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'Nope,' 'Wakanda Forever,' 'EEAAO,' and more: The best sci-fi films of 2022
From aliens to Wakandans, these are the best sci-fi adventures we saw on the big screen this year.
Say what you will about 2022, but it was a wonderful year for sci-fi films, with a great new crop of genre explorations ranging from indie gems to big-budget action spectacles from established franchise universes. You could put together a marathon of only sci-fi successes from the past year and be bingeing will into the new year, but of all those fun films, some stand out more than others. So, from a return to Pandora to a touching story of a family's quest to repair their artificial son, here are the best sci-fi films we saw in 2022.
A family discovers that their robot — who is something of a brother to their adoptive daughter Mika — is breaking down. The father sets out on a mission to repair and restore him at all costs. The result is one of the most poignant films of the year, and director Kogonada's vibrant, lyrical meditation on family, life, and loss features a blistering lead performance from Colin Farrell. It's not an extravagant sci-fi adventure, but it is a powerful look at the emotional stakes of what might be our own near future.
Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron's sequel to his 2009 megablockbuster about an alien planet and the people who dared to fight for it turned out to be every bit worth the wait. Lush, imaginative, and packed with details just as rich as the film's core narrative, Avatar: The Way of Water truly feels like a masterwork that one of our finest genre filmmakers spent years working on until it was exactly where he wanted it. The cast, featuring the expanded Sully family and some unlikely new incarnations of old characters, is spectacular, the visuals are jaw-dropping, and the final action-packed hour is one of the most thrilling things you'll see at a movie not just this year, but ever.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Ryan Coogler and an incredible ensemble led by Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright return to the world that was so fully realized with Black Panther, and craft one of the best comic book movies ever made. Driven by a desire to craft a loving tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever also never loses sight of the future, walking the line between brief and hope with remarkable effectiveness and beautifully realized filmmaking.
Crimes of the Future
Though there are certainly plenty of horror elements at work in David Cronenberg's latest feature film, Crimes of the Future is also a fascinating dive into an imagined near future where art, food, and meaning have all shifted in response to a changing world. The horror sequences are stunning and remarkably realistic, of course, but what makes Crimes of the Future linger in your brain for days after you've seen it is Cronenberg's focus on the way the future might take shape, and what it might mean for the very definition of humanity.
Riley Stearns' brutal, wickedly funny film about a woman (Karen Gillan) who must summon all her strength to battle her own clone (also Karen Gillan) at a time when duplicate humans are not just common but governed by strange laws of single combat. Gillan is terrific in her dual role, Aaron Paul is darkly hilarious as the man who trains her to fight for her very existence, and Stearns' script is both intimate and full of intriguing sci-fi worldbuilding.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Daniels' film about a laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) who's suddenly able to tap into her own personal multiverse in an effort to save all of existence could have been one of several different things. It could work as an action movie, as a sci-fi comedy, or even as a poignant, contemplative sci-fi fable. Instead, it works as all of these things and more, delivering one of 2022's most powerful, unforgettable times at the movies.
Though it certainly didn't get the same love from critics and audiences as various Toy Story installments, there's still something unassailably fun about Lightyear. An effort to make a big-budget action film that would have inspired young Andy to want a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place, the film is a delightful ride through various science fiction tropes, complete with an adorabl robot cat who might just become your best friend too if you were stranded on an alien planet for decades on end.
Jordan Peele's ode to summer blockbuster event movies coupled with his unique horror sensibilities and a commentary on the nature of Hollywood itself, Nope is a singular experience that nevertheless calls to mind plenty of other great times at the movies. Peele is able to deliver the spectacle that the films which clearly inspired Nope offered before him, but he's also able to say something bigger about the nature of spectacle itself. Throw in killer performances and some truly unexpected twists and turns, and it's a can't-miss masterwork of summer moviemaking.
The original Predator film was all about a group of macho '80s mega-soldiers facing something more primal, something who lived for the hunt in ways they couldn't comprehend. Dan Trachtenberg's Prey, set hundreds of years earlier, takes that dynamic and flips it to focus on an indigenous woman (Amber Midthunder) and her quest to become her own kind of ultimate hunter, even if an alien superkiller stands in her way. Tense, thrilling, and beautifully designed, Prey is an absolute blast.
Something in the Dirt
The writer/director duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead returned this year with what might be their strangest film yet, the story of two unlikely friends who decide to document the strange phenomena within their apartment building. Rich with texture, meaning, and pure sci-fi strangeness, Something in the Dirt is microbudget genre filmmaking done very, very right.
Of course, these 10 films weren't the only fun you could have at the movies this year if you were looking for some sci-fi spectacle. This was also the year of the ambitious but divisive Jurassic World Dominion, Disney's charming but underseen Strange World, Netflix's time travel romp The Adam Project, the wild animated adventure Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, and of course more Marvel fun with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder.
So, if you fell behind on your viewing this year, it's time to catch up. Gather the family around the TV, turn the Christmas tree on, and have some sci-fi with your cookies and eggnog.