Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The 20 sci fi movies you have to see (if you haven't already)

There are certain genre classics that you just have to have seen in order to call yourself a science fiction freak. There are also about a billion lists of these on the internet, so we thought we would fight and cry and make up and sulk and generally drink a lot before coming up with our own list. This is not in any particular order, but just the best of the best.

1. METROPOLIS (1927) - the grandaddy of them all (and we're not talking about the Giorgio Moroder remix either). We are so excited about the new footage found recently that we can't talk, much like the characters in this, the only silent movie to make our list. Why is it here when the acting is terribly dated, the plotting is even worse and the audience has to, like, read and stuff? Because it is so utterly pivotal to the genre. The imagery in this film echoes down the years with films like BLADE RUNNER and STAR WARS pinching from it. There is barely a science fiction film anywhere that doesn't owe a debt to METROPOLIS. It is also a pretty good ride in its own right. The flooding of the workers' city is exciting, the chase through the catacombs is scary and the creation of the robot Maria is awesome even today.

2. BLADE RUNNER (1982) - Whichever of the many versions of this troubled film you choose as your particular favourite, they all start with one of the most stunning opening shots as the camera sweeps across the smog-filled city. From that moment, you're hooked into a world of morally grey people, decaying cities and wasted lives. The replicants (that's androids to you and me) are more alive than the people and never has the question of what it means to be human been asked more compellingly. Intellectually challenging, visually amazing and instantly iconic, this is the most influential science fiction movie since STAR WARS.

3. STAR WARS (1977) - Whilst it is true that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a darker, deeper and more accomplished film, this is the one that changed the face of movies forever, ushering in an era where the merchandising was as important as the film. This is more of a space opera than a science fiction movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining, exciting, funny and fast-moving film that shaped the childhoods of a generation.

4. FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) - The film that gave us Robbie the Robot and Monsters from the Id, this is also a film that brought special effects of a scale previously unheard of to the screen in glorious colour. A small band of explorers arrive on a planet to unravel the mystery of the lost colonists and discover a man, his daughter, their robot and the biggest alien machine ever put on the screen. This was so influential that it still pops up every so often in stuff like BABYLON 5.

5. 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) - A film that splits genre fans into those that genuinely revel in the slow build up and deep thoughts that rumble around in the skeletal plot and those that think it's the slowest pile of tosh this side of ZARDOZ. Kubrick's imagery is amazing, the effects flawless and it tackles questions about history, evolution, and our place in the universe that few others have dared. It also contains the Stargate sequence that accompanied a generation's drug misuse.

6. ALIEN (1979) - In Space no-one can hear you scream, but in the cinema they certainly could. This is one of the scariest science fiction movies of all time and features one of the most genuinely alien aliens around. Sure it ends up as a man in a suit, but the facehugger and chestburster incarnations are the stuff of nightmares. The film also launched Sigourney Weaver to stardom and contains fine turns from John Hurt and Ian Holm.

7. ALIENS (1986) - One of only two sequels on the list is James Cameron's belated follow up to Ridley Scott's scarer, but it takes the original premise and runs in a whole new direction. What was a claustrophobic haunted house in space story is turned into a soldiers behind enemy lines story as a crack troops are whittled away by more aliens than you can shake a big gun at. It's a pure adrenaline rush and an object lesson in how to make a franchise work.

8. PLANET OF THE APES (1968) - This has been parodied so much that it is hard to see just how impressive this film was at the time. The ape makeup is iconic and so is that ending with the Statue of Liberty, plus it contains Charlton Heston's finest non-biblical role. Anyone who can say the line 'Take your filthy paws off me you damned dirty ape' with a total absence of irony has got to be doing something right.

9. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978) - Steven Spielberg's movie makes it onto the list because it is one of the few films that shows a peaceful contact between humans and aliens in an almost believable scenario. Almost believeable because it's hard to see how the alien ship lit up like a christmas tree could go unnoticed for so long and a big rock concert is unlikely to be the outcome. Whatever, the extended climax is an almost religious experience of sustained awe and how often do you get that?

