One of the most enjoyable aspects of cinema is that it can help transport us to worlds and realities so different from our own, creating a great sense of escapism. The science fiction and fantasy aspects of film are why a lot of people take the time to even go to the movies these days and the best of these films prove to be both insightful and entertaining. So as 2019 comes to a close I’m going to put a focus on those films that transported us to the farthest reaches of our imaginations and presented us with engaging stories, colorful environments and fun characters that helped make 2019 something to remember. These are the movies that explored new worlds and, in many ways, provided some of the best fan service of the year while making us think about our own realities in the process. These are my picks for the Top 10 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films of 2019.
For this list any movie that can fall under the fantasy or science fiction genres that I reviewed in 2019 was considered. These include video game movies, comic books films with science fiction or fantasy elements, or any other movie that explores space, alternate realities, fantasy worlds or the like. While it’s not a rule for my end of the year lists, every film on this particular countdown received four stars or more which speaks to how strong these two genres were in 2019.
IT NEEDS TO BE SAID That you will NOT find “Joker” on this list. While still a comic book film, it’s less sci-fi and more part of a different genre altogether. But be sure that “Joker” will be represented on an upcoming list. This list is more focused on properties that embrace fantastical and sci-fi elements rather than “Joker’s” grounded genre.
Since I had to have reviewed these movies over the last twelve months and I only have so much time on my hands in a given year there will probably be some movies not represented here that I didn’t get a chance to see or that I just didn’t think deserved recognition. So, I want to know from you, what is your favorite science fiction or fantasy film of 2019? Let me know in the comments below. On with the list!
10. “Jumanji: The Next Level”
Technically the third “Jumanji” movie but really the second in the rebooted franchise, “Jumanji: The Next Level” succeeds by replicating the charm of the original with just enough new elements to stand out on its own as a fun, videogame-themed movie. The film sees the four children from the previous entry, and a couple newcomers, reenter the world of “Jumanji” to face a new threat leading to one of the most simply satisfying sequels of 2019. In my review I complimented the film saying “’The Next Level’ at least lives up to the previous movie’s reputation and reminds us why we enjoyed ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ so much while giving us some great new content to make coming back a second time worth the adventure.” “The Next Level” may not quite live up to the lofty promises its name suggests, but it does prove that sometimes the “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” approach can pay off.
9. “Captain Marvel”
By far the least satisfying of the three MCU movies of 2019, “Captain Marvel” is as fun as it has to be but not a whole lot more. Serving as the second film in timeline order for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introducing the titular heroine into the MCU to have her involved in “Avengers: Endgame”, “Captain Marvel” follows the origin story formula pretty solidly mixing in fun 90s nostalgia, decent effects and Marvel’s usual flair for solid science fiction action. In my review I stated, “it’s not the game changer many probably thought it would be, but it does continue the studio’s penchant for pushing out quality products that satisfy on at least a few levels if not every level.” I feel like if this movie was released a few years ago it would have been much more respected but for what it is “Captain Marvel” still proves to be a solid entry in Marvel’s line of solo adaptations in its ever-growing cinematic universe.
In the same way “Captain Marvel” got by being a simple origin film, DC’s “Shazam!” takes the same route although packing in more depth and humor to liven up the experience. Focusing on an orphan named Billy Batson who is bestowed the power of the titular hero, “Shazam!” sees Billy, still a child in many ways, mature into the hero he was meant to be when a dark villain threatens the world. Driven by a standout performance by Zachary Levi, “Shazam!” continues DC’s comeback streak that started with “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”. In my review I said “Shazam!” is “pretty much everything you need from a good superhero movie even if it’s nothing truly new or revolutionary” and while it might not push the genre in any new directions it does embrace a spectacular charm that so many ways serves as a tribute to the fantasies of being a superhero that are so resilient even in our adult years.
7. “The Kid Who Would Be King”
We have had so many failed attempts at reviving the story of King Arthur for a new audience this decade, but in 2019 we finally got one that worked. “The Kid Who Would Be King” might be a pretty basic family film, but its sense of adventure and engaging fantasy elements helped make it an underappreciated gem in 2019. Focusing on a group of kids who follow in the footsteps of King Arthur after discovering Excalibur, “The Kid Who Would Be King” takes the best ideas from its classic source material and presents them in the form of an enjoyable adventure that both kids and adults can appreciate. I reflected this in my review when I said the film “finds a nice balance between acknowledging Arthurian lore and charging its own path.” It doesn’t try too hard but tries just hard enough proving that there is still, indeed, some interest and potential in this property.
