My top ten (or so) favorite Science Fiction movies of all time

I’ve deliberately made this list controversial, in the hopes you wonderful readers will jog my memory with your own favorites and remind me of movies I have forgotten about. Of course, this is a list of my favorite movies, ergo, television shows like The Twilight Zone (which is some of the best Sci-Fi in existence) is not included. Before I get to the list proper, I want to mention a few also-rans, and explain why they didn’t score higher than they maybe should have. First off, there are the Star Trek films both older and more recent. I only vaguely remember one of the older ones, can’t even recall which one it was that I watched in first grade (on one of those strange days near the end of every school year where the curriculum has finished, but the school year hasn’t, and you are still in school for what reason?) but obviously I can’t include them on my list, despite wanting to cater a little to what I know is a very large fan-base… [I saw the newer one, and liked it very much, but it doesn’t make my top ten, sorry. Same for Avatar… entertaining, but not spellbinding for some reason, although there is something disturbing about the human psyche (or at least mine) that finds it utterly fascinating to witness the last moments of a populace as their planet implodes, as in Star Trek, or is razed to shreds, as in AvatarKnowing comes to mind here as well, but I’m not sure to what genre that belongs!] I did like the Star Trek television series growing up.

Star Trek Intrepid

E.T. doesn’t make my list because I am a firm believer that the events depicted in that film are not entirely fiction, but rather are a dramatization of an event which occurred in the Western U.S. in the middle of the 20th Century. An E.B.E. (pronounced E.B. or ee-bee, and standing for Extraterrestrial Biological Entity) was found alive at the site of a crashed space craft and a rescue effort was launched to keep it alive. The creature unfortunately succumbed to, well…, either the crash or the Earth environment, or some combination of both. It was said to be intelligent and mobile (i.e. animal like) but also somehow plantlike in that it obtained its energy directly from sunlight through a process akin to photosynthesis. At any rate, it’s a fascinating story, but not what I consider to be fiction. For the keen-eyed, watch closely for many “Spielberg is telling us the truth slowly” moments in his films (See also Super 8).

E.T.

A few more recent films just plain don’t deserve legendary status on their own accord, but deserve, I feel, some mention. The Transformers trilogy of recent years holds a special place in my heart, having grown up with the cartoons and the toys (they’re not “action figures” Goddamnit, they’re toys!) but on their own they’re just fun movies. Great big entertaining fun, but not Science Fiction classics to be remembered for anything special (except pouring more oil on the fire that is the Moon conspiracies… but the truth will come out soon enough either way). That and all the pro-military propaganda…  Cowboys & Aliens deserves a special prize, in that my expectations were so low that it almost had to exceed them at least a little, and it did! [Cookie for the special child!] It was actually not a terrible movie. I enjoyed it and really came away surprised that they did as well as they did with it. Meanwhile, it obviously does not make the top ten list.

I, Robot probably belongs on the top ten list, but I did say I was making the list controversial, and had to leave room for a few non-traditional selections. It is a classic Science Fiction story by one of the all time greats – Isaac Asimov, but I suspect something along the way in the translation from the written story to the screen is subtly flawed, because, as great as the story is, and as great as the movie is, I never feel as great about the movie as I feel I should. Something is just a hair off somewhere. Ditto Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds (the recent version). Both excellent and great classics of the genre, but somehow, in some indeterminable way, flawed and therefor disappointing to me. Although as a child I loved Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I admit parts of War of the Worlds scared the crap out of me in the theater!

Stranded and Lunopolis both deserve mention, and I’ve linked them here to my previous posts. They are both too recent to me to judge them alongside movies I’ve seen years and decades ago – the mind just doesn’t work that way. They may end up on my all time favorite list, but it’s too soon to tell. I also enjoyed Galactica very much; it almost made the list. It’s my cup of tea, but ten is a very small number when one starts compiling one’s favorite movies. A.I. Artificial Intelligence actually was on the list, but I bumped it off. I might put it back on if I were to remake the list another day. The problem with A.I. is that  Kubrick and Spielberg are two diametrically opposed directors, and to have the spirit of one given flesh by another is a rough path to walk down, to smash metaphors into a stew… Had Kubrick lived to finish the project, well, who knows just what might have been… As it stands, I saw this movie in 2001 and, I must admit, don’t recall much. From that year. I was physically very close to the Twin Towers when they came down and suffer some memory issues from the year or two leading up to that event. So, in all fairness, I have added this movie to my Netflix queue and reserve the right to adjust my opinion of it upon seeing it again. Flight of the Navigator suffers the opposite effect as the two films at the head of this paragraph. I haven’t seen it since I was six years old. I loved it! But I was six years old. I have added it to my Netflix queue and again, reserve the right to modify the following list accordingly.

