UPDATED: The Best Sci-Fi Movies of 2015
In a year that was littered with failed reboots, Jurassic World achieved the impossible: it brought the fun back to a nearly dead franchise. It recognized what was great about Jurassic Park (lots of dinosaurs running around eating people), and replicated it in a fresh and endlessly entertaining way. (Take note, Terminator Genisys.) We all knew it would make money, but it became a success beyond anyone's wildest dreams, going on to become the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Just ignore the thin characterization and those heels, and you have a nearly perfect dinosaur movie.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt 2
It's difficult not to miss the elegant premise and breathless action of the first Hunger Games, but moving past the arena allowed the series to widen its scope, imbuing its dystopia with real political implications and making the entire franchise more adult. This was a fitting (if overlong) ending to the franchise, continuing the unflinchingly dark aesthetic from Part 1 and doing justice to Jennifer Lawrence's reliably charismatic performance.
Mad Max: Fury Road
I'm not as big a fan of Mad Max as some, but even I have to admit that what it does, it does well. It's a nonstop thrill ride from start to finish, barely letting the audience take a breath through the high-octane antics, and its visual style was groundbreaking enough that even with its complete lack of substantive plot and questionable feminism, it was still one of the best sci-fi movies of the year.
This adaptation of Andy Weir's bestselling space opera was everything we wanted it to be: a well-acted, perfectly paced, triumphant love letter to NASA and space exploration. At times, the NASA references became over-the-top, but it was worth it to create one of the most realistic sci-fi movies of all time, featuring a nearly true-to-life Mars landscape and a grounded depiction of survival on the Red Planet. It was also just a great movie, featuring more dry humor than we could have hoped for and the best Matt Damon performance since Good Will Hunting.
Z for Zachariah
No one really saw Z for Zachariah, and that's a shame, because it featured some of the best acting we've seen in a long time. Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor flawlessly portrayed a modern-day Adam and Eve in a well-realized post-apocalyptic landscape, and the subtle, nuanced script deftly handled the conflict between science and faith. When Chris Pine's interloper arrives on the scene, the movie becomes a little more conventional and a little less interesting, but overall Z for Zachariah was still a can't-miss film of 2015.
We had high hopes for Ex Machina, and it didn't disappoint. 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland proved to be a formidable director his first time out, producing a film that managed to be an exciting, well-written thriller, an exploration of the definition of humanity, and a statement on societal gender roles. One could argue that the unnecessarily action movie-esque ending undercut that last theme considerably, but Ex Machina was definitely one of the most compelling (and hard-to-watch at times) movies of the year.
UPDATE - 12/28/15 03:58 pm
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
With all the hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it probably should have been a disappointment. But against all odds, J.J. Abrams managed to craft a simultaneously lighthearted and emotional blockbuster that pleased fans and critics alike, not to mention has been breaking box office records left and right. It's not without its flaws, of course, but it's a more-than-worthy entry in the Star Wars franchise, and especially after the disastrous prequels, that's more than we ever could have hoped for.