This is the first in a series of Top10 Movie posts. Reading through the last one on 2014 SF and Fantasy movies it struck me (it often dies) that just because a movie is new, that doesn’t guarantee quality, and sometimes an older movie increases in value because the technology that created it has been surpassed exponentially. Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange and ET are still great movies, decades after they were made. Actually these three didn’t make the final cut, but they are fine films in their own right.
Along with sf books, comics, magazines and TV shows I must have watched every single science fiction movie since 1968, either on screen, video, dvd or as a download, so this is a list that’s constantly challenged, but the core remains the same. So, here’s the countdown of my Top 10 Science Fiction movies.
A glossy, seductive, thriller, this is another great sf movie based on a Phillip K. Dick story. It’s packed with tension and a killer central idea, that the future can be predicted so murders can be prevented by the police. But one of the detectives (Tom Cruise of course) is cast as a future criminal, and so the movie unfolds. Visually powerful, with immense detail in every shot this is, for me, a worthy top ten movie.
Stylish, fast paced, crammed with distressed surface technology and a fashion parade of costumes created by Jean-Paul Gaultier, this is one of Luc Besson’s best films, and he teased some brilliant performances from the confused Bruce Willis, Chris Tucker and Gary Oldman (both competing outrageously for attention) and, in her first major screen role, Mila Javovich, wrapped in strategically placed bandages is both feral and vulnerable. Thoroughly enjoyable. I’d have placed this higher but for Ian Holm’s hesitant, old-school acting which is the only irritation in an otherwise perfect film.
The future is history. There was a time when Bruce Willis actually acted in a movie, rather than wandered around in a daze. Here’s one (and Fifth Element). With Brad Pitt he brings us to the brink and forces us to look at the world around us. In a pleasingly mad, Heath Robinsonesque society Willis is sent back in time to find the point in history to help stop the virus that has almost wiped out humanity, leaving them cowering under the surface of a decimated planet. Drugs, authoritarianism, madness and time travel, this is a major triumph for director Terry Gilliam.
Written by Gilliam, Charles McKeown and Tom Stoppard, this is a beautifully crafted film, ploughing a well-worked dystopian theme with skill, imagination and rare class. Some terrific performances pit the little man against the big state, with so many twists and turns it’s hard to work out whether this is a dream, or a reality; and that’s as it should be! Almost worth it alone for the cast, with Jonathan Pryce, Robert de Nero and Michael Palin thrusting their idiosyncratic characters out and front.
I’ll admit to some nostalgia here. I was mesmerised when I saw this originally on screen and the impact of its sharp, well-observed script, with its madcap Professor, his cool car, and Michael Fox’s confused teen angst all made sense to me. A newish digital print has managed to preserve the charm of the original but bring out some of the 50s period detail as Fox’s character tried to make sure his parents get together, but finds himself deep in trouble. Pure sf entertainment.
In space no-one can hear you scream: what a line, what a movie! A dark, horrific, taut thriller horror Alien set in motion a spin of other great movies, from Aliens (excellent) to Alien vs Predator (so-so) and Prometheus. Nostromo lands on an uncharted planet, answering a distress call, but, finding nothing, eventually lifts off to find it has acquired an alien creature that steadily works its way through the terrified crew. The H. R. Giger set and visual design with its visceral, organic darkness is as much part of the action as the actors themselves.
The phenomenon that is Star Wars surfed a zeitgeist that reached far beyond its sf origins. George Lucas pummelled his audience into submission with sweeping landscapes, outrageous characters and a thrilling all-adventure storyline. No matter that the script is a little wooden, and the actors just bit parts in the vision of a universe at war, Lucas slapped a great performance from the buccaneering Harrison Ford and brought a scale of movie-making not seen before. For impact alone this movie deserves its place in any top ten sf movie list.
Much criticised for its script and cliche storyline, frankly I don’t care. Like a beloved child with faults and idiosycncrasies, I love this movie. Maybe it’s the best use of 3D ever, maybe it’s the impossible flying, or the deep sense of injustice overturned, or the freedom and the spirituality, or that a man with no legs can find a way of fulfilling his dreams, this movie had a big affect on me. Deservedly the biggest grossing film ever this is essentially the story of the clearance of the native americans from their ancient lands, but transplanted, powerfully into the realism of a space opera. The US/UK movie poster is so well known I thought I’d use this French one instead.
