While the idea of science fiction movies being considered essential may strike some folks as a bit preposterous, there are indeed many quite good yarns that come from the sci-fi world. And as I have stated before, part of the deal with movies that I consider Essential Movies is a willingness to suspend belief and just enjoy a good yarn and tale told well. So if you are not able to deal with movies that have noise in outer space, then you probably will not and have not enjoyed some of the movies on this list. But if you can just enjoy the tale without worrying about the science, then these can be fun.
Any discussion of science fiction movies pretty much has to begin with Star Wars. I am one of the fans of the original trilogy. I was stationed in Michigan in the summer of 1977 when A New Hope was released. It took a little time but we eventually started hearing about this movie and went to see it in Harrisville, MI since the on base theater was not going to show many first run films. I was in Hawaii when Empire Strikes Back and was out of the Air Force and living outside Boston when Return of the Jedi came out. I do wish George Lucas had managed to restrain himself though and not re-work things (such as imposing Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi in place of David Prowse).
The prequel trilogy for Star Wars is no where near as good as the original in my not so very humble opinion, yet The Phantom Menace does have some good points. I will say that I don’t find Jar Jar Binks as a sign of the apocalypse as many seem to. But that’s just me. I will watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith if nothing else strikes my fancy but neither could be called must see.
Next to Star Wars, the Start Trek movies are probably the best known TV/movie franchise in the science fiction genre. I have to say that The Wrath of Kahn is probably my favorite of these though like most people I was glad when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out. And The Voyage Home is also pretty good. . . .
One of the most fun sci-fi movies has to be The Last Starfighter. A couple of my favorite lines from this one are “Yolanda Baby!” and the scene at the end with the Kodan officer, “She won’t answer the helm! We’re locked into the moon’s gravitational pull. What do we do?” and Lord Kril, “We die”
Armageddon is a good action movie. A good cast and a fun watch. I love the scene near the end when the Russian astronaut character is banging the control panel with the tool, hollering “This is how we fix problem in the Russian space station!” Anyone who has used percussive maintenance on a piece of equipment can relate to that one.
Space Cowboys isn’t quite as much fun as Armageddon but has its moments. As is often the case, there is the point where someone has to admit that they haven’t been quite honest with folks and finally provide that last piece of information that allows the heroes to save the day. Outland is another one that is fun in its own way where Sean Connery gets to play the detective in space and solve the crime.
There are a number of movies where the BEMs are coming around. Independence Day is one of the more recent of this vintage along with Men in Black and Men in Black II. While not really dealing with the BEMs, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers brought us the concept of the pod people. Then there is Rowdy Roddy Piper and They Live. There are, I’m sure, many folks who would contend that Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live are both more documentary than campy sci-fi. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension has an interesting cast that looks like they were out for a payday yet managed to have a touch of fun while they were at it.
While Waterworld was roundly condemned by most as a bust, it can still be a fun watch, just to see Dennis Hopper going over the top as he worships “St Joe.” Roger Corman directed and produced many movies but I think Not Of This Earth probably does as good a job of his style sci-fi with the evil and powerful bloodsucking aliens that woops! wind up can be defeated by a loud car horn. Traci Lords starred in a remake that is interesting but not quite up to the original (which is a common lament with remakes across all genres).
Like many readers, I looked forward to seeing the books Dune and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on screen and like many people I was soundly disappointed in them. Yet, I can find myself watching them just for the basic fun they can be.
I will end this week’s Essential movies with Barbarella. What some people will do for love (for those who may not know, Jane Fonda was married to Roger Vadim, the writer and director of Barbarella). And for the record, I only needed to see ET phone home once.
And because I can: