Top 10: The Crow’s Top 10 SF Movies

SF is my genre. It’s where I come from, and it’s where I will go to. Some of my earliest memories feature my mum telling me bedtime stories starring my favourite transformers because fairies and kings and queens just didn’t do it for me. Floating in the same space are images of Star Trek: The Next Generation from a time when I still had a thumb in my mouth and couldn’t take flap-flap to the sky.

It was from then on that I became destined for SF. Over the years, as I took to writing as a serious craft, and improved in it, my material began to drift away from what most would expect from SF. But it’s never left me. Underscoring every idea I put to paper, or type into a screen, is the spectre of science fiction.

SF pervades all forms of media, and movies are no exception. The following is a list of this Crow’s top 10 live action SF movies (never mind the header image).

As always, the Unified Rules shall be in play. An additional rule I shall be using is that only one movie by any single director shall be considered.

Another thing I should mention is that SF films which veer too close to other mainstream genres such as horror or action shall not be considered (bar one very glaring instance right at the end).

6-10

Note: Some of these movies were difficult to pick. After having selected Children of Men as my fifth and final nominee for the Top 5 bracket, I was at a bit of a loss. I’ll try and point out which ones were hard to pick between as they come.

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]

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Oh, the big grand-daddy of SF. How close you were to being left out.

I typically have never included 2001 outside of my “honourable mentions” section, but this time, I’m going to make an exception. We are, after all, talking about the Top 10 SF movies of all time, and to leave this one out would certainly be criminal. A little vague, but majestic in the scope it covers, 2001 certainly holds its own as the most significant SF movie of all time. Interstellar, in my opinion, has done a fine job of updating this type of movie with a more specific set of parameters, and for that reason more than others, 2001: A Space Odyssey finds itself in the bottom half of this list.

District 9 [2009]

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District 9 is another movie I found difficult to place. Ian McDonald has for years written SF novels and stories set in places where the genre typically isn’t set. District 9 is a film from such a place. It’s a metaphor for attitudes toward refugees, for apartheid, and for issues very present in South Africa to this day. It’s hard not to get caught up in the narrative of our protagonist – Wikus – as he stumbles through the plot of the movie. Equal parts action, comedy, and body-horror, District 9 is above all, a SF film. And a bloody good one it is.

Donnie Darko [2001]

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This selection manages to divide people I know (among some other oddball contenders I’ve mentioned in certain circles), but in my mind there is no question. Donnie Darko manages to pull of a high concept in a tightly-wound, limited setting. The questions it poses, like many films on this list, are of time, love, interpersonal interactions, and our personal place in the realm of possibility.

All you need to know is this:

28 days 6 hours 42 minutes 12 seconds

Moon [2009]

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Moon is by far my favourite movie by Duncan Jones, and very likely the only film by him that I like (a massacre of Warcraft is already in the works). It’s hard to speak about this movie without admitting that I had a hard time elevating this into my top 10. However, that said, I’ve always thought that Moon has been a strong contender for my top 10 SF list. It paints a picture of loneliness, of thankless duty, and of longing to be elsewhere – only to be convoluted through a series of strange occurrences before finally being interrupted by a final, cruel twist. It’s not just a fine SF movie, but a fine movie in all respects.

The Matrix [1999]

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Oh, how I woe this choice. I’ve always had a problem including The Matrix in my top 10 SF list, but its sheer significance dwarfs most others on this list, bar perhaps 2001. While inspired heavily by the excellent Ghost in the Shell, and equally heavily watered-down in comparison, The Matrix captured the minds of a whole new generation of SF fans, and set off echoes in pockets of fandom that had never existed before. It’s the film I consider to be the tombstone of cyberpunk – a genre I myself like to think I come from, and it certainly is worthy of that honour.

