Well, those ever-expanding genre polls over at Wonders in the Dark continue…and next on their docket is the Top Sci-fi films. Below is the list I submitted, and in the coming weeks and months they will be unveiling their list after all the votes are tabulated. I went with a fairly liberal definition for sci-fi, hence some genre-bending monster and horror films made the cut (but alas, no Leprechaun in Space!). Also making the cut are films like Being John Malkovich, as I saw in the film a “scientific” explanation for how people were able to enter the head of John Malkovich…an unnerving “fiction” for sure!
Sci-fi films from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (along with Universal Monster movies from the 30’s) ruled my childhood as they were shown in endless loops on local television on the weekends…so there are many sentimental favorites here. The list topper, from one Stanley Kubrick, should come as no surprise for my readers, as it is also a film I routinely name in my revolving Top Five Films of All Time. Coming in at number 2, might surprise some, as it’s also a Universal Monster classic…James Whale’s Frankenstein, a great film based on Mary Shelley’s trailblazing sci-fi-by-way-of-parental-wish-fulfillment-nightmare gothic novel.
The best science fiction films typically tap into some disturbed psychology and common fears…hence its natural and seamless blend with horror (see Alien). Satire, both gentle and militant, mixed with science fiction can also be potent (see the works of Jonze and Verhoeven and Miller). At its most noble, science fiction allows us to dream bigger dreams (see the best of Spielberg and Nolan).
I’ll let the rest of the list below speak for itself – links provided to more detailed write-ups and reviews of applicable films provided by clicking the title.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
- Frankenstein (Whale, 1931)
- Alien (Scott, 1979)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977)
- Inception (Nolan, 2010)
- 12 Monkeys (Gilliam, 1995)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman, 1978)
- Interstellar (Nolan, 2014)
- Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015)
- The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)
- King Kong (Cooper, 1933)
- Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935)
- Aliens (Cameron, 1986)
- Solaris (Tarkovsky, 1972)
- Starship Troopers (Verhoeven, 1997)
- Melancholia (Von Trier, 2011)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2003)
- Being John Malkovich (Jonze, 1999)
- Gravity (Cuaron, 2013)
- Godzilla (Honda, 1954)
- Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
- Looper (Johnson, 2012)
- The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)
- The War of the Worlds (Haskin, 1953)
- Them! (Douglas, 1954)
- The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)
- Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990)
- Gattaca (Nicol, 1997)
- The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)
- Invaders from Mars (Menzies, 1953)
- Source Code (Jones, 2011)
- Her (Jonze, 2013)
- Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972)
- The Day of the Triffids (Francis, 1963)
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy, 1986)
- Time After Time (Meyer, 1979)
- Somewhere in Time (Szwarc, 1980)
- Edge of Tomorrow (Liman, 2014)
- Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985)
Guiltiest Sci-fi Pleasure:
- Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997) – this Laurence Fishburne headlining “black hole gonna make ya loose yo mind” flick is still hella-fun to watch.
- A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) – honestly, along with Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut, this is probably my least favorite Kubrick…but hell…it’s still a Kubrick!
- Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) – I was just never into it, though I look forward to what Villeneuve does with the “remake”.
- Brazil (Gilliam, 1985) – as far as Gilliam goes, I will always contest 12 Monkeys is his masterpiece. This was interesting for sure, but tiresome to watch.
- The Truman Show (Weir, 1998) – I know I went with a loose definition of sci-fi, but even by that definition, I don’t think of this as sci-fi.
- The Prestige (Nolan, 2006) – this, like The Truman Show, is showing up on some lists. I think it’s a stretch to have this one classified as sci-fi (it was supposed to be magic…the trick was, it was…science fiction?)
- The Time Machine (Pal, 1960) – this was one of my favorites as a kid, and honestly it just slipped my mind here…and I couldn’t end up with 41 on the list, right?
- Happy Accidents (Anderson, 2000) – This made my Top Ten Time Travel films list, but I forgot to include it here in the lower rungs (DOH!) Maybe the list should’ve been 42…(there’s a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference for you…which come to think of it, that movie wasn’t so bad…)
- Predestination (The Spierigs, 2014) – Ditto above. And then it would’ve 43…and no Hitchhiker’s reference. 43 is never the answer.
