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Added by JxSxPx on 21 Aug 2019 07:40

Slant's 100 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

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“The [sci-fi] film has never really been more than an offshoot of its literary precursor, which to date has provided all the ideas, themes and inventiveness. [Sci-fi] cinema has been notoriously prone to cycles of exploitation and neglect, unsatisfactory mergings with horror films, thrillers, environmental and disaster movies.” So wrote J.G. Ballard about George Lucas’s Star Wars in a 1977 piece for Time Out. If Ballard’s view of science-fiction cinema was highly uncharitable and, as demonstrated by the 100 boldly imaginative and mind-expanding films below, essentially off-base, he nevertheless touched on a significant point: that literary and cinematic sci-fi are two fundamentally different art forms.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a visionary depiction of a near-future dystopia, is almost impossible to imagine as a work of prose fiction. Strip away the Art Deco glory of its towering cityscapes and factories and the synchronized movements of those who move through those environments and what’s even left? It’s no accident that some of the greatest cinematic adaptations of sci-fi novels bear only a passing resemblance to their source material. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, for example, simply mines some of the concepts from Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about human-looking androids, using them as the raw material for a haunting urban future-noir that owes more to visual artists like Moebius and Antonio Sant’Elia than it does to Dick himself. Then there’s Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which transfigures Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s briskly paced novella Roadside Picnic into a slow, mesmerizing journey into an uncanny space.

Ballard may have been right that literary sci-fi has provided all the interesting themes and ideas for which sci-fi in general has become known, but he failed to grasp how cinema has expanded our understanding of sci-fi by pricking at our collective visual consciousness. The titles on our list of the 100 best sci-fi movies of all time have shown us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed. Some of these depictions are humorous, others haunting. Some rely on complicated special effects, others use none at all. But they’re united by their fearlessness in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own.

Keith Watson
People who added this item 4402 Average listal rating (2868 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8.3
Central to the profundity of 2001: A Space Odyssey is the notion that few things are more meaningful than a child’s first steps, the emotive impact of this scenario manifest in every one of the film’s dizzying set pieces, albeit multiplied to epic proportions. At its core, the film is a journey, a summarization of those questions that are both the simplest in their inquisition and most profound in their answers: Who are we, where do we come from, and where are we going? The film exists as an exploration of these timeless themes and the existential weight that accompanies them, probing our growth from passive eating machines subject to the unforgiving elements, to conquerors of the world and pioneers of space, awaiting only a helping hand from a superior force to reach the next level of existence. Just as the ape-men in the opening act must learn to use the tools around them to survive, so, too, must man learn to walk again when subjected to zero gravity, captured here with a gravitas that suggests a celestial being waxing philosophical. Humanick
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People who added this item 1409 Average listal rating (763 ratings) 8.4 IMDB Rating 8.1
Subscribing to the belief that the eyes are the windows to the soul, Andrei Tarkovsky locates Stalker’s spiritual center in his protagonists’ weathered countenances. One of cinema’s greatest portraitists, he offers up a gallery of masterful close-ups: some dipped in sepia-toned bronzes; others cast in the harsh light of a cloudy morning; several obscured by dank, dark shadows. No two alike and all stunning in their formal composition and expressiveness, Tarkovsky’s visages—from the large, sorrowful eyes of Alexander Kaidanovsky and the anguished expressions of Anatoly Solonitsyn to the heart-rending candor of Alisa Freindlikh—form the emotional backbone of his heavily metaphorical tale. In aggregate, the film’s various artifacts, objects, and narrative events ultimately capture something akin to the essence of what man is made of: a tangled knot of memories, fears, fantasies, nightmares, paradoxical impulses, and a yearning for something that’s simultaneously beyond our reach and yet intrinsic to every one of us. Is that thing hope? Faith? Or, as implied by the masterful climactic monologue from Stalker’s wife, is it simply devotion? Perhaps Tarkovsky summed it up best when he wrote about Stalker, “In the end, everything can be reduced to the one simple element which is all a person can count upon in his existence: the capacity to love.” Schager
People who added this item 2008 Average listal rating (1060 ratings) 8.3 IMDB Rating 8.3
Metropolis (1927)
The original sci-fi blockbuster, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a high-water mark in the late silent era. Released in 1927, the same year as the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, it’s a parable of class struggle, foregrounding issues that obsessed 1920s audiences and that have persisted through the present: the oppressive scale of modern cities, the exploitation of the lower classes by the powerful, and the allure of technology, which is presented by Lang as something akin to dark magic. Beyond any of that, Metropolis is eye candy, bankrolled by its studio, UFA, in hopes of dazzling audiences the world over, and perhaps giving German film some traction in the coveted U.S. market. Lang, among the most sadistic of movie visionaries, led hundreds of designers and craftspeople and tens of thousands of extras to push analog filmmaking to its conceptual limits, and his insistence on doing dozens of takes of certain scenes pushed his collaborators to their physical limits. Metropolis was the most expensive film made up until that time, but as studio bean counters still say, every penny (or Deutsche Mark) is on the screen. Matt Zoller Seitz
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People who added this item 612 Average listal rating (366 ratings) 8.3 IMDB Rating 8.2
Cinematic time traveler Chris Marker’s reflection on time and memory and nuclear holocaust recounts (or recalls) the story of “a man marked by an image of his childhood,” a man whose “vision of peacetime happiness” is so obsessive, he’s thought to be the only soul in humanity’s post-apocalyptic underground hideout whose mind can retain the sort of focus necessary to travel back in time without going insane. The specter of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo hangs over the most celebrated shot of the film: the one that moves. Just as James Stewart’s Scotty spends the second half of Vertigo trying to breathe life into a dead woman, Marker conveys the intensity of his protagonist’s memories by literally tearing a hole through his own mise-en-scène. The series of lap dissolves leading up to the shot are comparable to the Bernard Hermann music accompanying Hitchcock’s climactic “Scene D’Amour,” even if the spell of La Jetée is such that afterward you ask yourself if the glance actually happened or if your memory is playing tricks on you. Henderson
People who added this item 4602 Average listal rating (3101 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8.1
Blade Runner (1982)
The dying Earth of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? reeks of pathos, dust, and decay, but it seems functional—beset by entropy, but functional all the same. The grunge and rot of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, by contrast, owes a sizable debt to the legacies of film noir and steampunk: a future defined by overdevelopment, underregulation, hubris, and greed. The film is fueled by iconography: icons that don’t always need to point outside the text but have a self-sustaining power of their own. That’s why Roy (Rutger Hauer) is the titanic antihero, whose sheer magnitude as a synthetic being embarrasses the ineffectual Deckard (Harrison Ford), the ex-flatfoot whose character arc is a slender thread of fuck-ups and accidental victories. Nearly a minor character in the book, almost on the level of some expendable Dragnet hoodlum, Roy is transformed into the film’s evil superhuman, a universal adaptor capable of being fixed with any major philosophical lens (Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes, etc.). No one mourns in the film, except in a stolen moment (when Roy discovers Daryl Hannah’s defeated Pris), and Scott uses a reliable surrogate for tears to pay respects, on our behalf, when Roy’s spirit finally takes flight. Tears in the rain, indeed. Christley
