Future shock: unearthing the most cutting-edge sci-fi movies of 2018

With films from Steven Spielberg, Duncan Jones and Alex Garland in the pipeline, theres plenty to get excited about beyond the superhero franchises

If the 2017 box office was typified by any one movie, it was surely Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a smart, intelligently curated yet ever so slightly soulless instance of machine-honed franchise film-making. It ticked every box for fans of the venerable space tale, without ever truly pushing the envelope; a movie that eventually made the Kessel Run, but 40 years or so after Han Solo and Chewie had already achieved that legendary feat.

The Last Jedi, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Wonder Woman before it in 2017, proved that Hollywood probably has appropriate tools and talent to maintain churning out episodic blockbuster fantasy until at least 2050. To complain at this state of affairs would be churlish, especially when studios are delivering substandard and ill-considered material such as Justice League. But it does feel as if the Hollywood zeitgeist has crystallised in recent times, and we are in an era of fabulously made yet increasingly homogenous Marvel and Star Wars flicks that leave us merely semi satisfied. Perhaps this is why the year’s greatest celluloid treasure, Blade Runner 2049, failed to gain traction with modern audiences who had perhaps never seen anything like it.

In that spirit, here’s a guidebook to upcoming cinemas that might just move things on this year. Sequels, remakes and mega-franchise fare are therefore largely banned as we go go looking for the cinemas with the best opportunity of leading us into a brave new world of sci-fi and fiction in 2018.

First up is Alex Garland’s Annihilation, due out in February, which would merit a place solely because the British film-maker’s last attempt, Ex Machina, was a singular instance of a cerebral, gripping futuristic guess piece. Annihilation’s premise, on the face of it, is not all that exceptional, with Garland adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about a biologist( Natalie Portman) who heads into an environmental disaster zone in search of answers after her soldier husband( Oscar Isaac) returns alone injured and close to death from a mission there. A quick dip into the book, however, suggests a discombobulating trip into the heart of darkness, where unknown, unearthly horrors lurk. Could Garland’s movie be the Alien on Earth movie “were in” promised as far back as 1992, but have so far never got to see?

Garland has perhaps taken the mantle of Duncan Jones as the coming human of sci-fi. After the disaster that was Jones’ adaptation of World of Warcraft, the Moon director is returning to more intimate territory with the futuristic mystery thriller Mute. Described as a” spiritual successor” to Moon, it is also said to be inspired by the original Blade Runner, which can never be a bad thing and might sate the cravings of those of us longing for yet more mesmeric visions of the android-strewn dystopian future. Word is that Sam Rockwell will return as Moon’s Sam Bell( or perhaps one of his clones) but the main storyline centred around a mute bartender with a violent past( Alexander Skarsgard) searching for his lost fan in mid 21 st-century Berlin.

Next up is Captive State, in August, from Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Rupert Wyatt, the British director’s first science fiction movie since leaving the man-versus-simians saga. With a budget of merely $25 m, it will be fascinating to see how Wyatt delivers a story set 10 years after an alien intrusion of Chicago. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was shot for $30 m in 2009, while Gareth Edwards completed Monsters a year later for $500,000, so it can be done.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, due out in March, has the unenviable chore of trying to convince us to get excited all over again about virtual reality worlds, the best part of two decades after The Matrix gave us the definitive inner digital wonderland on the big screen. Based on Ernest Cline’s hugely popular novel, early trailers indicate this means swapping out Trinity, Morpheus et al for pop culture stalwarts such as Freddy Krueger, Lord of the Rings orcs, The Iron Giant and Deadpool, which all seems a little corporate. And yet if anyone is due a late-career renaissance it is Spielberg. If he proves he can still cut it in this realm, others is certainly follow the three-time Oscar-winner back down the digital rabbit hole.

On to another long-lost subgenre: steampunk. Not since Chris Weitz’s ill-fated The Golden Compass ten years ago have we find a memorable big budget example of the mode in cinemas, unless one counts Martin Scorsese’s splendid Hugo. Is it time for a renaissance? If so, Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines, about a world in which technology has regressed to Victorian levels and wheel-mounted carnivorous cities chase one another across the plains might be the answer. Based on an adaptation of Philip Reeve’s post-apocalyptic fiction by the Lord of the Rings team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, it stars Irish actor Robert Sheehan alongside Rings alumnus Hugo Weaving. Avatar’s Stephen Lang plays the film’s main baddie, a murderous cyborg known as Shrike, and there are three more books in Reeve’s series if audiences get a savor for this future-retro blend.

Finally, merely merely one superhero flick looks like it will transgress new ground: 20 th Century Fox’s The New Mutants. With a fine cast including The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy and Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, Josh Boone’s comic book narrative will dip its toe into the resurgent horror genre. It’s set in a secret facility where several future X-Men kinds find themselves jailed and in imminent peril, and is being talked up as the first in a potential trilogy. With Deadpool and Logan emerged as two of the livelier comic book entries of the past few years, it seems that Fox is ultimately carving out a place for the X-Men at the more mature objective of the superhero spectrum. If we have any hope that 2018 will mark the beginning of a new era in fiction film-making, this could be a very welcome mutation indeed.

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