In the last section of the timeline, we looked back at the development of SciFi from its pulpy first successes to its flowering into artistic achievement with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. While not comprehensive, I’ve tried to compile a list of the most important and influential works of SciFi since before it began. Getting into the last 50 years, it gets much easier to argue which films and books are important, and there are many that don't seem important now, that probably will be. Think I’ve missed one? Let me know in the comments.
From the Earth to the Moon to the Blockbuster (1969-1980)
1969 Apollo 11 lands on the Moon and the promise of hundreds of novels and films is finally realized. The US also finally pulls ahead of the USSR in the ‘space race.’ When the TV networks sought out experts for their coverage, science fiction writers were on the top of their list. At the moment the Eagle landed, Walter Cronkite spoke with Arthur C. Clarke who told millions of viewers, the space mission was a “down payment on the future of mankind.” On ABC, Rod Serling interviewed Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl. Ray Bradbury left the set of British journalist David Front’s “Moon Party” overcome with tears from the event. Later, he joined Mike Wallace on CBS and said “This is an effort to become immortal. We’re going to take our seed out into space and we’re going to plant it on other worlds and then we won’t have to ask ourselves the question of death ever again.” The universe was somehow more in reach, but that didn’t stop science fiction writers and filmmakers from seeking out new worlds, or new versions of our own.
1969 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. publishes SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, a nonlinear story in which events become clear through various flashbacks (or time travel experiences) from the unreliable narrator who describes the stories of Billy Pilgrim, who believes himself to have been in an alien zoo. The book features crossover characters from many of Vonnegut’s other novels, including Kilgore Trout, often an important character in other Vonnegut novels, Eliot Rosewater, from GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER; Howard W. Campbell, Jr., from MOTHER NIGHT; and Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, relative of Winston Niles Rumfoord, from THE SIRENS OF TITAN. The U.S. Supreme Court considered the First Amendment implications of the removal of the book, among others, from public school libraries in the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, [457 U.S. 853 (1982)], and concluded that "local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'"
1969 Ursula K. Le Guin publishes possibly the first feminist science fiction novel, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, written, according to the author as a "thought experiment" to explore society without men or women, where individuals share the biological and emotional makeup of both genders. This novel follows an envoy from the planet Winter where its citizens are "ambisexual," spending the majority of time as asexual "potentials." They only adopt gendered attributes once-monthly, during a period of sexual receptiveness and high fertility, called kemmer, in which individuals can assume male or female attributes, depending on context and relationships.
1970 George Lucas releases his film THX 1138, starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence and depicting a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including sexual desire. The film was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and much of the filming took place in the then-unfinished tunnels of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system in San Francisco.
1971 Stanley Kubrick follows 2001: A Space Odyssey with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE adapted from Anthony Burgess's 1962 novella. In the film, Malcolm McDowell plays a charismatic, sociopathic delinquent whose interests include Beethoven, rape, and what he calls "ultra-violence." A comment on psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian future Britain, A Clockwork Orange chronicles his horrific crime spree, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning. Much of the film, like the novel, is filled with Nadsat, a fictional dialect which is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang, the King James Bible, the German language, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. The other-worldly soundtrack features Moog versions of classical pieces played by Wendy (then Walter) Carlos. Despite the film's controversial nature, A Clockwork Orange grossed more than $26 million on a conservative budget of $2.2 million, was critically acclaimed, and was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture (losing to The French Connection). It also boosted sales of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
1973 “SOYLENT GREEN is People” enters the cultural lexicon, through the Charlton Heston film about an investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of cancer twelve days after filming finished.
1975 The Soyuz and Apollo link up in Earth orbit as a symbol of the policy of détente that the two superpowers were pursuing at the time, and marked the end of the Space Race between them that began in 1957. This was the last US spaceflight until the Space Shuttle Program
1976 THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW had premiered, and flopped, the year before. Now, as a midnight movie at the Waverly Theater, the film attracted endless crowds anxious to participate in the cult phenomena. Writer Richard O’ Brian embraced the b-movie aesthetic of early science fiction and the opening musical number references THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FLASH GORDON, THE INVISIBLE MAN, KING KONG, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, DOCTOR X, FORBIDDEN PLANET, TARANTULA, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, CURSE OF THE DEMON, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. The film, the longest-running theatrical release in film history, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005.
