With James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water having its first trailer finally drop online, moviegoers around the world have gotten their first real look at the sequel to the 2009 mega-hit, Avatar, which remains the highest-grossing movie of all time.
However, the movie remains seven months away, so what can fans do with their anticipation for the upcoming movie while they await its release? They can check out the following films, which in one way or another will find appeal among Avatar fans, and maybe introduce them to new favorites.
This overlooked film from director Danny Boyle is based on the premise that in 2057, the sun has begun to die, and a team of astronauts must embark on a dangerous mission to reignite it. Among the most notable in Sunshine‘s cast are Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, and Benedict Wong.
An underrated 2000s sci-fi film, Sunshine provides a character drama with the backdrop of a thriller, and it’s a shame it didn’t get more attention when it was released. Fifteen years on, it still holds up incredibly well.
Denis Villeneuve had already made a name for himself with Prisoners and Sicario when his 2016 directorial effort, Arrival, hit theaters in late 2016, but this film was different. Arrival marked not only a foray into science fiction that the director is still on, but also a cerebral story about time, fate, grief, and human connection.
Cameron’s Avatar is at its best when it emphasizes its characters’ humanity, including but especially the alien Na’vi, who are the protagonists of the film. For those who loved this aspect especially, Arrival delivers.
James Cameron would helm the 1986 sequel, Aliens, which itself is worth a watch, but viewers need to begin with the first movie in the series, Ridley Scott’s Alien. A horror film set in space far in the future, Alien has left a mark on the horror/sci-fi subgenre that will never cease.
Even with the vastness of space, the film is a tight horror film because it is confined to the spaceship Nostromo, rather than on an actual planet, like its prequel, Prometheus. Alien makes good on the now-iconic line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Of course, another aspect that is so beloved about Avatar is its ability to transport viewers to a totally new world, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar does this several times, even if it features precisely zero aliens. It’s all about the nature of humanity in this movie, which in a way is what all sci-fi is about.
Expected to be an action film like The Dark Knight or Inception, Interstellar is more philosophical, contemplative, and focused on the art of film by showcasing gorgeous cinematography. With his vision, Christopher Nolan could make an awesome video game, and no doubt it would be just as flooring.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Among Interstellar‘s influences lies 2001: A Space Odyssey, considered one of the best sci-fi movies ever, and for good reason. Based on works by British author Arthur C. Clarke, this Stanley Kubrick-directed masterpiece delves into the core of humanity’s nature, history, and potential future.
The film follows a crew sent to Jupiter in order to investigate the discovery of a “monolith,” an alien structure that is far more important than any of them can possibly imagine. The score is iconic, the shots are gorgeous, and the film changed cinema forever.
Star Trek (2009)
It isn’t easy to reboot a beloved sci-fi property with new actors, but J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek movies manages to genuinely inject a new spin while also respecting the classical storylines that built the Star Trek franchise, to begin with.
Although the multiverse has been a major cinematic focus over the past couple of years – most recently Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All at Once – Star Trek began an alternate-timeline story more than a decade before. It’s not like that movie invented the concept, either, but it does the idea justice as well as later movies would.
The Shape Of Water (2017)
With The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro managed to make a monster movie right out of the mid-20th century that ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar in an age where it seemed only art-house and “Oscar-bait” films could achieve that feat.
On a surface level, The Shape of Water is similar to Avatar in that both feature a love story between a human and alien creature at the center, although in Avatar‘s case the human inhabits an alien body. It’s more than just that, though, and is genuinely amazing sci-fi cinema.
Blade Runner (1982)
Like Aliens and Alien, Blade Runner 2049 is just as amazing and watchable as the original film, Blade Runner, but once again viewers have to start at the beginning. Before going any further, though, know this: of all the cuts of the movie out there, Ridley Scott’s 2007 Final Cut is the closest to his original vision.
A sci-fi neo-noir, Blade Runner follows Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard as he hunts down a group of rogue androids known as replicants, who appear indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye. To say any more would be unfair to anyone’s first viewing.
James Cameron’s knack for creating incredibly epic, long-runtime movies centered around a romance between people from different worlds began a decade before Avatar with Titanic, which itself set box office records despite being projected to flop.
Even if you’ve already seen this film, it’s worth another watch from even the most casual viewer. Titanic is a reminder of the heights cinema can reach in terms of drama, scope, set-pieces, and overall ambition. It’s a shame there aren’t more films which can rise to the occasion like that.
Even though several of Denis Villeneuve’s other films could justifiably be called his best, including the previously-mentioned Arrival, there’s a great argument to be made for why Dune is Denis Villeneuve’s best film.
If there was any movie that could match Cameron’s sci-fi epic, it’s Dune. Adapting Frank Herbert’s novel was going to be no easy task, and it’s no surprise the film had to be split to accommodate it all, but every member of the large main cast is nothing short of great. The film is grand in every sense of the word.
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