Friday, January 29, 2010

Top 25: Sci-Fi Films You Should Know

Science fiction is the most agile form of story telling because it allows you to present controversial and complex philosophical, ethical and political issues in ways that people can easily understand without feeling like they are sitting through a class on ethics, and without bringing their preconceived expectations and prejudices. It is also tailor-made for films. And since everybody loves lists. . .

Below you will find a list of the top 25 science fiction movies you should know to be well versed in science fiction. These are not necessarily the best or most entertaining films, but they are the important ones. . . the ones that had the greatest impact on science fiction and on our culture. And don’t worry, unlike some people who toss together horrible lists and then try to claim that they were only hoping to “spark debate,” I stand by this list.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who frets about the completely irrelevant distinction between “science fiction” and “sci-fi,” or who cries when people classify Star Wars as science fiction because “it’s fantasy set in space wah wah” then I have bad news for you. First, no one likes you. Secondly, sci-fi, science fiction, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t a real genre. . . it’s a setting. It needs to piggyback on some other genre -- drama, horror, romance, etc. So get over it.

Here we go:

1. Star Wars (1977): Star Wars is the greatest science fiction movie of all times by many measures. Star Wars made it acceptable for adults to admit publicly they enjoy science fiction, and it single-handedly created the merchandizing industry (plus it created Industrial Light and Magic, which dominates the special effects world). It was also the first film to introduce the public to the idea of “outer space” religions -- interestingly, “Jedi” was one of the top “religions” listed by respondents to the recent UK census. It also spawned numerous sequels and rip offs (including Battlestar Galactica). It’s impact on world culture cannot be over-stated. “Use the force Luke.”

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): This movie tapped into the alien abduction mania of the 1970s and gave us the little gray men motif that has since become a staple for UFO believers. Prior to this movie, aliens were described differently in different parts of the world. Afterwards. . . nuthin' but gray butts and big eyes. Basically, this movie single-handedly homogenized the alien conspiracy theory world, and stoked the abduction mania that continues today. “You can’t fool us by agreeing with us.”

3. Blade Runner (1982): Discussing the question of “what makes us human,” this combination sci-fi and film noir single-handedly set the tone that science fiction would follow thereafter. Hard-boiled gun toting heroes hunting bad guys in dark, depressing and nihilistic landscapes has become the default for science fiction because of this film. The influence of Blade Runner on the science fiction world cannot be overstated. “I want more life f*cker.”

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Ok, truthfully, 2001 stinks, especially the twenty minutes at the beginning and the end. BUT, 2001 redefined science fiction. Prior to 2001, science fiction had become the playground of children’s movies, with guys in rubber suits chasing teenagers. 2001 elevated science fiction by treating the subject matter seriously and introducing adult concepts like human evolution, artificial intelligence and the nature of extraterrestrial life, all done in a relatively scientifically-accurate setting. This movie spawned the realism phase of science fiction. “What do you think you’re doing Dave?”

5. Metropolis (1927): Science fiction films got their start in Georges Melis’ 1902 A Trip To The Moon, but Friz Lang’s Metropolis became the real influence. It’s dystopian view of workers toiling away in a glittering city controlled by sentient machines set the foundations for almost every science fiction movie that followed.

6. Forbidden Planet (1956): Forbidden Planet was one of the first serious science fiction movies to speculate on how man would roam the stars in the future. This film specifically inspired Star Trek, the most significant science fiction television franchise of all time, and it established several motifs that dominate science fiction today, e.g. that spaceships would be military vessels, that scientists and military do not get along, the good scientist who goes too far, and the uneasy relationship between humans and their robot servants. “Monsters from the subconscious.”

7. Planet of the Apes (1968): The late 1960s saw science fiction begin to talk about social issues. From Soylent Green’s worry about over population to Westworld’s worry about our ability to control our mechanical creations. And the greatest of these was Planet of the Apes, which addressed a future in which mankind had blown themselves up and were reduced to serving as pets for intelligent apes. “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

8. Jurassic Park (1993): Jurassic Park spawned a special effects revolution that changed the movie industry as well as the way we watch documentaries. In place of hand drawings or claymation, Jurassic Park unleashed computer generated graphics into the world, allowing documentaries like Walking With Dinosaurs and leading to films like Lord of the Rings which Peter Jackson undertook after realizing from Jurassic Park what computers would let him do. “An Adventure 65 Million Years In The Making.”

9. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): In the 1950s, science fiction was relegated to children’s cinema. But among the fake robots and rubber-suited monsters, a few science fiction films tried their hand at adult drama. In the process, they opened the door to adding limited social commentary to science fiction. Of these, The Day The Earth Stood Still is the one that truly stands out. Warning us about man’s propensity to use violence to settle disagreements, this film reminded us that we might not be the most powerful creatures in the universe. “Klaatu barada nikto.” (Avoid the remake.)

