The question of what are the best science fiction films is frequently the subject of heated debates between academics, SF fans and people who just like movies.
Last May, Turner Classic Movies entered the fray with “Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World,” a beautiful 280-page book by Sloan De Forest with an introduction by the legendary Roger Corman. There are plenty of outstanding illustrations in this helpful volume.
I have several differences with some films that are included and some that are excluded. The book “Top l00 Sci-Fi Moves” by Gary Gerani and Steven Jay Schneider’s “101 Sci-Movies You Must See Before You Die” agree with much of what’s in the TCM book, but also have some major differences.
Before getting into that and other debates, here are the films selected in the TCM book by eras:
1902-1936: A Trip to the Moon, Metropolis, Frankenstein, Island of Lost Souls, The Invisible Man, Things to Come.
1937-1950: no films selected.
1951-1959: The Thing from Another World, The Day The Earth Stood Still, It Came from Outer Space, War of the Worlds, Them!, Gojira (Godzilla), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fly, The Blob.
1960-1968: The Time Machine, La jetee, These Are the Damned, Alphaville, Fantastic Voyage, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella.
1971-1979: THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, Silent Running, Solaris (original Russian version), Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Logan’s Run, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien.
1980-1981: none listed.
1982-1987: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner (2011 final cut), The Brother from Another Planet, The Terminator, Back to the Future, Brazil, Robocop.
1989-1992: none listed.
1993-2000: Jurassic Park, The Matrix.
2001-2016: A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Wall-E, District 9, Arrival.
A close read of the list will show that the films reflect the times in which they were made. The first group of films reflects fears of the future and the hope that humans will grow wiser.
The dark period of 1939-1950 is indicative of a serious time when the world was engaged in a terrible world war and then the rebuilding of the devastated parts of the planet. These serious times were real, not SF.
The cold war that dominated the 1950s (and would continue for decades) and the fears of nuclear war and xenophobia became fodder for SF films during that decade.
Nearly all of the 50 films are notable in a variety of ways, but while we like the humor in some of the TCM picks, we see better examples of it in movies such as Galaxy Quest, a near perfect spoof of Star Trek. And, by the way, not a single Star Trek movie is listed, not Wrath of Khan, not First Contact nor Star Trek XI, J.J. Abrams first crack at Trek, in the TCM book.
In their books published several years before the TCM book, authors Gary Gerani (GG), author of “Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies,” and Steven Jay Schneider (SS), editor of “101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die,” agree with many of the picks in the newer book. However, they disagree with some picks and list others not in the TCM book.
With that said, I have several differences with some films that are included and others that are excluded from Gerani’s and Schneider’s book.
I am not going to list all of the films they don’t include in their lists, but in the list that follows we’ll list the titles they included that aren’t in the TCM book. We’ll designate each authors picks with their initials and if both pick the same movies we will state that it is a choice of “both.” One distinction that should be noted here is the Gerani is a British writer and Schneider is an American scholar.
A Trip to Mars, SS; Aelita, SS; Paris Asleep, SS; When Worlds Collide, both; Invaders from Mars, both; It Came from Outer Space, both; Journey to the Center of the Earth, both; The Amphibian Man, SS; Robinson Crusoe on Mars, both; The 10th Victim, SS; Fahrenheit 451, both; Seconds, both; Who Killed Jessie, SS; Quartermass and the Pit or Five Million Miles to Earth, both; Slaughterhouse Five; both; Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, both; Fantastic Planet, SS; Soylent Green, SS; Westworld, SS; Dark Star, both; Stalker, SS; Time After Time, SS; Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, both; Flash Gordon, SS; Scanners, SS; Escape from New York, SS; The Road Warrior, both; The Thing (1982), both; Tron, SS; Videodrome, SS; The Final Combat, SS; Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, SS; Repo Man, SS; 1984, SS; Dune, both; Starman, SS; The Quiet Earth, SS; Aliens, both; Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home, SS; Robocop, both, Akira, SS; The Navigator, SS; Tetsuo — The Iron Man, SS; The Abyss, SS; Total Recall, SS; Terminator 2: Judgment Day, both; Ghost in the Shell (Japan-UK), SS; 12 Monkeys, SS; Independence Day, both; The Fifth Element, SS; Men in Black, SS; Gattaca, both; Starship Trooper, SS; Open Your Eyes, SS; Pi, SS; Galaxy Quest, SS; Signs, SS; Code 46, SS; Primer, SS; I Robot, SS; The Host, SS; Children of Men, SS.
