Just a decade or two ago, if you loved science fiction or genre film and television you were resolutely placed in a fringe cultural niche but nowadays everything is different. Sci-fi is the mainstream and consequently we're seeing millions of dollars spent bringing stories to the screen that are gloriously weird and fantastically futurist.
Here are our picks of what to look forward to in 2018, on both the big and small screens, from big blockbuster sci-fi spectacle to compelling hard science speculations. Two holdovers from our look ahead last year are still greatly anticipated (Annihilation and The God Particle).
Ready Player One (March)
Let's get the big "elephant in the room" out of the way first - Ready Player One is one of those huge multimillion dollar Hollywood spectacles that generally fill us with dread, but this has a few things that set it apart. Steven Spielberg is no chump when it comes to futuristic sci-fi (A.I and Minority Report are two of the most interesting sci-fi blockbusters of recent times) and the film is based on iconic source material.
Ernest Cline's novel, despite being overloaded with a constant barrage of awful pop 1980s nostalgia, sketched a future world where we live in giant city slums and disappear into virtual reality worlds to escape the dystopia. With a state of the art special effects budget at his disposal, we are genuinely excited to see what Spielberg comes up with.
Mortal Engines (December)
Mortal Engines sounds delightfully insane – set in a post-apocalyptic world where entire cities have become motorized, driving around "eating" smaller cities – the film sounds like a loony steampunk riff on Mad Max mashed up with a bit of Studio Ghibli and the volume turned up to 11.
Produced and written by the Lord of the Rings team of Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh, the film is the directorial debut of Christian Rivers, a former special effects guy (generally not an especially good sign). That pedigree may quite rightly raise red flags but the quartet of novels the film is based on seems to have a strong following and the early trailer is so bonkers crazy that one wonders if this just may be insane enough to work.
A Wrinkle In Time (March)
The novel A Wrinkle in Time plays a pretty influential role in many a child's development. Published in 1962, the book is a clear precursor to the modern "young adult" fiction trend of the last few years, and it is also a fundamentally great and imaginative tale influencing a ton of recent weird time travel stories.
Disney has pumped a lot of money into making this one work but it's hard to tell from the early trailers whether they've pulled it off. Director Ava DuVernay's background in smaller scale films (her last feature was the Martin Luther King story, Selma) means the blockbuster elements of this production are a complete unknown, and the first trailer looks like the film may have embraced a camp quality that is mildly concerning. This is one we want to be great for many reasons, but only time will tell.
Mute (sometime in 2018)
Duncan Jones was well on his way to becoming one of the most exciting young sci-fi filmmakers around after starting his career with the impressive double-hit of Moon and Source Code. Then came his ill-fated Warcraft adaptation and things went sideways. With Mute he is returning to his roots with a noirish, Bladerunner-inspired sci-fi mystery set in a futuristic Berlin, 40 years from now.
Outside of the future setting, little is known of this Netflix-produced film other than it follows a mute bartender searching the city for his missing girlfriend. The film is described as a spiritual sequel to Moon, set in the same world, with a third film set in this future universe potentially on the cards.
Alita: Battle Angel (July)
James Cameron has been working on this film for almost 20 years, and about a decade ago it was pushed aside to allow his Avatar obsession to flourish. Eventually, he passed the directorial baton on to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids), who was reportedly left to condense a 185-page screenplay and 600 pages of notes into a single two-hour film.
Inspired by a similarly named, and incredibly influential manga, the first trailer for this $200 million blockbuster recently came out and it is undoubtedly weird, with an uncanny valley-traversing CGI central character looking like a big-eyed anime doll come to life. This may end up being terrible, but if so, it will at the very least be spectacularly terrible.
High Life (sometime in 2018)
One of the strangest, and most mysterious, sci-fi features on the horizon in 2018 is High Life, the first English-language feature from legendary French filmmaker Claire Denis. Starring Robert Pattinson and Patricia Arquette, the film reportedly follows a group of criminals who trade a death sentence to take part in a potentially suicidal experiment traveling into interstellar space towards a black hole.
It's impossible to predict exactly what this film will be, but knowing Denis' prior work it will most likely be disturbing, quiet, and unlike any other sci-fi feature to hit in 2018. The film has recruited physicist and black hole expert Aurélien Barrau as a consultant, so we're thinking there could be some solid science backing the strange relationship dramas that will surely ensue.
Altered Carbon (Netflix, February)
After an initial announcement in 2016, this production quietly sat under the radar until a recent trailer blasted out declaring its upcoming premiere. The 10-episode Netflix production is reportedly one of the most expensive single seasons of television ever produced and big-time Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik is on board to helm the first episode.
Based on a hard sci-fi cyberpunk novel from 2002, Altered Carbon is set 300 years in the future, in a world where human minds can be uploaded into new bodies, and an ex-soldier is hired by a billionaire to solve his own murder. If Netflix has got this one right it could be one of the absolute highlights of 2018 … if they got it right, that is.
The First (sometime in 2018, Hulu)
The First is one of the more unknown projects heading our way in 2018. Beau Willimon, creator of House of Cards for Netflix, left both Netflix and the series a couple of years ago and ended up at Hulu with The First. The only description we currently have is that the series is about the first human mission to Mars.
We don't know how expansive the project is (is it just set on a spacecraft traveling to Mars, for example?) but Hulu is evidently excited about the project, quickly ordering an eight-episode first season and signing Sean Penn to star in his first major TV role.
Lost in Space (May, Netflix)
In the age of eternal remakes it's no surprise to see a Lost in Space redux on its way. Produced for Netflix, this will surely be a big-budget spectacle full of sound and fury but at this point all we have to look at is the above title card that certainly suggests a modern riff on the 1960s classic. The first season is reportedly set entirely on a single alien planet, so we won't be seeing a huge amount of interstellar jet setting here.
Counterpart (January, Starz)
Combining a story about two parallel universes with a slow-burn spy conspiracy and you pretty much have mashed up our two favorite things. This 10-part Starz thriller features the legendary J.K. Simmons as a low-level spy based in Berlin who discovers an opening to a parallel dimension where his doppelganger is also an intelligence operative. Like a cross between Sliders and The Americans, early reviews suggest the first few episodes are slow to start, but we hope this kicks into a crazy gear by the end of its season.
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