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People who added this item 1420 Average listal rating (882 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.2
This hard, sleazy riff on a famous Marshall McLuhan quote (“the medium is the message”) is one of the great visionary horror movies, and potentially the most prescient. It marries disconcertingly erotic images with Cronenberg’s great theme of misleadingly frivolous technology as an insidious initiator of ambiguous new evolutions. Though TV is the medium under consideration, all of the film’s observations can be adapted, with chilling ease, to suit the ongoing proliferation of laptops, cell phones, the Internet, you name it. Dialogue regularly appears to be piped in from the future, such as an observation—that we will all have special names for our personas on television—that bridges Warhol’s “15 minutes” quotation with the rise of a multiple-username culture that renders specificities of identity and humanity moot. The ghastly, daringly sexualized special effects are, eerily, Videodrome’s one quaint gesture, as they imbue technology with a disgusting yet comforting tactility that’s rapidly disappearing from a culture that’s slipping into a cloud of ever-shifting soft data. Bowen
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People who added this item 4782 Average listal rating (3372 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8.4
Alien (1979)
A film whose shadow looms darkly over subsequent decades of horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien is a master class in the evocation of escalating dread. Made forever distinctive by H.R. Giger’s visual rendering of psychosexual horror and biomechanical hellscapes, not to mention the unusual foregrounding of working-class and female characters, Alien is still—at its core—a prototypical haunted-house picture. It just happens to be one of the most artful, flawlessly executed examples of that type, the rationed-out shocks underscored by groundbreaking creature effects, jarring sound design, and the talents of a magnificent ensemble. It’s the stuff of primordial nightmare, mapping the infinite reaches of human anxiety—about everything from sexuality to technology—into two agonizing hours. Das
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People who added this item 1224 Average listal rating (665 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8
Andrei Tarkovsky’s adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical space romance is striking by virtue of its immanence. Solaris may be set in the future, on a spacecraft far from Earth, but throughout the entirety of its 170 minutes it feels like the setting is right here, right now. Its dreamlike uncanniness is perfect for this story about a widowed cosmonaut, Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), whose dead wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), materializes out of thin air. This transpires as Kelvin explores the strange, extraterrestrial planet of Solaris, which seems to generate projections from the unconscious of individuals venturing close to it. Kelvin, a scientist, understands as much. And yet, especially when conversing with Hari, it’s not so easy for him to use logic to dismiss the presence of someone he’s loved and lost. The film, whose languorous rhythms feel as if they’re sinking us into our subconscious, becomes a quiet meditation—or prayer even—of longing, and to elude the blankness of reduction. Beleaguered in lonely torpor on earth with his memories of Hari, Kelvin can’t dismiss this phenomenal experience as mere illusion. Tarkovsky invests Solaris with the unbearable heaviness of time passing, the resounding ache of loneliness in the unlimited expanse of space turned inward. Schwartz
People who added this item 2594 Average listal rating (1795 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 8.1
For all of the Grand Guignol overload of its special effects, The Thing is first and foremost an atmospheric film, one predicated on the claustrophobia and paranoia generated by its remote Antarctic-base setting. It’s there that a scientific crew discovers, then falls prey to an alien that can assume the form of any living being it touches, forcing the men stationed at the base to question the true identities of those around them. This is fitting material for director John Carpenter, who ironically used his biggest budget to return to the kind of small-scale, inward-looking horror of Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. But if the physical scope of the film is narrow, its tone is one of vast, cosmic terror, influenced in no small part by H.P. Lovecraft. Camera movement, with the exception of a few rushing point-of-view shots, is stately and patient, as cold as the base’s frigid surroundings. Carpenter’s clinical atmosphere offers a bedrock of visual calm that only makes the amorphous, reason-defying nature of the alien threat all the more disruptive. Instead of reflecting the mania of the characters, the camera is an objective viewer, which casts a nihilistic pall over The Thing by telegraphing the hopelessness of the characters’ situation. Cole
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People who added this item 570 Average listal rating (377 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.5
More than 60 years of sequels, tag-team monster mash-ups, and shitty Hollywood remakes haven’t blunted the sheer cinematographic force, let alone metaphorical heft, of Ishirô Honda’s 1954 classic. Rarely has the open wound of widespread devastation been transposed to celluloid with greater visceral impact. Put another way, Godzilla is the Germany Year Zero of monster movies. The impetus for the film was a series of undeclared H-bomb tests conducted by the U.S. military at Bikini Atoll in March of 1954, into which maelstrom a lone Japanese fishing boat, christened with terrible irony Lucky Dragon 5, sailed unawares. Exposure to clouds of irradiated fallout, dubbed “death ash” by the sailors, led to the swift demise of at least one crewmember. The still-fresh notoriety of that incident, restaged as the opening sequence of Godzilla, would have alerted Japanese audiences from the get-go that they were in for more than just another creature feature. Add to that frequent mention of matters of wartime survival, whether the firebombing of Tokyo, or the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it becomes something of an open secret that Godzilla represents American military might in all its blind destructiveness. Wilkins
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It seems fitting that it took stumbling upon an obscure Soviet-era concept for me to feel like I had the vocabulary to talk about Paul Verhoeven with any degree of accuracy. That concept is stiob, which I’ll crudely define as a form of parody requiring such a degree of over-identification with the subject being parodied that it becomes impossible to tell where the love for that subject ends and the parody begins. And so there, in 32 words, is the Hollywood cinema of Paul Verhoeven. Starship Troopers then has to be a bad movie, insofar as that means that the acting is not dramatically convincing, the story is hopelessly contrived, the special effects are distractingly garish in their limb-ripping and bone-crunching, because the point isn’t to do better than Hollywood (that would run counter to Verhoeven’s obvious love of these cheap popular forms), but to do more of Hollywood, to push every element to its breaking point without caving to the lazy lure of ridicule. The result is a style that embraces a form as fully as possible only to turn it back against the content, and one of the greatest of all anti-imperialist films. Phil Coldiron
