Fans of science fiction movies that depict weird, speculative or dystopian futures have plenty to look forward to in 2017. Here are our picks of the movies you should put on your radar if you enjoy cinematic depictions of future technology, from a couple of space station thrillers to a story that turns our current social media exhibitionist tendencies into an Orwellian take on the importance of privacy in a digital age.
Life (March 2017)
The first of two 2017 movies that play in the oft-used sandbox of "things going wrong for a crew on a space station," Life recently dropped an exciting but curiously derivative trailer that looked technologically compelling, but frustratingly familiar. The short synopsis tells us, "a six-member crew of the International Space Station is tasked with studying a sample from Mars that may be the first proof of extraterrestrial life, but it proves to be more intelligent than expected."
The film seems to be immersively playing up on the realism of the scenario, and while several moments in the trailer scream, "we want to do something like Gravity", that's not necessarily a bad thing. The strangest thing about the project is that it's written by the team behind Deadpool and Zombieland. These aren't guys generally known for thoughtful sci-fi. But on the other hand it stars Jake Gyllenhall, who recently has been choosing very interesting projects, so this one could go either way.
Ghost in the Shell (March 2017)
Along with Blade Runner, the original anime of Ghost In The Shell is about as close to a holy cinematic sci-fi text as you can get, so the pressure is on not to stuff this one up. Plenty of controversy has already been circling the film for its alleged "whitewashing" of the original source material by casting Scarlett Johansson in the main role, but the early footage seems to show that, despite one's concerns over that particular aspect, the filmmakers have certainly nailed the cyberpunk aesthetic of the source.
The biggest unknown here is the film's director, Rupert Sanders, who has only one previous credit to his name, the over-designed and frightfully dull Snow White and the Huntsman. Sanders can certainly make pretty pictures, but can he dig deep into the story's rich thematic concerns over consciousness, AI and consequences of technological advances on humanity?
The Circle (April 2017)
Published in 2013, Dave Eggers' novel The Circle took the pulse of the time, fictionalizing an amalgam of big tech giants into a story that took our modern obsession with chronicling our lives in public to its logical, albeit hysterically exaggerated, conclusion. The film adaptation has brought together a fascinating blend of talent, with Tom Hanks playing the big tech company CEO and Emma Watson the young recruit who gets pulled into a giant conspiracy.
Written and directed by the reliable talent of James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour, The Spectacular Now), The Circle could either be a sharp takedown of our social media digital obsessions or an outdated "technology is dangerous" homily. We're hoping it's more the former.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 2017)
Depending on your fondness for Luc Besson's last science fiction epic, The Fifth Element, his long-gestating return to space opera could either fill you with dread or be the most exciting film to look forward to next year. At the very least we can tell from the first trailer that the film isn't going to be light on spectacle. With a budget of US$180 million, this is certainly looking like one of the most elaborately designed films of 2017 with every visual detail seemingly micromanaged to the nth degree. Even Lexus got in on the action helping Besson design the cars.
Besson has had a pretty weird career post The Fifth Element, from writing and producing the Transporter and Taken movies to directing a series a kids animations. The last time he stepped behind the camera seriously he delivered the gonzo action of Lucy, which was entertaining but immensely stupid. We expect much the same here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
God Particle (October 2017)
Surrounded in mystery for some time, it was recently revealed that this film will be the third entry in Paramount's expanding "Cloverfield" franchise and will most likely be renamed to fit in with previous franchise titles before it's released. The core synopsis that we've heard so far is basically, "a team of astronauts aboard a space station find themselves alone after a scientific experiment causes Earth to disappear. When a space shuttle appears, the space station crew must fight for survival following their horrible discovery."
It's compelling to watch the way Paramount is slowly expanding the Cloverfield universe with each consecutive self-contained, Twilight Zone-styled entry into the series and a tight, space-station centered story promises some classic Hollywood astronaut tech.
Blade Runner 2049 (October 2017)
The original Blade Runner was profoundly influential in speculative design circles with its future city vistas, among other things, so the bar is set extremely high for this long-awaited sequel. All the right elements seem in place, from a strong, interesting director to a fantastic ensemble cast, so hopes are high for this to fulfill our expectations. The filmmakers have also announced they are making exclusive companion VR content for the Oculus Rift, turning the entire narrative into a modern multi-platform experience.
All we know about the film so far is that it is again set in Los Angeles, but a few decades after the first film, and the Earth's atmosphere has apparently, in the director's own words, "gone berserk." We're expecting nothing less than some magnificently realized futurist depictions of our cities 30 or 40 years from now. The recently released trailer above certainly fills us with hope.
Annihilation (sometime in 2017)
After working as a novelist and screenwriter for several years, Alex Garland gave us a striking directorial debut with Ex Machina in 2015. His sophomore film is based on the first novel of a trilogy from acclaimed writer Jeff VanderMeer and is set in the near future following a group of scientists who set out into a mysterious environmental disaster zone known as Area X. Vandermeer's trilogy apparently got weirder and weirder as it went along and Garland's film is only based on the first novel so any further films are probably dependent on the success of this first one.
We're confident this could be one of the big sci-fi picks of the year as Garland has already demonstrated strong directing skills and reigned in a sensational cast including Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac. Let us know in the comments if you have read the Vandermeer books and think there is a good film to be made from this interesting material.
The Discovery (sometime in 2017)
Charlie McDowell's feature debut in 2014, The One I Love, was one of the best and most surprising films of that year. It turned a small sci-fi concept (a couple meet their doppelgangers and fall in love with each other's double) into a brilliantly funny take on modern relationships, while never shying away from exploring the speculative complications in its richly conceptual premise.
His second feature looks to do more of the same, this time with a strong cast (Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara) and another high-concept idea – what would the world be like if the existence of an afterlife was scientifically verified? The film is set to premiere in January at Sundance and Netflix has already snapped up the rights, most likely dropping it on the streaming service at some stage in 2017.
The Bad Batch (sometime in 2017)
We couldn't do an anticipated sci-fi, futurist film list without a Mad Max-style dystopian vision, and the one to pay attention to in 2017 is The Bad Batch. Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour hit the scene in 2014 with her hipster, B&W, modern day vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and this much anticipated follow up promises just as much weirdness.
Set in a Road Warrior inspired future wasteland populated by freaks and cannibals, the film includes Jim Carrey as a mute hermit and Keanu Reeves as an Elvis-like cult leader named The Dream. Early reviews may have criticized the film for being thin on story, but everyone seems to be lauding the film's stylish look and intricately detailed production. At the very least, The Bad Batch should give you a good dose of dystopian desert steampunk in the best possible way.
Upcoming VR movies
Cinematic VR content is evolving ridiculously fast at the moment. We've examined several projects over 2016, but there are some stunningly innovative works set to be launched at next year's Sundance Film Festival. The festival has quickly positioned itself at the forefront of the intriguing space that VR is carving out in the storytelling sphere. Here are three of the most fascinating VR projects premiering at the festival.
Zero Days tells the story of the Stuxnet worm, literally placing the audience in the perspective of the computer virus as it travels around the world's digital networks.
The Life Of Us ambitiously claims to tell the complete story of the evolution of life on Earth. Co-produced by musician Pharrell Williams, this is one bold project.
Orbital Vanitas is produced by Australian artist Shaun Gladwell. It presents itself as an experiential mystery that begins by floating the audience in Earth's orbit, before participants slowly begin to notice a figure emerging from the depths of space towards them.