12 Movies That Left the Real World Behind in 2017

7:45 AM 12/26/2017

by Katie Kilkenny

This year, fantasy and sci-fi films brought viewers to a casino planet, a paradisiacal island inhabited only by women and a virtual jungle.

'Ghost in the Shell,' 'Blade Runner 2049,' 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
'Ghost in the Shell,' 'Blade Runner 2049,' 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Courtesy of Warner Bros.; Courtesy of Disney

Perhaps it's no coincidence that in a moment of intense political polarization, some of the highest-grossing films of 2017 were set in other galaxies, fictional lands and parallel worlds, including Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The fantasy and sci-fi films that envisioned other futures, pasts and realms this year provided relief from the news cycle, social media and dinner-table debates to offer a glimpse into conflicts that were far worse, or just different. These films took us to claustrophobic spaceships, an idyllic island populated only by women and futuristic cities with hologram companions, among other settings. Some of their ideas reflect our times and some seem, marvelously and idiosyncratically, to come out of nowhere. See the 2017 films that took moviegoers to other planets and fictional places below.

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    Release date: Dec. 15

    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    A casino planet. A spaceship throne room. A gnarled tree housing a secret Jedi library. These are just some of the many places that the sprawling Star Wars: The Last Jedi transported viewers to this year. Originally, The Last Jedi was going to take viewers on an even grander tour of the series’ far, far away galaxy: As production designer Rick Heinrichs told The Hollywood Reporter, the production cut the number of sets from 160 to 125. The finished product still explores four planets, and spends plenty of time with characters sneaking across massive aircrafts and rocketing through space.

  • Thor: Ragnarok

    Release date: Nov. 3

    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    Sick of political infighting in the U.S.? Check out the ruling-class drama in the Thor movies. Thor: Ragnarok begins on the titular character’s home planet — the superhero’s sister is coming home after being imprisoned for millennia in another realm — but soon relocates the action. When Thor crash-lands on the planet Sakaar, he is quickly imprisoned and catches the eye of the planet’s dictator, the Grandmaster, who likes to stage gladiator battles and wear colorful face paint. Adventures with old friends, new warriors, wormholes and bounty hunters ensue. 

  • Life

    Release date: May 26


    Trying to explain the popularity of horror movies in 2017, some critics have suggested Americans wanted to put their own anxieties in perspective this year. Life offered one such reality check. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, Life is about a mysterious life form from Mars terrorizing the crew of a claustrophobic spaceship. "The picture struggles to find a satisfying rhythm as the members of this multinational, co-ed team get slooshed up by [the alien] or suffer related lethal mishaps," THR critic John DeFore wrote in his review.

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

    Release date: July 21

    Courtesy of STXfilms and EuropaCorp

    Luc Besson’s $180 million passion project wasn’t exactly beloved by critics, but it's still in line for an Oscar for visual effects. Set in the 28th century, and featuring a story that hops between planets, spaceships and dimensions, the movie features 2,355 visual effects shots, 600 more than 2016's Rogue One. (The story is based on a 1970s graphic novel, Valerian and Laureline.) 

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    Release date: April 19

    Courtesy of Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    No Marvel movie characters have as many frequent-flyer miles as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the ragtag team who first united to fight intergalactic crime in 2014. In their second big-screen outing, the Guardians are running from a band of aliens (also their former employers) when they end up on a planet ruled by Ego, the biological father of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). An anthropomorphized tree (Baby Groot) and a talking raccoon (Rocket Raccoon) are back this time around, as is the franchise’s oldies soundtrack, which provides some familiar musical accompaniment to the otherwise otherworldly premise.

  • Alien: Covenant

    Release date: May 19

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Humans are searching for a hospitable planet to inhabit in the latest installment of Ridley Scott's Alien franchise, which follows a ship filled with 2,000 human passengers — many couples — and 1,140 embryos headed for a distant planet where they can rebuild the human species. But when a space storm damages the ship, the humans settle for a lush nearby world filled with forests, lakes and violent aliens instead. THR's Todd McCarthy called Alien: Covenant "the most satisfying entry in the six-films-and-counting franchise since the first two."

  • Wonder Woman

    Release date: June 2

    Alex Bailey/Warner Bros.

    In the world of Wonder Woman, Diana Prince's — aka Wonder Woman's — island home, Themyscira, is shrouded by storms and a mysterious force field to keep humans away. In reality, the island's scenes were shot on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and as a result feature dramatic, craggy cliffs, turquoise oceans and lush fields. The country's architecture, created by production designer Aline Bonetto, mixes Greek and Italian influences; and women, so often relegated to less powerful roles in Hollywood, rule the island. In the midst of #MeToo revelations in the real world, Themyscira provides an escape from the patriarchy.

  • Kong: Skull Island

    Release date: Feb. 28

    Warner Bros.

    The eponymous setting of Kong: Skull Island is, John Goodman's character says at the beginning of the film, "a place where myth and science meet." Surrounded by storms and fog in a previously unexplored part of the Pacific Ocean (at least, within the movie's mythos), Skull Island is home to massive lizards, spiders, squids and bats. For those who are extra-curious about the fictive island, check out the movie's comic-book spinoff Skull Island: The Birth of Kong.

  • Blade Runner 2049

    Release date: Oct. 6

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    The original Blade Runner was a world-building pioneer, inspiring the design of many sci-fi films that followed. Denis Villeneuve's follow-up Blade Runner 2049 similarly conjures a new and strange but also familiar world: In the dystopian future it predicts, giant holograms advertise robots that offer humans company; the sky on the outskirts of Los Angeles glows a violent shade of yellow during the day; and the "snow" falling from the sky might also be ash. Right now, that latter vision seems prescient, given the current air quality on California's Central Coast, ravaged by the Thomas wildfire.

  • Ghost in the Shell

    Release date: March 31

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

    Ghost in the Shell's ideas have so infiltrated the look and substance of science-fiction movies since the mid-1990s that they are almost cliché, as Dan Gvozden wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. Some of the original 1995 film's images, like "raining" numbers representing cyberspace and humans plugging themselves into computers via holes on the back of their necks, appeared in the Matrix trilogy. James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, fans of the 1995 film, also explored avatars and existential questions about robots in Avatar and AI: Artificial Intelligence, respectively. In the new film, the hero Major's city "looks like Tokyo swallowed a bottle of growth hormones and went on a shopping spree at Best Buy," as The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy wrote in his review.

  • The Dark Tower

    Release date: July 31

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures

    Remember that other Stephen King movie this year? The Dark Tower, derived from King's series of the same name, envisions a parallel, postapocalyptic world where magic has all but replaced technology and society as we know it has seemingly fallen apart, giving way to a world that looks like the American West. Our hero (played by Idris Elba) is looking to reach a giant tower that holds the universe together. (King has said his universe was inspired by The Lord of the Rings' Middle-earth.)

  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

    Release date: Dec. 20

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures

    Talk about silver-screen escapism: In the second Jumanji movie, a bunch of teens get sucked into a video game they're playing and turn into their avatars — played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. Some character lessons ensue, as THR's Todd McCarthy wrote in his review, but so do lighter pleasures, such as heroics in the jungle and fights with giant predators. For viewers who can't get enough of the challenges that await characters in the world of Jumanji, Sony Pictures Virtual Reality's Jumanji: The VR Adventure, released to coincide with the movie, allows fans to create characters, build teams and try jungle exploration out for themselves.

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