Is Hollywood going overboard with science fiction movies?

Hollywood has gone into a science fiction feeding frenzy in the past week, with several new scifi movies getting greenlit. The success of Battle: Los Angeles, on top of Avatar, Star Trek and others, put dollar signs in everyone's eyes.

But is Hollywood going too far?

The short answer is: Possibly. Just like anything else, many of these science fiction films in the pipeline will get killed before they reach our screens. Of the ones which actually appear, many will be terrible, but a few will be great. And eventually, the genre will drop off again, because these things go in cycles. For the longer answer, read on.

Top image: Promo art from Joseph Kosinski's Horizons.

So you might have noticed that 2011 is shaping up to be a bumper year for science fiction films. Our list of the science fiction and fantasy movies to watch out for in 2011 had 55 movies on it, and we could easily have made it 70 or even 75. By contrast, our list of movies to watch out for in 2010 had just 30 films on it. We're finding ourselves having to review two or three movies per weekend lately.

And the pipeline is definitely looking full, and it gets fuller all the time. Just this week, the following projects have been greenlit:

  • Agent OX, an alien invasion film written by Daniel Kunka, from Sony Pictures
  • An untitled science fiction epic from McG, which he's producing and will probably direct. David Callahan (The Expendables, Doom) is writing the script.
  • The Side Effects, a paranoid film about pharmaceutical testing in space from Ti West, director of SXSW fave The Innkeepers.
  • Is Hollywood going overboard with science fiction movies?S

  • RASL, the comic series by Jeff "Bone" Smith about a dimension-hopping art thief, is becoming a film from Warner Bros. and Sherlock Holmes producer Lionel Wigram.
  • A new science fiction thriller from Brian Miller, the writer who won a screenwriting contest to draft the script of Apollo 18. It's a "big idea" with a budget under $30 million, and Paramount is making it.
  • A thriller, which is probably science fiction, being directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) from a script by Peter Buchman (Jurassic Park 3). Twentieth Century Fox is producing.
  • Monsters of the Midway, a "creature feature" from screenwriter Jeff Lowell (Over Her Dead Body), to be produced by Paramount-based production company Montecito Picture Co.
  • And it's a superhero film rather than a straight-up science fiction film, but there's also a new Daredevil movie coming, from director David Slade.

Those are just the ones we can remember off the top of our heads — there are a few others announced in the past week or so, as well.

So has Hollywood gone overboard with science fiction? Are we all going to have a alien-invasion hangover in a year or two?

Is Hollywood going overboard with science fiction movies?

A number of bloggers have been wondering that today. Rope of Silicon wrote perhaps the most forthright essay on the subject, basically asking if Hollywood was risking audience fatigue with the genre. Rope of Silicon has its own list of forthcoming science fiction projects that were already greenlit a while ago, including Ridley Scott's Prometheus, Wolfgang Petersen's adaptation of John Scalzi's Old Man's War, Joseph Kosinski's Horizons (formerly titled Oblivion), Mark Forster's The Runner, Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and the Logan's Run remake.

So there's a glut of science fiction, being added to the existing glut of superhero films (six of them this year) and the continuing deluge of vampire/zombie/paranormal-ish movies.

A few things definitely occur to me about this off the top of my head:

1) Many of these films are not coming from a passionate love of science fiction. I mean, I'm sure everyone involved likes science fiction just fine — but they'd be making car-racing movies if car-racing was where the money was right now. And it's important to remind yourself, every now and then that an action movie is an action movie, whether it's wearing science fiction skin or car-racing skin or some other skin. Really, "action movie" is a genre, and "science fiction" is just one of the coverings, most of the time.

And yes, I know I'm sort of stating the obvious. But it's still worth stating, especially when you hear that a film is about aliens or the nature of humanity or identity — and really, it's just about three acts, with three to five big computer-generated action sequences in them.

2) Most of these films will be crap. And the percentage of crap will go up as the sheer number of films increases. Sturgeon's Law definitely applies here: 90 percent of everything is crap. But it's definitely true that the wider you open the floodgates, the lower the quality control will get. Stuff will sneak through that nobody really would have thought was a good idea if they'd taken a minute to think it over. And more utter mediocrity will hide itself in the flood surging through the pipeline.

3) But also, the more of these films there are, the more gems there'll be. And yet, the opposite is totally true. The wider the floodgates open, the more likely it is that a few more works of total genius will find their way out into the world without getting squelched. The same gung-ho, "gold rush" mentality that will give us countless works of unutterable direness will also give us a few more masterpieces, because nobody will be paying enough attention to destroy them.

4) Do you really want to complain about a world in which we're getting a new Ridley Scott science fiction movie? And in which Neill Blomkamp's other-worldly epic is being awaited like the second coming? Me neither. This may well be a new golden age. And even in the list of films newly greenlit in the past week, there's the "Jeff Smith's dimension-hopping thief" one, which I'm dying to see. Not to mention Wolfgang Petersen returning to science fiction.

Just remember: it was only a few years ago that Ridley Scott announced that science fiction was dead. Now he's totally dedicated to the genre again. That's a beautiful thing.

5) Eventually, it'll all come crashing down. But probably not for a few years. The battleship turns slowly (to reference another forthcoming science fiction movie). As Rope of Silicon points out, the slasher movie had a huge heyday after Friday the 13th. The sword-and-sandal movie boomed after Gladiator. The "torture porn" movie had its day, and now we're doing "found footage" horror instead. Everything goes in cycles. A few years from now, we may be wishing we still lived in the era of too many alien-killing movies to choose among.

Anyway, to quote a great Hollywood saying, "Nobody knows anything." All we really know for sure is that a heck of a lot of science fiction movies are coming out this year. And a ton are in the pipeline for 2012 and 2013, and a ton more just got the green light. We'll see what happens in a few years.