This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best sci-fi and fantasy movies of 2022.
Our speculative fiction ran the gamut this year. There were larger-than-life disaster movies that felt more at home in the mid-nineties than in 2022. The Marvel machine ground out a batch of solid sci-fi adventure fantasies for the big and small screen. James Cameron delivered his long-awaited Avatar sequel that feels more like a reboot than anything else.
You should already start preparing for its absence in the list below. Avatar: The Way of Water‘s brilliant science fiction occurred mostly behind the camera rather than in front of it. Cameron’s action extravaganza is still top-tier and ranks alongside the year’s best firefights, so if you’re looking for a proper Avatar celebration, head over to Rob’s Best Action list.
Science fiction and fantasy in 2022 had one eye looking backward and another forward. Nostalgia rules, and while I’m itching to move beyond its cheap emotional grip, I can’t deny its power when done exceptionally. Placing Roland Emmerich over James Cameron on a list will certainly get me on all kinds of other lists. A sane man would offer an apology but consider this a warning instead. Our old FSR pal Christopher Campbell left this list to me, and I’m sure he’s already shaking his fist at what I’ve done to his baby. I love you, friend, and I’m sorry – Oh! No! No apologies! All I can promise is that what you’ll find below is very much my vibe.
And there will be several animated movie additions. Recently inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s Golden Globes comments (“Animation is not a genre for kids, it’s a medium”), I’m compelled to celebrate the incredible science fiction and fantasy crafted in the animated realm. Two movies included on this list could be considered family-friendly, while the other is definitely not. All three deserve recognition for their achievements in the genre as much as and, in many cases, more than their live-action siblings.
So, prepare for a few sequels, but more original ideas than not. Or, at least, original spins on those old, big ideas. We’ve got clones, time travelers, superheroes, multiverse hoppers, and werefolk. The tones are all over the place, with many filmmakers featuring a passion for oddity. However, their quirks never come at the expense of their story, characters, or emotions.
The moon! It’s falling! But that’s not all – [REDACTED] are to blame! Roland Emmerich’s latest disasterpiece was easily dismissable initially. I’m ashamed I didn’t even bother with it on the big screen, waiting for its streaming availability. However, once injected into my eyeballs, I found the experience deeply satisfying and weirdly warming.
Moonfall belongs to an era of blockbuster cinema long gone, where a dog in peril was enough to get us on our feet rooting for the mutt’s narrow escape. The science is gobblygook, but the peril is bona fide, sold passionately by actors who believe in their material when most others would woefully scoff. The reveal regarding what’s actually going on is telegraphed early, maybe even in the first scene, but the joy the movie takes after it puts all its cards on the table is genuine.
Dual deftly captures anxiety in a clever sci-fi manner. If I were cloned, of course, the newer, fresher model would do me better than I could. My family would love my clone more. My friends would heed the clone’s advice over mine. In a matter of minutes, the clone would confirm all my greatest fears and failings. And I’d have to beat the thing to death if I wanted to remain on this planet.
This is basically the setup of Riley Stearns’ comically twisted clone saga starring Karen Gillan and Karen Gillan. After a terminal medical diagnosis proves not so terminal, her Sarah attempts to recall her clone. The only way to do that is to survive an arena death match. Enter Aaron Paul’s combat instructor. Dual is demented, painfully relatable, and brisk in its viciousness.
13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
It’s impossible to watch Wakanda Forever free from our own grief regarding Chadwick Boseman’s passing. His absence hangs over every scene, and the void sorta boars a whole through our enjoyment. While Marvel Studios attempts to expand its universe by introducing Namor, Tlālōcān, and Ironheart, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole address the loss as head-on as they can. The result is an emotional rubber band effect, continuously bouncing from thrills to sorrow.
Therefore, Wakanda Forever is an uneasy movie. It’s as much a memorial as an event film, and we probably won’t appreciate its world expansion until we’ve put some distance between us and our hurt. That said, damn, Wakanda remains an astonishing sci-fi vista to visit, and Tlālōcān makes an equally impressive rival. Anticipating our return to these worlds is easy.