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A.I. Artificial Intelligence is alien in so many ways to Steven Spielberg’s canon of moral certainty. The film’s deceptive darkness stems from its treatment of childhood trauma, the fear of abandonment, and panic over losing one’s identity. It envisions a futuristic world on the verge of collage, a landscape of blinding hues and smooth textures obsessed with both momentary rejuvenation and collective destruction. A.I. is all about texture, specifically the contrasting surfaces of a technologically advanced world losing its need for emotional connection. Spielberg’s tight compositions reveal characters seemingly trapped by their own reflections, destined to whither under the pressure of artificial happiness. Janusz Kamiński’s fluid camera pins “super toy” David (Haley Joel Osment) and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) behind obstacles of all kind: the Flesh Fair bars, between Rouge City’s numbing rows of signs, and finally frozen in time under water at Coney Island, mere inches away from the fabled Blue Fairy. Like every essential moment in A.I., the walls are closing in on David, and Spielberg’s hypnotic templates of neon light and shading add up to a stunningly personal nightmare about the way innocence unmasks the hidden doubt in others. Heath
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People who added this item 2240 Average listal rating (1452 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.6
The Fly (1986)
A beautifully poignant tale of love and heartbreak cocooned in the outré trappings of its maker’s distinctive splatter-punk aesthetic, The Fly represents the apotheosis of David Cronenberg’s early obsessions. The story of scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), who, in a fit of drunken jealousy, tests his new teleporter only to find himself fused with a housefly, the film is a testament to the elastic properties of genre as metaphor. Cronenberg reappropriates the original’s schlocky damsel-in-distress plot as the delivery system for a thoughtful, witty, and literate consideration of his pet preoccupations: sex, death, technology, biology. It’s tragedy pitched at an operatic scale, body horror at its most visceral, pop philosophy at its most insightful. Insect politics for a blockbuster age. Abimanyu Das
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People who added this item 1065 Average listal rating (768 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.3
They Live (1988)
A streetwise drifter (Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of sunglasses which allow him to see subliminal messages hidden behind every billboard, newspaper, and TV commercial in America, as well as the true faces of the masked aliens walking among us, intent to dominate our world in secret. They Live‘s anti-consumerist message is so apparent in the action on screen that it doesn’t even qualify as subtextual. But this sort of obvious explication functions, cleverly, as a deliberate ideological misdirect, as the ultimate goal of John Carpenter’s as a work of satire isn’t for us to acknowledge that our world is being taken over by nefarious aliens from outer space, but rather that such a fantastic idea of hypnosis and control is credible only because commercial culture is designed to function in exactly that way. The point, in other words, isn’t that we ought to be concerned about aliens, but that we don’t need to be concerned about aliens. Advertising and television and the entire world of corporatized control is already so fucked up that science fiction couldn’t imagine a fate for us any more preposterous or, frankly, any worse. Marsh
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People who added this item 701 Average listal rating (434 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 6.3
Under the Skin’s extraterrestrial seductress, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), shrinks in stature as the film progresses, from an indomitable, inviolable man-eating ghoul to an increasingly fragile woman suffering from the psychic trauma wreaked by her own weaponized sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking process to witness, one that flips a sleek, mysterious sci-fi thriller into a singular melodrama focused on the unlikeliest of protagonists. Establishing an atmosphere in which each new intrusion of feeling delivers another blow to the character’s once-steely exterior, director Jonathan Glazer spins out a maelstrom of dread as Laura simultaneously contracts and expands, adapting to the frailty of her assumed human form. Mirroring this development, the film’s polished style comes into sharp conflict with the tangled complexity of empathy and emotion, a clash embodied by the alluring dissonance of Mica Levi’s shrieking score, the stunning gloom of the film’s Scottish landscapes, the strange, wounded beauty of men pickled in their own putrid desire, and the poignant spectacle of a monster barred by circumstance from becoming anything more. Cataldo
People who added this item 647 Average listal rating (357 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.1
Alphaville (1965)
Alphaville, a dystopian sci-fi noir set in an Orwellian world of omnipresent surveillance run by a malevolent artificial intelligence, sounds at first blush like a large-scale work filled with the sort of macro world-building one typically sees in blockbusters. But Jean-Luc Godard, working with next to no resources, captures the oppressiveness of totalitarian government through the claustrophobic conditions of repressed citizens. Ordinary Parisian streets and buildings are captured as they are, though in inky shadow, so that a certain kind of present-day dilapidation comes to suggest futuristic social decay. In mixing elements of noir and sci-fi, Godard doubles down on the existential horror of both genres, emphasizing their common emotional detachment through a narrative involving a supercomputer, Alpha 60, that rules over a realm, Alphaville, in which human emotions like love are punishable by death. That premise anticipates future tech-noir features like Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, and the rapport between Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), so grizzled but still full of longing, and a thoroughly brainwashed, deadpan young woman, Natacha (Anna Karina), has the same kind of mutually dispassionate but compelling quasi-romance that Harrison Ford and Sean Young shared as androids performing love in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Cole
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People who added this item 1657 Average listal rating (1200 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 8.1
Pulling off a genuine Trojan-horse maneuver of cinematic subversion within the cloak of a beloved franchise, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road stands as a statement on how even the most stringently managed of studio properties can be massaged to produce miraculous results. Moving up from the unfocused weirdness of Beyond Thunderdome into new heights of inspired madness, this innovative vision from a familiar apocalyptic wasteland retains the series’s general outlines while also further reducing its titular hero to a mythical supporting character. Yet for all the implicit progressive politics and outsized metaphoric constructions, the film is most successful as a blunt expression of impassioned force, its strident stands on a variety of hot-button issues used as fuel to stoke a cacophonous combustion of energy and noise. Structured around the spectacle of a single extended chase sequence, it spins out a Keaton-esque carnival of dodgy practical effects, ingeniously tactile set pieces, and equivalently creative CG. Subtlety and contemplation have their place, but Fury Road scratches a different sort of atavistic itch, satisfying the compulsion for genuine awe and amazement so often neglected by modern tent poles, exhibiting its ultimate allegiance toward the viewer rather than the monolithic dictates of the brand. Cataldo
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People who added this item 2750 Average listal rating (1866 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 7.6
RoboCop set the tone for much of Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven’s career in America, and not just because of Kurtwood Smith’s curt command “Bitches leave!” It was a relatively low-budget, high-concept satire in the guise of a relatively high-budget, low-concept trash-a-thon. Corporate backstabbing and a remarkably strong-willed newbie cop combine in the right place at the wrong time to allow the creation of a secret human-robot hybrid. Verhoeven juxtaposes RoboCop’s (Peter Weller) faint pulse of self-recognition against the backdrop of a dehumanizing socio-economic nightmare. But he also couples his skilled filmmaking vulgarity with a very literal vulgarity. When RoboCop comes to the assistance of a poodle-headed woman about to be sexually assaulted in a back alleyway, his keen trigger finger manages to take out the would-be rapist’s crotch by carefully shooting the bullet through the victim’s skirt—right between her thighs. Never has a gesture of chivalry seemed more…icky. Verhoeven’s best and most vulgar American work was still in front of him, but RoboCop still stands as one of the most rude-tempered, rollicking gobs of spit in the face of 1980s politics this side of John Carpenter’s They Live. Henderson
