Never Let Me Go (2010)
British thesp trio Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield isn’t a cast that screams ‘sci-fi’. Neither is a period rural setting, a boarding school backdrop, or a plot that focuses on three young friends and the complexities that come from their inevitable love triangle.
It’s a DNA that’s anchored in humane drama, but given a deliciously macabre, melancholy twist by the reveal that while it sure looks like the world we know, the characters exist in an alternate, parallel universe in which clones are bred for use as walking organ harvesters. A rom-com, it is not.
Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s superbly sad sci-fi drama hits you right in the feels and relegates the sci-fi clone science maguffinry to a backdrop.
Pre-2010, movies about dream hacking were mainly limited to naff Jennifer Lopez horror-thrillers (hello The Cell). But as Christopher Nolan is wont to do, his intelligent, head scratching and visually dynamic take on Lucid Dreaming (to the Nth degree) turned a silly sci-fi concept into a riveting action-thriller.
The cast certainly helps, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt emboldening an impressive ensemble and playing fleshed out characters with real emotional stakes at risk. Throw in some jaw-dropping, game-changing VFX and stunt work, and you’ve got a lofty sci-fi wrapped up in the clothes of a multiplex-pleasing action blockbuster.
Inception is available now on Sky Cinema
Battle Royale (2000)
When Battle Royale was released in 2000, it seemed like a supremely OTT satire on reality TV and the Japanese economy. Fast-forward 16 years, and reality TV really isn’t too different (if The Jump isn’t a bonafide death trap, we don’t know what is).
The story of a group of high school students who are sent on a school trip and awake to find themselves on an isolated island, tagged with detonating neck collars and forced to kill their classmates to survive may sound outlandish, but compared to The Hunger Games (which was inspired by - *cough* ripped off *cough* - Kinji Fukasaka’s dystopian horror-thriller), it’s positively grounded.
Without ridiculously OTT fantasy acid smog or mutated human-dog killing machines to entertain, Battle Royale posits a terrifying, metaphor-heavy moral dilemma, and frames it within a genuinely heart-rate spiking horror-drama. Katniss wouldn’t have lasted two minutes.
Battle Royale is available now on Sky Cinema
Sure, there are space stations, astronauts, and lots and lots (and lots) of space stuff. But Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-gobbling thriller grabs you from its opening 17-minute single take and ramps up the tension to hook you throughout.
Gravity’s heart-stopping grip is definitely helped by its boundary-breaking VFX, but it’s Sandra Bullock’s singular, riveting performance that ensures this is a drama of the highest order. Who needs green space ladies or interstellar inter-dimensional travel when you have an intimate front row seat to one woman’s desperate battle for survival?
Find Gravity in On Demand > Movies > Virgin Movies
Her (2013)/Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Most sci-fis base their premise upon something so fascinatingly futuristic that sci-fi fans can’t help but be sucked into the nerdy spectacle of it all. Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry’s low-key, gorgeous dramas take the world around us and boosts it just enough to visually entertain, but maintain relatable throughout.
Her riffs on the gradually escalating overlap between technology, humanity and the myriad ways in which both can affect the heart. Eternal Sunshine is a heartbreakingly familiar ode to the breakdown of a relationship, and the emotional trauma that comes with the sadness, frustration, denial and finally acceptance of the fallout.
Both are must-watches for anyone who’s ever loved, had their heart broken or used Tinder (so that’s all of us, then).
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