50 essential sci-fi films – part three

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With JJ Abrams's 'Star Trek' already making waves and McG's 'Terminator Salvation' peeking up over the horizon, Time Out thought it would be a perfect time to select 50 essential sci-fi films, some of them classics, some not-so-classic, but all need to be seen...

1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50

21. The Fountain (2006)


Directed by Darren Aronofsky
A terrible film, but you really have to admire its Death-Star-sized cojones. A labour-of-love for the director, just a labour for anyone who has to actually watch the thing, the first of many head-scratchers comes when the Fountain of Youth (referred to in the title) ends up being the Tree of Life (a oak tree filled with advocaat). Then there’s Hugh Jackman’s self-consciously drippy performance in the triple-role of a war-ravaged warrior during the sixteenth century who’s exploring South America, a scientist looking for the cure for his wife’s illness, and a bald futureman floating through space in a bubble. Even at three years old, it looks very silly and dated already, its nonsensical logic and psychobabble plotting doing little to endear either genre fanboys or the arthouse hardcore. But, as ornate genre vanity projects go, rather this than something by Zack Snyder or Kevin Smith, eh? DJ
Click here for the trailer to 'The Fountain'


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22. Howard the Duck (1986)

Directed by Willard HuyckThe Silver Screen adage of ‘you’ll never work in this town again!’ appears to have contained literal connotations for journeyman writer-director and George Lucas cohort, Willard Huyck. For reasons best left unknown, Huyck wrote and directed mutant botch job ‘Best Defence’ in 1984, but somehow lived to direct another day. After his ‘Howard the Duck’ was released to uniformly negative reviews, his personalised director’s chair has remained folded up in the garage for 23 years, and it’s probably for the best. Something of a serial offender in ‘Films Most Likely To Make You Want To Rub Sulphuric Acid In Your Eyes’ lists, there are actually worse films out there if you care to look for them. The story sees our duckish hero charged with saving the world from grotesque space aliens, with Lea Thompson as a spangled-up pop singer coming along for the ride. As a cautionary tale to anyone wishing to align the disparate contours of vulgar comedy, concept-heavy dystopic futureworlds and feathered pondlife, it earns it place on this list of how Sci-fi can be used for evil as well as good. Includes scenes of ‘Quack-Fu’, and a soundtrack by Thomas Dolby, sneakily pseudonymed as ‘Dolby’s Cube’. DJ
Click here- if you dare- for the trailer to '
Howard the Duck'
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23. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Directed by Don Siegel, Philip Kaufman

+ The Hidden (1987)

Directed by Jack SholderIn the ’50s it was Reds under the beds. In the ’70s, it was the blank face of corporate consumerism. In the ’80s it was just an excuse for a good car chase. Yes, the image of the alien lifeform destroying and replacing humanity for its own evil purposes has been a handy catch-all metaphor for the unknowability of others for half a century now (and let’s not forget Abel Ferrara’s anti-militarist take ‘Body Snatchers’ (1993), and the recent Nicole Kidman megaflop ‘The Invasion’ (2007)). The original might be the best, but Philip Kaufman’s remake has a lot to recommend it, not least a supremely salty screenplay and a loveably hangdog central performance from Donald Sutherland. As for Jack Sholder’s unfairly overlooked ’80s trash classic ‘The Hidden’, what it lacks in political nous it more than makes up for in speed, noise, and energy. And if you’re keen to see Kyle MacLachlan as an oddball FBI man two years before he became Agent Cooper in ‘Twin Peaks’, look no further. THClick here for the trailer to 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (1956)
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24. The Last Starfighter (1984)

Directed by Nick CastleThe wish-fulfillment movie to end them all, Castle’s ode to Nerd Power sees a geeky teen (Lance Guest, who looked every one of his 24 years) plucked from trailer-park Spielburbia and thrust into the murky depths of an intergalactic war thanks to his prowess at arcade game ‘Starfighter’. While it has enough brio and charm to get by as a top-notch slice of juvenile escapism all by itself, it was also one of the first films to send kids of a certain bent into orgasmic rapture over the bells and whistles of CGI exotica. ALDClick here for the trailer to 'The Last Starfighter'
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25. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)

Directed by Nicolas RoegIt’s been said before, but Roeg’s decision to hand David Bowie the central role of marooned alien scientist Thomas Jerome Newton remains one of the most preternaturally perfect examples of movie casting. Not just because of Bowie’s otherworldly presence, or his differently coloured eyes, but because the singer was undergoing a period in his life which eerily mirrored the experiences of his character, severed from the world not just by his fame and natural shyness, but by a crippling cocaine addiction that must have left him feeling like he was on another planet. Roeg’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’s prescient ’60s novel may suffer from an occasionally self-conscious artiness and a total disinterest in the sci-fi elements of the original, arguably superior narrative, but as a portrait of a lonely man drowning in apathetic self-pity it’s unparalleled. THClick here for the trailer to 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'

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26. Mars Attacks! (1996)

Directed by Tim BurtonBurton’s best film is almost entirely successful as both pastiche and a whoop-and-holler blockbuster in its own right, a vastly underrated trick to pull off in a genre as awash in clichés as sci-fi. The digs at yuppies and Californian crystal gazers were already dated, but a sly, often repulsive, humour pervades the familiar story of an armada of saucermen zapping the world’s capitals before being foiled by root beer, bubblegum or some equally mundane gobbet of Americana. PFClick here for the trailer to 'Mars Attacks!'
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27. Metropolis (1927)