1977 George Lucas unleashes STAR WARS on the world, ushering in science fiction’s place at the top of the blockbuster food chain. It’s an epic space opera that has more kinship to the JOHN CARTER novels of Edgar Rice Burreaghs than Kubrick’s 2001. I won’t summarize the plot, because everyone knows it, plus it’s basically stolen from Joseph Campbell. Star Wars earned $460 million, received 10 Academy Award nominations, and doubled 20th Century Fox’s stock prices within 3 weeks of its release. In true science-fiction-mad-scientist style, George Lucas has continuously tinkered with the film for subsequent re-releases, adding in digital effects and characters, entire scenes, and most gratuitously, changing ‘history’ by making Greedo shoot first, ruining the greatest character introduction in SciFi history.
1977 If Lucas took us to a galaxy far, far away, director Steven Spielberg delivered a very human and earthly story the same year in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND about mankind’s first experience with contact from an alien race. Another SciFi film in which the music plays an important part, the humans and aliens find common ground by trading musical phrases. One of the truly groundbreaking elements of the film is that these aliens are actually peaceful and not out to kill us or each other. However, I still get creeped out by cymbal-crashing monkeys to this day. Spielberg gives us another friendly alien five years later with 1982’s ET, and later pulls a Lucas and on re-releases replaces guns with flashlights.
1978 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams airs for the first time on BBC Radio. Adams's fictional Guide is an electronic travel manual to the Milky Way galaxy, originally published by Megadodo Publications, one of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta. The story is frequently punctuated with excerpts from the Guide, in the original version, narrated by Peter Jones. Adaptations have included stage shows, a "trilogy" of six books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, three series of three-part comic book adaptations by DC Comics between 1993 and 1996, a Hollywood-funded film version, produced and filmed in the UK, in 2005, and two series of towels. Adams also provided the world with the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, which for some reason is a tribute to Jackie Robinson.
1979 Ridley Scott undoes any good will towards extraterrestrials with ALIEN, one of the most frightening films ever made, featuring creature design by surrealist artist H.R. Giger. Giger was actually the inspiration for the film as Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon had been exposed to Giger’s work through his involvement on Alejandro Jodorowsky's film adaptation of DUNE. Alien was pitched as ‘Jaws in Space.’ According to O’Bannon, the script ending up at 20th Century Fox at just the right time: "they wanted to follow through on Star Wars, and they wanted to follow through fast, and the only spaceship script they had sitting on their desk was Alien." The tag line for the film has become one of the most recognizable in the history of film marketing -- “In space no one can hear you scream.” Moviegoers lined up for blocks to see it at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood where a number of models, sets, and props were displayed outside to promote it during its first run. Religious zealots set fire to one of the models, claiming it to be the work of the devil.
1980 In what in many minds was the campy version Star Wars, and a pay off of the last sixty years, FLASH GORDON is reborn in a Dino De Laurentiis production, directed by Mike Hodges, scored by Queen and starring Topol, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Richard O’Brien, Brian Blessed and the extremely beautiful, unbelievably sexy first crush I ever had Ornella Muti. The film is a triumphant, campy whirlwind of aliens, space battles, and Brian Blessed saying ‘Gordon’s Alive?’ I never miss a chance to see this on the big screen.
Into the Mainstream and the Mainframe (1981-2014)
And thus came the Eighties. The world is a little smaller. The Universe seems closer, less mysterious. Computers are everywhere, can robots be far behind? I fight Space Invaders on my Atari. I shoot up asteroids. I feel the revenge of Yar. And I send ET down a pit again and again and I scream at the top of my lungs in frustration. Inspired by the idea of computers and how they might interface with humanity, the cyberpunk movement begins, ushering in a new type of science fiction.
1982 Ridley Scott delivers his second SciFi masterpiece and the first cyberpunk film, BLADE RUNNER, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? The film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 in which genetically-engineered replicants, indistinguishable from adult humans, are hunted down and "retired" by special police operatives known as "Blade Runners." The film performed poorly in North America but has since become a cult favorite. Several different versions of the film exist, of different lengths, cutting or inserting scenes or voice over, but overall the film is one of the most critically acclaimed of all time.
