Locus has asked Howard and me to offer up our respective Top Movies lists for science fiction, fantasy and horror films of 2000-2010 (i.e., The Noughties).
But before I get into the meat of my list, I want to make clear what I am (and am not) covering. First off, I’m going to limit my recommended list to feature films that had an actual theatrical release, which rules out Direct-to-DVD releases, TV movies, miniseries, compiled story arcs, movies released directly to the web, etc. (Had I not done so, I might have found room for things like the Futurama DVDs, the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, the short film version of 9, etc.) Second, when it comes to “fantasy” I’ve made an executive decision to exclude “Talking X” films (where “X” means animals, toys, etc.) from my definition. So, no Toy Story 3, no Finding Nemo, no Kung Fu Panda, no Most of Dreamworks’ Output That Wasn’t Even As Good as Kung Fu Panda. That has not stopped me from considering actual SF/F/H animated films, and you’ll see a Pixar film comes in right at the top of my list. I was willing to consider superhero films, but only one made the cut.
Finally, realize that though I’ve seen many of the SF/F/H films that came out this decade, I certainly haven’t seen all of them (there are only so many hours in the day), especially those to which I had a personal aversion or that looked just plain stupid. So I haven’t seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wall-E, or Dances With Smurfs.
So here’s the top ten films I did see, with links to the original Locus reviews where applicable, and the IMDb otherwise.
Honorable Mentions: * Dog Soldiers: British soldiers run into werewolves on maneuvers in the Scottish highlands. The best werewolf film of recent memory.
* Let the Right One In: This Swedish tween vampire film is bit overrated, but is still a solid, surprising work.
* Pan’s Labyrinth: I’m not quite as sold on this as some critics, but Guillermo del Toro’s tight direction and arresting imagery give this WWII-era Spanish fantasy impressive heft.
* Monsters: A rich, subtle, understated and character-driven movie that will have a place on my Hugo ballot this year.
* Corpse Bride: Some of Tim Burton’s best work, though marred by unnecessary plot holes.
* Forbidden Kingdom: Essentially a big-budget Hollywood version of the classic Hong Kong supernatural action film genre (complete with Jackie Chan and Jet Li), and actually a pretty good example of the form.
* Iron Man: Probably the best of the live-action superhero movies.
* Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: The best of the second trilogy, but you still can’t buy Anakin’s story arc.
* Children of Men: This tale of a world devoid of children is quite effective when it’s not ponderously unsubtle about its own weightiness.
* Planet Terror (from Grindhouse): A hoot and a half as a big-budget exploitation film.
* Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust: This Japanese movie, where the female protagonist travels back in time to just before the collapse of the Japanese Bubble (in a time machine made out of a washing machine) is an amusing romp deserving of wider attention in the U.S.
* Cloverfield: Gimmicky and with paper-thin characters, it still presented a compellingly visceral experience of what would be like to be stuck in a city during a monster attack. And speaking of monsters:
* Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack: Laugh if you want, but this is possibly the best Godzilla movie since the original.
The Worst of the Worst
Now that I’ve told you what’s worth watching, here are the SF/F/H films that came out over the same period you should avoid:
* The Wicker Man: The worst film I’ve ever paid money to see in a theater.
* Skyline: Intriguing idea ruined by idiotic characters who make the callow yuppies in Cloverfield look sympathetic by comparison.
* Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter: With a name like that, how could it go wrong? Sadly I found out; it’s a joyless, incompetent and lifeless film. It even fails as an exploitation film, as the plot supposedly involves vampires preying on lesbians, and yet there’s no sex or nudity in the film. As a fan of Joe Bob Briggs, I was profoundly offended…
* Exterminator City: The worst film I’ve ever seen. Imagine someone trying to make a robot slasher film… and failing. The robots are played by puppets on coat hangers, all evidently voiced by the same (incompetent) person. The futuristic buildings are cardboard boxes with holes cut out. The flying cars are toys tossed past the camera. The same 45 second loop of lousy music is repeated over the entire length of the film. The robot slasher puppet never actually appears in the same scene as the woman it’s supposedly killing. The naked breasts of several notable scream queens are on display, and it’s still the worst film ever made.
* Finally, please note that a film called After Last Season (which I have not seen) is considered by all who have seen it as possibly the worst theatrically released film of the last quarter-century, and may theoretically be science fiction. But when a movie comes out on the losing end of comparisons with Plan 9 from Outer Space, Battlefield Earth, and Manos: The Hands of Fate, you know you’re in a pretty deep level of Cinematic Hell. Let the viewer beware.