10. The Time Machine (1960): Based on the book by H.G. Well, this film is the grandfather of all time travel films, which would become the most loved science fiction theme. “Which three books would you have taken?”

11. Alien (1979): Besides launching a thousand careers, Alien opened the door for mixing science fiction with modern (i.e. realistic) horror, and for women heroes. It also gave us a gritty realism that had been lacking in prior views of the human future, which were all jumpsuit and sterile soundstage. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

12. The Matrix (1999): The Matrix is a theological/philosophical treatise disguised as a science fiction movie. Nothing you see in the film is there by accident, and everything has double and triple meanings. In many ways, The Matrix is the zenith of several key science fiction themes -- man v. machines, reality v. apparent reality, and the question of what makes us human. In terms of influence, The Matrix has become a code word for altered reality. It also introduced several new visual styles, such as “bullet time.” “What is the Matrix?”

13. Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Based on Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451 fits into the 1960s trend of social, political commentary. But unlike other films of the time, this one didn’t involve catastrophe, it involved people who thought they were perfectly happy. . . except for one man who wonders why books need to be burned. These would become common elements of science fiction: people who voluntarily submit to oppression, the gilded cage, mind control, group think, an oppressive regime, and a lone hero who wonders why. “Fahrenheit four-five-one is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.”

14. War of the Worlds (1953): Based on H.G. Wells’ story, this cross between the adult science fiction of the 1950s and the kiddy stuff, gave us the idea that maybe aliens won’t wear jumpsuits and look like teenagers, and maybe they won’t think twice about exterminating us -- a point repeated recently by Stephen Hawking, who states that the interaction between two civilization of different technical prowess almost always ends poorly for the less advanced group. It also was the first film to posit that, just as ancient people were struck down by diseases from travelers to which they had no immunity, maybe the same would hold true with space creatures. Both themes have become common. “After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in his wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

15. The Andromeda Strain (1971): From Michael Crichton’s book, this is one of a myriad of pandemic movies from the late 1960s and early 1970s. But whereas the others were typically more melodramatic, this film approached the idea with genuine interest in how science would stop a pandemic. Movies like Outbreak and The Stand trace their roots through this film. It is also likely that films like this contributed to the eventual banning of chemical and biological weapons. “Enemy? We did it to ourselves!”

16. Dune (1984): Dune is one of the most influential science fiction books of all time. The movie didn’t take with the public, and that actually hurt the industry for some time, but it has since become a cult hit. (I actually prefer the Alan Smithee version.) Dune introduces the idea of folding space, something scientists now consider possible. “Usul, we have worm sign the likes of which even God has never seen.”

17. Fifth Element (1987): Fifth Element stands as the only anti-Blade Runner which has found an audience. It presents a future that is actually quite positive, if a little odd. It’s also one of the few films to let its aliens develop personality and be anything other than wise or menacing. This is another cult movie that you must know. “Time is not important. Only life is important.”

18. Stargate (1994): This movie introduces the idea of traveling throughout space without a spaceship, and it provides an alternative history of our planet. It also spawned a massive industry of merchandise, television spin offs, games, and online fan fiction. “Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.”

19. Capricorn One (1978): I want to rank this higher because I really like this film, but it just isn’t influential enough. As my review noted, this film is a cultural marker to the beginning of the “vast government conspiracy” movement of today. . . but it isn’t a driver of that movement, it just notes it. Still, you should know this movie. “There are people out there, ‘forces’ out there, who have a lot to lose.”

20. THX-1138 (1971): I debated putting Logan’s Run into this slot, but I decided THX 1138 is just more influential. This Lucas film depicts a world in which the population is controlled by faceless, android police officers and the mandatory use of drugs to suppress emotion and sexual desire -- with a stellar cast to boot. This movie is one of those that all science fiction fanatics have seen and can discuss, and references to it find their way into everything science fiction. “Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses.”

21. 12 Monkeys (1995): Terry Gilliam, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt at their best remake the French short film La Jetée, a story about a man who makes his own future by interfering with his own past. With a plot that is heavily interlaced with multiple timelines and a rare moment of Gilliam-coherence, this is one of those films you need to know. “I'm looking for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.”

22. E.T. (1982): Unfairly dismissed as a kids movie, E.T. presents a different view of aliens than we’d seen before. While they are not human, they also aren’t out to hurt us. Yet, while this movie was huge at the time, it ultimately was not very influential. Still, you should see it. “Phone home.”

23. The Terminator (1984): The Terminator’s influence was more cultural than in science fiction. Indeed, the movie was exceedingly popular, became a franchise, and got everyone mimicking its star for some time, but it had little new to offer the world of science fiction. Still, if you want to know science fiction, you must see this movie. “Sarah Connor?”

