Science Fiction can have a bit of an odd identity in the mainstream publics perception of cinema. Either perceived as a cult, nerdy genre that’s synonymous with Trekkies, gamers, and cosplay Stormtroopers or on the flip-side – a viable channel for overblown, hype-glossy action films, most serious sci-fi goes overlooked by the general film-loving audience.
So below I’ve compiled a list of alternative sci-fi movies that strike a personal chord with me. These are films that many of you may have seen but not considered as an example of the breadth and depth that the genre can display as they all showcase a subtlety and unique vision that’s rare but that should be treasured.
It’s a tricky list to write for sure as there are so many grey lines in this kind of sub-genre so just look at these as 10 suggestions of science fiction in the movies that all approach the genre with an unusual, innovative and alternate flair. These are simply must-see entries for anyone looking for something a little more meaty, thought-provoking and, well, alternate in the genre.
I give you 10 Reasons To Love… Alternate Sci-Fi
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Initially garnering attention due to its minuscule budget (a number that’s still hard to confirm) and brave freeform approach to creating a cinema-release monster movie, Gareth Edward’s debut motion picture proved itself irrespective of technical achievements or inspiring factoids. A startlingly emotive, beautiful, atmospheric and completely unique road movie of sorts, Monsters is exactly the kind of sincerely inventive approach in which more filmmakers should tackle their favourite genres. The fact that it was shot without a script and with a crew of two and a cast of two only makes it all the more remarkable.
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Written, directed, scored, produced, and edited by one man – Shane Carruth (who also takes the starring role alongside friend David Sullivan) on a minuscule budget of $7000, Primer remains the most realistic portrayal of time travel in cinema to this day and certainly the most fascinating. Weaving an intricate plot that may seem a little too contrived and reliant upon techno-babble on first watch (to some at least), it’s an invigorating, hypnotically shot experience that begs repeat viewings and breathes new life into the wholly misunderstood genre. Even more impressive are the reports that only 3 mins of erroneous footage were edited from the brief 77min run time!
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So yes, I know, I’ll get a lot of slack for this so I apologise in advance. But while I do appreciate and marvel at Tarkovskiy’s 1972 original, it’s the haunting and ephemeral Soderbergh remake that really strikes an emotional chord in me. Gorgeous cinematography, deliberate, graceful pacing, subdued, subtle performances, and a powerful score from Cliff Martinez all combine to create an identity all of its own. For me this is the finest space-set science fiction movie of all time.
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The Fountain (2006)
Read my full review for, in my opinion, Darren Aronofsky’s finest film at http://www.popoptiq.com/darren-aronofsky-retrospective-part-3-the-fountain/
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Donnie Darko (2001)
It’s a modern classic that was oddly largely overlooked in the USA but was welcomed with open arms in the UK and Europe. Beloved for its
80’s setting, twisted take on time travel, a breakthrough performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and that Christmas number one – it’s aged well and remains an oddly bewitching and highly unique take on the genre. The Director’s Cut is worth a look if you’ve already seen the original a number of times and want more answers, but it’s the lesser film.
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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Written by the insanely inventive Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and directed by legendary music video director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep, The Green Hornet) and boasting a dazzling cast; Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson . . . The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most interesting indie rom-sci-fi movies ever made, if not the most. Emotional, daring, visually stunning and heartfelt it’s a film that shouldn’t be missed.
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Those of you furious at Andrey Tarkovskiy’s original Solaris being absent from this list may perhaps be somewhat appeased by the presence of his lesser known but just as powerful post-apocalyptic movie Stalker. With a startlingly innovative sci-fi story that centres around an alien section of a city known only as the Zone – our lead is a Stalker – one of a few who have the bravery and gifts to lead people into the Zone to a place where one’s most secret hopes come to fruition. Bleak, ponderous, unique and fantastic it’s a movie unlike any other and was the inspiration for the cult hit computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
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Never Let Me Go (2010)
While the book by Kazuo Ishiguro is universally beloved, the movie from Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) divided most critics. Personally I was bewitched by the incredibly sad and affecting tale of repressed love, mortality and desperate musings on what it means to be human. A startling performance from lead Carey Mulligan bolstered by supporting roles from Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley and a beautifully tempered filming style from Romanek create a stiflingly subdued and subtle atmosphere.
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District 9 (2009)
Neill Bloomkamp was originally set to make his debut feature length with the big screen adaptation of hit video game series Halo alongside Peter Jackson. Sadly, the project fell apart due to budgetary projections but thankfully this meant that he got to return to the short film that made his name and evolve it into a phenomenally enjoyable and insightful movie. Social commentary perfectly encapsulated in a thrilling, visceral, and downright amusing sci-fi film that sees aliens forced to live in slums on Earth turning a rebellion against there oppressors.
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It’s hardly perfect with a middle section that is effective but sagging, but Fernando Meirelle’s (City of God, The Constant Gardener) adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel is a blazingly innovative take on the apocalyptic theme. A city is besieged by an epidemic of instant “white blindness” and the World soon turns into chaos as those afflicted are quarantined and seemingly left to themselves. A fascinating study on social breakdown with a startling opener and closer – this is a sci-fi gem to be sought out, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore.
– Al White