"My first introduction to science fiction was Valérian and Laureline. I was ten years old. Every Wednesday there was a magazine called Pilote in France, and there was two pages of Valerian every week. It was the first time I’d seen a girl and a guy in space, agents travelling in time and space. That was amazing."
So says Luc Besson, celebrated sci-fi director and TechRadar's companion today as we guide you through sci-fi and beyond, as viewed through the eye of Besson.
You can check out more of his musings below, as we have a whole raft of features under the banner of Luc Besson Presents. But, before you do that, we thought a day of celebrating science fiction and its films couldn't go without a rundown of our favourite sci-fi movies that are available to stream right now on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.
That's the thing with technology today. We don't have to wait, like Besson, for Wednesday to come around to get our sci-fi fix. We live in a time when thousands of movies are available in an instant, beamed to our screens through fibre optics, along with news of the latest private space rocket launch and updates on the most recent driverless car tests.
We live in a present that constantly feels like the future… this future/present doesn't currently allow for every sci-fi movie to be able to be streamed right now, so our choice was limited to what's in Amazon and Netflix's libraries but we hope you enjoy what we've picked.
To celebrate the release of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Luc Besson is today behind the lens at TechRadar. Here’s what we’ve got in store for you:
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is released in UK cinemas August 2nd, and is out now in the US.
When Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-Man due to creative differences with Marvel, pretty much everyone thought the movie would be terrible without him. But Peyton Reed came on board, steadied the boat and made a sci-fi film that's a lot of fun. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, a jobbing petty thief who's released from prison with the promise that he'll go straight. One last job, though, brings him into the world of superheroes, thanks to an incredible shrinking suit. As with most Marvel movies, Ant-Man is a genre flick – it's a heist movie with superhero stripes and that's fine by us.
Star Trek Into Darkness isn't up there with the first reboot of the movie franchise, but it is a solid film in its own right, albeit one that's somewhat marred by a big reveal that really wasn't that big a reveal. If you can forgive some plot holes – and many Trekkies can't – Star Trek Into Darkness is a bombastic sci-fi yarn with the cast, including a superb Chris Pine as Kirk, in fine form. Oh, and it's better than the pedestrian Star Trek Beyond, too, but given the problems that movie had in production that's not that much of a surprise.
It wasn't looking good for World War Z. Its script was given a hefty rewrite, the ending was completely reshot to make it a little more coherent and the film, essentially about zombies eating people, had to adhere to a child-safe PG-13. The result is a movie that's a bit of a mess but is still watchable thanks to the star power of Brad Pitt and some sound scripting decisions by Lost scribe Damon Lindelof. Based on the book by Max Brooks, World War Z throws out the interview format of the novel but keeps the globalisation of the story – which means it really feels like the entire world has been overrun by zombies.
Timur Bekmambetov has made an uneasy transition from Russia to making movies for Hollywood. His American-funded films range from being pretty good (Wanted) to downright embarrassing (Spartacus). His Russian movies, though, are a revelation. Night Watch was the first (and best) part in a proposed trilogy about two warring faction that control Russia and make sure that evil doesn’t take over – the night and the day watch. A prophecy, however, means there’s a good chance this fragile balance will be broken. At the time, this was the most expensive Russian movie ever made and it shows – the visuals are as fantastic as the plot is incoherent. But that doesn’t matter, though, there’s such an injection of cool in this movie – and a thousand ideas that are ripe for Hollywood plundering – that it's best if you just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Bryan Singer’s original X-Men was a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre when it was released back in 2000. He managed to show the world that you can have a film about mutants that is also, well, intelligent. He improved on the formula with X2: X-Men United, switching the story so that it was about Wolverine – easily the most interesting of the X-Men. The introduction of William Strider (a menacing Brian Cox), the person who literally made Wolverine what he is, was a fantastic move – as was the notion that even though Magneto and Professor X are rivals in battle, their ideologies and goals are actually quite similar. Fantastic stuff.