10. GATTACA (1997) - If you want a film with a really chilling view of an all-too plausible future then this is it. In a world where genetic perfection can be bought, one imperfect man schemes of acheiving spaceflight are derailed by a murder in his company. The idea of genetically-enhanced humans is coming ever closer and the dual-class society created here is just too convincing to be comfortable. For thinking science fiction look no further and it's also an exciting thriller to boot.

11. THE TERMINATOR (1984) - Many would argue that James Cameron's sequel is bigger and better, but we beg to disagree. This is a pared down action thriller that wastes not a single scene as the implacable Arnold Schwarzenegger bears down on his prey in the modern world whilst the hero suffers nightmares of a post-apocalyptic future. Scwarzenegger was never better cast and the tension never wears thin. 'I'll be back' becomes an unforgettable catchphrase and two action heroes are born in the actor and his director.

12. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) - Kubrick's vision of the future of human violence hasn't aged too well, but this rumination on the nature of violence and its place within human society is more interesting than its sullied reputation might suggest. Malcolm MacDowell is mesmerising as Alex, the chief protagonist and the film's main success is in taking someone capable of such horrors and still making the state's response to him worse.

13. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) - Christopher Nolan's Batman fable is dark, disturbing and downright twisted, but it is also exhilarating and completely unpredictable. Heath Ledger's Joker is astonishing, but the whole film astonishes by being an intelligent examination of the duality in all of us masquerading as a blockbuster action movie. Don't mix up with BATMAN AND ROBIN.

14. THE MATRIX (1999) - The film that made CGI in science fiction the only way to go with its much vaunted 'bullet time' graphics, but it is actually the concept behind the kick-ass action, the artificial reality Matrix maintained by machines inside which the human race lives unknowingly that makes this more than just a stunt and special effects spectacular. You may never look at the world the same way again.

15. THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) - Written by Andrew Niccol who also wrote GATTACA, this is a wonder of a movie that has all the heart and humanity you can ask for wrapped up in a comedy that is a drama that is a thriller. The concept of a man growing up inside an artificial world created as the world's largest reality TV show seems ridiculous, but as TV searches for ever more extreme entertainment is it really that ridiculous. Jim Carrey is better than he has ever been, but he is eclipsed by Ed Harris as the director of the show. If this film doesn't leave you emotionally spent and uplifted then you have no soul.

16. MAD MAX 2 (1981) - Also known as THE ROAD WARRIOR, this is a post apocalypse action fest that has never been equalled. The extended car chase that is the film's entire third act is a bravura sequence of brutal automobile carnage. You don't need a brain to enjoy this, but the action will take your breath away and there's not a single CGI shot in the whole thing.

17. ET - THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982) - Steven Spielberg's second film on the list is a paean to childhood and anyone who has ever been a child will not be able to resist this heartfelt and heartrending movie. The director goes ruthlessly for the tear ducts, but throws in big laughs along the way and it's not many a director that would cut Harrison Ford out of the movie. Deservedly a worldwide phenomenon, this is one of the greatest kids movies ever made.

19. THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) - Not a sequel to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but a small British gem in which the hard-bitten journalists of a London newspaper track down the biggest story that they have ever told, the end of the earth. As the planet spins slowly towards the sun, temperatures rise, freak weather causes trouble and water rationing becomes a chilling reality. The accent is on reality throughout and the film never compromises, even in the final shot where the two possible headlines of 'Earth Saved' and 'Earth Doomed' share the same screen space.

20. SOLARIS (1972) - Another marmite movie to divide and debate, Andrei Tarkovsky's meditation on the nature of grief and philosophy movies with the pace of an arthritic snail, but is also hypnotic. It takes forever to just get off the planet Earth, but once in orbit around Solaris things take a turn for the wierd and the ending is satisfyingly un-Hollywood.

There are plenty of movies that didn't make it to the list that were close and the blood still isn't out of the carpet, but here it is for better or for worse. Debate is welcome.

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