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The Unapologetic Geek


Top 40 Greatest Science-Fiction Films - Page 3

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.

Fritz Lang

I've written about Metropolis before, in regards to the proposed remake (if you're wondering, there hasn't been any recent news about it). While I wrote that I supported the idea of a remake, I acknowledge that the movie is being remade all the time. If there is a single template out there for every science-fiction film, Metropolis is it. This movie contains all the spectacle, all the social commentary, all the technological and futurist ideas, all the deeply human character, all the mystery, and all the fantastical elements that make up modern science-fiction. Few films can claim to be as influential as Fritz Lang's silent classic.

Planet of the Apes
Franklin J. Shaffner

Planet of the Apes presents itself as pretty basic sci-fi pulp, but thanks to some fine acting by Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans, and Roddy McDowall and the twist ending, this movie is something much more than that. You can look at it as a meditation on evolution or intelligence, a parable about nuclear war, a warning against the mistreatment of animals, or even a discussion about religion. At the same time, it is an exciting and suspenseful adventure story, as entertaining as it is poignant. If that's not what we all want out of our sci-fi, I don't know what else there could be.

Andrew Niccol

The phrase "forward-thinking" gets thrown around too much when talking about sci-fi, but Gattaca is a good example of something that actually is forward-thinking. Of all the movies on this list, Gattaca is the one that most seems like it could actually come true. It deals with a society in the near future where subtle genetic engineering has produced a new class of people who are, genetically speaking, superior. Businesses would rather hire these superior people, who need less healthcare and have predispositions for excellence and mental stability, than people who are not blessed with such engineering. These people, known as invalids (pronounced like an invalid argument, not like a severely handicapped person), are reduced to a lower class, forced to deal with discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry. The movie itself doesn't provide any easy answers, but it does make the compelling point that people are more than the sum of their genetics. This is a problem we all may face in the very near future, but the movie makes this list not just because of that, but because it is also really well-done. I don't know if it's the music, the story, the acting, or a combination of them all, but I'm not ashamed to admit that, during the film's climactic crescendo, I tear up a little.

Ridley Scott

Director Ridley Scott has only made two science-fiction films to date, but they are two of the most important science-fiction movies ever made. Though Blade Runner, a masterpiece in its own right, could easily fill this same spot on this list, I had to go with Alien, because in the long run, it has been far more influential in modern science-fiction. Alien, like most successful horror films, is all about the fear of the unknown. Everything about the film is designed to show you how easy it is to take you out of a comfortable place and into something terrifying and inexplicable. The characters are all familiar blue-collar stereotypes who like their small talk and don't like their pay. But then there's an intrusion that is, for lack of a better word, alien, followed quickly by revelations that one of the crew isn't really human, that the company they work for doesn't care if they live or die, and that they are all trapped in the void of space while this thing they can't understand is hunting them, one-by-one. At least a third of all science-fiction movies that have come out since Alien have stolen huge bits of this formula, but none have ever used it as effectively as Ridley Scott did. On top of that, the alien itself, designed by twisted Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, is one of the most frightening creations to come out of the last hundred years and will stalk our collective nightmares for many more years to come.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick

Dealing with several science-fiction topics like artificial intelligence, evolution, and extraterrestrial life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, written both by Stanley Kubrick and science-fiction master Arthur C. Clarke, is also an enigmatic trip through philosophy, metaphysics, and the nature of the unknown. The film feels minimalistic due to Kubrick's slow pacing and sparse use of dialogue, but film students and other academics can tear the movie apart frame-by-frame and find meaning and purpose in every image. While much of the plot--especially the final act--is open to interpretation, the essence of the story is relatively easy to understand. This mind-bending, as-deep-as-you-want-it tale is accentuated by visual and special effects that still hold up today, a timeless, classical soundtrack, and several scenes that have become permanently ingrained in modern pop-culture. It may be the obvious choice to top this list, but there are plenty of good reasons for that. No matter what else you may think of it, you can't deny--without being wrong--that it is the greatest science-fiction film ever made.

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-e. magill 8/17/2010


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