A remake of Total Recall opens Friday with Colin Ferrell in a role popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Will it be any good? Probably, but that's irrelevant.
The original (directed by Paul Verhoeven) might not be time-capsule worthy, but it emerged at a time when computer-assisted action films were new to the screen, and remains unchallenged as the Oscar-winning kickoff to a fruitful decade of science-fiction films.
Sci-fi from the 1970s and '80s was a different ballgame. With the technology to make broader statements in finer detail, the '90s had its share of sci-fi standouts, indeed. The best of the bunch follow.
1 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). In a rare case where the sequel is better than the original, Terminator 2 took sci-fi in the early 1990s to a new level. Its villain was badder than ever, heroes more complex than before, and computer-generated graphics at the absolute top of the playing field. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are excellent, but credit writerdirector James Cameron for expertly mixing brains with brawn. Terminator 2 was the highest-grossing film of 1991 for a reason. It's a pace-setting masterpiece.
2 The Matrix (1999). The Wachowski Brothers wrote, directed and produced what many consider to be one of the top sci-fi films ever made. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne lead an all-star cast in this tale of alternate-reality mayhem, one that is populated by unkillable agents, double-crossing good guys and high-wire action as yet unrivalled in the action genre. It took home four Oscars, establishing a new barometer for artistic excellence along the way.
3 Jurassic Park (1993). To banish one of Steven Spielberg's crowning achievements (also one of the highest-grossing movies in history) to the sci-fi arena is to limit its possibilities. Jurassic Park works on a multitude of levels - popcorn thriller, morality tale, animal rights parable - yet it never loses sight of Spielberg's greatest talent as a director: the ability to tell a story that appeals to all ages. Though it was based on a book by Michael Crichton, these dinosaurs now belong to Hollywood history.
4 12 Monkeys (1995). There's a claustrophobic, unnerving atmosphere to this post-apocalyptic Terry Gilliam film, one that sees a convict (Bruce Willis) travel back in time to help avert the spread of a fatal virus. Along the way, he meets a twitchy rich kid (Brad Pitt, in an Oscar-nominated turn) with a secret agenda. What unravels during the course of the film is a tribute to Gilliam's original filmmaking style, which is anything but straightforward and nothing less than warped.
5 Strange Days (1995). Kathryn Bigelow's futuristic version of Los Angeles casts the city as a seething pit of sex, violence and narcissism, characteristics that appear to suit the film's protagonist (a sweaty, superb Ralph Fiennes) just fine. When his character, a dealer who traffics in prerecorded fantasies, becomes tied to a murder plot, Fiennes is forced to contend with a sequence of disturbing scenes - which he does with the help of a butt-kickingly good Angela Bassett. Strange Days is messy and dirty, but riveting nonetheless.
6 Dark City (1998). An underrated but critically respected piece of sci-fi noir (Roger Ebert named it the best movie of 1998), Dark City combines the considerable talents of director Alex Proyas (The Crow) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight franchise) for a modernistic tale that messes liberally with altered states of reality. It floundered initially at the box office, but in the years since, Dark City has become a cult classic on par with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The City of Lost Children.
7 The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998). Switching from the small screen to the multiplex proved difficult for The X-Files, a beloved science-fiction series that lost a few steps with Fight the Future. That said, the film managed to further the David Duchovny-Gillian Anderson storyline while keeping within the tone of the TV series. Surprisingly, time has been kind to Fight the Future; it's worth a second look.
8 Gattaca (1997). Considered by many as the thinking person's sci-fi film, Gattaca proceeds at a somewhat languid pace - a directorial decision that pays off by the end of this slice of futuristic life. A thriller with smarts (in addition to three impressive leads in Uma Thurman, Jude Law and Ethan Hawke), Gattaca grapples with the idea of genetic manipulation, a sectarian concept whose Orwellian undertones makes Gattaca a must-see for sci-fi fans.
9 eXistenZ (1999). I wanted to go with Cube, the ingenious and worthwhile 1997 thriller, but couldn't fully endorse it on account of its terrible acting. Canadian sci-fi option No. 2 is eXistenZ, a delirious David Cronenberg head-scratcher that explores the union between technology and humanity. The director often likes his high-tech on the sordid side, but Cronenberg proved to be way ahead of the virtual reality curve with eXistenZ. It's flawed, but fun.
10 Men in Black (1997)/Independence Day (1996). Will Smith has become the go-to guy in mainstream science-fiction films, a reputation that can be directly attributed to two of his earliest and biggest box-office hits. Men in Black and Independence Day have little in common, aside from Smith's involvement and their absolutely massive ticket take (the films have a combined $1.3 billion in worldwide gross). That's enough to satisfy fans of the genre, it would appear.
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