It's been ten years since we crossed into the seemingly futuristic "Year 2000." While we didn't get moon colonies or hovercars, we did get a collection of amazing science fiction films, both blockbusters and indies. The staff of Sci-Fi Squad has compiled their top ten (okay, eleven) favorite films of the decade, a list that will allow you to nod your head in agreement or spit venom at us in the comments. So now, in alphabetical order...
Children of Men (2006, Dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
The opening scenes of Children of Men plunge the viewer neck-deep into an icy future with an expiration date firmly set. The human race faces extinction because women all over the world have become infertile: no children have been born for a generation. The British government endeavors to stave off chaos by deporting all foreigners, but many of its citizens have already succumbed to hopelessness and despair. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) strides through this terrible new world with a cynical air of resignation until a glimmer of light -- the possibility of a future - turns his head. Adapting a novel by P.D. James, director Alfonso Cuarón and his collaborators (notably cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designers Geoffrey Kirkland and Jim Clay) meticulously create a nightmarish future in which the walls are closing in, and then proceed to smash through the limitations of imagination. Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clare-Hope Ashitey, and Julianne Moore bring varying shades of humanity to their ultimately haunted characters. (Peter Martin)
Donnie Darko (2001, Dir. Richard Kelly)
In 2001, Richard Kelly brought us Donnie Darko, the story of a troubled teen who finds out that the world will end in 28 days. Kelly's take on time travel perfectly intermingled dark humor and a killer soundtrack with science fiction to create an instant cult classic, kickstarting the careers of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal while giving Patrick Swayze a dark and meaty role. It's also a prime example of the importance of editing, the theatrical version being wildly popular and thought-provoking while the over-explained Director's Cut revealed too much and tarnished the magic of ambiguity. Nevertheless, the world of Donnie Darko reigns supreme was one of the decade's best Sci-Fi flicks. (Monika Bartyzel)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Dir. Michel Gondry)
Science Fiction comes in many shapes and sizes. It's not all alien motherships and post-apocalyptic nightmares, although there is something very bleak and hopeless about the way Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman envision Montague, a central location in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Beyond the film's Philip K. Dickian premise of wiping out the memory of an ex-loved one, Eternal Sunshine gives one of the best modern cinematic deconstructions of a relationship, regardless of whatever genre tag you try pinning on the film. Like Annie Hall before it, the film is painfully honest in its thumbing through of the best and worst of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine's (Kate Winslet) time together. When the merry-go-round cycles through for them at the film's closing, Gondry and Kaufman offer the possibility of reconciliation, an honest move that belies the tacked-on happy endings of so many Hollywood romances. Embracing in the apartment hallway, Joel and Clem feel like the last two people on Earth, and in a sense, they might as well be – at least for one another. (Zachary Herrmann)
The Man From Earth (2007, Dir. Richard Schenkman)
Most science fiction films are born of technological flash-and-awe. Futuristic storylines often go hand-in-hand with big budgets and cutting edge special effects, but neither are actual prerequisites to being a (good) science fiction film. Case in point, The Man From Earth, a 2007 indie film directed by Richard Schenkman from a script written by prolific sci-fi regular Jerome Bixby. It's about a professor, who, when surprised by an impromptu goodbye party, reveals to his colleagues that the reason for his unexpected departure from the university is in fact because he has been alive for 14,000 years and if he stays in one place too long, people start to notice that his face never ages. Schenkman's film may have zero special effects, but what it has in abundance are ideas; ideas that roll around in its brain like rocks in a tumbler, becoming more and more polished the longer the film spins. Is it all a thought experiment by the professor examining the plausibility of a man who could spend dozens upon dozens of lifetimes accumulating all the knowledge the world has to offer? Or is he really an immortal, and if so, are there others like him and what kind of consequences would his seemingly timeless actions bring? It's a brilliant script that examines the deep rooted fears everyone has about their own mortality (made all the more poignant when one learns that Bixby wrote the script on his death bed) brought to life by a wonderful cast, most notably by David Lee Smith, Tony Todd (breaking from his typical horror movie persona), and the always-excellent John Billingsley. (Peter Hall)
Minority Report (2002, Dir. Steven Spielberg)
Before Tom Cruise went completely crazy, before Steven Spielberg dropped aliens on Indiana Jones, before the idea of a Hollywood "adaptation" of a Phillip K. Dick story became something to automatically moan and groan about, there was Minority Report. The film is an engrossing look at a startlingly realistic future where psychics are used to predict murders and "Pre-Crime" units arrest would-be killers in advance. It is also a rousing, muscular action film in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the only film in recent memory to have a jet-pack chase. A jet-pack chase. It raises fascinating questions about choice and destiny and how even the best intentions can be abused and corrupted. It features oddness not seen from Spielberg since the '80s, including a cackling Peter Stormare and Cruise pursuing his own rogue eyeball down a hallway. You can easily quibble about the film's flaws (you should have cut the final ten minutes, Steve), but in a decade filled with lousy science fiction action films, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Minority Report is a mash-up of summer blockbuster, thoughtful science fiction, dark comedy and a good old fashioned man-on-the-run story. And it all works. And it has a jetpack chase. (Jacob Hall)
