Nine sci-fi movies to watch in the end times

Other-worldly thrillers for much needed catharsis

By Sophia Larson, Collegian Correspondent

Things can feel pretty catastrophic these days. The worst part of it, sometimes, is that you feel like there’s nothing you can do to help your neighbors or yourself except sit at home feeling restless. In order to combat that restless feeling, a little bit of catharsis could just be what you need. Here is a list of nine sci-fi thrillers on Netflix that are just enough detached from reality to not give you acute stress about the current global crisis. However, they have enough truth to offer that much needed heart pounding catharsis for those of us feeling stressed and pent up during quarantine.

“Snowpiercer” (2013)

 From the director of the Academy Award winning film “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho delivers a gripping take on class warfare in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi-thriller. Starring Chris Evans as rebel leader Curtis, the film takes place 17 years after an undisclosed disaster made Earth an uninhabitable, frozen wasteland. The action takes place on a train, which acts as a microcosm for the remainder of the human race built by the seemingly all powerful Wilford. An allegory for the class system, Curtis attempts to battle his way from the bottom tier of society, the back of the train, to the lavish world at the front and from there, the engine. “Snowpiercer” is equal parts thrilling and poignant, a film that takes action on injustice in a time when so many people are feeling stuck in one place.

“Blade Runner” (1982)

This cult classic film from director Ridley Scott is a must see for any science fiction lover. Set in the dystopian future of 2019 Los Angeles, burnt out cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked with hunting down an insurgent group of synthetic humanoids known as replicants that have escaped from slavery on off world colonies. Scott builds a provocative future society that probes at questions of what it means to be a sentient being living on Earth. The film’s vision of 2019 is a welcome reprieve from the reality of 2020 and an absolute must watch for any movie lover.

“District 9” (2009)

From director Niell Blomkamp, “District 9” is set in a world where aliens have landed on Earth in order to seek refuge from their dying planet. The other-worldly refugees are separated from humans and sent to live in a policed state in South Africa called District 9. Presented in documentary style, the film offers a pointed critique of the refugee crisis on Earth. Like so many great sci-fi movies, “District 9” offers cultural critique in another worldly context and is an absolute must see.

“Ex Machina” (2014)

Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Ex Machina ” is an innovative new take on the femme fatale stock character, offering a new perspective on the psychology of the classic trope through the lens of science fiction. The movie follows Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) after he is invited by tech billionaire, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), to test his latest attempt at artificial intelligence: Ava (Alicia Vikander). The movie is a constant stream of questions and uncertainty, for instance: who is manipulating who? Who is in control? What is sentience? What is just and unjust? It is enough food for thought to get your mind off of anything, even a global pandemic.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019)

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a satire with a flare of science fiction. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the pretentious art critic Morf Vanderwalf, the film’s main action takes place after a number of haunting paintings from a recently deceased, unknown artist are discovered. As an innovative take on greed and creative decay in the fine art world, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is equal parts funny and horrific, offering a cathartic story of retribution as those who were overlooked in life take revenge on the community who wronged them after death.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

In the classic style of Academy Award Winning director Guillermo del Toro, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a stunning representation of using creativity and imagination to cope with life’s hardships. Set in Spain during World War II, 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) escapes to a fantasy world as the reality of rebels and wartime inundates her everyday life. Throughout the film, it is difficult to tell what is real and what is imagined, however del Toro’s spectacular fiat of creativity makes “Pan’s Labyrinth” as gripping a tale as any.

“Swiss Army Man” (2016)

Another film that blurs the line between reality and imagination is Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert’s “Swiss Army Man”. The film follows Hank Thompson (Paul Dano) who just before attempting suicide after being stranded on an island finds a washed up cadaver (Daniel Radcliff). Dano finds that he can use the cadaver as a tool and develops a friendship with the corpse. The strange and in many ways grotesque concept strangely makes for a heartwarming film about the human need for connection and love. In the time of social distancing, this message is especially poignant.

“Serenity” (2005)

Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of the short lived, cult-classic television series “Firefly” is a fun and enthralling escape from this world. Set 500 years in the future, the film follows Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillian) and his group of outlaws as they travel through the outskirts of space with the Alliance’s escapee River (Summer Glau). The unusual space-western-drama requires no knowledge of the precursory series and is a whimsical escape from reality.

“Cloverfield” (2008)

From director Matt Reeves, “Cloverfield” follows a group of friends in New York City when, after a night of celebration, the city is attacked by a giant monster who descends from the sky. The action-packed movie is shot in a found-footage style and offers a deeply personal look at the night that the apocalypse begins. Fundamentally, it is a movie about love and friendship when disaster strikes, which is especially topical during these bizarre times.

Sophia Larson can be reached at [email protected]