(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. —Alex Vo
Adjusted Score: 34249%
Critics Consensus: As an action movie, Riddick offers some thrills, but as a sequel to Pitch Black, it's a disappointment.
Galactic criminal Riddick (Vin Diesel) is on the run, with bounty hunters on his tail. He receives guidance from Aereon... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50411%
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: 56238%
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.
In modern-day Egypt, professor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) teams up with retired Army Col. Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) to unlock... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63146%
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.
When Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) mysteriously awakes on the surface of Mars -- also called Barsoom --... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50965%
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.
In the year 10191, a spice called melange is the most valuable substance known in the universe, and its only... [More]
Adjusted Score: 73324%
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.
When hostile aliens called the Formics attack Earth, only the legendary heroics of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) manage to attain... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77238%
Critics Consensus: A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting.
In the distant future, the Earth is at war with a race of giant alien insects. Little is known about... [More]
Adjusted Score: 75500%
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.
After the end of all botanical life on Earth, ecologist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) maintains a greenhouse on a space... [More]
Adjusted Score: 73742%
Critics Consensus: Though its characterizations are weaker than usual, Treasure Planet offers a fast-paced, beautifully rendered vision of outer space.
The legendary "loot of a thousand worlds" inspires an intergalactic treasure hunt when 15-year-old Jim Hawkins stumbles upon a map... [More]
Adjusted Score: 75299%
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.
In the 23rd century, a New York City cabbie, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), finds the fate of the world in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84208%
Critics Consensus: While The Last Starfighter is clearly derivative of other sci-fi franchises, its boundary-pushing visual effects and lovably plucky tone make for an appealing adventure.
After finally achieving the high score on Starfighter, his favorite arcade game, everyday teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) meets the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88229%
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.
Although NASA scientists are claiming the unexpected eclipse and strange "hot hail" are nothing to worry about, Dr. Hans Zarkov... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85745%
Critics Consensus: Beyond Thunderdome deepens the Mad Max character without sacrificing the amazing vehicle choreography and stunts that made the originals memorable.
In the third of the "Mad Max" movies, Max (Mel Gibson) drifts into an evil town ruled by Turner. There... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88863%
Critics Consensus: Snappy dialogue and goofy characters make this Wild Wild West soap opera in space fun and adventurous.
In this continuation of the television series "Firefly," a group of rebels travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 112753%
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.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91172%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world's ecosystem, the few surviving humans live... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93910%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful.
This animated tale follows the relationship between the small human-like Oms and their much larger blue-skinned oppressors, the Draags, who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108827%
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.
The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103036%
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]