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A young man wields a knife over his head in this image from Legendary Pictures.
“Dune” is the latest in a long line of successful sci-fi book-to-screen adaptations. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

I’ve been a science-fiction fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up on Star Wars (honestly, who didn’t?), and Buzz Lightyear was my favorite Disney character by a mile. An entire genre based on speculation over where technology and science could and should — or shouldn’t — take us is a fun way to think about our place in the universe. It’s also a creative gold mine for movie makers, since there are scores of books, video games, short stories and comics to draw ideas and inspiration from.

With the recent “Dune” film adaptation dominating the cultural zeitgeist, let’s take a look at amazing sci-fi film adaptations any fan of the genre should watch.

‘Annihilation’ (2018)

A mutated bear threatens a group of women in this image from Skydance.
This thing is going to haunt your nightmares for weeks. (Image: Skydance)

If you’ve heard anything about “Annihilation,” Alex Garland’s 2018 thriller based on the 2014 book of the same name, it’s probably about the bear. The film follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a woman tasked with leading an expedition into the Shimmer, a mysterious, alien zone in Florida that seems to be expanding. Inside the Shimmer are countless horrifying creatures, including the aforementioned bear. 

The entire movie is worth a watch for its intrigue and exciting action, but nothing tops the scenes with the mutant bear. It’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in a non-horror movie, and, frankly, it’s scarier than a lot of horror films too. If you need a good fright, “Annihilation” is for you.

“Annihilation” is streaming on fuboTV.

‘The Thing’ (1982)

A group of men huddle together in a snowy tundra in this image from The Turman-Foster Company.
Just guys being dudes in Antarctica. (Image: The Turman-Foster Company)

“The Thing” had to be on this list. Based on the 1938 novella “Who Goes There?,” the classic tale of an alien creature playing mind games with the crew of an Antarctic research station is an enduring cinema classic. Headed by Kurt Russell, the entire cast is fantastic, especially the performances of Keith David and Wilford Brimley.

“The Thing” is also famous for having some of the greatest practical effects of all time. Every time I watch it I recoil all over again from the grotesque forms the alien takes on in its attempt to divide the crew. 

“The Thing” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘The Martian’ (2015)

An astronaut rests by his rover in this image from Scott Free Productions.
“The Martian” is an infinitely enjoyable movie that always makes me smile. (Image: Scott Free Productions)

I love a sci-fi film that’s a whole lot of fun. Take “The Martian,” for example. Based on the novel by acclaimed sci-fi author Andy Weir, “The Martian” has a simple premise. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars, and everyone has to try to get him back to Earth.

This is one of Damon’s most charming roles to date. He’s likable even in the most stressful situations, as he navigates the isolation and considerable hostility of Mars. NASA had a big hand in the making of the film, which resulted in movie science that’s remarkably close to real life and thoroughly fascinating to watch.

“The Martian” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Arrival’ (2016)

A woman stands in front of two multilegged aliens in this image from FilmNation Entertainment.
Figuring out how to communicate with aliens is no easy feat. (Image: FilmNation Entertainment)

It remains an absolute outrage that Amy Adams has not yet won an Academy Award. She’s one of our finest working actors, and it’s beyond time she receives recognition. It’s even worse that she wasn’t even nominated for “Arrival,” the 2016 adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life.”

Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist brought in to help communicate with alien beings who have descended in a dozen ships around the world. The film is an incredible examination of how important communication is to the human experience, and how different interpretations can significantly alter our perceptions. Adams gives an extremely powerful performance, and any acting buffs owe it to themselves to check out her work.

“Arrival” is streaming now on Peacock.

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014)

Two soldiers converse while wearing battle mechs in this image from Village Roadshow Pictures.
These mechs are gonna be useful for fighting aliens. (Image: Village Roadshow Pictures)

Tom Cruise has quietly been in a prolific spree of sci-fi movies, ranging from “Minority Report” to “War of the Worlds.” One of his best is 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” a sci-fi war movie based on “All You Need is Kill,” a Japanese light novel from the early 2000s. Cruise plays William Cage, a soldier in a war against aliens who begins to experience the same day over and over after being killed in battle.

The “Groundhog Day” premise works well for a war movie, since each death allows Cage to improve his abilities and learn more about the aliens. How the dynamic between Cage and fellow time-looper and war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) evolves over countless loops gives the movie a lot of heart to go along with some great action sequences.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is streaming now on Apple TV+.