24. Tron (1982): Yes, Tron. This was the first film from a major studio (Disney) that used extensive computer graphics. And while this movie lacks the philosophical questions raised by its sibling The Black Hole, this film provides the first glimpse into how science fiction interprets the inner universe of a computer. “That’s Tron, he fights for the users.”

25. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): This is another film that added little to the science fiction world, but struck it big in the cultural reference department. I almost hesitate to mention it, and probably wouldn’t if it wasn’t part of the Star Trek franchise, but you should know it. “Khaaaaaan!”

There are many other science fiction films that I would suggest you watch: Cube, Robocop, The Satan Bug, Pitch Black, eXistenz, Dark City, Outland, The Abyss, The Black Hole, and Contact, just to name a few. But none of these are as important as the 25 listed above.

I take it you agree?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!


Tennessee Jed said...

There are many good movies listed , whether they are the top 25, I have no idea

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It's a bit of a challenge to put a list like this together, especially as you get down toward the bottom.

That said, I went through hundreds of SciFi movies and I really considered the impact of each -- both culturally and on science fiction itself. It was an interesting process because several of the movies that I originally assumed would be near the top (like E.T.) kept falling as I realized that they were big hits, but had little impact.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, in terms of impacts on science fiction, I'm talking about the introduction of ideas, styles or themes that would start to appear in other science fiction works, or about movies that influenced other filmmakers.

Anonymous said...

I would have included Superman which set the template for all future superhero films (and it was one of the first films to take superheroes seriously). "This is no fantasy!"

Re: Star Wars - it also made big orchestral film music popular again and revolutionized visual effects photography. ILM developed a process called motion control which involved multiple camera passes to shoot different elements, then combining them together on an optical printer.

Re: Blade Runner - it looks like Ridley Scott prefers the alternate line "I want more life father" because that's the one he included in his Final Cut. I still can't believe this film was shot on the same backlot where they shot parts of the old Batman show! It's a testament to Scott and his designers that, while the film takes place in LA, it doesn't look like it was shot there (except for the Bradbury Building, of course).

Re: Apes - I'm not talking about the remake but I wonder how people would greet the film today, what with the whole nuke message. Sure, it's a G-rated film about apes but it has such a downer ending (the sequels even moreso).

Re: Alien - this film was also one of the first to take a B-movie plot and give it A-list production values.

Re; Fahrenheit 451 - people have been trying to make a new version for years, including Mel Gibson who was pretty close to doing so back in the late 90s. Now I believe Frank Darabont is trying but I've heard nothing about it for months. Spielberg even hired his production designer for Minority Report based on the guy's artwork for Gibson's F451.

I would inlcude T2 in the runner-up category if only for the way it revolutionized visual effects (which paved the way for Jurassic Park).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Good call on Star Wars' music, but my space was limited so it was too hard to list everything it influenced.

Apes is the best example of a style that was very typical at the time -- large catastrophe, melodramatic acting, and downer ending. You need to remember, these were produced at a time when things weren't going well in the country.

Aliens isn't really a B-movie plot because there hadn't been much like it before -- though it has become a B-movie plot today because of all the cheap knock-offs. Remember, the combination of sci-fi and realistic horror just hadn't been done before. Plus, when you look at it, the story really is fairly sophisticated as it (1) takse a long time to run into the alien, and (2) most of the movie is about the relationship of the characters, not just alien-chasing.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, By the way, I was very close to including Superman, but I just couldn't find the influence. I don't agree that it paved the way for the comic book movies. First, it took years before more comic book movies were made. Secondly, it's style wasn't copied by later movies. For that, I would say look more to the 1980s Batman movies. Third, comic book heroes were already hitting the big screen fairly regularly before this. Superman was just the first in a while.

CrispyRice said...

What?? What about "Rocketship XM" and "Attack of the the Eye Creatures"?! From MSTies everywhere, for shame, Andrew, for shame...

;) J/k.

Actually I very much like your list. I very much agree with your assessment that sci-fi isn't honestly a "genre" by itself. It needs to be something else. The sci-fi part is the setting, but the story itself is horror (Alien) or soap opera (Star Trek TNG) or comedy (Galaxy Quest) or or or...

Game Master Rob Adams said...

I loved Dark City. If anyone ever wants to talk sci fi geekdom let me know and we'll chat! "Toaster? You're a toaster!"

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Thanks! (By the way, I loved those movies when MST3k did them!)

I'm glad you agree about it not being a genre. It really does need to piggyback on another genre before you can create a film -- which is not true with things like romance, drama or mystery.