Directed by Fritz LangVery few genre films have had the cultural impact of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, a work whose jaw-dropping (and chillingly prescient) vision of a future race divided by intellectual capacity and housed in doomy Art Deco skyscrapers could still be deemed as the gold standard of science fiction filmmaking. It made the papers again recently when a 16mm, 210 minute version of the Lang’s silent marvel was discovered in cinema museum in (of all places) Buenos Aires, a sign perhaps that as much of the lost, early era cinema is left in dank store cupboards to slowly turn to dust, academics and archivists still see this wonderful film as worth preserving for future audiences to enjoy. DJ
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28. Morons from Outer Space (1985)

Directed by Mike HodgesThe director of ‘Get Carter’ returned to gritty realism with this story of stranded space extraterrestrial Mel Smith suffering heartbreaking anomie as he reprises Bowie’s Christ-like recluse from ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. Griff Rhys Jones, meanwhile, guides Smith’s fellow alien castaways to celebrity status in an unflinching dissection of the mediocrity at the heart of the entertainment business. Michael Nyman’s monochromatic theme ‘Morons From Outer Space’ charted at a tantalising number 41 in the charts. PFClick here for the trailer to 'Morons from Outer Space'

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29. Pitch Black (2000)+ The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

Directed by David TwohySci-fi fans are quick to embrace a prospective new franchise, but the ultimate judgment as to whether so costly an enterprise is to be blessed with a brace of further adventures is down to Johnny Friday-Night and his chowderheaded chums. ‘Pitch Black’s deft mix of white-knuckle thrills, exotic set-pieces and mystical mumbo-jumbo proved a surprise hit and looked a fair bet to propel Vin Diesel’s Richard B. Riddick into the sci-fi firmament, but ‘Chronicles…’ had a few too many freaky-deaky ideas bubbling under it’s morally sketchy surface for the ernomo-plex crowd, and further live-action installments of Riddick’s journey to the Underverse have sadly been put on hold. ALDClick here for trailer to 'Pitch Black'
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30. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Directed by Franklin J. SchaffnerThere’s still little in the world of big screen speculative fiction to match the jaw-dropping WTFness of the moment Charlton Heston gazes up at a gun-toting ape rearing over him on horseback. The problem for Planet of The Apes is that once that shock has passed, it’s almost impossible for the movie to maintain momentum over two hours with only Heston’s stubbly outrage and monkeys playing at classical Greek philosophy. Like a lot of high-concept cinema, POTA is recalled as a series of iconic moments and oft-repeated quotes that have entered the popular consciousness and that are appreciated without the need to sit through the film’s numerous longeurs overlaid with Elmer Bernstein’s angst-jazz score. That realisation, along with the involvement of Rod Serling in scripting the original, contributed to a classy edit that appeared on the web a few years ago, shortening the film to an episode of the Twilight Zone and in the process reinstating some of its wonder. PFClick here for the trailer to 'Planet of the Apes'

1-10
| 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50

 

Author: David Jenkins, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough and Tom Huddleston.


Users say

5 comments
YourInDaNile .
YourInDaNile .

so many grammar errors, it's almost laughable. Why is it that people who attempt to write reviews feel the need to use words that they would never use in everyday life to describe something. Not only that, but simply put, whoever wrote this is an idiot, I can tell by his reviews that this person hasn't watched most of these, most likely they just read a review of it and tried to rehash it in their own words.

If you have a movie on a list of "essentials" then logic would dictate you yourself find them "essential" or else why even bother writing this. That being said, they hack away at half the movies, to me it sounds like some nobody who failed in the acting\directing business and is now using this as some passive aggressive attempt to "cut them down a peg" this list is actually quite sad...Not to mention the stab at kevin smith, just goes to show you really don't know anything about movies. So by his account anything by kevin smith isn't worth watching. While I agree that everyone has their own taste in movies, simply denying that someone has talent when it's clear they do just makes you look petty. While I don't like every movie by kevin smith, it is without a doubt an idiot writing this list as both Clerks and Dogma are excellent films, for different reasons for sure, but excellent nonetheless. Whoever you are DJ, get over yourself.

Mister Debris
Mister Debris

For the record, Jerry Goldsmith did the score for Planet of the Apes, not Elmer Bernstein.

Try Again
Try Again

Yah, I'm missing something too. Never would I call "Morons from Outer Space" an essential Sci-Fi film. Perhaps its better noted as a reflection of this list's creator.

Josh Mills
Josh Mills

Am I missing something? Is this some sort of ironic list? The title is '50 Essential Sci-fi Films', and granted I'm not reading every entry, but the writer is including films on this list then utterly bashing them. Examples are 'The Fountain' and 'Howard the Duck'. How about a separate 'best' and 'worst' sci-fi films of all time list. Unless "The Fountain" is so bad that it's more essential than "Invasion of the Body Snatcher's" greatness.

Leah D
Leah D

@Mister Debris Yeah, it's not as if "Planet of the Apes" is one of Goldsmith's most famous scores or anything, so it's perfectly understandable that a journalist would get it wrong.



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