Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Favorite Films: Science Fiction

Science fiction is an interesting genre because it has no specific boundaries. Thus, anything strange gets tossed into the genre. There is also a split between the more hardcore “science” science fiction and the more fun “fantasy” science fiction and horror science fiction. I don’t care about any of that though. I like it all. Here is my attempt to list only my top ten favorites... though I could list 100 easily, but where’s the challenge in that?

** I’ve excluded things like Star Wars, Star Trek and Aliens, which could easily dominate the list.

1. Fifth Element (1997): This is a unique science fiction film, being both a comedy, very clever, and a positive portrayal of the future. In fact, this stands out as one of the rare non-dystopian futures on film... and it’s got the best bad guys: fully emotive aliens!

2. Blade Runner (1982): This film became the standard for dystopian fiction. Add in some fascinating twists and turns and an amazing epiphany at the end and you have a great film.

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): This film really captures the rising tide of the UFO conspiracy theory that swept the nation in the 1970s. It’s also deliberate Spielberg at his best.

4. Dune (1984): Dune is one of the most influential science fiction books of all time, but the attempts to make it into a movie have all failed. The public hated this one, but it has become a cult favorite. Dune stands out for presenting a truly unique universe unlike anything else on film – there should be hundreds of films like this, but there aren’t. I personally prefer the Alan Smithee version.

5. Outland (1981): Sean Connery kicking ass in space. Even more interestingly, this is one of the few films to show the “near” future in that mankind is still very much like we are today as we just start to reach out into the solar system rather than being all over the galaxy. The caustic relationship between Connery and Lazarus is worth the price of admission alone.

6. The Matrix (1999): This is probably the smartest movie ever made and it takes almost a course in philosophy and religion to understand it. Putting that aside, however, it has an amazing twist, incredibly innovative camera work, and a truly strong story.

7. Pitch Black (2000): This was Riddick at his best, as the anti-quasi-hero needing to save an interesting collection of castaways from blood thirsty creatures who only come out when it gets dark.

8. The Black Hole (1979): Love it. Used to have the action figures! This is just one of those films that stands out for being so unique in the genre and for being packed with the kinds of moments you take away from science fiction films. Again, there should be hundreds of films like this and there just aren’t.

9. Dark City (1998): This is the kind of film that blows your mind and it’s packed with things you just haven’t seen before in science fiction. Add in a really cool 1940’s film noir style, a strong cast and truly well-written dialog, and this is a definite winner.

10. Forbidden Planet (1956): This is one of the few older science films that feels grownup to me. And in that, this is one heck of a smart film, digging deep into the human psyche and in how it reveals information about the Krell in bits and by supposition, which paints a surprisingly realist picture of a people you never see or meet.



Tennessee Jed said...

that is a fine list. I know you don't care for Kubrick, but 2001 was truly so amazing at th time, it would have to go on my list. If we stretch the genre to include radio, I'd throw in War of the Worlds. And, due to the coolness of Gort with Michael Rennie, the Original Day the Earth Stood Still has to go on the list also. I had a long drive yesterday and today so I'll have think of some others

Tennessee Jed said...

2 more I like was The Abyss, and the Disney 20,000 Leagues with Kirk Douglas and James Mason

Kit said...

Wall-e. That is a good one. Great love story too.

I also liked Serenity.

Backthrow said...

I can't limit myself to ten, but I can do twenty. I left out Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, as those would be obvious, and also The Matrix, Dark City, Pitch Black and Frequency because, though they are all excellent, I honestly have only seen each of them a couple of times, so far, even though I own them on disc. I decided to instead list (chronologically) the stuff I've watched innumerable times, since this is a 'favorites' list:

1. The Invisible Man (1933)
2. Island of Lost Souls (1933)
3. The Thing from Another World (1951)
4. The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms (1953)
5. War of the Worlds (1953)
6. Them (1954)
7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
8. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
9. Village of the Damned (1960)
10. Unearthly Stranger (1963)
11. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
12. Quatermass and the Pit (1967, a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth)
13. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
14. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
15. The Road Warrior (1982, a.k.a. Mad Max 2)
16. The Thing (1982)
17. The Terminator (1984)
18. Back to the Future (1985)
19. Aliens (1986)
20. Robocop (1987)

Floyd R Turbo said...

1. Dark City

2. Outland

3. Event Horizon

4. Moon

5. The Matrix

6. Inception

7. Weird Science

8. Strange Days

9. The Omega Man

10. The Thing

tryanmax said...

