As mentioned in our previous post, the AFI has returned again to anger and confuse the weary filmgoer. In fact, it’s high time that AFI assemble their “Top 100 AFI Crimes Against Cinema in AFI Top 100 Lists” or something like that. Don’t you think?
But, if they did that, then we wouldn’t get to participate in America’s new national pastime – correcting the AFI’s mistakes. So, both of us (OG and EG to the uninitiated) have cobbled together our own top ten sci-fi film lists. At first, it should be said, OG was convinced that the lists would differ wildly. But, as you’ll see below, there’s a good reason the two of us have joined in bloggy bliss together. (Ew. That sounds a little gross.)
Now, we should preface this by saying that lists like these are obviously a pretty personal thing based on your own tastes and interests. For instance, there are probably precious few sci-fi geeks who would quarrel with the inclusion of “Blade Runner” on the AFI list if not it’s placement on it. But, as you’ll see, neither of us has included it. As he said before, EG doesn’t like it. And, if you’ve read OG’s lists of shame from a month or so ago, then you know that he hadn’t seen it. (Well, he’s seen it since then and is working on his review. He’ll only spoil that review a little to say that he liked it okay and might have even loved it if not for the barfy Vangelis score. Ugh.)
But, we come not to tear films down. We come to praise. And, with that, we’ll start at number ten…
OG’s #10: ROBOCOP
I’ll never forget begging my oldest brother to drive me down to the Toledo dollar theater to see this one and riding home in his truck afterwards just giddy, knowing I’d seen something completely new and amazing. This particular dystopia, while much more grim than the wild west feeling of the Road Warrior pictures, probably hit home even more for me as it was set in a future Detroit that didn’t feel like much of a stretch at the time and, frankly, doesn’t seem like much of a stretch today. The gore was probably what got me the most excited back then, but what continues to work for it is the melancholy performance of Peter Weller at its center as well as the hard-edged satire of the script. (Not to mention “That 70’s Show’s” Kurtwood Smith in unleashed, foaming-at-the-mouth, maniac mode. Something awesome to behold.)
EG’s #10: THEY LIVE
I love this film. It’s social commentary, the limited effects, the fantastic fight scene over putting on a pair of sunglasses, and the fact that my favorite wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper, is the star. It is definitely a throwback in style to the science fiction films of the 50’s, cashing in on the paranoia that still lurks just under the surface of modern America.
OG’s #9: THEY LIVE
Heck yeah, I’m with you on this one bro. Sure, it’s got a boat-load of flaws and is no where near as proficiently made a film as some of the titles in my below honorable mentions. But, I can’t help it. I love this movie like the “mutated puppy-dog left in the woods to die and only found because I was about to pee on it on a hiking trip” that it most certainly is. “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick a**, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” Oh, yeah. One single, perfectly delivered line by our mutually favored kilt-wearing wrestler is all it takes to land yourself on a top ten list. But, in all seriousness, this not only riffs, as you say, on the sci-fi films of the 50’s, it also adds in an extra level of humor and gut-punching action to the paranoia that makes it so much fun to watch and re-watch.
EG’s #9: CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
My favorite of the Ape films. This is the darkest of the films, chronicling the story of Caesar, who rises up to lead the revolt of the enslaved apes against their human masters. But, it isn’t perfect. The reason it is this low on the list is that it is another film that has a tacked on “happy ending.” The speech given by Caesar at the end of the film wasn’t actually part of the original film. Such a shame to cop out at the end, but the entire rest of it is so good that I can forgive.
OG’s #8: THE MATRIX
Much like Empire Strikes Back, this is a movie that could have quickly dropped off of this list due to the films that have come after it. But, despite the Wachowski’s self-immolation as masters of modern sci-fi, and despite the utter dumbness that pervades the sequels, this original film still stands up as sci-fi greatness. Yes, it re-invented the modern sci-fi film. Yes, Keanu Reeves really is good in it. And, yes, it’s the greatest Phillip K. Dick story that he never wrote.
EG’s #8: THE MATRIX
I swear, I had my list already done before I looked at yours. This movie gazed at the current landscape of humanity – the feeling of isolation and being an outcast despite the increased “connection” we all have with each other today – and gave a very science fiction reason for that continuing feeling of disconnect. We aren’t wrong – the world is. The rise of the machines in this movie, I think, is handled better than in the Terminator films… which is why this made the list and those movies did not.
