There are plenty of lists out there which list the X Number of Essential (or Best) Science Fiction Films. Those kinds of lists are great fodder for arguments between fans, or as introductions for people new to the genre, but they really aren’t that interesting. I’ve been a fan of science fiction films since I was a pre-teen, so we’re talking about 40 years of following the genre in depth. I’d like to share my list of 30 science fiction films that I think are outstanding examples in the genre.
You might be a young person, totally unfamiliar with the genre, who hasn’t even seen the popular films like Star Wars, Alien, Wall-E, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While I could rave about some of these classics, I’m leaving out the box office classics.
This French film by director Jean-Luc Godard is also a film that I would include in my Film Noir list.
THX 1138 (1971)
This dystopian film was George Lucas’ directorial debut. I rank it third among his films, behind the original Star Wars and American Graffiti.
Andromedia Strain (1971)
Fantastic Planet (1973)
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)
I thought I’d seen most of the mid-20th century science fiction films, but only discovered this unknown gem this year.
This was a recent discovery for me, recommended by a close friend. A time travel movie set in Kansas City? Count me in! Could be described as a neo-noir film.
Silent Running (1972)
Dark Star (1974)
written by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
This may be one of the few films on any science fiction film list to be regularly screen in high school classrooms. Directed by François Truffaut and based on the famous novel by Ray Bradbury, the film features a story set in a dystopian future. That future looked very modernist for the 1960s, but surprisingly gets our current world pretty accurate. Widely known as a film about the dangers of censorship. Should be noted that Ray Bradbury later criticized the common take on the novel, saying that it wasn’t about censorship, but about the dangers of technology to our society.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
This film did surprisingly poorly at the box office, but I rank it as my second favorite SF film of the 21st century. The film is set in various time period: distant past, recent past, present, near future and far future. The characters in each segment are played by the same actors, so we get to see Hugo Weaving pay six bad guys. The film jumps back and forth in the timeline–really feels like a science fiction novel.
V for Vendetta
District 9 (2009)
Starship Troopers (1997)
The Fifth Element (1997)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Liquid Sky (1982)
The Running Man (1987)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)