Top Ten Sci-Fi Films

Top Ten Sci-Fi Films

Browsing the many sci-fi top lists on the net has proved that pretty much any movie can be classed as science fiction, as long as it has any or all of: a) techy gizmos; b) a future setting; c) an alien creature of some kind.

With that in mind, compiling a top 10 is almost a futile task. But to spurn such an expansive genre simply because it covers too many films seemed like a disservice, so I did one anyway. Sure, greats like The Terminator, Soylent Green, Aliens and Planet Of The Apes are sadly missing, but if I included all the ones I rate, the list would go on, and on, and on, and on…

So here it is. Think I dropped any clangers? Then post your comments below.

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

10.  Serenity (2005)

Directed by:  Joss Whedon

“This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then – explode.”

DESCRIPTION:  I’ll be honest: this is my fan choice. A doubtful entry I know, however after the hours of enjoyment the TV show Firefly gave me (followed by equal disappointment when Fox pulled the plug after only 1 season – fuckers), watching Serenity was a definite cine-gasm.

Joss Whedon’s engrossing sci-fi / western world is a fun and potential-filled backdrop for his wonderfully engaging cast to roam the ‘verse on the good ship Serenity. Essentially a feature add-on to the series (prompted after the huge cult following the TV show garnered), Serenity is still a great introduction to newcomers and features a notable performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as a great bad guy. A shame this franchise will probably never be resurrected.

9.  Logan’s Run (1976)

Directed by:  Michael Anderson

“No one has to die at 30! You could live! LIVE! Live, and grow old!”

DESCRIPTION:  In a futuristic world where no one lives past 29, Michael York is charged with chasing down those that attempt to escape this fate. He fulfils this task with zeal… until it is his turn to undergo the fatal ‘Carousel’ ritual. Deciding he would rather be old and live, York goes on the run in the hopes of discovering the rumoured safe haven of Sanctuary.

Having recently turned 30, Logan’s Run has a special significance for me. Despite the current emphasis placed on living your twenties to the full, this flies in the face of the numerous financial, educational and career restraints a person in their twenties has to commonly endure. Logan’s Run scorns the absurdity of age barriers and the popular dismissive attitude against those considered ‘old’. It’s good, fun, thought provoking ‘70’s sci-fi that numbers amongst the classics.

8.  Primer (2004)

Directed by:  Shane Carruth

DESCRIPTION:  The in-depth narrative, pseudo-intelligent jargon babble and meticulous handling of a complex narrative betrays Primer’s extremely low budget ($7000). Essentially a trial and error foray into time travel, we follow two amateur scientists as they invent a device that removes the constraints of chronology.

Despite the fact that Primer is obviously fiction, I nevertheless found it the most believable version of a time travel story yet, as it attempts to tackle the subject from a scientific perspective. And although precautions are taken, inevitably the protagonists’ plans go awry, resulting in an intricate struggle to resolve the errors of their experiments. An interesting, challenging watch.

7.  Moon (2009)

Directed by:  Duncan Jones

DESCRIPTION:  An unexpected 2009 hit from David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones (otherwise known as Zowie Bowie), Sam Rockwell heads up a predominantly solo crew in charge of maintaining a Helium 3 mining operation on the moon. As the isolation takes its toll, Rockwell begins to believe he is involved in a sinister plan that undermines the notion of humanity itself.

It’s always so refreshing to see low budget ($5 million) high concept films work and Moon most certainly does. A combination of Rockwell’s excellent performance, nostalgic set design and a solid story raises Moon to the level of other sci-fi greats. And to think this was Jones’ debut feature…

6.  Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Directed by:  Irvin Kershner

“Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.”

DESCRIPTION:  A sci-fi top ten wouldn’t be complete without a Star Wars film in there somewhere. And if you’re going to pick, it has to be Empire, which is by far the best directed (fuck you Lucas) and most adult of the series.

A break from the traditionally dualistic formula of the franchise, Empire forays into the Darkside, with the good guys losing for a change (Rebel base destroyed, Han Solo reduced to a decorative wall hanging and Luke losing a hand). Throw in Boba Fett, an epic snow scene battle and a weird green midget living in a swamp and you have a Star Wars film that’s great entertainment. And did I mention John William’s excellent score, the wonderfully dark visuals and even David Fincher popping up as an assistant cameraman? Great stuff.

5.  A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick

“The Korova Milkbar sold milk-plus, milk-plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.”

DESCRIPTION:  Adapted from the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange is a shocking harbinger of social decay and behavioural experimentation. Following numerous death threats, Kubrick famously withdrew the film from distribution in 1973, further adding to the notoriety of its perceived controversial content.

And it’s easy to see why A Clockwork Orange got people’s backs up. Re-inventing youths as bloodthirsty (albeit stylish) gang thugs and portraying the government as little more than mad scientists, the film takes a distinctly cynical outlook of future Britain. But then, that’s what dystopian future flicks are all about and Kubrick does an excellent job of creating a sci-fi movie to remember.