1982 TRON takes us inside a computer and is the first film to feature computer generated imagery. The story follows a computer programmer transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer, where he interacts with various programs in his attempt to get back out.
1983 The mini-series V airs on NBC, inspired by Sinclair Lewis' 1935 anti-fascist novel It Can't Happen Here. The most-expensive television movie of all time, V covers the arrival to Earth of ‘the visitors’ seeking the help of humans to obtain minerals to aid their ailing world. In reality, the Visitors are stealing the Earth’s water supply and bundling people in pods for food. The series was seen by 65 million people.
1984 William Gibson publishes NEUROMANCER, a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre and the first winner of the science-fiction "triple crown" — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. The novel tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack. The novel has had significant linguistic influence, popularizing such terms as cyberspace and ICE.
1984 Frank Herbert's DUNE is finally brought to screen by David Lynch after years of failed development by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The film was poorly received by critics, and it performed poorly at the American box office. Upon its release, Lynch distanced himself from the project, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him final cut privilege. Lynch had agreed to direct Dune and write the screenplay even though he had not read the book, known the story, or even been interested in science fiction. Roger Ebert called the film “a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time." Somehow, I still managed to see this film and love it. This is where I decided any SciFi film, even a bad one, is better than any other kind of movie. But this is not a bad movie. And it’s not that complicated. Seriously, I understood it when I was 9 years old. Is the world that dumb?
1984 James Cameron delivers THE TERMINATOR starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin sent back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, the future leader of the resistance. John Connor sends Kyle Reese, his best friend, back from the future to protect his mother. Reese ends up being John Connor’s father. The film does a ridiculous job of being both incredibly violent, and funny, and making you almost root for the title character. Schwarzenegger tried to have the iconic "I'll be back" line changed because of language barriers. In an October 1, 2012 interview, he revealed that he had difficulty pronouncing the word “I'll” properly. He also felt that his robotic character wouldn't speak in contractions and asked James Cameron if he could change the line to: "I will be back," but the director refused.
1985 Orson Scott Card publishes ENDER'S GAME about mankind on the verge of destruction after two conflicts with the "Buggers," an insectoid alien species. In preparation for an anticipated third invasion, children, including the novel's protagonist, Ender Wiggin, are trained at a very young age through increasingly difficult games to reveal their tactical genius. It has become suggested reading for many military organizations, including the Marine Corps.
1985 BACK TO THE FUTURE is released in the movie theaters. The definitive time-travel comedy, Robert Zemeckis’ film follows a teenager sent back to 1955, who accidentally keeps his own parents from getting together, thus writing himself out of history. Back to the Future spent 11 weeks at number one, with a second weekend grossing higher than the first weekend. President Ronald Reagan, a fan of the film, referred to the movie in his 1986 State of the Union address when he said, "Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film Back to the Future, Where we're going, we don't need roads." When he first saw the joke about him being president, he ordered the projectionist of the theater to stop the reel, roll it back, and run it again.
1986 Alf (or Alien Life Form) debuts on television on NBC. Alf is an alien from the planet Melmac who follows a ham radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of a suburban family. Alf was off his planet when it was destroyed by nuclear war. Puns dealing with Alf eating cats and other pets were problematic after NBC reported that a child placed a cat in a microwave after watching the show. In the pilot episode, the title creature is seen consuming a beer. Show creator Paul Fusco defended the premise because Alf is 285 years old. However, as ALF became more popular with children, NBC told Fusco "you can't have him drinking; the kids are watching, it's a bad role model." For the hour-long episode, "Try to Remember," ALF tried to simulate a jacuzzi by bringing Kate's electric mixer into the bathtub, thus receiving an electrical shock which caused amnesia. Fusco ended the original episode with a public service announcement from ALF himself, warning of the dangers from mixing water and electricity. Despite this, NBC reported that a child attempted to recreate the scenario and nearly electrocuted himself in the process.
1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation launches on television in the United States. The first season takes place in the year 2364, 100 years after the start of the five-year mission of the Enterprise described in the original series. The show maintained its creative control by avoiding the networks and going directly to the affiliates. The Next Generation's average of 20 million viewers often exceeded both existing syndication successes such as Wheel of Fortune and network hits including Cheers and L.A. Law. Benefiting in part from many stations' decision to air each new episode twice in a week, it consistently ranked in the top ten among hour-long dramas, and networks could not prevent affiliates from preempting their shows with The Next Generation. The series played in first-run syndication until 1994. Two additional Star Trek direct spin-offs followed – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999), and Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001) and the series formed the basis of the seventh to tenth Star Trek films, Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis.
