Summer Blockbusters are hard to ignore. We have explored some of the best Sci-Fi summer blockbusters from the 70s, 80s, and 90s so we may have an idea of what’s in store for the 21st century. Right?
As time goes on the summer blockbuster “type of movie” we normally expect has changed. One clear aspect that we can’t ignore is the rise of superhero movies led by 20th Century Fox and Marvel (followed by DC Films).
And the change the genre underwent from just showing a superhero story in a cartoony way (in 70s, 80s, and 90s)to show it in a darker way and include current social issues (in the 2000s). It’s true some of these darker stories were already in the comics but were not portrayed on screen as its being told in the comic.
Just take a look at the evolution of the Batman Movies through the years. Some of the first Batman movies were very cartoony which was accepted at that time but as time went on audiences wanted to see something different. Then Batman & Robin (1997) came with a cartoony portrayal of characters that were not well received.
This is just one example of changes that took place but don’t get me wrong the typical popcorn movies or formula based movies are still being made. While this is true there are also movies being made where creators take risks by choosing the unconventional, including unexpected themes and mixing film genres.
For the 21st Century, there are many great summer movies to mention in a top 100 list. While we won’t be having a top 100 list we will take a look at some of the best Sci-Fi summer blockbusters of the 21st Century. We will take into consideration the overall box office results, the script (especially whether the story was engaging enough to keep you invested in the movie) and of course the critical acclaim (to some extent). So lest go right into it!
Presenting the 12 Best Sci-Fi Summer Blockbusters of the 21st century Vol.1:
I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
This science fiction drama film was intriguing and inventive and uplifting with optimism.
This was one of those films where some critics loved it and others hated it when it was released.
But as the years went by some of those who hated it changed their mind about their initial assessment. Many critics did not like it simply because they didn’t understand it. The film was too poetical and intellectual. Sounds familiar?
The film was successful at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. Many people found the film very intriguing and the idea of working with cybernetics was very fresh and popular.
It’s a good smart film to watch for the first time to revisit. Spielberg understands Sci-Fi and that translates into his movies (Minority Report, Interstellar and the upcoming Ready Player One just to name a few).
2. Minority report (2002)
While the idea may seem almost perfect the main character (John Anderton Played by Tom Cruise) will soon find out that the visions are not always what they seem.
The main themes of the film are freedom of information & protection, freedom of privacy, the government’s role in manipulating these freedoms, and the role of the media assisting the government.
The film was released on June 21, 2002, and received mixed reviews. Many praised the writing, visuals, and themes while others critiqued the ending. The movie was a commercial success and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Editing.
The film gave a glimpse into a future that may become a reality very soon. Overall the film has an interesting concept that remains relevant today. A television series that would continue the story 10 years after the film was aired on September 21, 2015, by Fox but was shortly canceled on May 13, 2016.
3. Dark Knight (2008)
Following the dark themes of “Batman Begins (2005)”, the story of Batman continues with Bruce Wayne fighting to keep his identity secret and struggling to combat the rising criminal activities in the City led the Joker.
For this film, the character of the Joker was portrayed in a very different way from what has been filmed so far at that time. This time the character portrayal was inspired by the Comic Book “Batman: The Killing Joke”. The Dark Knight would continue the themes of “Batman Begins” including Bruce Wayne’s issues and his search for justice.
The movie received positive reviews. Every performance was praised, especially the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Unfortunately, the actor died six months before the film’s release. The film was dedicated to his memory and he received a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards breaking the record of Dick Tracy for most nominations received for a film based on a comic book or graphic novel. The Dark Knight won two of them: Best Supporting Actor and Best Sound Editing. Many Batman Fans appreciated the edgier take on the Batman story.
4. Star Trek (2009)
Directed by J.J. Abrams the film follows Captain Kirk (played by Chris Pine), Spock (Played by Zachary Quinto) and the ISS Enterprise crew In their fight against Romulan Nero (played by Eric Bana), an enemy of the United Federation of Planets.
The story takes place in an alternate reality that exists due to time travel, by both Nero and the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy). The alternate timeline was created to free the film and the rebooted franchise from continuity issues while still being able to use original story elements. The central themes of Star Trek are incorporated in the film.
The film received more positive than negative reviews. The negative reviews were more about the tone of the movie of being more action-packed and loud. But the positive reviews are the most fascinating to read taking into account that this film was among others who suffered from the 2007/2008 WGA strike.
Even with the limitations that they faced the team still managed to put a good film and deserved some recognition for it. One can only imagine what the final product could have been if there was no strike. Against all odds, the film became a commercial success and was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effect and Best Makeup.
5. Inception (2010)
Inception was co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. Inception tells the story of spies who steal valuable information by infiltrating the subconscious of their targets through a shared dream world.
The story is very intriguing and the ending leaves the viewer with a lot of questions. It brilliantly provokes the thinking process of the viewer.
Many saw the movie as a metaphor for cinema, the reflection of going to the movies with images flashing in front of you in a dark room is very similar to a dream. Inception’s opening weekend was a success making it the second highest grossing debut for an original Sci-Fi film (other than a sequel, remake or adaptation). The film received strong critical acclaim for being a smart, innovative, well written and visually stunning.
6. Avengers (2012)
Directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and based on the Marvel comics of the same name the film tells the story of how the Avengers come together to stop Thor’s brother Loki from dominating the earth.
In the story, Nick Fury (director of S.H.I.E.L.D) first recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor to form a team. Black Widow and Hawkeye joined the team later in the story.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film was released on May 4, 2012, and was a commercial success.
