Last year, thought-provoking independent film District 9 swept the box office and blasted its way into the Oscars. Was this a fluke, or could it happen again? Here are eight new science-fiction underdogs that could be the next sleeper hit.
To be sure, some of the films in this list have A-list stars, like Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. But they're still smaller projects, without the budgets of a Tron Legacy or a Transformers 3.
Oh, and there are minor spoilers in this post, but nothing major.
1) Source Code
This is Duncan Jones' next project after the critically acclaimed Moon. Source Code still hasn't released an official plot synopsis besides this: "A sci-fi story centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of a commuter who witnesses a train explosion."
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the soldier, whose detective work includes letting the government "insert" his mind into the body of a passenger on the doomed train. He keeps visiting the scenario again and again, until he uncovers the source of the accident. It sounds like an incredibly cerebral film, and hopefully after Inception, with its own brain-boggling premise, is unleashed on the masses, the general public will be more apt to be interested in mind-bending scifi films. It's got the makings of a great break-out film: a recognized actor, two buzz-worthy actresses (Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan), and a director who richly deserves his moment in the sun.
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2) The Darkest Hour
Emille Hirsch just signed on to star in this $40 million alien invasion flick. Hirsch, an exceptionally talented actor in spite of the negative Speed Racer buzz, joins director Chris Gorak. Gorak directed Right At Your Door, a brilliant genre film that never quite took off. This story takes place in Russia and follows a group of American tourists struggling to deal with the aftermath of an alien invasion. The film has a big-time producer, Timur Bekmambetov, to help give it wings. Let's hope they spend some money — and some brain-power — on making exciting but believable aliens.
3) The Adjustment Bureau
This film might not need any help from genre fans, since it already stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. But it does happen to be based on a Philip K. Dick short story, "Adjustment Team," about an affair between a politician and a ballerina and the mysterious forces keeping these two lovers apart. This film could stumble into a "Richard Kelly"-like mess, leaving it up to the cognoscenti to explain the ending to everyone else. But nevertheless, if you made a movie that was just Damon demonstrating how to recaulk your bathtub, people would still buy tickets to it.
Alright so they're not exactly the Coen Brothers, but the Strause brothers, who are directing this film, do have a great background in visual effects. And they swear they're going to make up for their debut film, Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. Here's the premise:
After a late night party, a group of friends are awoken in the dead of the night by an eerie light beaming through the window. Like moths to a flame, the light source is drawing people outside before they suddenly vanish into the air. They soon discover an otherwordly force is swallowing the entire human population off the face of the earth. Now our band of survivors must fight for their lives as the world unravels around them.
Sure, it'll probably be closer to Independence Day than District 9 — but this low-budget indie still might pack some strong characterization, thanks to Scrubs' Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, and Eric Balfour. Plus let's not forget, a lot of District 9 was very video game-esque.
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5) Battle: Los Angeles
Actually the Strause brothers also worked on the visual effects for this alien-invasion film as well. Battle: L.A., though, has slightly better actors, including Aaron Eckhart in a long-awaited leading man action role, as the leader of a group of soldiers dealing with yet another successful alien invasion, where the aliens are rounding up the survivors. Producer Neal Moritz told Collider the other day:
I've now seen the movie. I think it's groundbreaking. I think Jonathan Liebesman has done an incredible job for a manageable budget. I think that the movie's turned out better than I could have expected. I think the aliens look incredible. And I know on a page I read humans fight aliens, but when I watched it on-screen and to actually see basically Black Hawk Down type fighting where they're not fighting…they're fighting aliens was incredible. It was just an incredible visual experience.
He also mentioned that the film might be going 3D. Bridget Moynahan and Michelle Rodriguez join Eckhart on his alien mission.
Simon Pegg manged to take Shaun of The Dead to international heights, so there's no reason his next project, an alien road-trip comedy, can't do the same. Pegg teams up once again with his Shaun co-star Nick Frost, and the duo also co-wrote this film. They're also bringing along a massive list of comedian cameos, including Kristin Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Jane Lynch. Genre queen Sigourney Weaver is also rumored to be making a cameo, and is listed on the imdb page. But the biggest mystery is Seth Rogen's character, the mysterious alien Paul — who catches a ride in Pegg and Frost's RV. We still have no idea what Paul looks like, but he's rumored to be completely CG. With an alien in the passenger seat and the government hot on their tail, will Pegg and Frost will reach their nerdy destination, San Diego Comic Con? Either way, with this amount of comedic talent, it should at least be fun to watch.
7) The Host
Stephenie Meyer's post-alien-invasion novel — yes, that Meyer — was a optioned a few months ago, and might even begin production as early as next year. In Meyer's world, the alien invaders have already won, and the main character is an alien who inhabits the body of a young human girl who was a member of the resistance. The alien accesses her host's memories and falls in love with the human's boyfriend. Thus beginning a strange alien/human love triangle. Andrew Niccol, writer of The Truman Show, is currently working on the screenplay adaptation and will stay on to direct — although his newly announced project I'm.Mortal might have to come first.
Children of Men's Alfonso Cuaron cast Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role of his latest space epic, Gravity. This might already be a success just because of the pairing of Downey and Cuaron. The film, which Cuaron co-wrote with his son Jonas, is about a space commander, Downey, who has to make some difficult decisions when an asteroid busts up his space ship and kills off most of his crew. He has to find a way to pilot his ship back with only one crew member. The film is probably getting more cash than the rest of the above films, due to the director's reputation, Downey's involvement, and their desire to shoot the whole thing in 3-D.
[Picture via 2001: A Space Odyssey]