Sadly, comedic sci-fi is WAY underrepresented by Hollywood and I think there is great opportunity in filling that gap! (Galaxy Quest being a notable exception.)

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, I love Dark City! That's one of my favorite SciFi films -- in fact, check out my review if you haven't. (It's linked in this article.)

AndrewPrice said...

ACG -- P.S. We have a lot of SciFi fans, so if you have a topic that you think might be ripe for an article or discussion, let us know!

USArtguy said...

At the risk of revealing my Sci-Fi nerdiness Andrew, I have seen all but four movies on your list (Forbidden Planet, Fahrenheit 451, Capricorn One and 12 monkeys).

Star Wars should be definitely be number one. Even though it was really a cowboy movie set in space, Science fiction movies had not been filmed with the same attention to detail previously. Before, all space suits were crisp and clean, ships' hulls didn't have so much as a scratch and their interiors were sterile rather than lived in. Of course the story was good, but there was a sense that this was real. This was the first movie I paid full price to see more than once (about seven times).

The only one I completely disagree with is Dune. After much build up and anticipation, the movie sucked. While the first 100 pages or so of the book were tedious, they were important because the laid the groundwork that made the rest of the book great. The movie was tedious all the way through with a couple of gross things thrown in for effect. It was so... tedious... (have I used that word already?) that any nifty idea about folding space had as much interest as folding laundry.

Even though the premise was dumb, I thought Silent Running with Bruce Dern was a much better movie and would replace Dune with it.

I'd be hard pressed to replace any of your other choices though Tron may have to be bumped to 26. I agree with your reasoning for including it, but it was pretty much a yawn. Which was too bad because I really wanted to like the movie. I'd put the 1953 War of the Worlds in its place.

Some movies not as "important" but enjoyable: The Back To The Future franchise, Independence Day, Armageddon, Cocoon, Return of The Jedi for no better reason than Princess Leia in that slave costume and West World. An interesting retro look at the future is Things To Come from 1936.

Oh, and while we tend to think of them as "monster" movies, the Frankenstein flicks were Science Fiction.

Sorry, I don't mean to co-opt the comments section but any list of 25 things takes some discussion :-)

Anonymous said...

Another thought re: Fahrenheit 451 - we watched it in freshman English class but most of the students laughed it right off the screen. I think it was Francois Truffaut's first movie filmed in English and it shows. The acting and writing are stilted at times and the couple of effects shots that are in the film are laughable at best.

There are a few stylistic touches in the film that I didn't get at the time but I should probably see it again. I do think it was cool that the credits were spoken and not written. The story and themes are relevant but this is a book that needs to made into a movie today.

We did get a great Bernard Herrmann score which was lovingly re-recorded a couple years ago. This CD is a jewel in my collection:

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, No problem with the long comments -- we're here to discuss these things after all. FYI, this actually started as a top 10 list, but that seemed too limiting.

I personally enjoy Dune, though I can't argue with your view on it -- I am in a definite minority on Dune. Still, it is one of those movies that has had a good size effect, so I felt it had to be included in any discussion of Science Fiction.

I have to admit that I have not seen Silent Running with Bruce Dern.

As for the monsters, I am grouping them in the horror camp, which I'm saving for a future list.

Have to agree on Tron too. I like it, but not that much -- and it belongs for the one reason only (computers), but at that low part in the countdown, it could easily be bumped for something else, though I felt it did belong.

In terms of Back to the Future, etc., I liked those a lot, but I didn't see much of an effect on the culture or on science fiction coming out of those films.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Remember that you can't judge an old movie by modern standards, which is what too many people do. Tastes change, acting styles change, and effects change, so what was once good often seems trite or poorly done today. What was once shocking would today be considered blasé.

Fahrenheit 451 is an example of that. By today's standards, it's exceedingly tame. But by the 1960s standards, it fit right in with the acting style, the story telling style, and the technical aspects of movie making from the period. It also spoke to a generation for whom Nazi book burning was still a fresh memory.

For a list like this, you need to take these movies in the context of the era in which they appeared and the effects on the future that they had -- not on whether or not they would work today.

It's no coincidence, by the way, that almost every movie on this list has been remade or is currently scheduled to be remade. These movies have resonated and each generation tries to remake them to fit our current tastes (often to worse effect).

USArtguy said...

"...much of an effect on the culture or on science fiction..."

I'm guessing that's why Earth Girls Are Easy wasn't included. LOL!

Writer X said...

Great list, Andrew! And a tough one to put together because there are so many to choose from. I love the world-building you find in science fiction--whether in movies or books. It's quite a challenge to make the worlds believable.

I'm sure an anvil is going to fall from the sky and land on my head but I've never been a STAR WARS fan. I've tried to like the movies, really. But, for some reason, they're too much tongue-in-cheek for me. They're somewhere between movie and cartoon for me. Can't really explain it better than that.