Before we get to the official list I have one more classic I must mention: The Day the Earth Stood Still. And I’m talking the old black and white film, not any crummy remake. This film is a classic which rightfully deserves a spot and any list of best or favorite Science Fiction films of all time. I have excluded it from the list purely for the reason I needed space to include some lesser films that I wanted to include for personal reasons, not the least of which is to cause controversy. But, for those of you looking for a legitimate Sci-Fi list, of course I would not omit this all time great. So feel free to cross out any movie of your choice below and insert this movie into the slot as you see fit. This is your wild card film, if you will.

Now, drum roll please…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

And please remember, this is a list of my favorite Science Fiction movies, not a list of best of genre…

And the order is highly susceptible to mood variations and the alignment of the planets and whatnot and so forth…

Okay, that should create enough space for tension to mount…

Ready…?

10.

Star Wars

Star Wars probably definitely deserves a higher spot on any real Science Fiction list for the impressive entire galaxy it creates, but I’m a little burnt out on the whole “George Lucas screwed it up” thing right now (hence THX 1138 not even getting a mention until now). Then again, the galaxy Star Trek created is pretty impressive too, so maybe that’s not so much of an accomplishment after all… ;)

09.

The Matrix

The machines are our overlords. In fact, our raison d’être. And our world? A familiar vision, digitally recreated… What a mind trip! Lots of symbolism, religiosity and spirituality to boot. My only complaint? The trilogy gets a little bogged down by the third one with all this Zion fighting. Entire scenes could have been told in recap and omitted visually for the better, I feel. I want the spiritual symbolism and Neo against the Matrix stuff, not all this shooting metal at metal screamfest garbage. But I’m sure there are folks out there who feel the opposite. May they graze peacefully on sunny slopes.

08.

The Terminator

The Terminator trilogy? And higher than Star Wars? By now you’re thinking I’m crazy. (Tell the truth. You thought I was crazy back when I was saying E.T. is based on a true story. [It is!]) The Terminator is great science fiction through and through. Judgement Day, in particular, struck a nerve with me that is hard to shake to this day. I’m not much of a fan of these new post-Arnold movies, but the first three… As good as science fiction gets!

07.

Solaris

Solaris (the 1972 Russian film, I haven’t seen the remake yet, it’s in The Queue) will probably move up into the top five spots if I watch it again. Unfortunately, it is no longer available on Netflix for streaming, but I’ve added the remake to my queue and will add this version as well. I remember being awestruck by this film, which shows a purist’s “Science Fiction story” about the nature of communication between human and non-human intelligence. Great cinematography and music as well. A real winner that I highly recommend to true Sci-Fi fans. Here is what a fellow WP blogger has to say about this excellent film.

06.

Melancholia

Melancholia doesn’t show like Science Fiction, but rather like Art House melodrama, but no one can deny its credentials in the Science Fiction category. Giant planet careening towards Earth affects the actions and feelings of the central characters in a pivotal way. Science Fiction. Also gloriously hypnotic to watch and listen to (helps if you love Wagner’s music as I do). Points off for being so damned depressing!

05.

Back to the Future

Funny Sci-Fi, Back to the Future needs no introduction, I’m sure. I never knew back in 1985 what a hit this movie would become. We loved it as kids, but we loved a lot of movies back then that most certainly have not stood the test of time nearly as well as this perennial hit. Great story telling here, and a real knack for capturing zeitgeist. Although each film in the trilogy has a completely different feel, I can honestly say I love them all. Part of the success of the trilogy, I feel, is this freshness from one movie to the next. They never feel stale.

