Science Fiction, even in written form, is a visual medium, asking its readers to imagine the wonders the author has created for his work. Now, we all know our imaginations are better than any SFX a Hollywood studio can create, but, sometimes, Hollywood and the TV studios do come close and we get to see some cool stuff on screen. To that end, we here at SF Signal put our collective heads together and came up with our list of the coolest scenes in science fiction film and television. Now, ‘scene’ in this context can be anywhere from a couple of seconds to pushing ten minutes; ‘cool’ also enjoys a similar flexible meaning, covering the bases from all-out battles to more intimate, personal settings. As with any list, your feelings will, most likely, not coincide with ours. Feel free to discuss you personal favorites.
- 7. –
The Death Star Assault (Star Wars, 1977) – I remember as a kid, seeing Star Wars for the umpteenth time in the theaters, I always looked forward to the end. The Battle of Yavin was the ultimate showdown between good and evil, and the all the dogfighting and trench running was as exciting on the tenth viewing as the first. It wasn’t until later that the more ‘grown-up’ questions about the whole setup sprang to mind (90 degree turning torpedoes? What?), but the entire scene still holds a place in our hearts despite some flaws. I’ll even go out on a limb and say, having watched the scene on both the laserdisc version and the DVD version, this is one area where Lucas’ meddling with the film is actually a good thing. The special edition added more ships to the battle, giving it a more frenetic sense of scale. The original version is decidedly stark and spare in comparison.
Scott – I remember seeing this in the theater and having the audience break out in applause and cheer at the end. It was awesome. And I agree that the special edition actually improved this scene by improving the special effects – notably on the explosion of the Death Star that I always thought looked like wax melting in the original.
John – By far, my fondest drive-in memory. (For those who don’t know what a drive-in theater was, it’s like a big parking lot with a really, really giant screen TV) I watched this from the roof of our car and loved every minute. It still exudes charm for me 30 years later.
- 6. – The Mal engine kick (Firefly, 2002) – [Sorry, I couldn’t get a decent pic – ed.] Perhaps the one scene in Firefly that made me decide it was definitely something worth watching more of. When faced with an unyielding foe who vows never ending vengeance, Mal did what we all would wanted him to do, what we all would want to do, he kicked the guy into the engine, thereby gaining a much more agreeable opponent who really understands the seriousness of the situation. Pure gold. With one kick, we see Mal isn’t just a loser, destined to skirt the edges of the Alliance, but a person who does have a sense of right and wrong and isn’t willing to put up with crap when that sense is encroached upon.
Tim – Mal is the character we really wanted Han Solo to be but never got there. He is rough but knows the difference between right and wrong. He also has very few qualms about removing somebody that may wish to come back and hurt him or those he feels are under his protection.
Scott – I don’t agree with the Mal & Han comparison, but this scene is already a classic. Another scene that got a great audience reaction when seeing it live. Strangely, I’ve always seen Mal as very human, but with a questionable morale compass.
John – A character-defining moment. This was the first indication we had that Mal was one of the best characters in sci-fi. I’m not entirely sure I agree with the Mal’s priorities (RE: Serenity…it’s not OK to verbally threaten Mal but it’s OK to kill Shepherd Book?) but damn, I love the character.
- 5. –
The opening scene from Raiders (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981) – From the opening mountain shot to the final, frantic flight away from the Jovitos, this entire sequence is chock full of cool stuff: treasure maps, spike pit traps, poison arrows, gold statues, marauding boulders, and, of course, snakes. With that seemingly trivial observation that Indy hates snakes, Spielberg engaged in a bit of stealth character development and foreshadowing. I remember being blown away and thinking this movie was going to be something special. The fact that the rest of the movie lives up to the first few minutes makes Raiders one of my all time favorites. Simply awesome, even 26 (!) years later.
Scott – I just watched this movie again with my son, and he (at seven) loved it, and this scene is what sets it all up right. It has tension and excitement and amazing effects all worked together in a way that is both fantastic and realistic.
John – Another magical Spielberg blockbuster. Indy was another fun character and this movie showed how adventure – family adventure at that – could be done well.