A couple of favs on your list for me include STARGATE (also loved the TV series), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE TIME MACHINE, FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE MATRIX. I do like the APES movies and am still creeped out by them to this day.

Love these movie posts!!

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, Yep! LOL! Though it was a tough call between that and Buckaroo Banzai! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Writer X! The movie posts are some of my favorites to write, and doing this list was both fun and challenging. I'm looking to do more -- though I suspect future lists will be even more difficult.

You don't like Star Wars??? I didn't think that was possible? Yeah, I'd watch out for an anvil or something if I was you! LOL!

I agree completely about the world building aspect of science fiction. I think it's no surprise that the best science fiction (the type that audiences love the most) usually involves creating an entire world, rather than just a small scenario. Whereas some of the best drama can take place in a single room, science fiction demands a glimpse into a different world -- and the greater attention to detail, the better!

USArtguy said...

Writer X,

Star Wars came out when I was still in high school working a part time job at a library. A coworker, a very dear older lady, and her husband went to see Star Wars. About 10 minutes into it, she said her husband got up and said something like "That could never happen, it's ridiculous" and walked out.

Writer X said...


I think that's maybe how I feel about the STAR WARS movies. While there's no denying the cool special effects, I just found the story too cartoonish. I know that I'm in the minority. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew - Believe me, I certainly consider these movies in their original context but even then, I don't think F451 is a great movie. Good but not great.

Re: world-building, it's amazing when you consider Blade Runner was envisioned by writer Hampton Fancher as a movie that "took place in rooms." Ridley was the one to ask, "What's outside the room?" to which Fancher responded, "Who the f--- cares?" :-)

BevfromNYC said...

It might surprise you that I have seen most of these movies and loved them! In some cases, the books were better, but that's another story.

But you left off GWTW. Yes, it could be considered SciFi, if you got the original director's cut where Scarlett fends off the alien attack and giant spiders at Tara. (I just had to go there. I'm sorry)

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy & Writer X,

One of the problems that science fiction faces is exactly what USArtguy has identified -- many people can't get over the "that's not real" aspect.

I don't know if it's a fear of the unfamiliar or a lack of imagination, but many people simply hate science fiction for that reason -- "it's not real."

(Yet, I would point out that these same people often like the ridiculous explosions in action flicks and the totally fake set ups in sit coms).

P.S. X, there's no reaason you have to like Star Wars, some movies just don't take with some people. That's part of people having different tastes and different opinions.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I honestly thought about including GWTW as a joke. . . just for you! But I didn't. :-(

I agree with you about the books. Many of the books that led to these movies were much better.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Could you imagine if Ridley Scott had gone with the room idea? I doubt the movie would have had much staying power.

By the way, if you ever read the Phillip Dick book from which it comes ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep") you will wonder that Ridley Scott created Blade Runner out of it -- there's so little relation between the two.

In terms of liking Fahrenheit 451, remember that I said these are the important films, not necessarily the best or the most enjoyable. For example, I find 2001 to be just awful, but I recognize that it deserves its place on the list.

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I know. :-)

Re: Blade Runner, I think the title itself came from another story written by a different author - the filmmakers just liked it!

P.S. I sent you a revised blog with updated links. I've already started work on the next two. The phrase that comes to mind is "downward spiral" but you'll have to wait and see. :-)

Unknown said...

Andrew: I could never get with Close Encounters. Aside from the fact that I automatically want to punch Richard Dreyfuss simply for existing, that "music" that was the key to contacting the aliens always sounded like my kids' "Simon" game.

Metropolis is riveting, even though Lang got his future wrong. Love the fembot.

Forbidden Planet's adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest is still great fun to watch even after decades of improvements in special effects have left the movie's set paintings looking primitive. Its influence on Star Wars is undeniable.

TDTESS in its original form is a classic (even if it naively suggested that robots and computers should make our decisions for us). It also proves that modern remakes generally stink because they're all about special effects and lousy character development. Ditto for the remake of The Time Machine, The Andromeda Strain and War of the Worlds.

12 Monkeys has two of my least favorite movie stars who completely surprised me with their fine performances, and this dystopian movie worked almost perfectly.

As a sci-fi book reader who loves long, thoughtful, novels with sequels, I was a big fan of Herbert's Dune series. I liked the movie, but its time constraints left it incapable of getting many of the important sci-fi and philosophical nuances into the movie. As strange as it may sound, the SciFi (now SyFy) Channel's mini-series captured the original book much better, and the sequel did a pretty good job with Children of Dune/Dune Messiah(starring a then-unknown James McAvoy as the son and heir of Paul Atreides.