Excellent lists. I don't see Gattica listed yet, but otherwise every thing that comes readily to mind is already here.

Anonymous said...

2010, Outland, and Capricorn One I consider Peter Hyams' sci-fi "trilogy" - they are perfect comfort food movies and I don't mean that in a bad way. I can keep them on in the background and they've kept me company on many a long night of homework. :-)

The Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Alien films go without saying, though of course some are much better than others.

A few more:

-The Abyss
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (I still think it kinda sags in the middle but the first and last acts are flawless)
-Starship Troopers (yeah, I know)
-Total Recall

Anonymous said...

And as much as I appreciate 2001, I rarely feel the need to watch it (though I should one of these days!)

Honestly, I think it's because it requires one's constant attention. The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, etc - those I can keep on in the background. I don't feel the need to sit in front of the TV unblinking - only 2001 has that power.

Speaking of 2001, someone buy me this!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

I love Science Fiction and as Andrew mentioned it has no specific boundaries and can include science, fantasy and horror (though he did forget comedy Space Balls anyone?).

I've seen 9 of Andrew's movies and really love
The Fifth Element (sci-fi action, romance, comedy)
Blade Runner (classic),
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (mind blowing),
Dune (book is better of course),
The Matrix (they should make a sequel it could be great),
Pitch Black (love all the Riddick movies but the first is the best),
Dark City (it doesn't get the respect it deserves at all).

I also love

Space Balls (of course, funny as all hell),
Serenity (great action, comedy, just wish there was a sequel),
Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back (1st started it all, 2nd was better),
Star Trek (not all of course, but a few of them are just great),
The Terminator (dark and gritty, T2 was more popular but this was the first and best),
Aliens (better then the original and great sci-fi action, horror),
Event Horizon (not a horror fan but this was done too well),
Inception (loved it except for the cheap cop out at the end),
Westworld (looks like fun at the start),
Total Recall (great action by Arnie),
Contact (book was better of course, still loved it),
Akira (first and maybe best anime I ever saw),
Starship Troopers (I know it is no where near the book, but it is still big dumb fun for me),
Tron, Robocop (dumb fun),
12 Monkeys (great time travel, just slips into sci-fi for me),
Escape From New York (great action, just slips into sci-fi for me),

I don't really consider Mad Max 2 or Back to The Future Science Fiction, I guess it depends on how pedantic you want to be. MM2 is just set in the future with no great technology and BTTF has great technology but is set mostly in the past.

I have probably forgotten other movies and hopefully someone else will mention them.


Outlaw13 said...

Backthrow mentioned "Colossus: The Forbin Project", I've got to say that movie scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid.

Speaking of things I appreciated as a kid which are more that likely not a good idea to revisit in the present, there a a SF Film called "Marooned" that I enjoyed alot,..probably doesn't hold up too well given that it's never shown anymore.

Everyone has pretty much covered everything else.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Nice additions! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, WALL-E is a really strong film. I enjoy it a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, The Thing (1982) should definitely be on the list.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I definitely thought about Moon and Inception. But are deserving films.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I know a lot of people love Gattica, but I find it a little flat.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I really wanted to add Capricorn One, but there wasn't room in a list of only ten.

I like the rest of your list, though I don't count Brazil as sci-fi.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Excellent additions! And agree with your descriptions very much.

I also don't tend to see Back to the Future or Mad Max as science fiction.

On comedy, comedy is rare in science fiction. I'm not sure why. And typically, it's just parody. I wonder if there's no market for comedy in a science fiction setting?

I love Tron, btw, and wish I had room to put it on the list. This list probably should have been a top 25 list!

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I've only see The Forbin Project once, but it definitely stuck with me. It's a very strong movie that deserves to be better known.

On Marooned, I haven't seen it, but the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys did that one at one point... very funny episode.

Backthrow said...

Time for me to get into pedantic mode here...

How are The Road Warrior and Back to the Future *not* science fiction? Science fiction isn't just robots, ray guns and space ships; it is, broadly, 'what if?', using real-life and/or 'scientific' means (even if it's totally b.s. 'science', which is much of the time, which technically makes most of the films on our lists 'science fantasy') to set up the premise, rather than magic, miracles and the supernatural to get there. It can be about the future, or it can be about an alternate version of the past or present, if things had gone differently.

It doesn't even have to necessarily involve technology in a major way. Films like Wild in the Streets (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Red Dawn (1984) and Brazil (1985, or its antecedent, Orwell's 1984) are social sci-fi, imagining what our particular society in the U.S. or U.K., or one very much like it, might be like under total foreign occupation and/or totalitarian rule. Since this hasn't happened (thankfully), as yet, it's a form of science fiction.

