Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opened this week, and it’s a spectacular, silly film that is going to be a great time at the movies for anyone who sees it. The problem, as its overseas box-office performance has shown, is that not too many people actually turned up to the cinema. Consider this your encouragement to do just that, and a reminder to watch (or rewatch) some of these underseen, underrated sci-fi gems.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
It’s somehow been 20 years since The Fifth Element was released, and this is Luc Besson’s best film since that bona-fide classic. Valerian is magnificently bonkers – it’s a smorgasbord of invention, with amazing costume and creature designs and some truly inspired action. (The opening set piece, a heist and a chase that occurs simultaneously across two dimensions, is a highlight.) Cara Delevingne is excellent in this, smart and spry and continually arresting; Dane DeHaan is, well, not. Still, Valerian’s biggest failing is that it dreams too big; there is so much going on that it can feel overstuffed at times, but that’s only because it’s a labour of love. – Hari Raj
These days director Kathryn Bigelow is one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood. No thanks to this 1995 near-future thriller starring Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett, which was a critical and box office disaster. On release, the end-of-the-century setting seemed a little far-fetched. Two decades later, the film feels positively topical, as VR edges ever closer to verisimilitude and America edges ever closer to the violent dystopia shown here. The ending is a little messy, but this is a visceral, compelling thriller with bold ideas and a fantastic pair of lead actors. Catch it at MIFF as part of their Science Fiction program. – Myke Bartlett
Darren Aronofsky’s opus is a meditation on mortality that is all too rare in Western cinema; one that doesn’t rage against the dying of the light, but accepts that there are other worlds than these. The Fountain takes place across three timelines – the present day, the Spanish Inquisition, and in the far future – but its emotional core is simple and lovely, anchored by astonishing performances from Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman. It’s a film that tells us acceptance can be more courageous than…