Top 5

Blade Runner [1982]

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There is certainly no question that Blade Runner belongs on this list. Marred only by the confusion arising from the multiple cuts of the movie floating around in the strange world of cinema production, Blade Runner shows film making at its finest. The pacing is baby-bear right, the visuals are gorgeous, and the storytelling is masterful. However, what the movie excels the most at is the art of adaptation. Philip K. Dick is one of my favourite writers, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is certainly a brilliant novel, but to translate it into a movie would have been a monumental task. Blade Runner makes all the right changes and selections, and manages to render those parts with flair.

Children of Men [2006]

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Perhaps the “weakest SF” movie on this list, Children of Men, while a far cry from the original novel by P. D. James, is by far one of the most spectacular pieces of movie making I had seen at the time, and continues to be so. Cuarón’s direction is slick and focussed. All the brutalities of the world the movie presents are laid bare sans shame, and the performances match it perfectly. The story it tells explores a field of SF scarcely found in big-budget movies, and it presents us with questions which reach far beyond the content of the film. I consider this film a must-watch. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out.

Interstellar [2014]

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Oh, how difficult it was to pick a Christopher Nolan movie. The other contenders vying for a place against Interstellar were Inception and The Prestige (a movie adapted heavily from a novel by another of my favourite authors, Christopher Priest*). In the end, Interstellar is the purest SF movie by Nolan, and there can be no question about its position above the other two contenders.

What do I mean when I say pure? In this case, I mean SF grounded mostly in what is possible right now. While this is an issue I’ll address at another time, Interstellar has a reverent approach to contemporary science up until the point where it ventures into the unknown. And for that reason, along with it being both a worthy successor to the 2001: A Space Odyssey and a rollercoaster of a story, it belongs high in this Crow’s Top 10.

Primer [2004]

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Primer‘s a movie I find criminally underrated. Do low budgets and a lack of polish make a film any less worthy of note? No. Primer is by far the film I love the most when it comes to an aspect of SF I generally avoid: time travel. It’s not as “hard-to-get” as people like to say, if one watches it all the way through with an eye for the characters and what they’re up to. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly not impossible to understand. It’s clever, it’s concise, and it delivers a heck of a punch.

And, of course, this mention would be incomplete without mentioning the excellent Upstream Color, also directed by Shane Carruth.

Solaris [1972]

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It’s again difficult to choose between Stalker and this movie. However, as much as I adore StalkerSolaris edges it out just slightly by being the film that trespasses into the realm of SF just that little bit further, and because it’s the film that led to Stalker thanks to Tarkovsky’s doubts that Solaris did its job. I consider, however, that Solaris did its job just fine.

Honourable mentions

  • Dark City
  • The Abyss

* I had a very interesting conversation with Mr Priest a couple of years ago in reference to the movie. Don’t trust all you read on the internet, is all I’d say.


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16 thoughts on “Top 10: The Crow’s Top 10 SF Movies

  1. Great list and no bullshit here. I love that you didn’t just include big blockbusters, but rather smart and sensitive movies. I totally agree for the most of the list, but…

    Maybe Arrival could replace Interstellar, even if both are great. I just love Villeneuve’s approach (I saw almost all his movies), he is more sensitive than Nolan. But Interstellar was an amazing film, expanding horizonts.

    I don’t really like Primer though, there were better independent movies about time travel and the moral discussions like here, but it seems to divide the audience pretty easily.
    Coherence, in my opinion, was a brilliant take and is absolutely worth watching for any sci-fi fan. I’d love to see your review on it as you often make good movie analysis.

    Have you seen Stalker? It was another important movie by Tarkovski. Solaris is also a timeless masterpiece, but I think Stalker managed to embrace even bigger themes…

    And what about Metropolis and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? No honorable mention? 😦 Ex Machina?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I don’t see Interstellar being replaced any time soon 😛 That movie speaks directly to me. I do, however see it getting a spot on my anniversary list this year.

      Now, I haven’t actually watched Coherence, but it’s been on my to-do list for months. The same applies to Ex Machina. I’ll get around to them soon, I promise.

