We’re in the future, ladies and gentlemen. We’re about to end the year that many people thought of as the furthest future we could conceivably get to. While we’re not as ’80s-futuristic as we imagined, 2015 did offer us a lot of new visions of the future (and the present, for that matter) in the form of science fiction of all shapes and sizes, in all parts of media. I love science fiction and all of its permutations, and this was, fittingly, one of the best and most well-rounded sci-fi years in recent memory. So before we head into the uncharted and even-numbered realm of 2016, let’s take a look at the Best Sci-Fi Things of 2015, in no particular order.
Mad Max: Fury Road
I can’t tell you how happy it made me that the National Board of Review AND the Australian Film Academy awarded this movie their best picture honor. Why? Well, for a number of reasons: 1) It’s a badass movie. 2) It never tries to be more than it is and people still think it’s worth writing about. 3) It’s a movie that deserves to win, or at least be nominated, for Best Pictures because quality doesn’t have anything to do with genre or big budgets. George Miller’s long-awaited fourth post-apocalyptic road movie sets up its world nicely and never hammers anything to death. The inciting incident is a woman deciding to make a left instead of driving straight. And yet, it’s a feat of economic storytelling and boundless action. This very well could end up my #1 movie of the year, and has been that way since May when it came out.
This shouldn’t surprise people who reads my writing; I love Doctor Who. It’s my favorite show. But, I have been very impressed by just how good series 9 is. 12 episodes, and 11 of them are B+ grade or higher. (One is a solid D to D-, but let’s not focus on the bad.) In one year, we had underwater ghosts and time-travel paradoxes, war and refugee allegories inside a body-snatcher premise, treatises on the cost of immortality, betrayal by both friends and enemies, a Groundhog’s Day setup inside a puzzle box, and going to the ends of the universe to save a friend. This is what Doctor Who can be at its best, and it might be my favorite yet.
Book trilogies about dystopian futures are now the most passe thing, but when a series can do it well, it’s worth nothing. Golden Son, by Pierce Brown, the sequel to 2014’s Red Rising, follows a lowborn miner on Mars who is trying to infiltrate the Golds, the elite ruling class. In this book, he’s trying to bring down Society from within. This book won the 2015 Goodreads choice award, and the series is already going to be made into a movie franchise. Sure, maybe it’s close to things like The Hunger Games or Divergent, but at least it’s written well.
If you ever wanted to walk around a barren, nuclear-demolished city of Boston and contend with all kinds of mutants and stuff, then there’s no better game experience than Fallout 4, the long-awaited and endlessly playable next chapter in the series. Endlessly playable because there’s really no end to exploring bombed-out Bean Town and doing one of about a billion things along the way. Oh, Bethesda and your nonlinear gameplay. We adore you.
Rick and Morty
I couldn’t have loved the first season of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s sci-fi comedy more, but somehow they upped their game for the second season, bringing together even more insane and outrageous scenarios and complex science fiction ideas. Starting an episode about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was a stroke of genius, and their episode about incepted memories and mind-control was even better. That episode, “Total Rickall,” might be one of the best half-hours of SF writing ever, besting even last season’s masterful “Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind.” This show needs to make all the seasons, and all the movies.
As good as Andy Weir’s science-heavy, Robinson Crusoe on Mars book is, I was not holding out much hope that a decent adaptation could be done on as big a scale as necessary. I love Ridley Scott’s early sci-fi work and I like all the cast, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Well, I should have (or whatever) because this ended up being the surprise hit for me of the year. It’s a sci-fi movie actually about scientists doing science things and saving the day by working together. Isn’t that better than big brutish martial arts experts punching guys to death? Not all the time, but in this instance, yes. They even movie-fied some of the pieces to make them more “exciting,” but it didn’t lose the humor or the heart of the novel. Huge triumph.
When you hear the premise of this comic book series, which actually debuted in December of last year, it sounds like it could be…troubling: a dystopian civilization where “non-compliant” women are sent to an off-planet prison colony. But that’s exactly the point; it’s a send-up of those old women-in-prison exploitation films, plus the general depiction of women in comics in general, except written by feminists. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro capture the tone perfectly and manages to poke fun at the tired exploitation genres while still being loving tributes to them. Plus, it’s women in prison in space, and that’s pretty damned awesome.
Though it debuted early in the year, Ex Machina was a really excellent low-key science fiction movie that I couldn’t say enough nice things about. Written and directed by Alex Garland, this was the movie where a guy (Domhnall Gleeson) is brought to the secluded home of an eccentric tech billionaire (Oscar Isaac) in order to interview a robot to see if she can pass for human. The “she” part is the important bit. Played by Alicia Vikander (with robot stuff added), she’s almost totally physically a machine, except her face, and mind, and heart(?). It’s a twisty sort of thriller with amazing performances and excellent cinematography for its size. This could be a play, but it never feels like you aren’t watching the tippy-top of speculative fiction.
All that Back to the Future stuff
For most kids of the ’80s and ’90s, 2015 sounded like far in the future thanks to Back to the Future‘s 1989 sequel, which took the characters and the viewers to the distant future, 30 years after the first movie was set. Well, once it happened, we got to see that, no, pretty much nothing is actually like it was shown in that movie, but people sure tried to make it that way. Specifically, Lexus claims to have built a hoverboard that might work and be buyable for people. They used the properties of “liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnets combine to allow Lexus to create the impossible.” I just want to be able to hydrate a pizza in 4 seconds or get a jacket that adjusts to my size. But, whatever, everybody.
Star Wars. All of it.
And even though Star Wars: The Force Awakens will only be out for the final 13 days of 2015, the fact that pretty much the entire year has been gearing up for its release, from Force Friday to the unstoppable barrage of press and magazines and trailers and everything, pretty much ensures that the newly rejuvenated saga will be on people’s minds well into the new year. All the movie really has to do it be good, but even if it isn’t, we’re all in a Jakku kind of mood these days. And Star Wars Rebels is really great, and the Marvel comics, and Battlefront, and Disneyland, and and and. Yeah, we’re sucked back in 100%.
Did we forget some big sci-fi things this year? Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
Images: BBC, Adult Swim, Universal, Lucasfilm, Disney, Image Comics, Bethesda, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!