Now, if a producer and a director who know what they're doing would do a film version of Asimov's Foundation trilogy (and it really would take three separate movies), I'd be happy as a clam.

Unknown said...

Crispy: I love your suggestions, and just want to add one, since I grew up with the female child lead in it. Robot Monster, starring George Nader and, ta da, Pam Paulson. I list it at the top of the best-worst sci-fi movies of all time, ahead of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The gorilla in the space suit, along with the billion-bubble machine, make it the very best-worst ever for unscary alien and terrible special effects.

DCAlleyKat said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the list Andrew. It was like a walk down memory stargates.

JG said...

Thank you for giving Tron it's due! That's always been a big hit in this house, for not only are we sci-fi geeks, we are also gamers (to one degree or another, beginning with my Dad and Pong.) Tron has gotten overlooked by so many throughout the years.

And Khan, of course. KAHHHHHHHHN. Classic. The best of the series, the birth of the series, really.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think that The Foundation trilogy would make for a one heck of an interesting movie. . . but, its belief in freedom and scientific advancement rather than state-dominated thinking, doesn't exactly fit with the current liberal thinking in Hollywood. They'd turn it into an environmentalist movie. Great book though!

I agree about remakes -- too often they just pack them with special effects, fill them with a 90210 cast, and then suck out the soul of the original, replacing them with cause-de-jour topics that just leave the whole thing dated and unpleasant.

AndrewPrice said...

DCAlleyKat, Glad you enjoyed it. Science fiction certainly appears to be popular with everyone here?

Unknown said...

Andrew: You're probably right about Foundation given the proclivities of the current Hollywood crowd. "Ooh, look at The Mule. See what happens when you mess with mother nature?"

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I think that Tron, like The Black Hole, gets unfairly overlooked because it was a Disney movie. Disney was still thought of as strictly for kids at the time. I can't argue that either is a great film, but I do enjoy them a lot and Tron certainly deserves its place in the Top 25.

Star Trek II is definitely the best of the movies, but for my tastes, the movies really can't hold a candle to the original series or even some of the best episode of the later series (though they had a very different sensibility).

Anything you would replace on the list?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That or they'd make him a creature created by "corporate interests" to stop "the peaceful, environmentally friendly Foundation." Too bad, it would make a heck of a movie(s)!

CrispyRice said...

Bev! I LOVE the director's cut of GWTW! ;D

StanH said...

Great list Andrew! A couple I might add, John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and Kubricks, “A Clock Work Orange.”

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I love John Carpenter movies, but I'm going to leave him for the eventual horror list rather than the science fiction list.

A Clockwork Orange probably should be on the list. . . good point!

Unknown said...

USArtGuy: Good catch on Things To Come. It's a pretty faithful adaptation of Wells's story The Shape of Things to Come. The movie has all of Wells's antiwar and socialist concepts, but also demonstrates his ultimate doubts. Global government as a good thing, except when it turns tyrannical. Who wouldn't love "wings over the world" and and "the wandering sickness?" And the early Ralph Richardson as a slightly demented tribal leader. But the best of all was watching Raymond Massey in his early and late manifestations through the course of the movie. The best (and campiest) scene in the movie is Massey and his entourage standing on the wing of an in-flight monster aircraft.

Game Master Rob Adams said...

Andrew I posted a Victorian Science Fiction article over on my war gaming blog ArmChairGeneral1. I'd love to get a good VSF Jules Verne discussion going.

rlaWTX said...

I've seen most of your list... I can not even begin to answer to the "influential"-ness of monies. I am only at a"like-dislike" level of critique. ;)

I was a kid when Star Wars came out, and my 1st grade boyfriend had seen it. during recess we played his version of it (as the only girla nd brunette besides), I was Leia, he was Luke (if we'd only known), and his bestfriend was Chewy. I used to get my mom to braid my hair so I could loop them. silly good times.

I need to rewatch Blade Runner. It's been a loooooong time. And I wasn't much interested at the time.

since everyone talked about 2001 and I didn't get it, I read the book too. still don't get it. only ending I find worse is GWTW!

I stumbled over #9 TDTESS about 10 years ago and thought it was interesting. Kind of a Twilight Zone feeling for me.

I read Dune, and liked it. Haven't managed to sit thru the movie. And sold the 1st sequel back to the bookstore. (I rarely get rid of books!)

Read War of the Worlds. Thre was a TV show in the late 80's (on independent stations, right before Next Generation) that took up where the movie left off, about 40 year later where some had survived. It was great!!! (and probably cheesy)

Loved the Stargate TV shows. Not so much the movie. (kinda like Buffy!)

I love Aliens (M Biehn is a handsome fella, what can I say). I haven't seen Alien in forever. I guess I gotta rewatch it.

