Essential Science Fiction Movies

Aug 25 2010 Published by under Nerdism, Science Fiction

io9 is doing a series on Science Fiction for Beginners. It includes a post today by Charlie Jane Anders, 25 classic science fiction movies that everybody must watch.. It's a good list.

I am embarrassed to admit that there are a couple of movies on the list I haven't seen. (No, I haven't seen Metropolis yet, and I realize that makes me culturally illiterate. Nor have I seen Planet of the Apes, Road Warrior, or Ghost in the Shell.) I'll have to make a point to see them.

I do agree with Anders about Brazil— when forced to list a favorite movie of all time, usually that's the one that I list. I'm also happy that both a Star Trek and a Star Wars movie made the list, because those movies (the second in each series) were good movies; sometimes people are too self-consciously highbrow to include something from a mass-market franchise.

I do have to quibble with what Anders says about Back to the Future. A very fun movie, mind you, but I wouldn't say that it's theory of time travel really makes all that much sense. I suppose it does apply the theory consistently, but it was definitely a "fantasy" theory of time travel. A science fiction movie that I think is great and that I'd include (along with Primer) as one of the two "essential" time travel movies is 12 Monkeys. (Which, I believe, was produced by Terry Gillam, who also did Brazil.)

Other movies that I would have considered for the top of the list include Gattaca (probably the most sensible treatment of the social spectre of genetically engineering our kids), The Truman Show, and maybe, just maybe, Buckaroo Bonzai, as the definitive and most rewatchable treatment ever of camp.

9 responses so far

  • Don says:

    I can understand having missed Metropolis, but Planet of the Apes?

    And 12 Monkeys and Brazil were directed by Terry Gilliam, not directed. He's one of those directors who has a very distinctive and recognizable style.

    I note that I have managed to do a remarkable job of covering the list (I've only missed Ghost in the Shell and E.T.), but that's at least partially a consequence of a conscious plan to become over-educated in cinema.

  • Pseudonym says:

    Back to the Future (the first one) is only tangentially a sci fi film. Like time travel romance, you only need a small amount of pseudoscience to get the story going. What the film is really about is the question: If you as a kid could have met your parents when they were kids, what would you think of them? Could you be their friend?
    And that's why I like it.

  • rknop says:

    Pseudonym -- actually, a lot of science fiction is really about human reactions and societal consequences of the insertion of a science fictional concept. (Some would say that that is what it "should" be about, but I would counter that there are also stories to tell that are about the speculative concepts themselves.) So, I wouldn't say it's tangentially sci fi any more than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or even (say) Star Wars (which is a classic hero journey story).

    • Pseudonym says:

      Point taken, though I agree with Arthur C. Clarke that Star Wars is more fantasy than science fiction. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

  • rknop says:

    Right, directed by Gillam, not produced. (Or was it? I don't know who produced them.) But he was the "auteur" of the movies, in any event.

  • HP says:

    Early 70s SF films get a bum rap, I think, largely because of the cultural impact of Star Wars and the blockbuster mentality. I was really surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed films like Logan's Run and Silent Running when I rediscovered them on DVD as an adult. I'd put those on anyone's shortlist.

    I think Tarkovsky's Solaris would come ahead of a lot of the films on the list, if for no other reason than to balance out the Hollywood-heavy tilt of the list. (And speaking of "not Hollywood," how about a Quatermass movie?)

    Regarding SF comedies, I'd put Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 ahead of BttF any day. And there are two great Italian SF comedies: La decima vittima (starring Marcello Mastroianni, and based on Robert Sheckley's "The Seventh Victim"), and of course, Barbarella.

  • Paul Murray says:

    Interestingly, both Logan's Run and Silent Running are tragedies, something that the "blockbuster mentality" virtually forbids these days.

  • [...] Essential Science Fiction Movies. People always put Metropolis on the list, or bemoan the fact that they haven’t seen it. What do you think of it? I quite enjoyed, but much of the greatness of the film seems to be that it prefigured so much of what was to come. [...]

  • Ira Nayman says:

    Just a footnote from a film buff: Gilliam's 12 Monkeys is based on an experimental short film by French filmmaker Chris Marker called La Jetee. It's a very different telling of the exact same story and fascinating in its own right.