Moon (2009, Dir. Duncan Jones)
Moon is old school science fiction, that eschews gimmickry for a solid, provocative story of identity and memory that will make you wish you never gave up your old copies of Analog. Sam Bell, a man too long alone in the final days of a three year solitary assignment monitoring mining on the lunar surface. His only companions are the artificial intelligence controlling his environment, GERTY, and the recorded video-letters from his wife and young child. Sam Rockwell is mesmerizing, no mean feet considering for most of the film he is alone. The attention to detail and the slow build to the big reveal makes it a film to savor as the story unfolds and long after the closing credits. (Jenn Brown)
Primer/Timecrimes (2004, Dir. Shane Carruth / 2007, Dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
Okay, so this is cheating. It completely nullifies that concept of a top ten list. However, I think I can be forgiven because Primer and Timecrimes feel like different sides to the same coin. Both are low-budget films about time travel and the various complications of such an activity, but each is thrilling in it's own unique way. Primer is interested in hard science, using complicated jargon and plausible technology to tell the story of two scientists who build a time machine in their garage and proceed to seriously screw up their personal lives and health. The hard edged reality of Primer lends itself to intense personal drama and as the situation escalates in ways that will be criminal to spoil for those who haven't seen it. We feel the pain of our protagonists in a real and horrible way.
Timecrimes follows a man as he accidentally steps into a time machine and proceeds to have pretty much the worst day of his life, a day that feels like an extended Marx Brothers routine directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The dark comedy is masked because the whole affair is so unbearably intense, but it's there, right below the surface. As our hapless hero tries desperately to fix what he's undone and is forced to take darker, more drastic actions, he maintains our sympathy because you know very well you'd do the exact same thing in his shoes. Both Primer and Timecrimes take the worn science fiction trope of time travel and give it a fresh, exciting new coat of paint. They are ingenious thrillers, using science fiction subtly to raise the stakes, making them so much more than simple dramas. (Jacob Hall)
Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon)
No one watched Firefly when it was on television. So when Joss Whedon miraculously got the chance to "finish" the series on the big screen, it can't be that surprising that no one watched it in theaters. A real shame, since Serenity is one of the great space adventure films of all time, taking place in one of the most wonderfully realized universes ever created. Whedon's trademark wit and eye for character ensure that this is not just a spaceship action movie, but a story about the people on that spaceship, whom we grow quite fond of (just in time for Whedon to twist a knife in our guts in the final reel). Serenity is the best space opera since The Empire Strikes Back and it's cleverly staged action, its sense of humor, its attention to detail and it's HEART put the far more expensive Star Wars prequels to shame. I know people who fell in love with Serenity and then realized there was a TV series that came before it. This is not just a movie for fans. It's a movie that makes its own fans. It's a masterpiece. (Jacob Hall)
Star Trek (2009, JJ Abrams)
J.J. Abrams' slick and exuberant Star Trek revival made it cool to root for the Enterprise crew again – or for the first time, depending on your level of geekdom. While other Hollywood heavies revamped old franchises with empty dazzle and truckloads of dynamite, Abrams offered a thrilling, soulful and unique-looking blockbuster that reminded us of a valuable truth: The future is full of promise. Armed with incredibly assured performances from a game young cast -- and much love for the past forty-some odd years of Trek history -- Star Trek saved a classic series from falling into camp (again), and it made Kirk, Spock and the ol' NCC-1701 (No bloody A, B, C or D!) more popular than ever. (Mike Moody)
Wall-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)
I have no choice but to go into wild, unrestrained hyperbole regarding the animated sci-fi adventure love story Wall-E. Ready? Here we go. Visionary. Emotional. Fantastic. A Must-See. A Thrill Ride. Romantic. Eye-Popping. Incredible. Instant Classic. The best Pixar film ever made. Let that sink in for a minute. The best. THE. BEST. I would go so far as to say that the first half of Wall-E is as good as a movie can get. It transports you wholly to another place and time, and connects you emotionally, almost immediately, to an object–not a person, or a loveable talking animal, but a garbage compacting machine called a Wall-E. What kind of skill does it take as a filmmaker to make me empathize and cheer for a garbage compactor? (John Gholson)
Yes, there are major films missing, some of which were almost physically painful to leave off the list, but you can help ease that pain by giving us your favorite science fiction films of the decade in the comments below.