Sci-fi cinema has recently undergone a bit of a renaissance.
Where once the genre was synonymous with explosions, giant robots and monsters, the last few years have seen a resurgence of sci-fi that makes you think – using speculative fiction to comment on the issues and concerns of the day.
Films like Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, hitting Malaysian cinemas this week, are delivering brains alongside the bangs – and it's a trend that's set to continue into 2014 and beyond. We've rounded up a selection of the most exciting sci-fi films coming out over the next 12 months – don your thinking cap and prepare to make the jump to light speed...
Elysium (August 21st)
District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returns with this thinking man's actioner that's equal parts Terminator 2-style action and Michael Moore lecture.
Matt Damon stars as a downtrodden ex-convict, scratching a living in the barren wasteland of a future Los Angeles. When an industrial accident leaves him fatally irradiated, he dons a mech suit and makes for Elysium – an orbiting space station where the rich live out their days in luxury, and machines can heal any injury.
Blomkamp enlisted Blade Runner designer Syd Mead to create the world of Elysium, while District 9 star Sharlto Copley puts in an menacing performance as the vicious mercenary Kruger.
Elysium gets its class-war message across with all the subtlety of a tear gas canister thrown at an Occupy protestor, but Blomkamp is a master at world-building and crafting an action sequence.
Transcendence (April 8th, 2014)
Wally Pfister, the cinematographer behind Chris Nolan's Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy, makes his directorial debut with this head-bending sci-fi – and he's not starting with a small-scale effort.
Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall star as Will and Evelyn, scientists working on the world's first self-aware computer. When Will's murdered by anti-technology terrorists, Evelyn uploads his consciousness to the computer – but is he still the man she knows? Or something much more dangerous?
Pfister's keeping his cards close to his chest, but with him behind the lens, it should be visually spectacular – and he's assembled quite the cast, with Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman and House of Cards' Kate Mara on board. The first trailer for the film's likely to appear in front of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity – of which more below…
Gravity (November 8th)
Alfonso Cuarón returns to the big screen for his first film since 2006's Children of Men – and it looks spectacular. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as a pair of astronauts cut adrift from the International Space Station and left to float in space – a chillingly claustrophobic prospect.
Cuarón famously used long single takes in Children of Men – and with Gravity he's taken it a stage further, composing an opening shot that lasts for an uninterrupted 20 minutes. How? With the aid of copious amounts of CGI – reportedly, some 60 per cent of the film is composed of visual effects, and at many points in the film, the actors' faces seen through their spacesuit helmets are the only real element in the scene.
Under the Skin (TBC)
Scarlett Johannson stars as Isserley, a driver who tours the roads of Scotland picking up hitchhikers – for a mysterious purpose. Based on Michel Faber's unsettling first novel, it's difficult to reveal why, exactly, this film's falls in the sci-fi genre without giving too much of the plot away – but suffice to say it has echoes of HG Wells' The Time Machine. If it manages to capture anything of the novel's eerie tone, it'll be a winner – and with Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer behind the camera, it has every chance of doing so.
Europa Report (TBC)
The "found-footage" film has become something of a hoary old cliché at this point, so it takes something a bit special to get our attention. Director Sebastián Cordero looks to have delivered, with a taut thriller that follows a team of pioneering space explorers on a privately-funded mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.
Cordero's aimed for scientific accuracy, turning to advisors from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help accurately depict the risks of an extended space mission – and given that Europa's considered the most likely candidate for harbouring extraterrestrial life, it's no surprise that the astronauts' arrival on the moon doesn't go unnoticed.
Sci-fi films about class divisions seem to be all the rage at the moment – as well as Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, there's this effort from The Host director Bong Joon-ho, which relocates the struggle between the haves and the have-nots to a train. In the aftermath of a failed experiment to stop global warming, the last survivors of mankind live aboard a train that travels around the globe, powered by a perpetual-motion engine – with the lucky few inhabiting the front of the train, while the underclass is relegated to the back end.
Bong's assembled an impressive multinational cast, with the likes of John Hurt, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and The Host's Song Kang-ho starring. The bad news, though, is that distributors The Weinstein Company have ordered 20 minutes cut from the film for US and international audiences – presumably for the benefit of the hard of thinking.
Need your fix of science fiction this very minute? These cerebral sci-fi films are available to view on video and on-demand right now.