Based on the Arthur C Clarke novel this movie now feels a little dated and slow. Technology and science has moved on a thousand fold since then: man set foot on the moon a year after this film was released and has never looked back. But I remember the wonder, the tension between the loneliness of the man in the spaceship, surrounded by the immensity of the universe, I remember the chill of the computer running the ship, but turning on its occupants and I remember the surge of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra which rises as the sun rises, revealing new worlds, new ways of thinking. Kubrick turned a prescient book into an intense and powerful drama that lives with me still today.
How do you know the difference between the dream, and the real? Will you take the red pill or the blue pill? The Matrix was a sophisticated, cutting-edge movie that teased its audience with visions of a future that was at once bleak, and enthralling. The premise of the movie, that we all live in a grid, plugged in while simmering away in suspension tanks because the world has been taken over by the machines we create to serve us, is chilling but the the storytelling technique of The Wachowski brothers hits us with impossible tension, stylish camera angles, impossibly cool characters, bullets that we can track, and matter that dissolves into code before our eyes. Keanu Reave’s famed awkwardness is turned here into quintessential cool and we all want his downloaded skills. Still number one for me!
All of these were genuine candidates for a top ten place: some are iconic (Total Recall), some have great performances (A Clockwork Orange), some twist a great story (Tron), but not quite enough to peruade themselves into the top ten. Below the selected movie poster collage is a list in reverse date order, with directors and feature artists.
- Inception, 2010. Director: Christopher Nolan. Featuring Brad Pitt.
- Moon, 2009. Director: Duncan Jones With: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey,
- District 9, 2009. Director: Neill Blomkamp
- Star Trek, 2009 Director: J.J. Abrams With: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg
- Sunshine, 2007. Director: Danny Boyle, Cillian Murphy.
- Vanilla Sky, 2001. Director: Cameron Crowe. Featuring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz
- Event Horizon, 1997. Director: Paul W.S. Anderson. Featuring Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neill.
- Johnny Mnemonic, 1995. Director: Robert Longo. Featuring Keanu Reeves and Dorph Lungren. (Script by William Gibson.)
- Total Recall, 1990. Director: Paul Verhoeven. Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. (Story by Philip K. Dick.)
- Tron, 1982. Director: Steven Lisberger. Featuring Jeff Bridges.
- Dune, 1984. Director: David Lynch. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis. (Original novel by Robert Heinlein.)
- Terminator, 1984. Director: James Cameron. Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- Blade Runner, 1982. Director: Ridley Scott. Featuring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer.
- Dark Star, 1980. Director: John Carpenter, co-scripted by Dan O’Brien who went on to write Alien.
- ET, The Extra Terretrial, 1978. Director: Stephen Spielberg. Featuring: Drew Barrymore.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977. Director: Steven Spielberg. Featuring Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut.
- The Man who Fell to Earth, 1976. Director: Nocolas Roeg. Featuring David Bowie.
- Westworld, 1973. Director: Michael Crichton (and written by). Featuring Yul Brynner.
- Solaris, 1972. Director: Andrei Tarkovsky, Steven Soderbergh. (from ad Stanislaw Lem story)
- A Clockwork Orange, 1971 Director: Stanley Kubrick. Featuring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee.
- Silent Running, 1971. Douglas Turnball. Featuring Bruce Dern.
- Planet of the Apes, 1968. Director: Franklin J. Schaffner. Featuring Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall.
Sf movies would not exist without the giants of the past, so here’s list of ground-breaking films, stretching back to 1902, all of which are worth seeking out and watching. There are two posters for the very first of these, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon), the original poster of which is in the art nouveau style of the fin de siecle, a very long way from the 3D special effects of today!
- Quatermass And The Pit, 1967. Director: Roy Ward Baker
- The Time Machine, 1960. Director: George Pal. Original novel by H. G. Wells.
- Forbidden Planet, 1956. Director: Fred M Wilcox
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956. Director: Don Siegel.
- World Without End, 1956. Director: Edward Bernds
- This Island Earth, 1955. Director: Joseph Newman
- The War of the Worlds, 1953. Director: Byron Haskin
- It Came from Outer Space, 1953
- The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951
- When Worlds Collide, 1951
- Metropolois, 1927. Director: Fritz Lang
- Le Voyage Dans La Lune, 1902. Director: Georges Melies.
I hope you enjoyed this swift run through the Top 10 SF Movies (and more). If you have any other suggestions or amendments, please let me know below.
Coming soon, Top 10 Fantasy Movies, Top 10 Superhero Movies and more!