visitors arriving on Earth. At the centre of the film is linguist Louise Banks, whose attempts to commune with the aliens brings her unsettling visions of her daughter. While the premise – unfamiliar aliens, existential threat – is tried and tested, in director Denis Villeneuve’s capable hands, it turns into a meditation on communication, uncertainty and love. Buy on Amazon

Midnight Special ()

Jeff Nichols' story of an eight-year-old boy with special powers and the father trying to protect him didn't do particularly spectacularly at the box office. But we think Midnight Special deserves a spot as one of the most interesting pieces of cinematic sci-fi to represent the s. It's a suspenseful, visually intriguing curio that finds new angles on the parent-child dynamic with fine performances from Michael Shannon as Roy, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Egerton and Adam Driver. Buy on Amazon

Blade Runner ()

More than 30 years after the original Blade Runner hit cinemas, its sequel starting Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling took $ million at box offices around the world. Ford, a former blade runner who has vanished for three decades, is rediscovered by Gosling as he seeks to save society from impending chaos. The film won Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography at the 90th Academy Awards in March It also picked up Best Cinematography and best Special Visual Effects at the BAFTAs.

Annihilation ()

Alex Garland’s bio-futurist film Annihilation went straight to Netflix, but the film received rave reviews for its complexity. Lena, played by Natalie Portman, is a scientist whose husband disappeared, and then was returned with little memory of what happened before. She finds out he was sent to investigate The Shimmer, a kind of iridescent forcefield with mysterious origins and effects on the people who enter. As she journeys into it, alongside a group of other scientists, she finds human shaped plants and weird animal hybrids, alongside other unnatural phenomena. Even though the film’s premise seems initially simple, it’s philosophical bent and stellar performances create an immersive story that pushed along by an unusual and killer soundscape. Buy on Amazon

High Life ()

Monte (Robert Pattison) and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a mission to the outer reaches of the solar system, but they’re hurtling towards a black hole. This sounds like a standard sci fi action movie, but it’s actually a high art masterpiece. “An Old Testament parable catapulted forward into the 23rd century, a primal scene in a pressurised cabin of sci-fi pessimism, suppressed horror and denied panic,” says The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.

The Wandering Earth ()

The movie has been a colossal hit in China. The Wandering Earth earned more than $ million (£m) in the country's box office and this prompted Netflix to snap-up the rights to stream the sci-fi sensation internationally. The film sees a group of astronauts, sometime far into the future, attempting to guide the Earth away from the Sun, which is expanding into a red giant. The problem? Jupiter is also in the way. While the Earth is being steered by 10, fire-blowing engines that have been strapped to the surface, the humans still living on the planet must find a way to survive the ever-changing environmental conditions.

Oxygen ()

A woman wakes up in a cryonics cell, after a few weeks in suspended animation. She doesn’t remember her own name,  age, or past except for a few disturbing flashbacks. But one thing she knows – courtesy of an annoying talking AI – she has only just over an hour before she runs out of oxygen. Can she get out of the coffin-shaped chamber quickly enough? Oxygen is as claustrophobic a thriller as it gets, and manages to find that rare sweet spot of being static and unnerving at once. And the actors’ strong performances help the film win the day, despite a ludicrously far-fetched ending.

Adventure Sci-Fi Movie 2020 - PROMETHEUS 2012 Full Movie HD - Best Sci-Fi Movies Full Length English

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And you surrender. Me. And that I am always from below ??. Dean snorted indignantly. - No, I will never believe it.

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