An Introduction to SF via the Movies

The demise of SF on television started me thinking about SF in general and its place in todays society. Now, I won’t go into a long discussion here about why SF is where it is and why people feel they way the do about it. Instead, I’m wondering, if you wanted to get people interested in SF, how would you do that? Looking at how popular SF movies are, why don’t we start with those.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is simple:

What movies would you show to someone to get them interested (excited, fired-up, etc) in SF?



Basically, I’m looking for a list of movies that every SF (wannabe)fan should see. I’ll start with a few.

1. 2001 – Yes its slow. Yes the ending is…..confusing. But it arguably started the modern era of SF in film. A must see.

2. Star Wars – Did as much to promote SF in film as it did to constrain it. Greatly influenced an entire generation.

3. The Matrix – Exposed people to the philosophical side of SF in a big way. Of course, the guns and martial arts didn’t hurt….

I know there’s more. I’m looking to get roughly 10 – 15 movies (if that many) that someone simply must see to be versed in SF in the movies.

List away! Oh, and discuss!

17 thoughts on “An Introduction to SF via the Movies”

  1. The 50’s:
    Forbidden Planet
    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    When Worlds Collide
    (While I like many movies from the 50’s, I’ll try to restrain my enthusiasim and geekiness!)
    The 60’s:
    2001: A Space Odyssey
    Marooned
    Planet of the Apes (and probably “Beneath” as well, but stop there…)
    The 70’s:
    Fantastic Planet
    Silent Running
    The 80’s:
    Blade Runner
    2010: Odyssey Two
    The Abyss (full version)
    Aliens (full version)
    Altered States
    The 90’s:
    Deep Impact (yes, I actually liked it!)
    Mission to Mars (ditto!)
    Contact
    That’s off the top of my head…

  2. Out of the 90’s movies, I think Contact definately ought to be one to see. I’m not sure the others are “must sees”, however fun they may be. I had actually forgotten Contact. Bad me…

  3. You are essentially asking what people?s top 10 SF movies are, a topic sure to generate much discussion and derision. Nice going!
    In alphabetical order (because rating them is too taxing) they are:

    • A.I.
    • Aliens
    • Independence Day
    • Back to the Future
    • Minority Report
    • Sleeper
    • Star Trek II
    • The Day the Earth Stood Still
    • The Fifth Element
    • The Matrix

    Now, this list is just off the top of my misshapen head. I?m sure someone will say, “What about Film X?” to which I reserve the right to reply, “Oh yeah! Forgot about that one.”
    I am also sure that someone will say, “How could you possibly like the dung heap that is Film Y?” to which I would reply, “Bite me. They?re my favorites. Get your own.”

  4. No, I’m not. I’m asking what movies you think are a baseline, the movies someone needs to see, to become acquainted with SF on film. If you were to recommend 10 SF movies to a neophyte, what would they be?
    While I liked AI, Back to the Future, Minority Report and The Fifth Element, I don’t think they are necessities. As for ST2, its too dependent on the other bits of ST to be a requirement.
    Now Sleeper is an interesting pick. I hadn’t considered that one, mainly because I’m not a fan of Woody Allen.
    BttF I – III would probably make my top 10 list, but I don’t think its a necessity for the newbies. Same thing for The Fifth Element. I really like that one…

  5. Damn. Just thought of more…

    • Terminator 2
    • Gattaca
    • 12 Monkeys
    • Clockwork Orange

    I guess I still do not see the distinction between ones you would recommend and favorites. Why would you not recommend the ones you like the best to get people interested?
    And, while we are on the subject, why would you recommend 2001 which you describe as both slow and confusing? If you want to get newbies stoked on sf, don?t show ?em that! You may as well show them Bladerunner. (Let the retaliations commence!)

  6. John,
    i was going to say “How could you possibly like the dung heap that is Film Y?” But then I might be accused on being negative with a bad attitude.
    Someone had mentioned “Clockwork Orange,” so like Alex in the movie, I, too, can be cured of my disease. So it is with aplomb and much ado, I present my list of best SciFi movies, in no particular order…
    1. Spaceballs
    2. Ghostbusters
    3. Demolition Man
    4. Judge Dredd
    5. Total Recall
    6. Space Cowboys
    7. The Running Man
    8. Wild Wild West
    *retching* ugh, i’m feeling sick because i was being sarcastic in some of those entries; damn this Orwellian society that we live under where we can’t express our thoughts freely…

  7. “I guess I still do not see the distinction “
    That is why you fail.
    Perhaps I should rephrase the question. What are the essential films that every SF fan (wannabe or otherwise) must see to be well grounded in SF film. I would expect that some of these films would also get someone excited about watching more SF.
    For instance, I wouldn’t put The Day the Earth Stood Still in my top 10, but every self-respecting SF fan should see it. The same goes for 2001.
    Here are the films with multiple selections:
    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    2001
    Aliens
    The Matrix
    Not a bad little group of films! I’ll have to think of my list for this.
    Pete, your list is so doubleungood that it must have been malreported. For this, and your continuing thoughtcrime against the management of SFSignal, which cares deeply and obssesively for you, please report to the joycamp in John’s office for continuing re-education in goodthinking. (To decipher this sentence, please see the Newspeak dictionary)

