May 30, 2013

The List SPECIAL EDITION: Top 10 Science Fiction Films

My good buddy John Kenneth Muir over at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV (one of the best sites on the web, period) has been asking his readers to provide a top 10 list for the greatest science-fiction films of all time.

I decided to participate and had some tough-ass decisions to make. This was one of the hardest lists for me to put together simply because 'greatest' and 'best' can be so subjective. However, objective legacy plays a role too. You can't just ignore something revolutionary simply because you like something else more.

Sure, you may really love Krippendorf's Tribe a lot better then The Apartment or Some Like It Hot but can you really keep a straight face and say the former is better then the latter (latters? latteri?)? No ... and I suffered that problem a lot with this list. I am really not a Star Wars fan but ... well ... I just like The Guyver better than almost all of those films, okay, but couldn't put either on the list!

So I tried to be unique to myself here while still keeping the idea of legacy in the background.


Honorable Mentions

13. Iron Man

This is the only film on my list where I actually liked films in the franchise it spawned and in the genre it resides much better than the film I picked. BUT, Iron Man truly is a cultural landmark of science and fiction combined. Anytime a film can bring about changes in the narrative, function and production of future franchises, and do it with great writing, acting and production, it has to be on the list.

In the end, it was between game changer X-Men (even though I like X2: X-Men United better) and Iron Man (yes, I am weird and love Iron Man 2 more).

12. The Fifth Element

In a world where CGI and star power is more important than story, The Fifth Element still stands out as a film with a unique worldview and characters seen only in slapstick comedies. The Fifth Element is a bit played now but it still looks amazing and is so uniquely it's own ... something ... that it has to be in the top 20 at the very least (or, my top 12).

11. Minority Report

Despite some glaring plot holes I recently read about on or A.V. Club (sorry ... referencing is for term papers and I have a low attention span), Minority Report was one of the two great films released by Steven Spielberg in what I think is one of his most underrated years as a director (2002).

Before Tom Cruise went nuts his performance here was superb and Spielberg's surprisingly minimalistic approach to the production (save the product placement) made for a taught, superb thriller.


The List

10. Robocop

One of the most hilarious satires in the genre, Robocop combines wonderful production, a brilliant script and story and the beloved social commentary we expect from science-fiction ... just with more maiming and bathroom threats.

9. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek II is the usual suspect on these types of lists but to me Trek IV is the most fun and Star Trek at its film peak (smooth production, fast and witty script and the ability to take itself immensely seriously in the guise of a laid back environment). The fact that it managed to appeal to all people and didn't pander (like some recent Trek things) makes it universal and great.

8. Galaxy Quest

This would be in my top 10 for comedies as well since Galaxy Quest takes a topic both personal and foreign to the audience (you've either been a Vulcan at a convention or stood there making fun of a Vulcan at a convention) and manages to provide entertainment for both: seemingly composing a love sonnet to geeks while pointing out their eccentricities.

7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Picking between The Terminator and T2 was tough ... in the end both are equally enjoyable but T2 is more impactful on the genre showing not only how to create an environment of tension and fear (every time the T-1000 is not on screen he is in the back of your head) but pushing technology to the limits and demanding it get one step better.

6. Alien

I'm always a sucker for genre-hybrids and Ridley Scott (but not Prometheus). So Alien is a solid choice for this list and for a Top 10 horror list. Even in 2013, in a world jaded by real horror and with audiences who have seen just about everything available right now with narrative, a little script that didn't even delineate gender to its characters manages to provide complex emotions; sometimes its all in the little details and the simple settings.

5. Back to the Future

As a kid, you wanted to be Marty McFly and drive a DeLorean. As an adult, you want to be Marty McFly and drive a DeLorean. Nothing, including the awesome lack of timelessness in Huey Lewis, can take away this film's legacy or your desire to be a time traveler.

4. Planet of the Apes

Relevant, meaningful and powerful ... and this has people in monkey suits. Almost nothing can touch the legacy of Planet of the Apes who only has shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek to rival its claim as the progenitor of science-fiction based social commentary in TV and movies.

3. Contact

This is probably the outlier for most folks but to me Robert Zemeckis' Contact is one of the most daring and stirring examples of the ultimate arguments: science vs. god and the idea of faith (both spiritual and religious). Luckily, 1997 was a time when people liked to think of the problems and come up with their own answers and Contact settles no debates. To this day, I still debate Contact and wonder if I, or humans, will find the true answers.

2. Aliens

Since this film is primarily action-based, I chose to add it as second even though the film itself is probably my all-time favorite film of any genre (tied with Heat). I know that doesn't make any sense. Aliens focuses less on science and more on action-fiction though it is one of the greatest examples of world building you can get in something not on television. The deceptively deep characterization and non-stop tension (that never dulls with multiple viewings or age) makes this a sci-fi classic.

1. Blade Runner

Do I even need to debate this with anyone? Blade Runner is the ultimate gift to sci-fi fans. You can watch it a 1,000 times and always get something new out of it. Plus, its controversial endings and multiples cuts provides geek banter for decades and will for centuries.


  1. One great list of sci-fi greats, Will. Love this.

    1. Also, re-watched 'Galaxy Quest' just last weekend!

    2. Thanks my friend! I clashed a bit with your list but ... hey! Everyone has an opinion :)

      Did you show the kids?

  2. Hi Will!

    Awesome list. I love your choices. You are the first person to include Contact in the top ten, and also -- I think Aliens. Very cool. I will link here and post your list on the blog Saturday at 4:00 pm, buddy. Thank you for your kind words about my blog, and right back at ya!


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