While 2017 saw three classic sci-fi properties–Star Wars, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes–continue to make their mark on the big and small screens, there were also plenty of other amazing movies and shows too. From blockbuster sequels and much-anticipated seasons, to some highly unusual original releases, this year truly showed the breadth of modern sci-fi. Not to mention a sequel that many fans thought would never happen in the shape of Blade Runner 2049. Let’s take a look at the best science fiction of the year.
14. Future Man
Most of the movies and shows on the list are pretty serious, so it’s always great when a genuinely funny sci-fi show breaks through. Hulu’s Future Man has got great comedy credentials, with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg producing, and neatly riffs on classic time travel movies and shows such as The Terminator, Quantum Leap,and Back to the Future, while still finding its own silly, vulgar tone. Although much if the humor was of the type to be expected from the team who brought us Sausage Party, Future Man often showed surprising subtlety and some clever ways to subvert the time travelling formula. And star Josh Hutchinson (playing, er, Josh Futterman) nailed the tone, presenting us with an unlikely, reluctant protagonist who ultimately rises to become the hero the future didn’t ask for, but ultimately needs.
The best Alien movie of 2017 wasn’t Alien: Covenant, it was Life. In the the 1980s, this is the sort of thing that would’ve been produced by some B-movie master like Roger Corman or Charles Band on a tiny budget, using sets and VFX recycled from other movies. But in 2017, the popularity of sci-fi and horror can get you a $ 60 million budget and A-list stars like Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. An extraterrestrial organism quickly grows out of control and starts killing the crew of a space station in this ludicrous but hugely entertaining slice of sci-fi horror hokum.
12. Wynonna Earp
While The Dark Tower was one of the year’s most disappointing movies, there was in fact a second sci-fi/western/horror hybrid out there, and this one tackled its genre mash-up in a far superior way. The second season of SyFy’s hugely entertaining comic book adaptation was once again marked by terrific, witty dialogue and another stand-out, committed performance from Melanie Scrofano as the zombie killing great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Wyatt Earp. And fans even got an extra two episodes this year, after SyFy extended the run to incorporate Scrofano’s real-life pregnancy into the storyline.
By far the most unusual movie on the list, Colossal is so many things at once it’s hard to know where to begin. On one level it’s a surreal monster movie comedy, with Anne Hathaway as a young woman who discovers that the giant kaiju that appears in the middle of Seoul every morning is in fact being directly controlled by her. On another it’s a heartfelt drama about a woman who has messed her life up, trying to reconnect with her past experiences and mistakes. And on another it’s a sometimes disturbing metaphor for control and domestic abuse, with Jason Sudekis delivering an uncomfortable performance very different to the broader comedy roles we’re used to seeing him in. Ambitious, troubling, provocative, and hilarious in equal measure, there’s nothing quite like Colossal.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The first Guardians of the Galaxy might not have the built-in audience recognition of Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America, but that didn’t stop becoming Marvel’s third biggest film at the time of its 2014 release. The second movie delivers all the action, comedy, and outlandish visuals of the original. But with the characters now established, writer/director James Gunn was able to delve into their relationships and delivers a wild, hilarious, action-packed space opera that also satisfies on an emotional level. And Kurt Russell plays an entire planet!
Joon-Ho Bong is one of the South Korea’s most acclaimed filmmakers, so anticipation was high for this Netflix production. And it didn’t disappoint. Okja is the wild tale of young girl and her desperate quest to save her genetically modified super-pig from the hands of a sinister environmental corporation. Bong shows the same gift for inventive action that he brought to movies such as Snowpiercer and The Host, combined with a provocative, sometimes disturbing story about animal cruelty, meat consumption, and corporate greed. The cast includes Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal, the latter delivering a performance that redefines the term “broad.”
8. Star Trek Discovery
While Star Trek has found a new lease of life on the big screen, it had been more than a decade since the last TV show in the long-running franchise. After a number of production delays and changing personnel, Discovery finally premiered this fall. Showrunner Alex Kurtzman’s decision to set the story during a time of war was certainly divisive, with some fans feeling that Gene Roddenberry’s original messages of peace and tolerance were lost. But just as the original ’60s show mirrored the seismic shifts in society at the time and presented progressive casting and character decisions, so too did Discovery, combined with movie-standard VFX and some gripping sci-fi drama.
