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Every year, blockbuster science fiction movies drive ticket sales for the industry and get us all flocking to the cinema. But for every Arrival or Rogue One, there are many smart and inventive sci-fi films that go totally unnoticed.
Here we’ve assembled a few of our favourites from 2016 that are worth catching up with before 2017 gives us even more.
Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity deserves credit for its mind-bending plot and a slick noir aesthetic. A throwback to 80s sci-fi, the film feels like an unearthed Trimark Pictures release, and certainly Ben Lovett’s Moog-drenched soundtrack is Vangelis to the max, up there with the best synth scores of the year including S U R V I V E’s Stranger Things and Clint Mansell’s work for The Neon Demon.
In Synchronicity, a physicist who invents a time machine must travel back to the past to uncover the truth about his creation and the woman who is trying to steal it.
Netflix dropped two sci-fi flicks in 2016, ARQ and Spectral, and despite having a blast with Spectral‘s “gritty Ghostbuster” vibe, I found ARQ to be much more engaging and full of surprises. Perhaps that comes down to taste, but for me ARQ proves that an inventive screenplay can sometimes trump big budgets and massive set pieces.
In ARQ, written and directed by Tony Elliott, a couple gets trapped in a time loop, fending off masked home-invaders while protecting an invention that could save humanity.
Approaching the Unknown
From Moon to The Martian, Eurpoa Report and Gravity, there is a rich tradition of space travel done awry. Approaching the Unknown is a similar tale.
The film stars stars Mark Strong as Captain William Stanaforth, who prepares for a one-way mission to colonize Mars. In what is essentially a one-man-show, Strong gives a bravaura performance as an astronaut slowly losing it as he faces insurmountable odds and stresses on a perilous journey.
Boasting some truly great production and robot designs as well as taking its story cues from James Cameron’s Aliens, Kill Command is a fun, military sci-fi film that’s a B movie through and through. And that’s okay!
In Kill Command, an elite army unit travels to a remote island training facility to investigate a problem with a new robot prototype. Engage killbots!
Ben Wheatly (Kill List) dystopian High-Rise is an impenetrable fever dream of a film that takes no prisoners in its portrayal of free market ideology run amok. Adapted from the dystopian novel by J.G. Ballard, High-Rise tells the story of the inhabitants of a new, state of the art high rise apartment complex that engage in a sort of class warfare.
Full disclosure, as much as I found this film to be haunting overall, by the second act I think it devolves into a big mess. However, what’s good about it works. It’s gorgeous;y shot, and the needle-drop soundtrack is killer.
Into the Forest
Evan Rachel Wood may have captured the zeitgeist with her role as Dolores in HBO’s Westworld, but that wasn’t her only great sci-fi role in 2016. Into the Forest is a harrowing tale of two sisters (Wood and Ellen Page) who find themselves out in the wilderness during an apocalyptic event. As they work to survive in a world slowly crumbling around them, the bond betweem them grows stronger.
Similar to other sci-fi dramas like the recent Z is for Zachariah, Part sci-fi drama, part thriller, Into The Forest emerged as one of the year’s biggest surprises.
Produced by Ben Wheatley, Tank 432 is the directorial debut of that director’s long-time cinematographer, Nick Gillespie. With a resume that includes such psychotropic flicks as A Field in England and High-Rise, it’s no surprise that his first film is equally as trippy.
In the immensely claustrophobic movie, a group of mercenaries come under attack and hole up inside a long abandoned Bulldog tank. But, while they try to keep the forces outside at bay, the real enemy is already among them, locked inside the ‘Belly of the Bulldog’.
Jeff Nichols crafts a heartfelt tale of a father trying to protect his son that can only be described as “Spielbergian”. In it, Michael Shannon races across the country to save his gifted son who may have supernatural powers.
Ultimately, the film is a rumination on how difficult it is to allow a child live and learn on their own. As a father myself, I can certainly relate to the conflicts at the center of the film. And even though I felt some of the mysteries of the film fell a bit flat, overall Midnight Special feels like a singular experience.
A polarizing film that seems to have sci-fi fans either hailing it as an original gem or calling it a piece of crap, Terminus is really neither of those extremes. What it it, is a compelling and smart sci-fi indie from Australia with some good performances and an original concept.
In the film, following a near-fatal accident, David Chamberlain makes an unprecedented discovery that will not only determine the fate of his family, but of mankind.
If you didn’t see Evolution in 2016, don’t panic! It only got released at the end of November so you’re not that behind. Easily one of the most striking films of 2016 visually, it is also one of the most compelling science fiction films of the last few years. Some are calling it Horror, but Evolution straddles genres in the sci-fi in the same way that H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” does.
In Evolution, 11-year-old Nicolas lives with his mother in a seaside housing estate. The only place that ever sees any activity is the hospital. It is there that all the boys from the village are forced to undergo strange medical trials that attempt to disrupt the phases of evolution… then sh*it gets weird.
2016 definitely saw a number of interesting science fiction experiments emerge that flew under the radar. Looking back over the year, it seems strong for genre overall. But don’t let the smaller films slip through the cracks.
Okay, now it’s your turn. What sci-fi films did you llike in 2016 that seemed to go unnoticed?