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Space, man. It's just up there and floating and so far beyond the regular comprehension of us plebeians down here on Earth. On occasion, the smartest among us board a shuttle and head to explore the unknown. For the rest of us, we sit down here on the big blue planet and imagine what that might be like. We do it so often, in fact, that we regularly turn the concept into a movie. That leads us to this, the ranking of the best space movies of all time. With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (you know, if you believe in that sort of thing —kidding), there's no better time than now to list the greats. Sure, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind, but did they walk an animal cracker up and down Liv Tyler's body? I think not. Leave the science to the geniuses. Leave the kitschy, nausea-inducing space flicks to us.
This is the absolute best of the worst space movies. When a giant asteroid is headed for Earth, Billy Bob Thornton enlists the drilling expertise of Bruce Willis because the only way to stop this bad boy of a space rock is to drill a giant hole into it, drop in a bomb, and blow it up in space. Why not just teach astronauts how to drill? Who knows!? At least there’s also a strangely erotic scene where Ben Affleck runs an animal cookie across Liv Tyler’s body while explaining space.
14. Independence Day
Independence Day is America wrapped right up in a movie. There’s not a lot that happens in actual space—a knock that keeps it from ranking higher—but it does involve Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum going to space to fight aliens who are looking to destroy humanity and the world they inhabit, so it tracks.
13. The Martian
Ah, the 127 Hours of space movies. Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars after a giant space storm in The Martian, leaving him to fend for himself. Like many space films, this one hones in on human resilience and also shines a wonderful musical spotlight on “Don’t Leave Me This Way. ”
Christopher Nolan's visually-stunning space epic follows Matthew McConaughey as a pilot tasked with finding a new home for the human species. His character sets off into the unknown leaving his family on a dust-filled Earth that's rapidly becoming unable to support life. Prepare to bend your brain trying to understand the concept of relativity as McConaughey races against the clock in an extremely sci-fi way.
11. Galaxy Quest
On paper, Galaxy Quest sounds like just a throwaway space comedy about a group of washed up sci-fi actors who accidentally get embroiled in a real intergalactic battle. But with a brilliant cast that consists of Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, and Sam Rockwell— Galaxy Quest goes well beyond its expectations. In hindsight, this might be the greatest sci-fi comedy this side of Spaceballs.
Spaceballs is a fully insane Mel Brooks comedy, running at warp speed. Even if it’s not his best movie, it’s hard to make a space movie list without including the best space comedy of all time (come at me, Mars Attack! ). A brilliant parody of Star Wars, Spaceballs brilliantly weaves together the Darth Vader-lite Dark Helmet with the Han Solo-adjacent Lone Starr and his trusty dog-ish sidekick Barf.
This Jodie Foster film is a special kind of space beast. Playing Dr. Arroway, she is contacted by a something off in the far reaches of the universe and must race to figure out exactly who is contacting Earth. Sure, there's not much actual space until the brilliant closing scenes, but it had to be on this list for being a patient, intelligent sci-fi movie that involves the unknown of what's beyond our little planet.
Hanging out on Earth to literally clean up humanity's mess, Wall-E finds another robot on a scanning mission who was sent to what remains of the third rock from the sun. Together, the two go on a universe-spanning adventure that will warm your heart unlike any other space story. Wall-E remains one of Pixar's greatest accomplishments thanks to its stunning visuals and an ever more important environmental message.
Sam Rockwell stars in Moon, a film about a miner in the future who is sent to bring alternative fuel home to Earth. But as he's about to come home, his health takes a serious turn for the worse. Things get even stranger when he runs into a younger version of himself, and he’s tasked along with his clone with figuring out what the hell is going on before they both pay the price of being discovered. This quiet, incredible sci-fi thriller marked a stunning debut for director Duncan Jones, David Bowie's son.
With its orbital camera and ultra-realism, this Alfonso Cuarón-directed sci-fi masterpiece showcases the phenomenal ability of Sandra Bullock, who spends the majority of this movie isolated and surviving the terrors of space. Wanted to be an astronaut when you grow up? Not after seeing this thriller, where the villain is the unforgiving vacuum of space.
5. Apollo 13
How do you argue with Ron Howard? His 1995 summer blockbuster about the near-fatal moon mission gone awry is one of the best space movies to ever exist. Like many of the top films in this genre, this Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon film relies on the ingenuity, fears, and intelligence that make us truly human.
4. Hidden Figures
In the rundown of damn good space movies, one of the absolute best never actually features its stars getting off the ground. Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and the deeply integral role those three women played in getting John Glenn into space to orbit Earth.
Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece at once revolutionized the horror and sci-fi genres. Beneath the surface of this space terror bubbles themes tackling everything from feminism to Freudian sex to traditional gender roles and reproduction. Along with that, Alien debuted one of the best heroes in film history with Sigourney Weaver's Ridley, along with one of the greatest monster's in film history with the titular Alien.
2. Star Wars
It's the greatest sci-fi franchise in film history, and much of moviemaking as we know it today would not have been possible without George Lucas' original Star Wars. Though it lifted much of its structure and characters from pulp action-adventure of the time, everything from the special effects to the concept of "droids" were absolutely groundbreaking.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Fifty years later, humanity has gotten no closer to unraveling the mystery that is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It remains a mind-bending achievement of imagination and technical filmmaking that is the Hollywood equivalent of putting a man on the moon. And, to that end, Kubrick's directing is so good in A Space Odyssey, people still believe that he's the one who helped the U. S. Government fake the moon landing. Yes it's slow, yes it's baffling—but in terms of ideas and visual mastery, 2001 is incomparable. It remains the standard for sci-fi movies and laid the groundwork for the genre as we know it today.