1988 Red Dwarf begins airing in Great Britain. If you’ve never seen the show, the plot can sound completely ridiculous, so here you go: an on-board radiation leak of cadmium II kills everyone except for low-ranking technician Dave Lister, who is in suspended animation at the time, and his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, who is safely sealed in the cargo hold. Following the accident, the ship's computer Holly keeps Lister in stasis until the background radiation dies down – a process that takes three million years. Lister therefore emerges as the last human being in the universe. Holly resurrects his former bunkmate and immediate superior Arnold Judas Rimmer as a hologram to keep Lister sane. In addition, a creature known only as Cat is the last member on board of Felis sapiens, a race of humanoid felines that evolved in the ship's hold from Lister's cat and her kittens during the 3 million years that Lister was in stasis. The show has had 10 seasons in the UK, the last in 2012, and a massive cult following. A 1992 US version failed to make it past the pilot stage.
1989 Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuts on Comedy Central after a year of development on a Minneapolis UHF station. The show mainly features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of B-movies, as part of a psychological experiment. This forced audience provides a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through the crap they are required to watch, which sometimes includes short public-domain educational films, newsreels, or serial dramas. A good majority of the films mocked on the show were SciFi such as Invasion of the Neptune Men, The Creeping Terror, The Slime People, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, Monster A Go-Go and The Beast of Yucca Flats.
1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger strikes again, this time on the side of good in TOTAL RECALL, the second Philip K. Dick story to make it to the big screen (based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”). Schwarzenegger plays a construction worker who discovers that he is actually a secret agent. He travels to Mars to uncover his true identity and why his memory was erased. Schwarzenegger bought the rights to the film from Dino De Laurentiis after Dune flopped. He negotiated a salary of $10–11 million (plus 15 percent of the profits) to star, with an unusually broad degree of control over the production. He obtained veto power over the producer, director, screenplay, co-stars and promotion. The first thing Schwarzenegger did was personally recruit Paul Verhoeven to direct the film, having been impressed by the Dutch director's ROBOCOP. By this time the script had been through forty-two drafts but it still lacked a third act.
1992 THE LAWNMOWER MAN becomes the first film to explore virtual reality technology and boasts a dazzling collection of computer-animated sequences. The story concerns a slightly-mad scientist played by Pierce Brosnan who has been experimenting with something termed "intelligence enhancement" on Jeff Fahey, who becomes a super-genius bent on revenge. The film's original script was titled ‘Cyber God’ and had nothing to do with Stephen King's short story "The Lawnmower Man.” New Line Cinema held the film rights to King's story, and decided to combine Cyber God with some minor elements of King’s story and released the film as Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man. The film differed so much from the source material that King sued the filmmakers to remove his name from the title. After two court rulings in King's favor, New Line still did not comply even on home video version release. A third ruling granted the author $10,000 per day in compensation and all profits derived from sales until his name was removed.
1993 I’m going to go on record here, and admit, somewhat embarrassedly, that DEMOLITION MAN is my favorite movie of all time. The film tells the story of two men: an evil crime lord and a risk-taking police officer. Cryogenically frozen in 1996, they are restored to life in the year 2032 to find mainstream society changed and all crime seemingly eliminated. The film is smart, and funny, and features standout performances from Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary, and Rob Schneider. Bullock’s character is named Lenina Huxley, a reference to BRAVE NEW WORLD author Aldous Huxley and the book’s lead character, Lenina Crowne. In the future, the former cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara have merged into pseudo-utopian San Angeles, under the pacifist guidance and control of a Dr. Raymond Cocteau. Weapons and vices are outlawed, human behavior (sex, children, bad words, etc.) are prohibited or regulated, and citizens carry implanted transceivers. When a super-criminal (Snipes) is accidentally released, the SAPD has lost any ability to handle violent behavior of any kind and must release an old school cop (Stallone) to help them catch him. The film did reasonable well at the box office and was decently reviewed by critics but has never earned the praise it deserves. My favorite bit in the movie is that in the future, they no longer use toilet paper because it is too wasteful. Instead they use ‘three seashells.’ It is never explained in the movie how these seashells are to be used, frustrating Stallone over and over again in his attempt to go to the bathroom.
