Although next year’s busy movie schedules are full of all kinds of movies, not least the now-familiar mixture of remakes and superhero sequels, there’s also a heartening number of potentially excellent science fiction films to look forward to.
In compiling this list, we’ve concentrated exclusively on movies that aren’t either sequels to hit films, or remakes – so apologies in advance to RoboCop, Catching Fire and Star Trek Into Darkness. Instead, we’ve tried to highlight some of next year’s original genre movies, from epic, expensive action thrillers to low-budget, low-key dramas.
Whatever your particular taste in sci-fi is, you’ll surely find at least one movie to pique your interest in the selection below.
In an industry often criticised for its lack of risk-taking and ambition, Cloud Atlas stands out as a true anomaly. The work of no fewer than three directors – Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, it’s an adaptation of David Mitchell’s prize-winning, mind-boggling book of the same name.
Against the odds, the filmmakers gathered together a huge budget from an eclectic range of sources, and brought together a similarly eclectic cast, including Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving. As has been widely publicised by now, many of them play different characters across the movie’s multiple storylines, some of them set far in the past, others in the distant future.
Many, including us, wondered if it was possible to make a coherent movie out of the novel, butCloud Atlas’s pre-release reception has been extremely warm thus far. Although some critics disliked it, others have fallen in love with it, and even described it as potentially Oscar-worthy.
At its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, the movie even received a 10-minute standing ovation. If even a room full of jaded critics are willing to give themselves sore hands from applauding a three-hour sci-fi drama, then that’s surely a sign that Cloud Atlas is worth looking forward to.
UK release date: 22nd February 2013
In 2009, writer and director Neill Blomkamp brought us the stunning District 9, which surprised critics with its smart story, gory action and impressive special effects. With that film earning back its $30 million budget almost seven times over, Blomkamp’s been given more cash (a reported $120 million) for his next movie, the eagerly-awaited Elysium.
Starring Matt Damon, Elysium deals with similar political and social themes as District 9. It’s set in 2159, where Earth has become so hopelessly overcrowded that the richest members of society live on a luxurious orbiting space station – the Elysium of the title. Damon plays Max, an ex-convict living among the ordinary classes on Earth. When Max gets into some trouble of an unspecified nature, he embarks on a mission that could bring down the divide between rich and poor.
Aside from its filmmaking pedigree, Elysium boasts a great cast, including Jodie Foster as an anti-immigration officer named Secretary Rhodes (it’s possible, given the themes, that she’ll be the villain of the piece), Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner and Alice Braga.
Given just how well District 9 blended action and intelligence, there’s every reason to be excited about Elysium.
UK release date: 1st March 2013
Following the critical reception of his previous films – Lady In The Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender – there may be some who’d question whether M Night Shyamalan has a decent movie left in him. It’s just possible, though, that After Earth, a sci-fi movie starring Will and Jaden Smith, will be a return to form.
The Smiths play a father and son who crash land on Earth at some point in the future, by which time it’s become a dangerous place devoid of human life. With Will Smith’s character injured (he’s called General Cypher Raige, unfortunately), Jaden’s 13-year-old Kitai heads off to find a rescue beacon.
The promising thing about After Earth is that, for once, Shyamalan hasn’t written it. This time, he’s handed over the screenwriting duties to Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) and former videogame journalist Gary Whitta. With Shyamalan now free to concentrate on the visual and storytelling aspect of his film, maybe After Earth will convince us in a way that The Last Airbender most certainly didn’t.
UK release date: 7th June 2013
By far the most expensive movie on this list, Pacific Rim is also Warner Bros’ big hope for the 2013 summer blockbuster season (outside of Man Of Steel). When gigantic monsters emerge from the ocean, brave warriors strap into equally large robot suits to fight them. If this sounds worryingly like the 2012 box office misfire Battleship, fear not – Guillermo del Toro’s at the helm.
A director with a clear passion for science fiction, fantasy and monsters of all kinds, del Toro’s the perfect fit for this homage to classic Japanese kaiju flicks. Del Toro’s also been somewhat unlucky in terms of recent mainstream success, with his potentially incredible adaptation of HP Lovecraft’sAt The Mountains Of Madness cancelled, and his initial hopes to direct The Hobbit dashed by financial problems at MGM.
If Pacific Rim can match its giant monsters with giant success (not to mention a gargantuan $200 million budget), then this could be the film that finally breaks the director into Hollywood’s A-list. With del Toro’s distinctive visual imagination and a cast designed to entice global audiences – it includes Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi and Ron Perlman – it could well be the summer hit Warner is hoping for.
UK release date: 12th July 2013
At the other end of the science fiction spectrum, we have Edgar Wright’s third and final film in his Cornetto Trilogy, completing the trio of genre comedies he began with Shaun Of The Dead andHot Fuzz. Wright’s regular collaborators, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are joined by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Rosamund Pike as a group of friends who get together to embark on a pub crawl they’d once enjoyed in their youth. But as drinks are imbibed and their final destination, the title’s World’s End pub, draws closer, the boozers gradually realise they may be drinking their way towards the apocalypse.
