No Star Wars here. Why? The important reason is that I’m not that big of a fan of it (I get the historical importance, but it’s not the kind of movie I would go out of my way to see), but another reason is that it’s not sci-fi. It’s science fantasy.
The point of science fiction is to study humanity through fictional settings. These settings are often based on technology, but that is not the only way to do it. Alternative history is also considered part of sci-fi by many (of course depending on the content). If you wrote a story in a high-fantasy setting in a certain way, it could definitely be a sci-fi story (for example, examine how readily affected the lives of normal people).
Of course, no movie is clear cut example of any one genre, so sometimes even I’m not sure. For example, we won’t go very far into space on this list, nor will we see very many aliens. Movies that didn’t make the list (or weren’t considered despite me liking them considerably) despite being called sci-fi by IMDb include: Mad Max: Fury Road, Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, The Prestige, Frankenstein, The Bad Batch, From Beyond, Okja, Guardians of the Galaxy and various other superhero movies.
The movies are in a chronological order. Once again, I seem to highlight more recent movies. This is partly because I need the movie to be relevant to me for me to really care about it and thus I’m not as worried about things they used to be back in the 50s or 60s. Not that many of the sci-fi movies from those days are good in other ways either.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The apparently mandatory Kubrick movie. It’s a shame he never directed a Finnish movie. Or an animated movie, if I look at what’s coming down the pipeline.
You know what this is about. Alex is a hoodlum, who goes out each night to rob and rape. In the book he’s very young as well (14 if I remember correctly and his victims are often around 10), although you can’t really pull that off in a movie. Especially, as this information is kept from us for a very long time in the book and you can’t really hide it in a movie. Once he gets caught, he becomes a part of an experimental treatment, which brainwashes him to feel sick at even the thought of doing anything violent or otherwise criminal.
Every generation has probably at some point felt that the world is falling down, because no-one has any respect for anything anymore. In that sense, this is always going to be current. I do like how the movie captures the book and it’s nihilistic worldview. Young Alex is unruly to no end. He’s eventual downfall is the way he puts himself above his gang, who finally snap and leave him to the cops.
.. and who doesn’t love the classical soundtrack? Ludwig Van really knew what he was doing.
Blade Runner (1982)
Admittedly, much of my love for Blade Runner is simply in that I, as a nerd, just needed a movie like that. So, there it is. There is nothing quite like it in terms of setting. It’s a beautiful movie and even though I’m not actually that enthused about Harrison Ford’s Deckard or the overall story, Roy Batty is definitely an interesting character and I would have hoped to have the movie be more about him (or less about Deckard’s weird voice he used to play a character within the movie).
This was also quite a bit ahead of it’s time, as I think we are just now reaching a point where a discussion of rights of AIs is beginning to be important. Based on how badly it did back in the day, it might not have struck a chord quite in the same way in the early 80s.
Actually, I do think I would like Blade Runner 2048 more, if this hadn’t come out first. It seems to be better in most aspects (except for Roy Batty). This just has the history on it’s side.
Paul Verhoeven is an annoyingly uneven director. He has made several good movies, but for example, in the 10 year span between this and his other masterpiece (well, in my opinion) Starship Troopers, he directed Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Yeah. Anyhow, this and the other one (Starship Troopers) are very interesting looks at consumerism and fascism respectively. Sadly, I feel the audience wasn’t sophisticated enough to really understand them. RoboCop still did fine in the box office, though.
The more memorable moments are ED-209 emptying it’s magazines into an unlucky executive, when it’s programming fails, and various other violent moments, but of course the movie is not about that. It was holding a mirror to the 80s consumerist society and corporate greed. Well, it’s not as if that has changed. It’s just that now that consumerism is much more polished and that corporate greed is hidden behind carefully planned PR.
Admittedly, the fact that I saw this at a fairly young age does make me like this a little more than I probably should, but I do believe it has held up pretty well over the years, even if the futurist technology didn’t really hit the mark, but hey, who could have predicted what happened?
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
A virus has wiped out most of humanity. The remnants are surviving underground, but they are also trying to figure out how to return. So, they want to figure out how the pandemic got started. In order to do this, they send prisoners into the past to find clues, so they can stop it all before it even happened.
Is this sci-fi? I’m not quite sure, but I decided to put this in here anyhow. To me, the most sci-fi element here is the mental effects of time travel on Cole. When everyone thinks you’re crazy, it is easy to start to believe that yourself as well, if there isn’t anyone to tell you otherwise. Well, anyone except a bunch of unreal feeling scientists, who keep their distance at all times.
