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Nation and World. Around the Bay. The science-fiction movie genre is as expansive as the galaxy. Ever since the age when technology meant little more than a lensed metal tube that could peer into the sky, we've used technological advances to realize our dreams and nightmares. Now a model spaceship or two can turn a Western into a sci-fi classic; an experimental process is all a romantic drama needs to become far-thinking speculative fiction. That's why ranking the best sci-fi movies of all time is a difficult, even dangerous task.
There's a good chance your favorite movie isn't on this list, or isn't ranked high enough for your taste. Many massively successful spectacles, such as Avatar , didn't make the cut. Other films, like Edge of Tomorrow , blend concept and character with excellent, even ground-breaking, effects, but didn't quite make the top While you'll find multiple entries from a particularly notable director -- come on, pick one Spielberg sci-fi movie?
And it might just be that I don't think your fave should be considered science fiction. The 50 films that follow are the best of the bunch -- at least in this reality. No spaceships? No lasers? What the hell? No, the black and white Hard to Be a God is a playground of ideas. Read that in the voice of Nelson from The Simpsons , please.
In the movie, scientists leave Earth to study a planet stuck in a repressive dark age.
Forbidden to directly interfere with society, one scientist sets himself up as a baron, the better to observe the people. Everything about Hard to Be a God is a battle — the film took six years to shoot and seven to edit, and must have been a torment to produce — but the result is magnificent.
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This movie, the lone directorial effort from celebrated poster and title designer Saul Bass, is like a hundred amazing sci-fi book and magazine covers brought to life. David Cronenberg applies his personal signature to gaming in this story of a game designer, her vaguely biological new console, and an immersive, interactive campaign that provokes assassination attempts and blurs identity. Timecrimes is perhaps the most elegantly vicious time-travel movie ever made. This social commentary is dressed up as one of the most goopy, tech-heavy pieces of sci-fi pulp to ever splatter a movie screen.
Using contemporary Parisian streets and buildings as locations, Godard creates a compellingly Orwellian world of cold control. Subtlety goes out the window in this vivid blast of class warfare. Snowpiercer is a film, after all, where Chris Evans recalls the culinary appeal of babies.
In a not-so far flung future, humanity takes refuge from inhospitable weather on a train perpetually running on a closed track. Upper classes revel in opulent cars, while the underclass is consigned to cramped, filthy quarters in the back of the train. Resentment festers, and soon Evans acts as a sort of dark Captain America, leading the underclass in a violent rebellion against repression. David Bowie was dealing with the depths of his cocaine addiction when he tackled his first starring role in this tale of an alien who arrives on Earth looking for water to replenish his drought-ravaged planet.
The gig was in line with Bowie's other intergalactic leanings, including his song "Space Oddity" and the concept of Ziggy Stardust, but Nicolas Roeg's chilly, gorgeous movie is even weirder and more inscrutable than the late singer's most eclectic jams. That sense of distance only enhances this portrait of an alienated alien; the film is as otherworldly as the character it creates. This head-spinning time-travel tale focuses on two friends who stumble-build a machine that can send objects back in time.
Soon they're throwing themselves in time loops, stock tips in hand, just to make a few bucks. Personal desires complicate what could be a basic get-rich-quick scheme, while nested time loops create multiple versions of each guy. Fans have made charts to keep track of all Primer 's weird details, but even casual viewers will see this street-level head trip as proof of what a determined filmmaker like director Shane Carruth can do with very little.
The attention-getting debut from Warcraft director Duncan Jones is basically a one-man show for star Sam Rockwell, who plays the lone operator of a moon-based mining outpost. Nearing the end of his three-year shift, the guy starts to have problems. Not just the loneliness and stunning boredom you'd expect from solo life on the moon; more like big fractures in his life, which reveal far more troubling facts about his existence. The brilliant Rockwell is aided by the voice of Kevin Spacey as the outpost's AI helper, and by a minimal but effective score from Clint Mansell.