1994 STARGATE. Or as I like to call it, hidden history of Egypt. The movie may be fictional, but the ideas are based largely on the books of Erich von Däniken. The general claim of Däniken over several published books, starting with CHARIOTS OF THE GODS? in 1968, is that extraterrestrials or "ancient astronauts" visited Earth and influenced early human culture. Däniken writes about his belief that structures such as the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Moai of Easter Island and artifacts from that period represent higher technological knowledge than is presumed to have existed at the times they were manufactured. He also describes ancient artwork throughout the world as containing depictions of astronauts, air and space vehicles, extraterrestrials, and complex technology. Däniken explains the origins of religions as reactions to contact with an alien race, and offers interpretations of sections of the Old Testament of the Bible. The plot of Stargate centers around an ancient ring-shaped device that creates a wormhole enabling travel to a similar device elsewhere in the universe. Using the portal, the heroes of the film discover a sister world of pyramids and a human population enslaved to a ‘god’ they call Ra. Roger Ebert said "the movie Ed Wood, about the worst director of all time, was made to prepare us for Stargate," and for years Stargate remained on his list of most hated films. The two-disc DVD release of the film includes a "Is There a Stargate?" feature where Erich von Däniken discusses evidence of alien visitations to Earth.
1995 GHOST IN THE SHELL, the cyberpunk anime series makes its way to the big screen. I will admit I don’t really like anime, but this seems to be a pivotal event for the genre. In this iteration of a possible future, computer technology has advanced to the point that many members of the public possess cyberbrains, technology that allows them to interface their biological brain with various networks. The heroine, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a cyborg, having had a terrible accident befall her as a child that ultimately required that she use a full-body prosthesis to house her cyberbrain. This high level of cyberization, however, opens the brain up to attacks from highly skilled hackers, with the most dangerous being those who will hack a person to bend to their whims.
1997 I consider 1997 to be one of the greatest years in SciFi, and I plan to do a whole article on it someday. Until then, let me just run down the amazing films that were released: CONTACT (based on the Carl Sagan book), CUBE (low-budget SciFi horror), EVENT HORIZON (which makes Alien feel tame), THE FIFTH ELEMENT (an entry in the space opera genre), GATTACA (one of the artier SciFi films ever made), MEN IN BLACK (a big studio action film), THE POSTMAN (a now legendary flop much-better than given credit), and STARSHIP TROOPERS (a return to B-movie aesthetics based on a novel by Robert A. Heinlein).
1998 Darren Aronofsky directorial debut PI earns him the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Pi’s protagonist and unreliable narrator is a number theorist who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. Representatives from Wall Street believe he can predict the stock market. Hasidic Jews believe he has discovered a secret message from God. Pi is a return to aesthetics of the golden age of SciFi, where novelists created worlds similar to ours but where the plot exists mostly in the discussion of themes and issues rather than lasers and aliens.
1999 It is impossible to look at THE PHANTOM MENACE without the context of the previous STAR WARS trilogy. Would it be considered a great film if it stood alone or as the first installment of a new trilogy? I still say no. It actually plays more like a fan film, trying to add to the mythology of a particular story, though, not in the long run, really necessary. It just so happens this fan owns the rights. Destined to divide fans, the film still delivers some phenomenal light saber battles and pod-racing sequences. In my opinion, all the flash of the film can’t make up for the introduction of midi-chlorians—microscopic organisms that reduces ‘the Force’ to some kind of viral infection.
2000 Bryan Singer directs X MEN, based on the Marvel Comics characters, starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, and Anna Paquin. It depicts a world in which a small proportion of people are mutants, whose possession of superhuman powers makes them distrusted by normal humans. Although there had been superhero movies before (especially the Christopher Reeves Superman series and the Michael Keaton Batman), the modern day reality of every other tentpole release being a Marvel or DC property began with this film. According to Singer, Ian McKellen responded to the gay allegory of the film, "the allegory of the mutants as outsiders, disenfranchised and alone and coming to all of that at puberty when their difference manifests.”