We also see here (and in Fight Club) what we lost when Brad Pitt became a star (if there is indeed such a thing anymore). Now he’s roles have to fit his status and he can’t do those roles that actually made him stand out back in the day. It’s also possible that he just doesn’t get offered those parts these days.
Batoru rowaiaru or Battle Royale(2000)
According to a new law, every year, a class of children is moved onto an island, given weaponry and made to kill each other until only one of them is alive.
Again, a movie which is hard to consolidate here, because there really isn’t that much technology involved. Anyhow, this is more about the kids being put into a weird situation they have to survive. How does this new situation affect them? The situation itself is kind of absurd. You have problems with kids, so you find out who among them is the most willing to anything to live. We can see that the system has already produced one serial killer and there’s at least one kid in the class with the same potential.
If you haven’t seen this, or have seen only one version, I would suggest you take a look at the Director’s Cut as well (or the normal cut, if you’ve only seen the Director’s Cut). It’s really hard to say that these are the same movie. They just happen to contain much of the same footage, but they have a really different feel to them.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Someone figured out how to erase a person from another person’s memory and they are using this method.
Michel Gondry came from the world of music videos and brought his singular style with him. A lot of forced perspectives and complicated practical effects give this a quite unique feel, but that’s not that important. The important part is the human element. We are watching people trying to cope with breaking up and taking extreme measures to forget about their former partners.
Of course, there’s a dark side to all this, but that doesn’t feel like a big thing. I guess it would be quite important from the ethical side of things, but the movie isn’t about that, so it’s largely glanced over.
Children of Men (2006)
There hasn’t been a child born in 18 years. Therefore, when a woman gets pregnant, she suddenly becomes a very hot commodity, politically and otherwise. Theo, who is even more jaded than most people in this world, gets caught up in this after his ex-girlfriend asks him to help with delivering the pregnant woman to a research project, who can hopefully help her and thus the world.
This is an interesting, and highly emotional, examination of this weird concept. The last child born has become a celebrity and thus a quite spoiled brat, whose death is mourned by everyone. Theo and the woman have travel through hostile areas, because they can’t really trust anyone. People are ready to kill them both to get to the child. On the other hand, others are read to die just to see that the pair can move on safely.
It’s a very different world. They have lost all hope until this one pregnancy comes along. It chances everyone around it. Some for the worse, but mostly for the better. There’s quite a few great scenes in the movie, but one of the more memorable ones comes near the end (a spoiler here) where they carry the baby through a group of soldiers, who were just a few seconds earlier in basically in a battle, but just had to stop when they see the baby.
A man is isolated on the Moon and figures out that instead of being able to return home, he’s employers will just get rid of him and wake another clone of him. You know, for cost-efficiency. In order to get home, he enlists the help of.. you know, himself, because he doesn’t have anyone else.
Sam Rockwell carries the movie. There isn’t anyone else there to do it. Kevin Spacey plays a robot, who’s there to help him, but most interactions are between Rockwell and himself.
District 9 (2009)
Wikus is in the middle management of a large corporation with government contracts. He gets the responsibility for project with a goal of moving a community of ‘prawn’ or aliens, who arrived there some years earlier and were left there to live in a ghetto. While out there to serve notices to the residents, Wikus gets sprayed with a liquid that slowly turns him into one of the prawns and he suddenly become much more valuable to his employers, who want to use him for experiments.
In my mind I always relate this to Avatar, which came out in the same year. They both deal with rascism, or more precisely, xenophobia. Avatar is just clumsy in what it does, while this finds a path that feels much more real. While Avatar was a monster hit, it has since been largely forgotten, because it was so shallow. I can’t say this is exactly deep, but at least deeper and feels more relevant. Of course, this also introduced the world to the gem that is Sharlto Copley.
Ex Machina (2014)
A man is asked to assess the capabilities of an android with the newest generation of AI. Turns out, his employer was lying about his role in the situation.
This movie does a remarkable job at making us care about an AI. It has it’s own motivations, which we can identify with, even if we know that it’s, well, she’s “just” a machine. The builder is trying to make sure she is seen as a machine. He is determined to see them as things, but there’s also an uglier side to all of this. I mean, the inventor is a man living in solitude, building robots in the form of women. What’s that about? Of course, the machine can’t feel used, if you don’t program that in them, but us humans still feel empathy for a victim, even if she really isn’t.
We don’t really even know whether she is. We can’t know, because she is not human and even though her programming is meant to simulate one in many aspects, we can’t really know what’s going on inside her brain. She does have some sort of instinct for self-preservation.