 

04.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Holy shit. I missed this one when I originally made this post. Only spent all day creating this post, only to publish it with a glaring omission. Maybe next time I’ll rush and make less mistakes! So, anywho, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another movie that doesn’t really identify itself as Sci-Fi but really is. The whole premise of a technology which can wipe a person from memory is an intriguing and unique plot device, and the execution of the story is spot on. I didn’t see this one for a few years after it came out since I somehow got the impression it was over-hyped. Not so – it deserves all the praise heaped on it and then some for it’s ingenious originality.

 

03.

Dune

My memories of Dune are shaky at best, but they’re all good and complex. I’ve seen the short version, the long version, and many moons ago when I was five or six, the LONG version, and read the book years ago, and everything is jumbled up in my head as this incredibly richly detailed world where Spice is King and there are giant worms… Okay, I need to see it again to refresh the memory banks, but not to verify its rank on the list. This is a winner. I just know it is, if only I could remember it more clearly… ;) [Extended version in The Queue]

02.

Robot Stories poster

Four touching stories make up Robot Stories. Watch them and see for yourself. Stories that get right to the core of what it is to be human, by juxtaposition with that which is not.

01.

Howard the Duck poster

Just kidding, Howard the Duck sucks ass.

01.

Space Odessey poster

The Ultimate Trip indeed! 2001: A Space Odyssey, made from the audacious imagination of Sir Arthur C. Clark and the grandiosity of Stanley Kubrick, will always be the #1 classic Science Fiction movie of all time. And if you don’t think so, go take a long nap in a HAL 9000 controlled hibernation chamber!

Just kidding! Thanks for reading and do share your own thoughts and feelings, correct my errors and set me straight.

And as a parting thought: I have saved Nightfall to the Saved Discs section of my Netflix Queue. This short story by Isaac Asimov, later made into a novel with Robert Silverberg, and then into a movie, is probably my favorite Science Fiction story of all time. When and if this movie ever makes it to Netflix, I will revise this list accordingly. Thank you and out.

 

12 comments

  1. A big thank you to my brother Anthony for pointing out that I skipped a number, which made me realize I omitted a film I had intended from the start to include! What a maroon I am!

  2. I can see the next post already: The top ten list of movies I forgot to include in this list! The original Planet of the Apes (How the hell could I forget that one?!), Spaceballs, … I deliberately left Aliens off the list. It never stops though.

  3. LIES. I don’t think this list is that controversial. Any sci-fi movie list that excludes E.T. is aces in my book. Because I hate that movie. I honestly thought you were going with HOWARD THE DUCK; now THAT would have caused some controversy.

    The only ones that will really cause any kind of “eh” reaction would be DUNE and MELANCHOLIA. DUNE is utterly cheesy; the whole thing is pretty much encapsulated by its final line. It’s also good to see THE TERMINATOR on these lists; people usually list the overrated T2 over the first one.

    It’s hard to judge sci-fi films. Do you judge them for the actual science-fiction part? What about films that have just a smidgen of sci-fi element to them? Should it based on the ability to make the impossible possible? Does it pose questions and get you to think? I think the best sci-fi is not always about the possibilities in science, but whether or not they are imaginative/creative. To me, the best sci-fi should always get you to think about the world around you. And, of course, it should succeed as a FILM, too.

    Of course, those are your favorites, so it’s not like you can really argue with them, even though I probably could to some extent. I don’t think you’re going to find much argument with your list though, since most of those are considered great films.