The Road Warrior is sci-fi because it posits what might happen if we ran out of fuel, without a viable alternative, and how civilization might break down and change/revert to a primitive tribal/nomadic existence because of it. And that provides the background for Max's action/adventure story.

Back to the Future is sci-fi because Doc Brown builds a time machine... and what might happen if Marty McFly uses it to go back to his parents' high school years, and in doing so, how the 'butterfly effect' of his visit might alter his present, for good or for ill. Because it takes a comic/cartoony approach to this, and isn't about Marty's future past 1985 (in the first film), doesn't change the fact that it is science fiction. Unlike, say, Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), which uses arbitrary/magical (or maybe it was all a dream) to put Kathleen Turner in a similar situation, which makes the film pure fantasy, rather than sci-fi.

Anonymous said...

Backthrow, I did say that it all depends on how pedantic you want to get and you obviously get more pedantic then I do about this issue.

What you consider sci-fi can be very different then what others, me included think it is. I read a lot and one of my favourite types of books are alternative history or 'what if' and I don't consider that sci-fi at all, it has more to do with time travel or changing historical events which is what both movies do.

Sci-fi doesn't have to be about robots and ray guns etc, but I generally expect the story to be in the future and to have technology and generally not to be set in the normal world. Quite often the sci-fi is just a premiss to tell a normal story a different way and sometimes the sci-fi parts are the story but they are not generally set in the here or now unless something is added like an alien invasion..

I've no problem with you thinking they are both sci-fi and I'd agree with Back To The Future way before I do Mad Max 2, but to me they never give me that vibe.


Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I hope you don't consider Brazil a documentary! :-)

BTW, this article showed up and I think you may agree with it.

shawn said...

I see most of the famous and good ones have already been named. I would add:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Logan's Run
Rollerball (1975)
Total Recall (1990)
Demolition Man
Time Cop
Minority Report

Rustbelt said...

A few thoughts on Andrew's list...

-The Fifth Element: just a great movie that actually makes you excited about the future. The opening scene in Egypt is just a great scene to set the tone and plotlines- you learn some, but you know there's a roller coaster ahead.

-Bladerunner: I actually had to watch this in a college course I took on detective fiction (in addition to the German origins of the genre, Poe, Holmes stories, gangster yarns, and 'Chinatown'). Great movie. Everyone talks about Ford, but Hauer steals the show. (Note to self: don't watch during finals week. It doesn't help the mood.) Trivia: Ford thought if he did the narration bad enough, he thought they wouldn't use it. The lesson? Never underestimate Hollywood producers.

-Dune: Just a wonderfully lavish version of this tale. (Though I disagree thoroughly with the views of the thoroughly self-absorbed Frank Herbert.) I agree with Andrew- the Alan Smithee version is better because it keeps more scenes and dialogue; but, also, the prologue is just an absolute necessity to understand this world.

-The Matrix: Actually saw this with a friend of mine when I went to get my senior prom tux. I had few expectations; expecting just another CGI fest. I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, whoa...

-The Black Hole: After Andrew compared this to 'Event Horizon,' I realized I need to see this again. I saw it as a kid and didn't pay too much attention until the ship broke up and the hellish imagery began. Safe to say, it had my attention at that point!

I'm glad Backthrow brought up the 'The Thing' and that ScottAU brought up 'the Terminator.' Both are excellent examples of the rare (and rarely successfully) sub-genre of sci-fi horror. These two are so much more than their run-of-the-mill gorefest/generic action movie sequels.

Also, can 'Firefox' count as science fiction? -since the (fictional) MiG- 31 is an advanced technology? That would make it a sci-fi political spy thriller!

Unknown said...

Great lists... some miscellaneous comments...

1. Andrew, I know we can't convince you to enjoy 2001 more than you do, but it was The Matrix of its day, and is not merely "good for its time". It addresses substantial themes, such as our place in the universe, the nature of intelligence/self-awareness, our cultural and technological evolution, our relationship with machines, and through the educational device of the monolith/movie-screen it ultimately asks us to rise to our responsibilities as an intelligent civilization.

2. Good call on Forbidden Planet. The movie is full of interesting themes, as well as providing an excellent take on what the future would look like if it were set in the 1950s.

