The Top Ten Sci-Fi Movies of the 2000s

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The noughties were naughty indeed, as we – rather strangely – had far less great sci-fi movies than in the 1980s and ‘90s. Maybe 911 is to blame? If so, we are beginning to get over it, I think, because 2010 alone offered several movies (such as Iron Man 2 and TRON: Legacy) that would have deserved a place on this list of the ten best from 2000-2009, and there were also a couple of nice ones in 2011 (X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and, yes, Sucker Punch), so let’s hope that the 2010s are getting off to a great start. Meanwhile, the ten movies on the list below are the ones I thought were the best of the past decade. There were certainly other good ones, and five movies that were close to making this list are Pitch Black (2000), Cruise of the Gods (2002), The Stepford Wives (yes, the 2004 remake – highly underrated and at least as good as the original), The Incredibles (2004) and The Door (2009). 

Here are my choices for the ten best movies of the 2000s:

#10: Battle For Terra (2007)

This animated indie production, not released widely until 2009, is a high-quality gem of an all-ages proper science fiction story that far exceeds most other such candidates (the only exception that comes to mind being #8 on this list). Earth’s solar system is dead, destroyed by wars, and the last surviving humans plan to terraform the distant planet Terra – the problem being that it is already inhabited by fairly advanced indigenous people who breathe a different atmosphere. War must come, and the movie proceeds to explore many different ethical issues about colonization and violence, while being planted very firmly and intelligently in the science fiction genre. Fantastic stuff, and a movie I think is not very well-known. Hopefully, it one day will be. Click on the title to read my full review.

#9: Lathe of Heaven (2002)

 

This TV movie is probably the most unexpected entry on the list. Ursula LeGuin’s novel has been televised twice, the first time in 1980. The ‘80s movie is well regarded, and it is pretty good indeed. But I have seen the 2002 version three or four times now and I like it better every time. It is made in a minimalist style (because the budget wasn’t great), and I keep being impressed with how well it works. A young man, George Orr, visits a psychologist, Dr. Haber, because he says he’s having prophetic dreams. The dreams are coming true as if they are changing the world, without anyone but Orr noticing. To test this claim, which he doesn’t believe at first, Dr. Haber hypnotizes Orr and starts manipulating his dreams to change the world in ways that makes Dr. Haber a more and more powerful man. It is all symbolical, of course, with Orr representing the power of choice, and Dr. Haber representing the “haves”, i.e. the rich ruling class. The story is told very clearly in this movie, and the central cast of Lukas Haas, James Caan and Lisa Bonet does, to my mind, a much better job of portraying the characters than the cast of the 1980 version. I can only recommend it.

#8: WALL-E (2008)

 

Back in the day, the classic Disney movies were not just for kids; they also contained significant levels of meaning for adults. WALL-E is one of the very few animated movies in decades that is not only all-ages in its orientation, but even has dimensions that will go over the heads of most kids. The Earth has buried itself in garbage and pollution, and seems to be dead. Wall-E is the single functioning remnant of an army of clean-up robots, who continues to go about his business, gradually creating mega-skyscrapers of stockpiled metal trash. One day his routine is interrupted by a far more advanced robot from space, EVE, who’s on a mission to search for life on Earth. Sensationally, EVE finds a single plant, and hurries back to her masters with the specimen. Wall-E tags along through a combination of accident and infatuation. EVE turns out to be from a huge spaceship containing the survivors of humanity, who left a lifeless Earth some 700 years previously. Every one of these people are obese super-consumers who have mindlessly continued (by help of a controlling computer) the lifestyle to which the single global corporation that ended up ruling the world – Buy’N’Large – had made them accustomed. There are so many progressive themes of consumerism and environmentalism crammed into this movie, and it’s fantastic fun for both children and adults.