As if the draw of a pub-crawl apocalypse movie doesn’t sound enticing enough – perhaps defining its own sub-genre as Shaun Of The Dead’s rom-zom-com did – Wright has even suggested that the movie will be a work of social science fiction, along the lines of “John Christopher or John Wyndham”.
John Christopher (real name: Sam Youd) was most famous for his Tripods series of novels, while Wyndham wrote such sci-fi classics as The Day Of The Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos. Will The World’s End be a booze-sodden take on the alien invasion story, as seen in this year’s Grabbers? We’re certainly looking forward to finding out.
UK release date: 14th August 2013
There’s been talk of an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 sci-fi novel almost since it was published, but the author has remained extremely protective over the rights to it. All that changed in 2010, when writer and director Gavin Hood (Rendition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) signed up and reworked Card’s screenplay.
Asa Butterfield will star as Ender Wiggin, one of a group of children who are in training to battle against a race of invading aliens called Formics. He’ll be joined by Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, as well as such familiar names as Hailee Syeinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Ben Kingsley.
Although it’s said that Hood has extensively reworked Card’s novel, the author’s happy with what he’s seen so far. “This is writer-director Gavin Hood's movie, Card said after visiting the set earlier this year, “so they were his words, and it was his scene.”
With a major part of the novel based around the use of videogames in military training, Ender’s Game might just attract a wide enough audience to make it a hit. If it is, there’s plenty of material for potential sequels – Card has written no fewer than 13 Enders books since 1985, with a 14th in the offing, called Shadows Alive.
UK release date: 25th October 2013
Reactions to director Joseph Kosinski’s first feature, the belated sequel Tron: Legacy, were rather mixed, but even its detractors would surely admit that it was a handsomely designed film. Kosinski’s next movie, Oblivion, is based on a graphic novel the director wrote back in 2005, so it'll be interesting to see how Kosinski fares when directing more personal material.
Tom Cruise will star as Jak Harper, a drone repairman whose longstanding battle with alien invaders is drawing to an end. But when his aircraft lands on a barren Earth one day, his encounter with a mysterious woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) throws everything he thinks he knows about the war into doubt.
Its studio’s obviously enthusiastic about Oblivion’s merits, with Universal boss Adam Folgeson describing it as “one of the most beautiful scripts we’ve ever come across”. Certainly, one of the things that let Tron: Legacy down was its almost non-existent storyline, so if the script’s up to the quality of the visuals we know Kosinski’s capable of, then Oblivion could be a great sophomore feature for the director.
UK release date: TBA 2013
Confusingly, there are two movies out next year with the title The Prototype, but the one we’re most interested in is written and directed by Andrew Will, director of Act Of Valor and The Bandito Brothers. It’s about an experimental military android that escapes from a ‘Nevada storage facility’ and is hunted down by soldiers – among them Neal McDonough, who you’ll probably recognise from Captain America or Minority Report.
One of the lower-budget offerings on this list, it nevertheless looks quite exciting – not least for its extremely cool robot design, which is on prominent display in the trailer above. With the story looking like a mix of the Bourne films and RoboCop, this could be one of next year’s most intriguing sci-fi offerings.
UK release date: TBA 2013
Already praised by the few who’ve seen it, Robot & Frank is a fusion of drama and light sci-fi, and a marked change of pace from the action-oriented stuff on this list. Frank Langella stars as his namesake Frank, an aging ex-convict who’s suffering from the early stages of dementia. To help, Frank’s son (played by James Marsden) buys a robot (with the voice of Peter Sarsgaard) to help around the house and keep the old man company. Frank’s initial suspicion gradually gives way to delight when he discovers that the robot may be able to help him with his criminal exploits.
Shot for less than $3 million, Robot & Frank looks like a delightful, bittersweet character piece, and a great debut from director Jake Schrier, a former director of music videos and commercials. Although its critical success already seems assured, we hope its scheduling in the UK, which places it among noisier company such as Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters and Oz: The Great And Powerful, doesn’t mean it’ll become a film more written about than watched in cinemas.
UK release date: 8th March 2013.
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 adaptation of PD James’ novel Children Of Men was a spectacular piece of filmmaking, so it’s little surprise that his forthcoming genre movie, Gravity, should be so eagerly awaited. Buzz began to build around the project almost three years ago, when an early version of the script (written by Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón and Rodrigo Garcia) suggested that it might be composed of one extended, feature-length shot.
Its plot is ostensibly a simple one. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as a pair of astronauts who survive the destruction of an orbiting space station, and struggle to find a means of survival in a debris-strewn vacuum. Early test screenings have been extremely positive, with Sandra Bullock’s performance described by some as being the best of her career so far.
Unsurprisingly, the most praise has been reserved for Cuarón himself. Although the movie’s actually a series of long takes rather than one unbroken one, it has nevertheless been described as visually astonishing. We can hardly wait.
UK release date: TBA 2013
Honorable mention: Singularity – Roland Emmerich’s intriguing sci-fi offering, which may or may not come out in 2013 after its production was halted for script rewrites.