Facing death alone on a cold rock in space shouldn't be this appealing. A woman cracks open the first evidence of extraterrestrial life in this uplifting and massively imaginative film. George Miller was the original director, and he cast lead Jodie Foster before being fired. Contact can seem charmingly naive about our response to space, and the role private money might play in speaking truth to power. Yet its earnest yearning for the stars, a complex relationship between Foster and a philosopher played by Matthew McConaughey, and a showstopping finale that shoots Foster back and forth through a wormhole, make it an essential journey.
Your friends and loved ones could one day be replaced by identical but emotionless doubles if this stealth invasion story is right about our potential relationship with aliens. So much good science fiction is right on the line of becoming horror; this is one of many films where our dreams of extra-terrestrial life turn into nightmares.
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This incarnation of Body Snatchers is all political allegory derived from the "Red Scare" era, but its fears are just as applicable in the election era of as they were 60 years ago. As Dom Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio leads a crew in corporate espionage, and a high-wattage supporting cast follows him through an intricate series of mental puzzles rendered as warped architecture and zero-gravity setpieces.
Scott knows just how to position Matt Damon as a jovial and ultra-competent everyman in order to suggest that a well-trained astronaut might survive weeks marooned on a hostile planet. Utterly effective, even effervescent, The Martian is that rare sci-fi outing able to do double-duty as a family holiday film. Before Sam Rockwell ever got there, our closest celestial neighbor took a shot in the eye in the first-ever science-fiction film. In this flat-out weird movie, a bunch of bearded old dudes OK, fine, the "Astronomic Club" send a rickety ship straight to the moon, which is crawling with insectoid aliens.
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We always dream that we can rise above our limitations, but what if those barriers were based on our genetic code? Vincent just wants to be an astronaut, though in a future where everyone is designed to be fit for a profession, he was conceived outside the genetic selection program. But, in Gattaca , you can't keep a good man down, especially if he has a steady supply of hair and fingernails from a more "superior" person, and the willingness to scam an entire society on a daily basis. Director Andrew Niccol's controlled vision avoids an excess of details and is all the more compelling for keeping things simple.
Sorry, R2-D2, your days as cinema's cutest robot are done. WALL-E, the last little trash-gathering robot on a decrepit Earth, is one of the most likable hunks of metal we've ever seen in a film even if his best friend is a cockroach. We'd watch a whole series of films featuring nothing but this 'bot rolling around dead cities, dusting off doodads he finds interesting, but WALL-E has more grand ambitions: a trip to space, a cynical view of mankind's self-defeating laziness and consumerism, and hope that we can turn it all around. An emerging young telepath wages increasingly more insane psychic battles against a future Toyko's military in this landmark anime.
Sure, the middle third gets pretty talky, but between biker gangs, resistance agents, a secret group of powerful psychics, and big themes of government malfeasance and warmongering, the ambition and frequent effectiveness of Akira outweigh its shortcomings. Bonus points for the soundtrack, rich in percussion and chanted vocal rhythms, which is among the most distinctive in science-fiction film. Who unleashed the rabid virus that nearly destroyed humanity, and can an unbalanced prisoner sent back in time gather enough information to create a cure?
Terry Gilliam makes time travel even stranger than usual by deploying a vision of creaky, unreliable technology inspired by Chris Marker's landmark short film, La Jetee. Then he throws together twitchy young Brad Pitt and a Bruce Willis who still cared about his work to tell a downbeat, but uniquely funny story about how we're all doomed to destroy ourselves -- despite our best intentions.
In this standard-setting adaptation of the manga by Masamune Shirow, the concept of humanity is stripped down to nothing more than the pure element of consciousness, and even that can easily be unmoored. Ghost in the Shell can be surprisingly contemplative, with long pauses in which personal identity and technological augmentation flower between the idiosyncratic action.
The horror of nuclear weaponry is manifested as movie history's greatest monster in the signature science-fiction film from Japan. Monster movies had been around for decades, turning common fears into cinema boogeymen, but there was nothing quite like a giant lizard with radioactive breath and an oddly pleasing roar as a symbol for the dangers nuclear weapons posed to man and nature alike. The fact that Godzilla was such a perfectly designed creature helped, of course. This first film set in motion a series of wildly inventive characters and stories that rolls on even now.
