Our Favorites: Clones!
Thanks to this week’s release of Blade Runner 2049, we look back at our favorite movies featuring clones, replicants, and other human facsimiles.
Clones attack the box office again this week, but you needn’t run for the hills. While Star Wars may have poisoned the vat when it came to cloned humans in movies, recent gems like Moon, Jurassic World and Blade Runner 2049 have returned the science fiction staple to prominence. 30 years after the first Blade Runner, we’re still fascinated by the concept of creating life and copying ourselves for posterity. From cheesy action fests like the Resident Evil franchise, to thoughtful explorations of what it means to be human such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, clones are a fixture of our popular imagination that still resonate. Looking back over forty years worth of films, we’ve selected our favorite pod people and replicants from cinematic history.
Our Favorite Clone Movies.
Best Cloned Actor.
Nominees: Hugh Jackman (The Prestige), Sam Rockwell (Moon), Ewan MacGregor (The Island), Peter Gallagher (Brave New World).
Winner: Sam Rockwell – Moon.
This category was hard to fill with nominees. There have been many fantastic movies about cloning featuring excellent performances, but the stand-out role is rarely the replicant. Sam Neill in Jurassic Park, Peter Fonda in Future World, and Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers each turned in memorable performances…but they were just plain old humans. We’re celebrating clones, so our best actor needs to be playing one.
When it comes to truly great performances from an actor playing an artificial duplicate, there’s nobody close to Sam Rockwell’s eye-opening turn as a scientifically engineered astronaut in 2009’s sleeper Moon. For those who haven’t seen this flick, it is a real treat. The film is quiet and full of subtlety, yet also capable of grabbing you by the collar and shaking you. Throughout it all, Rockwell turns in a virtuoso showing. It’s available for short money on Prime and well worth your time.
Best Cloned Actress.
Nominees: Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas), Franke Potente (Blueprint), Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go), Sean Young (Blade Runner.)
Winner: Franke Potente – Blueprint.
Our winner in this category is also from a much less famous movie, Blueprint. A German film that went under most radars, Blueprint is notable mainly for its ambitious premise, intimate presentation, and excellent performance by Franke Potente.
In Blueprint, a famous musician is struck down by an illness that will eventually rob her of her career. Desperate to avoid her fate, the young woman has a maverick researcher help her to cheat destiny – by impregnating her with an ovum containing her exact genetic duplicate. The world’s first clone grows up in the public eye, always assuming it is because of her famous mother until one day she learns the horrible truth.
Potente plays both the mother and grown daughter, a dual role where she must confront the implications of her character’s actions from both sides. As such, she is riveting. As the two identical women spiral around each other, we see an nurturing relationship turn adversarial in a poignant metaphor for parenthood and adolescent rebellion.
Best Cloned Villain.
Nominees: Bobba Fett – Various (Star Wars), Natasha Henstridge (Species), Tom Hardey (Star Trek: Nemesis), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner.)
Winner: Rutger Hauer – Blade Runner.
Let’s face it: when it comes to movies about dopplegangers and duplicates, the villain is usually the choice role. I could have rattled off dozens of memorable baddies who were raised in a test tube. Heck, I’m kind of chagrined that I didn’t put the T-Rex from Jurassic Park on the list! As you can see, the competition was fierce.
Kind of like our look at comic book villains, there were lots of good bad guys, but only one worthy of the top spot. As Nate said in his review of Blade Runner 2049, the original film is dominated by Rutger Hauer’s version of a replicant starring down his mortality – and deciding to take as many of the people who created him along with him. He’s at moments brooding, expansive, suave, and sadistic, even grandiloquent when it finally comes time for him to die. One thing he mostly avoids becoming is a cartoon caricature. Yes, he’s over the top at times, but he always feels grounded and driven by a purpose we can understand and even empathize with. The best baddies are our own reflections in a dirty mirror, and this cloned malcontent is very much our darker half.
Best Cloned Hero/Heroine.
Nominees: Karl Urban (Dredd), Arnold Schwarzenegger (The 6th Day), Sigourney Weaver (Alien: Resurrection), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil).
Winner: Karl Urban – Dredd.
While we had an abundance of excellent villains, we suffer from a dearth of memorable heroes. The stigma around clones and cloning rubs off on casting departments, meaning you rarely want your A list celebrity playing a science experiment. As such, we’re really forced to pick from the least awful alternatives. Of course, since the role of a cloned protagonist is usually associated with schlock, we often get to pick choose from characters in movies so bad they’re good.
Ellen Ripley is a fantastic character played with real aplomb by Sigourney Weaver…but Alien: Resurrection has got to be the low point of the Alien franchise (despite all the things I said about Alien: Covenant!) Likewise, Milla Jovovich has had some good moments as Alice in the Resident Evil franchise -okay, maybe in just the first movie – but she’s hard to root for in such bad movies. I like The 6th Day, but not particularly for Arnie’s character, which is pretty bog standard Schwarzenegger fare. That leaves us with Judge Dredd…no, not the Stallone version. The good version.
Dredd is an underappreciated and smart action flick. It has style by the mile, interesting visual elements, and exciting action sequences. I especially loved the dynamic between the stodgy Judge Dredd and his rookie partner, played by Olivia Thirlby. They’re rapport was so good that it kills me this movie won’t get a sequel unless Karl Urban can pull a Ryan Reynolds and put the studio execs feet to the fire. While the Stallone film made it explicit that Dredd is a clone while this film ignored it, it is cannon, so Karl Urban wins this category.
Best Clone Comedy.
Nominees: Sleeper, Multiplicity, Twins.
Clones get played for laughs fairly infrequently. It wasn’t until Woody Allen decided to mash the subject with a mallet in his Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin send up, Sleeper, that the subject was mentioned at all in a comedy. As such, the list of nominees is fairly short, but it the few films included stand tall for comedic gold.