#7: Timecrimes (2007)

Timecrimes is a superbly directed Spanish time-travel drama about an ordinary man living close to a scientific research facility where they are experimenting with time-travel. He starts out being caught up in events that he himself has caused by his future use of the time-machine, and most of his involuntary adventure is made up of him trying to create the causes that get him started in the first place (incl. trying to prevent the apparent death of his wife), all the while being unaware that things can only happen in one way, regardless of what he does. It is a beautifully constructed movie, which portrays several sequences of events from several points of view at several points in the story (i.e. covering the same points in time more than once) – a great mind-twister with its own coherent logic. Click on the title to see my full review.

#6: Star Trek (2009)

Following some of the weakest material in 2001-2005 – namely the eleventh movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the last TV show, “Star Trek: Enterprise” – the Star Trek franchise was closed down. Slam, bang. A radical new beginning was called for, which was also a back-to-basics approach: a reinvention of “Star Trek: The Original Series” from the 1960s. In order to make it fit the modern world and make it a lot flashier than the original, it was decided to go dimension-hopping and embark on an alternate Star Trek timeline! This movie is the first in the renewed franchise, and a sequel is slated for 2013. We tag along with James T. Kirk and the fledgling Enterprise crew as Mr. Spock travels back in time from the old continuity and sees the history of this timeline diverge from his original one as his native planet Vulcan is destroyed. His young persona now lives a different life than he did, and all the characters of the original crew are now guaranteed to have spiffy all-new adventures. The conflict of this movie, involving a bad guy called Nero and an unspecified weapon called “red matter”, is silly and simplistic, but due to the brilliance of the new versions of the classic characters, the entertainment value is through the roof! Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is worth the entire movie alone, and so is Zachary Quinto’s Spock (who is actually the real main character in this new franchise, being considered by absolutely everybody to be much cooler than Kirk), and the rest are absolutely great, too: Simon Pegg’s Scotty, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, John Cho’s Sulu and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. An inspired reinvention, which could have been a lot better if the story had been brilliant, too.

#5: Watchmen (2009)

Alan Moore’s original Watchmen is one of the most acclaimed superhero comic books of all time. A movie adaptation was planned several times, but most fans (and Moore himself) considered it unfilmable. Along comes comics-fan-turned-director Zack Snyder, with screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse in tow, and the miracle happens: an adaptation that is actually worthy of the comic book. And therefore necessarily one of the best superhero movies ever. The story and the concept comprise a significant variation on the classic superhero archetype: what if the superheroes were not make-believe heroes, but real people? What if the high concepts of a superhero comic book took place in a world of fallible and corruptible real people? Of course, it completely departs from the usual superhero type of story, and Alan Moore did not do it (as some people think) as a critique of classic superheroes, but simply as an experiment; a variation on a theme. We follow a bunch of self-proclaimed heroes, among which a creature of pure reason (Dr. Manhattan), a violent anti-hero who thinks life is a joke (the Comedian) and a super-moral super-man (Ozymandias) who does his best to control the entire world for its own good. Then there’s Rorshach, a mysterious lone vigilante who seeks out the worst criminal scum imaginable and ain’t afraid to break the law in the name of his personal brand of justice. And that’s only about half the characters. The movie adaptation is astonishingly faithful, and just plain astonishing.

#4: Serenity (2005)

The movie sequel to the “Firefly” TV show is purer sci-fi than the show was, has great production values, a substantial plot and lovely acting, esp. by Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative, who is tasked with chasing the crew of Serenity – their spaceship – through the ‘verse (which is what they call their solar system with many inhabitable planets and moons) in order to capture the dangerously psychic River Tam. Captain Mal has her under his protection, and their frantic, high-speed adventure develops into a fabulously story-driven climax relating to the awful fringe-culture of space renegades known as the Reavers. It is a beautiful and mega-entertaining movie with lots of great ideas swarming around. Click the title to read my review.

