"The Giver" hits theaters this week on Friday. The highly anticipated adaptation of the Lois Lowry YA sci-fi classic about a young man who discovers the secret behind his peaceful but drab community stars not one, but two Academy Award-winning actors (along with Grammy-winner Taylor Swift). It’s a story that’s rich with allegory and depth, so it’s no surprise that the project attracted the attention of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, two of the greatest actors of their generation.
They’re hardly the first Oscar-winning actors to dabble in science fiction. For whatever reason—the dramatization of human emotion in a fantastical setting, the practical challenge of working with special effects, a really big paycheck—Hollywood has a long history of casting elite thespians in sci-fi films, despite the fact only a handful of actors have ever won awards for their work in such films.
In recent years, however, more and more actors have gravitated toward sci-fi roles, as the genre moves from the geeky fringe toward the mainstream. Part of this trend has to do with the sheer volume of sci-fi movies being produced now that digital technology can imbue even the most outrageous of environments with a tactile plausibility. But beyond technical innovations (or perhaps because of them), the roles in sci-fi cinema seem to be growing increasingly nuanced and well-constructed, which naturally attracts better actors to the material. In honor of impressive pedigree of "The Giver," here’s a list of seven other sci-fi films that have more than one Oscar-winning actor in their cast.
Gravity - Sandra Bullock & George Clooney
"Gravity" is a tremendous example of how a sci-fi film can succeed on the strength of its cast. Fresh off of her Oscar-winning performance in "The Blind Side," Bullock was perfectly cast as an astronaut who has no choice but to remain calm and focused after an accident leaves her stranded in space. Clooney was similarly well-picked to play the cocksure space cowboy with the experience and demeanor to help her on the mission home. Despite its remarkable visual effects, the film is a really an intimate character study of our indomitable will to live, and it’s hard to see the film succeeding without the talents of its two leads.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Jennifer Lawrence and Philip Seymour Hoffman
"The Hunger Games" movies have become a global phenomena due to a combination of savvy and luck. The film’s producers deserve a lot of credit for casting Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role of Katniss Everdeen before she became the most celebrated young actress in Hollywood. But they also stacked the deck in their favor by surrounding her with a ridiculously talented supporting cast that includes Academy Award nominees Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson, as well as Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the second film, "Catching Fire," all of these actors brought their A-Game to a movie that was going to be a hit regardless of their effort, a credit to director Francis Lawrence, who will also be in charge of the franchise’s final two installments.
Snowpiercer - Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer
The brilliant new movie "Snowpiercer" is well on its way to becoming a cult classic and it’s difficult to see the allegorical sci-fi action film succeeding without the assistance of its Oscar-winning cast. The premise is simple yet powerful: ill-treated passengers at the back of a train carrying the last surviving members of humanity fight their way toward the first-class section at the front. The parallels to the increasing disparity between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else are obvious, but the skilled actors (and the film’s surreal tone) never make the material feel heavy-handed.
Captain America himself, Chris Evans, gives a sensational performance as the leader of the resistance, and Octavia Spencer (who took home the Supporting Actress Oscar in 2012 for "The Help") is very good as a mother fighting to improve her family’s station. But Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) gives the most memorable performance in a film full of them as Mason, an official charged with maintaining order in a closed system. With her outlandish costuming and speech patterns, Swinton gives a wild, committed performance that’s deserving of end-of-the-year recognition.
Contact - Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey
Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Contact, Carl Sagen’s novel about mankind’s first interaction with extraterrestrial life, may not be the best film of his career, but the man is responsible for classics like "Back to the Future," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Forrest Gump," so his “best film” bar is set pretty darn high. Regardless of its ranking in his pantheon, the film is still notable for the casting of Oscar-winner Jodie Foster as a scientist who makes the intergalactic connection of the title, and future Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey as...um, someone. Sorry, it’s been a while and the film’s details are a bit sketchy now (as we said, it’s not Zemeckis’ best).
Virtuosity - Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington
Speaking of underwhelming ‘90s sci-fi, Virtuosity starred Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe as, respectively, a cop and a computer program that’s brought to life embedded with the personality of 183 criminals. As ridiculous as that sounds, the trailer is even more so, with Crowe mugging hard as the bad guy in one of those ‘90s movies whose vision of a virtual-reality-intensive future now looks horribly inaccurate, not mention cheesy.
Mars Attacks - Jack Nicholson and Natalie Portman
Speaking of cheesy, Tim Burton’s "Mars Attacks" is cornier than a Carrot Top show in Nebraska, but in a good way. At the time of its release, the film’s tone -- which slingshots between screwball comedy and surprisingly dark sci-fi -- caught many people off guard but it holds up well, largely on the strength of its ensemble cast, which includes everyone from perennial Oscar-nominee Annette Bening to Danny Devito to NFL legend Jim Brown. A very game Jack Nicholson reunites with his Batman director for the dual roles of hotel impresario Art Land and President James Dale, while Natalie Portman plays the President’s daughter Taffy, one of the few characters to make it out of the film alive.
Cocoon - Jessica Tandy and Don Ameche
One of Ron Howard’s first films, "Cocoon" was a delightfully light 1985 sci-fi movie about a group of seniors who discover that the swimming pool next door to their retirement home makes them feel young again. Uncommonly sweet and sentimental for science fiction, Cocoon is one of the few sci-fi films to produce an Oscar-winning performance, as Don Ameche took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Art Selwyn, leader of the reinvigorated retirees. It also marked the beginning of Jessica Tandy’s late-in-life renaissance that culminated in her Oscar win for "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1990.
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