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Home Features Of the 50 highest grossing movies of all time, over 40 could be described as science fiction or fantasy – and most of those have earned over a billion dollars at the box office. In other words, the genres are not only massively popular, they're the biggest on the planet. They're not just lucrative, however – any list of the best sci-fi movies contains some of the most inventive, groundbreaking and – let’s be honest – awesome films in history. Science fiction is the genre of ideas, the place where travelling among the stars, exploring the space-time continuum and bringing dinosaurs back to life can be possible. The best sci-fi movies make you believe the impossible, usually via a combination of brilliant storytelling, memorable characters and spectacular visuals – often the effects can be enough to justify the price of a cinema ticket by themselves. Remember that feeling when you first saw Star Destroyer flew overhead in the original Star Wars or when Doc Brown’s pooch Einstein became the first ever time traveller in Back to the Future? Then you know what we mean. Before you read on, there are a few caveats to this list of the best sci-fi movies. We’ve applied a rule of one entry per movie franchise – otherwise the 25 could have been overloaded with Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe films. We’ve also bent the rules a little to allow certain classic trilogies/series to sit as one entry – otherwise we’d have to make an impossible choice between The Terminator and Terminator 2, Alien and Aliens. And finally, this collection of the best sci-fi movies undeniably skews modern – we’re not denying the brilliance of black-and-white classics like the Boris Karloff-starring Frankenstein, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the original The Day the Earth Still, but have opted instead to focus on more recent movies recognisable as the genre we know today. So turn your time circuits on, engage the warp drive and join us on an adventure through the best sci-fi movies of all time – we’ve seen things you people will never believe… 25. Avatar (2009) Avengers: Endgame may be doing its best to steal its crown – Disney are even arranging a re-release with extra footage to get it over the line – but Avatar remains the highest grossing movie of all time. In the decade since its release it’s become all-too-easy to dismiss James Cameron’s sci-fi epic as an example of style over substance, but that would mean ignoring one of the best pieces of world-building ever seen. Indeed, the 3D visuals were so groundbreaking – from the vast Pandora ecosystem to the flawless performance capture tech – that much of Hollywood is still playing catch-up today. Okay, the story is a little too clichéd and predictable to propel the movie any higher in this list of the best sci-fi movies of all time, but it’s one of the most immersive movie experiences ever. And Cameron himself clearly thinks it’s a world worth exploring further – he’s got three sequels in production, with the first due in 2021. Most iconic moment: The first meeting between human Jake Sully’s avatar and Na’vi Neytiri – a scene that not only showcases Pandora’s breathtaking wildlife, but also marks the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. 24. Dredd (2012) The movie: Finally doing justice to a classic comic book character long-neglected by Hollywood – partly the result of the negative reaction to the mediocre 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starring adaptation – Dredd is the drum-tight, economical slice of brutal, satirical, dystopian sci-fi action the 2000 AD anti-hero always deserved. Playing well into its resources by delivering an intense and cool-as-hell action extravaganza within a closed, localised environment (in a similar manner to the brilliant The Raid the year before), Dredd 2012’s smaller scale belies a wealth of intelligent world-building amid all the gorgeously depicted, slow-mo, colour-saturated violence. And Karl Urban’s saw-rough, monosyllabic portrayal of the titular Judge, jury and executioner is downright perfect. Most iconic moment: When Dredd, having finally fought his way to the top of the tower and defeated its villain in savagely effective fashion, looks down and responds to her earlier grandstanding. “Yeah”. And then he’s done. 23. Ghost in the Shell (1995) The movie: In a future where humanity is defined by mind rather than body, and cybernetic physicality is interchangeable, a special forces team investigate instances of apparently politically motivated ‘ghost’ hacks, and discover a philosophical rabbit hole that goes way deeper than the espionage and gunplay they’re used to. One of the best cyberpunk films ever made and one of the most visually beautiful animated features, Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shiro’s manga opens with a slick slice of beautifully choreographed cyborg action, and then drops straight into serious, emotive themes that will stick with you long after its resonant, open ending. Much better than the Scarlett Johansson-starring remake. Most iconic moment: Captain Mokoto’s stealth-camo assassination mission at the start of the film. Tumbling from a roof like a ballerina, planting an explosive headshot like the crack marksman she is, then falling away, shimmering like a Predator. It’s a hell of a cool operation. 22. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) The movie: One of the purest, most downright likeable comedies ever made – as well as one of the best sci-fi movies – the size of Bill and Ted’s heart makes it a classic. Following two academically challenged but winsomely well-meaning teenagers on a time-travelling adventure to pass their high school history test – a journey that sees them make friends with Socrates, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, and a very crotchety Napoleon along the way – the film isn’t just brilliantly fun (and funny) throughout, but it’s always very careful indeed to make sure that we’re always laughing with our heroes, not at them. It might seem a simple film on the surface, but creating something so innocent and cynicism-free around a concept like this takes a heck of an amount of skill. Most iconic moment: Napoleon goes to Waterloo. The Californian water park, not the battle. 21. Total Recall (1990) The movie: Very (very) loosely adapting a short story by original Blade Runner author Philip K. Dick, Total Recall is as bold, chunky, brash, and physical a sci-fi action blockbuster as can be imagined. It’s peak action Schwarzenegger distilled into a single, explosive, Technicolor package. But, being from RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven, it’s also far smarter than it at all needs to be. Come for the garish prosthetics and hard-hitting violence, stay for the mind-bending existential pondering. Seriously, get to the end and then try to state definitively what really happened. Most iconic moment: When Arnie’s Doug Quaid gets caught trying to sneak through the Martian space port as a result of his exploding, mechanical old-lady head disguise malfunctioning. 20. Predator (1987) The movie: One of the best action/horror hybrids of its decade, on paper Predator is a film with no right to the quality it has. A simple tale of burly marines hunted by a monster in the jungle, it has all the hallmarks of B-movie schlock – and for a while, with its original, goofy-looking, doglike alien, it looked set to be. But with future Die Hard director John McTiernan wrangling the charisma of its hulking Arnie-led cast, it turned out to be a minor masterpiece. Hot, claustrophobic, tense, and surprisingly refined despite the high levels of ’80s gore, Predator is a tight, character-driven hybrid that has an atmosphere all of its own, and stays fresh no matter how many times you rewatch it. Most iconic moment: The first time we see the Predator’s prey through its own eyes. That ‘VWOOOM’, cutting into garish, pixelated infra-red is the starkly defining image of the series. 19. Mad Max 2 (1981) The movie: Sometimes you need a second go to really get it right. Where George Miller’s 1979 original delivered a meaty slice of low-fi, dystopian action within a slightly scrappy debut feature, Mad Max 2 is the full realisation of the post-apocalyptic vision that has informed every football-padded, spike-shouldered wasteland ever since. Drowning on desolate, mournful atmosphere, but filled with a fizzing, anarchic, particularly Australian, no-rules carnage, the aesthetic of Mad Max 2’s nuked-out, character-driven, tetanus-edged western has been copied a million times, but its furious soul has never been remotely recaptured. Except, of course, by Miller himself in the majestic 2015 follow-up Fury Road. Most iconic moment: The desert around the film’s central refinery is turned into a swirling vision of Hell, as lead antagonist Lord Humungus barks his demands through the red, swirling dust kicked up by a motorised army who at this point might as well be nitrous-injected demons. Continue to Page 2 for more of the best sci-fi movies Current page: Page 1 Next Page Page 2.
