It may seem odd to watch a cyberpunk movie set nearly fourteen years in the past, but despite the calendar Strange Days holds up well. Set in Los Angeles in the days before the turning of the year 2000, LA has become a dangerous war zone. The most futuristic aspect of the movie is the use of the "Superconducting Quantum Interference Device" or SQUID, which accesses the wearer cerebral cortex and allows them to experience another's life. This has turned into a black market of users looking for life experiences of drugs, sex, death and more. Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny, an ex-cop turned black marketer that stumbles onto a SQUID-vid of something he shouldn't have seen and puts him in the middle of crimelords, police, and politicians.
If you like your sci-fi with a heavy helping of noir, you'll love the feel of Dark City. With similar themes to The Matrix, aliens are controlling humans and keeping them in a prison without allowing them to be aware of it. No Kung Fu or Morpheus rescuing Neo in this gritty world though. Our hero has to put the pieces together himself, avoid a manhunt from both the police and aliens, while attempting not to lose his mind - literally. And if you pay close enough attention, you may even see a few of the same sets the Matrix later used.
Still early along the technological revolution of DNA testing, Gattaca took a look at how it could be used to control and monitor a society. It takes the division of the rich and beautiful one step further, determining at birth how much worth a child will have in life by examining their DNA. One man, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) isn't content to his station and has his own dreams to fulfill, he wants to go into space.. He is able to make a deal with a paralyzed man, Jerome (Jude Law) to use his DNA through a set of elaborate daily rituals to fool the constant testing they are under and enter his companies space program. A murder, love, family, and his relationship with Jerome, all play a role as events come to head before the launch.
It's a small film and in ways in certainly feels small. It opens with four men in a garage building some sort of machine, we have no idea what this machine actually does however. As the story goes on, two of the men move to eliminate the other two from the project and carry on alone. They discover some anomalies with time when they test it and continue to experiment and evolve the experiment until the create a time machine. The movie has a boring feel to it at first, between the guys sitting around talking about things you half understand and the hushed tones they carry one between themselves. It's worth paying attention to, however, especially as they dive into traveling in time to gain knowledge to make money in mutual funds, unfortunately it seems to be a one way trip when you go back. They begin to examine the idea of creating doubles of yourself in the timeline and what happens when you manipulate events even a little. It's a smart movie and for one of the most inexpensively made movies on this list, holds up against any sci-fi movie well.
Equilibrium looks like a cheesy popcorn movie and it almost would be nothing more if it didn't also have something to say. In the near future, after WWIII, humanity felt that war was caused by emotion, so they moved to eliminate emotion from society. This led to bans on all forms of art and a drugged-up vulcan-like culture. Clerics are law officers charged with enforcing these laws and fighting "sense crimes." But it's a constant battle to not feel anything and even the clerics are not immune. John Preston (Christian Bale) has begun to walk a fine line after losing his wife to sense crimes and supposedly "feeling nothing" of her execution. But it slowly worms its way inside of him until he fights against the very laws he enforces. The "cheesy popcorn" part is the crazy action, consisting of unbelievable matrix like martial arts and gunwork, explained by way of "gun kata" high level training. It makes for amazing stylized fights and makes this movie stand out.
Sometime in the future, we aren't sure exactly when, Earth has established a mining station on the moon. It's mostly an automated affair, with one man, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), keeping tabs on things during a three year assignment. As the movie works its way through the final days of his term, you get a sense for how lonely it is so far removed. He has only Gerty (a computer voiced by Kevin Spacey and synthesized by the same programmers that worked on HAL for 2001) to keep him company in between occasional contact with home to speak with employers and family. During routine maintenance Sam is wounded badly and wakes up later in the medical bay with Gerty caring for him. Something seems off however and when he begins to get curious, things get interesting.
Not only one of the most interesting sci-fi films of recent years, but also one of the best super-hero movies as well. When a group of friends discover a mysterious hole in the ground and are crazy enough to drop down in and investigate, and for their curiosity end up with superpowers. The movie is shot "found footage" style, much of it on the boys own camcorder as they experiment and decided to record more drama filled moments. The movie starts out fun as they practice with their powers, growing them as they do so. Egos start to grow as well, and things take a dark turn when one boy, a shy kid who grew up being picked on, decides to try and take control of the world around him. It brings things to a head for the three young men as they have to decide between not what's fun and what's not, but what's right and what's wrong.