Explaining Alienoid in one sentence is most difficult. As the result of an intergalactic war, alien criminals are imprisoned within hapless humans. Stationed on Earth are a couple of robots tasked with keeping the diabolical crooks in their flesh cages. It’s not easy, especially when these villains escape through time, traveling back to Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty. Alienoid packs several genres into its two-and-a-half hours: action, sci-fi, wuxia, and family melodrama. And magical cats too! Tell me you’re not interested, and I’ll call you a liar.
11. Neptune Frost
Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams are cinematic sorcerers. They take a microbudget and transform it into one of the most visually revolutionary films of the year. Neptune Frost also manages to be a musical, action/adventure, and a wickedly delightful takedown of colonialist and capitalist ideas. The title character is an intersex hacker who arrives in another dimension and immediately begins disrupting the realm’s binary notions. They unite with some like-minded radicals, forming an assault against “The Authority,” this universe’s death-gripping government. Neptune Frost beats with the same Afropunk heart that fueled Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism, pronouncing itself as 2022’s boldest vision.
10. Something in the Dirt
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead make the pandemic work for them. Trapped in their apartments, with nothing to do – they might as well make a movie. Apparently inspired by staring too long into the corners of their rooms, Something in the Dirt features two neighbors bonding over their desire to monetize an unexplainable phenomenon occurring in their residence. Through obsession, the not-quite-friends ponder existence and its meaning. Where they ultimately fall challenges whatever hope lingers within the rest of us.
Something in the Dirt aligns neatly with Benson and Moorhead’s previous efforts, The Endless and Resolution. The movie probably cost a buck and a quarter, but you never question the filmmakers’ constraints while they have you in their runtime. Something in the Dirt makes conspiracy theory nuts weirdly compelling and will probably propel you down a rabbit hole of strange thought. Watch your landing.
9. Bones and All
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell are just a couple of crazy cannibals trying to make it in this hateful little world. Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is not too far afield from being a straight-up creature feature or vampire saga, especially when Mark Rylance comes sniffing around the plot. The movie is a gnarly assault on the senses, threatening violent outbursts at every turn while magically breaking your heart on its race toward the climax. Bones and All never fully embraces the supernatural, but it does ask its viewers to believe in the impossible, and in that belief is a wild fantasy unlike any other in 2022.
8. Mad God
All Hail the Mad God! Phil Tippett, the master of stop-motion, vomits his soul upon the screen, and it’s more revolting than you could imagine. Splashed in those chunks, however, is an undeniably passionate beauty. Assembled across decades, Mad God follows an assassin as they navigate an apocalyptic landscape. Traversing through an industrial hell, the assassin encounters one monstrous creation after another. Mad God is a tough watch, and you’ll wonder if Tippett is doing okay as you force yourself to sit through it. He’ll tell you he’s good, but his words won’t sway you either. As an emotional document, the animated nightmare compels and repels with abandon. Bonus, it’s pure movie magic.
Seven films into the franchise (don’t forget that double dose of AVP!), the Predator saga unleashes its most sentimentally sincere and individually focused adventure without sacrificing an ounce of its badassery. As the Comanche warrior who flips from prey to predator while tangling with our favorite mandibled extraterrestrial, Amber Midthunder soars above the film’s humble monster mash plotting. She brings a deep well to Naru, who yearns to prove herself amongst her tribe, and is given a chance when the demon comes calling from outer space.
Prey is a lean action exercise expertly modulated by director Dan Trachtenberg. In cutting the fat and the unnecessary, often unfunny kooky sidekicks, Prey reinvigorates the Predator franchise possibilities. The Hulu original had folks crying for prequels and sequels in a way that no other film in the series has done since the original. Bring ’em on.
6. Crimes of the Future
In Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg is at his most mellow and psychotic. By returning to an old screenplay, the body horror maestro revisits the realm where he made his mark but delivers a complicated moody jewel his younger self never could. A detachment remains, but his subtle probes into human desire punctuate with a loud, punishing point of view.
