Recently, Rotten Tomatoes (the site that ranks movies based on critic's reviews) has recently complied a list of the 100 Best Reviewed Science Fiction films. I am a fan of many sci-fi films, though I have not seen many of the films on the list. I would disagree with some of the choices. (Number two on the list is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I thought it was a great film, but do not consider it a science fiction film.) Any list of "the greatest whatever films" is going to have detractors. So much of what we consider a "great" film is based on our personal perspective. I have yet to meet another person that has consistently the same taste in films that I do (I have never met anyone that likes any of the films I do). I won't go through and list the films that I think should not be on the list. I am going to list my favorite sci-fi films, with the hopes that someone might agree with me, and that someone might listen to me and watch one of these films.
I have paired these films for various and easily discernible reasons.
Alien and Blade Runner. Ridley Scott, who is a visually innovative artist, is the director of both of these films. Each of them were novel in their set design and overall look. Each one established a new paradigm for space travel and futuristic films. Most films after them borrowed heavily from their visual style. Each is a very entertaining film. Alien is much more suspenseful, and Blade Runner is much more philosophical. Each has interesting story lines and compelling characters. They are much more than sleek pieces of eye candy. Each film, though, can be viewed solely and rewardingly for their astounding look. Alien has the most frightening alien ever created. All the sequels and prequels have not been able to duplicate the originality of the original. Blade Runner has one of the greatest and most poetic soliloquy's of movie history--the famous "tears in the rain" scene. Very beautifully done. If you have not seen these films, you ought to.
Here is the "Tears in the Rain" scene from Blade Runner:
This is a good scene from Alien (Viewer Discretion Advised):
2001: A Space Odyssey and Solyaris. These are two of the most philosophically impenetrable films I have ever seen. They were made around the same time, 1968 and 1972 respectively. They both deal with space travel and encounters with an ambiguous alien life form. They both have beautiful cinematography. They both are slowly paced with sparse dialog (two things that many people think make a boring film). I think each of them are worth the viewing. 2001 has far more impressive special effects. It is one of the most realistic space-travel films ever made. Urban legend is that it was so good, NASA hired Kubrick (the director) to direct the faux moon landing. That is, of course, a lie, but an interesting one. 2001, though, is so ambiguous, the only people who say they know what it means would probably also say that they met the implied alien life form from the film. Solyaris is a Russian film. (In 2002, George Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh remade the film. I have not seen this remake, so I will not comment on it.) It is a difficult film. I understood very little of it, yet I sensed that there was much to understand. It is a very deep and psychological film. The director, Andrei Tarkovsky, made it as almost a response to 2001. He thought 2001 was to impersonal, which it is. He made his film much more human. These are long, slow films, but I think very rewarding. You ought to challenge yourself with these films at least once.
This is a scene from 2001, with the quickest "fast-foward":
The floating ballet scene from Solyaris:
Brazil and Children of Men. Both of these films deal with a future dystopia, and they do it as well as any other film. COM is rather new; it came out last year. It has an interesting story line, strong performances, and detailed set design. The best part of the film, though, is the cinematography. It is amazing. There are at least two long takes, of at least 3 minutes in length, that completely submerge you in the action (For more on the "long take," see here). The battle scenes are uncanny. Though not as gory as Saving Private Ryan, they are equally as tense. This film also has one of the most realistic child births I have ever seen. It is a violent film, but a good film. Brazil has the most creative and absurd set design of all of these films. Only the mind a former Monty Python member (Terry Gilliam) could create such a bizarre world. There are ducts everywhere. No description I give could do it justice. You simply have to see the film to understand. Now, this film is not simply a wacky set. It has an interesting story. It is nothing truly novel, but it is well done. The humor in this film is also very wacky, and British. This is a very good film, even though it actually has nothing to do with the country of Brazil.
A funny scene from Brazil, in which Harry Buttle is mistakenly arrested:
12 Monkeys and Primer. These are my two favorite time-travel movies. Nearly all time-travel movies have some logical incongruities. These films are no exception. Yet, they have less than the others. 12 Monkeys is another Terry Gilliam film. It isn't as bizarre as Brazil, but it definitely has that bizarre British touch. All the performances in this film are good, especially Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. The story is a bit confusing, and the ending is not a crowd-pleaser, but it is very good. Primer is a small independent film made a few years ago. It was made a first time director with a small budget and a crew of around 5 guys. It is a simple a very realistic time-travel movie. Two engineers are trying to build something to earn them money. Without realizing how, they build a time machine. Then things get crazy. None of the dialog will make sense, since they talk in an engineer-ish jargon. The last 15 minutes are utterly confusing. All that said, it has a strong plot and intriguing characters. If you like time-travel movies, you should rent these two.
Here is Brad Pitt in his crazy performance in 12 Monkeys:
There are other sci-fi films that I like, but these are my favorites. Comment, corrections, and compliments are welcomed.