Monday, June 3, 2013

Top Ten - Science Fiction Films

A fellow blogger, and an excellent writer to boot, John Kenneth Muir was asking for opinions on the top 10 science fiction films. He compiled a great list of films and used it to determine his readers consensus. The results were very interesting (and not totally unexpected). Being the movie fan that I am, I had to participate. This compelled me to not only figure out the 10 best science fiction films, but also my top 10 favorite science fiction films (not necessarily the same thing).

For the picks of the top 10 "best" science fiction films, I picked 10 movies that not only impacted science fiction films, but films of all kinds. The greater the impact, the higher on the list they turned out to be. So here is my list, including a brief description of why I picked it.

10. The Matrix - 1999
Two main reasons for picking this one. Stylistically and visually The Matrix influenced countless movies throughout the 2000s. It may also be the first film to successfully exploit computer culture and virtual reality. While it isn't the first adaptation of cyber-punk, it is easily one of the most successful.

9. Close Encounters of a Third Kind - 1977
The combination of paranoia, alien abduction and conspiracy theory are all combined together in a way that thrills and entertains. It's no surprise that youths who saw this film went on to create some of the best alien abduction flicks in the 1990s. Without this flick there would be no X-files or many similar shows and films. 

8. Akira - 1988
I wrote a whole blog on why this Japanese animated film went on to inspire and influence countless other creations. Keep in mind this is not limited to just animation, but includes Hollywood films and video games. It's innovations with characters and visuals still resonates to this day.

7. Alien - 1979
While the film itself plays out more like a horror film, there are elements of this movie that have carried over to science fiction. Most obvious is the alien and starship design, as well as Ridley Scott's visual style. It was also the first film to give us a truly Lovecraftian view of space, a dark nihilistic terror in the unknown.

6. Blade Runner - 1982
Another Ridley Scott film that influenced countless films (and anime and video games) with it's amazing production design. It seems as if the darkness of Alien crossed over into this film but with even more depth to the world it created. It is also one of the best examples of science fiction crossed with film noire.

5. Forbidden Planet - 1956
So many elements of this film went on to inspire countless others. The production design is amazing, creating so many unique and surprising visuals. Then you have the direct correlation between the space explorers here and the ones in Star Trek. Then you have the concept of taking an older story (Shakespeare's The Tempest) and adapting it to science fiction. 

4. The Day the Earth Stood Still - 1951
When it comes to flying saucers, and alien visitors, the template really started right here. So many elements of this film became iconic that many modern film viewers just take them for granted. "Take me to your leader", the giant robot sidekick and Bernard Herrmann soundtrack using Theremin. 

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey - 1968
Everything about Kubrick's film can be considered iconic. The visuals are stunning in their detail and presentation. The music is both familiar and alien. The story is told in a purely cinematic sense, not relying on dialogue to express it's ideas. In that way it became a puzzle, one that inspired countless of film makers.

2. Metropolis - 1926
It's impossible to make a science fiction film that doesn't have an element seen or introduced in Metropolis. It gave us one of the first synthetic human character (or robot if you prefer) on the screen. It goes for an immense scale at times, and examines social and psychological ideas using science fiction as the filter. So many films are influenced by this one, and probably don't even realize it.

1. Star Wars: A New Hope - 1977
I almost didn't include this on my list, because the story is really a fantasy adventure that uses science fiction for color. But the simple fact that so many people immediately think Star Wars when you say science fiction tells you how influential it really is. Not only did it redefine what sci-fi in film could be, but it also changed story telling style. It's brisk pacing, character banter and uplifting tone would be mimicked, adapted and refined in the passing years. What makes it surpass Metropolis in influence is that, for good or ill, the style and construction of Star Wars has influenced films far outside it's genre and well into cinema as a whole. A truly impressive legacy.

Top 10 Favorite Science Fiction films

These are films that enjoy revisiting again and again. Many are the list for personal reasons and while I could defend them as being worthy of your time, some are often considered average at best. That doesn't keep me from enjoying them. It's harder for me to put these in any order, so I'll just list them and tell you that at any time, one of these may be my current favorite.

Do you have a list of "best" or favorite science fiction films?


  1. Roman,

    Your list is awesome, and very well-considered. Seven titles cross over between your list and the consensus list, which is just about where I was, as well. I want to thank you so much for participating in the event, and hope you'll come back later in June when I hold the next Reader Top Ten.

    You're the best...