4.  Solaris (1972) / Solaris (2002)

Directed by:  Andrey Tarkovskiy / Steven Soderbergh

“Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit.”

DESCRIPTION:  Now I know I’ve listed two films for number 4, but I felt Soderbergh’s version deserved mention considering how good the remake turned out to be.

The original Solaris uses the same slow careful pacing inherent in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to relay a unique alien first contact story. A psychological study of both extraterrestrial and human alike, Solaris is possessed of an intriguing narrative and is shot beautifully.

For the highly original idea alone, both versions of Solaris are films sci-fi fans simply have to see.

3.  Alien (1979)

Directed by:  Ridley Scott

“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

DESCRIPTION:  Reading Dan O’Bannon’s early draft of the script for Alien, it’s surprising how the film emerged to be the sci-fi legend it is today. Set within the claustrophobic innards of the commercial freighter The Nostromo, Ridley Scott managed to not only create the illusion of vast scale and high production design with limited resources, but also present a monster (with a little help from HR Giger) that was genuinely scary.

3 sequels and various spin offs down the line and it’s fair to say the mythos has faded somewhat. But that takes nothing away from the taught, suspense-filled, sci-fi work of genius that is Alien.

2.  Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by:  Ridley Scott

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

DESCRIPTION:  Possibly Ridley Scott’s best film, Blade Runner painstakingly moulds a subtle thriller within a visionary futuristic cityscape, shot through with classic film noir overtones. The wonderfully creative art direction combined with Vangelis’ powerful synth score provides an exceptional stage for Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford to give their best performances to date.

For those who haven’t seen Blade Runner (I doubt there will be many), make sure you watch the Director’s Cut, or better still the Final Cut – just avoid the dubious Theatrical print.

1.  2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick

“I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it.”

DESCRIPTION:  No surprises here: in my opinion Kubrick’s stellar masterpiece is the definitive sci-fi movie. Everything about this film is perfection: from the slow, carefully drawn-out pacing, to the impeccable visual style, 2001 is a film that provides a fascinating study of mankind’s evolution and potential relationship with AI.

Despite being a little off with the date, 2001 is nevertheless prophetic and has proved to be astoundingly influential to film. Probably the only ‘true’ sci-fi film I’ve ever seen (in that it doesn’t really cross genres), it’s also arguably Kubrick’s best. Should be on everyone’s cinema bucket list.

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About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

8 Responses to Top Ten Sci-Fi Films

  1. Steve says:

    Tron, E.T., Wall-E, Voices Of A Distant Star & Another Earth are worth mentions

  2. Tron (original version) was definitely a contender, love that movie. So is Another Earth any good? I was put off by the apparent love story focus – does it still retain a fair bit of sci-fi?

  3. Deliberatley Ginger says:

    I disagree one hundred percent! 1. Jedi, 2. Serenity 3. Fifth Element 4. Empire 5. Star Wars (actually this top 5 are all pretty much inter-changeable depending on my mood) 6. Star Trek IV the voyage home 7. Invaders from Mars 8. Village of the Damned (1960) 9. Flash Gordon 10. Back to the Future.
    Tron’s good too.

  4. Mark Walker says:

    Great to see a mention for MOON, Soderbergh’s SOLARIS and BLADE RUNNER is my all time favourite. I think BACK TO THE FUTURE deserves mention though and possibly DARK CITY.

    • filmfellahenry says:

      Thanks for reading! Loved Moon, a real gem from 2009. And whenever anyone starts slating George Clooney, I always bring up his brilliant performance in Solaris (not to mention Michael Clayton, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind etc). As for Blade Runner… well the fact that Ridley Scott’s two best films have been sci-fi masterpieces is the only thing retaining my faith in Prometheus right now…

      Regarding Dark City, I really debated its inclusion. Really love the film: such a great blend of traditional thriller, Noir and sci-fi. Shame Alex Proyas has since gone downhill.

      • Mark walker says:

        Hopes are indeed high for Prometheus and I couldn’t agree more on your opinion of Clooney. He was marvellous in Solaris. Him and the film are never given enough credit. True about Proyas also. He was an interesting director when he started but his recent deliveries has been stinkers. Another film that popped into my head is John Carpenter’s The Thing. I love it but I suppose it falls more into the horror category. It’s an interesting list that had given me thought on my own top ten of the genre.

      • filmfellahenry says:

        Thanks for your comments Mark. Sci-fi lists are particularly hard to compile as they seem to cross over genres in most instances. In theory I should have included The Matrix due to how influential it has been (and innovative for the time); however I felt it was too much of an action movie, like The Terminator, which seems to be another popular top ten choice.

        Speaking of sci-fi, one that I’m really looking forward to is Beyond The Black Rainbow (http://bit.ly/zBr0UG). Looks like a journey back to my childhood that I pray lives up to the trailer

      • Mark Walker says:

        I had never heard of this “Beyond the black rainbow”. Thanks for the link. It looks absolutely superb. Kubrick springs to mind. Can’t wait to see it.

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