6. “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”
Movies based on video games have seldom been very good, but we finally got what many consider the best video game adaptation to date with “Detective Pikachu” in 2019. For a lot of people, myself included, this was a dream come true. A live action Pokémon movie that brings us right into the universe of one of our favorite long-running properties. Thankfully the wait paid off and we got an immersive, humorous, engaging and unpredictable mystery fantasy film that maintains the charm of its famed source material. In my review I called the movie a “rare treat” and one that “serves as a respectable adaptation of a much-beloved franchise while taking a few risks along the way even if they don’t always work.” As a fan of the Pokémon franchise from the very start I can’t help but respect that the long-awaited live-action film turned out to be so much fun.
5. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
The most recent release on this list, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” finished out the nine-film “Skywalker Saga” concluding 42 years of cinematic history. For some it might be an acceptable conclusion, but it did prove to be an uneven finale for many and the worst of the sequel trilogy in my opinion. But that doesn’t make it a bad film as evident by its inclusion in the top five on this list. In my review I concluded that “if you’re looking for a good overall film this is simply above average ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ will more that satisfy, and if you’re looking for an exceptional ‘Star Wars’ movie this is far from the worst we could have ever gotten.” “The Rise of Skywalker” does play it a little too safe but in the process serves as a very entertaining and respectful way to close things out for the original saga. It’s not everything it needed to be, but it’s more than enough to be considered worthy of the “Star Wars” name.
For me “Glass” is one of the most critically underappreciated films of this year. After 2017’s “Split” was revealed to be a surprise sequel to director M. Night Shyamalan’s original superhero feature “Unbreakable”, the so called “Eastrail 177 Trilogy” was tied up with “Glass” which brought back characters from both previous movies to tie all of their individual stories and legacies together. In my review I complimented “Glass” as a film that “balances entertainment and character-driven storytelling with ease and brings out the best in its divisive director’s unique ability to mix suspense, thrills and unexpected turns in one great package.” While it does embrace quite a few clichés and it can be argued that the twists weren’t among Shyamalan’s strongest, “Glass” feels inspired and insightful with some great social commentary about how our world would actually handle the dawn of the superhero making it a fascinating movie that’s bit more grounded in reality than most genre pieces tend to be.
3. “Spider-Man: Far from Home”
It was quite a year for Spider-Man as the character became part of an infamous standoff between Disney and Sony and was the subject of one of the year’s biggest movies that became the highest grossing “Spider-Man” film to date. “Far from Home” was the true ending to Marvel’s Phase 3 of the MCU focusing on the aftermath of “Avengers: Endgame” and how Spider-Man comes into his own as a hero without Tony Stark to guide him. A new villain soon puts his abilities to the test in an action-packed epic that further solidified Spider-Man’s market appeal. In my review I stated that “with plenty of fanfare, a bit of needed closure after the intense ‘Endgame’ finale, and a story that builds on the central character, ‘Far from Home’ pushes the MCU in new directions, and gives fans a great adventure to tide them over until Marvel’s next feature.” Simply put, “Far from Home” was a great way to end Marvel’s third phase and transition into the studio’s future.
2. “Ad Astra”
On the list of great movies that for some reason nobody saw in 2019 “Ad Astra” is definitely near the top. Every year we seem to get at least one great artistic sci-fi must-see and this year is was “Ad Astra”. The film follows Brad Pitt as an astronaut sent to interfere with his own father’s deep space experiments that have begun to threaten Earth presenting astounding atmosphere and a lot of great questions about our own existence and our tendencies to focus more on what we don’t know rather than appreciating what we already have. In my review I commented that “’Ad Astra’ blends an imaginative and colorful interpretation of outer space with insightful commentary and ends up becoming possibly one of the most ‘human’ genre pieces we’ve seen in a long time.” It’s just a spectacular experience overall that further solidifies science fiction as one of the most significant and potent genres of the 2010s.
1. “Avengers: Endgame”
There was never any question. After over ten years and 21 films “Avengers: Endgame” brought everything to a close as the 22nd feature of the MCU. There was a lot on the shoulders of filmmakers to make this a satisfying end and not only does it conclude the Infinity storyline effectively is serves as somewhat of a tribute to everything that has made the MCU such a great property all along. Every cliché feels well worked into the narrative to the point where your accepting of it as the best way to tell the story, and that’s a very hard thing to accomplish. It’s massive cast and even larger scale seemed unimaginable until we finally saw it all come to fruition with the final hour of this three-hour marathon being probably one of the most epic in all of cinema. In my review I called “Endgame” “a fitting conclusion to a massive story arc like no other before it, and one of, if not the greatest comic book film of all time.” It really was, and still is, a true cinematic experience either on its own or as rhe conclusion to over a decade of buildup.