  8. I will second the following movies:
    Forbidden Planet
    When Worlds Collide
    Destination: Moon
    On The Beach
    Gattaca
    2001

  9. Let me re-iterate my thoughts here. I was thinking, if someone who isn’t into SF at all came up to me and asked “I want to be a super cool SF movie maven like you, what movies should I see?”, what list would I give them? Now I realize that some SF movies are more accesible than others, but I don’t think that alone disqualifies a movie from making the list. But it also means that many of your top 10 movies will be on the list you give the SF geek wannabe.
    That’s why I thik 2001 should be on the list. Its a marked change in SF cinema from what came before and what came after. Before was almost all cold war/fear of technology angst, after was the tackling of other issues via SF. The Day the Earth Stood Still isn’t the most accessible film either. Its rather slow and preachy but its still a must see because its a high point in SF cinema, especially for the 1950’s. On the list it goes!
    We can discuss whether Minority Report and other more modern films deserver to be on it. I can see the case for MR, but would you be missing something if you didn’t see it? I’m not so sure. And I like MR, it would probably be in my top 10.

  10. OK I understand what JP is saying now – but that isn’t what he said at first. I assumed you were looking for films that would get the neophyte interested in SF. That’s different than saying ‘films all SF fans should see.’
    As for SF that gets people interested in SF, my list would include:
    Forbidden Planet – what an exacellent intro to SF. The movie isn’t just about SF – it’s just as adept at character development and plot as it is at special effects (which are the best for its era.)
    The Matrix – while certainly not the best SF film, it is VERY accessible to the new viewer – something that would be key to getting somebody interested in it. The first movies is also pretty easy to follow (which can’t be said for 2 & 3) considering its pretty decent SF plot.
    Star Wars – again, very accessible, a fun movie, and easy to understand (nobody would ever accuse SW of being confusing!)
    Terminator – same reasons as above – easy to understand, plot drives well, tension is built almost like a horror film (to many people this film IS a horror flick.) But the SF elements are inescapable and add to the enjoyment.
    Back to the Future – one last time – very straight-forward film with very interesting SF elements (time travel has to be one of the classic SF archetypes.) The best part is, the actors are awesome in it and that keeps you watching.
    OK, that’s my list. Yes, these are the most mainstream of the decent SF films but that’s a good thing if you’re trying to get that girlfriend or boyfriend to appreciate your obsession, if only just a little bit.
    Here is a list of films that I wouldn’t show to anybody as their ‘first intro to SF':
    2001 – for obvious reasons!
    Silent Running – too depressing
    Blade Runner – not newbie friendly and pretty dark
    The Fifth Element – I think this would too easiily confuse people
    Buckaroo Bonzai – great film, not a good SF starter
    Clockwork Orange – one of my favorite films, no way you show this to somebody and say ‘look how good SF can be – you should watch more!’
    Videodrome – same reasons as Clockwork Orange

  11. Scott’s post got me to thinking (and that’s not easy). I think I’ll toss together a “Essential SF Movies” list with the following categories:
    1. Newb friendly
    2. Must be seen
    3. Hidden gems
    There’s actually a 4th category, For Completists Only, but that chock full of the crap. I’ll go through the movies here and come up with a list in another post. Gotta have something to write to catch up to John in number of posts…

  12. Many good films mentioned above, but don’t forget Dark City and Brainstorm. Both are personal faves, but I think Brainstorm is a classic partly because of the way it shows scientific research and science fictional developments following from it.

  13. Essential SF Movies

    Over at SFSignal, JP is looking for a list of movies that every wannabe SF fan should see. His first list contained 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and the Matrix. Predictably the comments soon lost sight of JP’s initial…

  14. I cannot belive that knowbody mentioned Dune in any of the lists above as one of at least 10 best SF movies. Also I think that Star Wars should be given more credit because it is clear that the first trilogy (part IV to VI) became a legend among SF movies. Also I would never put Independence Day as one of serious SF movies because it’s a clear copy of several good SF films and a very bad one (war of the worlds, star wars etc). I agree with JP about the three movies on the top (2001,star wars,matrix) they are a “must see”, but I would add one of the good Star Trek movies.

  15. How come no’one mentions top classics like Soylent Green (’73) and Logan’s Run (’76)??
    These are still the ones I remember the most from my childhood.

  16. Bubastra:
    Only about a million or so…
    A Boy and His Dog
    The Mad Max movies
    Waterworld (urgh)
    Postman (great book, but otherwise, urgh)
    Panic in Year Zero (classic)
    …a whole bucket full of TV movies from the late 60’s/early 70’s about overpopulation or pollution…
    Sleeper (hey, got to throw in one intentional comedy)
    Silent Running
    Zardoz (Sean Connery!!!)
    …and I’m sure others will toss in a few ideas…
    Don’t forget the Logan’s Run TV series!
    :-P

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