OG’s #7: JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING / THE FLY (1986)
So, I’m a rotten stinking cheater. This is the first of two ties that I’m putting on my list. Yes, I realize that it’s shameful. But, this tie I’m less ashamed of than the one that comes later. Because these two pictures really are uniquely entwined together for me and I couldn’t imagine which film would be above which.
Both are remakes that outshine the originals, both are directed by men working at the very top of their craft, both are capable of making this jaded gore-hound put his popcorn down this many years later, and both are as much about the psychological breakdown of it’s human characters as they are about the evil science (from without and from within respectively) attacking them. If this were a horror list they’d be in the top five. But, so strong are they as sci-fi, they easily make this top ten.
EG’S #7: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
Another great film that blends science fiction and horror. The majority of the film is flashback to what has led the main character to his current state of mind – nearly stark raving mad. The idea of near perfect copies of friends and family replacing the originals is more than disturbing, and creates a near perfect atmosphere of paranoia. As I said previously, though, the power of the film is taken away a little by the tacked on “happy ending.” But, if that is my only real problem with a film, it is one I can overlook.
OG’s #6: THE ROAD WARRIOR
Oft imitated, the Road Warrior films, this one (and, the clunkier, but no less beloved Mad Max before it) in particular, are the gold standard in dystopia for me. I even perversely enjoy the Tina Turner one. Now, this film is an action film first, but because of all its imitators and because of its singular vision of a world gone to seed, I couldn’t not put this puppy on here. Mel Gibson can verbally assault a thousand more cops and I’ll still love Max and this masterpiece forever.
EG’s #6: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
One of the finest crafted science fiction films of all time. And, you know what? My favorite aspect is something no one talks about – the film is touted as one with a message against the violence of the world… but every time I watch it, I’m struck with the fact that the “paranoid and xenophobic” people of the world are proven right in the film. The aliens have come to inflict their will upon Earth… and despite the best intentions, it is still oppressive. Just my thoughts. Great film.
OG’s #5: ALIEN
Don’t get me wrong, I love Aliens as much as any red-blooded American boy should. But, that’s just it. Even more than “The Road Warrior,” I always think of it (and the Terminator films, by the way) as an action film first. A brilliant, chest-beating action film with great sci-fi madness dripping from the walls. But, Alien is ultimately the one that sticks out to me as a MUST INCLUDE as I’m assembling my list. I suppose it’s as much a horror film as Aliens is an action film, but I think what supersedes the horror is that Ridley Scott re-invented what space travel could look like in film and gave it a working-class grime that’s been copied ad infinitum since he did so.
EG’s #5: ALIEN
See, I said this should be in the top five! And, after much thinking, I concur that Aliens is more of an action film. It is amazing, though, how often science fiction combines with elements of horror. Here, it is done so well, though, that I’m still calling this one science fiction. It was absolutely cutting edge, and there are many imitators, but they all pale in comparison.
OG’s #4: BRAZIL
As much as it pains me that Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” or “Time Bandits” are just edged out of my final list (definitely in the top 20 for me, though), this is the one that I keep coming back to. I love the whole bizarre, brain-blending thing. The first time I got to the end credits I stopped the tape, said “What just happened?” and then immediately re-wound it and watched it again without missing a beat. I’ve been watching it over and over ever since.
EG’s #4: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Yeah, I’ll say it – I’m a Star Trek fan. Still, this is the one film in the series that even non-fans look at and say, “Yeah, that’s a good movie.” This is the one Star Trek film that all others strive to be… and too often fail. The characters are written perfectly, the story is tight, and the acting (which, admittedly, might have been over the top in another movie) is perfect. This movie transformed what was merely an extension of a TV show into the franchise it is today. As for The Empire Strikes back (that other beloved second film in that other beloved sci-fi franchise) … I know I’m making enemies here, but it isn’t going to crack my top 10 in science fiction. I still see the original Star Wars films as more fantasy (a retelling of the Arthurian legend) than science fiction. Still, it is a great movie. Oh, and Brazil? Its not making my top 10, either.
OG’s #3: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK / STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
This is a cowardly attempt to appease two warring fan groups and I should really be ashamed of myself for not taking a firm stance on the matter. Go ahead. Call me a sissy, nancy boy. But, I refuse to seperate the two, and if I did, how do you think that would make Robocop feel? (He does feel, you know. Robot or not. Don’t you remember. “What’s your name, boy? (dramatic pause) “Murphy.” (score swells))
Anyway, despite this tie and the cowardice it reveals in me, if I’m being completely honest, as much as I love Empire, Khan is secretly my preferred film. (Don’t tell my brothers) Both are the pinnacle of their respective franchises for me. Both are basically flawless. But, Khan, man. It’s just awesome all the way through, but then the final act comes and the epic conflict between the two Jupiter-sized personalities at the center of it along with the single most moving character death ever filmed just bring the whole enterprise (pardon the pun) up to the level of high art for me. It’s like having popcorn with a nice bottle of chardonnay. Wait, what? That sounds disgusting. But, you get my drift.
