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.
2015 wasn’t a strong year for science fiction, overall. While there were a couple of standouts, even getting 10 entries on this list wasn’t the easiest thing – and some are only decent movies, not great ones. But that’s okay! Not every year is going to be a winner for every genre. Down years happen. Nothing you can do about them but hope the next year is better.
Here are the best sci-fi movies of 2015.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
While the technology at play in most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies automatically put them into the “sci-fi” category, Avengers: Age of Ultron feels even more deserving of such a classification. It’s about artificial intelligence deciding that, in order to save Earth, it must eliminate all the humans. That’s pure sci-fi right there. That it takes place within an Avengers movie is pretty neat. It’s snappy, entertaining, and decently smart.
Ex Machina sees its protagonist go to a secluded location in order to perform the Turing Test on an AI his boss has created. He then falls in love with it, maybe, and it with him – also maybe. It’s a tense movie with a lot of insight into humanity, a dazzling script, and surprisingly great special effects given its budget. It’s a fascinating movie from start to finish, and one of 2015’s best movies.
Jupiter Ascending falls more into the “interesting, but not especially great” category. It’s by the Wachowskis, the duo behind The Matrix, so you know you’re going to be in for an ambitious project. Maybe it was too ambitious. It’s about a girl who winds up caught in an intergalactic plot and … that’s about all that one can explain about it without going into way too much depth. It’s complicated and messy. It doesn’t work all the way, but it’s gorgeous and sometimes the pure ambition on display is enough to hold our interest even while our brain is asking important questions like “what’s going on?” and “why?”
All the way back in 1993, Jurassic Park was released and proved to be a bad idea. We created dinosaurs, and we put them in an amusement park, and then bad things happened. Now in 2015, we’ve done the same thing – except now we’re creating even more dangerous dinosaurs through gene splicing. Humans were a mistake.
Jurassic World basically does “Jurassic Park, but modern and bigger.” It’s a lot of fun. One of its subplots isn’t the greatest and one death feels especially cruel, but you want to see a movie about dinosaurs tormenting a bunch of people? Here you go.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Mad Max franchise was dead before Fury Road. Beyond Thunderdome ended it. And that was fine. We got a trilogy. That was enough.
Then Mad Max: Fury Road showed up and became easily the best installment in the franchise. It’s primarily a lengthy chase sequence that’s been stretched into two hours. But the action is fantastic, the characters have surprising amounts of depth, the plot has more intricacies than you might expect, it’s stunningly beautiful, and the acting is great. On paper, it doesn’t seem like it should have much of anything going for it, but when talented filmmakers are given the opportunity to go for broke, sometimes the result is amazing.
After a string of disappointments – and it was a long string – Ridley Scott finally turned in a great movie with The Martian a great movie about a man who gets left on Mars and has to try to figure out how to survive for several years before anyone can rescue him. Matt Damon is great in the lead, the screenplay is smart and funny, the effects are solid, and it’s pretty thrilling, too. It takes its science seriously, too, which feels rarer than it should.
Predestination is a mind-twisting sci-fi thriller that is all about a time traveler who … well, you’ll see. It’s weird. And it gets weirder. It’s very engaging, though, and has some great performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. I don’t want to give anything away. It’s the type of movie whose twists and turns are revealing and at least one you definitely won’t see coming.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
After a few not-so-good films in the franchise, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens came onto the scene to win back the hearts of its audience members – with nostalgia, mostly. It’s a lot like the very first Star Wars, but it mostly works and is a lot of fun. It’s even more emotionally compelling than one might expect. The action is solid, the effects are great, and it made Star Wars viable again. Isaac is one of its three leads, and seems to remain so for its entire trilogy.
Much like Jupiter Ascending, Tomorrowland fits more into the “ambitious, but not especially great” category of films. It’s a sci-fi adventure movie that hopes to teach its audience about the importance of science and winds up feeling much more like a lecture than an adventure. It’s a good message, sure, but its delivery needed improvement. The plot is breezy, the dialogue is snappy, and the effects are great. It just winds up being too preachy for its own good – to the point that the good parts wind up being put on the back burner.
Turbo Kid is a post-apocalyptic movie that has has weird weapons – a Gnome Stick, for one, which parodies the boomstick – synths, and a fight to survive against various bandits in the wasteland. Oh, and there are lots of references to classic pop culture. And people ride around on bicycles. After the bombs fall, wouldn’t they be one of the more preferable ways of getting around? It’s funny and action-packed and is very entertaining – and does so on a relatively small budget.
It’s funny, it’s a wonderful homage to ’80s movies, the action is solid, and it does it all on a shoestring budget. I adore this movie so much.