Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Top Sci-Fi Movies

Because I consider myself an "amateur movie scholar", I will periodically compile lists of movies on this blog I feel are the best of the best in their respective category. Ok, so I'm not really a scholar, but I do enjoy watching a lot of movies! This list is my top science fiction movies thus far.

Here's my basic criteria for movie lists:
  • Creativity - if the movie has an innovative story, has amazing cinematography, or simply defies the imagination, then it's probably creative.
  • Story - the movie tells a story that reflects humanity's Story and helps us better understand something about ourselves or our world.
  • Insightful - you probably are still thinking about the movie a few days--or weeks--later, and the second time you watch it, you catch important themes, symbolism, or lines you missed before. The movie reflects something that is true and thought-provoking.
  • Personal Motives - I just really like the movie, regardless of the other criteria and against my better judgment. I also don't include movies I have not seen yet, so there could be some great ones out there I simply don't know about.
The list is in no order of importance or hierarchy, nor will there always be a certain cut-off number (such as a "Top 10" or Top "20"). My definition of science fiction includes anything that has to do with aliens, the "not-too-distant future," machines taking over the world, time travel, or going into outer space.

The Matrix (1999) This has consistently been one of my favorite movies. Partly because of the intense action sequences and innovative camera work that redefined the action movie; partly because of the spiritual and philosophical metaphors that can be drawn from this film. The whole concept of an alternate reality that is right in front of us, a reality where a battle is being fought for the salvation of the human race, where people must make a choice between the red pill and blue sounds vaguely Christian to me (even though the Wachowski brothers just wanted to make a real-life anime comic book movie). The special effects and cinematography won The Matrix four Academy Awards. (I only include the first of the trilogy, because the others just didn't cut it).

Blade Runner (1982) This film noir/science fiction movie is saturated with symbolism and philosophical issues. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film opened the door to a new kind of science fiction, where reality is not what it seems and the future may be a dark place. The film revolves around Deckard (Harrison Ford) and his search for replicants--machines designed to be human beings. Questions of morality, existence, and what makes us truly human are all brought up as the film follows Deckard's journey. AFI recently included Blade Runner as one of the top 100 movies of all time. I have seen the director's cut, and there are new bits of symbolism I catch each time I watch it. Definitely an "artsy" type of sci-fi movie with a cult following.

Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983) I just love these films for nostalgic reasons. I remember having a babysitter come over when I was little, and we would watch one of the Star Wars trilogy, then discuss it afterwards. I'm not sure if the babysitter ever got annoyed watching the same movies over and over again, but this was probably the origin of my movie discussion days. I even played a Star Wars card game similar to the Magic Card game in the mid-90s, thus making me the nerdiest person I know. These films were some of the most imaginative and fascinating films of the 20th century. The special effects were incredible for the late 70s and early 80s. The Empire Strikes Back has some of the coolest battle sequences in the Star Wars saga, beginning with the battle on the ice planet, and ending with a light saber duel between Darth Vader and Luke (plus the whole "I am your father" line).

Children of Men (2006) This film is the most recent of the movies on the list. The story is of a "not-too-distant future" where humanity has inexplicably lost the ability to create children. A man (Clive Owen) who suddenly finds himself protecting a miraculously pregnant woman has to fight for their survival in a dark and violent world. The cinematography in this film is outstanding, with extremely long, uncut action sequences that left me wondering how they pulled it off. The acting from Clive Owen is solid. While the overall story is very dark, there is a powerful scene of hope near the closing of the film. It's a powerful look at the darkest and brightest aspects of humanity.

Alien (1979) Another Ridley Scott film, this almost classifies as a horror movie (not recommended for younger children). A crew on a mining space ship stop to check out a distress signal from an empty planet. They unwittingly bring back a dangerous alien that begins to stalk them on their ship. While the acting is not the greatest, the art direction and sets are very creative. On of the most tense-filled scenes I've ever seen in a movie is when Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is hunting for the alien in the ship's duct system while the crew watches him as a dot on a radar. Another dot appears--the alien--and the crew watches helplessly as both dots become closer and closer.... This entire movie could be described with the word "tension."