EG’s #3: THE ABYSS
This is probably the most divisive film I’ve got for this list. I think it a fantastic film. The special effects are groundbreaking and the acting is top notch – something you don’t get often enough in science fiction. In my head, it is a blend of Close Encounters and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but, even so, it manages to find its own voice.
OG’s #2: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
EG, you were so right to be incredulous at the AFI’s omission of this film. It’s the only one on my personal list that can give an as yet unnamed film a run for its money. And, while I do ultimately put it at number two, it’s nudging right up cozy to that number one slot. There’s maybe just a Gundar’s hairs-breadth between them. (That’s my vote for nerdiest sentence of this blog entry, by the way.)
EG’s #2: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
So much for our lists differing wildly, huh? AFI not including this one automatically renders their list invalid, in my opinion. And, we also agree – this is just barely out of that number one slot. The hard science of then next film just edges it out. Still, I can watch this one more often, if that counts for anything!
OG’s #1: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
This was not just the obvious choice for me, but the honest choice. This movie never stops blowing my mind. The first sci-fi movie without lasers that I gave the time of day to and the one that pretty much changed me as a film-watcher from that moment on. I can completely understand why this might not hit your top 5 EG, but I also think that it doesn’t need me to sing its praises any more than has already been done by countless fans before me. (Funny story: In college I had read about a guy who stayed awake for 5 days straight and had hallucinations. I decided I would do the same thing. I was 48 hours into this experiment when I had the brilliant idea of throwing on 2001 for a viewing. Yeah, I was flat on my face asleep in the center of my dorm room at the first appearance of a man-ape. College does not make you smarter, kids.)
EG’s #1: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
2001: A Space Odyssey: Surprised you, huh OG? Yeah, me too. My statement from the AFI posting holds true – not necessarily my favorite, but deserving of the spot. As a matter of fact, after I posted that, I went and watched the film again (thanks Netflix!), and I couldn’t put it any lower. It is probably the purest science fiction film ever made. The extrapolation of modern science into a plausible future is amazing, especially when you consider that this film is 40 years old. It is also a beautiful film to watch – from the early scenes in the wilds, to the docking of a space plane, to the psychedelic “travel” scenes near the end. It also inspires discussion. The film is very open ended, and while that loses a lot of people, it allows a lot of speculative dialogue from folks willing to accept that the film DOESN’T answer all the questions. Now, is this one that I would want to pop in and watch everyday? No, but if someone had me at gunpoint and demanded I show them the best science fiction film ever made, this one wins. (OG’s NOTE: I have not stopped crapping my pants from this revelation. EG putting a Kubrick film at the top of any list!??! As well as I know you brother, I would never have predicted this in a million years. And, for this, I now love you with a boundless love that my heart never knew I was capable of!!!!)
And, with that, OG and EG joined hands and frolicked through the aisles of Blockbuster together, agreeing on every film that they laid eyes upon. Two atoms smashing together to spark the beginning of a new, more perfect universe!
Um, er, this blog is getting uncomfortable.
So, let’s end this on a less disturbing, more triumphant note.
TAKE THAT, AFI!!
We sure showed you! Yeah, maybe we didn’t have the likes of Jessica Alba and Morgan Freeman singing the praises of our choices, but we have the truth on our side. These are perfect lists and you would be wise to revise yours accordingly.
Oh, we almost forgot. Here are the films that just missed our lists…
OG’s HONORABLE MENTIONS:
E.T. (kept off due to the same “family film” caveat EG employs), The Day the Earth Stood Still, Planet of the Apes, Delicatessen (don’t be scared by the French speaking. See – This – Now), Children of Men (give it another 10 years and it’ll probably creep into the top), Gojira, and Gattaca
EG’S HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Alien Nation (I wanted this one to make the list sooo bad, but I feared my love of the TV show made this one better than it really was), Westworld (would there have ever been a Terminator had there not first been a Gunslinger?), Robocop (Weller was amazing in this movie), Logan’s Run, Fantastic Voyage, E.T., and Forbidden Planet.