    Here are a shit-ton that didn’t make your list (personal blurb may follow):
    – The Thing (1982) – IMO, filmmaking perfection
    – Blade Runner (1982) – Inventive, imaginative, provocative, sublime
    – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – I like the ’78 version, too, but I think ’56 trumps it in every way
    – The Fly (1986) – One of the greatest tragicomedies ever put on film; it’s far deeper than just a man turning into a fly
    – Videodrome (1983) – This film starts off almost immediately with an overwhelming surreal atmosphere that doesn’t let up until the credits have long finished
    – Total Recall (1990) – On the surface just a typical Arnie actionfest, but dig deeper and you could find existential comments and questions about perception and reality
    – RoboCop (1987) – Again, on its most superficial level, it’s an awesome action flick; there are layers of everything here though: excessive greed, excessive capitalism and corporatism, fate, the nature of humanity, predicting Detroit would be a shithole, etc.
    – They Live (1988) – Perhaps one of the clearest examples on this list of sci-fi acting as social commentary
    – Forbidden Planet (1956)
    – Godzilla (1954) – I like RT’s critics’ consensus: “More than straight monster-movie fare, Gojira offers potent, sobering postwar commentary.”
    – Dark City (1998) – Among other things, visually and atmospherically brilliant
    – The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) – Underrated
    – Alien (1979) – Kudos for creating one of the greatest cinematic monsters
    – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    – The Quiet Earth (1985) – Massively underrated
    – Frankenstein (1931) – Shoutout, also, to the Hammer version and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
    – Men in Black (1997) – I honestly enjoyed this one immensely because I love that they reference and make jokes to both science and conspiracy theories
    – Children of Men (2006) – Incredible use of long-takes
    – Logan’s Run (1976)
    – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – WRATH OF KHAN, too, but I love the inventiveness of THE VOYAGE HOME. It’s one of the few STAR TREK films (never saw the series) that I thought, yeah, this is different. It’s fun, humorous, and imaginative
    – Escape from New York (1982)
    – Mad Max 2 (1981) – I like the first, too, but this trumps it in every way; adrenaline-rush
    – Brazil (1985)
    – Twelve Monkeys (1995)
    – Metropolis (1927)
    – Predator (1987)
    – Planet of the Apes (1968)

    And I’m going to stop now. Because I can’t think of any more in the fifteen minutes or so I was sitting here. Yeah, I’m fucking bored and I fucking love sci-fi.

    1. Yeah, there’s a lot out there… A lot of it good. Thanks for your list and your thoughts. Planet of the Apes belongs on my list. A lot of the others I haven’t seen or just don’t like as much. But Clockwork Orange is a great suggestion that escaped my filter. I never really ever thought of it as Sci-Fi, but of course it is! Thanks again.

  4. A few more to consider, mostly made more recently…

    Moon (2009)
    Inception (2010)
    Donnie Darko (2001)
    V for Vendetta (2005) – I heard the book is better
    Watchmen (2009) – book IS better
    The Truman Show (1998)

    I like both lists as now I have several movies to add to my queue ;-)

    1. So many movies I forget about. Thanks!

    2. Inception definitely belongs on the list! Truman Show too.

  5. Holy poop on a stick, I almost choked on my coffee when I saw Howard the Duck.

    This is the trouble with Top 10… lists, they’re so dependent on taste and personal experience, it will never be 100% to the liking of all readers, but I must say this is a very, very good list.

    2001 Was for me, as corny as this sounds, almost a spiritual experience. I first read the book as a young kid and didn’t grasp much (plus I was still learning English so there’s that). The movie came at me like a bull to my red cloth waving senses and my preconceptions on the possibilities of space and life outside our dinky little mudball going around the Sun were bruised for weeks.

    All I could think of was going into space from then on. Clarke and Kubrick are really the reasons I got into Sci-fi in the first place and looked around for what else was out there and I imagine this was the case for a lot of others.

    So in that regard, I unequivocally approve of the #1 spot.

    1. Hell, it’s not even 100% to MY liking… These lists change with the wind. Next month I’ll do the same list and it’ll be different lol. Hope you didn’t ruin any good clothes or make too much of mess with your coffee there… !

      1. Haha no worries, I’ve learned to balance my cup from past… er… hiccups.

        Looking forward to the next list!

  6. blueknightxero · · Reply

    I like this list: It includes the familiar staples and a couple personal picks. I’ll agree that the whole “Lucas ruined it” thing going on is tiring (though not entirely unwarranted). I can’t speak for comparing the original version of Solaris to the remake, but I did see the latter, which I thought was very solid, but it’s still very much a drama to me, more than anything. For me, the original Planet of the Apes remains my personal favorite sci-fi film, closely followed by the first two Terminators and the original Star Wars trilogy.

    1. I still can’t figure out how I left Planet of the Apes off the list! It’s one of my favorites too.

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