The ending of Apes is just jaw-dropping. Even when you know it's coming. Saw it again right after 9/11 and it had another feeling.

Liked Jurassic, Matrix, 5th Element, 12 Monkeys, Terminator, Khan, even Tron. ET is sappy; liked it at 10, not so much now.

I have heard of the rest except THX-1138. What's that?

Thanks for the walks down memory lane.

rlaWTX said...

Oh yeah, they'd screw up Asimov. See "I, Robot" for a prime example. I like the movie if I pretend that it has nothing to do with Asimov.

But in a perfect world, I'd love for someone to do the Harry/Rings effect and start with the Daneel books all the way through Foundation.

(sorry, I babbled on the last post. It didn't look that long in the little box!)

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: Gee, I also saw the War of the Worlds TV series. The first season was really quite good (the Martians found a way to cause collective memory loss about the original invasion), but the second season lost me when it deleted a main character and replaced him with a female ninja from outer space.

Another of my favorite movies (not mentioned) was When Worlds Collide. It stuck close to the book, but they never made the movie sequel of the second book, which was even more prescient because it posited China as the only other modern power technically proficient to produce a spaceship capable of reaching the new planet. And the author also predicted that the Chinese rivals would not be our friends. NOt bad, considering he conceived the whole idea in the 30s and didn't get to press 'til the 40s.

Either Twilight Zone or Outer Limits (anybody here remember which?) did a b&w telling of I, Robot that was close to the original Asimov conception. It starred a young Leonard Nimoy. The Robin Williams film Bicentennial Man was a completely different story, but got much closer to Asimov's concept than the Smith high-tech robots-gone-made version of Asimov's story.

BevfromNYC said...

rlaWTX "I read the book too. still don't get it. only ending I find worse is GWTW!"

Ummm, I think you've just committed a Commentarama misdemeanor. Thou shalt NOT disparage GWTW! I'm watching you now 8-{

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I see that you're well read in science fiction -- excellent! So many of the books are so much better than the films, but I do enjoy them both.

I don't care for 2001 either. I get their point, but it just doesn't mean anything to me.

I remember the War of the Worlds TV show -- I used to like that alot. The actor I recall was named Chavez, though his first name escapes me. Good show!

Apes is jaw dropping, even when you know it's coming. It's just such a powerful image.

Careful with GWTW -- there's a very angry GWTW mob around here. . . I think they're violent! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I shall endeavor to include GWTW on all future lists! LOL!

USArtguy said...


THX-1138 is George Lucas' first feature film. Set in the 25th Century it depicts a bleak, dystopian future in an underground city where every individual is controlled by the state down to his or her emotions and how a couple individuals try to break free.

As an aside, you may have seen "THX Certified" at the beginning of some movies. This is a rigorous sound reproduction certification that tries to ensure what the movie audience hears is what the filmmaker intended. This was developed by George Lucas and audio engineer Tomlinson Holman. It was named THX for both Holman and for Lucas' film THX-1138.

You can read about the movie at many places on the Internet and the sound process at

Individualist said...


Great list. There were only two films on it that I would list as science fantasy genre and not science fiction (Star Wars and Fith element). I still think they belng in the general sci fi class but I think it might mean something that more sci fantasy films were not listed though I don't know what.

The only movie I want to add to this list is Gattaca and not just becasue Uma Thurman stars in it either. I found that movie really compelling and I would state it is the best Hard Science fiction movie every made. Problem is the only movies I am willing to knock off your list are the one's Ihave not seen and that is not fair (I think I have seen all but 4).

Best fanstasy movie of all time. I know everyone would probably pick one of the Tolkien Lord of the Rings movie but I would have to go with Willow. "Peck! PeckPeckPEck PeckPeckPeck"

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I don't worry about the distinction between science fiction and science fantasy, or the distinction between Sci-Fi and science fiction -- that's too much nitpicking and it causes the most bizarre fights on sci-fi boards.

That said, I agree with you that the most important science fiction tends to be the closest to reality. I think the reason for that is that we like to glimpse our futures or possible futures, plus those films tend to have the most to say about modern society -- it is generally much harder for fantasy films to offer social commentary.

I think it's great that everyone is so well versed in science fiction! Great group!

Gattaca was an interesting movie, though I'm not sure what influence it's had.

Individualist said...


I am not sure that Gattaca could have much influence because I don't know that it played out as well in audience size. When you have a science fiction movie with no real action scenes you lose the younger audience. I do make the distinction about "Hard" Scienc Fiction only because as a fan of this tyoe of Science Fiction I wish it had a bigger following. In hard science fiction the author limits himself to those new discoveries that are known to be possible to the laws of science. This makes it less fantastic and more cerebral so I understand it will have a limited popular appeal but I still think it produces important themes. That being said I think that Fantasy, Science Fantasy and Science Fiction are all very important as well and I am a fan of them as well. I even think some fantasy films can have social relevance i.e. Lord of the Rings.