      I LOVE Stalker. It came down to a choice between it and Solaris, and I had to do a double-take since there was no way I couldn’t have mentioned it. My reasons for picking Solaris are up there. I said this:

      “It’s again difficult to choose between Stalker and this movie. However, as much as I adore Stalker, Solaris edges it out just slightly by being the film that trespasses into the realm of SF just that little bit further, and because it’s the film that led to Stalker thanks to Tarkovsky’s doubts that Solaris did its job. I consider, however, that Solaris did its job just fine.”

      Personally, I don’t rate Invasion of the Body Snatchers close to the Top 10. Top 20, maybe.

      And now we get to the big one: Metropolis.

      We actually have a ~15000-word draft for a comprehensive review of Metropolis lying around for MONTHS. It’s written by a close friend who fought me for the rights to review Metropolis since it’s her favourite movie.

      The thing is, it needs a LOT of work. This thing is not a review. This is a book about EVERYTHING to do with the movie. It’s very well-written, but is a little TOO tangential at points. When she fought me for the right to do this in my stead, she also disallowed me from mentioning the movie in my posts, because she wanted to be the first.

      Now, since she hasn’t really completed it or worked on it in forever, I’ve actually mentioned the movie elsewhere on this blog already. But you’re correct. Metropolis’ sheer ambition and influence puts it dangerously close to the top 10.

      I might ask her to continue, or hand the whole thing over to me.

      Fun fact: one of her favourite books is Roadside Picnic, which Stalker is based on.

      Like I mentioned earlier, I will be doing an anniversary post this year, expect to see a few changes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Then it would be good to see your reviews for these 3 movies! 🙂 Roadside Picnic was good. The Strugatski’s were incredibly influential, although I never really digged into them.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was at Loncon 3, so it’s been a while (I was such a novice back then). Long story short: I ran into him as he was walking back to his hotel, and got caught up in a 30-minute 1-on-1 conversation (he’s one of my absolute favourite authors — this whole walk was magical).

      I’d met him multiple times before, but never for this length of time. First time we met, he gave me some VERY valuable advice.

      Near the end, I noticed that the then-girlfriend had NOT followed us and I had no clue where she was so I had to turn back (I hadn’t actually noticed). I’m pretty sure Mr Priest made a joke about her existing in the first place, or I might be adding that myself.

      It started with a ‘whoa’, and me telling him I was his biggest fan, to which he of course replied something along the lines of ‘I’ll have to kill you’.

      Now I was quite drunk, and it was some time ago, but the highlight in respect to The Prestige was when I asked him what he thought of the movie, since it was generally considered that he really liked it from what I’d read at the time. I don’t remember the entirety of the conversation, but at one point, his exact words were “I fucking hated it.” Now, I’m pretty sure he said that he did think Jonathan and Christopher Nolan had done well with the movie, but I don’t want to put words in his mouth as to the exact reasons why he hated it.

      Another thing that might be of special interest to you: he mentioned that The Glamour (which might just be my favourite novel by him, though I find it hard to choose between his work) ALSO had a much smaller-budget film adaptation in the works. It hasn’t worked out yet, so long after he told me. Now, he mentioned the name of the person working on it and what they had done before, but I don’t clearly remember. The latest person attached to the project was one Hollis Doherty from the States, but I don’t know if that’s the name he mentioned that night.

      We spoke about a lot more, but this is me meeting one of my top 3 authors, so I was in complete fanboy mode and trying not to be stupid, so I had a lot on my mind.

      Like

        1. SO many examples out there.

          Another anecdote involving Mr Priest: While I never spoke to him about this, he had a bit of a misunderstanding with Michael Caine that came up around the time The Prestige was released. It was a completely random thing that he had no idea about. I just can’t for the life of me remember where I read it.

          What I remember is: Michael Caine was a bit weird to Mr Priest once, and Mr Priest had no idea why. It was something to do with a mix-up (I think) in a book written some years ago.

          Liked by 1 person

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