The 4 Most Unfairly Overlooked Sci-Fi Movies Of 2011
Next week we’ll put together our best science fiction of 2011 list, but before we do that, it seems worthwhile to stop and take a look back at a few movies you might have missed. Maybe they never got a wide release in your area, maybe you were scared away by bad reviews, maybe you simply never got around to seeing them. But here are four really good science fiction films which we think more people should have seen, even if they didn’t.
This low-budget indie got a lot of buzz coming out of the SXSW film festival in the spring, but when it finally showed up in theaters no one really talked about it. The fact that it was only in limited release probably prevented a lot of you from catching it, but the film did show up on your television through On Demand, which means it was at least available in some form to most potential viewers. It’s a shame then, that more of you didn’t see it because it’s not just good for a low-budget indie, it’s flat out good. There’s no need to grade Attack the Block on a budget curve.
The story’s pretty simple. Aliens attack and the only thing in their way is a group of inner-city London kids with a propensity for violence. What makes it different is the way none of the film’s human characters fit the usual stereotyped molds. And unlike a lot of other alien invasions this year, aliens aren’t used just because they don’t have the balls to show people fighting humans. There’s an actual sci-fi story going on here, set to the blazing beat of the perfect soundtrack. Attack the Block is unflinching in its violence, no character is safe, and it has something to say. Science fiction is always at its best when used to comment on modern problems, and Attack the Block does that brilliantly by delivering a thrilling action movie with unusual characters and freaky aliens unlike any you’ve ever seen.
If there was a movie released this year that’s less like Attack the Block than Cowboys & Aliens, I can’t name it. It gets wrong almost everything Attack the Block gets right by collecting a series of stereotypes together in what’s basically a vapid action movie without any real social relevance. But one thing it does manage to be, is a lot of fun.
It doesn’t hurt that the film has Harrison Ford to squint into the camera, or Daniel Craig to punch aliens in the head. And of course there’s the premise, pitting cowboys and Indians against alien invaders out in the old West. It’s all ridiculous, but in a completely ridiculous way that sort of just goes with it. It’s been derided by critics and the title’s been laughed at by potential moviegoers, so maybe it’s no surprise that everyone seemed to ignore it in theaters, but Cowboys & Aliens feels like the perfect summer sci-fi movie to me, a classic shoot-em-up with an outer-spacey twist. It’s not the best movie of the year but it’s absolutely worth your time. It’s the perfect rental, and since you likely missed it in theaters, that’s where you’ll see it. Netflix it.
It’s the story of two geeks on a road trip who accidentally encounter an alien on the run from the government, but it’s also the most deeply atheist film released this year. In a national environment where atheists are often incorrectly derided as immoral or dangerous by the public at large I guess it’s no surprise that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s movie was either skipped or attacked by most moviegoers. That’s a shame because, atheism aside, it’s one of the funniest adventure movies of the year.
Pegg and Frost are the perfect duo and Seth Rogen’s actually great as the voice of their alien friend Paul. Even if he weren’t an alien, this would be a pretty fantastic road movie, the irony here being that all three of them, human or alien, are foreigners since Pegg and Frost are British. Along the way they encounter a religious zealot played by Kristen Wiig, who steals scenes. They’re pursued by a series of government bad guys, lead by the great as always Jason Bateman. There’s nothing not to like about Paul, unless you’re caught up in all the god propaganda. Push aside the noise, correct your mistake, and give Paul a shot at home on your big screen.
This was supposed to be the blockbuster debut of independent sci-fi filmmaker Duncan Jones. The movie got a big marketing campaign and a splashy premiere at SXSW, but never really blew up at the box office. It made its budget back and then some, largely thanks to overseas grosses, but Source Code should have been a big deal blockbuster. Instead it’s a movie everyone’s already forgotten about, or maybe they’ve confused it with some other movie released in 2011 that started with an “s”.
Part of the problem was likely that it’s not as good as Duncan Jones’ first film, Moon, and that it’s too easy to dismiss as Groundhog Day with a ticking time bomb. In someone else’s hands, maybe that’s what it would have been, but Jones takes something that’s not really all that original and crafts something intelligent, thrilling, and almost fresh feeling. The twist at the end is a mind-blower and the questions it raises about the nature of reality are an even better way to burn out the stuff in your head. Source Code was never going to be the year’s best movie, but it tries harder and does more with less than anyone had a right to expect.
How many of these movies have you seen? Which ones did you miss? It’s not too late to correct your mistake. Seek them out on Netflix, On Demand, or pick up the Blu-ray. Then tell us what you thought of these overlooked sci-fi movies in the comments section below.