6. Elysium (2013)
Much of Neill Blomkamp’s action film takes place on a ravaged, desolate Earth – but while most of humanity is slumming it in shanty towns, the one percent are living it large aboard a luxurious space station.
Blomkamp’s space station harks back to NASA’s Stanford Torus design from the 1970s, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – a ring-shaped habitat that spins to generate artificial gravity. The director even enlisted the services of Blade Runner designer Syd Mead to help create the space station, giving it a look that harks back to the classic sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s.
7. The Fifth Element (1997)
Never knowingly understated, Luc Besson's space cod-opera marries Hollywood action to a very Gallic vision of the future – costumed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and set in outrageous futurescapes designed by comic-book artists Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières.
Bruce Willis riffs on his everyman Die Hard persona while Gary Oldman dials the camp up to 11 – but even he is outdone by motormouth Chris Tucker, clad in a succession of outfits that Freddie Mercury would've balked at. Milla Jovovich, meanwhile, learnt an entire alien language to play the "perfect being" Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat.
The plot may be paper-thin (Besson wrote it when he was 15, which explains why the universe is saved from a giant ball of Evil by the hero copping off with a supermodel) but visually it's unlike anything else on the screen – dense with detail and super-saturated colours, like a French comic book brought to life.
More after the break...
8. WALL-E (2008)
Pixar struck gold once again with this charming tale of two robots in love. The film's undoubted highlight is its opening 20 minutes, a poetic, dialogue-free depiction of an abandoned Earth, left in ruins by the rampant consumerism of the Buy-N-Large corporation. Cleaning robot WALL-E has the Herculean task of tidying up the mess that humanity’s left behind, when he encounters sleek surveying robot EVE – and is promptly smitten.
WALL-E’s surprisingly sophisticated for a film that’s ostensibly aimed at kids, taking aim at consumerism, the atomisation of society and the destruction of the environment. Lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, it’s also very funny, with a perfectly-judged eye for slapstick.
It looks gorgeous, too; director Andrew Stanton wanted the movie to look like it had been shot with real cameras, studying lenses and how cameras move in real space to add a realistic feel to the image. He even went so far as to bring legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins in to consult on the film’s lighting – the result is a film that’s packed with poetic imagery.
9. Total Recall (1990)
No, not the needless Colin Farrell remake – we're talking about the unhinged 1990s version, directed by Robocop's Paul Verhoeven. Only Verhoeven would take a Philip K Dick story about false memories and the limits of our perception of reality, and cast all-action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger in it.
It actually works surprisingly well; Arnie subverts his superman persona, playing an everyman who has the memories of a spy mission implanted into his brain. Over the course of the film, we’re teased with hints that he may actually be the hero he thinks he is – and his confusion and vulnerability as his fragile reality comes crashing down around him seem all too real. Also, you get to see someone’s head explode in the vacuum of Mars, so there’s that.
10. Star Trek (2009)
It takes a brave man to take on one of the world's most revered franchises and recast iconic characters like Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. That man was JJ Abrams, creator of Lost.
With a passionate fanbase who’d invested years of their lives in Trek’s fictional future, a simple reboot was out of the question – unless Abrams wanted to wake up next to a horse’s head. No, something more ingenious was required: a time travel plotline that reset the Trek universe, allowing Abrams to recast the Entreprise crew and tell new stories – while maintaining a link to old Trek in the form of Leonard Nimoy’s time-displaced Spock.
The film itself plays it safe – at times it’s virtually a shot-for-shot rehash of Star Wars’ plot – but it’s lifted by performances from Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban that pay homage to their predecessors, while boldly going their own way.