Also, Crack in the World, Doctor Cyclops, Conquest of Space, The Giant Behemoth, The Man from Planet X, The Crawling Eye, The Day of the Triffids, The Man with X-ray Eyes, Unearthly Stranger, It! Terror from Beyond Space, The Humanoids, Red Planet Mars, 2010, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, X–The Unknown, Rocketship XM, Mysterious Island, Rodan, World Without End, Creature from the Black Lagoon, First Men on the Moon, This Island Earth, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Predator, The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Minority Report, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Power, Gorgo, Rollerball, I Am Legend, Quartermass II — Enemy from Space,War of the Worlds (2005), On the Beach, The Creeping Unknown — The Quartermass Experiment, Altered States, Destination Moon, The Andromeda Strain, The Man in the White Suit, The Fly (1986), Voyage to the End of the Universe or Ikarie XB1, Colossus — The Forbin Project, Star Trek XI (J.J. Abrams’ first Trek movie), and Village of the Damned, all GG.
Do I agree with everything in the two alternative books? No way. Some belong, some don’t and there are a few in Schneider’s book that I haven’t seen yet.
Some of the differences I have are a result of this story being written some time after the three books.
Among others I would consider worthy of consideration are The Martian, Avatar, The Shape of Water, Gravity, Inception, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, Inception, King Kong (both the original classic and the 2005 version), Contact, Sunshine (2007), Cocoon, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Man from Earth, The Hunger Games, The Adjustment Bureau, and others too numerous to name.
I credit the authors for the extremely hard work it took to put together their books. Science fiction is a nearly impossible large subject. Yet, I can’t hardly wait to see what the folks on other worlds are writing about us.
The creative teams involved in making the Best Picture winners from 1973-1977 feature “heavyweight” directors, actors, themes and, yes, even a movie about heavyweight boxers.
The heavyweight directors included Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Milos Foreman, and George Roy Hill. The actors included Allen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Sylvester Stallone.
The Sting, 1973, directed by George Roy Hill
Many critics loved (with the exception of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) “Butch Cassidy and “The Sundance Kid” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, but it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture.
When the actors teamed up again for director George Roy Hill’s “The Sting,” however, they won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This comic, caper film is filled with twists and turns in what in many ways is about getting revenge for a late friend.
The “sting” of a big-time racketeer pits brain against gun and brawn. The tale is told with the marvelous music of Scott Joplin and is bolstered by great acting.Others competing for the 1973 top honor included “The Exorcist,” “Cries and Whispers,” and “American Graffiti.”
The Godfather II, 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola
For once a sequel is deserving of the honor of its predecessor. “Godfather I” won the Best Picture award and with the acting assistance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro among others, director Francis Ford Coppola wins the honor again with this outstanding crime drama.
Of course, The Godfather movies are about more than crime. They were about families, culture and acceptance in a world that was resistant to letting them into the great American melting pot.
In this second movie, we witness a family betrayal and death, finding a way to gain political favors, the long-reach of one’s family in the old world, and revenge on the family’s perceived enemies.
Mr. Coppola truly deserved a Best Picture honor for this 200-minute epic.
Other competitors for the 1974 Best Picture honor included “Chinatown,” “The Conversation,” and “Lenny.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975, directed by Milos Forman
You would have to be “cuckoo” not to find something to like about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the 1975 winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, (who became a counter-culture hero with his Merry Pranksters), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the beneficiary of a bravura performance by Jack Nicholson
The story is about a second-rate crook who pretends to be insane in order to avoid prison and be sent to what he expects to be an easier experience in a mental hospital. He proves to be an uplifting spirit for his fellow patients, but runs into a difficult adversary in the head nurse.
