(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 Gameor 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.

#20
#20
Adjusted Score: 34904%
Critics Consensus: As an action movie, Riddick offers some thrills, but as a sequel to Pitch Black, it's a disappointment.
Synopsis: Galactic criminal Riddick (Vin Diesel) is on the run, with bounty hunters on his tail. He receives guidance from Aereon... [More]
Directed By: David Twohy

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 50284%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Shad of Akir (Richard Thomas) recruits a space cowboy (George Peppard) and other warriors to defend his planet from a... [More]
Directed By: Jimmy T. Murakami

#18

Stargate (1994)
53%

#18
Adjusted Score: 55721%
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.
Synopsis: In modern-day Egypt, professor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) teams up with retired Army Col. Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) to unlock... [More]
Directed By: Roland Emmerich

#17

John Carter (2012)
52%

#17
Adjusted Score: 61244%
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.
Synopsis: When Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) mysteriously awakes on the surface of Mars -- also called Barsoom --... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Stanton

#16

Dune (1984)
43%

#16
Adjusted Score: 48178%
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.
Synopsis: In the year 10191, a spice called melange is the most valuable substance known in the universe, and its only... [More]
Directed By: David Lynch

#15

Ender's Game (2013)
62%

#15
Adjusted Score: 71068%
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.
Synopsis: When hostile aliens called the Formics attack Earth, only the legendary heroics of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) manage to attain... [More]
Directed By: Gavin Hood

#14
#14
Adjusted Score: 70084%
Critics Consensus: A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting.
Synopsis: In the distant future, the Earth is at war with a race of giant alien insects. Little is known about... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven

#13

Silent Running (1972)
71%

#13
Adjusted Score: 72857%
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.
Synopsis: After the end of all botanical life on Earth, ecologist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) maintains a greenhouse on a space... [More]
Directed By: Douglas Trumbull

#12

Treasure Planet (2002)
69%

#12
Adjusted Score: 73658%
Critics Consensus: Though its characterizations are weaker than usual, Treasure Planet offers a fast-paced, beautifully rendered vision of outer space.
Synopsis: The legendary "loot of a thousand worlds" inspires an intergalactic treasure hunt when 15-year-old Jim Hawkins stumbles upon a map... [More]
Directed By: John Musker, Ron Clements

#11
#11
Adjusted Score: 74084%
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.
Synopsis: In the 23rd century, a New York City cabbie, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), finds the fate of the world in... [More]
Directed By: Luc Besson

#10
#10
Adjusted Score: 77138%
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.
Synopsis: After finally achieving the high score on Starfighter, his favorite arcade game, everyday teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) meets the... [More]
Directed By: Nick Castle

#9

Flash Gordon (1980)
83%

#9
Adjusted Score: 87135%
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.
Synopsis: Although NASA scientists are claiming the unexpected eclipse and strange "hot hail" are nothing to worry about, Dr. Hans Zarkov... [More]
Directed By: Mike Hodges

#8
Adjusted Score: 83971%
Critics Consensus: Beyond Thunderdome deepens the Mad Max character without sacrificing the amazing vehicle choreography and stunts that made the originals memorable.
Synopsis: In the third of the "Mad Max" movies, Max (Mel Gibson) drifts into an evil town ruled by Turner. There... [More]

#7

Serenity (2005)
82%

#7
Adjusted Score: 88354%
Critics Consensus: Snappy dialogue and goofy characters make this Wild Wild West soap opera in space fun and adventurous.
Synopsis: In this continuation of the television series "Firefly," a group of rebels travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship,... [More]
Directed By: Joss Whedon

#6
Adjusted Score: 23364%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Leiji Matsumoto

#5
#5
Adjusted Score: 120782%
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.
Synopsis: Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has... [More]
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

#4
Adjusted Score: 89248%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world's ecosystem, the few surviving humans live... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

#3

Fantastic Planet (1973)
91%

#3
Adjusted Score: 90532%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful.
Synopsis: This animated tale follows the relationship between the small human-like Oms and their much larger blue-skinned oppressors, the Draags, who... [More]
Directed By: René Laloux

