Ticket sales at the box office may have been at a 20-year low in 2014, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything worth seeing. I’m a firm believer that, no matter the state of the industry, there will always be people making exciting, interesting films, you just might have to look for them. Regardless of what this means for studios and their bottom lines, sci-fi fans had a lot to dig into over the past year. There were huge, spectacle style blockbusters right along side quiet, introspective independent features more concerned with ideas than eye candy, as well as everything in between. There are a few gaps in my genre viewing for the year—I still have yet to watch titles like Young Ones, The Zero Theorem, and Under the Skin for some reason—but in this spirit, here are my top sci-fi movies of 2014.
Bong Joon-ho is a damn hit machine, just a very deliberate, slow working hit machine (not all machines are fast). In 20 years, he only has a handful of feature films on his resume, but they include the likes of Mother, The Host, Memories of Murder, and of course 2014’s Snowpiercer. We waited a long time to see this last one, largely due to the extended back and forth between Bong and The Weinstein Company, who demanded significant cuts that would have hamstrung the film, but it was worth every second. The South Korean director recently did an extended Q&A session at the Film Society at Lincoln Center in New York to discuss the movie, and you can watch the whole event right here. It’s definitely worth the hour or so investment.
For the uninitiated, Snowpiercer tells the story of a world engulfed in a new global ice age. The last remnants of society cling to life in the cramped confines of a train that endlessly circles the frozen wastes, powered by a perpetual motion engine. Within these confines, a rigid, vicious class divide forms. The poor live in squalor at the rear, while the wealthy exist in opulence near the front. After 18 years, and numerous failed attempts, the oppressed rise up and fight their way towards the engine. It’s harrowing, well acted—especially by Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, both doing career best work—violent, strange, and emotional.
It’s comforting that, despite Snowpiercer‘s awkward, bumbling train ride to theaters, the film is making its way to Blu-ray and DVD without a lot of fanfare or controversy. (Unless maybe your local Best Buy is only releasing it on days that begin with “S” or something.) Anchor Bay Entertainment and Radius have put together a solid package worthy of the dark spectacle that is Snowpiercer, with nary a Weinstein in sight.
The Snowpiercer Blu-ray/DVD hits store shelves on October 21 as a two-disc set with an assortment of special features to make the end of the world seem that much more enjoyable. (Though really, there are never enough features for a visually stunning movie like this.) The first disc obviously contains the film in gorgeous high definition, and though director Bong Joon-ho isn’t around for a South Korean commentary track, there is a special Critics’ Commentary with famed genre critic and former FEARNet.com mainstay Scott Weinberg. It’s almost always interesting to hear critics talk about films, as they tend to bring more joy to the proceedings than, say, a more fact-based track from a film historian would.
As movie releases go, it’s hard to think of a film that dealt with as many obstacles as Bong Joon-jo’s mesmerizing thriller Snowpiercer, which still has not seen by as many people as it should have been. (Thanks a lot, Harvey Weinstein, you mope.) The Snowpiercer oddities continue, though in a more positive light, now that Radius has preemptively jumped into Oscar season by mailing out “For Your Consideration” screeners to all Academy voters. They probably should have just released the film this way in the first place.
Though television’s awards season just ended Monday with the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, film is beginning its critical dominance over the rest of the year on the way to the 87th Academy Awards next year. Had The Weinstein Company actually given enough of a shit about Snowpiercer to present it in the best way possible, they would have put it on last year’s festival circuit heading into the 2014 Oscar race. But no, American audiences had to wait until it got pissed into a limited theatrical run and VOD release. Luckily, the film has received almost universal praise from critics all over the world—and is still holding onto a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes—so its chances at running a train on the Oscars aren’t completely in vain.
Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is one of our favorite movies of the year. A domestic release was delayed while the filmmaker and The Weinstein Company, who picked up the US distribution rights, battled back and forth about a proposed round of cuts. The result was that the film opened around the world to rave reviews and strong box office returns—the film broke records for tickets sold in Bong’s native South Korea—but not in English-speaking territories. Though the film is now out in the US, and, in our humble opinion, worth every last second that we waited, the number of theaters is still rather limited, and there are tons of people who haven’t been able to see it yet. That’s about to change as Radius, a smaller arm of TWC finally responsible for distributing the film, will release Snowpiercer this Friday, July 11, on Video On Demand, earlier than originally planned.
Snowpiercer hit theaters on June 27, which, if you were paying attention to such things, was the same day that Michael Bay dropped Transformers: Age of Extinction on the world like a ton of bricks. This is a date that the other major studios ran away from screaming, as the giant robots continue to dominate the box office. Bong’s post-apocalyptic joint only opened in a modest eight cities, though it did rake in $162,000 over its opening weekend, strong numbers considering the limited nature of its run.
For fans of international cinema, the news that South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is making a new movie is enough to start you salivating. All he’s done over the last ten plus years is turn out hit after hit, like Memories of Murder, Mother, and The Host—the good one with monsters, not the crappy one by the lady who wrote Twilight. The news only got better from there. This film was going to be his English-language debut—as much as the presence of subtitles don’t sway me one little bit, I do sometimes feel like I miss details. Then we found out this was going to be a post-apocalyptic story, another plus, and he together an incredible cast of actors from around the globe.
The resulting film, Snowpiercer, finished production long enough ago that I listed it among my most anticipated movies of 2013. Considering the current date, you can imagine how that went. Though the film opened around the world—including breaking box office records in Bong’s native South Korea and gathering rave reviews—there was a protracted delay while the director and The Weinstein Company, who own the domestic distribution rights, argued about significant cuts to the film. The two sides finally reached an accord to release the unedited version, though in a much more limited run, the wait was worth every last second.