    1. Thanks John! I had a great time considering and making list. I'm really looking forward to the next one.

  2. The top list is a good one. Some variation among "top tens" surely relates to how the different list-makers define the elastic term"science fiction." For example, is Frankenstein sufficiently science fiction to be considered? One could make a case either way.

    Among my personal favorites, I must admit a fondness for many of the shoestring-budget 50s movies: Earth vs the Flying Saucers, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, 4D Man, Monster on Campus, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and so on. So, my house is far too glassy to stone anyone else's favorites. (Besides, I like most of the flicks of that second list anyway.) As I recall, Sheldon Cooper had a position on one though:

    1. You know, quite a few folks did put "Frankenstein" on their list. I was surprised, but thought it worked. Some folks thought the 1982 version of "The Thing" counted, other said "Alien" or "Star Wars" didn't count. Quite a few votes for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" too.

      As for the You Tube clip... You know, I've never watched that show. Had a lot of folks tell me I should. And the fact that I could argue with Sheldon about the whole thing makes it obvious I should check it out.

      I've got a review for "The Motion Picture" in the wings. As far as bad "Star Trek" films go... I don't think it should be on the list. "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" and "Star Trek: Generations" are much worse films. The directors cut in 2001 really made "The Motion Picture" a better experience all the way around, in my opinion.

      And Sheldon mentions the music as being a weak point... SERIOUSLY?! That has to be Jerry Goldsmith's masterpiece. It's an amazing score. And the huge irony here - Goldsmith wrote the score to Star Trek V as well and built on the themes and ideas he used in "TMP". Sorry Sheldon, you just lost some of your geek cred there. ;)

    2. The show is addicting once you start. I recommend renting the first episodes from 2007 just to get the basic exposition and character quirks down. Later episodes assume the viewer is aware of them.

  3. I certainly wouldn't put _Matrix_ in Top 10 - for one, apart from the CGI & the idea of an imagined reality, it's a lot of tedious fighting in slo-mo, & more guns & more ammo do not a VR movie make.

    _Close Enc_ [tho' the end is always less than the journey], _Akira_ [as the first great breakthru Japanese anime', _Alien_ 1-2-3-4 & _Star Wars_ ep. IV-V-VI, as they are both epic movie series which function as a whole, yes even up to _Alien Res_, which brings Ripley's story not only to a new level of involvement with xenomorphs, but finishes her story off fully. Both also had immeasurable influence on moviemakers, industry & the wider world.

    I'm probably showing my age, but I'd add _Dune_ & _Tron_ to _Bladerunner_ & _Galaxy Quest_ [for what they say about society, not just adventure SF], instead of _Day Earth_ & _Forbidden Planet_, with _Metropolis_ as an honourable mention both for setting & relevance as well as FX & overall accomplishment. _Jurassic Park_ for both its technical achievement & sense of wonder, as well as relevance.

    I'd also have to add the epic achievement, scope & characters of Cameron's _Abyss_, so much better than his more recent work, & the summit of all his work in FX, story & character in _Terminator_ & _Aliens_.

    1. I see where you're coming from with "The Matrix", it is not a big favorite with me either. But I think the impact it had on all kinds of movies can not be ignored. The first film has some excellent sci-fi elements that are handled well. The sequels... well they're a bit messier.

      Great to see some love for "Alien 3", which I think is an under-rated movie. The first scenes, with the fate of Newt and Hicks, made a lot of folks angry. Unfortunately they are missing out on a very good film after that opening.

      "Dune" and "Tron" are both personal favorites. I've got a blog on one coming up later this summer.

      Some great picks overall. Thanks for posting.

  4. It's hard to pick just a Top Ten for SF, if you are a hardcore fan of the genre, so I'll just add a few that weren't mentioned, which I enjoy a great deal:

    1. Barbarella
    2. Soylent Green
    3. A.I.
    4. The Last Starfighter
    5. Mysterious Island
    6. Logan's Run
    7. A Scanner's Darkly
    8. Fantastic Voyage
    9. The Time Machine (original)
    10. Five Million Years to Earth

    1. I still haven't seen the first three entries on your list. I know, I'm a slacker! When I was a kid, there was a year or two where I was fascinated with "Fantastic Voyage". The visuals in that movie are amazing and the musical score was really something else. I need to revisit that one.

      Another one that I remember fondly but haven't seen in years is "Logan's Run". I got the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith a few years ago and it has become one of my favorites from that period of his work. But I'm afraid to take the trip and revisit the film after all these years. I'm not sure how well it will hold up.

      Great list! Thanks for participating.