#3: Surrogates (2009)

 

No one else seems to be as swept away with Surrogates as I am, but I believe posterity will vindicate it as the great and allegorical movie that it is: a glossy Blade Runner where everyone is a replicant. This is a movie that does to the ‘00s what Romero’s Dawn of the Dead did to the ‘70s: exposes the majority of people as mindless consumers obsessed with superficiality, who neglect and are ashamed of their true selves. In this future, most real people stay in near-suspended animation, while projecting their minds into beautiful robot bodies – surrogates – with various enhanced abilities. Bruce Willis plays a cop who doesn’t like this situation at all, and ends up getting the opportunity to wake everybody up and smell reality. The movie’s production values are great, using CGI to make the robot avatars’ faces smoother and more doll-like than those of the actors. It’s a beautiful and excellent movie.

#2: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

 For me, Reloaded was in the same league as the first movie in this trilogy. Unlike the third movie, Reloaded showed us what we wanted to see, namely what happened in the matrix (i.e. what looks like our own real world), rather than what happened in the depressing “real world” of Zion. Reloaded was a continuous action explosion filled with stylish spectacle of both story and visuals, magnificently continuing the visionary epic initiated by the first movie. The theme is social transformation, and it’s a great shame that the Wachowski brothers chickened out on us in the third movie and didn’t show us anything at all about which changes were installed in the new iteration of the matrix. But in Reloaded the story was still going strong, filled with outrageous characters and radical challenges to our ideas of how reality and society are supposed to be. Even the obtuse scene with The Architect doesn’t bother me much, although it ends in a confusing manner, with the audience not understanding whether Neo’s actions are the same as in the previous iteration, or subtly different. They are subtly different of course, leading to a new iteration as seen in the end of the third movie. The overall story works incredibly well, even with the shortcomings of the final movie, if one embraces the symbolism. The reason they didn’t show us which changes had been made to the matrix at the end is that it might be too radical to do so; it might signal the authorial intention too clearly and politically for it to be open to interpretation.

#1: V For Vendetta (2006)

The brilliance of the Wachowski brothers strikes again – this time they are producers and screenwriters. There is a long tradition for alternative spins on George Orwell’s brilliant novel 1984, and V For Vendetta also belongs to this tradition. There are some changes from Alan Moore’s comic book, but in some ways the changes make the movie work better. It is Britian in the 2030s and a totalitarian one-party government has manipulated itself into power through the covert engineering of social catastrophes on a massive scale, among other things resulting in the collapse of the Unites States. A virus that they used to kill people had the effect of giving one man enhanced abilities, and this person now fights the system as the Guy Fawkes-masked terrorist/freedom-fighter V. We follow him through the eyes of the young journalist Evey Hammond, whom he forcibly invites to partake in his project and who must undergo several traumatic experiences in the process. The project is to blow up parliament on the 5th of November, dealing a crippling blow to the party in power. The movie is not so much a tribute to anarchism as a general cry for resistance against oppression. In my opinion it works amazingly well and it is always a very moving experience for me to watch this masterpiece. Click the title to see my recent review.

4 Comments
  1. Kevin Matthews says

    I’m with you on Surrogates. I really liked it too.
    The Lathe Of Heaven character George Orr, is it a deliberate reference as we wonder whether he’s a Geogre Orr ill or a George Orr well??

  2. Tue Sorensen says

    Could be! 🙂

    Glad to hear there IS a bit of love for Surrogates out there! 🙂

  3. Keith Beard says

    Some nice choices there, I have not seen all of them. I agree with Wall-E and Star Trek being on the list. Watchmen was an interesting, but muddled film for me. Sereity is very undervalued, but VFV is overrated, the politics of the story got lost in the over blown specticle in that one.

    The one you left out which would have to be on my list is Moon, a brilliant back to basics thriller which was both chilling and thought provoking, with a great lead turn from Rockwell. Also from last year although I don’t know if it would be classed as a Sci-Fi, but Never Let Me Go was a big highlight for me.

  4. Tue Sorensen says

    Important one I left out here is Children of Men. It should be at #9, with #9 being pushing to #10 (and #10 off the list).

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