Download the greatest sci-fi movies in the universe 2017. Download the greatest sci-fi movies in the universe 2015. Download the greatest sci-fi movies in the universe now. Download The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies in the universe. Download the greatest sci-fi movies in the universe series. Download the greatest sci-fi movies in the universe movies. Aliens, astronauts, time travel – you name it, there’s a dazzling sci-fi film about it. That makes compiling a list of the best sci-fi nigh on impossible. For one, where do you start? To understand where sci-fi films came from, you need to head back to the dawn of the cinema age. Right at the start of it all, Metropolis, released in 1927, used groundbreaking visuals to create a reference point for all future urban dystopias – it’s no fluke, for example, that the aesthetic of Blade Runner bares more than a passing resemblance to Fritz Lang’s prophetic urban hell-scape. Then along came War of the Worlds (1953), a gripping tale of alien invasion adapted from H. G. Wells’ classic novel. In 1964, Dr. Strangelove did more than most films before or since to ossify the fear of a nuclear holocaust. Then, in 1968, perhaps the most influential sci-fi film of them all: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Say no more. Call it arbitrary, but to keep our list under control we begin in the 1970s. And what better place to start than with another Stanley Kubrick classic, A Clockwork Orange. You may also enjoy our guides to best sci-fi books of all time and the best space movies. When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. This does not impact the products we recommend. A Clockwork Orange (1971) Based on the 1962 novel of the same name, Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange is a classic of the dystopian genre. Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, is a teenage delinquent with a fetish for classical music and violence. As his crimes catch up to him, he’s eventually sent to prison, in the hopes that he will be cured of his taste for violence and sex by experimental aversion therapy. Shot with extreme wide-angle lenses to create the dreamy, fantastical quality that pervades the film, it went on to become one of the era’s most controversial films. Buy on Amazon The Andromeda Strain (1971) Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name served as the basis for this sci-fi thriller, where a team of scientists race against time to investigate an organism with deadly goals. When all the residents of the town of Piedmont, New Mexico, turn up dead, the US Air Force is sent to investigate what went wrong. The film’s intense, claustrophobic action unfolds over four days in the town’s underground lab, a facility readied for nuclear self-destruction should any of its extraterrestrial investigations turn out dangerous. The Andromeda Strain was one of the first commercial films to use advanced computerised effects, and scientists have since described the level of detail as remarkably accurate. Buy on Amazon Solaris (1972) Mosfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock Solaris tells the story of a psychologist who’s sent to an orbiting space station to try to understand the strange behaviour of resident scientists. When he arrives, he’s not prepared for the unnerving world he finds – nor the unexpected characters onboard. Andrei Tarkovsky, the writer and director, set out to bring emotional feeling and depth to the genre of sci-fi, something which has served as an inspiration for current sci-fi hits like Arrival and Gravity. A 2002 remake, starring George Clooney, was less well received. Buy on Amazon Westworld (1973) Getty Images Westworld the 1973 film is far less cerebral and far more weird than the recent Anthony Hopkins-driven TV series. Although, the premise is broadly the same: Westworld is a theme park of the future populated by human-imitating AIs whose primary function is to accommodate the macabre wish-fulfilment of the park’s paying guests. But there’s no pontificating on the state of the human condition in this one: it’s a chase movie. Fear the steely-eyed robot Yul Brynner! Buy on Amazon Logan's Run (1976) In 2274, everyone lives clustered under geodesic domes, killed off by the time they’re 30, but able to live hedonistically until then. Maintained by a computer, this is the optimal way to maintain the resources for everyone involved, until glitches in the system reveals that there might be another way for people to stay alive past the optimal age. Logan’s Run was a sophisticated sci-fi film at the time, although the dialogue may feel a little dated but it’s worth a watch just for the costumes alone. Buy on Amazon Demon Seed (1977) Mgm/Kobal/Shutterstock A brilliant, committed scientist develops Proteus IV (an intelligent supercomputer), which soon becomes the source of marital problems. As he tries to market the Proteus IV technology to corporations and research laboratories, the supercomputer itself searches for a human form, settling on the scientist’s wife as a potential host. Horror and sci-fi are inexplicably intertwined in this late 70s thriller, although it had mixed reviews upon its release. Buy on Amazon Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Stranger and harsher than some of Spielberg’s other early films, Close Encounters isn’t all aliens and kids looking up at the sky. This is more than naive wonder and whimsy at the prospect of visitors from another planet – as seen in the slow pacing, the spectre of "sunburn", Roy Neary's relationship with his family and the mystery of Claude Lacombe's program. The effects are stunning for a film released in 1977 and the musical notes used to communicate with the UFOs are a stroke of genius from John Williams. Buy on Amazon Stalker (1979) Andrei Tarkovsky's Soviet art film might sit more on the sci-phi side of things, but it’s still essential viewing. The film follows three men – a writer, a scientist and a guide – into The Zone, a treacherous wasteland that confuses and confounds all who enter it. At almost three hours long, and very much in Russian, Stalker isn't so much entertaining as transfixing thanks to those long, long Tarkovsky shots. Its influence can be felt in TV shows such as Westworld and, more recently and clearly, Alex Garland’s Annihilation. Buy on Amazon Alien (1979) 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock Directed by sci-fi pioneer Ridley Scott, Alien follows the crew of a commercial space ship, who encounter Alien, a deadly creature that leaves a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere was inspired by classic sci-fi stories, but it struggled to get funding until Star Wars showed that spectacular sci-fi could bring in the big bucks. One of the film’s stand-out techniques was to never show the full horror of the eponymous Alien – it’s a brilliant and terrifying way to build suspense that’s been endlessly copied and riffed on ever since. Buy on Amazon Altered States (1980) Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock Based on noted scientist John ’s experiments with sensory deprivation and psychedelic drugs, a blend of sci-fi and horror earned Altered States a cult following many years after. It follows a psychiatrist, Edward Jessup, who becomes obsessed with the idea of altered states of consciousness – such as hallucinations or visions that people may experience when they’re taking drugs or suffering from a mental break. The film’s generally delirious atmosphere – as when Jessup takes a kind of drug similar to ayahuasca, which sends him into a kind of frenzy that he chases through taking more of it – contributes to the creeping sense of unease viewers feel, but it’s not one for the lighthearted. Buy on Amazon Scanners (1981) Film Plan International/Kobal/Shutterstock An unlikely entry, this science horror film is about a group of people who want to take over the world – renegade scanners, who are people with telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Crucially, they possess the ability to make other people’s heads explode – something which a group of renegade scanners decide to use to their favour. A classic of the horror/sci-fi intersection, Scanners features the iconic exploding head scene which set the bar for vfx at the time, with a serious bent on other gore films. Buy on Amazon Blade Runner (1982) Set in Los Angeles, 2019, Rick Deckard is one of the titular blade runners – someone who tracks down replicants, which are unnatural, bioengineered beings, and kills them. He is sent on a mission to find four who are on Earth illegally, and to administer a test – the Voigt-Kampff test – which is supposed to distinguish replicants from humans. The original Blade Runner drew from classic Edward Hopper paintings and the skyline in Hong Kong to create the film’s iconic, technology infused film-noir look. Buy on Amazon The Thing (1982) Antarctica. John Carpenter. Kurt Russell. The Thing is one of those sci-fi horror classics that was panned by critics when it was first released but gets better and better with repeat viewings. The tension ramps up and up as the scientists, quarantined in a remote research station, descend into paranoia trying to take down the ancient, shape-shifting (and delightfully gross) alien they've disturbed. Buy on Amazon E. T. is a classic sci-fi film – a sweet, sappy take on friendship – without any of the heavy handedness of its contemporaries. The basic plot is recognisable - an alien, E. T., is left behind on Earth, and a ten year old boy ends up befriending it, ensuing in shenanigans. Where E. differs from other films with a similar conceit is in how Spielberg chooses to focus on the heady experience of childhood and forming emotional bonds, as opposed to creating a special effects blockbuster. Buy on Amazon Tron (1982) Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock Tron did in the 80s what The Matrix did in the 90s. At a time when special effects were often more miss than hit, it put on a dazzling display of technical wizardry. In the simplest terms, Tron is an action adventure film starring Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer trapped inside a funky world of software. More than that, Tron is a film about what it means to be human – albeit one heavily disguised by a stylish, computeristic wonderscape. This film was a landmark moment in computer animation, but also ossified ideas and themes that still fascinate sci-fi fans and auters to this day. Buy on Amazon The Terminator (1984) Corbis via Getty Images A cyborg assassin is sent from the year 2029 to the year 1984 to kill a woman whose son could be the saviour in a post apocalyptic future. Featuring a freakishly robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger, it arguably launched James Cameron’s career as an action director. Its relentless, violent pace evened out what could be a cheesy script, and it went on to become a vital piece of pop culture. Buy on Amazon Brazil (1985) Universal/Embassy/Kobal/Shutterstock Directed by Terry Gilliam, Brazil is a grandly realised masterpiece of absurdist, dystopian sci-fi. It features Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, initially resigned to life as a cog in a totalitarian society clogged by dysfunctional bureaucracy, where people end up in body bags for crimes they didn’t commit and restaurants are routinely ripped apart by explosives. But soon he becomes infatuated with a political activist and turns into her unwitting accomplice, erratically rebelling against the state – but not for long. Watching the increasingly disordered world unravel around him alongside his mental state is a true pleasure. As are the fantastical, and oftentimes terrifying, dream sequences that slice through what passes for the day to day reality. An unforgettable watch. Back to the Future (1985) While it doesn’t have the cinematic seriousness of its 80s sci-fi contemporaries, Back to the Future nonetheless captured the spirit of the age. Or at least a very Michael J. Fox portrayal of it. Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989, took the somewhat less successful leap to a fanciful 2015. The final installment in the trilogy, released in 1990, added a Western spin on a tried-and-tested formula. But, in combination, the franchise’s self-lacing shoes, DeLoreans and hoverboards have all rightfully earned Back to the Future a place in sci-fi cinema history. Buy on Amazon Robocop (1987) The premise of Robocop seems laughable – a police officer is murdered by a gang, and then brought back to life by a mega corporation to patrol the streets as a kind of half cyborg, half police officer, called Robocop. But Robocop turns it into an examination of capitalism and the power of corporations, despite the action scenes with a lot of violence, because it’s set in a recognisable version of the future (Detroit, as it crumbles) that feels more familiar as time passes. Buy on Amazon Akira (1988) Akira Committee/Pioneer Ent/Kobal/Shutterstock Akira is credited for popularising anime in the West and this 1988 feature film, which is a condensed version of a long-running manga comic, remains one of the most ambitious animated features ever made. It's set in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo, several decades after a massive event destroyed the old city, where gangs, terrorists and religious fanatics vie for control of a corrupt and decaying society. When Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang, comes into contact with an escaped child from a government lab, he begins to develop incredible psychic powers which he abuses and struggles to control. His best friend, Kaneda, seeks to rescue him, but quickly realises more drastic action is necessary as they’re both engulfed in events beyond their comprehension. Buy on Amazon Ghost in the Shell (1995) Bandai/Kodansha/Production Ig/Kobal/Shutterstock Based on a manga of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is a direct influence on numerous modern sci-fi films, most notably The Matrix. Set in 2029, it depicts a future where cybernetic technology is widespread and most people have cyberbrain augmentation, which allows them to connect directly to the internet. New technology brings new risks and thrust into them is Major Kusanagi, an assault-team leader and investigator who is unusual in that her body is entirely cybernetic. When an "escaped AI" starts causing havoc, she and her team are tasked with tracking it down, but her investigation reveals a darker conspiracy and makes her question reality. Buy on Amazon 12 Monkeys (1995) Phillip Caruso/Polygram/Kobal/Shutterstock Directed by Terry Gilliam at his peak and starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys is a brilliant noir-ish time travel movie where a deadly virus, released in 1996, kills most of humanity. Survivors in 2035 live underground where a group of desperate scientists send a convict, played by Willis, back in time with orders to stop the virus, believed to be released by a group known as the 12 Monkeys. When he's sent to the wrong time, he's immediately arrested and put in a mental hospital where he meets a fanatical patient, played by Pitt, and tries to convince a psychiatrist he's telling the truth. What follows is a brilliant web of paradoxical events that often stretches plausibility, but never fails to enthral. Sygma via Getty Images First Contact pulled off the trickiest of balancing acts. It wasn’t just a big-budget sci-fi adventure beloved by Trek fans, but also accessible enough to bring in a whole new audience. That extra money gave the world of Next Generation even more detail, bringing the Enterprise to life and making the fiendish Borg more believable and complex. The pioneering story of Zefram Cochran is a great contrast to that doom-laden world and finally explains a formative moment in Trek history – how humanity first made its faster-than-light leap into the stars. Buy on Amazon Fifth Element (1997) Columbia/Tri-Star/Kobal/Shutterstock One of the most polarising sci-fi films of all time, director Luc Besson came up with the idea for Fifth Element when he was 16 (it was filmed and released 20 years later). A taxicab driver becomes responsible for the fate of the Earth, two centuries from now, when a mysterious woman falls into his cab. They embark on a quest to find four stones which can maintain peace on Earth. When it was released, The Fifth Element was alternately panned and lauded for its special effects and storyline, but since then, it has gained the notoriety of a cult classic. Buy on Amazon Gattaca (1997) Darren Michaels/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock Gattaca’s focus on the dystopian end-game of genetic engineering was significantly ahead of its time. A relative box office flop, it has nonetheless become the go-to film for geneticists looking to understand how ordinary people view their work, and ordinary people looking for a thoughtful, stylish film about the future of genetics. It’s a thriller with a brain that, more than most people realise, has framed popular debates around eugenics that still rumble on today. Buy on Amazon Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros Based on the Carl Sagan novel of the same name, Contact follows two scientists who make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, touching on science and religion in the process. Dr. Ellie Arroway works at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where she has been attempting to make contact with extraterrestrials for years. When a repeating signal eventually appears from the Vega star system, she enters into an international race to decipher it, in the hope of being selected to respond to the message. Buy on Amazon Men in Black (1997) Men in Black, based on the comic