(Photo by Universal Pictures/ courtesy Everett Collection)
20 Movies To Watch If You Can’t Wait For Dune
Director Denis Villeneuve has called Dune the “longstanding dream.” He’s not alone. Since 1965, the Frank Herbert epic has been a bewitching vision shared between the minds of adventurous readers, worming deep into the psyche of grand science-fiction devotees. Of course, Villeneuve stands out among Dune fans – he’s the first one in decades who gets to turn the novel into a movie. Like the book, it will follow the path of royal Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his training in psychokinetic arts, and his family’s arrival to rule desert planet Arrakis, the galaxy’s sole source of a powerful mineral mixture called spice.
Dune will release December 2020, but if you need those inhospitable desert fumes in your life now, you can watch Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Get to the Las Vegas sequence and pretend that’s Arrakis wind and sand whipping your face. (The surrounding movie’s pretty good, too.) Or just go straight to the well and watch the previous movie version of Dune, directed in 1984 by David Lynch. He’s essentially disowned the film, but it’s a well-meaning attempt, rendered mostly incomprehensible by the end if you’re not familiar with the book – exactly why Villeneuve’s Dune will be split into two movies. Dune has long stymied filmmakers (it was actually done decently on TV with the 2000 miniseries), and you’ll get the behind-the-scenes treatment of a noble but failed adaptation inside the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Dune towers within the space opera: A genre of sci-fi adventure where pulpy action and plot twists rule the stars, with frequent space and military battles, and streaks of sweeping romance. More space operas from movie history include The Chronicles of Riddick, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element (there’s a literal opera in this), Serenity, and Battle Beyond the Stars, featuring special effects by James Cameron.
We all know about the impact of Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress on George Lucas when thinking up his own space opera, Star Wars. Dune‘s influence fills out the rest. The Force is akin to Dune‘s own all-encompassing mystic system, and Tatooine is essentially a stand-in for Arrakis. So we’re including A New Hope here, even though you’ve already seen it. We hope.
John Carter and Stargate are more in the realm of space fantasies, but the action and arid settings match. Ditto the Earthly, apocalyptic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. While there are obviously better movies in the series, it’s inside Thunderdome where Max is sculpted as a messianic figure, the type of imagery central to the Dune arc.
If space military operations are more your thing, engage with the sleek Ender’s Game, or violent propaganda satire Starship Troopers. And if you like what Dune dishes on ecological and environmental notions (with a potential side of giant sand critters), eat up the hippie-dippie Silent Running along with Hayao Miyazaki’s early masterpiece Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
On animation: The medium has long opened eyes to whole new worlds, like Disney’s underseen Treasure Planet. Or the trippy French classic Fantastic Planet. And even the full-length Daft Punk cosmic fantasy Interstella 5555, produced by Leiji Matsumoto, godfather of the animated space opera. His epic movies like Arcadia of My Youth and the two Galaxy Express films don’t have Tomatometers so we didn’t include them, but they’re currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Adjusted Score: 34123%
Critics Consensus: As an action movie, Riddick offers some thrills, but as a sequel to Pitch Black, it's a disappointment.
On the run from mercenaries, a fugitive (Vin Diesel) lands on a planet endangered by an invading ruler (Colm Feore)... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50557%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Shad of Akir (Richard Thomas) recruits a space cowboy (George Peppard) and other warriors to defend his planet from a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 56213%
Critics Consensus: Stargate has splashy visuals and James Spader to recommend it, but corny characterization and a clunky script makes this a portal to ho-hum.
A portal takes an Egyptologist (James Spader), a colonel (Kurt Russell) and a team of soldiers to another planet with... [More]
Adjusted Score: 61969%
Critics Consensus: While John Carter looks terrific and delivers its share of pulpy thrills, it also suffers from uneven pacing and occasionally incomprehensible plotting and characterization.
Somehow transported to Mars, a war-weary human captain (Taylor Kitsch) becomes embroiled in an epic conflict among the inhabitants of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 54120%
Critics Consensus: This truncated adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterwork is too dry to work as grand entertainment, but David Lynch's flair for the surreal gives it some spice.
Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) leads the fight for vital spice on a desert planet in the year 10191.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72603%
Critics Consensus: If it isn't quite as thought-provoking as the book, Ender's Game still manages to offer a commendable number of well-acted, solidly written sci-fi thrills.
A youth (Asa Butterfield) exhibits an unusual gift that gets him selected for advanced military training to lead Earth's forces... [More]
Adjusted Score: 69480%
Critics Consensus: A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting.
Members of Earth's space fleet (Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards) battle a vicious army of gigantic insects bent... [More]
Adjusted Score: 74038%
Critics Consensus: It doesn't fulfill the potential of its ambitious themes, butSilent Running stands as a decidedly unique type of sci-fi journey marked by intimate character work and a melancholic mood.
A renegade botanist (Bruce Dern) kills his space-station shipmates (Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin) to save his garden of earthly vegetation.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 73869%
Critics Consensus: Though its characterizations are weaker than usual, Treasure Planet offers a fast-paced, beautifully rendered vision of outer space.
Young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) competes with a band of pirates while searching for treasure in outer space.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 74565%
Critics Consensus: Visually inventive and gleefully over the top, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element is a fantastic piece of pop sci-fi that never takes itself too seriously.
A New York City cabdriver (Bruce Willis) tries to save 2259 Earth from impact with an onrushing anti-life force.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77671%
Critics Consensus: The plot is as barebones a space movie will allow, but The Last Starfighter captures an era and eager style of filmmaking well.
The alien inventor (Robert Preston) of a video war-game whisks a teen (Lance Guest) into outer space to play it... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88178%
Critics Consensus: Campy charm and a knowing sense of humor help to overcome a silly plot involving a spacefaring ex-football player, his adoring bevy of groupies, and a supervillain named Ming the Merciless.
The quarterback/space hero (Sam Jones) from Earth fights Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow) on the planet Mongo.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84622%
Critics Consensus: Beyond Thunderdome deepens the Mad Max character without sacrificing the amazing vehicle choreography and stunts that made the originals memorable.
Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) will return Mad Max's (Mel Gibson) camels if he will fight the giant Blaster in a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87880%
Critics Consensus: Snappy dialogue and goofy characters make this Wild Wild West soap opera in space fun and adventurous.
Crew members (Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk) aboard a transport vessel get caught in a deadly conflict in the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 22895%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Adjusted Score: 109189%
Critics Consensus: Visually stunning and narratively satisfying, Blade Runner 2049 deepens and expands its predecessor's story while standing as an impressive filmmaking achievement in its own right.
After discovering a long-buried secret that jeopardizes what's left of society, a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling) embarks on a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89010%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
A princess learns the truth about a toxic forest and battles an evil ruler's plans to destroy it.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93305%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful.
The 39-foot-tall pastel Draags keep leashes on the Oms, their tiny pets descended from humans.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108201%
Critics Consensus: A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same.
Robots and other allies help a youth (Mark Hamill) and a space jockey (Harrison Ford) rescue a rebel princess (Carrie... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102414%
Critics Consensus: Part thoughtful tribute, part bittersweet reminder of a missed opportunity, Jodorowsky's Dune offers a fascinating look at a lost sci-fi legend.
Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky discusses how he would have adapted Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel "Dune" for the big screen.... [More]