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Tag Archive: best science fiction movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

Any list of 10 or more items these days quickly becomes the stuff of argument.  But in the right context it can become the stuff of discussion and curiosity.  A list of 50 items takes some work to prepare and if that list accompanies a genre that has spanned more than a century, then it really invites discussion. Which brings us to Turner Classic Movies and Running Press’s new look at the science fiction genre in Sloan De Forest’s Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World This latest pop culture book to engage science fiction fans may show that, after all these years, the best and most important works of science fiction are not really all that controversial.  Yet it wouldn’t really be worth picking up if it only confirmed readers’ love for epic films.  Must-See Sci-Fi takes that next step and also serves that need of all fans of film to take another look at the classics and be open to those films we may have overlooked.

Consisting of 50 approximately 1,000 word essays on each film across 114 years, from 1902 to 2016, Must-See Sci-Fi covers the significance of each film selected in its 280 pages, including a plot overview, key memorable scenes, plus some good behind-the-scenes trivia, as well as plenty of color and black and white photographs.  From A Trip to the Moon in 1902 to Arrival in 2016, the book has a fairly consistent coverage (but weighted with more selections from the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1940s have no entries).  Most will agree with the films included from George Méliès’s groundbreaking beginning through the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. But controversial for one person may not be controversial for another.  De Forest presents her case for those films you might not find on other lists–many firsts of sci-fi emphasized instead of the definite look at a sub-genre, like Alphaville, Solaris, Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, The Brother From Another Planet, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One great feature is a recommendation of two “watch-alike” films after each section–If you loved a film, you have two more films to track down and compare, and if you missed a film but don’t like the two suggested films, the book may telegraph your level of enjoyment once you screen the entry.  Readers will also see the impact across a century of filmmaking from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of both H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on these selections.

Key to the fun of delving into science fiction film history is understanding the roots of science fiction–how modern science fiction 99% of the time derives (or combines) its story elements from key benchmarks from stories or films of the past.  As the book progresses readers can see author De Forest frequently referring back to those sources, and after 1977’s Star Wars the remaining 16 entries all seem to rely significantly on films of the past–sometimes they even appear to be merely another twist on one of the films in the first half of the book.  And yes, readers will find new discussion topics.  La Jetée may be an incredibly fascinating short film, but is it more of a “must-see” than Terry Gilliam’s update 12 Monkeys?  And how did a Woody Allen movie ever make the cut?

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Science fiction on the big screen may be like no other genre.  The seemingly impossible comes to life as filmmakers predict the future–sometimes positive and exciting, sometimes bleak and full of unspeakable horrors.  Whether these movies show us how humans may live in the future, or who else may be sharing our galaxy with us, or what galaxies we may never confront, science fiction takes storytelling and gives us a vision of the future.

So if you had to select one scene, or even better, one image, that best defines the science fiction genre in movies, what image would you choose?  Select your choice from these iconic images in the below poll and see if others agree.  If you think we’re missing an iconic image, let us know by posting a comment.

Dave confronts Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Our first look at where the creature has been hiding in Alien

Ripley confronts the queen alien in Aliens

Marty McFly sees the time machine work in Back to the Future

Deckard is taken to the police station in Blade Runner

The mother ship arrives at Devil's Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Daniel Craig gets to use an arm gun in Cowboys & Aliens

Gort arrives on Earth in The Day the Earth Stood Still

The slave ship hovers above South Africa in District 9

Snake Plissken shoots up the place in Escape from New York

Eliot and E.T. take a ride across the moon in E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial

Leeloo arrives in Corbin Dallas's cab in The Fifth Element

We get our first look at Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet

The aliens zap the White House in Independence Day

Donald Sutherland is finally taken in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Tony Stark test drives the Iron Man armor in Iron Man

Alex Rogan gets to be a Starfighter in The Last Starfighter

J makes these look good in Men in Black

The robot is revealed in Metropolis

John Anderton shows us some cool new technology in Minority Report

Charlton Heston in the big reveal from Planet of the Apes

Johnny Rico takes down a bug by himself in Starship Troopers

Our first look at the Enterprise refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Admiral Kirk screams at Khhhaaaan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Kirk and Spock return to 1980s San Francisco in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Worf's promotion ceremony is interrupted in Star Trek: Generations

The Star Destroyer appears overhead in Star Wars

Our first look at Darth Vader in Star Wars

Luke dreams of space on Tatooine in Star Wars

We get to marvel at Yoda--a muppet that looks real--in The Empire Strikes Back

Luke, I am your father -- from The Empire Strikes Back

Sarah Connor beats the Terminator in The Terminator

We meet the new liquid terminator in Terminator 2

Arnold takes another guy's leathers in Terminator 2

The creature appears in The Thing from Another World

Arnold reveals his disguise in Total Recall

The rocket arrives at the moon in A Trip to the Moon

Flynn is zapped into the Grid in Tron

Quorra hangs out at Flynn's place Tron: Legacy

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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