The film title was changed for the UK audience to Marvel’s Avengers Assemble to avoid confusion with the TV series and the 1998 film of the same name. The film received positive reviews and Academy Awards nominations for Best Visual Effects.
Many who liked the previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) became also fans of the film. The film is the sixth film in the MCU. The popularity of the MCU increased with the support of fans which resulted in producing more films, comic book stories with more diversity, video games and action figures.
The film was one of the few successful superhero team centered movies at that time. The success of the MCU paved the way for more developed superhero movies that combined that superhero themes with other movie genres like comedy, social, political and western.
7. Guardian of the Galaxy (2014)
The film tells the story of how Peter Quil (a.k.a Starlord) got in jail after stealing a powerful artifact. During his jail time, he forms an alliance with a few extraterrestrials misfits and eventually escapes.
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoë Zaldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Micheal Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro, the film was released on August 1, 2014. The film has a great soundtrack and combines action with comedy really well. The film received positive reviews for its humor, action, visual effect and direction.
The film was a commercial success mainly because of the great marketing. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards; Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup and Hair-styling.
The film was well received by audiences around the world. The success of the film ensured the production of the sequel “Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released in 2017 was also a commercial success and yes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is coming.
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
The film continues the story of how the humans struggle to stay alive while battling with an unknown disease.
In the meantime, humanoid ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) tries to become a better leader for his community of apes and fight for their independence.
The apes are presented through performance capture. The film received many positive reviews and did extremely well (like three times the budget) which was not surprising if you see the quality of acting and visual effects.
The stunning special effects, the action, and the emotional story were very well received by audiences and many consider it one of the year’s best summer movies. The success of the film ensured the production of the third installment which was released in the summer of 2017.
9. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Directed by Doug Liman Edge of Tomorrow was based on the 2004 Japanese novel “All you need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. This military Sci-Fi thriller film tells the story of an alien attack and how to humans deal with it.
William Cage (played by Tom Cruise) a public relations officer with no combat experience is ordered by his military superiors to film the military operations against the aliens. After being killed in combat Cage finds himself in a time loop that sends him back at the exact time before the combat took place. He seeks the help of Special Forces warriors Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) and teams up with her to find a way to defeat the aliens.
The film was released on June 6, 2014, and received positive reviews from critics. Even though the film collections were ok, the film performed better in international markets than domestically, the studios expected a more enthusiastic breakthrough domestically. The film was well received by the international audiences for its unconventional story-line, good performances and action sequences.
The film had a weird marketing campaign where the creators changed the title of the movie for the home entertainment DVD release from “Edge of Tomorrow” to “Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow”. A sequel is in development titled “Live Die Repeat and Repeat” (Really?? No other title available?) with both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt repressing their roles.
10. X-Men Days of the Future Past (2014)
Based on the X-Men Marvel Comics “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is the seventh installment of the X-men franchise. The story of the film was inspired by the 1981 comic book series Uncanny X-Men storyline “Days of Future Past” which has two time periods.
In one time period, the mutants are at war with the Sentinels (Sentinels were created with Mystique’s DNA) and doomsday is coming soon. Wolverine goes back in time (to the second time period) to prevent Mystique from killing Trask, which would prevent her capture and therefore prevent the creation of Sentinels.
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Micheal Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen and Patrick Steward. The film was released on May 23, 2014, received many positive reviews and became the best reviewed X-Men film at that time.
The film was a huge success with box office results tripling the budget. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Effects. Based on the success of the film a sequel S-men Apocalypse was released in 2017. The X-Men fan base is very strong and it is more probable that they will continue producing more films.
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Directed by George Miller the film is the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise. The story takes place in a dystopian future, where gasoline and water are scarce and most of the land is a wasteland and desert.
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to flee from cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his army. Released on May 15, 2015, the film was critically acclaimed and was a commercial success. The film was well received by the audience and many consider it one of the best action films ever made.
12. Captain America: Civil War (2015)
The film is based on the Marvel comic book character Captain America and the comic book story-line Civil War.
The film is the sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Directed by the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe Russo) the film is the thirteenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the f, lm a disagreement on how the Avengers should be managed and monitors separate them on opposite sides, one side led by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and the other by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Released on May 6, 2016, the film is the best review of the Captain America which is also the conclusion of the Captain America trilogy.
The film was an enormous commercial success earning five times the budget. The film was well received by the audiences especially the fandom of the MCU. Next, to being the typical superhero movie, the film explored social and political themes that resonated with the audience.
It’s hard to ignore the evolution in Sci-Fi films. The term summer blockbuster started because the highest grossing films were released during the summer. Sci-Fi Blockbusters are not only released during the summer but throughout the year especially during the winter season.
To be fair Winter Blockbusters should also trend but we only hear about Summer Blockbusters. And as you may have noticed today a successful film at the box office can also be a good film. This movie season is not completely dominated by popcorn/ formula driven films anymore.
Overall good Sci-Fi blockbusters are created on a regular basis which is great. Many will disagree with this statement but I truly believe the genre has evolved (just take a look at the sub-genres that we currently have and the diversity of Sci-Fi films shown from different perspectives) which in turn makes the genre appealing to people who initially are not enthusiastic about the Sci-Fi movie genre.
So there you have it: the first group of best sci-fi summer movies of the 21st century. Don’t worry we know that there are many more good Sci-Fi films out there: the saga of Best Sci-Fi Summer Blockbusters will continue…..
Which Sci-fi film from the list have you watched? What do you think of all the (new) subgenres of Sci-Fi? Is there a particular sub-genre that is your favorite or that you find interesting to watch? Feel free to leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.