book series of the same name, was a fun, science fiction film which proved that the genre didn’t have to be serious in order to be worth watching. A secret organisation, the Men in Black, is tasked with supervising extraterrestrial being on Earth – making sure they don’t get into any trouble, but also keeping the human beings around them safe, using memory-erasing “neuralysers”. The original film was turned into a franchise and spin-offs, but nothing comes close to capturing the delight of the first. Buy on Amazon The Truman Show (1998) Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock To a modern viewer, this might not seem like science fiction, but when The Truman Show came out in 1998, anxieties about mass surveillance were just that. Now, we live in a world of cameras – watching from above, and welcomed into our homes and pockets. The movie, which follows Jim Carrey as he slowly realises he’s the star of his own ‘reality’ TV show, remains a must-watch, and has had a huge cultural impact, even inspiring the name of a psychological condition. The Matrix (1999) Commercial science fiction films could be stylish – like Blade Runner – but studios and filmmakers often focused on bringing science fiction elements to an otherwise human story. With The Matrix, released in 1999, the Wachowskis turned that on its head – depicting a dystopian future, where all of humanity had been trapped in a simulated reality, being used as an energy source for artificially intelligent creatures. A hacker, Neo, is alerted to the falseness of the world they live in, and soon starts on a quest to uncover the truth. Several of the film’s stylistic inventions – such as the digital rain of the code that composes the Matrix – are iconic parts of contemporary culture. The Matrix brought questions about existential philosophy and nihilism to the forefront of the story and coupled them with intense action scenes that drew from martial arts and Japanese animation, to create an enduring cyberpunk sci-fi film that reverberates around contemporary culture. Buy on Amazon eXistenZ (1999) Ava Gerlitz/Alliance Atlantis/Kobal/Shutterstock At the time of its release, David Cronenberg’s body-horror eXistenZ was constantly compared to the Wachowski’s sleek science fiction film The Matrix. But disgruntled cinemagoers soon realised that eXistenZ was the complete antithesis to the film they were told they were going to see. eXistenZ is a psychotropic trip into a mad world of bone-shaped guns that shoot out teeth, icky human plug sockets, game pods and fish. It follows celebrity game developer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she flees into her own virtual reality creation to escape an assassin trying to kill her in the real world. She teams up with Ted Pickle, a hapless marketing trainee played by a young Jude Law, who is tasked, bizarrely, with protecting her as they wander through the game. It’s a subtle story about existence, as the name suggests, the blurring of reality and fantasy, and will have you thinking about what it means long after the credits roll. Cronenberg’s signature vintage gooeyness will have you writhing in disgust, but that’s what makes it so much better. The film came at a time when cinema was filled with mainstream blockbuster science fiction films, so it was nice to have eXistenZ around to provide viewers with something repulsively different. Buy on Amazon Minority Report (2002) 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks With hallmarks of neo-noir and thriller films, Minority Report’s unique visual atmosphere was groundbreaking and oddly prescient, warning of a world where advanced technology can predict people’s crimes before they even commit them. Three mutated humans, known as Precogs, make these predictions – when they predict that Chief Anderton (Tom Cruise) will kill a man 36 hours from now, he goes on the run. The film’s futuristic aesthetic set the benchmark for a new kind of stylised sci-fi – one which was heavily informed by technologists and scientists working at the cutting edge of what was possible at the time – through its use of colour and imagery. Buy on Amazon Primer (2004) Thinkfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock Primer shuns big-budget special effects with director Shane Carruth opting for a low budget but high intensity film about two engineers, Aaron and Abe, who accidentally discover the secrets to time travel in their garage. When it was released Primer was noted for its originality – the film takes on complex topics like quantum physics and doesn’t dumb them down for the viewer, instead using real jargon and terms that real-life researchers would – and for its commitment to a lo-fi aesthetic. Much of the film is set in garages and car parks, and the with the exception of the two lead roles, every other character is played by a friend or family member of the cast. Buy on Amazon Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) David Lee/Focus Features/Kobal/Shutterstock Much contemporary sci-fi tends to dwell on the terrifying aspects of technology on a large scale. In Eternal Sunshine, director Michael Gondry and writer Brian Kaufman wanted to focus on the relationship between Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey), strangers who meet on a train to Montauk and fall helplessly in love. Eventually, they realise that they had met and fallen in love before. The rest of the film charts how this happened – from the memory-erasing firm Lacuna technologies, and the relationships between the employees there – to the difficult decision that they must then make. Shot in a beautifully dreamy style and with an uncharacteristically heartfelt performance from Carrey, Eternal Sunshine has gone to achieve both a cult following and widespread acclaim, both as sci-fi and a romantic comedy. Buy on Amazon Children of Men (2006) Universal Cuarón’s knack for elevating the dystopian to high art is never more evident than in Children of Men. Set in 2027, after two decades of global human infertility, the UK is one of the few remaining stable nations, which is inundated by asylum seekers and refugees from other nations, who are summarily rounded up and executed by the British Army. Theo Faron, a former activist, is kidnapped by an immigrant rights group, led by his ex wife. He is offering money if he can help get a young refugee, Kee, across the border safely. As they embark on a perilous journey, they encounter difficulties every step of the way – from subterfuge to murder plots – as Kee and Theo try to reach safety. While the plagues that caused infertility are the main driving force of the film, there is never a clear explanation for what they are. Cuarón draws inspiration from literature, Michelangelo sculptures and photographs of real battlefields – dwelling on faith, love and hope – to create a profoundly moving experience. Buy on Amazon A Scanner Darkly (2006) Warner Independent Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock This visually stunning adaptation of a Phillip K Dick novel uses an animation technique known as 'interpolated rotoscoping, ' where animators painstakingly trace over filmed footage frame-by-frame. It gives the story – which takes place in a version of America where 20 per cent of the population is hooked on the powerful Substance D – a trippy, hallucinogenic feel. Directed by Richard Linklater, it features Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder in varying states of paranoia, and follows an undercover operative (played by Keanu Reeves) working for a government that's using invasive, high-tech surveillance to get a handle on the war on drugs. Sunshine (2007) Alex Bailey/Fox Searchlight/Kobal/Shutterstock Inspired by the idea of the heat death of the universe and the inevitable death of the Sun, Alex Garland teamed up with Danny Boyle to create a sci-fi thriller about the psychological effects of space travel. In 2056, the Earth is falling apart as the Sun slowly powers down. A crew of eight astronauts embarks on a perilous mission to jump-start it, on the ship aptly named Icarus II. As they draw closer, they find the wreck of Icarus I, which they hope to commandeer in the hopes of greater success. In designing the film, the filmmakers consulted Nasa, and the futurologist Richard Seymour and physicist Brian Cox were introduced to cast members, who lived together to create the feeling of intimacy that the crew of the Icarus II would have had. This is an emotionally intense, claustrophobic roller coaster that touches on science, faith and, eventually, hope. Buy on Amazon Cloverfield (2008) Sam Emerson/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock Director Matt Reeves uses found footage to great effect in Cloverfield, which tells the story of an alien invasion in New York, using clips that look as though they were filmed on a camcorder. The stakes get higher and higher, as a plan is