The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of 2014 – A Year in Review

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It’s that time of year again (especially since believe it or not, there are no big sci-fi movies coming out in the month of December, which will be dominated by family-friendly fantasy fare like Into the Woods and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies). This year has seen the beginning of the oncoming onslaught of superhero movies, with Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, and (yikes) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming out with new installments, in addition to new properties like Guardians of the Galaxy starting new and wildly successful franchises.

But this was also the year of the contemplative indie sci-fi movie, with films like Snowpiercer and Under the Skin becoming critical darlings despite barely making a dent at the box office. Here’s our list of the top ten sci-fi films of 2014:

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

If you’re looking for the kind of sci-fi film that will challenge your preconceived notions of the world, or make some kind of insightful comment about the causes of large-scale conflict between culturally different peoples, then you might be let down by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But it was undeniably a great blockbuster, with a haunting depiction of a post-apocalyptic Chicago, a tightly plotted story, and great performances all around, particularly from Andy Serkis, who is currently being promoted by the studio for the first ever Supporting Actor nomination for a motion capture performance. (JT)

9. The Lego Movie

In ‘The Lego Movie’ directors Phil Lord and Christopher Millar successfully pulled off an all-too-rare feat: they successfully created a movie that wholly satisfies children as well as adults. The voice cast assembled for the project was nothing short of spectacular, the screenplay was jam-packed with gags ranging from slapstick (for the kids) and witty observations (for the big kids), and the story had a message that everyone could get behind.

Whether you grew up with these Danish building blocks or not, you’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this movie, because even if the story didn’t grab you, that beautiful animation surely did. (KD)

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel usually distinguishes itself from self-serious superhero fare like Warner Bros.’ Dark Knight series by producing movies like The Avengers, or the first Captain America for that matter, that are mostly lighthearted in their outlook.

With Winter Soldier, Marvel proved that it can retain its trademark lightheartedness while still engaging with more serious issues, as this film served as both a slick superhero thriller and a commentary on timely issues such as drone warfare and government surveillance. (JT)

Side note: Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, who both appear in Winter Soldier, are the MVPs of this list, as they are the only actors who appear in more than one of our top ten films.

7. Space Station 76

Space Station 76 is one of those movies where you walk out thinking, “What just happened to me?”, and then eventually you remember just how much you enjoyed yourself. Small-scale, intimate, retro, sometimes heartbreaking, and always awkward, this weird little movie was an endearing send-up of 70’s sci-fi and a blistering commentary on outdated cultural norms.

It also helps that it had a top-notch cast, including Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, and Patrick Wilson, the latter of whom gave a standout performance in an overall well-acted film. (JT)

6. The Guest

Like its predecessor, You’re Next, The Guest basks in the absurdity of its premise to the point that you’d be having an existential crisis if everything wasn’t so damn funny. But while You’re Next was clearly a send-up of slasher movies, The Guest is a funny little mixture of many different genres.

It’s a silly, trigger-happy actioner in the style of Bourne, Jack Reacher, and so many others, it’s a sexually violent domestic drama like Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, it’s a showcase for an antisocial antihero like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, it’s a serial killer cat-and-mouse game, and it’s a (mild spoiler!) conspiracy theorist sci-fi parable about the evils of the American military. Simply put, it has something for everyone. (JT)

5. Interstellar

Did we throw our hands up in anger when we were asked to believe that love was a dimension? Yes.

Did we think the dialogue was cheesy? Yes.

But did that stop us from being thoroughly blown away by Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar? Absolutely not.

Though the first two points came drastically close to derailing the whole movie, let’s not forget everything Interstellar did right. The effects alone were groundbreaking, as many scientists hailed it as the most realistic Hollywood depiction of everything from wormholes to Einstein’s theory of time dilation.

The movie’s heavy hitters such as Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine all delivered, and we witnessed a breakout performance from relative newcomer Mackenzie Foy. Even Hans Zimmer’s stirring score was exceptional. (KD)

4. Edge of Tomorrow

I’ve always been an avid admirer of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s “All You Need is Kill.” So, when news broke of its cinematic adaptation, I was engulfed by a mix of anticipation and apprehension.

When I first watched the trailers, they failed to really engage me, and I was apprehensive upon discovering that Tom Cruise, a highly-paid actor, was chosen as the lead. However, I soon realized that my concerns were baseless.

Now recognized as “Edge of Tomorrow,” the film showcased top-tier sci-fi action and featured one of Cruise’s most compelling roles in recent memory. Emily Blunt was impeccable as Rita Vrtaski, masterfully navigating the complexities of her character.

Director Doug Liman deserves commendation for his adept portrayal of the intricate battle sequences from Sakurazaka’s narrative. The movie’s humor, mirroring the book’s wit, also had its moments — notably, witnessing Tom Cruise’s comedic mishaps was unexpectedly delightful. (KD)

3. Sowpiercer

So much was made of the battle between The Weinstein Co. and Snowpiercer director, Bong Joon-Ho it almost threatened to overshadow the movie itself. Luckily, Snowpiercer lived up to the hype.

The world Bong Joon-Ho created was one of the best dystopias I’ve seen on the big screen since Children of Men (2006) and the actors he picked to fill it all performed brilliantly. Though the movie may have missed the mark with a few of its social commentaries, Snowpiercer still managed to hit uncomfortably close to home with its tale of ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots.’

Truly, it is a shame that the Weinstein Company couldn’t see beyond their squabble with the director to give this movie the backing it deserved. (KD)

2. Under the Skin

After it struggled to find a distributor, North American sci-fi fans were made to wait for Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s bleak alien abduction novel, Under the Skin, but boy was that wait worth it. Scarlett Johansson may have been the big name on the credits, but the real star of this show was the moody Scottish scenery.

From the depressing grey of concrete-laden towns to the lush forests and stormy beaches of the Scottish highlands, Under the Skin was an absolute treat for the eyes. The limited dialogue, haunting imagery, and dark nature of the story combined to make this an experience that was, at times, rather harrowing to watch, but just so refreshingly different. (KD)

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is an interesting animal, because it couldn’t really lay claim to a plot of any kind, but chances are, you’ll be having so much fun you won’t care very much.

This underdog superhero movie, featuring heroes that only the most devoted Marvel fans had ever heard of, became an unlikely hit as a result of its witty, irreverent humor, its lovable characters, and Chris Pratt’s wonderfully hilarious starring turn as Star-Lord. (And the nostalgic soundtrack and Oscar-worthy special effects didn’t hurt either.) This was hands down the most fun we’ve had at the theater in a long, long time. (JT)

Honorable Mentions

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Tantalizingly close to making it onto this list.

The Zero Theorem – Not Gilliam’s best work, but Waltz and Melanie Thierry are brilliant.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1 – The best one yet.

Young Ones – So close to being a great movie.

Knights of Badassdom – Not technically sci-fi, but we really enjoyed seeing Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau LARPing.

Final Words

2014 was a monumental year for science fiction cinema, blending blockbuster hits with indie gems. From the vastness of space to dystopian futures on Earth, these films not only entertained but also provoked thought-challenged norms, and showcased the limitless boundaries of imagination.

As we anticipate what the future holds for sci-fi cinema, this year’s offerings remind us of the genre’s power to captivate, inspire, and reflect our world in the most unexpected ways.

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