The Rise of Sophisticated Science Fiction Films
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an emerging trend. Each year since 2013, there’s been a major science fiction release that has been both critically and commercially successful, while also emphasizing the science in their films. The first one was Gravity in 2013, which was a huge hit and went on to win several Oscars, next was Interstellar in 2014, an even bigger spectacle from Christopher Nolan, then in 2015 was Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which once again displayed the same financial reward alongside award season clout, and finally last year was Arrival, one of the best films of the year and a nominee for Best Picture.
While each of these films is unique, they all represent a trend that I hope continues in Hollywood, a return to sophisticated science fiction. While I love films like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, and want to see more of them, I believe film goers are in desperate need of the fresh air that these other science fiction films create. What is perhaps most important to the continuation of this trend is the dual viability of these films, both commercially and critically.
Gravity and Interstellar hearken back to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are spectacle films that are also considered great films. They are films that present grand settings and ideas without sacrificing character and story. Arrival also stands out as the first one to depict aliens. It was able to depict contact in a grounded and realistic way, and in doing so opened up the possibilities for future films even more.
For years now, superhero films have been the dominating trend in Hollywood, but I believe fatigue is starting to develop. With a few exceptions like Logan, superhero films are becoming stale and formulaic. I would love to see these intelligent and grounded science fiction films become the reigning trend for a while. Studios need to recognize that audiences clearly want to see these films. Interstellar certainly doesn’t appear to be the kind of blockbuster film we’ve become accustomed to, yet it was a huge success. It’s a film that is slow paced and philosophical, and still appeals to mass audiences. Of course that is partially tied to Christopher Nolan. Plenty of people saw Interstellar simply because it was a Nolan film. If great directors like Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Alfonso Cuaron, and Denis Villeneuve keep making quality films that can also make money, it will encourage studios to make more of them.
Producers need to see that an audience can be just as fascinated with science and the intricacies of space travel as they are in fantasy and adventure. The Martian is my personal favorite of this group. It’s a film that is able to make science fascinating, funny, and dramatic, while still remaining grounded. It’s perfectly paced and it boasts an incredible ensemble. The Martian was a sensation and sparked an interest in the science behind it. These are blockbusters that don’t talk down to the audience, but rather encourage the audience to share in the exploration and spectacle of their subjects. The dominance of the superhero blockbusters after Avengers: Infinity War remains to be seen, but I hope that we see more films like Arrival and The Martian.
Audiences deserve smart movies, and if we can get smart movies that can also entertain us just as much as any action film, why shouldn’t we ask for more of that? I don’t know if this trend will explode, but I definitely think it’s something that has a shot at becoming the next big thing, and I have no problem with that.