I’m a fan of science fiction movies. Thanks to George Lucas, I grew up on a diet of Star Wars and Back to the Future. In the 1990s, I also have quality television shows to fuel the science geek in me – Beyond 2000 and the X-Files in particular. The 1990s saw Robocop and Terminator, not forgetting Jurassic Park, Stargate and a smattering of early Batman movies.
The late 1990s saw a wave of space Sci-Fi movies hit the cinemas – Deep Impact and Armageddon. At the end of the decade, George Lucas brought us back to the New Trilogy of Star Wars, which led us into the 2000s, where Marvel and DC “awakened” to bring us Spiderman, X-Men, Transformers, more Batman, and the whole superhero sub-genre was ignited. I have always been first and foremost a Star Wars fan, but since the late 2000s, I have grown to appreciate Star Trek, particularly the Next Generation series that followed USS Enterprise D.
The following are my top 5 favourite Science Fiction movies. I have watched them all several times over the years, and I use this measure to determine my favourite movies. Put simply, the more I have watched of a movie, or would be prepared to watch repeatedly is an indicator of movies I love. I should also add the additional note that where a movie here is part of a series/trilogy, I have picked my favourite from within the series and then not picked from the same series for my remaining favourite titles.
IMDB link; 2008; Disney/PIxar; Andrew Stanton
To kick off this list, we begin with a Disney/Pixar animation. WALL.E is a masterpiece for its thought-provoking storyline. The ability of a robot to capture our hearts, and with little dialogue during the first part of the movie is a remarkable achievement. Combined, this movie gave us something different and fresh to appreciate in the cinemas.
IMDB link; 1986; 20 Century Fox; James Cameron
Not only was Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ellen Ripley unforgettable, but the entire movie was a solid performance combining storyline, action, special effects, character development and acting. James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 original was but the first in many more movies to be based on the original premise – Alien Resurrection, Alien3, not to mention the whole other side-storylines created by the whole Alien vs Predator (AVP) premise.
Aliens is probably the most horrific of the movies on this list – the complete opposite of WALL-E… – so I guess it provides balance in my tastes of what makes a good science fiction movie. Some of those graphic scenes where the Aliens spawn are unforgettable, especially if you’re a kid growing up and watching these kind of movies. Speaking of unforgettable scenes etched in your mind – remember the toilet scene from the Ghoulies II? Ekk….
3. The Matrix
IMDB link; 1999; Warner Bros; The Wachowski Brothers
1999 was a very good year for Science Fiction in general. Keanu Reeve’s break-out role as Neo as well as Hugo Weaving playing Agent Smith led a solid ensemble of cast/actors who collectively played out an incredibly thought-provoking first chapter in what birthed a trilogy in the end. Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss both contributed to this visually stunning movie with its special effects. I had watched the Matrix at least twice in the cinemas, and once it was released on DVD – each viewing has been an immense pleasure, gleaning new meaning from the subtle integration of biblical themes. The Matrix set a new definition of a true Sci-Fi movie.
2. Terminator 2 – Judgement Day
IMDB Link; 1991; Carolco / Pacific Western; James Cameron
After Aliens, this was James Cameron’s next major production, Aliens having been a nice distraction between the original Terminator (1984). With famous quotes out of Arnie like “I’ll be back”, Terminator 2 was one of those movie/trilogies where the second improved the franchise for the better. The thrilling action combined with the suspend and drama makes this a nice classic science fiction film to enjoy. The Terminator franchise is now five movies strong (Genesis scheduled for 2015) and also boasts a television series in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
One of the things that initially surprised me, having been influenced by the original Terminator, was the role reversal of Arnold Schwarzenegger now as the good guy. Whereas the original had him pitted against two humans, this sequel improved the theatre dramatics and thriller action by having the fights more equally matched between the two Terminator models.
1. Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
IMDB link; 1980; Lucasfilm/20 Century Fox; George Lucas
Of all the current six Star Wars films in the franchise The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) is arguably the best of them all. Like the Terminator franchise, this was a case of the sequel improving on the original. Yes, A New Hope (ANH) was brilliant in its originality and groundbreaking with the special effect technology of its time, but where the storyline and characters played a second fiddle, this was thoroughly addressed by ESB. Character and storyline development were suitably and expectedly tightened. Return of the Jedi (ROJ) was also a masterpiece in its own right but, like Revenge of the Sith (ROS), the movies had simply follow the track laid out before them. We all kinda knew how the final chapters would play out.
For me the pivotal scene, particularly watching it for the first time in a cinematic re-release, was the real highlight of learning the Vader-Luke connection as father-son. Actually, whilst the detail is now fuzzy, I think I saw ESB first and only after ANH. The lightsaber duel was also of a higher standard. Ok, to be fair ANH did not set a good measure given the fight was between two aged warriors. In ESB and ROJ Luke was an up and coming new talent against the incumbent. All the new trilogy films, particularly ROS have amazing saber duel sequences but were not as groundbreaking as ESB.
ESB began with the tension and suspense of the Rebel Alliance being discoverer by the Empire, followed by the first major battle/invasion on Hoth. Add to the action the ongoing and budding romance between Han & Leia and you had a little something for everyone. Luke’s separate training mission on Dagobah introduced us to Yoda, a character implemented on-screen as a puppet thanks to Frank Oz’s puppetry skills. The digital versions of Yoda in the New Trilogy series of films was expected given the technological advancements since the 1980s so in spite of all the controversy of fans who hated the CGI animation result.
The influence of Star Wars on me has been considerable given I was a child of the 1980s: I played the board games, action figurines. When the new trilogy was announced, I was privileged to attend the premiere of Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999.
The introduction of Jar Jar Binks spoilt an otherwise acceptable relaunch of the franchise. Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin was average throughout Attack of the Clones (ATC) & Revenge of the Sith (ROS). Character development was a little constrained since we all know what would become of the Jedi. His final transformation towards the end of ROS seemed a little simplified, particularly with his absolutist ideal of “you are either with me or against me”.
Ewan McGregor’s characterization of Obiwan was also a little lacking. Instead the special effects and lightsaber fighting carried the New Trilogy. The ability of the Lucasfilm animators to create space-based battle scenes and the detail design of spacecraft whilst impressive was also expected given the steady progression in technological advancement. The digitalisation of Yoda was necessary in order to enable his fight scenes in both ATC and ROS against Dooku and Palpatine respectively.
Unlike the Original Trilogy, there were no epic moments in the New Trilogy – no equivalent to the “Luke, I am your father” moment in ESB. Perhaps the storyline of Qui-Gon and his Force spirit interaction with Yoda (which got edited and reduced) could be a best alternative? In this way, ESB gets the top mark for its overall storyline, character development and special effects.
This article has also reminded me that another future topic to write-up will be my top lightsaber duels…