The good thing about science fiction is that nothing is off limits. You can change history, visit other worlds, have characters that live as long as you like, and change almost any rule you can think of. Some of my favorite movies fall into this genre because they spark my imagination. Like any genre, there's good and bad, but the best science fiction movies can rank alongside more serious films.
I'm still waiting to see an adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game on the big screen, but I'm beginning to wonder if it will ever happen.
So let's focus on what has been released. The remaining 15 movies on my list will be revealed over the coming week, but here are the first five:
20. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt
Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is 130 minutes of confusion and action, but it all makes sense in the end. We are shown a glimpse of the future and it’s not a very nice place. A plague wiped out most of the world’s population in 1996 and the surviving humans are forced to cower underground due to the inhospitable conditions above. Although the setting seems primitive, the technology available is not. Cole (Willis) is chosen to travel back in time in order to stop the plague from happening. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of accurate information available. To make things worse, he initially arrives in 1990 rather than 1996. His ravings about the impending disaster are ignored and he’s considered mentally ill and dangerous. Gilliam’s world is interesting and the plot is intelligent. Willis is great as Cole and I consider this Gilliam’s best movie. He’ll keep you guessing, but you’re always rooting for Cole. It’s a captivating tale.
19. Deep Impact (1998)
Directed by Mimi Leder
Starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman
If you followed my Top 10 Horror series, you will know that I’m fascinated by how society breaks down when it’s threatened by something serious. Jenny Lerner (Leoni) is a reporter who is hoping to advance her career. She gets her chance when she inadvertently discovers that a comet is threatening life on Earth. The president (Freeman) confirms her discovery and addresses the nation to talk about the threat. A mission, led by veteran Spurgeon Tanner (Duvall), is planned to intercept the comet and blow it apart before it gets close to Earth. The reason that Deep Impact works is the human stories involved. Some involve family, some romance, and others survival. There’s enough to make you care whether these characters live or die. Special effects are good when needed, but this is more about the characters than the effects. Duvall is superb in his role and the story is mostly believable.
18. War of the Worlds (1953)
Directed by Byron Haskin
Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson and Les Tremayne
War of the Worlds hasn’t aged well. The special effects look terrible when compared to those produced by modern technology. The scenery is obviously fake; the alien machines are clearly held up by wires; the acting is weak, and the music is overly dramatic. I think it deserves this ranking because it’s an imaginative story which was ahead of its time. The initial sense of mystery and discovery surrounding the first “meteor” landing was handled well. I always find myself wanting to see how everything unfolds. I don’t believe for a minute that today’s military would consult a priest, a professor and his niece, but that doesn’t matter. This was made in a different time. The novel by H.G. Wells has an interesting ending which is entirely possible should an invasion occur, but it doesn’t work particularly well on film. The ending feels rushed and too abrupt. Overall, War of the Worlds was effective and holds an important place in cinema history. How many things have you seen that were influenced by it?
Click here to see a full review for War of the Worlds.
17. I, Robot (2004)
Directed by Alex Proyas
Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan and Bruce Greenwood
I strongly considered three Alex Proyas titles when compiling this list, but Knowing and Dark City narrowly missed out. I, Robot is loosely based on an Isaac Asimov novel. Detective Spooner (Smith) is not entirely convinced that the robots will obey the three laws, and fears that they could eventually become a threat to humans. The year is 2035 and the view of the future is quite convincing. Smith proved that he’s more than a comedian or an action star in such dramas as The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, and he shows some of that range here. One of the robots, Sonny (Alan Tudyk), is suspected of committing a crime. Spooner’s hatred of robots initially clouds his opinion, but he shows that he’s capable of change. The story is an action-packed thriller in which Smith tries to solve the crime and discover whether Sonny is innocent or guilty. The movie is a perfect choice if you want to show off your home theater, boasting one of the best live action images available on Blu-ray. The sound isn’t too shabby either.
16. Star Trek (2009)
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Leonard Nimoy
I grew up watching the original Star Trek crew and feared that this reboot would ruin the franchise, but after watching it, I had a smile on my face. There are just enough references to the original crew, but the movie doesn’t make the mistake of trying to impersonate the old characters. Kirk (Pine) is sure of himself and not afraid to express his opinion, and I could easily see Shatner’s Kirk doing the same thing in his youth. Some of the details that we do learn add something to the original movies. It’s good to know how McCoy got his nickname and why Kirk and Sulu have always been friends. Uhura (Saldana) was another good casting choice. In fact, I was pretty happy with all the casting decisions. Spock (Quinto) has an important role to play in the story, especially when Nimoy shows up. The plot was fairly basic and isn’t the reason I rank the movie in my Top 20. It works because it establishes the new actors in a believable way. It looks better than any Star Trek movie ever has because technology has moved on since the original series. The repeated use of lens flares might annoy some, but I liked the overall presentation. The plot left the future of the franchise completely open and it’s no longer necessary to worry about matching every event that happened to the original crew. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.