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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The 10 Best SF Films of the 20th Century.

I’ve written about what makes a bad SF film. I thought I’d post my thoughts on a few good ones. I decided to make a list of what I consider the top 10 SF films of the 20th century. There are omissions that I know will tick people off, but this is my list, so there.

10. Day the Earth Stood Still
9. The Terminator
8. Aliens
7. Star Wars
6. THX 1138 (the original theatrical release)
5. Forbidden Planet
4. Alien
3. A Clockwork Orange
2. Metropolis
1. Blade Runner

What makes this list for me? Every single one is a good film in its own right, whose plot, characters and settings all hang together. All of them commit to their world, and unlike Zardoz, these worlds bear thinking about. Unlike most bad SF films, these movies deal with exposition well; Terminator has a classic scene embedding the backstory in the middle of a chase scene, and THX 1138 is amazing in the way it layers initially unrelated background details as the film begins.

Unlike most bad SF films, the plots in these films aren’t just lifted from a mediocre action movie. Even when they lift tropes from crime-dramas (Blade Runner, Clockwork Orange) or thrillers (Terminator) or adventure stories (Star Wars, Forbidden Planet) they are not afraid to explore themes beyond their plots. They all also follow one of the primary rules of good SF, if you remove the SF elements, the stories collapse.

[ADDENDUM: Found a good review of the Day the Earth Stood Still, tx. to SF Site.]


Carl V. said...

Nice list. I can't see not having the original Matrix film in there, however, sans sequels of course.

S Andrew Swann said...

I left the Matrix off mainly because I think it’s still a little too recent to have a decent perspective of it. I will say I vacillated about that choice a lot. And if I had ended up with a missing slot on my list it’d probably go in it— consider it #11.

Carl V. said...

Have you picked up the Forbidden Planet special edition DVD? It is one of the things on my wishlist that calls to me on a regular basis...not sure I'll be able to resist much longer.

S Andrew Swann said...

No, I haven't, but I've had the good fortune to see it a few times on the big screen— with a decent print.

Bill said...

I'm puzzled about Aliens. The characters are the same cardboard military cutouts Cameron uses in The Abyss, and the creatures themselves lose all the horrifying subtlety from the first movie. I also think Terminator 2 is simply a more accomplished film than its predecessor. Yes, a lot of that's because of the budget, but it's quite successful in both its set pieces and the arc of the narrative.

S Andrew Swann said...

The thing about Alien/Aliens is that the first is an atmospheric horror film, the second is pure military sf- and the best cinematic example of that genre to date IMHO.

The genre shift was a stroke of genius. There was no way you could effectively reproduce the effect of the first film where the monster was unknown and really alien. You couldn't have the creepiness and subtlety of the first film because the audience and the characters already knew the bogeyman.

T2 is very polished, but I think that may in fact dilute some of the impact. A similar problem happened when Lucas decided to add a bunch of CGI to THX 1138...