The medium of film is a Holy Grail for science fiction fans: you can simply point to Avengers: Endgame and Arrival for some of its more recent eventful samplings. But the triumphs go much further back. Indeed, from I am Legend to Blade Runner, the silver screen’s preserved some of the greatest sci-fi stories ever told.
Yet this presents a problem of its own: when the oeuvre of masterworks runs so deep, just where should you start if you’re craving some science fiction fare? This post will travel back in time to take you through 6 timeless science fiction movies that deserve a viewing right now.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey was the momentous result of a collaboration between two great minds: director Stanley Kubrick and famed sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. The film was first and foremost Kubrick’s brainchild — one that was sparked by the director’s fascination with Japanese tonkatsu films such as Warning from Space (one more must-see sci-fi film). He sought outside input for it, and eventually went to Clarke, who was already building a reputation as the “Prophet of the Space Age.” Thus was 2001: A Space Odyssey born.
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Today, 2001: A Space Odyssey is upheld as a masterpiece — one that deals with evolution, AI, the power of technology, and existentialism on top of an epic journey in space. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, a feat for a movie in a genre that was extremely niche at the time. But most important of all is the indelible impact that it would make on future filmmakers: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Ridley Scott, and many more directors all credited it as an enduring source of inspiration for them.
2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
You could do worse than A Clockwork Orange, which ranks among the best in film — period. Adapted from a classic science fiction book, A Clockwork Orange is the dystopian story of a teenage delinquent who embarks on a crime spree with a small gang of thugs — and what ensues thereafter. Bloody, violent, and thoroughly thought-provoking when it comes to defining evil, it’s not for anyone who can’t stomach blood. But for everyone else? It’s well worth a watch.
3. Logan’s Run (1976)
Another cornerstone of the genre that every fan of the genre must watch, Logan’s Run is set in a truly disturbing dystopian world where people are killed when they turn 30 years old. Logan 5, played by Michael York, is one of those “Sandmen” who terminate others. That is, until Logan 5 becomes one of the people who are supposed to be terminated. First released in 1976 and part of the decade that changed cinema, Logan’s Run is so visually dynamic and original that it stands up to the test of time today.
4. Star Wars (1977)
Surely you knew that this one would make an appearance! If you still don’t know Star Wars by now, you must reside in a galaxy far, far away from ours. This monstrous franchise got off to a flying start (pun unintended) in more ways than one when its first installment, A New Hope, was first released in theatres in 1977.
With nine films — not to mention countless spin-offs and books — to its name, it’s one of the sci-fi juggernauts that truly brought science fiction into the mainstream. Though the franchise is rather sprawling, Star Wars film series focuses purely on the pivotal Skywalker family. The conclusion to the Skywalker saga is coming to theatres in December. If you’re keen on understanding the cultural zeitgeist that is Star Wars, you’ll want to watch its conclusion in December — but may the Force be with you as you try to avoid spoilers.
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 tour de force is difficult not to fall for. About a young boy who meets and makes friends with an extraterrestrial, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may seem simple on its surface. But this isn’t your standard film about aliens, as the rest of the film quickly establishes. Instead, it’s a moving story of friendship, wonder, and growing up — all of the elements that make up the best children’s books. What’s not up for debate is that it takes a special kind of movie to stand the test of time. E.T, which is today considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, certainly passed that exam with flying colors.
6. Back to the Future (1985)
Set in both 1985 and 1955, Back to the Future is the simple story of a boy and a girl — except the girl is the boy’s mom. Not quite the story that you expected? That’s part of the charm of Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis’ rollicking science fiction movie about a teenager named Marty McFly who accidentally is sent back in time by mad scientist “Doc” Brown.
On paper, it might sound akin to a story that’s just been churned out by a plot generator. But it works. At once comic and serious, especially when it deals with themes of fate and free will, Back to the Future is simply a fully rewarding ride at the end of the day — one that’s made even more colorful by the oddball pairing of Marty and “Doc” Brown.
7. Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s emphatic directorial debut, one that cemented Garland as one to watch in the exciting future. Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander star in this science fiction thriller, in which a reclusive CEO invites a regular employee to a vast private estate in order to test out a brand-new invention — a robotic woman. But neither can expect the aftermath of the experiment, or what ramifications it might contain for them. Flashy but thoughtful, Ex Machina is a classic in the making.
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Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories — and watching films!
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Jill Florio Administrator
Good choices. I’d add The Martian (frakking AMAZING), the original Blade Runner, The first Matrix, Aliens, Terminator, Ghostbusters, and The Wrath of Khan. Just off the cuff. Nice article though. Oh, and I have a thing for Apollo 13.
I also think Empire Strikes Back is superior to A New Hope, at least by a slim margin.
I won’t mention anything in the MCU since that’s sort of a different genre. Superhero films that started with Superman way back when…early X-Men…a whole nother topic.
Dan Gardner Administrator
Yes, those and Minority Report. For a movie that’s about predicting the future they did a great job predicting the future.
Jill Florio Administrator
Sticking to Philip K Dick — Minority Report is great…but I have a love for Total Recall that I can’t deny. It’s kind of silly, but great fun.
Get your ass to Mars…