The lightcycle race (Tron, 1982) – Sure, today the effects look minimal, but they were state of the art when filmed and they don’t lessen the impact of this scene. The cycles themselves still look cool, especially the res/de-res sequences, and the life or death stakes inherent in the race ups the tension level in what is, essentially, a game of Snake played at breakneck speeds. This is yet another scene which made quite an impression on my younger self. I so wanted my own lightcycle.
Scott – I feel this one was groundbreaking in so many ways, and yet it doesn’t hold up as well today as some of the others in our list.
John – My memory of this one is a bit fuzzy as I saw this years ago and haven’t since. The one thing I remember about this scene was the video arcade game sequence that it spawned.
- 3. – The alien stomach burst (Alien, 1979) – [Another scene I couldn’t find a decent pic of. Well, one that wasn’t excessively stomach churning. – ed.] We all knew something was horribly wrong with Kane, but who knew the depths of his gastro-intestinal distress caused by french-kissing an alien? Totally unexpected and gruesome, this one scene sticks on my mind more than just about any other from the first Alien movie. The gory arrival of the baby alien only presaged the horrifying future waiting for the unlucky crew of the Nostromo. Truly a memorable scene in one of the best SF/horror movies of all time.
Scott – For years, even the thought of this scene made me feel squeemish. To the filmmakers this one was ‘mission accomplished’ in terms of being scary and bizarre.
John – Wow…just…wow…
- 2. –
The opening scene of Star Wars (Star Wars, 1977) – From the opening crawl, we knew something different was about to appear. Then, a small ship appears, being chased by, something, big. Really big. The attacker just keeps rolling by the camera and its vast size becomes apparent. Switch to the face-on shot and we see just how large, and cool, a Star Destroyer really is. I can’t think of a better way to open the most influential SF film ever made. As I kid, I ate it up, and I spent a lot of money (well, for a 10 year old) seeing Star Wars over and over. And over.
John – Beside the obvious jaw-dropping start of a movie, this was a wake-up call for the industry. The previously-unmatched special effects blew me away and set a new standard. Call Lucas what you will (as we often do) but there is no denying his impact on the film industry.
The lobby assault (The Matrix, 1999) – “Guns. Lots of guns.” With those words, you knew something big was going to happen. Everything before led up to this moment: the bullet time shots, the explanation of the Matrix, the importance of the characters, all put in place to give us the coolest scene in SF movie/tv history. In fact, the lobby assault kicks off Morpheus’ rescue with a very large and action-packed bang, which carries over all the way through to Neo rescuing Trinity from the helicopter. Neo and Trinity are confident and in command of their Matrix abilities, and the Wachowski brothers demonstrate this through minute after adrenaline soaked minute. This continues to ‘Wow!’ me today, and it is the only scene to make each of our lists, and is, therefore, our decision for the Coolest Scene In Science Fiction Film and Television.
Scott – this wouldn’t be my choice for #1 (that would be either Raiders or the end of Star Wars) but I agree it was fantastic in terms of setting a tone for the movie. It also included special effects wizardry that pushed the industry and was copied by only about a hundred commercials and video games.
John – Violence aside, this movie was just damn fun to watch. I never get tired of seeing Bullet Time.
As you might expect, some of our individual favorites didn’t make the cut:
JP – The Galactica’s in atmosphere jump (Battlestar Galactica) to rescue the colonists of New Caprica. Adama sure has a giant pair to order that maneuver. The Centauri assault on the Narn homeworld (Babylon 5). The look on Londo’s face as he finally realizes the Faustian bargain he has made with his ‘benefactors’ is as good a piece of acting as you’ll ever see on TV. And done with no dialog to boot. Awesome.
Tim – Any scene where the Enterprise enters warp on the Next Generation. This was one scene that always just seemed very cool to me and even today when I think about ships “jumping” – I visualize that effect. Also any scene that involves Grace Park on Galactica. Mmmm Boomer…
So there you have it, our picks for the coolest SF Movie and TV scenes. Now let us know what yours are!
(PS. – One of the best things about putting this list together was that I got to pull out my DVDs of these movies (sadly, I lack Alien or Firefly. I know, I should be flogged.) Too bad I didn’t have the time to actually re-watch all of them, I might still be sitting in front of my monitor right now.