SFX's Highlights (And Lowlights) Of 2013

The highs (and a few lows) of a year in sci-fi and fantasy

First up, it's the best movies:

Gravity Cuaron's technical wizardry crafted a rare cinematic spectacle that needed to be experienced in a theatre. Sandra Bullock's sparse and affecting performance grounded all of the chaos and made it personal.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Francis Lawrence kicked the franchise up to another level, taking full advantage of his stellar cast while fleshing out the human costs of Panem's dark deeds. A sequel that bested the original.

Thor: The Dark World A surprise treat that rightly showcased the infinitely compelling stalemate between yin and yang brothers,Thor and Loki.

Iron Man 3 was my favourite of the three Iron Man movies, action-packed, and unexpectedly funny – not only because of the sleight-of-hand with the Mandarin, but also Stark's banter with Rhodes and the with the 10-year-old in Tennessee.

Iron Man 3 The best Iron Man movie by some distance, and arguably the best film yet to come out of Marvel Studios. Fun, unpredictable (loved the Mandarin twist), some great character interplay, and an ingenious finale that rose above the usual "men in metal suits kicking the crap out of each other".

Gravity One of the best thrillers you'll ever see – and one hell of a technical achievement.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug I was quite indifferent about An Unexpected Journey , but this put the adventure back into Tolkien's world. I don't remember enjoying any other Middle-earth movie quite this much.

Wolf Children
Mamoru Hasoda’s elegiac anime about a single mum raising two young werewolves is a celebration of motherhood, a powerful metaphor for the struggles we all face growing up and beautifully constructed from start to finish.

Gravity A technical masterpiece and the single most stressful film I’ve ever seen. Yes, that’s a good thing.

Pacific Rim Big dumb fun, but two hours of serious eye-candy made with an infectious sense of joy. It’s the movie I’ve wanted to see done well since I was 10.

Warm Bodies , a zombie film with a happy ending! Funny, quirky, superbly acted and pitch perfect direction, it was a teen romance flick that even boys could like. (Some terrible music on the soundtrack, though – only directors of a certain age would ever think their teen characters would listen to poodle rock.)

Star Trek Into Darkness , Iron Man 3 , World War Z , Man Of Steel ... These films really surprised me when I really thought they'd be just average.

THE ABCs Of Death
Far from perfect but injected fresh life into the horror genre.

Gravity Good, but I suspect it had to be seen in 3D to get the full effect (I saw it flat).

Iron Man 3 Best of the three Iron Man films; some fun ideas.

And an honourable mention to the better-than-expected Curse Of Chucky .

Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro's ode to kaiju cinema is also a love letter to sci-fi movie-making in general, channelling the best of James Cameron and Ray Harryhausen in a movie that neither talks down to its audience nor offers a hint of pretense. No director this year so seamlessly fused mind and heart in the service of good old fashioned storytelling.

Surprisingly, I think it's Iron Man 3 . I like the Marvel films, but this one I loved . It was the Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home of the MCU: an outright comedy with a genuinely funny script, and a gleeful disdain for fanboy sacred cows. Get Shane Black back, right now, Marvel!

Loved Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World , both of which were witty, cocky entertainment-machines. And while Star Trek Into Darkness had plot holes you could warp a starship through, it delivered a stronger two hours than its crumbling reputation suggests. Flawed, certainly, but no disgrace to Starfleet. Maybe the people who made it should stop apologising for it?

Next, it's TV...

Our TV highlights of the year:

The bizarro sci-fi series ended on a high, and hopeful, note that gave closure to an already much-missed oddity on TV.

Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany owns the screen as disparate clones that are all distinct, real and compelling.

Sleepy Hollow A nutty concept that shouldn't work but does based on the stellar work of Tom Mison and Nicole Behare. Plus, the Americana folklore is a refreshing well to mine stories of the week.

Season two of the time-travel cop show introduced new factions and new time travellers, keeping the momentum – and the intrigue – up. A genuinely interesting vision of the future and a sci-fi show with a deliciously ambiguous take on terrorism and corporate greed.

Orphan Black Took a while to get here from the US but the 10-episode clone thriller was never less than exciting and was an incredible showcase for Tatiana Maslany's acting talent.