put in place to destroy Manhattan in order to flush out the monster, told entirely through grainy camera recordings. Found footage is a staple of horror, rather than sci-fi, but Cloverfield melds the two together for a thrilling and terrifying ride. Subsequent sequels and spinoffs weren’t as well received. Buy on Amazon Wall-E (2008) Disney / Pixar One of the only animated films on this list, Wall-E touches on themes of environmental risk and devastation through the lens of a lone robot, Wall-E, who is sent to Earth to clean up the planet’s garbage. Though he lives a solitary life, another robot, EVE, eventually arrives, which he then falls in love with. Buy on Amazon Moon (2009) This beautiful, moving film from Duncan Jones starts at the end of an unusual experience: an astronaut goes through a personal crisis at the end of a three year stint mining helium on the Moon. As he struggles with what lays ahead of him, he starts to hallucinate. The desolation of the film, as well as the emotional story at its heart, stops Moon from sliding into a weird, syrupy sci-fi film. The clever cinematography, use of models rather than VFX, and an excellent performance from Sam Rockwell as the protagonist, ensures this will appeal to both film buffs and sci-fi fanatics. Buy on Amazon District 9 (2009) Tri-Star/Wingnut/Sony/Kobal/Shutterstock Set in 1982 in Johannesburg, South Africa, an alien spaceship appears and a population of insect-like aliens are found aboard, before being banished to District 9 by the government. Three decades later, the district has become reviled by the locals, and increasing unrest leads the government to believe that the aliens should be moved. In the process of doing so, three escape, setting off another chain of events. Inspired by apartheid in South Africa, District 9’s visual effects were also designed to evoke a kind of insect-like alien, but one that viewers would sympathise with as the film went on. Buy on Amazon Inception (2010) A James Bond film inside a heist film inside a Christopher Nolan film, Inception takes a near-perfect screenplay and executes every dreamworld with precision and flair and humour. Nolan's cinematic experiments with time are always interesting (as in Interstellar and Dunkirk) but Inception still feels like the most complete entry in this trickster's obsession with time as a storytelling tool. With Hans Zimmer on soundtrack duty and stellar acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, there’s plenty here to elevate an already mind-bending story. Buy on Amazon Source Code (2011) Kpg Digital For Film / Kobal / Shutterstock Director Duncan Jones followed his critically acclaimed debut Moon with another critical and commercial hit, Source Code in 2011. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a US Army pilot who wakes up in the body of someone else, a school teacher aboard a commuter train. Minutes later the train explodes and he awakes again inside a cockpit, where he's told via video screen he's in a simulation and that his mission is to go back again (and again) to identify the bomber within the eight minutes available to him. The clever conceit sets up an exhilarating thriller with a sci-fi twist that's all wrapped up in a tight 90 minutes. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 20th Century Fox The original might have the best ending (You maniacs! ), but the 2011's gritty reboot and origin story is more palatable to modern sensibilities than the campy 1960s and 70s movies and sci-fi as a result. The first in the new series of films follows Will Rodman (played by James Franco), who is testing a potential cure for Alzheimer's on chimpanzees that goes badly wrong for humans, and pretty well for the apes, led by intelligence-enhanced chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis). Outstanding CGI and some excellent follow-ups make the rebooted series an outstanding addition to the Apes canon, so we can all forget about the Mark Walhberg-fronted effort. Looper (2012) Filmdistrict/Kobal/Shutterstock Looper’s central conceit can be a little tricky to wrap your head around – contract killers, known as loopers, are used by gangs and criminal syndicates to send the people they kill back through time. Their final victims will be themselves – ergo, closing the loop. One breakaway looper, Joe, starts to run into problems when his future self arrives to kill him in the hopes of stopping a mystical figure ruining the whole process. Looper’s blend of action and complex plot have made it a fan favourite, though you may need a few repeat viewings to fully understand it. Buy on Amazon Snowpiercer (2013) Snowpiercer/Moho/Opus/Kobal/Shutterstock A tightly woven, claustrophobic film set on a train barrelling towards the end of humanity can sound more like horror than sci-fi, but Snowpiercer is a different and exciting take on the genre. An attempt at climate engineering gone wrong has created a new Earth, and a train carrying the only people alive is wrecked by a mutiny. In the hands of less capable actors or screenwriters, it could have become just another action film with an ambitious storyline – but the use of mise en scène, as well as gorgeous, immersive cinematography makes the viewer fully aware of the action, which is all the more chilling through Snowpiercer’s twists and turns. Buy on Amazon Her (2013) Annapurna Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock In this romantic take on sci-fi, directed by Spike Jonze, Theodore, a depressed writer, leads a lonely life in a futuristic version of Los Angeles. He upgrades an operating system, which leads to the introduction of a virtual assistant with AI capabilities, who calls herself Samantha. As Theodore tries to move on from his impending divorce he finds that Samantha’s influence on his life stretches past the purely practical. Rather than delving into sci-fi tropes about a lonely man and his operating system, Her’s nuanced and sweet exploration of intimacy and technology brought a new dimension to how we society thinks about virtual assistants. Buy on Amazon Gravity (2013) Warner Bros When Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for Gravity, he didn’t set out to make a film about space itself – rather, he wanted to make a film about adversity and human resilience. This is a film about two scientists who find themselves stranded in space, and what they must overcome to get safely back to Earth. An eerie atmosphere pervades the film, with soaring, rich cinematography and compelling performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Gravity is less straightforward sci-fi and more complex masterpiece. Part of the marvel of the film was its use of visual effects, pulling the viewer right into Cuarón’s fantastical, terrifying adventure. Buy on Amazon Under the Skin (2013) Film4/Filmnation/Jw/Kobal/Shutterstock Under the Skin is a cerebral, hypnotic story about an alien who’s disguised itself as a black wig-wearing Scarlett Johansson – a femme fatale drifting along the outskirts of Glasgow, seducing men in order to use them and consume them for sustenance. Accompanied by a mesmerising score that vibrates beneath a near silent film with vivid cinematography, makes Under the Skin a literal skin-crawling experience. To say much more would spoil you from being able to fully involve yourselves in the world of one of the most horrifying sci-fi films of recent years. Ex Machina (2014) A24 Garland is no stranger to sci-fi – having written Sunshine, but Ex Machina was his directorial debut. Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a brilliant computer programmer who wins a competition to spend a week at the remote house of the CEO of the company he works for, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When he gets there, he finds out he’s been selected as the human component in a Turing test for Ava (Alicia Vikander), a fembot with a human face and robotic body. As he tests her capabilities, he finds that she may be far more intelligent than Nathan may have realised. Ex Machina could very easily have delved into standard sci-fi fare – an intelligent AI that’s far smarter than anyone realises, a reclusive, genius creator – but fuses an elegant aesthetic with clever storytelling to create a more nuanced, human film. Buy on Amazon The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) 3 Arts Entertainment/Kobal/Shutterstock An alien race arrives in Germany and slowly mounts an invasion, one that the human race is woefully underprepared for. Major William Cage, who has no combat experience, is thrust into combat and is soon killed in combat. He finds himself reliving the last day of his life, over and over again, each time with no one to believe him, trying to use it to his advantage. The alien race in the film, Mimics, are particularly memorable, even in a crowded field, and the mixture of action with a straightforward plot (and humour) stop it from turning into a macabre version of Groundhog Day. Buy on Amazon Interstellar (2014) Legendary Pictures Nolan’s space epic about a mission to find a new world or humanity is sometimes unfairly dismissed as spectacle exceeding substance. Sure, its story hooks are more emotional than philosophical and you could drive a bus through the gaping paradox of its time and gravity bending ending, but it’s a rare event in sci-fi: a successful blockbuster. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain all excel in their lead roles and the depiction of Earth in the final throes of a global ecological collapse has real impact. The brilliant set pieces, including a realistic depiction of a black hole, and an outstanding Hans Zimmer soundtrack, add to to sense of scale and drama. Buy on Amazon The Martian (2015) Giles Keyte/20th Century Fox Matt Damon is stranded on Mars and there’s little hope of rescuing him. The Martian could have been a dreary attempt at intellectual sci-fi, but thankfully its clever plot and believable characters more than save the film. This may have been in part due to the significant role which Nasa ended up playing in the movie, from the inception, to advising on technical details in the script, as well as collaboration on marketing. A screening of The Martian was shown at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston too. Buy on Amazon Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Village Roadshow/Kobal/Shutterstock Riffing off the original Mad Max series, from the 1970s, Fury Road takes a contemporary anxiety – scarce resources, climate change, the general apocalypse – and turns it into a dense, overwhelming thriller, with magnificent special effects and a visionary bent. In this post-apocalyptic film, petrol and water have become scarce commodities, and a group of people fleeing a cult leader have to team up to fight for their survival. With an ensemble cast led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the film’s take on the near dystopian future tends more towards action and thriller than sci-fi, but it trades on a very real fear – that of natural resources running out. The film’s dystopian aesthetic and feminist overtones form part of its unique appeal that’s bolstered by strong performances from a brilliant ensemble cast. Buy on Amazon Arrival (2016) Paramount Pictures Ted Chiang’s short novella, Story of Your Life, serves as the inspiration for this moving film about language and discovery in which humanity struggles to make sense of strange, alien visitors arriving on Earth. At the centre of the film is linguist Louise Banks, whose attempts to commune with the aliens brings her unsettling visions of her daughter. While the premise – unfamiliar aliens, existential threat – is tried and tested, in director Denis Villeneuve’s capable hands, it turns into a meditation on communication, uncertainty and love. Buy on Amazon Midnight Special (2016) Ben Rothstein /Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock Jeff Nichols' story of an eight-year-old boy with special powers and the father trying to protect him didn't do particularly spectacularly at the box office. But we think Midnight Special deserves a spot as one of the most interesting pieces of cinematic sci-fi to represent the 2010s. It's a suspenseful, visually intriguing curio that finds new angles on the parent-child dynamic with fine performances from Michael Shannon as Roy, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Egerton and Adam Driver. Buy on Amazon Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Warner Bros. More than 30 years after the original Blade Runner hit cinemas, its sequel starting Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling took $259 million at box offices around the world. Ford, a former blade runner who has vanished for three decades, is rediscovered by Gosling as he seeks to save society from impending chaos. The film won Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography at the 90th Academy Awards in March 2018. It also picked up Best Cinematography and best Special Visual Effects at the 2018 BAFTAs. Annihilation (2018) Paramount Alex Garland’s bio-futurist film Annihilation went straight to Netflix, but the film received rave reviews for its complexity. Lena, played by Natalie Portman, is a scientist whose husband disappeared, and then was returned with little memory of what happened before. She finds out he was sent to investigate The Shimmer, a kind of iridescent forcefield with mysterious origins and effects on the people who enter. As she journeys into it, alongside a group of other scientists, she finds human shaped plants and weird animal hybrids, alongside other unnatural phenomena. Even though the film’s premise seems initially simple, it’s philosophical bent and stellar performances create an immersive story that pushed along by an unusual and killer soundscape. Buy on Amazon.
O ne year ago at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Silver Bear for best director went to Angela Schanelec for I Was at Home, But…. The film stars Maren Eggert as Astrid, a Berlin woman recently bereaved of her husband and coping with the subsequent weeklong disappearance and reemergence of her son, Philip (Jakob Lassalle). Astrid’s life in the wake of these dual traumas unfolds episodically, as her emotional duress manifests itself as displaced obstinacy and heightened passion in social interactions. Astrid’s emotional struggle is also intercut with dispersed scenes of Philip’s class neutrally reciting lines from Hamlet, of a romantic crisis in the life of one of his instructors (the omnipresent Franz Rogowski), and of a donkey and a dog living together in an abandoned schoolhouse. With this film, Schanelec crafts a portrait of grief that can be at once alienating and deeply moving, its fragmentary nature both reflecting the way Astrid and Philip’s worlds have been shattered and compelling our active spectatorship. That latter aspect is typical of Schanelec’s body of work, as well as the film movement it has been grouped with. The so-called Berlin School—originally consisting of Schanelec and Thomas Arslan and Christian Petzold, her fellow graduates from the Deutsche Film-und Fernsehakademie Berlin—wasn’t the filmmakers’ intentional creation, but rather a label often applied to the slow-paced, formalist, and critically engaged art films they made. French critics and the German film magazine Revolver were the first to propagate the coming of a nouvelle vague allemande in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and, as Schanelec emphasizes in our interview, particularly in the early days of the “School, ” the grouping helped the trio’s small collection of completed works find places in film festivals. Now, 25 years into her filmmaking career, Schanelec has an oeuvre that stands on its own—as evidenced by the career retrospectives that have begun to crop up around the world. Last fall, the Vienna International Film Festival organized a comprehensive one. And from February 7 to 13, Film at the Lincoln Center in New York will be showing her films under the program “Dreamed Paths: The Films of Angela Schanelec, ” which in addition to her shorts and features also includes a program of three films by other filmmakers selected by Schanelec. Has this retrospective given you reason to revisit earlier work that you haven’t in a while, or to revisit your work as a whole? If so, what kinds of insights have stood out to you as you have considered your career up to this point? I have to say that it’s quite exhausting to be confronted with the work of my whole life. There were other retrospectives, earlier retrospectives, and for me it’s quite hard. I mean, I’m very happy that there’s this interest in my work, there’ no question. But it’s also quite hard for me. What’s so difficult about it? Because, I mean, it’s not such a big body of work. I started in the ‘90s, and the first long film was in 1995, so it’s 25 years. But between my films is two or three years, so I spend a lot of time with them. And when they are finished, they are finished. And then I have the deep wish to continue with something new. And I think I know my films. Do you see, then, each film as something new you’re exploring? Or do you leave a film with an idea you want to continue working on in the next film? It’s not a new start. It’s not a new beginning at all. It’s rather a need that emerges from the work on a film, and I follow up on this need in the next film. And this is also not an intellectual or conceptual decision, and often it’s very primitive. So, when, for example, I’ve worked a lot with language, there’s a certain fatigue, or there emerges the need to work with images again. If you look at the way my films alternate, there’s always, I don’t know—in Plätze in Städten [Schanelec’s first feature] there’s hardly any talking, in Passing Summer