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Upcoming sci-fi films show there's still plenty of originality in Hollywood

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action adventure "Pacific Rim." (Kerry Hayes) Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action adventure "Pacific Rim." (Kerry Hayes)

The complaint that originality is dead in Hollywood has become old hat.

To be fair, it’s pretty tough to argue otherwise when every day seems to bring word of brand-new sequels, prequels, sidequels, remakes, reboots, reimaginings and spinoffs — including recent announcements of a third movie version of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and a sequel to "Oliver Twist."

Believe it or not, though, Hollywood isn’t completely out of fresh ideas. Not when it comes to sci-fi, at least.

Thanks to the box-office success of original properties like “Avatar” and “Inception,” the science fiction genre has, in an industry characterized all too often by its aversion to financial risk, managed once again to become a haven for creative filmmaking.

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action adventure "Pacific Rim." (Kerry Hayes) Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action adventure "Pacific Rim." (Kerry Hayes)

And the best part is, you don’t have to like laser guns or aliens to enjoy most of the novel concepts currently in the pipeline, just great filmmaking.

Here are nine upcoming sci-fi movies that show originality isn’t dead in Hollywood:

'After Earth'

Hitting theaters in June, “After Earth” is a sci-fi adventure film from M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Last Airbender”).

Set 1,000 years after mankind has abandoned Earth, it stars Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden as a father and son who crash-land on the now-hostile planet and must contend with dangerous local fauna in order to escape.

Jaden Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth," also starring Will Smith. (Alan Silfen) Jaden Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth," also starring Will Smith. (Alan Silfen)

Shyamalan’s star has definitely fallen in recent years, but it’s hard to deny the talent he showed in many of his early directorial efforts. With a more stripped-down plot and two of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood in the lead, “After Earth” could turn out to be a breath of fresh air for audiences.

'Pacific Rim'

Having helmed comic book adaptations like “Blade 2” and “Hellboy” and being credited as a co-writer on “The Hobbit,” few directors have as much geek cred as Guillermo del Toro. With his upcoming feature — his first directorial effort in five years — del Toro is not only taking a dive into full-on sci-fi, but a specific subgenre that has yet to really catch on in America.

Jaden Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth," also starring Will Smith. (Columbia Pictures) Jaden Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth," also starring Will Smith. (Columbia Pictures)

“Pacific Rim” is basically a love letter to Japan’s long tradition of movies about giant manned robots battling monsters. Think something like “Power Rangers” with a $200 million budget.

So far, the buzz from test screenings has been extremely positive, and with a sequel already in the works, it seems like Warner Bros. is confident it has a hit on its hands.

In terms of box-office potential, “Pacific Rim” could easily turn out to be the next “Transformers” when it opens in July. But with del Toro in charge, moviegoers can expect more than just big explosions and eye candy.

'Elysium'

After things fell apart on a Peter Jackson-produced “Halo” movie back in 2006, Jackson and first-time director Neill Blomkamp recycled some of their ideas and instead released “District 9.” Now, with “Elysium,” Blomkamp’s sophomore film, the South African director is building on the same kind of socially conscious sci-fi that made “District 9” so successful.

Matt Damon stars in Columbia Pictures' "Elysium." (Columbia Pictures) Matt Damon stars in Columbia Pictures' "Elysium." (Columbia Pictures)

Set in the year 2159 when Earth has become an overcrowded slum and the wealthiest citizens all live on a luxurious space station, “Elysium” stars Matt Damon as an ex-con who gets wrapped up in a plot to bring equality to the two worlds. Along with Damon, the film also stars Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley of "District 9" and is set to open in August.

'Gravity'

Written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who is probably best known to most audiences for his work on “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock. In a role that’s being compared to Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” the Oscar-winning actress plays an astronaut struggling to survive on a crippled spacecraft while desperately trying to make it back home to Earth and her daughter.

Jaden Smith on location in Costa Rica during production of Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth,” also starring Will Smith. (Alan Silfen) Jaden Smith on location in Costa Rica during production of Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth,” also starring Will Smith. (Alan Silfen)

Even though it won’t hit theaters until October, the effects-heavy sci-fi spectacle is already receiving huge praise, including from other filmmakers. Del Toro called it “completely mind-blowing,” predicting that it could forever change the way movies are made.

And for anyone that appreciated the technical virtuosity of Cuarón’s last feature, 2006’s “Children of Men,” “Gravity” is rumored to open with an incredible 17-minute sequence shot that should satisfy even the most jaded film buffs.

'Tomorrowland'

With a release date set for December 2014, this upcoming sci-fi project from Disney is more than a little ways off, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the most intriguing movies on the horizon.

That’s partially because, so far, there isn’t a whole lot of concrete information about what exactly “Tomorrowland” will be.

What is known is that Pixar veteran Brad Bird will direct a film based on a screenplay by “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. Currently, George Clooney is set to star.

But that’s about it.

Back when the project was still known by its codename, “1952,” reports claimed it would be a sci-fi film in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” There were even rumors at one point that this could actually be "Star Wars: Episode VII."

However, the recent announcement of an official title and some mysterious tidbits posted on Bird’s Twitter account have led to even wilder rumors, some claiming it has to do with Buck Rogers or even the creation of Disneyland as a massive cover-up for UFOs.

Whatever “Tomorrowland” does turn out to be, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

'Jupiter Ascending'

Also set for release in 2014 is the latest film epic from the Wachowski siblings, who revolutionized the sci-fi genre with 1999’s “The Matrix.”

The first in a proposed trilogy, “Jupiter Ascending” will star Mila Kunis as a poor Russian immigrant whose genetic makeup could be the key to mankind’s progress in a universe where humans are on the bottom of the evolutionary ladder. In what sounds like a sci-fi riff on the Snow White story, this draws the attention of the Queen of the Universe, who hires an assassin to kill the young woman.

Along with Kunis, “Jupiter Ascending” is set to star Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean (Boromir from “The Fellowship of the Ring”) as a “Han Solo-type character.”

Depending on how much you’ve enjoyed the Wachowski siblings’ post-“Matrix” careers, including the recent box-office dud “Cloud Atlas,” this one may or may not sound all that appealing.

'Transcendence'

Produced by Christopher Nolan, “Transcendence” will mark the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer who has shot every one of Nolan’s films since “Memento.”

“Transcendence” is still in development, so plot details are pretty scarce. Pfister himself has remained tight-lipped, offering the rather unhelpful summary of "a present-day science fiction film." According to The Wrap, however, the movie will star Johnny Depp as “a scientist whose brain is uploaded into a supercomputer,” and it will deal with pretty high-brow concepts like singularity, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.

'Interstellar'

Not to be outdone by his cinematographer, Nolan is prepping his own brainy sci-fi project with his brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan.

“Interstellar,” which was originally developed as a possible directorial effort for Steven Spielberg back in 2006, is said to be based on the scientific theories of Kip S. Thorne, a theoretical physicist, astrophysicist and expert on relativity at Caltech who postulated that time travel could be possible with wormholes.

Beyond that, not much else is known.

'Absolutely Anything'

Finally, what could turn out to be the most head-scratching sci-fi movie of them all is this “sci-fi farce” that will finally reunite most of the original cast of Monty Python.

Written and directed by former Python Terry Jones, whose last directing gig was 1996’s “The Wind in the Willows,” “Absolutely Anything” is about a teacher who receives help from a group of extraterrestrials (played by Jones and his fellow Pythons John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam), only to discover that he’s been endowed with omnipotence.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” villain Benedict Cumberbatch has also been rumored for a role, and Robin Williams is reportedly set to play the voice of a CGI dog.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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