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.