It’s no secret that Sci-Fi films have become incredibly popular over the last few years. Yes, stories about space, technology and the human condition have always been popular but it seems like the leaps and bounds the movie industry’s made in CGI and special effects has led to a resurgence of the genre. To long-time fans, this has been both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, films look incredible these days. Any idea imaginable can be brought to life as a fully realised environment for our favourite protagonists to play around in. Not to sound cliche but the only real limit is the creator’s imagination.. And that’s what Sci-Fi is supposed to do. It pushes the very boundaries of our imagination all the way to the edges of the universe. Modern technology has definitely broadened the spectrum through which Sci-Fi stories are told, but in a way, it’s previous limitations is what produced some of its finest stories. Sci-Fi has also been a big driver for movies that have spurred on merchandise sales, illustrating just how popular they are after they have been watched.
In the past, Sci-Fi couldn’t depend on the visual spectacle of space or impressive technological advancements to grab viewers, simply due to the fact that the technology wasn’t there in order to make it look impressive. Outside of some very iconic examples like 2001: Space Odyssey and Bladerunner, which were massively influential on the decades that followed, great Sci-Fi tended to focus on big philosophical questions and the moral dilemmas that could arise from human space exploration and the development of new technologies, rather than the spectacle of future technologies and space exploration.
Some Sci-Fi franchises did both quite well actually. The Terminator franchise began with the perfect balance of action and Sci-Fi, giving us timeless action sequences and food for thought on the potential horrors of AI.
Back to the Future blended a comedy-adventure with the mind-bending paradoxes that time travel presents while introducing the general population to gigawatts. On the other hand we have the Bill and Ted franchise, which is still a fun watch but used time travel more as a story-telling device rather than a way to make us think. That’s the difference really.
So why is Sci-Fi so popular these days? Probably due to the increased spectacle and the dialing back of the philosophy and morality, to be honest. Frankly, it’s because popular modern Sci-Fi isn’t the Sci-Fi it used to be. Star Trek has had a famously niche audience for decades but has broadened its fan base in the last decade or so by amping up the action and spectacle while ignoring the whole space exploration/moral conundrum part. Basically, Star Trek became more appealing to mass audiences by being less like Star Trek and more like typical action movies set in space. Sure, the iconic imagery is still there but the driving philosophies are absent.
This is fine, of course, and seems like a necessary development within the industry. With the high costs associated with CGI and blockbuster productions, movie makers need to make sure their film is a success by appealing to a broad audience with as little risk as possible. The industry knows what works and they have no problem delivering on a grand scale. Yes, there’s been lots of debate about modern Sci-Fi but there truly is enough of it to go around. For those drawn in by gigantic space battles and other-worldly monsters there’s an endless supply of stories. For those who would rather ponder life’s big questions, the human condition and our relationships with technology, there are still shows like The Orville and Black Mirror. All in all, there’s always something out there for both the curious and the bold. It just takes a little exploration.