Rian Johnson’s timey wimey time travel tale was one of the big reasons he got the Star Wars: Episode VIII gig. His ability to dilute highly complicated ideas into a fun tale about a near future where time travel has become illegal, but used by the mob to get rid of people on the black market, is mesmerising. Bruce Willis is a looper who is sent back in time to be killed. Waiting for him on the other side is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe. To say anything more would be veering into spoiler territory but be sure that this is a film that deserves repeated viewing.
Pirates of the Caribbean is the most famous Disney ride turned into a movie, but our money is on Tomorrowland for being the most fun. Unfairly shunned on its initial release, this is an old-school movie that comes with a massive dollop of awe. This is thanks to director Brad Bird, who manages to instil the same heart he put into animated masterpiece The Iron Giant in this tale about a former child genius and gifted child who straddle space and time to enter another dimension – a mystical place called Tomorrowland. George Clooney offers up the star power, but the true star is this movie’s stunning visuals.
Scarlett Johansson is superb as the ethereal nameless star of Under The Skin, the latest movie by ex music video director Jonathan Glazer. Set in the highlands of Scotland, the movie follows Johansson as she tries to make sense out of life, picking up men in her van and having her way with them. Glazer has a wonderful dreamlike eye for detail, while Mica Levi’s score is sparse and scratchy, keeping you perfectly on edge throughout. As you can probably figure out, we are trying no to give too much of the plot away but once you watch, it will become clear just why Under The Skin is on our best sci-fi movies list.
Yes, it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for the apartheid horrors South Africa faced in the ‘80s but what perfect way to showcase feeling alien in your own land by filling your movie with aliens? District 9 was the debut of visual effects artist Neill Blomkamp and it’s a riveting docudrama-styled ride through the slums of South Africa and beyond. With (naturally) superb visual effects and a brilliant central performance by Sharlto Copley as the shady government agent that’s after the alien’s advanced technology, District 9 is one of the most original sci-fi flicks to come out this decade.
This is a sci-fi lover’s dream. Made in the ‘80s – and definitely part inspiration for the superb Stranger Things TV show – Explorers sees a you Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix as kids obsessed with sci-fi. So much that they decide, after a dream shows them how, to make a spacecraft. To everyone’s surprise it actually works. And from this point on the movie only gets stranger and more beguiling to watch, thanks to director Joe Dante and some still-decent visual effects work from George Lucas’ ILM.
No one does 'near future' quite like Stanley Kubrick. While A Clockwork Orange isn't as sci-fi tinged as, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's still a future-shock parable about a bunch of teenagers who get their kicks out of causing a little ultraviolence. Banned on its initial release – by the director no less, who took it from circulation after a copycat killing – the movie is a wonder to watch, full of 70s-style retro-future furnishings, clinical settings and Drooged-up shenanigans. This is sci-fi at its most sadistic.
Chris Nolan aims for the stars with Interstellar and the film suffers as a result. It’s too clever for its own good, with an ending that is pure Kubrick in its obscurity. Despite its flaws, though, Interstellar is still a wonderful, bold movie. It’s set in a time when food has become scarce on Earth so a mission is planned to go ‘interstellar’ and seek out a planet with Earth-like properties seen through a wormhole. Nolan shot a lot of the film with an IMAX camera so visually it’s superb, it’s just a shame the script doesn’t quite match. It’s still worth viewing, though, as a flawed Nolan movie is far better than most movies released.
Tom Cruise stars in this fantastic ode to sci-fi movies of the past. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat as it has become known) is based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill about a soldier in the near future who is caught in a time loop, meaning that every time he dies in a certain battle he is forced to live that day again and again. It’s Groundhog Day for those who prefer guns and aliens to Bill Murray’s laconic chops. Emily Blunt co-stars as a badass soldier who may well hold the key for Cruise’s character to get out of the time loop he’s in – but not before he dies. A lot.