lots of talking, then in Marseille, again, hardly any. So, certain needs develop, and they come from exhaustion. In fact, I noticed that The Dreamed Path has no subtitles on Amazon Prime, and perhaps it doesn’t need them because as you said it’s one of your films that’s so visual. This is only one point how one film comes from another. Ah, there are lots, but it happens, as I said, not rationally, but instead it emerges from certain needs. To what degree do you feel an affinity with something called the Berlin School? And if you did, do you feel like it’s so-last-decade, do you feel it’s over now? To start at the beginning, it was only Thomas Arsland, Christian Petzold, and I. And Thomas and I had become friends already at the Filmhochschule. And via this concept, “Berlin School, ” it was much easier to make the films visible, because we hadn’t made so many films. But then under the concept “Berlin School, ” one could show the whole set. Then the films were also shown abroad very often, and naturally that was good, and we were happy with that. But the concept didn’t result from collaborative work, but only from a look at the finished films. And we—Thomas and I—never, though we were friends, we never worked together even at the Filmhochschule. There was no cooperation, and correspondingly, the films developed completely differently over the course of these 15 years—or I don’t really know how long this concept has existed. If you look at the films only of the three of us, you’ll see they’re very different from one another. And mine are somewhere different entirely. In my eyes, anyway. I agree. And therefore the concept is not relevant for me. What’s also positive, though, is this next generation came up—Christoph Hochhäuser, Nicolas Wackerbarth—and the two of them are from Revolver, and are very practiced at communicating. And that was also positive, because for Thomas and I that was unaccustomed. We had much more worked each for ourselves. Turning to I Was at Home, But …, there’s a lot of Hamlet in the film. You translated a volume of Shakespeare plays a couple of years ago, so it’s clear why Hamlet appears in it to a certain extent, but I’m wondering what has drawn you to Shakespeare recently, and whether your work translating him served as a kind of germ for the film. What I can say is that I translated, between the year 2000 and five years ago, six or seven Shakespeare pieces, and Hamlet was quite long ago, but it was the one that impressed me to a very extreme point. It’s a very intense work to translate dialogues, because in a way I try to find out how I can say something. It’s not a text, it’s words which are spoken. And so there’s a confrontation, an intense confrontation that belongs to me, that remains present to me. When I began to write the script, I didn’t write it with Hamlet in mind. But when I considered, how will one see the students, and I thought, I want to see the students without the teacher. What could they do? They could perform. What could they perform? Hamlet. It came back to me. My confrontation as someone who’s staging something with actors—the confrontation with staging—is to be found in the Hamlet scene. That is, what does the spoken word mean in front of a camera, and in comparison to the stage, and all these questions, I could think through them. That’s actually it. In a moment in which language is so expressive, like in Shakespeare, that has consequences for the performance, for the expression of the play, because the children simply say the sentences, but they don’t really play it. But it’s important to understand that just saying it doesn’t mean emptiness, it just means to let the body work, I mean to let the body express itself without will, without position. One thing that I was picking up on in how you use Shakespeare is that when you’re going through the kind of grief that Astrid and Philip are going through—especially if you’ve lost a parent—that’s an almost universal experience, and you feel like it’s something that has been played through so many times. You feel that grief intensely, but you also feel that you aren’t unique—it’s in Hamlet, everybody goes through this. You’re completely right. I don’t feel unique at all [laughs]. It’s interesting that you say it. I never talk about it. It’s just sometimes I try to describe that. But what I’m interested in isn’t what is special about the individual person. I speak much more about what unites us, about [what is] basically human, than about the individual. So, yeah, to that extent, you’re right. That’s somehow interesting, somehow very important, because it’s important to me that the characters you see can be anyone. You’ve spoken of the importance of space in your films—of the emplacement of the characters, so to speak. I Was at Home, But… clearly takes place in Berlin. But to what extent do you see it as a “Berlin film”? Could this story take place somewhere else? Yeah, for sure it could take place somewhere else. But Germany isn’t so big [laughs]. Of course, this film was shot in Berlin because I live there. But there’s also a reason why I live in Berlin. There aren’t so many alternatives if you want to live in a big city. What’s special about Berlin is that many people live there who aren’t from the city, and that shapes it. And the streets are very broad in Berlin. One notices this in particular when one wants to shoot a “big city” shot showing a lot of people—that’s very hard to find in Berlin. One has to go to Friedrichstraße, or these days Alexanderplatz. But even there, it’s simply so wide. And because, before as now, the city is so varied, the tourists aren’t totally concentrated. There aren’t so many alternatives when one wants to aim at explaining the big city, and a city where there are foreigners. The young man, for example, in the long dialogue scene in the middle, he’s applying to be a professor. That’s already complicated. So obviously it’s a city in which foreigners work at colleges and apply for professorships. There aren’t many alternatives to this. I think that audiences, when watching your films, realize how much work the standards of conventional narrative do for us. Yours have a kind of different infrastructure. They call on us to fill in more of the gaps, especially when it comes to relationships between the characters, which are established largely through implication. How conscious of structure are you when you’re writing or conceptualizing your films? I think I’m very aware of classic storytelling. I’m very aware of it as everyone, as someone who sees films, also as someone who worked a long time in the theater. I’m very aware of it, but I use it in a different way, because my interest is on the moment. For me, every moment is essential as it für sich [“for itself”], as one says in German. So, every moment I see für sich. I don’t tell any moment in order that this moment makes me able to tell another moment. So, this is a very different way to narrate. And, yes, maybe this describes it already, that also this classical narration is a narration of storytelling and not how life moves on. I Was at Home, But… conveys a clear sense of structure. It has these bookends, the scenes with the donkey and the dog. There’s a sense of self-parody there: We see the donkey looking out the window, ignoring the dog, and then, soon thereafter, we see Philip’s school director doing the same thing with him. I know you’re probably sick of being asked “what’s with the animals, ” but is self-parody part of what’s going on here? No, I mean, I didn’t reflect on that, what you’ve said. I had this character of this boy, and he came from nature, and I had this wish to show nature, but I didn’t want to show him, so I noticed that I wanted to show animals instead, because they live in nature, more natural than a child can. They aren’t missed, you understand what I mean? We were looking on location, scouting for a stable for the animals, and a stable normally doesn’t have windows, so we saw many stables where we shot it in Croatia. And then we saw an abandoned schoolhouse, abandoned for 20 years, had a window and a small stage. I saw it and I thought immediately I want to shoot the animals here, not in a stable but in this abandoned house. So, I had the opportunity to let the donkey look out of the window, and I felt that this is good. But I didn’t think, “Ah, okay, then it will be a great parody of the school director, who also will look out of the window. ” He looks out of the window because he’s waiting for the mother because he’s in a situation where he cannot talk to that child. So, it’s easier to look out of the window. Also, the donkey cannot talk to the dog [laughs]. So, for me it doesn’t make sense to reflect on that. I just follow and trust my relation to what I want to see and tell. We’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a SLANT patron:.
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