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2000: The Best Science-Fiction, Horror, & Fantasy Films

The final year of the millennium falls short, despite some entertaining films.

By Steve Biodrowski     January 04, 2001

Well, the millennium ended not with a bang but a whimperat least in theatres, that is. The year 2000 gave us numerous enjoyable, even sometimes admirable films (including Gladiator and Erin Brokovich), but in the genres of science-fiction, horror, and fantasy, there were few if any outstanding and original efforts. This stood in sharp contrast to 1999, when any of my Top Five picks would have been good enough to designate as the Best of the Year. Sure, there were some good ones, even great ones, in 2000, but coming up with a Top Ten list required some stretching. Normally, I try to stick relatively close to the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which requires that a film play a one-week, continuous run in Los Angeles to be eligible, but I will also include any film that played even a single performance for a paying, general audience (in other words, you didn't have to be an industry insider to see it). Additionally, I'm including one re-released film that was altered enough for me to consider it 'new,' if only for the sake of finding ten worthy entries. (These titles are designated with an asterisk.) Under the circumstances, I've opted to list the pics in alphabetical order this year, rather than trying to arrange them from one to ten.


Charlie's Angels: This film was easily the most exile rating, simple-mind fun of the year. The plot is almost nothing, but the performances, humor, and incredible martial arts action turn this into a fantasy-romp worth viewing, even if (like me) you have nothing but contempt for the old television series. This lacks the depth of emotion that made critics respond to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; otherwise, it is equally deserving of year-end praise.

Chicken Run: Great fun and great artistry from Aardman Animations, the company that brought us the Wallace and Gromit short films. Their first feature-length film is a technical tour-de-force of stop-motion animation, but it also has a great script and vocal performances. The level of inventiveness stops just short of matching their Oscar-winning shorts The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, but that's about the only standard by which one might find fault with the film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Hong Kong-style Fant-Asia martial arts action goes mainstream in this epic romance that combines two tragic love stories with warriors who leap tall buildings at a single bound. Truthfully, it is not as much fun as Charlie's Angels, but then Charlie's Angels won't move you to tears the way this film does. In spite of all its grand qualities, this film is not quite a match for the Hong Kong films it emulates; nevertheless, it is an excellent attempt to take those themes and style of those films and present them to a wider audience.

*The Exorcist: It's over a quarter of a century old, but this, the greatest horror film of all time, got a recent refurbishment that brought it closer in line with the intention of its author, William Peter Blatty. The changes were in some case negligible; in other cases, they were clearly improvements that added some depth and resonance. The very presence of this film in theatres showed how week were the year's new entries in the horror genre.

Fantasia 2000: Disney's belated follow-up to their classic Fantasia is shorter, smoother, and in many ways better, thanks to some humorous interstitial segments that replace the ponderous narration of the original. The segments themselves are often grand and beautiful, although some of them don't quite live up to the standards one expects. But then that's true of all anthology films, and the good segments here far more than makeup for the ever so slightly disappointing ones.

*Godzilla Vs. Destroyer: Godzilla 2000 was the first theatrically release of a Godzilla film in the U.S. since Godzilla 1985, but it couldn't match the excitement of seeing Godzilla Vs. Destroyer makes its U.S. theatrical debut courtesy of the American Cinematheque's Japanese Science Fiction and Monster Film Weekend at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. This 1995 film is probably the best of the '90s Godzilla films (some would opt for 1993's Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla), so its belated appearance on an American movie screen is worth acknowledging.

The Ninth Gate: Roman Polanski delivers another of his patented, artfully crafted thrillers. The film is perhaps a bit too deliberately paced, but more often than not this approach pays off with a slowly building sense of escalating tension and mystery. After all that buildup, the ending is almost inevitably a disappointment, but the journey is worth taking for fans of thoughtful, sophisticated horror films.

*Ring: Another benefit of the American Cinematheque's Japanese Science-Fiction and Monster Film Weekend was this excellent horror film from Japan, about a haunted videotape. As silly as that sounds, the film itself is a wonderfully creepy exercise in dread, filled with a mystery that keeps the plot rolling there is no immediate onscreen threat. In fact, the film is structured almost like a compact short story, with a teaser opening that grabs attention and sets up expectations, which are then milked to a climax for the rest of the running time while the characters rush to prevent a recurrence of the opening events.

Space Cowboys: Barely science fiction, but half of it's set in space, so who cares? This Clint Eastwood film is filled with great characterization and dialogue, and the premise (four old, would-be astronauts are finally given their chance to go into outer space) is unbeatable. Some of the plot mechanics are a bit clunky, but the cast is engaging enough so that you fall into the story and suspend your disbelief. Overall, this is a good crowd-pleaser with the best Hollywood virtues: productions values, star power, solid story-telling, and bigger-than-life entertainment.

X-Men: A second viewing reveals that this film is not as filled with exciting action as it should be, but at least is has a level of integrity missing from most comics-to-film adaptations. The story works; there is a genuine attempt at believable characterizations; and the cast treats it seriously enough to make you believe what's happening. If too much of the running time is spent on exposition, wellhey, there setting up the franchise, so maybe next time they can hit the ground running. In any case, this is fun, good-looking movie that delivers what you'd expect from a superhero story (special effects, stunts, superpowers), and also has an idea or two lurking between the lines, and isn't that what good pop entertainment is all about?


Most of the films that made it into the Top Ten this year would have been more likely to fall into this category last year, so it would be really a stretch to include many titles here. Still, I would like to say that Toho's revival of the world's most famous radioactive dinosaur in Godzilla 2000 did a fine job of serving up the requisite kaiju action, with improved CGI effects enhancing the old suit-mation technique; if the pacing and story had been a little better, and if the American dubbing weren't so camply, this film might have had a shot at the Top Ten in a weak year like this one. Additionally, Scream 3 turned out better than I expected; Bedazzled had its moments; and the opening sequence of Disney's Dinosaur was really great.


The Exorcist might have qualified for this award, but the version released isn't really a restoration; it's a new, revamped version. So instead I'm giving the nod to yet another film screened at the American Cinematheque's Science-Fiction and Monster Film Weekend, Gojira, the 1954 masterpiece that was Americanized into Godzilla, King of the Monsters, thanks to the addition of new footage featuring Raymond Burr. Technically, this was not the film's U.S. theatrical premier (there have been some rare screenings in the past), so unlike Godzilla Vs. Destroyer, this didn't qualify for inclusion in this year's Top Ten. But it was a brand-new print, courtesy of Toho Studios, and it did serve to remind viewers that, despite Godzilla's campy reputation in this country, the original film stands as a start, moody, and effective indictment of the horrors of nuclear war.


Neither Hollow Man nor even Mission to Mars turned out to be the worst film of the year, but if you measure them in terms of talent versus results, they were the most disappointing. Directors Paul Verhoeven and Brian DePalma are capable of giving us so much better. Maybe somebody should slap some sense into both of them, then find them some good scripts to direct.


In any other year, Dungeons & Dragons would walk away with this award hands down. Fortunately for that misbegotten effects travesty, this is the year that saw release of Lost Souls, easily one of the most ridiculous movies ever made. This silly exorcism extravaganza's only value seemed to be in making us appreciate the re-release of The Exorcist even more.


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