7. The Expanse
Science fiction has always allowed writers and artists to comment on topical issues in an entertaining, accessible way, and The Expanse continues to be one of the best current examples of this. The second of of SyFy’s ambitious adaptation of the acclaimed series of novels was even better than the first, with the outstanding visual style, complex characters, and gripping conspiracy thriller storyline producing some of the year’s best pure sci-fi. Although the multi-layered, sprawling narrative can be hard to follow at times, the producers deserve credit for honoring the source material, and a show focusing on abuse of power and political chicanery has never felt more timely.
6. Stranger Things 2
The first season of Stranger Things was one of 2016’s biggest surprises. Like most Netflix shows, it appeared in its entirety with relatively little build-up, but quickly became one of the most talked about shows of the years, its skilful incorporation of ’80s nostalgia into a sci-fi mystery plot appealing to an entire generation of Netflix subscribers. For Season 2, the Duffer brothers didn’t stray too far from the formula, but wisely avoided repeating themselves. This was a darker, scarier set of episodes, with all the established characters deepened through the drama, and some great new additions to the cast. There was a stronger horror influence this round too, allowing for thrilling, sometimes surprisingly gruesome, monster action. Roll on Season 3.
5. The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most beloved figures in fantastic cinema, able to blend horror, sci-fi, and fantasy in new and compelling ways. After the big budget city-smashing action of Pacific Rim and the gothic madness of Crimson Peak, Shape of Water took Del Toro back to the smaller scale of earlier movies such as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone. In the wrong hands, this 1960s-set tale of a woman who falls in love with a strange sea creature that has been captured by the US government might have come across as laughable, but with Del Toro in charge, this was a wonderfully strange, gripping, and moving fairy tale.
4. Black Mirror Season 4
The fourth season of Black Mirror was the strongest yet. With each passing year, as our reliance on technology and involvement in social media deepens, so does the potential risks that could arise from them. Black Mirror reflects the fears we dare not consider and explores them in ways that seem exaggerated, but on further consideration feel like a terrifying potential reality. Whether it’s online dating, how memories can be exploited, virtual reality, or the dark side of artificial intelligence, each of these episode was profound and chilling. This season also leaned into different genres for presentation more than any before, taking cues from the likes of Star Trek, The Shining, and the works of Alfred Hitchcock, to name a few. It’s a bold, unmissable series, provided you’ve got the stomach for it.
3. Blade Runner 2049
Even with Arrival-director Denis Villeneuve behind the camera, there was much understandable nervousness about the Blade Runner sequel. The original is such a beloved, important, influential classic that how could a second one only be a disappointment? But amazingly, Villeneuve delivered a movie that not only honored the legacy of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, but emerged from its shadow as an engrossing, challenging, and visually amazing experience. Like the original it wasn’t a box office success, but similarly, expect its reputation to grow in the coming years.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
JJ Abrams did a great job restoring the cinematic Star Wars brand to its former glory, so the big question was–where would Rian Johnson take the next chapter? On one hand, much of The Last Jedi felt as comfortable and reassuring as The Force Awakens–familiar characters, epic space battles, Stormtroopers, droids, AT-ATS, and lightsabers. But there was a verve and unpredictability to The Last Jedi that ensured that this venerable franchise kept moving forward, without endlessly repeating itself. Not all of Johnson’s narrative and character decisions have been met with universe acclaim from fans, but at its best, this was a giddy and inventive space fantasy. And it looked amazing too, from the stark beauty of Acht-To to the vast salt plains of Crait and the moody red interior of Snoke’s chamber, The Last Jedi was up there with The Empire Strikes Back as the most visually stunning Star Wars movie to date.
1. War for the Planet of the Apes
The Planet of the Apes movies are proof that huge blockbuster movies and intense, character-driven storytelling are not mutually exclusive. Matt Reeves’ second entry and the conclusion of Caesar’s story is as grim and intense a movie as you will see this year, at times more reminiscent of a revenge western than a lavish sci-fi blockbuster. The ape effects and motion-captured actors behind them are so good you never once think that these aren’t “real” performances happening in front of a camera, and the movie has a lot to say about conflict, division, and some of the darkest points of American history. But it also features blistering action, some great comedy, and an intensely emotional conclusion. Apesolutely brilliant.