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Aleksei German’s Hard to Be a God proceeds from an immediately incongruous setup: a science-fiction film set in the murky recesses of a Dark Ages nightmare, its apocalyptic vision of the future looking backward instead of forward. It’s within this seemingly counterintuitive concept that German, whose death toward the end of the film’s production confirms this as his capstone opus, finds the most perfect expression of a career-long fascination with the contact points between civilization and chaos. The film’s imperious protagonist is an astronaut with an unorthodox mission, sent to a planet on the cusp of a renaissance to nurture the growth of a more equitable world. But as so many leaders embarking on the forcible democratization of unprepared societies have recently learned, the conceit that guidance from one advanced culture will foster another easily falls apart under scrutiny. Our sophisticated hero is thus reduced to one warlord among many, his habitual bloody noses tapping him into the collective stream of nasty fluids that flows throughout this amazingly grotesque film, cementing him as just another corrupt figure in the pitch-black Rabelaisian saturnalia that results. Cataldo
People who added this item 62 Average listal rating (31 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.2
A literal attempt to physicalize the past is the subject of Alain Resnais’s early, often overlooked fantasy, Je T’aime, Je T’aime. In their fascination with emotional tactility, Resnais and novelist turned screenwriter Jacques Sternberg, both formalist radicals who’re often too ambitious to settle for ordinary linear narratives casually pioneered a way in which the fantastic and the banal intermingle. Like Billy Pilgrim, Claude (Claude Rich) becomes unstuck in time, in the tradition of heroes metaphorically obsessed with themselves and their lost opportunities. The narrative, which concerns an experiment in time travel, is emotionally involving, staged with Resnais’s customary resistance to flatulent sentiment—often misconstrued as a “cold” sensibility when showed it actually represents a passion so great as to resist platitude. But the film’s soul truly emerges through its incredible editing syntax, which anticipates the formal grammar of mysteries such as Don’t Look Now and Mulholland Drive. Moments are layered in fashions that never entirely reveal themselves. Truth is allowed to be simultaneously plain and porous, subject to impenetrability—a conscious result of Resnais’s mixing of the otherworldly and the ordinary. Bowen
People who added this item 2295 Average listal rating (1370 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 7.9
Brazil (1985)
Through its wildly comic, furiously creative, and intensely moving façade, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil ponders a future made to sustain a draconian past molded by inequality. Overrun by communicative ducts, coated wires, cement and metals, and magnified, miniature computer screens, the future conjured up by Gilliam averts the familiar prophecy of an anaesthetized, plastic world overrun by rampantly advancing technology. Besides the obvious Orwellian elements, the filmic pedigree of Brazil is richly layered, potently evoking The Third Man, the Marx brothers, Battleship Potemkin, Star Wars, Kurosawa, Casablanca, 8 ½, Modern Times, and, most vibrantly, Metropolis, among others. Such tremendous artists and films depicted both the harshness and necessity of reality, as well as the enveloping power and ultimate intangibility of imagination and expression, and Brazil is a glorious ode to that essential dichotomy. Gilliam presents an utterly singular vision of a world where the cold, exacting actions of an all-powerful plutocracy are at once fighting against and employing fantasy, where the individual can be eaten alive and erased by pieces of paper. Chris Cabin
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People who added this item 5444 Average listal rating (3805 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 8.1
James Cameron’s influences include all manner of science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ray Bradbury to Star Wars, but the film’s true creative counterpart might be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Religious, if not outright spiritual, The Terminator is, at its core, a meditation on mankind’s thirst for progress and the likely fallout that results from a lack of self-regulation, extinction being the ultimate punishment for the sin of creation without moral consideration. As in its thematic successor, The Matrix, the man-versus-machine dynamic might be too outwardly dramatic to be truly prescient (in reality, we’ll probably get something closer to a WALL-E/Road Warrior dystopia when the shit hits the fan), but the film’s pulp trappings—or rather, here, tech noir—reach a modestly operatic intensity that more than justifies the metaphorical frankness of the proceedings. The film’s understated, workmanlike artistry suggests both the quotidian and the extraordinary, particularly when paired with the robotic emotion of Brad Fiedel’s synth score. It erupts in your consciousness and takes flight like a dream. Humanick
People who added this item 2421 Average listal rating (1670 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.5
Total Recall (1990)
An imaginative expansion of the brisk Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” this film about fake memories and a real interplanetary crisis now stands redolent with nostalgia, both for its time, as well as for itself. Beneath its show of smoke and mirrors, mercenary babes, and treacherous holograms, Total Recall is a story about a man who must choose between two possible, contradictory realities. In one timeline, he’s an earthbound schmuck; in the far less likely one, he’s a hero who must save an oppressed people on a faraway planet. He can’t afford to waver, but it’s our privilege to do so. As viewers, we’re welcome to consider the persistent motif of walls collapsing, subterfuges dissolving, and rugs being pulled out from still more rugs. The film now exists in a twilight of an era in which factory-produced entertainment could still serve as a keyhole into a dimension of weird, through which we might glimpse the otherworldly, and contemplate fondling the third breast. Christley
People who added this item 532 Average listal rating (250 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 6.7
Adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth finds the alien in alienation. The novel and film are melancholy studies in social estrangement and the depredations of alcoholism, loosely attired in the trappings of science fiction, that recount the disastrous attempts at earthly assimilation by an ambitious visitor from another planet. If anything, Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg enlarge upon the tragedy of ersatz human and eventual billionaire Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie, perfectly cast as the ungainly space oddity), playing up the desperate plight of his extraterrestrial family, slowly dying on a planet devoid of water. The film is exceptionally allusive, replete with references to painting, literature, and cinema. Like its source material, The Man Who Fell to Earth invokes the myth of Icarus in ways subtle and overt—from its very title to a prominently displayed coffee-table book that pairs W.H. Auden’s poem “Museé des Beaux Art” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Roeg weaves snippets of imagery and dialogue (first glimpsed on Newton’s proliferating bank of TV sets) taken from Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon and Carol Reed’s The Third Man into scenes where they provide thematic, albeit ironic, counterpoint, knowingly foreshadowing acts of infidelity and betrayal. Wilkins
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People who added this item 90 Average listal rating (44 ratings) 8.4 IMDB Rating 7.3