As much as I wanted to give it to Multiplicity – and I REALLY wanted to give it to Multiplicity based on the powerhouse performance of Michael Keaton who plays a household full of clones- I have to acknowledge that Twins is the better movie. Starring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as genetically engineered twins (with all of the dominant genes going to Arnie and all the recessive going to DeVito) Twins is one of those rare comedies where the ludicrous premise results in laughter and tears. The film has heart, despite featuring the two actors least likely to share an emotional moment. Much like Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, this comedy manages to cram in jokes and social satire while still delivering on poignant moments. It’s not quite a classic, but it’s a damn fine comedy.
Best Clone Horror.
Nominees: The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Clonus Horror, Future World.
Winner: Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
You would figure that the horror movie genre would be packed with pod people running amok, but most clone films end up being dramas or action flicks. Luckily, stand-outs exist and most of the nominees in this category are well regarded as classics. The only dark horse in the race is The Clonus Horror (aka Parts: The Clonus Horror) which is an early B-movie monster movie where the monsters are us and the clones are the victims. This film is rough around the edges, but it did go on to inspire many other films in the genre.
Our winner here is such a classic that I’m not going to differentiate between the 1956 and the 1978 versions. Much like The Thing, they’re both excellent in different ways. The slow build tension of the original is matched by the iconic performances of the more horror driven remake. I’ve talked about this film before, in our Top Ten End of the World Movies, so I won’t say more than its a great film not matter which version you are partial to.
Best Scientifically Plausible Clone Movie.
Nominees: Gattaca, Jurassic Park, Womb, No Ordinary Baby.
Winner: Jurassic Park.
I know its strange to award the best science category to a movie about dinosaurs that chase and eat people, but Jurassic Park does the heavy lifting when it comes to selling the premise. It may help that Michael Crichton had a fair acquaintance with the sciences, holding a degree in biological anthropology, because Jurassic Park actually walks you through, in pretty rigorous detail, how the cloning process of an extinct species would work. Sure, it takes some liberty with how viable DNA would be even if preserved in amber, or why you would choose frog DNA to repair dino DNA, when birds are their closest living descendants…but that’s splitting hairs when it comes to clone movies. At least we get a rational process laid out for us, instead of unexplained glass vats full of naked Milla Jovovich duplicates. The T-Rex may not have won best baddie, but it wins best science-based cloning movie by a landslide.
Best Junk Science Clone Movie.
Nominees: The 6th Day, The Clones of Bruce Lee, Judge Dredd, Splice.
Winner: The 6th Day.
I like this movie. I don’t care if you don’t like this movie, or think it’s a bad movie that is just going through the motions of a latter-day Arnie film. I kind of like how it feels like somebody smooshed together True Lies, Total Recall, and Jingle All The Way into a ridiculous movie about nefarious biotech firms cloning Arnold against his will. I know if I ran an evil biotech company, cloning Arnie would be pretty high on MY list of nefarious things to do. It seems like a safer proposition than getting eaten by the dinosaurs every other mad scientist insists on cloning.
So it’s not a good movie, but it is a fun movie. If that’s not enough for you, you should go clone yourself…
Best Clone Movie.
Nominees: The Boys from Brazil, Jurassic Park, Moon, Blade Runner.
Winner: Blade Runner.
We’re not trying to jump on the bandwagon here, but Blade Runner is one of the best dystopian science fiction films of all time. The visuals, the setting, the score and sound work, the memorable characters, and even grumpy young Harrison Ford all combine with Ridley Scott’s eye for atmosphere to create a masterpiece. One reason I was not excited about Blade Runner 2049 was because the original just feels complete as a piece of art. You can make surprisingly good sequels to films that are complete in of themselves, like Terminator 2 or Aliens, but the trend is to subtract by addition and ruin an original.
The other contenders are all fine films, and I would especially recommend you catch the lesser known nominees. The Boys from Brazil is a surreal film about a fictional Nazi plot to clone Hitler in South America which beggars the imagination, and Moon is a criminally under appreciated recent flick. Even after all these years of innovation and technology, Jurassic Park is still as good looking today as ever. They all ran a good race, but you can’t surpass Blade Runner as the best film featuring clones or cloning.
Best Clone Movie Twist Ending. (Mild Spoilers)
Nominees: The Prestige, Impostor, Never Let Me Go, Blade Runner.
This is kind of a fun catch-all category, since it seems that every clone movie relies on a good twist. Even a straightforward film like Jurassic Park has the twist that the dinosaurs can breed. Something about clones just begs for hidden information and sudden shocking revelations. As such, I wanted to note a few films that may not have fit in other places, but are really worth your time.
The Prestige has a twist involving multiplication that is so shocking, it nearly ran away with the category. The one thing that stopped it was what I call the “…and then?” factor. For a twist to elevate the film, it has to retroactively reinvigorate the whole story. After you see the twist, you should be yelling at the projectionist to rewind the reel so you can see how you missed such a fundamentally important wrinkle. The Prestige is a good movie, but there is literally no way you can expect the twist, as it is literally magic. I want a movie that twists in such a way that you must go re-watch it again and again.
That might seem to point to Blade Runner being the winner, since that film has become the source of debate for decades about whether or not a main character is in fact a clone. While that does make you watch it again, it was an unconfirmed theory and not inherent to the film. The perfect match for me is Impostor, a film where the whole tension lies in explicitly finding the answer to that question during the film. It’s a neat little thriller starring Gary Sinise as a man accused of being a clone planted by hostile forces, with the wrinkle being that even he doesn’t know if it is true or false. By the end you get an explosive answer that makes you want to start the movie over to see if you could have guessed the answer in advance.