A List of Independent Science Fiction Films from Out of this world
May 12, 2022 12:05:00 AM Written by Diogo Brüggemann 12 min read
Science Fiction is often considered a very specific film genre and rather a niche interest of the most ardent film lovers. And while the popularity of sci-fi as a genre can be debatable, nobody can deny its importance in the history of cinema and its gigantic influence on filmmaking in general.
From the earliest Georges Méliès works that shaped the art of moving pictures to the incredibly lucrative superhero films that dominate the landscape of our post-pandemic film market, sci-fi is everywhere. Most of us associate this genre with robots, spaceships, futuristic metallic clothing, and flying cars, but there are plenty of human elements that make science fiction a special genre.
At the end of the day, most of those high-tech Blade Runner-like shenanigans serve as metaphors for our daily lives. And emerging filmmakers, trying to reach an audience, often use this genre for their first attempt at creating a cinematic experience. That is why I selected a list of astonishing sci-fi films from independent filmmakers who came up with unforgettable stories worth-watching.
1 - A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Georges Méliès' best known film is often considered the earliest example of science fiction on the big screen and could not be left out of this list. Does it fit the concept of “independent movie”? Well, at that time all films were certainly independent, I guess, right? But the point here is that this incredible 15-minute long film was a watershed in the history of cinema and it is as sci-fi as it gets! Inspired by the Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon and its sequel Around the Moon, among other sources, the film follows a team of astronomers who travel to the moon and embark on several adventures, including escaping from a group of lunar inhabitants. Its revolutionary visual effects and storytelling made it an international success and the iconic Moon landing sequence is frequently referenced as one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema. It can easily be found online, even on YouTube.
2 - Ex Machina (2014)
One of the most acclaimed science fiction films of recent years, Ex Machina was the directing debut of filmmaker, screenwriter and author Alex Garland, previously known for his novel The Beach – adapted for the screen by Danny Boyle and starring Leonardo DiCaprio – and for his successful screenplays, especially the post-apocalyptic horror 28 Days Later (2002) and the sci-fi thriller Sunshine (2007). Ex Machina, in turn, is a great science fiction film that follows Caleb, a programmer who is invited by his CEO to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot. As expected, the film dwells on questions of humanity and free will, as we get involved in the stories of those characters and end up rooting for the robot protagonist, who is trying to understand herself. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Starz, and Virgin TV Go.
3 - Hyper-Reality (2016)
The year was 2016 and the world was taken by storm by a hugely-successful smartphone game: Pokemon Go. On the heels of the augmented reality craze that came with it, Hyper-Reality, a 6-minute long short film by Keiichi Matsuda, visualized a future where the world is basically like a Pokemon Go game. But the stakes are high when your own life depends on it, and in the scary future of the film, every single aspect of our daily routines revolve around the points we obtain as we play it. The short is visually stunning and can be found on Vimeo and on YouTube.
4 - Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Japanese animation has always originated numerous sci-fi films that have influenced the genre around the globe. Maybe the most famous of them is the big budget Akira (1988), by Katsuhiro Otomo, that is often considered both one of the best animated films and one of the best sci-fi films ever made. But as this list is focused on more modest works, I decided to choose another influential work from Japan: 1995’s Ghost in the Shell. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film is set in a future full of cyborgs and hackers, including human bodies augmented with cybernetic parts. It is a science fiction must-see, with all the elements that constitute a great futuristic saga. That said, the focus of its story is much more philosophical than technological, as it dives deep into themes such as self-identity. The film can be streamed on Funimation.
5 - Primer (2004)
One of the most innovative films when it comes to time travel – a subject that is a staple of science fiction – Primer manages to be creative and refreshing when it comes to its story and the way it is told. Directed by American Shane Carruth, who also stars in the film, Primer tells the story of two engineers who accidentally create an apparatus that makes time travel possible. Of course, this affects their lives enormously as they try to make the most out of this groundbreaking discovery. The realistic approach of the film is its most striking feature. Primer is honest and convincing - you can really believe that this would be the exact reaction of people who built the first time machine. And the consequences of that event are also believable. It is a sci-fi film that doesn’t need visual effects or a big budget to deliver some amazing entertainment. Primer is available on Arrow, IMDB TV and Pluto TV.
6 - World of Tomorrow (2015)
As simple as it gets, World of Tomorrow is a hand drawn animated short film full of heart. The film also plays with the idea of time travel as a little girl called Emily is visited by her third generation clone from 227 years in the future. As the clone explains all the hyper complex processes that take place in this far away future, present-day Emily seems less than impressed. It is a creative take on life and mortality that we rarely see on film. We cannot help but fall in love with both “Emilys” as they learn about each other and their priorities in life. World of Tomorrow can be rented on Vimeo.
7 - Aniara (2018)
Directed by the duo Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja. Aniara is an adaptation of an epic poem by Swedish author Harry Martinson, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and tells the story of the crew of a spacecraft called Aniara. In the near future, the spacecraft begins its journey filled with passengers from Earth who are heading towards Mars, fleeing the planet ravaged by climate change. In the first hours of this three-week trip, an accident forces Aniara to change direction, making the trip much longer than first predicted. Even without the budget of Hollywood blockbusters, the film is visually impressive and delivers an excellent production design. The story itself is compelling and we can’t wait to see what happens to the crew as we get more and more involved with their daily lives on the spaceship. Aniara is available for streaming on BFI Player, Arrow, and Virgin TV Go.
8 - Skywatch (2019)
Directed by Colin Levy, Skywatch is a viral short film about a couple of young friends who hack into a drone to pull a prank on their neighbor, only to accidentally find themselves on the run from the delivery corporation. The 10-minute long film is well put together and exciting to watch. But maybe the most impressive feat here is the casting, which (spoiler alert, I guess) includes the Hollywood star Jude Law! The filmmaker went as far as to create a video explaining how he managed that called “How to Get a World-Famous Actor in your Short Film”. The film and the tutorial video are both available on YouTube.
9 - The Pink Cloud (2021)
This Brazilian science fiction drama, written and directed by Iuli Gerbase, explores themes that are very reminiscent of the scenario of chaos and isolation that we have lived through since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the story, we follow Giovana and Yago, two young adults who met online and decided to have a date together. Little did they know that, during their meeting, a global cataclysm of colossal proportions would take place when a mysterious toxic pink cloud engulfs their city and, little by little, the entire planet, forcing everyone to lock themselves in their homes. With the arrival of this terrible threat that prevents people from continuing their lives as before, society as a whole will have to adapt to a different life full of limitations. Does it feel familiar to you? Interestingly, The Pink Cloud was written and filmed before the discovery of Covid-19. The film is not available on British streaming services at the moment.
10 -Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020)
Directed by Junta Yamaguchi and written by Makoto Ueda, Two Minutes Beyond the Infinite is a simple Japanese film produced during the pandemic. It follows the story of a cafe owner who discovers that a camera at his restaurant records the events of his life two minutes into the future! When he tries to find out more about this strange phenomenon he and his friends end up getting into a lot of trouble! With great performances, an unusual and fun story, good direction, and magnificent camera work to create the impression that it was filmed in a single shot, Two Minutes Beyond Infinity is a great example of the magic of cinema. It proves that an amazing story is much more valuable than millions of dollars when it comes to creating a fabulous sci-fi tale of traveling two minutes into the future!
Diogo Brüggemann is a Brazilian film enthusiast with a Master's Degree in Cinema and Literature. He has written about films and their relationship with gender and sexuality, as well as the connections between cinema and foreign affairs. He maintains a website in Portuguese focused on film critique.
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