Here’s a look back at the major science fiction movies from 2016. There has been a resurgence of late of quality science fiction films, but that being said, 2016 didn’t have a lot to offer audiences in the sci-fi genre. In fact, of the more than 50 films I saw in 2016, only five were science fiction.
Here’s a break down of how they fared, from worst to first:
5. PASSENGERS – this big budget pairing of superstars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt was my least favorite science fiction film from 2016. That being said, it’s really not that bad a movie. I would rate it slightly less than average. Probably not worth a trip to the theater, but something you might consider catching at home on a streaming service or on DVD or Blu-ray.
The biggest culprit is a story that just didn’t work. It’s about a massive spaceship carrying thousands of passengers in sleep stasis to a new colony planet where they hope to begin a new life. When there’s a malfunction, and a man Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is accidentally awoken, he finds himself alone and realizes with 90 years still left to the voyage, he won’t get off the ship alive. His decision to awake fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence)— in effect giving her a death sentence— and the subsequent love story which follows sets up the burning question: what will happen if Aurora finds out that unlike Jim she didn’t awake by accident?
The resolution to this question is both unsatisfying and unbelievable. PASSENGERS is a good-looking science fiction movie hindered by a muddled storyline. Plus Lawrence and Pratt share very little chemistry as desperate space lovers.
4. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – while legions of fans call this the best STAR WARS movie ever! I simply found it to be a decent stand alone film in the series. It starts off slow but gets better with an exciting ending that is one of the best endings of the entire series.
ROGUE ONE is a stand alone film in the series, meaning it’s the first film in the STAR WARS franchise not to be part of a trilogy. It tells the intriguing story of the daring mission to steal those Death Star plans which would ultimately give Luke Skywalker the ability to destroy the evil Empire’s ultimate weapon way back in the very first STAR WARS (1977). It’s a good story, but the film struggles to tell it at first, as we are introduced to a bunch of new characters early on with a minimum of character development. As such, during the film’s first half, I didn’t care for any of these new characters.
Things eventually get better, and the ending is superb. I really liked Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, but the rest of the cast didn’t really wow me. Nor did the much hyped CGI-motion capture hybrid of Grand Moff Tarkin, which tried to recreate the late great Peter Cushing in one of his later roles. Mixed results here, as this Tarkin looks just like Cushing if you imagine him as a cartoon. I enjoyed STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) better.
3. MORGAN – Little seen and critically panned sci-fi actioner, but I really liked this one. It’s the story of an artificially intelligent being named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who kills one of the scientists working with her. As a result, the company which financed the project to create Morgan sends in an agent Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to investigate whether or not Morgan needs to be terminated.
The scientists who created and now care for Morgan argue in her favor, even though she killed one of their own. They believe she has attained life and as such cannot be terminated at the whim of a company. While the film does explore what it means to be an artificial life form, the story is not on the same level as the deeper and better written EX MACHINA (2015).
But where MORGAN does succeed is as an action thriller. As such, MORGAN features two strong performances, one by Kate Mara as the driven investigator who will stop at nothing to reach her conclusions, and the other by Anya Taylor-Joy as the introspective and potentially dangerous Morgan. The climactic fight scene between agent Lee Weathers and Morgan is expertly edited, as intense and violent a fight as you’ll see in an action movie, especially between two women.
2.STAR TREK BEYOND- As a lifelong STAR TREK fan, I’ve enjoyed this rebooted movie series a lot, as it explores an alternate timeline involving the characters from the original STAR TREK series.
This third film in this rebooted series is as enjoyable as the two films which came before it. By far, the best part of these movies is its cast, which continue to do a bang up job at capturing the personas of the original cast from the first STAR TREK TV show. Chris Pine shines as Captain Kirk, and I thought he played the role a bit more like William Shatner here in this third film than he did in the previous two.
Zachary Quinto continues to nail Mr. Spock by delivering a performance that Leonard Nimoy would no doubt be proud of. But most impressive is Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy. He has gotten better with each successive movie, and he was excellent to begin with. He truly captures what DeForest Kelly did with the character in the original series. Urban’s performance is uncanny.
And now we’ve reached my pick for the best science fiction movie from 2016. We started with PASSENGERS, which I found slightly less than average, and the next three movies were all solid, flirting with average to better than average.
But my pick for the #1 science fiction movie of the year is the only science fiction film from 2016 that I considered excellent. It’s a far superior science fiction movie than the other four films in this list.
And that movie is:
1. ARRIVAL – the one true science fiction movie from 2016. When mysterious space ships suddenly appear all over the Earth, suspended silently above ground like enormous storm clouds, the governments from around the world scramble to decipher what these aliens want.
The U.S. government sends in linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to communicate with the aliens. Banks not only has to try to learn the aliens’ language, but she also has to figure out a way to teach them ours.
What she, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) ultimately learn changes the way we think about time and space.
ARRIVAL is fun science fiction movie with a thought-provoking script by Eric Heisserer. It’s not perfect. I found the ending not quite as satisfying or mind-blowing as the ending to INTERSTELLAR (2014). But Amy Adams is excellent in the lead role, and the film really belongs to her.
Without much serious competition, ARRIVAL is easily the best science fiction movie I saw in 2016.
Until next time, thanks for reading!