Started in 1976 as an epic adaptation of a turn-of-a-century philosophical sci-fi trilogy by the director’s great uncle, production on Andrzej Żuławski’s On the Silver Globe was abruptly stopped by Poland’s communist ministry of culture in 1977. Officially too expensive to continue, the film was in fact too politically incorrect to handle. It wasn’t until 1987 that Żuławski was allowed to tinker with the incomplete footage and assemble it into what it currently is: “a stump of a movie,” per his off-screen opening remark. The film presents itself both as a narrative and an essay upon its own making. The literal plot, having to do with a group of space travelers discovering a new planet and building a civilization from scratch, is juxtaposed with documentary footage of the crumbling failed experiment that was communist Poland. On the Silver Globe is immensely rich as an act of philosophical inquiry. Its dialogue full of expertly disguised nuggets borrowed from the likes of Norman Mailer and Karl Marx, the film is a desperate meditation on the human hunger for religion, as well as our shared need of submitting ourselves to figures of authority. As such, it’s probably the bravest Polish film ever made. Michał Oleszczyk
People who added this item 868 Average listal rating (518 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.7
The quintessential alien visitation tale of its era, The Day the Earth Stood Still was mythically embedded in the minds of the pre-Spielberg generation that first saw it in childhood. If not the first science-fiction film made by a Hollywood studio for adults (a distinction Stanley Kubrick always claimed for his 2001), it marked a leap past bug-eyed-monster serial juvenilia and attempted to defuse Cold War paranoia via anti-authoritarian wit and somber reckoning with Atomic Age danger. It’s a thinking kid’s movie, yet its crafty fun stays in balance with its self-consciousness as a prestige message picture. Released in the midst of the Korean War and the prime of McCarthy, the film achieved a unique relevance for a “spaceman” movie by unambiguously advocating for peace and grounding its pulp story in social reality. Beside the then-state-of-the-art effects and an indispensable, theremin-laced score by Bernard Herrmann, director Robert Wise and screenwriter Edmund North establish the anxiety and xenophobia of a Soviet-fearing populace as easily transferred to the messianic Klaatu (whose pseudonym is the Christian-tinged “Mr. Carpenter”). Weber
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People who added this item 112 Average listal rating (45 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 7.7
Based on Simulacron-3, a 1964 novel by American writer Daniel F. Galouye, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s made-for-TV World on a Wire explores the psychological, philosophical, and existential uncertainties underlying the use and abuse of virtual reality. While it’s difficult to dissociate VR from the context of mainframes and monitors, it was first used by the surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud in his treatise on art and artifice, The Theater and Its Double. Both theatricality and reflexivity, naturally enough, abound in the film. Fassbinder surrounds his naturalistic lead, Klaus Löwitsch, with flagrantly histrionic acting styles and still-life tableaux, and fills his mise-en-scène with endlessly reflecting mirrors, bouncing the image back and forth until viewers have scant idea which side of the looking glass they occupy. World on a Wire’s “levels of reality” storyline anticipates an entire cycle of films ranging from the bullet-time ballyhoo of the Matrix trilogy to the disconcerting low-fi dystopia of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, while its future-noir aesthetic clearly presages the moody atmospherics of Blade Runner. Wilkins
People who added this item 339 Average listal rating (185 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 7.7
Seconds (1966)
A beautiful x-ray of middle-aged existential crisis, Seconds is a dark science-fiction fable of a man assuming a new identity via regenerative surgery and obliteration of his old life, performed by the ominously shadowy Company. While ostensibly a thriller, albeit one pulling fewer overtly political strings than Frankenheimer’s The Train or Seven Days in May, here the suspense is muted in favor of an almost suffocating aura of despair, and the central everyman changeling is defined by his silences—explicitly observed by his wife in a third-act monologue. The tour de force of the film’s opening act is driven by the spectacular black-and-white cinematography of James Wong Howe, utilizing fish-eye lenses, canted camera angles, and a variety of Manhattan locations and studio interiors that run the visual gamut from documentary-like spontaneity to claustrophobic and agoraphobic effects, evoking The Trial and the work of Orson Welles in general. With its strings-oriented, sometimes hairy score by Jerry Goldsmith and inevitably bleak, cautionary ending, Frankenheimer’s film has been somewhat lazily, but not baselessly, compared to a glistening feature version of The Twilight Zone, with that series’s sizeable humanist streak most evident in Tony Wilson’s (Rock Hudson) unauthorized visit to his “widow” and former home. Weber
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People who added this item 568 Average listal rating (316 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.7
Produced during the tail end of the Panic Movement, the Topor-designed Fantastic Planet could easily have been staged on the same land that held Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. In actuality, it takes place on the planet of Ygam, whose desert-like topography contains illogical outgrowths such as gleaming crystal succulents, multi-limbed and seemingly sentient foliage, and hilly outcroppings with vacuum-like mouths. The inhabitants that call this landscape home are no less quizzical: enormous cyan humanoids with lidless crimson eyes and flappy scales for ears, and who go by the cryptically Norse-sounding designation of Draag. Fantastic Planet’s blend of straightforward, almost elementary storytelling with heady themes and eroticized imagery marks the film as a relic of an era with much looser standards around the dichotomy of the children’s film and the adult drama. With the exception of a few jolting zooms, the “camera” in Fantastic Planet is a cold, stationary observer, which only emphasizes the otherness of this world. René Laloux and Topor’s most enduring achievement is in yoking this disorientating effect to familiar horrors; by the film’s conclusion, it’s hard to feel comfortable with similar episodes on our own imperfect planet. Carson Lund
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People who added this item 6247 Average listal rating (4243 ratings) 8.2 IMDB Rating 8.3
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is about uninspired moral negligence, and about its hero tuning into violence as entertainment and institutions using violence and brainwashing as a means of control. It’s Kubrick’s most prescient work, more astute and unsparing than any of his other films (and he had more where that came from) in putting the bleakest parts of human behavior under the microscope and laughing in disgust. It was made right after his other high watermark, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as he returns to Earth from his mind-blowing brush with the cosmic, it’s a sort of sequel about our planet rotting away from the inside. As a drunk says to Alex (Malcolm McDowell) right before taking a vicious beating: “I don’t want to live anyway! Not in a stinking world like this! Men on the moon and men spinning around the Earth, and no attention paid to earthly law and order no more!” One could say this was ripped straight from the headlines, only nowadays one could argue there’s no attention paid to anything, be it outer space or earthly matters, just an endless feeding to audiences who have developed a voracious taste for, as Alex would say, “the [good] old ultra-violence.” Kipp
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People who added this item 970 Average listal rating (513 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.4
2046 (2004)
Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 is a relentlessly meta, wild patchwork of references and vignettes that swirl in a vibrant color wheel around the same story that Wong Kar-wai has been telling over and over again throughout his career—a story of missed connections, longing and desire, unresolved dramas. The title and sci-fi trappings of 2046 make it seem like the number refers to a futuristic year and a futuristic Hong Kong, but in fact the title refers to the number of the room where Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) shared their most memorable moments together. As the film’s voiceover says, in room number 2046, nothing ever changes, and nobody has ever come back from it, because 2046 is the past, is memory. Chow writes a science fiction story where 2046, the room where he spent the bulk of his most intimate time with Mrs. Chan, is a place that is always frozen because it’s a disconnected moment in time, a cherished but painful memory where he can relive, over and over again, the same doomed romantic story. 2046 picks up on the past tense perspective of In the Mood for Love and expands it into a collage of memories and imaginings. This film is haunted by other movies just as Chow is haunted by memories of his past. Ed Howard
People who added this item 2061 Average listal rating (1351 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 8
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, based on his own 1982 manga, updates the lingering Japanese anxiety about nuclear annihilation for the cybernetic era, as the superweapons in 2019 Neo-Tokyo turn out to be gifted children whose telekinetic powers have been enhanced by a secret government program, rather than nuclear warheads. The images of mass destruction that bookend this stylish but haunting animated action film speak to a fear not only of a social apocalypse, but a human one. The transformation of the “esper” Tetsuo (Nozumu Sasaki) into a transcendent consciousness comes with a painful and gruesome transmogrification of his body into a fleshy, unruly monstrosity; Otomo infuses the sci-fi trope of the rebirth of the human, optimistically presented even in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Lovecraftian horror. Between the film’s two apocalypses is an adventure that plays out in the intricately detailed world of Neo-Tokyo, perhaps the most iconic of all cyberpunk cityscapes. As Tetsuo’s motorcycle gang races through the sinews of Neo-Tokyo’s complex of highways, past its flickering screens and neon lights, we get the impression of a world—not too far removed from the real 2019—in which the proliferation of technological networks has paradoxically led to social atomization, inequity, and aimless discontent. Brown
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People who added this item 4723 Average listal rating (3319 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7.7
Minority Report straddles disparate temporalities and sensibilities. It’s a film built on contrasts: between glassy surfaces of Pre-Crime and grimy atmospheres of the Sprawl; between a daughter’s loss of a mother and a father’s loss of a son; between a classicist and chaos aesthetic; between certainty and doubt, dreams and reality, the implausible and the believable. The film lives on these divides, where it conjures sweeping visions of life undone by simulation and addiction while institutional infrastructures continue to thrive. Its many allusions to sight recall both the power and simple beauty is the ability to see. But the most notable achievement of Steven Spielberg’s film is how it coalesces the threads of past and future and harbors a firm grasp on the space between that is the present. At a time when commercial narrative-making increasingly leans on mythology and leads you to wonder about what isn’t there, Minority Report leaves you thinking about all that is there, even as it causes you to wonder: “Is it now?” Ted Pigeon
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People who added this item 3457 Average listal rating (2447 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 8.4
With Aliens, James Cameron swapped out the timeless lethargy of Ridley Scott’s space and the sweaty, stultifying boredom of life on an intergalactic freighter with a striking freneticism. Metal takes over, and dominates the look and sound of the film. Sigourney Weaver’s wonderful, resourceful Ripley doesn’t just continue the tough-woman role, but transforms and refines it until she out-Rambos Rambo, succeeding where the military cannot. Throughout, Cameron enjoys giving us Kubrick references: reverse tracking, especially long corridors; a kid riding a three-wheeler; human talks in alien environments; and sidewise tracking cameras discover characters and events around corners; scenes are introduced and enhanced by drums. We’re also won over by an android as logical and as humanly fallible and wistful as HAL. Aliens also shares Kubrick’s atmosphere of a desensitized future, except here feelings aren’t deadened, only heightened. It’s more Clockwork Orange than 2001: Everyone is edgy, resentful, suspicious, abusive, and their only humor is of an insulting kind. This is the ‘80s, the era of The Road Warrior and dozens of other junkyard futurism films in which human behavior has been stripped to the essentials and human emotions reduced to raw-edged anger or screaming terror. Robert C. Cumbow
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People who added this item 2591 Average listal rating (1877 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.8
Predator (1987)
For its thematic richness alone, John McTiernan’s Predator outmatches almost ever other Hollywood sci-fi action film of the 1980s. Upon first seeing the lethal, translucent creature that brutally murdered and flayed their friends and fellow soldiers, Dutch (Arnold Shwarzenegger) and the men on his elite military team unleash a flurry of heavy gunfire into the jungle, destroying much of the surrounding vegetation. It’s a powerful image, evoking the all-consuming force of American military might, and it plays, like so much of the film, on the collective fear of the unknown. The unbridled machismo of the era pervades the entirety of Predator, amplified in the form of muscular handshakes and legendary quips like “I ain’t got time to bleed,” but the mysterious, oft-invisible enemy handily deflates all that masculine energy. It’s telling that as the Predator and Dutch inevitably go mano a mano, the only lines spoken are when both ask the other “What the hell are you?” Smith
People who added this item 1708 Average listal rating (969 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 7
After using rotoscope animation to depict the world of dreams in 2001’s Waking Life, Richard Linklater returned to the format five years later for his only foray into sci-fi terrain in A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of the autobiographical Philip K. Dick novel. The visuals render Linklater’s vision of a near-future, drug-addled Southern California with breathtaking surrealistic gusto, practically evoking how the film’s collection of paranoid addicts perceives this world. Most remarkably realized by Linklater is one of sci-fi cinema’s neatest gadgets, the “scramble suit,” a full-body uniform worn at times by undercover cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) that constantly changes appearances. But it’s ultimately Linklater’s unfailing empathy for these characters, no matter how troubled they are, that matches the film’s technical prowess. While the film doesn’t shy away from a grim futuristic vision of an America that’s lost the war on drugs, Linklater’s detailing of the toll of addiction and indifference of the powers that be expresses an uncommon compassion for the casualties of such a war. Greene
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People who added this item 1775 Average listal rating (1147 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 7.9
Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga certainly wasn’t the first cyberpunk film to grapple with the existential quandaries of androids, but few films so thoroughly embody the hollow despair of a world increasingly run by androids mechanically performing their assigned tasks while increasingly wondering why they do them. There are firefights galore in Ghost in the Shell, but Oshii stages them with an eerie calm rooted in the detached, robotic perspective of the film’s protagonist, android secret agent Major Kusanagi. The slack pace reflects the mounting ennui brought on by mankind’s self-obsolescence and the budding emotional awareness of their synthetic offspring. Deepening the film’s unnerving inertness is Kenji Kawai’s score, a future-primitive work of shamanic minimalism that arrhythmically juts and ebbs with the characters’ hollow functions. Cole
