My Top 10 List of seminal Science Fiction films

Top 10 Lists: Everybody’s doing them!

I just read Film.com‘s list of the top 50 science fiction films, and I… disagreed (and apparently I’m not alone). Not violently, but enough to prompt this, my absolutely biased look at the top 10 seminal science fiction films… the movies you point people to that explains the genre and makes clear the imagination and wonder that exists in the domain. To me, it was a no-brainer, because I am a hard-core geek. Your geekness may vary from mine, however, so let me explain my choices:

10. Forbidden Planet. The Godfather of real SF films, a movie that is one of the first films to take the genre seriously and tells a real gripping story set in a SF setting.

9. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. OK, I’m a Trek fan, but I am a discriminating Trek fan… I won’t watch bad Trek, and I very quickly criticize the shortcomings of the franchise (coughVoyagercough). But when Trek is good, it’s REALLY good, and Star Trek II was REALLY good. Good acting, great dialogue, great plotting, great effects… just the best. The milestone that all Trek movies have to live up to.

8. Planet of the Apes. Yes, the premise has been criticized by almost everybody, the dialogue has provoked parody after parody, but… there is still some great stuff here. It is a great example of the “what if?” premise that is at the heart of good SF, and it’s a rollicking good time to boot.

7. The Matrix. Whoa. The first cyberpunk movie, one that provoked active debate and discussion among its viewers… as all great SF should. Ignore the subpar sequels., they can’t tarnish the original.

6. The Terminator. Low budget, flaws and all, it was the first SF film to deal with time travel in a real serious way… and it sired dozens of imitators, some that even bear the Terminator name.

5. Back to the Future. Time travel as a plot device was never as fun as in Back to the Future, a shamelessly entertaining movie that works flawlessly. Again, let’s ignore the shortcomings of the sequel, and focus on the greatness of the original.

4. Blade Runner. SF as film noir, courtesy the brilliant mind of Ridley Scott. This is a movie that failed at the box office when it was initially released, and gained its place in the pantheon of greatness thanks to home video. And deservedly so.

3. Star Wars. No, Not “A New Hope.” STAR WARS. That is what the screen showed in 1978, that is what it is. Space opera writ large by a man who had his one shining moment in the (twin) sun. Wonder whatever happened to him…

2. ALIEN. SF made real. Ridley Scott (again) made in ALIEN a film that felt absolutely real to the viewer… this was not a set, this was a spaceship. and these people were living their worse moments in it. A movie that is just perfectly crafted.

(And I refer to the original edit here. The Directors Cut… Well, let’s not talk about that, OK?)

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick. Clarke. HAL. Beyond the infinite. Do I really need to rationalize this choice? If so, you haven’t seen it. If that’s the case, dear reader, please do so, and come back. I’ll be here.

Runners up:
Brazil. Dystopic visions of the future courtesy the brilliant mind of Terry Gilliam.
Robocop. “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
Solaris (original). A beautiful haunting film.
The Iron Giant. “SU-PER-MAN…”
The Fifth Element. Heavy Metal made real. And wonderful.

What are the ten best movies of all time?

I'm looking at this question semi-scientifically. 

When you look at the 10 "best" of anything, you have to look at the characteristics of that "thing" and then find examples where every identified characteristic is exemplary. For movies, I think the key characteristics to look at are:

  • Story/Plot
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Music
  • Cinematography

The following films are absolutely top notch in all of the above:

  • Jaws
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Chinatown
  • Casablanca
  • The Godfather
  • Die Hard
  • North by Northwest
  • Alien
  • Lawrence of Arabia

Are they the best movies of all time? I'd say yes, and the reason I didn't swap out other films (such as Star Wars or The Dark Knight) was they had slight deficiencies compared to films I included (The Dark Knight had some plot problems, for example, and Star Wars has some acting that is not quite top shelf)

See question on Quora