2001 Cult favorite DONNIE DARKO BEGINS its long trip into popular cultural at Sundance. The film follows a troubled teenager who receives disturbing visions from a human-sized bunny rabbit telling him the world will soon come to an end. Seeking answers, Donnie investigates time travel in an attempt to turn back the clock and prevent the world's seemingly impending doom. I’ve had a terrible time understanding this film, so I include this explanation from the director’s cut of the DVD. The film takes place in an unstable Tangent Universe that is connected to the Primary Universe and a duplicate of it, except for an extra metal vessel known as an Artifact -- the plane engine. If the Artifact is not sent to the Primary Universe by the chosen Living Receiver (Donnie) within 28 days, the Primary Universe will be destroyed upon collapse of the Tangent. To aid in this task, the Living Receiver is given super-human abilities such as foresight, physical strength and elemental powers, but at the cost of troubling visions and paranoia, while the Manipulated Living (all who live around the Receiver) support him in unnatural ways, setting up a domino-like chain of events encouraging him to return the Artifact. The Manipulated Dead (those who die within the Tangent Universe, like Frank and Gretchen) are more aware than the Living, having the power to travel through time, and will set an Ensurance Trap, a scenario which leaves the Receiver no choice but to save the Primary Universe. Got it?
2003 THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS arrive in the same year, undercutting the success of the 1999 post-apocalyptic computer-generated virtual world story by being completely unremarkable, unnecessary, and uninteresting.
2004 Shane Carruth writes, directs, and produces PRIMER, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film involves the invention of a time travel device in a garage, allowing the user to return to previous point in time and play the stock market. Of course, this technology has unintended consequence and one of the inventors spends a majority of the film trying to prevent himself from using his own machine. The film is an amazing mind-warp, that holds up under repeat viewing while never completely giving up its mysteries. The film was made for a mere $7,000.
2005 Joss Whedon’s SERENITY, based on his cancelled television show Firefly, makes it to the big screen, after a massive fan letter-writing campaign proves its viability. To generate buzz, Universal launched the film in a few select markets where the television show had high ratings, and sold out screenings within 24 hours. Serenity was also the first film to be screened digitally, fully DCI-compliant.
2008 Pixar delivers one of the greatest love stories of all time, WALL-E, about robot designed to clean up an abandoned, waste-covered Earth far in the future who meets another robot EVE, sent to Earth to search for signs of life. Most of the characters do not have actual human voices, but instead communicate with body language and robotic sounds, designed by Ben Burtt (Star Wars), that resemble voices. WALL-E was met with critical acclaim, scoring an approval rating of 96% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature as well as being nominated for five others. With their every whim catered to by a fleet of robots on their orbiting spaceship-city, humans have been reduced to gelatinous blobs. The film covers consumerism, overpopulation, materialism, and nostalgia and seems to critique Disney's production values and aesthetic, without being too obvious.
2011 RA.ONE becomes the first SciFi film to come out of Bollywood. The film follows a game designer who creates a motion sensor-based game in which the antagonist (Ra.One) is more powerful than the protagonist (G.One). The villain escapes the game's virtual world to kill Lucifer, the game designer’s son and the only player to have challenged his power. The family brings G.One out from the virtual world to protect them. In India, the Hindi version of Ra.One was released across more than 4,000 plus screens, breaking the record for the widest Bollywood release ever.
2012 The first HUNGER GAMES film takes in $691 million at the box office, establishing the dystopian young adult franchise as the next big thing. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, where boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 must take part in the Hunger Games, a televised annual event in which the "tributes" are required to fight to the death until there is one remaining who will be crowned the victor. Whether or not one considers it a rip off of BATTLE ROYALE, or a rip-off of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” or a rip-off of THE RUNNING MAN, it’s still a great flick and saved Jennifer Lawrence of a lifetime of merely winning Oscars.
Of course, there are many possible films from the last decade to add to this list. The jury is still out on whether AVATAR, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, HER, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, DISTRICT 9, or CLOVERFIELD should take their place amongst these recent classics. Or television shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, or Orphan Black. Or novels like WORLD WAR Z, RAINBOWS END, ORYX AND CRAKE, GLASSHOUSE, or the short stories of Ted Chiang. One thing is sure, the future, like the past, holds many great stories from SciFi thinkers.