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Set in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, centuries after the decline of industrial civilization, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of the Japanese master’s most rousing adventure films, shrewdly balancing its environmentalist and anti-war convictions by presenting them as different sides of the same coin. In a world overrun by giant insects and exotic, poisonous plants, humanity is its own worst enemy, caught up in an eternal cycle of endless wars that only further accelerates the degeneration of the natural world. As fiercely determined and boundlessly compassionate as any Miyazaki heroine, the young Princess Nausicaä endures as the film’s moral compass, refusing to negotiate with either side in the human conflict, instead forging her own path to address this crisis by carefully tracing its root causes to humanity’s widespread negligence. As thoughtful as it is thrilling, Miyazaki’s classic is ultimately most radical for the way it advocates revolutionary action over incrementalist compromise. Smith
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Introverted nice guy Joel (Jim Carrey) hears of an experimental procedure to erase troubling memories, and dives right in when his impulsive girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), washes her brain clean of their love-shattered relationship. Joel’s memories go backward in time from the last gasp of their love to their initial spark, but there are sideways detours along the way that take him to infancy and memories of his first childhood humiliation. James Joyce might have applauded this Phil Dick-caustic/Gnostic rendition of his Nighttown from Ulysses, with Clementine as Joel’s face-changing Penelope/Molly Bloom. Joel attempts to fight the erasure in his own mind, and the film admits early on that it’s a fight he cannot win. That he keeps on fighting anyway is the crux of Eternal Sunshine, and a breakthrough for Charlie Kaufman—writing about the human condition more than questioning our lives as self-made fictions. The fantasies of the film are more “real” than anything he’d written before, because they define who we think we are. Joel rediscovers his love for Clementine through fantasy, which is to say through his clouded memories of her. Such things are precious, and Gondry revels in that world in all its fleeting, flickering, ever-mutating joys. Kipp
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People who added this item 495 Average listal rating (296 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.6
A riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet is one of the great sci-fi stories about the relation of humans to their thinking machines. When Commander J.J. Adams’s (Leslie Nielsen) starship lands on the barren planet of Altair IV to investigate what became of a colony established there 20 years earlier, he and his crew are met by its sole survivors: Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon); his beautiful daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis); and their robot, Robby, a construct more advanced than even these 23rd-century men have encountered. They gradually discover that the doctor hasn’t, like The Tempest’s Prospero, harnessed the power of mystic natural forces, but accessed a vast subterranean technological network left by a long-dead civilization. Forbidden Planet can be rightly critiqued for its icky gender politics, but the subplot involving the space-farers’ manipulative sexual pursuit of Altaira ties into the film’s point that, for humans, at least, there’s no getting rid of the id, of escaping from our bodies into an electronic world. The film presents a still-haunting diagnosis: that the human psyche is now the weak link in the human-technology feedback loop, unable to achieve the rationality its machines demand from it, and therefore destined for breakdown. Brown
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People who added this item 1667 Average listal rating (1070 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.6
Dark City uses its whodunit plot to explore questions about the fundamental nature of human subjectivity. John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), for allegedly committing a string of murders, is being pursued by the police and a mysterious group of bald albinos in black trench coats and fedoras known as the Strangers. Murdoch tries to discover his true identity by chasing his childhood memories to their source at the idyllic seaside community of Shell Beach, a haunting vision of a sunny paradise that every resident of the eponymous metropolis has visited but to which none can return. The film, like the city that gives it its title, feels like a not-so-distant kin of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Indeed, Dark City and Metropolis are black and gray Art Deco wonderlands, though the former is a place of almost never-ending night, only occasionally punctured by sudden bursts of color, like a worn postcard of Shell Beach or a shimmering green dress silhouetted against the body of John’s impossibly seductive wife (Jennifer Connelly). While proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve, Dark City manages to be a wholly unique sci-fi noir, mining every trope of the genre to craft one of cinema’s ultimate dark nights of the soul, unraveling memory and desire to discover what makes us truly human. Ivanov
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When Hideaki Anno ended Neon Genesis Evangelion, his elaborate analogy for his own untreated depression, with a moment of calming, redemptive group therapy, the backlash he received from fans who wanted a cataclysmic climax was overwhelming. In response, Anno crafted this theatrical alternate ending, in which he brutally and unsparingly gave fans all the nihilistic chaos they could ever want. If the anime series’s finale was a psychological breakthrough, End of Evangelion is the relapse, an implosion of self-annihilating revulsion and anger rendered in cosmic terms. Religious, sci-fi, and psychosexual imagery intersect in chaotic, kaleidoscopic visions of personal and global hell, all passing through the shattered mind of the show’s child soldier protagonist. Its finale is the most fully annihilative visualization of the Rapture ever put to screen, a mass death rendered as cathartic release from the hell of existence that, in a parting act of cruelty, leaves the broken, suicidal protagonist alive to bear witness to oblivion. Cole
The slick, digitized T-1000 to the 1984 original’s grungy, analogous exoskeleton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day set the standard for modern Hollywood’s F/X-driven mega-productions and cemented James Cameron’s dystopian vision as modern science-fiction’s saga par excellence. The 1991 sequel is best remembered for the groundbreaking CGI and puppetry work that brought its liquid metal villain to life, but all that cybernetic glamour would be for naught without the film’s overreaching humanitarian concerns: the insistence that, even at the brink of self-induced extinction, mankind is still worth saving. Replicating the chase-movie structure of its predecessor (and brilliantly echoing that film in many telling details), the equally breathless T2 suggests a maestro at the helm of a full orchestra, conducting the whole exhilarating piece without a single note out of place. The film itself is something of a perfect machine, albeit one with a beating, bleeding heart to go along with its relentless apocalyptic swell, the central, unlikely nuclear family anchoring the action with genuine emotional heft, saving the world and earning our tears in the process. Rob Humanick
Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back refines the humor, romance, and turmoil of George Lucas’s Star Wars. It also moves the visual storytelling of its predecessor significantly forward, and not just in terms of visual effects. Cinematographer Peter Suschinsky stunningly renders the action across the film’s fantastical environments, the shiny contours of high-tech surfaces clashing with soot, smoke, snow, and foliage. The lensing of the climactic lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader supersedes phallic, good-versus-evil sword-thrusting to becomes a practically avant-garde show of saturated colors leaping out of shadows and smoke. The infernal spectacle mirrors this stage in the journey of Hamill’s Jedi, who’s not only literally disarmed by Vader, but endures the existential insult to injury with the revelation that this glossy and evil machine-man is Luke’s long-lost father. Of course, there will be another sequel where wrongs will be righted and disorder resolved, but as Luke howls in response to Vader’s revelation, resigning himself to an uncertain free fall into a void, The Empire Strikes Back conveys despair that’s rarely felt in a mass-marketed summer blockbuster. Niles Schwartz