Michel Gondry’s mind-melding look at memories is light sci-fi but sci-fi nonetheless. Its plot has something of a reverse Total Recall vibe to it, Clementine (Kate Winslet) suffers a bad breakup from Joel (Jim Carrey), to make sure that she suffers no more she undergoes a procedure that will rid her of her memories of them both together. Not to be outdone, Joel goes for the same procedure with sometimes heartbreaking consequences. This is a beautiful, strange movie and still Gondry’s best. He takes a lot of his creative learnings from the music videos he created before Eternal Sunshine and puts these shots to good use in the movies. It may well be the best performance from Carrey, too.
Duncan Jones second sci-fi spectacle, after the superb Moon, sees Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter. He's a soldier trapped in the body of someone else, who has to relive a train ride over and over until he can figure out who the bomber on the train is. While the plot device is reminiscent of Edge of Tomorrow, it actually has more in common with ‘90s TV show Quantum Leap, with Jones even nodding to this with the casting of Scott Bakula as the voice of Colter’s father. And at only 90 minutes, the film gives you no time at all to breathe, or space to try and figure out just what is going on. This is no bad thing as it also leaves you wanting more.
Given Mars Attacks is a pastiche of ’50s sci-fi movies and comic books of old, it’s fitting that now Tim Burton’s film looks as dated as what it was mocking, thanks to the overuse of early CG. But that doesn’t detract too much from the film, which is a brilliant burst of bubblegum sci-fi. The plot is wafer thin: aliens come to earth and want to blow everything up with a massive laser. But with a cast list that’s AAA (Jack Nicholson plays the president, Glenn Close the first lady and even Tom Jones makes an appearance) jokes swathed in satire and some brilliant Ed Wood style effects, the film still holds up today as a manic triumph.
Gareth Edwards had only one film under his belt (the low-budget Monsters) before he was handed this monster of a movie. Despite his slim CV he made decent work of the Godzilla legend, even if the giant lizard is a little camera shy at times. Edwards sets his Godzilla tale both in San Francisco and Japan where Godzilla and other monsters are summoned after unusual tremors cause a nuclear power plant meltdown. When we do get to glimpse Godzilla, the giant lizard looks magnificent but these shots are few and far between. Edwards decides to evoke suspense through Spielberg reaction shots and clever camera positioning which makes this movie a slow burner, rather than the all-out action fest it could have been.
Robert Zemeckis’ Contact is one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking blockbusters of the last 20 years (it was released in 1997). Based on the book by renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan, the movie depicts a lifelong hunt for life on other planets by Elli (Jodie Foster) and is a stunning study or belief and determination. Zemeckis always surprises with his movies choices – this is a director with both the Back To The Future trilogy and Flight on his CV – but he’s perfect for Contact, using at-the-time cutting-edge special effects and subtle-but-brilliant audio cues to highlight the possibility of alien life. It’s testament to how good the movie is that only recently have we started to see intelligent sci-fi films back in the cinema (the Planet of The Apes series, Interstellar and Arrival to name a few) but none of them match Contact when it comes to boiling down high-concept ideas, making them fit for a mainstream audience.
Pop quiz: which low-budget British movie stars a Star Wars hero, an upcoming Doctor Who and is directed by the original writer of Ant Man? That’s the provenance Attack The Block now has, thanks to its stars John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker taking on two of the most iconic franchises and director Joe Cornish now firmly camped in the Hollywood Hills. Before this infamy, though, Attack The Block still stood out as a fantastic slice of sci-fi that’s been given a very distinctive British flavour. Based on the idea that aliens have come to earth and decamp in a South London estate, the film marries two disparate ideas to great effect, creating one of the most original movies around.
Christopher Nolan challenges the perception of dreams and reality in this high-octane, high-concept thriller based on a group of thieves who steal through ‘inception’ – putting their victims in a dreamlike state, tapping into their conscience and uncovering a bevy of secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio is the head of the group, who is burdened by his past demons but his latest hit offers him a way out and puts the crew on the ultimate assignment. Nolan paints a puzzling picture with Inception, asking questions but never really offering up answers which will be frustrating some. But stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most original and entertaining movies in years.