'Children of Men’ (2006)

A dreary-looking London is revealed to be the future in this image from Strike Entertainment.
A world with no children makes future London a very dreary place. (Image: Strike Entertainment)

Not only is “Children of Men” one of the best sci-fi adaptations around, but it’s also one of the best movies of the 21st century. Based on the 1992 novel of the same name, “Children of Men” is set in a future where the entire human population has been rendered infertile and there have been no births for years. It’s a bleak setting, and the movie captures the grimness.

Clive Owen gives a great performance as Theo Faron, a politician recruited by a splinter cell to transport Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), the only known pregnant woman in the world. The movie is dark, but it also contains a lot of great themes about hope and humankind’s place in the world.

“Children of Men” is available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime Video.

‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)

A futuristic duo has an intense meeting in this image from Cloud Atlas Productions.
Each setting in “Cloud Atlas” is wholly unique, yet somehow connected. (Image: Cloud Atlas Productions)

This one is a personal favorite of mine. I adored David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, “Cloud Atlas,” a book that contains six stories set in various timelines that all relate to one another. It’s an incredible book about the ways we’re all bound together as people, and how one person can have a ripple effect far beyond their own life.

The 2012 movie does an admirable job of capturing the complicated nuances of the book. It’s directed by the Wachowskis, so you know it’s a gorgeous watch. It also cleverly uses an ensemble cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Susan Sarandon to play different characters in each timeline, making all the stories feel even more connected.

“Cloud Atlas” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Blade Runner’ (1982)

A hovercar flies over pyramid-like buildings in this image from The Ladd Company.
“Blade Runner” has had a huge effect on the visual direction of sci-fi films. (Image: The Ladd Company)

An absolute titan of the sci-fi genre, “Blade Runner” has had multiple articles written about its influence on film and sci-fi. Adapted from a novel by Philip K. Dick (a sci-fi legend in his own right), “Blade Runner” sees Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” tasked with hunting down androids known as replicants who have gone rogue.

More than 40 years after its release, “Blade Runner” still holds up magnificently. The cyberpunk elements it helped pioneer still look fantastic, and the moody noir elements make for a thrilling watch. Every other movie on this list owes “Blade Runner” something — not to mention its sequel “Blade Runner 2049,” spin-off novels, and shorts. If you’re a sci-fi fan, it’s well worth a watch.

“Blade Runner” is available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime Video.

‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)

Hooded soldiers stand in front of their commander in this image from Moho Film.
Tilda Swinton gives a very Tilda Swinton performance here (that’s a good thing). (Image: Moho Film)

Not a lot of people know “Snowpiercer” is an adaptation. One of my favorite Bong Joon-ho films, “Snowpiercer” finds its origins in a French graphic novel from the early 1990s. A key reason that may come as a surprise is the timeliness of the story’s themes.

Set after a global ice age wiped out almost all life on the planet, what’s left of humans lives on Snowpiercer, an enormous train that never stops circling the frozen Earth. The wealthy live toward the front of the train in luxury, while the poor, including Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), live in squalor at the rear. See how that setup still resonates with people? Besides containing important social commentary, the film also has amazing set pieces that take advantage of the setting to full effect.

“Snowpiercer” is streaming now on Peacock.

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (2019)

A group of cyborgs race for a crowd in this image from 20th Century Fox.
Normal racing? Out. Cyborg racing? In. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

“Alita: Battle Angel” is perhaps the most divisive entry on this list. I know people who absolutely hate this movie and others who love it. As you can probably guess from its appearance here, I’m firmly in the “love it” camp. The movie is directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron, so you know it has spectacle for days.

Following the titular Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg trying to discover her past and identity, the movie is big, bold, and visually stunning. The highly stylized cinematography and character design aren’t for everyone, but I think it makes the movie stand out. The cast is star-studded, with appearances from Mahershala Ali, Michelle Rodriguez, and Christoph Waltz, among others — and everyone was clearly having a blast.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is streaming now on fuboTV.

‘Dune’ (2021)

A giant worm emerges from the desert in this image from Legendary Pictures.
Seeing this for the first time was a 10/10 experience. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

The most recent entry on the list is also one of the finest. “Dune” is notoriously hard to adapt, since Frank Herbert’s foundational work is dense and complicated, full of political intrigue and copious amounts of lore and religious commentary. To Denis Villeneuve’s immense credit, he pulled off an adaptation perfectly.

Splitting the first book into two movies is a smart choice, since it allows room for more exposition and eases viewers into the world of “Dune.” It’s surprisingly easy to follow even for non-book readers, which is always a plus. “Dune” is also a visual spectacle, and I highly encourage you to watch it on the biggest screen you can find. 

“Dune” is streaming now on Max.

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