So you've seen Interstellar, and if you're like the rest of us, you've got some serious opinions about it. And if you're among those who loved Christopher Nolan's cosmic adventure, you're probably jonesing for similarly flavored science fiction.
With that in mind, we've collected five visions of the future that ask big-picture questions about space and time without shifting focus away from the human beings at the center of their stories. In a universe of over-the-top sci-fi blockbusters, these tales hit a bit closer to home.
Decades before Nolan looked for meaning in the stars, Stanley Kubrick was already sending viewers into (and beyond) the infinite depths of space.
By far the closest spiritual predecessor to Interstellar, this 1968 masterpiece has aged immaculately. In fact, it looks like it was made tomorrow. No, seriously: boot up a copy of 2001 on Blu-ray and try to wrap your head around the fact that this movie was made nearly 50 years ago.
How did mankind get here? How will it all end? Are we alone in the vastness of space? Is technology our savior or will it be our undoing? Why are we careening through a wormhole at light-speed on our journey to understand the universe?
These questions are at the heart of 2001, the movie that, for all intents and purposes, paved the way for Interstellar. It's mandatory viewing for anyone even remotely interested in science fiction, or the medium of film itself.
If you thought the time dilation in Interstellar was trippy, well, strap yourself in for this one. Primer made waves at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival thanks to its intricate narrative and unflinching, hyperrealistic take on classic science fiction tropes.
The film follows two engineers who accidentally discover time travel while working on an unrelated project in their garage. A plan to play the stock market with insider knowledge soon comes apart as a myriad story thread unravels.
Primer doesn't hold your hand and guide you through its mechanics in the same way that Interstellar does, but then again, with a budget of around $7,000 (a miniscule fraction of Interstellar's estimated $165 million) it wasn't built to pacify the masses.
Should you decide to take Primer for a spin, I'd recommend priming yourself with this helpful infographic.
Haunting, suspenseful, and ultimately a little frustrating, Danny Boyle's Sunshine is a beautiful mess. Much like Interstellar, our cast of characters are a group of spacefaring scientists tasked with saving humanity from looming apocalypse. The astronauts in Sunshine aren't searching for habitable planets; they're hoping to re-ignite our dying sun with the biggest bomb ever created by mankind.
The movie shares Interstellar's devotion to quasi-realistic science as well as its subversive, off-kilter ending. Sunshine fires on all cylinders until it collapses in on itself (not unlike a dying star) in the final act, but it's still a ride worth taking.
When Matthew McConaughey gazes out upon the dying landscape of his planet in Interstellar, perhaps he's recalling the plot of an old sci-fi film called Silent Running.
Released in 1972 and directed by Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects maestro behind 2001, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the movie paints a grim picture of our collective future. It's 2008, all of Earth's plant life is extinct, and the only thing keeping humanity going is a floating armada of greenhouses in space.
The story follows a man (Bruce Dern) tasked with caring for the plants and depicts his fight to defend them against the powers that be. It's a bracing vision of the future that does wonders with a small budget.
Adapted from Carl Sagan's novel of the same name, Contact was met with a collective shrug by critics. In the years following its 1997 release, its reputation has grown, and you can often find it on "underrated movies" lists.
Like Interstellar, Contact utilizes a high-concept idea to pose a very straightforward question: How would the human race react if tomorrow we received a coded signal from an advanced civilization several light-years away? Unlike other science fiction films of its day, Contact explores the political, social, and personal ramifications of having our entire worldview shattered in an instant.
Fans of Matthew McConaughey should note that the actor also has a prominent role in Contact. That counts for something, right?
Honorable Mention: Solaris
Steven Soderbergh's 2002 re-imagining of Stanisław Lem's classic sci-fi novel is worth watching (barely), but it's Andrei Tarkovsky's dense, cerebral, psychologically complex take that will stand the test of time.
Filled with gorgeous cinematography, brilliant character-building, and unexpected twists, it's perhaps the most intriguing—and most human—science fiction film ever made.
Image: Paramount Pictures