Upon Further Introspection Years from Now These Could Make the List:
- Ex Machina (Garland, 2015) – a lotta people loved this. I liked it. I really liked it.
- Midnight Special (Nichols, 2016) – this one is just too fresh on the mind to determine its lasting legacy. I have a hunch this will stick with me.
Written by David H. Schleicher
What are your favorite sci-fi films of all-time?
Stay tuned later in the summer for the official results at Wonders in the Dark…
Mr. Schleicher, how can you not put Star Wars on here anywhere?! The movie set in motion special effects in movies. Empire Strikes Back has got to be in the Top 30. I am disappointed in you lol. Event Horizon is a guilty pleasure. Laurence Fishburne is a cool dude in that movie.
You know, I just couldn’t bring myself to include Star Wars. Are they fun, enjoyable flicks for the most part (and iconic)…yes…but they have never been more than childhood reveries. And their status in pop culture makes it really hard to examine them as one would a stand-alone film. To me, they are more fantasy…though even by my liberal definition of sci-fi, certainly they deserved consideration. Maybe in an expanded list, one (Empire for sure) would’ve slipped in.
And I disagree about the ground breaking nature of the original’s special effects. Were they good at the time…sure…but they paled in comparison to what had been done in Kubrick’s 2001. And the prequel trilogy revealed the shoddiness and cold inhumanity of relying too much on computers for effects (as compared to models with some digital enhancements and animation added in).
As a whole I don’t totally disagree with much you have here, and can’t claim to seeing every film here to give a complete opinion, but I have a few notes:
1. Interstellar would be higher for me. We’ve discussed it in the past and don’t totally agree on it, but the consistency with the scientific theory its based on and the underlying religious theology make this my top Nolan flick and one of my plain favorites: I’d have it at 3.
2. The Matrix should be an honorable mention – at best. Granted it was pretty ground breaking when it came out, but years later it is nothing short of unwatchable. Others have been ommitted that contributed way more to the genre held up much better, such as…
3. NO STAR WARS? Regardless of how you feel about the series as a whole, and everyone agrees the prequals are garbage, this is probably the most impactful pop-culture series in history. The Force? “Luke I am your father!” Empire Strikes Back needs to be here somewhere around 14 (can you tell I like bumping the Alien movies?) I mean that 1 line alone is iconic enough that it should be here.
4. Including Star Trek and not Star Wars? Yikes. If its going to be here, it should bump down to 40 and swap spots with Back to the Future, which, even if the movie itself is a little goofie, its explanation of time travel and its implications is the best amongst anything out there.
I have some other nitpicking stuff – I’d like to see Jurassic Park higher up, Looper further down, maybe a nod to Planet of the Apes, but those are my main quibbles. I’ll expect your retraction shortly!
1. As pure sci-fi…Interstellar, for the reasons you noted, might be a better “sci-fi” film than Inception…but Inception is the better film.
2. The Matrix was purely of the moment…tapped into a zeitgeist of the new millennium better than any film of that generation. Its sequels were insufferable, but if you take the original as a stand-alone “of the moment” film, it stands up better.
3. See above my response to Nicky D. about Star Wars.
4. Star Trek as a whole (and originally conceived) offers the best of what sci-fi has to offer: a realistic portrait of what could be, mixed with political and societal satire (with a little bit of action). It, both in TV and film form, marked my childhood in deeper ways than Star Wars, and is one of the few iconic sci-fi series that offers an optimistic and aspirational view of the future instead of a dystopia. The new incarnation is too much reliant on action and special effects (making it more like Star Wars ironically). But I had to include something from the original movie series, and The Voyage Home is wildly creative (time travel! whales communicating with aliens!) and funny, too…so it gets the nod narrowly over The Wrath of Khan.
Re: The Apes films. Many lists from other bloggers included the Heston original, which I always thought was too much camp. It made me forget just how effective and good the new incarnations have been. An expanded list may have included them.
Join the Inception debate over at Wonders in the Dark where my essay for the film was published in their Top 100 Sci-fi Films Countdown: https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/73-inception-2010/