The cast is outstanding with several actors on the verge of stardom. That cast includes Louise Fletcher, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson, and William Redfield.
Others contenders for the 1975 Best Picture Award included “Barry Lyndon,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Jaws” and “Nashville.”
Rocky, 1976, directed by John Avildsen
“Rocky” is not only about a Philadelphia underdog boxer taking on the heavyweight champion of the world, it also is a testament to the behind-the-scenes story of unknown Sylvester Stallone getting the movie made, starring in his film and for it to win the 1976 Best Picture Oscar.
In addition to Stallone, the fine cast includes Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, and Carl Weathers.
This was the first real sports movie to win the Best Picture Oscar even though “On the Waterfront” had a sports backdrop. The score is an uptempo joy.
The only problem with “Rocky” is that it led to far too many sequels.
Other contenders for the 1976 honor were “All the President’s Men,” “Bound for Glory,” “Network,” and “Taxi Driver.”
Annie Hall, 1977, directed by Woody Allen
Woody Allen had completed numerous outstanding films before his “Annie Hall” won the 1977 Oscar for Best Picture.
This semi-autobiographical film about his relationship with Annie/Diane Keaton is a whimsical comedy that takes on the issues of loneliness and love, family, communications, maturity, city life, careers and even driving.It’s filled with classic scenes including one with a lobster, one with Paul Simon, and many more.
As with most of Woody Allen’s movies, “Annie Hall” has a great cast. In addition to those previously mentioned, the cast include Allen regular Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Marshall McLuhan (check out his sudden appearance while Woody is waiting in line to see a movie),
legendary interviewer Dick Cavett, Shelley Duvall, Colleen Dewhurst, Jeff Goldb added hislum, and Christopher Walken.
Another major plus for this movie was the cinematography of Gordon Willis, who also added his touch to Allen’s 1979 black and white visually and musically dazzling “Manhattan.”
The crop for Best Picture Oscar in 1977 was bountiful, but “Annie Hall” deserved the honor. Other contenders were “Star Wars,” “Julia,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Turning Point.”
Each year after the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture is announced, I immediately buy it, if I don’t already have it in my collection.
I didn’t see “The Shape of Water” in a theater, but my 4k copy arrived today. And tonight, March 21, I was treated to true cinema magic as this wonderful fantasy/science fiction/love story that even weaves a little sinister government “big brother” conspiracy into this amazing movie. And there’s a magical, musical segment that fits perfectly into this film.
Set in 1962 in Baltimore, we finally have a movie in which the creature has a happy ending. This film is almost an extension of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” but it is so much more.
I have a list (chiefly in my head) of movies that I call “Ronald” movies. They have a certain almost magical spirit that is so uplifting and inspiring.
The “Ronald movies” include Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon,” “Field of Dreams” and “Cinema Paradiso.” There are others, but I am adding “The Shape of Water” to that list now.
Thank director/co-author Guillermo Del Toro, actors Sally Hawkins (no known relation), Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones, an amazing artistic team and others for creating one of my all-time favorite Academy Award Best Winners.
Having finally seen and written about the most recent winner, we’ll be continuing our posts about the previous best picture winners soon.
RDH Great Stories will be continuing its review/descriptions of the Academy Award for Best Picture winners, but since a new winner will be announced tonight it’s time to post a list of the winners since our last entry, which ended with the 1972 winner, “The Godfather.”
And the winners were:
1973: The Sting
1974: The Godfather, Part 2
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
1977: Annie Hall
1978: The Deer Hunter
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
1980: Ordinary People
1981: Chariots of Fire
1983: Terms of Endearment
1985: Out of Africa
1987: The Last Emperor
1988: Rain Man
1989: Driving Miss Daisy
1990: Dances with Wolves
1991: The Silence of the Lambs
1993: Schlinder’s List
1994: Forrest Gump
1996: The English Patient
1998: Shakespeare in Love
1999: American Beauty
2001: A Beautiful Mind
2003: Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2006: The Departed
2007: No Country For Old Men
2008: Slum Do Millionaire
2009: The Hurt Locker
2010: The King’s List
2011: The Artist
2013: 12 Years a Slave
2014: Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)