For me the beauty of Gattaca is it poses the question What are we and what makes us successful. In a world where DNA is controlled and intelligence can be designed does this advantage make anyone who is made and born outside of a test tube irrelevant. Is everything that makes us great something coded in the four proteins that make up DNA and nothing else. If this is true then we are simply machnes and what we do is limited to our design. The movie tries to put the theme that there is an inner drive that comes from the soul which can be as important.

This is why I really liked the film. It is also why I classified it on its own because the class of films as a whole will never compete with the others.

Joel Farnham said...


While I do appreciate your compilation, I just cant stop thinking about the contribution of the Series Firefly and the companion film Serenity.

This series does not extend nor elaborate on the boundries of SF, but it should be duly noted it is about people who will NEVER BE CONQUERED, only killed. And that in and of itself is an SF subject. At the very least, it should be off by it's own special self.

In other words, I AM BROWNCOAT and PROUD OF IT.


AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I agree about the themes certainly -- very interesting themes, and becoming increasingly relevant. In fact, I think we're already at the point in sports, where kids who don't use human growth hormone and steroids simply aren't going to make to the pros, so it creates a "race to the bottom" so to speak. Gattaca talks to that in many ways.

I also agree that movies that lack action sequences will never capture the younger audience, which is too bad. But capturing huge audiences doesn't necessarily equate to influence. I think influence comes from having something very insightful or new to say.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Firefly was great and I wish the network hadn't killed it! I didn't include it because I'm not listing television shows, just films. Otherwise, there are a whole host of other shows that need to be added.

In terms of Serenity, while I like it, I don't see that it had any influence -- except to reinforce how much we liked the series.

Joel Farnham said...


Ah, but were you looking too close or too far away.

FireFly is the closest we get to what we are as Americans.

The history it is based on, the loss of the South in the Civil War... they had a legitimate grief... The NORTH shouldn't have won.

Firefly is based on the LOSERS of the Civil War. Maybe it is because I am living in the south, but....

WHY DO YOU LIKE THE SERIES AND THE MOVIE? It is a legitimate question.

I believe it is a quintessential
question. Are we some corporate drone? Or are we really something better than that?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I've said before that I think westerns represent the time period that is probably most closely associated with conservative, American thinking. Firefly was an attempt to merge Sci-Fi with the spirit and style of westerns, and I think that made it a hit -- and why so many conservatives like it so much.

I also agree that it touches very nicely upon the legitimate concern that many Americans have that our country is being turned into a corporate playground -- something I am not thrilled by.

Plus, it was just a fun story with a lot of great elements and creative characters.

Joel Farnham said...


First things first, Just What is the American Experience?

This show is more than just a little SF show. Check out YouTube if you have the chance.

I will even start you off right.

This is an inspiring song with Firefly as the background.

People are still creating videos and songs for this seeming little series.

How many series that lasted only ONE/HALF a year can you say created a following?

Enough to make a movie?

There is more here than you think.

Enjoy the other songs linked. :-)

Individualist said...

Joel and Andrew

I think that as time goes on Serenity will become a more influential film. I see it having the same cult appeal as Star Trek which was also cancelled after three seasons.

Perhaps in 10 years we can come back to Commentarama and see if it makes Andrews list then.

What makes Serenity great is the statement about what happens when the government tries to make your life better. Great Movie! I also like the idea that people in the frontier had an American accent at the time of the civil war "I mean to be saying"

Joel Farnham said...


Do you remember a song from Neil Diamond? I am I said.

It is a declaration. From a man to the world. This is what I see from FireFly and Serenity.

I am I said. This is what I see from the Constitution to the Government of the United States.

You don't have any rights except what I as a Citizen gives you. You being the Government. I give you these things to do. Security of State. That is keep the enemies of the United States out. Second Keep the usual obstacles keeping me from work to the smallest amount. Third, don't lie to me.

Maybe I am reading more into it, but so what?

Game Master Rob Adams said...

I really liked Gattaca

El Gordo said...

Everyone should see "Silent Running". It is technically very impressive for 1972. But it is important because it unintentionally proves that hippies are not just wrong but evil.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, LOL! I have added it to my NetFlix list. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, there's nothing wrong with seeing meaning in films and tv shows -- in fact, the meaning is often intended. . . especially in science fiction.

Individualist, Maybe with the passage of time it will make the list. That's hard to tell -- it's always hard to see how important new films or new books can be. In fact, at some point, I'm going to prepare a list of overrate films on the basis of how much praise they got at the time and how they just vanished into the ash heap of history.

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