A young boy gets a lot more than a big pal when he discovers a giant robot chewing on an electrical station near his house. The amnesiac robot hides a secret -- he's actually an alien war machine -- but his true nature isn't concealed for long as a trigger-happy military confronts the robot, to the boy's horror.
Vin Diesel is perfect as the voice of the Giant, and The Incredibles director Brad Bird, making his first feature film, guides the rest of the cast to spot-on performances as well. The film imagines that a boy's idealism could transform even the greatest destructive force on Earth; that itself is pretty incredible. Our addiction to technology reaches a logical extreme as lovelorn introvert Theodore, who works as a sort of communication surrogate, falls in love with his phone.
Invention in the Space station
Specifically, the unit's AI-powered operating system, which takes the name Samantha, who he finds to be a more emotionally stimulating partner than his ex-wife or any other human woman. Even setting aside the question of sex, however, big problems loom in the union of man and source code. Who says science fiction has to be super serious? There's nothing light about seeing yourself disappear from a family photo, but Robert Zemeckis' crowning achievement is great sci-fi even as it's funny as hell. Strip away all the comedy and "fish out of time, er, water" aspects of the scenario and you've got Marty McFly confronting his own limitations and the shortcomings of his parents.
Back to the Future is a coming-of-age story for two generations at once, as neat and approachable a take on time-travel paradox as anyone has ever put on screen. What if the beautiful people of Beverly Hills, lived in a future fascist society which recruited them to fight giant bugs in space? Paul Verhoeven's film version of Robert Heinlein's novel turns the book's genuine militarism on its head for a satirical take on pop culture, and gung-ho military service and sacrifice.
Verhoeven is at the top of his game as he creates legitimately valorous heroes in splatter-filled battles, and turns Neil Patrick Harris into a madly creepy, Nazi-like intelligence officer. Wait, which side of this battle is the right one again? We were still hopeful about the potential of life amongst the stars when this warning about atomic warfare arrived in the guise of a UFO movie. The humanoid visitor on board, accompanied by a giant enforcer robot named Gort, has but a simple request: "Mankind, chill out a little with that nuclear power you're developing.
Fortunately this galactic taskmaster is somewhat patient, and he's ultimately content to let us off with a warning. Robert Wise's film uses the appeal of shiny extra-terrestrial machinery to offer audiences a little perspective on our minor place in the universe's evolutionary order. Richard Linklater applies wavy, rippling, rotoscoped animation to Philip K.
Romance and love are nothing without the potential for loss and pain, but most of us would probably still consider cutting away all the worst memories of the latter. Given the option to eradicate memories of their busted relationship, Jim Carrey's Joel and Kate Winslet's Clementine go through with the procedure, only to find themselves unable to totally let go. Science fiction naturally lends itself to clockwork mechanisms, but director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman never lose the human touch as they toy with the kaleidoscope of their characters' hearts and minds.
Arrival can be as chilly as it is stimulating, but Amy Adams finds the soul of the story, and connects the elegantly-designed language lesson to something primal, visceral, and moving. He quickly leapfrogs "evaluation" to straight up falling for the construct. Garland toys with the audience as the characters manipulate one another, allowing his intricate thriller to dissect sexual power dynamics as it needles our developing relationship with artificial intelligence.
Sure, recreating dinosaurs from old DNA probably isn't a good idea, but who could resist? Since the earliest days of science fiction, mankind's aspiration to godhood has been a prime concern. Once we can build things, what stops us from creating life? Genetic tinkering was in its infancy when Michael Crichton conceived Jurassic Park ; CG effects were in their early days when Steven Spielberg harnessed both story and computers for a jaw-dropping event film. The wonder of the park's dinos remains intact, and so does the potency of its warnings, delivered so perfectly by big personalities like Jeff Goldblum's Dr.