SF Movies: A Belated Meme

A while back a meme was running around the world of blogs based on John Scalzi’s Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, which includes a list of 50 particularly important or influential films. People were taking the list, marking the movies they’d seen, and discussing it. I never got around to it.

I was reminded of this because he’s started a similar discussion using a list of comedies from one of the companion books. In the interest of forcing myself to write something, I’ve gone back to take a look at the sci-fi list.

The surprising thing about this list is how few of the movies I particularly like, or have even seen. I like science fiction, and I like movies… but for some reason I don’t seem to like science fiction movies very much. Most of these films I can take or leave. A few I can’t stand. Of the ones I’ve seen, there are only about nine that I’d want to see again. That may have something to do with the kind of science fiction you get in the movies. What I notice about this list is that so many of the movies on it are, in some sense, disaster films. Some have literal disasters, like alien invasions or collapsing civilizations… but even the ones that don’t seem to involve killer monsters or dystopias. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a depressing story, but when I read—or watch—a SF story I like to feel like it’s possible that, somewhere in its world, people might be enjoying themselves.

The list was intended to be a list of the most influential movies rather than the best, but if it had been a list of the best sci-fi movies, I would have left off… well, too many to count. Like I said, me, SF and movies don’t get along. I would have included Don’t Look Now (psychic powers aren’t based on anything scientific, but they seem to have been grandfathered into the genre anyway), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Man in the White Suit, Dark City, and the entire Quatermass series.

The list:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!

A title promising wild anarchic craziness wedded to a very dull and anemic movie. And slow—I saw Buckaroo Banzai for the first time after the DVD came out and it felt one hundred years long. This was around the time I was fascinated by Blue, a movie in which, technically, not a great deal happens. With all due respect to this movie’s fans, I can sort of understand why we never saw Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League.


Akira briefly looks like it’s going to be a post-apocalyptic motorcycle action flick, but then it turns into something interesting and surreal. The scene where one character is menaced by giant toys while weird jangly music plays in the background may be the creepiest thing in any animated film, ever.


A great, tense film. This is as good as the Killer Space Monster genre will ever get.


I may have seen part of this on television once. I’m not really interested in seeing the whole thing, as the Space Marines genre bores me to tears.


This didn’t hold my attention, but I might go back to it someday to see if I have the same reaction.

Back to the Future

I haven’t seen this in years, but I suspect it’s held up better than a lot of eighties blockbusters.

Blade Runner


My favorite movie of the ones on this list. Brazil is both funny and very sad, occasionally at the same time.

Bride of Frankenstein

The old Universal movies are a different experience for modern viewers—still fun, but too primitive and stagey to generate any real suspense. The Bride of Frankenstein has held up better than Dracula or Frankenstein because it evokes sympathy and humor as well as fear. Also, Dr. Pretorius is the coolest mad scientist of all time.

Brother From Another Planet

A Clockwork Orange

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I saw this once on TV and barely remember it.


The Damned

Destination Moon

The Day The Earth Stood Still


Escape From New York

ET: The Extraterrestrial

I liked this when I was eight. I doubt I’ll ever want to watch it again.

Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)

The Fly (1985 version)

Forbidden Planet

One of several movies on this list that I haven’t seen in at least a decade.

Ghost in the Shell


The Incredibles

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)

Jurassic Park

By the time it was half over I was rooting for the dinosaurs.

Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior

The Matrix

Why do the characters in this movie all speak and act like thirteen-year-old boys?


On the Beach

Planet of the Apes (1968 version)



Solaris (1972 version)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

I watched the Star Wars trilogy recently for the first time in fifteen years. I suspected I’d feel like I’d outgrown it… and, indeed, there was a lot of terrible dialogue and some awkward acting that I hadn’t noticed when I was twelve. What I hadn’t expected was how bored I was. The space battles, in particular, were so tedious that I had to watch them on fast forward. I did enjoy seeing the Rebels get trounced in Empire, though, because Luke was getting annoying.

The Stepford Wives


Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I don’t recall why I sat through this. It boggles the mind that the guy playing the killer robot from the future is now the governor of California.

The Thing From Another World

Things to Come

I know I’ve seen this, but it was so long ago I barely remember it.


I don’t recall what kind of reaction Tron got when it was released. I wonder if people in the early eighties found the idea of programs as little men running around a neon-lit environment as unintentionally funny as I do in the age of the internet?

12 Monkeys

28 Days Later

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

2001: A Space Odyssey

La Voyage Dans la Lune

War of the Worlds (1953 version)

The Martians and their floating heat ray machines are great… butWar of the Worlds should not include a scene where the hero goes square dancing. I really cannot emphasize that enough. No square dancing.