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SHUT IN THEATER: Escapist sci-fi movies for scary times

We need escapist sci-fi films right now, so here are ten of the best.

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There’s a lot of very dark, grim science fiction movies out there. From Alien to Ex Machina to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it can be hard to find something that satisfies your tastes and keeps you cheerful right now. With that in mind, here’s a list of ten escapist sci-fi movies and movie series to keep your spirits up right now.

10. The Martian

Okay, so The Martian has its dark moments. But it’s ultimately a story about hope and scientific triumph against the odds, and it can be very funny at times. That’s all thanks to a shining, witty performance by Matt Damon. If you’re interested in a realistic sci-fi movie that’s still escapist sci-fi, this might be one of your best bets. It’s also got the thrills you’d expect from a sci-fi movie, and it’s one of the very best released in recent years. The Martian is available to view on Hulu with the Live TV add-on, and it’s also available to rent.

9. Muppets from Space

This film is pure escapist sci-fi magic. Most Muppet movies are cinematic gold, but they don’t usually venture into science fiction, as fantasy was more their style. This is a deeply goofy movie, but it’s well worth a watch, especially now. It attempts to answer a question which perhaps didn’t need an answer–what exactly is Gonzo, anyway–but it’s still enjoyable. Muppets from Space is also genuinely heartwarming, as our favorite “whatever” finds the family he never knew. It’s available on Vudu for free.

8. The Men in Black movies

To be fair, all the Men in Black movies are not exactly high cinema, but they’re at the very least funny and goofy, and therefore, the perfect distraction right about now. There’s also something vaguely comforting about a universe where aliens live alongside us, even if they are in disguise. Maybe aliens wouldn’t let coronavirus happen. At least, that’s what I think whenever I consider that the Vulcans are supposed to show up this century. Wrong franchise? I don’t really care at this point. The Men in Black movies are available for rent.

7. Westworld 

Hear me out: the original Westworld does have its spooky moments (it’s a Michael Crichton venture, after all), and it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, with the host robots consuming the park. But the concept is perfectly escapist sci-fi, even if the conclusion is not (it’s also entirely different from the often baffling series). It has its fair share of amusing moments and a lot of interesting action sequences. While it’s not the film to watch if you’re completely down on humanity’s future, it still has its moments. Give it a try, especially if you have a big projector. Westworld is available for rent.

6. Inception 

This is a movie all about the power of dreams, which we could use more of these days. Inception also still has some of the best cinematic action nearly ten years after its release. Oh, it’s a pure Christopher Nolan flick through and through, with a confusing timeline and perhaps too-lofty ideas, but it is still a fun watch. Well worth a revisit, and if you’ve never visited it before, definitely get on that. Inception is available on Netflix for streaming.

5. The Cornetto Trilogy

Okay, so The Cornetto Trilogy is mostly about the end of the world, but they’re funny movies about the end of the world. Comedy helps in the worst of times, and these are definitely not great times. Shaun of the Dead is a zombie movie; Hot Fuzz isn’t precisely a sci-fi movie, but it’s still a great send-up of action flicks; The World’s End is about a straight-up alien invasion. These films are enjoyable, but not mindless, fun. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are on Hulu. The World’s End is available for rent.

4. WALL-E

“Computer, define dancing.” Yes, WALL-E is partially about the idea that humans devastated Earth to such a degree that they had to go into space to live, but it’s also a love story between two robots. It’s the perfect premise for a romance to bloom, and WALL-E is probably the most heartwarming, escapist sci-fi movie on this list so far. It reminds us that even in dark times, love and compassion can still exist. I think that’s a message we all need, especially now. WALL-E is available for streaming on Disney+.

3. The Back to the Future trilogy

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” Time travel + mad scientist + goofy humor = escapist sci-fi. Back to the Future and its sequels take us on a journey through time and space, without the emotional baggage of say, Doctor Who or Avengers: Endgame. No, these films are just pure fun, not bogged down by confusing “physics” or even complicated action. My personal favorite is the Western-themed Back to the Future III, which I know is not a popular opinion. But they’re all fun. Back to the Future and Back to the Future II are available for rent, while Back to the Future III is on Netflix.

2. The Iron Giant

Okay, so Dean is all of us right now. And yes, this film makes me bawl like a baby every damn time I see it. But the idea of a giant iron sort-of man saving us all from nuclear devastation? Total escapist sci-fi. The idea that a robot can fight against his murderous programming and dedicate himself to good, even becoming “Superman” is a hopeful idea even in the best of times. The Iron Giant is also beautifully animated, wonderfully cast and skillfully written. It’s available for rent.

And…number 1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 

Okay, so I’m a Trekkie through and through. There was no way this film, which is all about the Enterprise crew messing with time to save a bunch of whales, was not going to end up in the top slot. This is a hilarious, escapist sci-fi gem even if you’re not a Star Trek fan. Oh, there are some in-jokes you might not get, but the basic premise is easy enough to follow. Earth has no whales; they need whales. Our favorite crew travels back in time (the how is not important) to grab some spare whales. And Dr. McCoy introduces a dialysis-curing pill to the 20th century. Maybe he could introduce a Covid-19-curing pill in a prospective comic book sequel, just sayin’. Star Trek IV is available on Tubi and Crackle for free, and it’s also available for rent.

There you go, ten movies that will give you escapist sci-fi warm fuzzies for a while, which is really all we need right now. Enjoy and keep your spirits up.

1 COMMENT

  1. I recently watched the Vincent Price end-of-the-world movie THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the first movie based on “I Am Legend”) and found it strangely comforting. Things may be bad, but at least vampires aren’t pounding on my door all night!

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