3. In my heart, I don't really think of Science Fiction as a genre; it is more of a technique or a setting, distinct and distinctive from the (plausibly) historical or contemporary. If forced to consider it as a genre, I would be inclined to agree with Backthrow that movies like Back to the Future are sci-fi. On the other hand, I would not say that a movie with a lot of factual science is necessarily sci-fi: Gravity is not a sci-fi movie, for example; it is a disaster movie. Contact on the other hand, clearly is a sci-fi movie.

4. The previous point is illustrated by the apparent lack of sci-fi comedies: if the comedy is good, the fact that it is sci-fi is often missed or forgotten. Back to the future, Ghostbusters and even Being John Malkovich are sci-fi comedies, and yet again, one of the great movies of the 1990s has been omitted from the lists...

Men in Black.

Rustbelt said...

OT: Since MST3K got mentioned, I have to post this LINK. Wired is calling it "the show's definitive oral history" for the 25th anniversary.

Some interesting points:

-Filming in the Midwest offers creative freedom: no one in New York cares to fly out to Minnesota and tell people what to do.
-In the early days, none of the crew had cable packages that carried Comedy Channel. They had to watch their premieres at a local bar.
-Jim Mallon and Joel Hodgson are STILL giving different reasons for Joel's departure. Actually, (this seems to run through the article like a stain), nobody seems to like Jim Mallon.
-Near the end of the show's run, one of the on-screen performers actually got to read for what would become one of Hollywood's most notorious characters. EVER. (Meesa tinka heesa glad he got no callback!)*

Anyway, for all the MSTies here, have fun!

*-[holds up hands] Please put the weapons down! No anger intended. It was just a joke...

Anthony said...

Nothing to add except Ghost in the Shell and Akira.

Akira was confusing (a war between psychics set in a futuristic Tokyo), but stunning (gorgeous visuals, very well designed vehicles and the battles are absolutely insane).

Ghost in the Shell had a great plot (cops in the future trying to track down a cyberterrorist) a clever ending and some nice action sequences.

Anthony said...

I once had a coworker who was one of the early writers for MST3K (as you might expect he was a very funny guy). He never went into the gory details but he described what happened as a bloodless coup.

Rustbelt said...

Anthony, I am officially envious of you, sir!

Glenn said...

Science Fiction has always been my favorite movie genre, and Blade Runner is my favorite movie of all time. I missed it the first time around because I believed the stupid critics who hated it. Caught it a few years later when working part time in a video rental store. I've watched it more times than any other movie (except Mary Poppins ... ummm I was an usher in the theater, and it played forever, so couldn't help it.)

Fifth Element, The Matrix, Dark City etc. and everything on the list all favorites (and I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds Starship Troopers a guilty pleasure).

For science fiction comedy, of course, Men in Black, but also Galaxy Quest I would consider one of the best as well and I did enjoy Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I think is a comedy.

To add a few more to the list, I also like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Equilibrium, Starman, Prometheus, The Book of Eli, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Stargate. I'm sure there are many more, and I do like The Empire Strikes Back best of the Star Wars films.


KRS said...

Sci fi means different things to each of us - to me, it's a hell for lather western where impossible science is the rule. So many of the movies on these lists fill that bill.

I think the best sci fi adventure of the 3rd Millennium thus far is Lockout (2012). I really didn't expect to like it but it had everything. The inscrutable tough guy hero getting the shaft from the powers that be. A complex villain with a tragic flaw (his brother). An impossible mission that everyone agrees only our hero can accomplish. A minor character who inadvertantly causes the crisis and redeems his mistake. Betrayal and treason. And, of course, a damsel in distress. Great flick.

I've liked Guy Pierce since Count of Monte Cristo (2002), but never saw him as a hero. He takes the dark hero trope and squeezes new life out of it.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow and Scott, Obviously, society has no limits on what it considers science fiction. Personally, I don't find things Road Warrior or BTTF science fiction. To me, science fiction needs to involve robots or space ships or strange planets or a high tech future. It needs to be more than something we could create today. And Road Warrior is just today after a nuclear war basically. As for BTTF, it's certainly closer to science fiction except that the sci-fi elements are just a minute or two long and the rest is just a clever comedy. To me, neither feels like science fiction.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, If it's not a documentary, then what is it? LOL! ;-P

AndrewPrice said...

Seriously, Scott, to me, Brazil is just a drama set in a modern, but dystopian world. The point isn't science fiction, the point is political criticism. There's nothing in the story that doesn't already exist today. In fact, you could image this world existing today easily in Eastern Europe. So for me, it just doesn't ring "science fiction."