#2
Adjusted Score: 105728%
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.
Synopsis: The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in... [More]
Directed By: George Lucas

#1
#1
Adjusted Score: 101686%
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.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky discusses how he would have adapted Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel "Dune" for the big screen.... [More]
Directed By: Frank Pavich

There aren’t a whole lot of brand new titles available to stream this week, save for an anime reboot on Hulu and an indie documentary on a celebrated cult director and the conceptually incredible film he never made. Other than that, though, we’ve got a number of decent choices on Netflix and Crackle, so have a look:


Jodorowsky’s Dune
98%

This Certified Fresh documentary is the story of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambitious (but unrealized) attempt to craft a sci-fi masterpiece.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes


Sailor Moon Crystal

The venerable anime series is getting a swanky new reboot for its 20th anniversary.

Available now on: Hulu


Invasion of the Body Snatchers
98%

Don Siegel’s alegorical sci-fi thriller remains a potent study in paranoia; it’s the stroy of a small-town doctor who begins to notice that his fellow citizens aren’t acting like themselves lately.

Available now on: Netflix


Crimson Tide
88%

Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman square off in Tony Scott’s tense action thriller set aboard a nuclear submarine.

Available now on: Netflix


The Believer
83%

Ryan Gosling made a splash in this drama about a neo-Nazi skinhead who’s secretly Jewish.

Available now on: Netflix


The Manchurian Candidate
80%

Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep star in Jonathan Demme’s remake of John Frankenheimer’s classic thriller, which shifts the focus from the military to the world of multinational conglomerates.

Available now on: Netflix


Bad Santa
78%

Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac star in this riotous, vulgar yuletide comedy about a misanthropic, alcoholic shopping mall Santa.

Available now on: Netflix


Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
77%

Rick Moranis stars in this family adventur about an absent-minded professor who inadvertently shrinks a group of kids to microscopic size.

Available now on: Netflix


The Stand

Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Ruby Dee, Rob Lowe and many more star in this 1994 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s apocalyptic sci-fi drama.

Available now on: Netflix


The Pursuit of Happyness
67%

Will and Jaden Smith star in this inspirational drama about a homeless single father trying to climb the corporate ladder.

Available now on: Crackle

The biggest film available in home video this week comes in the form of Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, but the smaller releases may warrant more attention. These include a Certified Fresh follow-up to an Indonesian action hit, an erotic two-part drama from Lars von Trier, and a documentary on one of the greatest movies never made, among others. Read on for details:



Bad Words

65%

After years of playing the put-upon straight man in everything from Arrested Development to last year’s Identity Thief, Jason Bateman made his directorial debut with Bad Words and cast himself as the primary purveyor of the film’s titular profanities. Guy Trilby (Bateman) is a middle school dropout who discovers a loophole in the rulebook of a national spelling bee and promptly enters, seeking to make a mockery of the competition. What he didn’t count on was the presence of Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a 10-year-old fellow speller who endears himself to Guy and soaks up his bad habits. Critics were fairly kind to Bad Words, rewarding Bateman’s first effort behind the camera with a 64% Tomatometer and calling the film funny and gleefully amoral. Special features on the disc include a commentary, some deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.



The Raid 2

82%

Gareth Evans scored a surprise hit with 2012’s The Raid, an inventive Indonesian actioner, so when a sequel was announced, fans were eager to see if the feat could be repeated; as it turned out, The Raid 2 came pretty close. Set just moments after the end of the first film, the sequel picks up with Jakarta cop Rama (Iko Uwais), who is asked to join a task force to expose the corrupt police commissioner. Rama soon discovers that a larger criminal organization is pulling the strings, and he must go undercover as an underworld thug to end the threat to his family. Critics found The Raid 2 a worthy successor to the adrenaline-fueled first installment, with plenty of thrilling sequences and gritty action, though they agreed its hyperviolence might appeal most to genre aficionados. The Blu-ray comes with a handful of making-of featurettes and a deleted scene, among other things.



Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II

76%

There are two points few will argue against when it comes to Danish director Lars von Trier: he is quite demanding of his lead actresses, and he is not one to shy away from controversy. Cue the film provocatively titled Nymphomaniac, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. The framing device is a chance encounter between an aging bachelor (Stellan Skarsgård) and the woman (Gainsbourg) he finds beaten in an alley; over the course of 240-plus minutes split into two films, the woman recounts her lustful, graphic history of nymphomania to the man as he tends to her wounds. Critics had slightly different things to say about Volume I and Volume II of the film (the former of which is Certified Fresh at 75%), but most agreed that Gainsbourg’s performance and von Trier’s bold, unique vision make the saga worth a watch. Each volume is available for purchases separately, but they’re also being released in a single package, along with interviews with Gainsbourg, Skarsgård, and co-stars Shia LaBeouf and Stacy Martin, and a Q&A with a few of the cast members.



Jodorowsky’s Dune

98%

Once upon a time, Alejandro Jodorowsky — director of cult favorites like The Holy Mountain and El Topo — had his hands on the rights to Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune. Though the book did eventually make it to the screen (where it unfortunately bombed) in the hands of David Lynch, Jodorowsky’s vision for the film included music by Pink Floyd, art design by H.R. Giger and Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius), and Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and Orson Welles in the cast. Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune explores the inception and ultimate doom of the film that never was, utilizing interviews with Jodorowsky himself, Giraud’s storyboards, and Giger’s character designs to offer an interpretation of what could have been. Critics raved about Jodorowsky’s Dune to the tune of a Certified Fresh 99% on the Tomatometer, calling it both a loving tribute to the filmmaker and a bittersweet examination of the inner workings of Hollywood. The only special features of note are a series of deleted scenes from the film, but this is probably a worthy pickup for any Jodorowsky fans.

Also available this week:

  • Roger Michell’s Certified Fresh Le Week-End (89%), starring Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan in a drama about a long-married couple trying to rekindle their romance in Paris.
  • Maidentrip (81%), a documentary about 14-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker’s quest to be the youngest person to sail around the world alone.
  • Watermark (80%), a documentary exploring the relationship we share with water all around the world.
  • Stage Fright (33%), a musical horror comedy about a mysterious killer who stalks his victims at a performing arts camp.
  • There’s a new Blu-ray release of the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (76%), which includes a lengthy retrospective featurette from 1993.
  • And lastly, there’s also a rerelease of the 1967 crime thriller Point Blank (97%), starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, which includes a commentary track with director John Boorman and Steven Soderbergh.

 

This week at the movies, we’ve got individuality under attack (Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet) and Kermit under lock and key (Muppets Most Wanted, starring Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey). What do the critics have to say?



Divergent

41%

Based on a series of popular young adult novels, Divergent is a sci-fi allegory about the dangers of conformity. Ironically, critics say the biggest problem with the film is that it borrows too heavily from the likes of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, leaving its terrific cast stranded in a sea of exposition. In a dystopian future, teenagers are forced to chose one of five factions with which they’ll associate for life. However, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) doesn’t fit neatly into any one group, and her independent streak makes her a target when two rival tribes prepare for war. The pundits say Woodley gives a star-making performance, and her supporting cast is top-notch, but Divergent is too grim and jumbled to fully resonate. (Check out our gallery of co-star Kate Winslet in some of her most memorable roles.)



Muppets Most Wanted

80%

“Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” sing Kermit and Fozzie in the opening scene of Muppets Most Wanted. The operative word here is “quite,” for the critics say that while this caper comedy lacks the breezy charm of The Muppets, it’s got enough laughs and catchy tunes to entertain in its own right. Hot off their successful reunion show, the Muppets decide to take their act on the road, but things quickly go amiss when they sign up with a fast-talking booking agent (Ricky Gervais) who’s in league with a wanted criminal mastermind — and who looks exactly like Kermit the Frog. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Muppets Most Wanted maintains the anarchic spirit of the Muppets, and if the story isn’t as strong this time out, the rapid-fire gags are reliably witty and inventive. (Check out our video interviews with the cast, as well as our rundown of the best films from the Jim Henson Company.)

Also opening this week in limited release:

Finally, props to Vicente Torres and Nat Brautigam for coming the closest to guessing The Single Moms Club‘s 17 percent Tomatometer.

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