It’s been kind of a slow weekend, so I thought I’d throw in a little pop culture that might get some conversation started. Movietone has put out a list of what it says are the 25 best science fiction films ever. What do you think–did they get them right, what’s missing, what’s overrated or underrated? Here they are, with my reactions:
1. Blade Runner: I wouldn’t necessarily put it first, but it’s in the top 5 for certain.
2. The Empire Strikes Back: Definitely the best of the Star Wars movies.
3. Aliens: Top 5 for sure, maybe even #1. Just as the original combined SF and horror brilliantly, this combined SF and action spectacularly. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) may be the best female movie hero in any genre.
4. Star Wars: I gladly grant its exceptionally important place in film history. Beyond that, it’s never been a favorite of mine.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still: For a combination of social commentary and science fiction, this can’t be beat. One of the three best pieces of SF from the 1950s.
6. The Matrix: Undoubtedly top 5, perhaps even the best of the best. It’s a mind-bending cinematic experience, and has become in some ways a cultural icon as well.
7. Terminator 2: Robert Patrick as the T-1000 is one of the best movie villians, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor gives Ripley a run for her money, and what’s not to love about a cyborg with a German accent?
8. The Thing (1982): My first big disagreement. I think John Carpenter’s version of the classic SF story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell is seriously overrated, and frankly nauseated me the first time I saw it. Even though it has little to do with Campbell’s story, I would instead put here the 1951 version entitled The Thing From Another World. Howard Hawks’ only SF movie is wonderfully scripted and directed, one of the other really great pieces of SF from the1950s.
9. Alien: The first time you see the alien may be the scariest moment in film. This is still, IMHO, the best combination ever of SF and horror.
10. Forbidden Planet: I’m afraid I never really got the mystique of this movie. Sure, Robbie the Robot is cool and all, but beyond that it kind of leaves me cold.
11. Terminator: When the American Film Institute put together its list of the greatest film villians, the Terminator was a shoe-in. Oddly enough, the character is the only one on the list of both the top villians and the top heroes (for T2).
12. Metropolis: The first great science fiction film, a silent made in 1927. It is also one of the finest example of German Expressionism, and the robot was the model for C3PO in Star Wars.
13. E.T.: I liked it really well when it first came out, but I don’t think its combination of SF and sentimentality has held up particularly well, though I’d say it’s a terrific kids film.
14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): This is a remake of the 1955 McCarthy-era allegory of the same name, and truth be told, I’ve never been able to decide which I like better. I’d put them both on this list.
15. Planet of the Apes: This is one of the few films on this list that I saw in a theater. I was 11 at the time, and was genuinely shocked by the ending.
16. 2001: A Space Odyssey: A classic that helped revitalize the SF genre in the late 1960s. Some people find it moves too slowly for their tastes, and certainly its evolutionary message (a constant in Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction) is questionable. But it is visually marvelous, and HAL has the most normal psychotic’s voice this side of Norman Bates.
17. Brazil: I love Terry Gilliam’s work with Monty Python, and his Time Bandits is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. So I really looked forward to seeing Brazil. Personally, I just don’t get it. I had no idea what was going on half the time, the humor left me scratching my head, and social commentary struck me as really obvious.I definitely would not have put this on my list.
18. Soylent Green: Yeah, well. Once you get past “soylent green is people!” I think you’ve about said it all.
19. 12 Monkeys: Terry Gilliam has made a terrific SF film. This is it.
20. Tron: I wasn’t a wirehead in 1982, so I think I missed what all the excitement was about.
21. Robocop: Paul Verhoeven will, for many people, be forever associated with one of the worst SF movies ever made, Starship Troopers, as well as one of the worst movies of any kind ever made, Showgirls. But he did have one shining moment, and this was it. A futuristic view of a dystopian Detroit, the special effects are terrific, Peter Weller does an amazing job of acting with nothing more than his mouth visible, and there’s a lot of witty dialogue. Oh, and the Detroit of the future looks disturbingly like the Detroit of today. Be warned, though–it’s extremely violent, and the soundtrack on TV sounds like it’s made of Swiss cheese.
22. Galaxy Quest: This is the funniest SF movie ever. It’s a parody of Star Trek, and if you get all the jokes (I did) you should probably wonder whether you have a life. But even if you aren’t a fan of Kirk and the crew, if you like science fiction at all, you’ll get a kick out of this.
23. It Came From Outer Space: Far better than run-of-the-mill SF of the 1950s, it was the first to use the idea of shape shifters as a plot device.
24. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan: It helps if you’ve seen the original Star Trek episode to which this is the sequel (“Space Seed”), but even without it this makes for one of the best of the Trek movies. William Shatner is at his best in this one, and he has a worthy nemesis in Khan. It’s an interstellar re-telling of Moby Dick, with Ahab again going down for the count.
25. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: I’d have put this much higher on this list. I think this is still Steven Spielberg’s best SF, and for those who have wondered what first contact with extra-terrestrials would be like, the last 45 minutes are among the most uplifting, and visually striking, minutes in film.
As I indicated above, there are several on this list I definitely wouldn’t have put there. Among those I think would be worthy of inclusion are:
*If you don’t recognize it, you don’t know Mystery Science Theater 3000, and take my word for it–you should.
UPDATE: I tried to find this yesterday and couldn’t, but have today. Here’s AFI’s Top 10 SF films, just for comparison:
2. Star Wars
4. A Clockwork Orange (one of the very few mentioned in this post that I’ve never seen, so I’ll have to add it to the Netflix queue.)
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still
6. Blade Runner
8. Terminator 2
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955)
10. Back to the Future