Every year, more than a few science fiction movies are released. Many of them are ambitious spectacles—and while that might not always pay off, at least the genre does seem to be willing to take risks or dazzle the audience. 2017 saw more than a few really great science fiction movies—along with more than a few busts.
Here are the best sci-fi movies of 2017.
Skyline was released in 2010 and by most accounts—including my own—was a disaster. It was directed by the Brothers Strause, visual effects artists who will hopefully never be allowed near any director’s chair again. It had a solid trailer and made a decent amount of money, but really didn’t warrant a sequel.
Liam O’Donnell co-wrote the first movie and wanted to make a sequel, so several years later and some creative fundraising later, we got one in 2017: Beyond Skyline. O’Donnell took over the directorial duties and, while it isn’t amazing, it’s a heck of a lot better than its predecessor. It jumps genres and goes crazy by its finale, but it’s a fun alien invasion movie, which is all we really wanted.
Blade Runner 2049
One of the few too-late sequels to turn out well, Blade Runner 2049 brought us back into the cyberpunk world of Blade Runner, which we hadn’t visited in three and a half decades decades.
Blade Runner 2049 follows a new protagonist, who gets to go through a great neo-noir detective story. Questions of identity persist, at least one old character from the past returns, and it creates such a fantastic sense of atmosphere. It looks incredible, it sounds great, and it manages to stay compelling for almost all of its two-and-a-half-hour-plus running time.
Maybe “sci-fi” is getting stretched here, but Colossal is a fascinating movie that as giant monsters, so I’m keeping it.
Colossal is about a woman who inadvertently summons a monster halfway across the world that mimics her every action. The film uses this, and subsequent reveals and developments, as metaphors for alcoholism, abusive relationships, and growing up. It’s a wonderful drama, black comedy, and monster movie.
“What happens after we die?” is one of the most prominent questions we have as a species—in large part because it’s not something to which we’re able to get an answer. The Discovery sees a near-future in which someone is able to find that answer—and then follows what happens after that information becomes known. It’s a clever movie that might not actively answer your philosophical questions, but it will make you think more deeply about them.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
(You could throw Thor: Ragnarok into this slot, too, but it felt a lot less sci-fi-y than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to me. But definitely watch it, too.)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 focuses on the relationships between its characters, which allows for a lot of development and revelations. It’s got a great heart, which is a little surprising given how soulless so many superhero movies can feel. It’s also hilarious and contains a lot of strong action scenes.
Life is a better Alien movie than the actual Alien movie we got in 2017. How did that happen? While it’s nothing particularly special, it does a good mimic job of the first Alien movie. Space ship, killer life-form on board, crew gets picked off one by one? Sound familiar? It’s got good actors and decent visuals and is sometimes scary, and it’s got a pretty fun ending, so I’d say it’s worth checking out.
Okja has super pigs. These pigs, which do not exist in real life (yet?), are giant and were given to several farmers worldwide in an attempt to figure out the best one—and then breed it, so that we can have a plentiful supply of pig meat, I guess. One of them was befriended by a young girl, and after the corporation takes back the pig, she goes on a journey to rescue it. It’s a sweet movie and has a strong message, and it’s got enough plot to keep it interesting.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The internet might be divided on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but I appreciate the risks it took and the direction it took several of its characters. Its plot isn’t the strongest of the franchise, but Star Wars films thrive in the details, immersing the audience and making us feel like a part of the proceedings. The Last Jedi does this really well, and leaves the future wide open. I don’t know where it’s going to go—and that’s a good thing.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Admittedly one of the weakest entries on this list, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is here for two primary reasons: world-building and visual effects. Quite simply, it does a fantastic job of setting up its universe—especially in its opening five-minute sequence—and then presents it to us with gorgeous special effects. The story and characters are secondary. It’s never dull, but if you’re going to watch it, do it for the reasons I just mentioned.
War for the Planet of the Apes
The final movie in the most recent Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes is a more-than-fitting conclusion. It has more ape vs. human warfare, this time pitting Caesar, the main ape, against a villain played by Woody Harrelson, who plays the leader of a paramilitary organization designed to ensure humans remain the dominant species on the planet.
It’s engaging, and while it might not reinvent the wheel, it does continue to make us root for these apes and gives them more depth and development than many movies give their human protagonists. That’s … not something to overlook.