Viggo Mortensen’s Saul performs surgery as entertainment, having strange organs yanked from his body as onlookers wet their lips and widen their eyes. Pain is no longer an issue for us fleshy types, giving us freedom over our shells. Cronenberg imagines where humanity’s compulsion for modification is heading, and it’s not really as ugly or pretty as he once might have made it. Instead, Crimes of the Future merely contemplates an inevitability. With it rests a chilled acceptance.
5. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Personally, I couldn’t imagine a fairy tale I’d have less interest in revisiting than Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. The wooden boy with delusions of realness has been covered plenty and bungled as recently as last year, just a few months before Guillermo del Toro and his co-director Mark Gustafson revealed their take. While the stop-motion movie contains all the familiar trappings, the details are purely del Toro and transform the narrative into something utterly unique.
Suddenly, Pinocchio plunges into the perils of fascism, placing its saga in the clutches of Mussolini. Their Geppetto is a grief-stricken artist who poured as much rage as love into his wooden puppet’s creation. The child cut from a tree demands guidance; without it, he stumbles through life like a disaster. There’s so much chaos in Guillermo del Toro‘s Pinocchio, balanced beautifully by an admiration only capable of a creator who’s as equally obsessed with Frankenstein’s monster and all the other monsters who lumbered after him.
4. After Yang
On one side of the spectrum, we have M3gan. On the other side, we have After Yang. Our robot overlords are on their way. We can choose to fear them, or we can examine our lives through their eyes.
Kogonada’s sophomore feature is an adaptation of a short story by Alexander Weinstein, who elected to wrangle the screenplay himself. Both tales consider humanity’s future where “techno-sapiens” aid their masters in everyday chores as well as daycare. When one ‘droid perishes, Colin Farrell’s Jake scours the city in a desperate attempt to repair him. He eventually gains access to the robot’s memories; through them, he’s forced to confront his role as a parent and person. After Yang is a dreamy, warm, and inviting hug of a movie…with a slight alien touch. Just enough to keep your brain troubled after the credits hit.
Nope carries magnificent confidence in its scares. Jordan Peele draws them out, preferring dread to jolts. Opening the film with a truly unsettling and unexpected attack, stirring confusion in his audience that may not subside until a second, third, or fourth watch. Yet, those second, third, and fourth watches will certainly happen as Nope leaves you addicted to its psychological disturbance.
For his third effort, Peele does his Close Encounters of the Third Kind, bringing spectacle while condemning our need for spectacle. Thanks, Spielberg. How dare you, Spielberg. We look to the stars for meaning and layer the unknown with our own ideas, but what’s up there is barely comprehensible to our tiny intellect. The cosmos demands respect, but such requests prove challenging to a species that can’t muster compassion for themselves.
2. Turning Red
Puberty is the worst, and since we all must suffer through it, there’s been a million movies about it. Turning Red tackles this wretched biological transition using the werewolf metaphor, subbing wolves for red pandas. Director Domee Shi doesn’t go the horror route, but she doesn’t totally skip it either. There’s a lot to squirm over during Turning Red, with young Meilin dodging barbs from her peers, parents, and her own mind. The Pixar flick relates a universality by drilling into the creator’s female Chinese Canadian perspective, providing a familiar yet fresh movie. Shi also lets the film explode in its finale, cranking its metaphor to eleven and issuing a royal rumble straight out of a Godzilla romp.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
How do you think Sam Raimi feels about Everything Everywhere All At Once? The multiverse action melodrama achieves continuous astonishment and Marvel Comics concepts in ways Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness couldn’t dare conjure. The Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) flex their guerilla DIY muscles and score universal applause. Their film is a modestly budgeted indie that delivers blockbuster blows and a career-championing performance from Michelle Yeoh. As much as it is a gift to its lead, it’s just as much of one for her numerous fans. The movie allows her a range she’s delivered throughout her career, but rarely within one runtime.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a dizzying sensation and would deserve top recognition only for its cinematic wizardry. The miracle resides in its additional emotional might. Butt plugs! Hot dog hands! Raccacoonie! The laughs come raging, but the family dysfunction and resolution are what ultimately scar the viewers. The film forces reflection on what your parents did and did not bestow upon you. It’s not offering excuses, merely consideration.
Related Topics: 2022 Rewind