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John Scalzi – The Winners and Losers of ’00s SciFi Movies


As we continue our look through a decade of science fiction, it becomes evident that in the past ten years there have emerged winners and losers in the field. Who and what are they? Hey! I’m getting to that!

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WINNER: Uwe Boll. Yes, I know. He’s arguably the worst director in the history of history, a pure product of Germany’s insane film-oriented tax shelters and the man who put the umlaut in the word “sück.” But, you know what? He’s managed to make movies all decade long, often with big stars who should have known better. I would rather drag my tongue across 18 yards of feculent glass shards then ever watch another Boll movie, but you can’t say he didn’t win the decade. Well done, Uwe. Stay the hell away from me.

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LOSER: Video Game Movies. Aside from being inflicted with the above-mentioned Boll, the genre was flick after flick of unmitigated fail. You may recall Doom making my “Ten Worst of the Decade” list, but to be fair to Doom, it could have been swapped out with Alone in the Dark, or Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, or Hitman or Street Fighter or any of the Resident Evils. The lone hope for the genre, the Halo movie, was squat-taunted before it ever got out of the gate (although we did get District 9 out of it, so it wasn’t all bad). People seem to be holding out hope for Prince of Persia. Yeah, I’ve seen the trailer. Keep hoping, folks.

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WINNER: Will Smith. Four scifi movies in the ’00s (Men in Black II, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Hancock) and $820 million in domestic box office. Can’t argue with that. To be sure, his other movies did pretty well too (except for Seven Pounds, because, you know, cheer up, dude!), and the couple Oscar nods he got in there didn’t hurt. But we all know that at the end of the day, it’s his scifi work that’s the engine of his success. From the geek nation, Will: You’re welcome.

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LOSER: Vin Diesel. Which hurts me to say, because, I admit it, I have a (totally hetero) man-crush on the dude. So bald. So gravelly-voiced. So manly. Shut up, I totally am straight. Be that as it may, Diesel’s incipient domination of the decade’s box office got a scifi pair of sucker punches from The Chronicles of Riddick and Babylon A.D.. While I hope the next decade is kinder to him, we can only weep at what might have been.

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WINNER: J.J. Abrams. Look, I may kvetch about the science in this year’s Star Trek being somewhere between “bad” and “mentally deficient lemurs are smarter than this,” but you know what? The Star Trek franchise was so saddled with with overexhausted mediocrity that reviving it — and making it fun again — qualifies as a minor miracle. So props where they’re deserved. Also: Cloverfield? Most awesome monster movie of the decade (that wasn’t named The Host). Oh, and Alias and Lost were OK, too.

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LOSER: George Lucas and the Wachowski Brothers. Both used the decade to grind their franchises into befuddled irrelevance. To be sure Lucas got a head start with Phantom Menace in ’99, but the other two “prequel” movies equally bankrupted the Star Wars series’ fan goodwill even as they raked in the cash. As for the Wachowskis, well, I give them credit for trying to make something deep out of The Matrix sequels. But just because Cornel West says what you’re doing is deep doesn’t mean it is. On the other hand I think their script for V for Vendetta was terrific and apparently no one else in the world agrees with me, so what do I know.

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WINNER: The End of the World as We Know It. Roland Emmerich owned this category with The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, but let’s remember to give a shout out to War of the Worlds, Knowing, Cloverfield and, yes, The Core. Some folks would argue these represent our working out feelings about 9/11, imminent environmental collapse and general existential malaise. Well, fine, but I think they were also bout watching everything go ker-plooey with nifty perfect CGI.

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LOSER: Humorous Live Action Science Fiction. I mean intentionally funny. Stop talking to me about G.I. Joe. Seriously, what have we got for the decade? The Stepford Wives? Evolution? The Adventures of Pluto Nash? Even Men in Black II wasn’t all that. If it wasn’t for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind we’d have nothing — and that’s not even “ha ha” comedy; it’s “Huh, now I have to think” comedy. Fortunately, we did have:

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WINNER: Animated Science Fiction. WALL-E: One of the best movies of the decade. The Incredibles: Ditto. Lilo & Stitch, Robots, Monsters vs. Aliens: all pretty decent little flicks. Yes, there’s also Treasure Planet, Space Chimps and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but they can’t all be gems. I’d like to see humor in scifi outside of animation, but there’s no argument that the last decade was a golden age for scifi animation.

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LOSER: Science Fiction Based on Books. Science fiction movies based on comics? You got tons (see last week’s column). But based on actual novels? Well, I, Robot and War of the Worlds were hits, Jumper did OK, Children of Men was brilliant but underseen, and after that it gets kind of… meh. I think Hollywood has gotten out of the habit of looking at literature of science fiction, which is a shame because there are some excellent works out there perfect for theatrical adaptation, and I say that without any self-interest whatsoever.

What are your votes for scifi’s winners and loser for the decade? Share! Share in the comments!

Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. He’s also Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.

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