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What makes a sci-fi movie sci-fi is that it uses the visual conventions of the future to ask philosophical questions about the present and the human condition in general. What does it mean to be free, to be human, or good? These are the sorts of questions explored by the best sci-fi, and by the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018.
'Annihilation' – February 23, 2018
Several of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018 have already come out. And while A Wrinkle in Time suffered from choppy editing, a confused plot, unnecessary characters (why was Calvin even there?!), and dialogue that served as exposition more often than it served character development, Annihilation was hard sci-fi at its finest.
Annihilation pulled you into the sci-fi and just when you thought it was going to tone down the sci-fi, it amped up the sci-fi and kept digging into it! Annihilation was world building and exploring its sci-fi right up until the very last frame!
The biggest theme explored by Annihilation was personal identity. How much of you can change before you are no longer you? Before you are no longer even human? And, this is crucial, the great whomp-whomp sound effect from the trailer featured prominently in Annihilation, unlike other sci-fi films that tease you with whomp-whomp in the trailer but then never deliver.
See Annihilation on the big screen if it's still playing anywhere near you! And for those who didn't care for the book that inspired Annihilation, don't worry, the film is different enough to seek out for its own sake.
'Ready Player One' – March 30, 2018
What Ready Player One lacks in diversity it makes up for in action. CASTING SLAM! This is soft sci-fi because the sci-fi serves more of a launch pad for action and adventure rather than philosophical investigation (as opposed to The Matrix). Nonetheless, it's one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018 just by virtue of being directed by Steven Spielberg!
The film explores our cultural fixation with nostalgia and our dependency on virtual stimulation. Both are forms of escape upon which we've become overly dependent. After all, President Garbage Sack ran his entire campaign on the premise of nostalgia for an America that never existed, and both social media and online gaming have come to define many people's lives.
Hopefully the the film is a departure from the shortcomings of the source material, which many have described as a list of lists written by a very particular type of White guy.
'Replicas' – June 15, 2018
A Scanner Darkly, The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic; Keanu Reeves is no stranger to sci-fi and cyberpunk. In Replicas, Reeves asks us, "What are you really if you're a clone?" It's a classic sci-fi question! After his family dies in a car accident, Reeves makes a family of clones. But are those clones really his family?! And why does a group of people want to kill his family of clones?! What's going on?! Run, Keanu, run; save those clones and answer our questions! One of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018 for sure, and hopefully a future addition to the ranks of the best clone movies.
'Alita: Battle Angel' – December 21, 2018
Alita: Battle Angel has the makings of a genuine blockbuster. They gave $200 million dollars to James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) to produce a Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids) directed project with Academy Award winners Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Mahershala Ali. The film stars dystopia veteran Rosa Salazar (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials & Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as the titular Alita, a robot with a mysterious past and the skills to kick ass. "Are robots human?" is a classic sci-fi premise, and finding out how Alita will answer that question makes this one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018.
'Anon' – May 11 in the UK and Ireland, TBA USA
Anon comes from Andrew Niccol, the mind behind GATTACA and The Truman Show. The film takes place in a world with no crime and no privacy, where government surveillance is wholly inescapable and everyone's identity is known.
The film follows tough guy cop Clive Owen (Children of Men, The Knick) as he chases down Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer's Body, Mama Mia), a hacker known as "The Girl" who's somehow managed to have privacy and is angling to commit the first crime. Whoa! That's some prescient sci-fi right there!
The trailer shows that the film may be visually experimental as well, borrowing some aspects of Hardcore Henry's POV style without being Hardcore Henry (a movie I skipped because I assumed it'd be as bad as its trailer but 45 times longer).
'Fahrenheit 451' – May
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian classic that explores censorship and the nature of freedom. Dystopias are sci-fi adjacent in that they are a genre that serves as the foundation for philosophical investigation. Oftentimes, dystopias contain elements of sci-fi like a futuristic setting or advanced technology, but other times dystopias are like Mad Max and have no sci-fi elements at all. This version of Fahrenheit 451 from HBO looks pretty stylistic and sci-fi, and it stars Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan. That's a combination that makes Fahrenheit 451 one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018—although any movie starring Michael B. Jordan is highly anticipated!
'Mortal Engines' – December 14, 2018
Unlike Fahrenheit 451, Mortal Engines is more dystopia than sci-fi. The film is about putting wheels on cities so that those cities can always be moving around a post-apocalyptic landscape. The film will explore "Municipal Darwinism," the practice of powerful cities absorbing resources from smaller wheeled communities. This allows the film to explore themes of colonialism, class, and environmentalism. Aesthetically, the film has more in common with Mad Max than Star Wars or The Matrix. Since there's no aliens or robots, this means Mortal Engines isn't really sci-fi, but people are already calling it one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018.
'Solo' – May 25, 2018
Anything looks cool in the Star Wars aesthetic (except for the prequels). And it looks even cooler with the Beastie Boy's Sabotage playing over it like in this re-cut trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story. But Star Wars is not sci-fi. It's fantasy in space. It doesn't explore the questions explored by sci-fi and The Force is just star magic. Nonetheless, Solo is one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018 if only because Han Solo is a character people have loved since the 70s.
'Avengers: Infinity War' – April 27, 2018
If Solo isn't sci-fi, then Avengers: Infinity War is even less sci-fi. Here's how you can tell if your movie is sci-fi or just a movie with aliens and robots: does it ask any philosophical questions? Then it's sci-fi. Does it just feature aliens and robots fighting people on a space station? Then it's an action movie! Of course, that hasn't stopped people from telling me to shut up and from calling Avengers: Infinity War one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018.
'The First Purge' – July 4, 2018
It's not enough that Blumhouse is bringing The Purge to television, but the production coming is also making a Purge prequel. And it's set in modern times?! BRILLIANT! What sci-fi does at its best is frame the everyday as alien using a particular visual aesthetic. You can do the same thing with horror, and The Purge accomplishes that by making the modern appear alien by introducing a premise that doesn't look so far off during Homeopathic Hitler's presidency.
The First Purge will come on the heels of the most successful entry in the series (The Purge: Election Year). I wouldn't call The First Purge one of the most anticipated science fiction movies in 2018 since it's not sci-fi, but it does have more in common with sci-fi than Solo and The Avengers by virtue of asking philosophical questions about ethics and class. Regardless, I'm excited! And releasing it on the Fourth of July? Kissing noise!