5 sci-fi movies set before the 20th century

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Science fiction has long been one of the most revisited film genres. While one could probably think of a utopian or dystopian future when imagining science fiction films, sometimes these films do not focus on the future. Sometimes science fiction movies are set in the distant past.

Numbers from the past can often reveal revealing things about the future. When sci-fi movies are at their best, the contrast between what actually exists and what might be there can be a great movie. This idea becomes even more powerful when used to look at humanity’s past in a different light.

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No matter what that might look like, it’s not a cheat. Without taking into account the fabric defined in 1985, Back to the future part 3 set firmly in 1885. This second sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi stories ever told follows Doc Brown and Marty McFly as they try to find a way out of their freshly degassed Delorean from the Old West and our days 1985. Although considered a disappointment at the time, Part III has only grown in stature since then and is considered by some to be their favorite of the series.

With a cast including the return of Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson, as well as Mary Steenburgen, the acting here is as good as ever. The Old West setting sets the stage for several memorable action scenes, and the love story between the characters of Lloyd and Steenburgen provides the final character arc for Doc Brown in a heartfelt and touching way.

Although heavily telegraphed in Back to the future II, it’s surprising how well the cast and tone fit into the landscape of 1885. Back to the future part 3 is an oft-forgotten sci-fi action comedy that has more than its fair share of laughs, thrills, and even emotional punches. Seeing as BTTF recently found itself in the cultural zeitgeist, there is a chance that the public will see the future, the present and the past sooner.



Le-Prestige-Hugh-Jackman-Christian-Bale

One of Christopher Nolan’s most perplexing thrillers, Prestige, is a wonderful example of how to successfully weave futuristic ideas into past narratives. The 2006 film is about a war between two magicians, “Robert Angier” by Hugh Jackman and “Alfred Bordon” by Christian Bale. After one of the magician’s partners / lovers dies in a trick related accident, both magicians will stop at nothing to prove that one is better than the other. With an absolutely stacked cast including Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson and even David Bowie, Prestige is a banger from a movie. Prestige Always worth a visit, especially when waiting for the time until the next major release of Nolan.


A sadly twisted image, Prestige begins with a fantastic narration from Caine that provides sufficient foreshadowing for events to come and never lets go. As the two stars attempt to face each other in increasingly dangerous and entertaining ways, the fabric of the film’s reality begins to be called into question. Bale and Jackman are at their peak here.

It can be extremely difficult to choose a side between the two, as the two magicians each make despicable efforts to prove their worth. With one of the greatest twist ends of all time, Prestige merges its sci-fi attributes with its period setting to create something magical and eerie at the same time.




cowboys and aliens

Cinema loves the Wild West. While there was a time when the western was considered dead, the 2000s brought the genre back with a vengeance. Right now, in any red box across the country, there are countless live-action western movies on DVD that likely feature Trace Adkins, Danny Trejo, or both.

Sometimes, however, Hollywood makes a genre movie that looks like something that would typically skip theaters and budget it with a big budget to boot. Jon Favreau’s 2011 film Cowboys and aliens that’s just it. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford join forces here as two westerners who reluctantly join forces to save a city from dangerous aliens.


Fresh out of the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau apparently didn’t have anywhere to go until when 2011 rolled around. When cowboys bombarded, however, the box office has proven that appearances can be deceiving. While the movie made little to no money, it’s still a perfectly enjoyable quirk of a movie. Amplifying the Western setting with a mega-budget and an absolutely insane cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Olivia Wilde, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins and Wyatt Russell, Cowboys and aliens is certainly a guilty pleasure. At the very least, the film paired James Bond and Han Solo together for the first and only time, so there you go.



the cropped fountain

Darren Aronofsky is one of Hollywood’s most unpredictable filmmakers. A purveyor of dark and desolate worlds, it seemed fitting that he played with the vanities of time and love in a way that transcends the pure darkness in the 2006s. Fountain. This film, inspired by HG Wells and HP Lovecraft, takes place in three timelines and deals with the pursuit of a man’s love and the denial of fate through time. It stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz who was, at the time, fresh out of her Oscar win for The constant gardener.

While Fountain didn’t break any North American box office records, it is nonetheless considered by some to be a minor science fiction classic. With jaw-dropping cinematography and engaged performances from its cast, it’s a mind-blowing film that, without reaching the heights it has set for itself, remains a reasonably effective treatise on time and love. Aronofsky has never been less than interesting, and with Fountain, he’s proven he can take a relatively large budget and produce an entertaining and stimulating film that doesn’t take the easy route.



cloud atlas

Based on the 2004 novel, 2012’s Cloud Atlas is considered by some to be a disaster and by others as a masterpiece of science fiction. The film, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis (one of whom has been quite busy lately), is a massive story spanning six eras and revolving around a cast of esteemed actors who play different characters (and sometimes different races and genders) in each story. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and many more make up the cast. The independently budgeted $ 100 million film hit the box office with just $ 130 million gross, but remains a favorite for those who enjoy twisted sci-fi with a literary edge.


With stories set from 1849 to 2321, the plot can be difficult to follow at times. To consider that Tykwer and the Wachowskis were able to make a three-hour watchable film based on a 600-page book is something of a miracle in itself. Play as a visual test, Cloud Atlas tackles the themes of love, revolt, fate and the passing of time by telling six distinct stories that all intertwine in one way or another. If this sounds like a massive undertaking, it is.

The cast, combined with the incredible visuals and unforgettable score, help create a sensational masterpiece that’s hard to forget once the full scope and purpose is understood. Cloud Atlas is a woefully underrated sci-fi classic that deserves a reassessment.

MORE: 5 Underrated Sci-Fi Movies From The 2000s


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