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Excellent additions! Each of those would have made my list if it were longer.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Nice comments! :)

The opening scene of Fifth Element really sets the table for what is to come. It also sets up this fascinating bridge that the story skips right over out time.

I love Dune. It's so unique in the world science fiction and they really capture the whole thing and present it to you. It feels so real. On the Smithee version, I like the extra scenes -- which explain a lot more, and I like that they speak their thoughts rather than getting them in voice overs. It works a lot better for me. Plus, I love the history lesson at the beginning. I wish they would bring that to BluRay.

Glad you get The Black Hole a second chance!

AndrewPrice said...

... gave

AndrewPrice said...

John, I definitely respect 2001 and I've seen it many times, even if I don't personally enjoy it. It definitely deserves it's place. It's just not a favorite of mine.

On the question of whether or not science fiction is a genre, I've debated that myself. I even wrote an article on it here: LINK

Men in Black! Good call! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Thanks for the link! A fascinating read. I will say that one big change happened after Joel left and that started to hurt the show. After Joel left, they started doing a lot more gay jokes and those got old reeeeeallly fast.

AndrewPrice said...

Glenn, Nice additions! And I too enjoy Starship Troopers as a guilty pleasure. :)

Forgot about Galaxy Quest. That's another great one.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I'll have to watch for that one!

KRS said...

When 2001 first came out, I was fascinated by it.

But, remember, it was 1968. It introduced brand new visual concepts, such as the fact that space ships need not be aerodynamically streamlined (even Star Trek's Enterprise was slicked out!). It also introduced flat screen monitors, video conferencing, voice recognition, artificial intelligence that suffers a mental breakdown (although Star Trek does this about the same time, in their case it's human engrams - whatever those are - that cause the problem) and the IPad. The visual effects hold up well, but, alas, the story does not after more than four decades. It is crushingly slow.

In my book, it is iconic and groundbreaking because of it's time. But if you take it out of that and let it stand alone, I think it falls short in the story telling.

Sample dialogue from Lockout:

[first lines]

Langral: Again, what happened in that hotel room?

Snow: Oh, it was coupon night and I was trampolining your wife.

[Snow is punched in the face]

Langral: You're a real comedian aren't you, Snow?

Snow: Well I guess that's why they call it the punch line.

[Snow is punched again]

Langral: You don't like me, do you?

Snow: Don't flatter yourself. I don't like anybody.

Langral: With that attitude, I can see why nobody likes you.

Snow: Oh, come on. People love me. Just ask your wife.

[Snow is punched again]

Alex said...

Great list! More homework for me to watch.

Fifth Element (1997): Would you believe all I know about this one is how annoying Chris Tucker is?

2. Blade Runner (1982): Read the book, never seen the movie.

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): I enjoyed this well enough, but something about Richard Dreyfuss rubs me the wrong way.

4. Dune (1984): I started reading this series for the first time ever last December (I'm almost done with book five out of six--all excellent). I have heard so much negative about the movie, I decided to watch it for myself...and I kind of liked it! Bizarre, sure, but not nearly as awful as I have heard. And I normally hate changes from the book.

5. Outland (1981): I have never heard of this one. Sean Connery kicking ass in space? Sign me up!

6. The Matrix (1999): I don't know if I'd say that this is the smartest movie ever made, but it's damn good sci-fi. Completely mind-blowing at the time. Just ignore the sequels.

7. Pitch Black (2000): Geez, I need to re-watch this. I hear so many raves about it. At the time, I thought it was a pretty predictable film that squandered a cool concept.

8. The Black Hole (1979): I have heard so many good things about this.I need to watch it.

9. Dark City (1998): See above. My uncle is an actor and film buff, and is notoriously picky about movies. When he raves about one, I know I need to see it. He raved about this. I still have not seen it. I am an awful nephew.

10. Forbidden Planet (1956): Haven't seen it in years. Need to rewatch!

Great list, as always!

Unknown said...

2001, slow, KRS? It has the most awesome jump-cut in the history of cinema!

More seriously, I like the way that the pacing of 2001 builds tension... to the point that it even becomes unwatchable for some claustrophobics. In these modern times of short attention spans, filmmakers can still learn much from the atmospheric storytelling in 2001.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I misread your comment and I thought, "I don't remember anyone referring to trampolining someone's wife in 2001?!" LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Alex, I highly recommend them all. :)

AndrewPrice said...

John, I have to agree with KRS that 2001 is too slow, especially the scene with the apes and the ending.

Anonymous said...

Ice Pirates, ha ha ha.

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