The #scifitop7 hashtag is back! This week’s #scifitop7 is gonna be movies. Not just blockbusters, but any #scifi movie you hold dear (later in the summer, we’ll go to blockbusters, indies et cetera).
In no particular order, my top seven science fiction movies are:
Alien: Scary, intelligently rendered and tense, this movie is a total genre-buster. It featured Ellen Ripley as one of the earliest modern examples of a female protagonist who combines intensity and complexity, in the type of role typically reserved for men (especially in the late 1970s); it also manages to be scary and outlandish without the plethora of plot holes that plague so many of its kind (and plagued, for example, its latest successor, Prometheus).
Blade Runner: Based on the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this movie is another Ridley Scott hybrid. It’s classically sci-fi in many of its trappings, but it’s also a compelling rumination on how we define, and defend, our concept of humanity. Rutger Hauer, the leader of a band of escaped android slaves known as Replicants, has some of the best one-liners ever delivered, including: “quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” And then there’s always the classic “tears in rain” soliloquy…a last-second appeal to empathy from the John Brown (yes, I said it) of replicants.
The Thing: A faithful cinematic rendering of a Cold War-era story called Who Goes There?, John Carpenter’s 1982 movie was a claustrophobic look into the breakdown of civility and trust among a group that once thought they knew each other. It’s an allegory for many things, and its lack of gender diversity (along with Twelve Angry Men, it’s probably the only all-male cast movie that I actually have any regard for) is situationally conceivable due to the setting (an arctic expedition)–and is also offset by an ahead-of-its time ethnic diversity, including African-American characters who aren’t all the same guy. As we know, I tend to favor movies that manage to avoid ethnic and gender reductiveness without obviously trying so hard as to overdo it or distort the story…but I digress. This movie isn’t great because of the cast, though like the others on this list, it’s quite well acted. It’s great because it shows how ordinary folks behave when fear and mistrust catch fire in a group setting.
Gattaca: This is an interesting, methodically paced, well acted movie that is yet another rumination on how we define ourselves as human beings. In a society almost entirely driven by eugenics, a person of predetermined low caste decides to “pass’ into high society. Relevant in any time, independent of the more futuristic aspects of the story.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Not science fiction, you say? Consider the premise: the invention of a machine that can erase one’s unwanted memories. The movie follows a possibly doomed love story between a passive-aggressive head case and a mean-spirited narcissist, and inspires us to ponder both the meaning of love and the value of lessons learned. In many ways, it’s an updated version of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, except that PKD’s story was made into Total Recall–a classic cinematic case of ‘great idea, interesting premise, cheesy movie with a focus on all the wrong elements.’ If only Total Recall hadn’t been made in the 1980s, with Arnold as the protagonist…alas. Eternal Sunshine is a frustrating, thought provoking movie, well acted and worth watching a couple of times.
28 Days Later: Again, not sure if it’s sci fi? If The Andromeda Strain is science fiction, then so is a movie about a human-engineered “rage virus” that runs amok and almost crashes what we call civilization. This move has it all, and operates at a multitude of levels: it’s epic and panoramic in feel, yet both the violence and the relationships (the moment when papa-bear Frank apologizes for losing his temper, then tells Hannah “I love you very much…keep away from me” before changing over, still gets me every time) have an intense, first-person feel. 28 Days Later explores the breakdown of civilization, the awful choices people make in extreme times, the transcendence of a few brave souls, and the catastrophe that can ensue when humans tinker with virology. it’s got a strong (afro-Brit, moreover) female protagonist and non-reductive ethnic diversity. I think it’s Danny Boyle’s best film, and it’s probably my favorite film, and if not, then it’s mighty close.
That’s my list! Feel free to agree or disagree, diplomatically of course, with my list or with each other. Stay tuned for upcoming #scifitop7 lists, and follow me on Twitter @firstcausenyc to keep the conversation going.
Again, my #scifitop7 movies (not in order): Alien; Blade Runner; The Thing (1982); Gattaca; 2001; 28 Days Later; Eternal Sunshine/Spotless Mind