Almost Human What could be better? A brand new series from the makers of Fringe, starring Dredd himself, Karl Urban. Come on UK broadcasters, pick this up!

The Returned
Frustrating open-ended finale aside, this French series was a surprise treat – a very human drama that did something original with dead rising from the grave. I just hope that the writers have some decent answers for the many mysteries at play.

Game Of Thrones After a slightly stodgy second season, this was a show back to its brutal, brilliant best, confidently marshalling one of the biggest casts on TV.

Being Human / Misfits Two British shows we should be proud of went out on highs after excellent fifth and final seasons.

Game Of Thrones Two words: Red Wedding.

Supernatural Remarkably, season eight was Supernatural ’s best in years, and at its height was as good as the show’s ever been. And that ending. Oh man, that ending. Rarely has a show felt so invigorated.

Adventure Time I’ve spent the best part of 2013 completely obsessed with Adventure Time – humming the songs in my head all day, cramming merch into every nook and cranny of my home and binge-watching episodes. It’s five seasons in now and the quality hasn’t dipped at all. If anything, it’s getting better.

I am a zealot about this show. I won’t rest until everyone in the multiverse acknowledges it’s utter and complete awesomeness. And I’m perfecting my Reese-inspired slow-blink-with-a-turn-of-the-had to unnerve writers who don’t follow commission.

An Adventure in Space and Time
was simply beautifully written. The Walking Dead reinvented zombies this year.

Doctor Who
"Name..." and "Day Of The Doctor" were both excellent and reminded me how good Who can really be.

Misfits Fifth and last series definitely among the better ones.

Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD Okay, so I gave up on it after seven episodes but for an American TV show that's pretty good going for me!

The best live-action TV drama about a comic-book superhero ever. Worth watching for the action scenes alone, but the relationship between the three core members of Team Arrow (Ollie, Diggle, and Felicity) makes it a must.

Orphan Black The smartest, sexiest, and – without a doubt – best acted science-fiction drama on television right now. Star Tatiana Maslany is so utterly perfect in every one of her multiple roles (as cloned sisters) that I'm reluctant to offer much praise, lest I somehow contribute to her leaving the show for a more lucrative film career.

"The Day Of The Doctor" Doctor Who 's anniversary special was worth the 50-year wait.

Well it was Breaking Bad , obviously. Oh, in genre? An Adventure In Space And Time was simply magnificent. Just a beautifully made piece of drama. If you didn't feel a rush of emotion at Matt Smith's cameo, then frankly, I don't think we can be friends. In my heart I still love Community and am thrilled that Dan Harmon has returned. The last episode of The Walking Dead was a thrilling return to form, and I'm eager to see where it goes in February. Points too to Game Of Thrones , which remains a stellar piece of work – even if it did, arguably, bite off a little bit more plot than it could chew.

"The Day Of The Doctor"
and An Adventure In Space And Time – what a glorious double-punch for Doctor Who ’s 50 th . An Adventure may just have the edge – if only for appealing to my retrosexual tendencies - but both were heartfelt and brilliant in the face of universe-high expectations. A wonderful new Doctor in the form of John Hurt was an unexpected bonus.

Click Next for the best books, comics, games – and everything else.

It's time for books, comics, games – and anything else sci-fi related:

Bioshock Infinite
A fantastically realised world with a storyline that will appeal to anyone who loves sci-fi and angst.

It's a tie between BioShock: Infinite and Tomb Raider for my videogame of the year.

For book of the year, I recommend one from right back in January: The Explorer by James Smythe. A magnificent examination of loss and the passage of time and death, with a proper 2001 vibe.

The Last Of Us
The videogame that proved interactive media can tell character-driven stories as powerful and compelling as anything on film and TV. Put simply, it’s the greatest narrative-driven game ever made.

Bioshock Infinite The shooting was solid, but Bioshock Infinite ’s real triumph was its incredible world and its synapse-frazzling ending. Nothing this year kept me pondering for quite so long after the credits rolled.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds An incredible nostalgia kick throughout if you played A Link To The Past at a formative age, and a mighty fine addition to the Zelda series.

Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen’s cameo in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot . I think I fair spluttered.

Super Graphic As nice a coffee table book as you could want

The found Doctor Who episodes Pity there weren't more!

Fantagraphics Books' EC Comics Library
Finally, affordable deluxe hardcover editions of the seminal works of genre masters like Wally Wood and Al Williamson are available, and in immaculate black-and-white, free of the garish colouring that's marred so many past editions. Essential.

Tom Hiddleston's San Diego Comic-Con appearance as Loki Has any recent genre film star so fully accepted and reciprocated a tidal wave of fan affection?

I really love SL Grey's weird, queasy novels and The New Girl did not disappoint. Scott Snyder's run on Batman is superb and spooky, and I really like Paul Cornell's take on Wolverine , and Geoff Johns' Aquaman . Was very sad to see China Miéville's under-appreciated Dial H finish though.

Good to see Kurt Busiek’s Astro City back – a sprawling alternative mythology to DC and Marvel, told with an eye for the human detail. Also enjoyed a trip to the Radio Times exhibition at the Museum of London, just to see the original ink and paper beauties behind Frank Bellamy’s fabulous Doctor Who art from the ‘70s.

To round things off, we pick our biggest disappointments of the year over the page

And finally, our biggest disappointments of 2013:

Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD
I wanted to love it, I really did, but it's just not giving me anything to hold onto.

Star Trek Into Darkness Some great performances but I was expecting so much after all the trailers and announcements. And guess what? It was Khan all along – something everybody was guessing years ago – but with a shallower story, weaker in theme and tone, than the original Wrath Of Khan from 1982.

Star Trek Into Darkness
After the first movie I expected great things from this – and the first half hour didn't let me down. But as Benedict Cumberbatch's identity was revealed and it started to feel like a bad cover version of The Wrath Of Khan, disappointment took over – Spock yelling "Khaaan!" was a joke, right? JJ Abrams and his writing team had a whole galaxy of brave new worlds to explore, so why did they feel the need to revisit past glories? The third movie needs to do much, much more.

Aliens: Colonial Marines
A videogame sequel to James Cameron's Aliens that stuck with the marines instead of a bunch of British baldies? Sign me up! Sadly, every aspect of Colonial Marines was a let down from the dire script to the tedious gunplay. Worst of all the comically bad animation and AI robbed the xenomorph of any power it once had to scare. Makes Alien: Resurrection look like a masterpiece.

What’s a bigger disappointment? A film that’s just downright garbage (I’m talking about you, After Earth ) or something you were expecting to be good that simply fails to impress? In the latter category I have to place Almost Human , which isn’t a bad show, just a wearyingly average on. Good characters, great world, really plodding, lifeless, off-the-shelf plots. I'm hoping it’s just finding its feet…

The Worlds End
I loved the previous two films, but for me, this film wasn’t a patch on Shaun or Hot Fuzz .

Following Kill List and Sightseers , Ben Wheatley's A Field In England was a big disappointment but I have to say I thought The Wolverine was dreadful and The World's End went rapidly downhill after a great start. (And Byzantium was rubbish too.)

Man Of Steel
Zack Snyder stripped Superman of all the charm, magic, and wonder that's come to define and distinguish the character, in a film that's shot and lit like a horror movie; and darker in tone than Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Snyder also introduced the character to a generation of children as someone who kills. (Which is sort of like staging a Peter Pan in which Peter murders Captain Hook.) As others have pointed out, if you can't make a Superman movie in which Superman has no choice but to snap a villain's neck, well, you probably shouldn't be making a Superman movie.

Agents Of SHIELD
A show that regularly soars to the giddy-heights of bland competence. Also, Man Of Steel . I'm all for bold reinvention, but the trouble with Man Of Steel was that it reinvented Superman as a dour bruiser. It had a fantastic cast and some great moments (Krypton!), but was lacking in charm and humour. Seriously, when the Dark Knight trilogy is wittier than the new Superman movie, something has gone very wrong.

Agents Of SHIELD Who knew saving the free world could be so tedious? Great premise, flawed set-up, crushingly bland execution. All the thrills of a launderette. I would rage at the screen if I wasn’t in a weekly coma.

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