Friday is for (Science) Fiction: My Top 5 Sci Fi Movies

I have to hand it to Twitter. Whenever I’m bored, checking my Twitter feed reliably provides a few interesting tidbits and thought-starters. Tonight, I ran across a Tweet from Relevant magazine:

OK, OK—you all love Star Wars. Other than that, what’s your all-time favorite sci-fi movie?

So since I’m still working on finishing Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air, in lieu of a book review, I’m going to post my top five favorite science fiction movies.

1. Pitch Black. Before Vin Diesel got Fast or Furious, he played a memorable villain/antihero in this underappreciated movie (which is much better and wildly different than the later movie that featured his character, Riddick). Maybe I like it because the “diverse cast of space crash survivors in a mysterious place, being picked off one at a time by mostly-unseen monsters” story reminds me of LOST, even though I’m pretty sure I saw this first.   Maybe I find a story where everyone ends up depending on a dangerous, violent convict subversive and a little redemptive. Maybe I like the tension created by a group of people literally holding back the darkness to survive.   Rather than relying on nostalgia (Star Wars, Star Trek, and Super 8), this movie stands on its own merit.

2. Super 8. I wrote a whole review of this movie after we saw it as a family, so if you want more details, you’d be better off reading that. At heart, I love a good old fashioned adventure story, and this movie was a great example of that. Plus a healthy dose of awesome 80s nostalgia.

3. Serenity. Yup. I’m a Browncoat (not surprising, is it?) And while Serenity provided nice closure after watching all 14 episodes of Firefly on Netflix, it’s a good standalone sci fi movie as well. Especially having just seen Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods in the last month, it was an early demonstration that he’s just as skillful a storyteller in cinema as he is on television.

4. Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since my mom made us watch every episode of the original series, every Sunday when I was a kid (just before wrasslin’.) J.J. Abrams nailed it. It was exactly the right balance of deference to the original and inspired new direction.

5. Inception. I waffled a lot on this one. In the end, I went with this instead of Star Wars for two reasons. First, because it’s hard to put Star Wars on a list like this because it’s hard to separate any one movie from the series as a whole, and it’s equally hard to separate your enjoyment of the movies themselves from your enjoyment of being part of the geek/fan culture. And I think as much as Inception  is admired, it’s also misrepresented. People always focus on the complexity of the very idea of inception and the whole “levels of dreams” thing, and the caper plot. But the caper plot is actually secondary.

Christopher Nolan’s movies are always that way. The thematic plot is always primary, and the dramatic plot is just sort of an engaging conveyance for the theme he’s exploring. Like Super 8, at its heart, this is a movie about loss and grief.  If you’ve ever lost anyone dear to you, being “stuck in a bad dream you can’t wake up from” is more than a metaphor. It’s a layer of denial and a personal reality that’s almost universal. Watching Cobb slowly extricate himself from that bad dream, accept his wife’s death, and turn from suicidal depression back towards life, is not just entertaining: it’s cathartic.

So what about you? What are your favorite sci fi movies? Or your most unexpected favorites? If you’ll excuse me, I need some popcorn and a Cherry Coke.


  1. ·

    Kat, Love Super 8. Inception was fantastic, and though not a Star Trek fan JJ did nail it.

    I’d have to throw in Primer and Back to the Future for my list. 🙂


  2. ·

    I’d have to put Galaxy Quest in there. It’s not only a wonderful spoof AND tribute to Star Trek and fandom, it’s a rousing example of the genre it’s spoofing and paying tribute to. A brilliant, multi-layered piece of work, with some excellent acting to boot.

  3. Kat French

    David – I’m not familiar with Primer, but Back to the Future is a great, classic flick. I think it suffers the same problem that all comedies do; they get discounted and forgotten at awards time and on lists like this. Thanks for reminding me what an enjoyable movie it is. 🙂

    Marian – If you like Galaxy Quest (again, I think it gets forgotten on lists like this as most comedies do), have you picked up Redshirts by John Scalzi? It just came out June 5. I’m halfway through it and it’s SO, so good. Like Galaxy Quest, it’s both a wonderful parody/homage of Star Trek and a good example of an engaging sci-fi story.

    Your comments make me want to do a whole blog post about how unfair it is that comedy is so difficult to write well, and yet still gets overlooked when people are doling out “serious” awards and recognition.


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