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Top 40 Greatest Science-Fiction Films - Page 2

A few months ago, I listed the Top 20 Greatest Science-Fiction Novels. Science-fiction also lends itself to the visual medium, though, and as influential and important as those 20 novels are, the following 40 movies are probably more familiar and influential for most of us. Numbers 11-40 are listed without commentary, but the top ten deserve some explanation, if not justification. As usual, I disclaim that this is my personal list and I do not ask you to agree with it.


#10
The Terminator
James Cameron
1984
He'll be back
#10
The Terminator
James Cameron
1984
He'll be back

It is almost criminal to include a single James Cameron movie on this list, as he has created several influential and entertaining sci-fi movies, including The Abyss and Avatar. Still, his directorial debut, The Terminator, is probably his best work of science-fiction. The movie is fun, but it also presents a few ideas that were relatively new to sci-fi at the time. Spawning several sequels, a television show, and more, The Terminator is a huge part of pop culture today. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody on planet Earth who doesn't know who the terminator is, and that is a testament to how special the movie is.


#9
Forbidden Planet
Fred Wilcox
1956
Poster
#9
Forbidden Planet
Fred Wilcox
1956
Poster

Forbidden Planet is one part Shakespearean adaptation, one part psychological meditation, and two parts hardcore sci-fi. A man and his daughter are the only survivors of a ship that crashed on Altair IV, which also happens to be the resting place of a long-dead species called the Krell. The man, Dr. Morbius, uses an ancient alien machine to boost his intelligence and survive, but when a cruiser decides to land and investigate, it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem. With a memorable robot, an invisible monster, and other strange goings on, things on Altair IV go from mysterious to exciting very quickly. The film is just awesome, and according to Gene Roddenberry, it helped inspire Star Trek, and both those reasons make it worthy of a spot on this list.


#8
Independence Day
Roland Emmerich
1996
Screenshot
#8
Independence Day
Roland Emmerich
1996
Screenshot

Let me just say upfront that, as a story, Independence Day is a steaming pile of crap. It is full of one-dimensional characters, cringe-worthy clichés, nonsensical plot points, and ridiculous one-liners. However, as sci-fi spectacle, it can't be beat. This movie doesn't try to do anything but entertain, and there's something about that that makes it more honest than most other movies. Granted, one can read into the movie--especially in the post-9/11 world--but any attempt to do so goes against what Roland Emmerich was trying to do. This movie is cool, exciting, visually amazing, and has been impossibly influentual when it comes to the modern summer blockbuster.


#7
WALL-E
Andrew Stanton
2008
Screenshot
#7
WALL-E
Andrew Stanton
2008
Screenshot

The only animated movie on this list, WALL-E is just as important a work of science-fiction as its live action brethren. The story revolves around a dystopia in which Earth has been abandoned as a result of too much garbage and environmental damage. The first part of the movie deals with a robot left behind (WALL-E), and there is very little dialogue to be had. This part of the movie is striking, daring, and beautiful, in a way. The second half, in which WALL-E sneaks aboard a human vessel and works to bring the people back home, is more standard, but still unique and interesting. The movie is unconventional but wildly popular, and that combination tends to make things influential in the long run. While I have already made my case against the film's message (as the central problem of mankind inevitably creating waste is never actually resolved), it is hard to deny that this movie--that bills itself as an animated kid's film--holds up a mirror and asks us to think critically about ourselves. That's good science-fiction, if you ask me.


#6
Contact
Robert Zemeckis
1997
Screenshot
#6
Contact
Robert Zemeckis
1997
Screenshot

I really wanted to put Back to the Future on this list, but my one-movie-per-director rule forced me to choose between it and Contact. Contact is one of only two movies on this list to be adapted from books on my list of top 20 sci-fi novels (the other being The Time Machine, which is #29), but the movie deviates pretty heavily from Carl Sagan's work. I'm not going to spend too much time defending this movie's place on my list, because I've discovered that people seem to either love this movie or hate it. Therefore, you'll probably either agree that it deserves to be here or you won't, regardless of anything I could write.

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-e. magill 8/17/2010

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