Primer (2004) I include this movie because it is the best movie I have seen that incorporates actual "science" into the science fiction genre. This independent film about two engineers who stumble upon time travel won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004. The movie is extremely interesting but a little hard to follow, as the engineers use a lot of technical jargon at the beginning of the film and the plot can be confusing at times. This film left me thinking about it for days, until I finally had to purchase it and watch it again.

Spaceballs (1987) Ok, this is a comedy that mocks Star Wars, but it was pretty funny to watch as a junior high kid.

Signs (2002) While this movie has many flaws--especially the lackluster ending--I found it to be an insightful movie about family, coincidence, and meaning in our lives. The story revolves around a pastor who has given up on God after the tragic loss of his wife, and finds himself and his family in an unlikely situation involving aliens. M. Night whatever-his-last-name-is definitely has not matched The Sixth Sense, but Signs has some important spiritual moments in the midst of a touching story.

Metropolis (1927) This classic silent film by Fritz Lang is considered one of the original science fiction masterpieces. While silent films are not for everyone, this film deals with some interesting subjects between balancing the mind and the heart of humanity. In the future, there are two groups: the "thinkers" and the "workers." The former has all the vision and emotion, but cannot put that vision to use; the latter toils diligently underground, but has no direction or meaning in life. The story follows a young thinker as he visits the underground factories. There are some intriguing spiritual questions (a machine appears as an idol; the workers start questioning the meaning of existence, etc.). As a side-plot, a crazed doctor attempts to rebuild the woman he once loved by creating a robot that looks eerily like C-3PO from Star Wars.

Equilibrium (2002) This movie is "The Matrix" meets "1984." A future regime has attempted to eliminate war by forbidding emotions and feelings, regulating emotions through mind-numbing medication, and destroying all emotion-causing books, music, and art. A cleric (Christian Bale) seeks out and eliminates emotion-feeling offenders. While the film clearly steals from many other solid stories (The Matrix, 1984, Blade Runner, etc.), it has some solid action sequences and an interesting plotline as the cleric misses a dose of the medication and begins to feel for the first time.

Gattaca (1997) In a future where genetics determines worth (ala "Brave New World") a guy who has inferior genes (Ethan Hawke) trades places with a superior genetic (Jude Law) in order to join a space travel program. It ask the question "what makes a person valuable?" and seeks an answer in the context of space travel. Great acting by Jude Law.

After reflecting on my list, I'm observing that I tend to enjoy darker philosophical sci-fi films, with the occasional light-hearted movie thrown in. Also, this is one of the nerdiest activities I've ever embarked upon.

Some runner-ups:
2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, Brazil, Donnie Darko, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Minority Report, and Contact.

I'm sure I'm missing lots of great films. What are some of your sci-fi favorites that didn't make the list?


  1. Awesome, Joel. You listed some of my favorite sci-fi flicks as well. Perhaps I shall do my own list on my blog in the near future.

    Not sure if you have seen the movie Serenity yet. It is a sequelish movie they made based off the FOX-cancelled (what on FOX hasn't been cancelled?) sci-fi show called Firefly. Both are excellent alternative sci-fi entertainment. The best way it is described is like a cowboy western, but in space. I highly recommend it and I think it will make my list. Good stuff.

  2. Cam-
    I did see Serenity, and considered it for this list. For whatever reason, it just didn't capture me the way it has captured many others. Firefly and Serenity definitely have a cult following, and I can appreciate the movie...but it just doesn't compare to The Matrix or Blade Runner for me.

    You should definitely do a list, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the sci-fi genre!

  3. gotta respect equilibrium for the originality of those gun fights... plus there's an admirable amount of underlying meaning to the movie for substance's sake