10 Best Sci-Fi Movies

Allan Bisset

Science Fiction. The only legitimate art form of the 20th century –at least that’s what I told my tutor at Dundee University when I discovered we had to read Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe just because it was the first example of the “novel” in English. No chapters – begins at page 1 and proceeds its turgid, wearisome way through to page 1 million five hundred and two.

I should pre-alert you to the fact that I’m just an old school codger who believes -

A: that everyone involved in internet marketing or SEO is essentially a geek – hence this post.

B: nothing decent has been written since Alfred Bester stopped writing. I mean how you can improve on “The Demolished Man” or “Tiger Tiger” – the Blake reference – a far better title for a novel than our US cousins who have to make do with the workaday title of “The Stars my Destination”.  Bester was the best – seek him out if you like wide screen baroque in your writing – or if you can remotely identify with Gully Foyle – read it –you’ll get it!

But enough about novels!

“Good “sci-fi isn’t about the future or bug eyed monsters, but the “here and now”. If you don’t believe me, read "Jem" by Frederik Pohl and see if the delineation of the world into the “Fats” (countries that produce food), the “Greasies” ( those that produce oil or energy) and the “Peeps” (countries whose only export is people) isn’t a more incisive and informative critique of the world of the 21st Century than any Marxist analysis.

And never mind that “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is a statement of the Frenchman Verne’s positive “American” attitude ( I urge you to buy the Corgi SF Collectors Library edition of the Jules Verne classic - if only to bask in quite possibly the best ever piece of literary criticism I have ever read by Ray Bradbury) .

No – we’re talking movies. Films. The imperfect translation of grand literary concepts into mediocre popcorn entertainment. In the words of Arthur C Clarke (who could imbue a dying star with sentiment but whose prose style in attempting to describe human interactions without collaboration with Gentry Lee was workaday) but whose imagination, concepts and ideas were nonetheless astonishing and inspiring: let’s make the “archetypical good Sci-Fi movie”. That excludes any of the Phillip K Dick masterpieces that have been relentlessly mined and basterdised by Hollywood.  I consider "Blade Runner” sui generis and "Brazil” just typical Gilliam - and therefore beyond categorisation. Nor do I even look at any of the “Arnie” vehicles – no I don't mean Hummers!

blade runnerconquest-of-space


Not on this list:

Avatar – “Dances with Wolves” with very tall blue Indians. Boring. Trust me. Eye candy, but boring.

The entire “Star Wars” cannon– essentially a B serial film series that nicked ideas from just about every John Ford/ John Wayne or any other Western/War movie ever made with slightly better special effects.   Apart from which - Jar Jar Binks – need I say more?

jar jar binksSigourney in Sloggis

Any of the “Star Trek” big screen adaptations– apart from maybe  “Star Trek – First Contact“ which was relatively true to the original Rodenberry vision. What were they thinking of with that theme tune to “Enterprise”!

No this is unashamedly my own choice and preference, rooted in the “golden age” – and I’ve got most of the DVDs.

  1.  Destination Moon – scripted by Robert A Heinlein (read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” - brilliant) very much of its time – but thrilling none the less. If only it was really like that.
  2. Conquest of Space– another unsung masterpiece by Byron Haskin -we could still do it! The religious fervour seems very prescient of 21st century politics.
  3. Forbidden Planet– Essentially the Tempest with proto-Star Trek outfits, gadgets, Walter Pigeon, Leslie Nielson, Freudian references and a cool robot (Robbie) to boot!
  4. Them!– How you can turn no budget for Technicolor into an asset with Giant Ants and a quasi-documentary, almost film noir thriller style.
  5. 2001: a space odyssey – mainly Kubrick (some Clarke) – but genuine film – no dialogue for the first 40 minutes or so. Pretty amazing front projection work and excellent stuff by Trumbull and quite possibly the most famous “flash forward” in cinema history - 3 million years in the spinning of bone into spacecraft.
  6.  Alien– Sigourney Weaver in Sloggi underwear. Oh yeah!
  7. War of the Worlds– the original Gene Barry version, not the vertically challenged scientologist’s remake.
  8. Terminator – low budget masterpiece that spawned spin offs that were somehow naff.
  9. Dark Star – Bombed on release despite that fact that the plot was: “how to talk a sentient bomb out of going off while off your head on dope”.
  10.  Repo Man – the only decent thing Alex Cox has ever done.

Just outside the top ten is my personal favourite – “Contact” – but that’s only because I love Jodie Foster – not in any sort of “Hinckley” way I hasten to add in case you read this Jodie (or Claire). It’s more a tribute to Carl Sagan and the wonderfully atheist and rational empirical message of the movie. The whole approach of Contact –especially the bit where she tells the priest that keeping the heart pills closer to hand would have thwarted God’s plans - reflect the words of Douglas Adams: “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Again – Hitchhikers Guide - good book – crap movie adaptation.

contactRussian vision of a space station in Road to the Stars

Runner up is Road to the Stars– brilliant Soviet propaganda/Sci –Fi and one of the most amazing special effects accomplishments in film history. Pavel Klushantsev began working on the colour film in Leningrad in 1954 and had to rapidly update (for technical and avoiding being shot reasons) when Sputnik 1 was launched. Many say that scenes in Kubrick’s 2001 were lifted straight from this masterpiece of cinema.

So there you go. Feel free to add, criticise or detract – but you’re all wrong! Heinlein rules. TANSTAAFL!

forbidden planet's real star

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