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In normalizing the scientifically possible but sociologically irrelevant notion that there’s more to life than Martin Scorsese’s mean streets or Irwin Allen’s man-made destruction impulse, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is both the last great gasp of ‘60s hippie ethos and the first masterpiece of what would become an increasingly technocratic ‘80s movie-house takeover. In other words, for a film in which a man spends so much time not knowing what he’s doing or why, it’s got a lot to answer for. And though Spielberg is often thought of as the most American of directors, since when has America endorsed such strident naïveté? Or been inclined to tender trust in the unknown? In the final rapturous stretch, the spectacle doesn’t come from the scope of the mothership or the sonic density of the tonal language that the aliens share with the gathered humans, but from the sweet and unexpected reward of total trust: the scientists’ trust in the pursuit of knowledge, the common man’s trust in a greater purpose and heavenly reunion, and our trust in a filmmaker flexing his utter command of the medium. On many levels the least fashionable American touchstone of the 1970s, Close Encounters is also arguably among the few that truly offered any hope of transcending its era. Henderson
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People who added this item 1365 Average listal rating (939 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.6
The Road Warrior is a poetic action sonata of cars and leather that’s rich in beautifully composed wide shots that are designed to tickle the eye, climaxing with an awesomely inventive act of demolition-derby warfare. The last third of the film’s running time consists of a series of interlocking action stanzas that cumulatively yield one massive, astonishingly coherent set piece, yet it’s the little ceremonial details one remembers most. Particularly the prolonged shot of a leather-clad psychopath screaming as he pulls an arrow out of his arm, staring at Max (Mel Gibson) as he does so, while Brian May’s operatic metal score intensifies the mood of sadomasochistic nihilism. George Miller’s a stickler for detail and tactility; he drinks in his apocalyptic vehicles before they jump into action, charging up and circling one another, as the filmmaker understands that a fight of any sort must be reveled in, built up, transformed into theater. Breathtaking landscape shots are populated with gonzo warriors who steer their prehistoric insect-like vehicles into elaborate parades and promenades that include the flipping of switches, the clinking and clanking of chains and firearms, the beating of drums, and the elaborate assemblage of ludicrously amazing war-crafts. Bowen
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People who added this item 3506 Average listal rating (2348 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.9
Alfonso Cuarón and his small army of screenwriters drop us in London with no interest in rationalizing a society’s downfall, perhaps understanding what most of us either know or refuse to admit: that this downfall is already playing out. Soon after agreeing to secure a young immigrant black woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), with the necessary papers for her to leave the country, Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) will learn that she’s pregnant and that the birth of her child may change the face of a world whose youngest person is, after the assassination of a Brazilian teen, an 18-year-old girl. Beginning with the very unexpected death of one of the film’s main characters, in a scene that exudes the we-can-make-it panic of a Zack Snyder zombie attack, Children of Men builds and builds, like a rollercoaster rising uncertainly to the heavens, to a visionary battle sequence. This final leg, during which the sounds of war defy the screams of a newborn child and Cuarón’s camera takes on the point of view of a dog of war, chasing Theodore, Kee, and a spastic gypsy woman through the streets and buildings of a crumbling immigrant ghetto, exudes a voluptuous energy rarely seen in the movies. Cuarón’s virtuosic vision is laced with magical-realist touches (look for Kee in the playground of one scene, glimpsed through teardrop-shaped glass) and reflective of the constant flux that is the bane of so many refugee and immigrant lives. Gonzalez
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People who added this item 184 Average listal rating (101 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 7.9
Many films made in postwar Japan cinema concerned themselves with the country’s identity crisis, specifically the role of the individual within a drastically changing society. Perhaps no film of the era articulated this more chillingly than Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another, which finds the severely burnt (and slightly psychotic) Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) acquiring and wearing a high-tech, lifelike mask to wear in order to stop sympathetic souls from feeling sorry for his Invisible Man-esque bandaged face. Sci-fi is given an invigorating jolt of idiosyncrasy by Teshigahara, from the exquisite visuals (Okuyama’s mad doctor’s office is designed in a style that may be described as “B-movie modernism”), to the characters’ many and protracted discussions on how identity is perceived by others. This latter aspect even provides the film a clinical didacticism that effectively evokes Okuyama’s alienation from his own people. Like the film’s Japan, which we see to be increasingly influenced by Western culture, Okuyama drastically changes under the influence of the mask, in his case for the worst; Teshigahara exposes the slippery and fragile nature of identity, and that it’s less in our control than we’d like to believe. Greene
People who added this item 86 Average listal rating (48 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 8
If Samuel Beckett had written and directed a sci-fi film, it might look something like Kin-dza-dza! Georgiy Daneliya’s 1986 production concerns two Soviet citizens who are accidentally sent to the desert planet of Pluke, located in the galaxy Kin-dza-dza, where they meet two vaudevillian alien hobos with a barely functioning spaceship who proceed to alternately help and bamboozle our heroes as they attempt to return to the U.S.S.R. The film is Soviet cyberpunk in the era of late communism. As the protagonists struggle to adjust to the unfamiliar customs, social hierarchies, and linguistic practices of their strange new world, their experience mirrors the contemporaneous social and economic upheaval caused in Soviet society by Gorbachev’s reform policies of glasnost and perestroika. Audiences who saw the film at the time of its releases must have surely identified with the heroes’ plight, suddenly forced to adapt to a way of life different from the one they had known their entire lives. Life on Pluke might at first seem wholly alien to the protagonists’ egalitarian homeland, with its segregated society divided between high-status “chatlanins” and low-status “patsaks” and a language where all but 16 words are expressed by the term “koo.” Yet by the end, the two don’t seem so different after all. Ivanov
People who added this item 309 Average listal rating (203 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 7.6
There are B sci-fi films, and then there’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. Its premise, in which a 1950s average Joe is exposed to radiation that causes him to shrink, might suggest that the film is one of those assembly-line escapist yarns that studios were pumping out at the time. And yet director Jack Arnold and writer Richard Matheson display an intelligent artistry that takes the visual, narrative, and philosophical implications of the material to its thrilling and though-provoking fullest extent. In the span of 80 whirlwind minutes, Arnold and Matheson capture Scott Carey’s (Grant Williams) humorous emasculation when he first shrinks down to the size of a child; lightly satirize ‘50s domesticity when Scott eventually moves into a doll house; and create surreal, indelible images such as Scott exhaustively battling a spider when he becomes the size of an insect. These episodic moments lead to the film’s rightly famous concluding monologue, where the miniscule Scott philosophically ruminates on his existential acceptance of his unique predicament. In its final sequence, The Incredible Shrinking Man transcends its modest genre origins to become downright profound in its spiritually poignant consideration of the value of a single, microscopic life. Greene
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