Before any ranking of Science Fiction movies can make any sense, one must first define just what in or out of the world Sci-Fi is.
Was Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein the first Sci-Fi (1818), or was it done by Jules Verne (many – later 1800’s)? Does Vampire mythology fit into Sci-Fi? Do Hobbits?
Harlan Ellison, one of my favorite writers uses the phrase “Speculative Fiction” to describe a lot of his work. This seems to make some sense as a general guideline for Sci-Fi, because Sci-Fi is a rather broad category under which many sub-groupings seem to occur. There is a definite cross-over between horror and Sci-Fi (the Alien and Predator series come to mind), but not all horror cross over to Sci-Fi (the Exorcist, without a doubt one of the best movies of all times, I think is definitely solely in the horror category, unless you believe that the concepts of God and/or Satan are pure fiction, then perhaps). Then there are things I cannot decide on, like Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead”.
With this prelude of uncertainty, I will tentatively group Sci-Fi into five very broad groupings:
- Movies about or with Aliens and Outer Space, or both.
- Speculations about the future of the Earth and/or time travel
- Science gone really really bad
- Comedies and Parodies.
- Oddities and melodies
After discussing a few movies in each of these “sub-genres”, I will provide my must-see, stay-up-all-night-with-a-tub-of-popcorn Sci-Fi movies.
Movies about or with Aliens and Outer Space, or both. (8 nominations)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley Kubrick directing, starring the HAL 9000, based on Arthur C. Clark’s short story “The Sentinel.”
- Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), George Lucas directing, starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammel.
- Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott, starring Sigourney Weaver.
These three have one general thing in common: a villain so powerful and engrossing that they each are probably one of the top ten villains of all time (with perhaps Hannibal Lector at the top of the heap?)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Stephen Spielberg directing, starring Richard Dreyfus and Terri Garr.
- Silent Running (1971), directed by Douglass Trumbull, starring Brice Dern.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), directed by Robert Wise and starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.
- Total Recall (1990), directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone, based on the Phillip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale.”
- Plan 9 From Outer Space. Makes one wonder wast the first 8 were. Not good, but so bad it is good.
Speculations about the future of the Earth and/or time travel (4 nominations)
- Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young, based on the on the Phillip K. Dick novella, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (Another viable category would be best movie based on Dick stories.)
- The Matrix (1999), directed by Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss.
- Soylent Green (1973), directed by Richard Fleischer. with Charlton Heston.
- Back to the Future (1985), directed by Robert Zemeckis. With Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
Science gone really really bad or just too far
- Jurassic Park (1993), directed by Steven Spielberg. With Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
- Westworld (1973), Directed by Michael Crichton (who has written just a whole bunch of great Sci-fi himself). With Yul Brynner.
- The Stepford Wives (1975), Directed by Bryan Forbes. With Katharine Ross
- The Fly (1958) Directed by Bryan Forbes. With Katharine Ross and Vincent Price is the best, although the 1986 version directed by David Cronenberg with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, is worth a bag of corn too.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Directed by Michel Gondry. With Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, a Charlie Kaufman story. In a many ways, Total Recall in reverse, sort of, kind of. (Another genius: Kaufman)
Comedies and Parodies
- Space Balls (1987) Directed by Mel Brooks. With Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis
- Galaxy Quest (1999) Directed by Dean Parisot. With Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
- The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005) Directed by Garth Jennings
Oddities and Melodies
- Barbarella (1968) Directed by Roger Vadim. With Jane Fonda
- Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) directed by Jim Sharman, starring Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, Meatloaf and Barry Bostwick
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) Directed by Victor Fleming. With Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger. I thought long and hard about this, but in the end, decided it met all the criteria as a Sci Fi movie.
All told, 22 movies and all of them worth a look. The best, first from each category, envelope please:
A Space Odyssey” . “Oh My GOD!” was just about everybody’s reaction to the first viewing. It took Sci-Fi to a level which was unimaginable before it was released. The most important character from Earth was the HAL 9000, a self-aware computer with an irresolvable internal (or psychological) conflict. The Other was whomever it was who made and placed the Obelisks in our world and solar system. The movie was an extremely huge concept piece that did work on all levels. And while I am told that recreational pharmaceuticals enhanced the last twenty or so minutes, it was and always been incredible stone cold sober.
Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. Essentially a western set post-apocalyptic space (think Mad Max in space) with overtones of fantasy (princesses, witches, Jedi knights), and and undercurrent of theology (the Force). Harrison Ford is the comedic glue that made the movies released in the 1970’s much much better than the prequels released on the cusp of and in the new Millennium. Heroic, fast-paced, suspenseful and funny.
Alien. And perhaps the second Installment, Aliens. Both star Sigourney Weaver. The first is one of the most suspenseful movies of all time. We barely see the creature, but when the young creature exited the body of John Hurt, I literally jumped out of my seat. The tag line is “In space no one can hear you scream” did not apply in the theater,
Future Earth/Time Travel:
Blade Runner. Dark vision of the future of the Earth, when most everyone has left and Blade Runners are used to destroy (“Retire”) androids, which have been outlawed on Earth. The music, by Vangelis, is perfect, the visuals incredible, the acting is spot-on, and the moral issue irreconcilable. Absolutely incredible and worth watching over and over.
Science gone really really bad:
Westworld. In the near future, an amusement park, comprised of WesternWorld, MedievalWorld and RomanWorld, allows guests to interact with androids, which are indistinguishable from human beings, apart from minor flaws in their hands. The patrons are encouraged to indulge in any fantasy, including killing and having sex with the androids. And while the androids are programmed to respond positively to guest requests, as expected, things go horribly wrong. Not as slick as some of the others, but definitely the best of the bunch.
Comedies and Parodies:
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, based on the life-work of Douglass Adams, the story of an inept earthling, Arthur Dent, and his friend from Betelgeuse, Ford Prefect. After the Earth is destroyed to make way for a Space by-pass, Ford and Arthur, joined by Tricia McMillian (Trillian), also from Earth, make their way through the galaxy with Zaphod Bebblebrox, the president of the galaxy. Potentially lived up to the books, but just a great movie. 42, ya’ll.
Oddities and melodies:
Barbarella, if for no other reason than the opening scene and the breaking of the Orgasmitron, both featuring a luscious Jane Fonda. Film is tongue-in-cheek, especially when it comes to the frequent sex scenes, which while left pretty much top the imagination, are captivating. A pox on remake planned to be unleashed in 2009.
Best of all time? Hands down, Blade Runner. But all of these are worth watching again and again. Bet you thought I was going to say RHPS, didn’t ya?