So I’ve always wanted to talk about my favorite films of all time, but have never been able to narrow it down to a top ten or even a top fifty films. The more movies I watch over time, the longer my list of favorites grows as my personal taste expands. But I think I have found the best way of approaching this daunting task and that is by writing about my favorite films by genre. Not only the overarching genre, but also the sub categories that reside within the mainline genre. To start this series off, I’ve decided to talk about possibly my favorite genre of films: sci-fi.
For this genre, I’ve broken it down to the following types of films: escapism, guilty pleasures, realism, social commentaries, and the underrated. The rest of the blog-posts in this series will follow a similar format. First, let’s look at my favorite escapism in the sci-fi genre.
For escapism, the most important element is that you get to go from reality and escape to something completely out of this world. Something that is totally distant from our life. Some favorites in this first category are Alien (1979), Back to the Future (1985), Predator (1987), and Terminator 2 (1991). These are all great sci-fi films that take you to places unexpected and are thrilling from start to finish. Whether it’s the 1950s, the 1980s with time-traveling robots, or even going to space to fight a chest-burstin’ alien, these films take you onto great escapes into the unknown. They’ve got action, suspense, and tons of memorable moments.
Yet my favorite sci-fi escapist movie and also my favorite movie of all time is none other than Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). It’s got everything you need for a killer sci-fi flick and is in my opinion the gold standard of escapist sci-fi films. It’s action-packed, filled to the brim with fun characters, and has a great story that takes you all over a galaxy far, far away. It’s the perfect escape.
Now like any genre, there are those films that are not so good, but we still watch them because of some obscure reason. These are the guilty pleasures that you know are either straight trash or a mixed bag of a movie, but you still love watching them anyway for who knows why. A few of my favorite sci-fi guilty pleasures are AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Tron: Legacy (2010).
The latter only for its sick Daft Punk soundtrack and the lit special effects. Outside of that, it’s your run-of-the-mill generic sci-fi flick with a pretty bland story. Oh, and why AVP: Alien vs. Predator? Because I literally only watch the aliens and predators fight each other and skip through the rest of the movie. Besides that, it’s the definition of a dumpster fire.
There’s even Terminator Salvation (2009), which should have been great yet still failed to be anything beyond eye-candy with its awesome action scenes and cool sound design. Although, of all of my guilty pleasures in sci-fi, none is a greater guilty pleasure for me than Michael Bay’s The Island (2005).
From its wacky plot about cloning humans to its sun-soaked action scenes, this movie is guilty pleasure sci-fi filmmaking to a tee. There’s also the excessive amount of references to peeing, which is strange in itself throughout the entire movie because it’s somehow integral to the plot. I don’t know. I like it and you might too. It’s not that good, but boy is it a fun sci-fi guilty pleasure to watch!
For this subgenre, all of these films take an idea grounded in reality and push it past its logical limits, while trying as hard as possible to maintain some sort of realism. Films such as Limitless (2011), where Bradley Cooper takes a pill that unleashes his brain’s full capacity. It takes a simple premise and uses it to an engaging advantage for what is a pretty good movie.
There’s even the space-driven sci-fi films that aim to replicate what outer space is really like for better or for worse like Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015). What makes these films so good is the fact that despite how amusing or terrifying the story might be, the stakes feel even higher than usual due to them being much more realistic.
But in my mind, nothing comes close to entertaining and realistic sci-fi quite like Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010). It’s both brilliant and subdued. Rooted in a fascinating idea and then goes to a whole other level as the plot unfolds. As you fall deeper into the levels of dreams, what is and isn’t real becomes a lot harder to discern. It’s bold, intelligent, and is most definitely my favorite realistic sci-fi film.
Here we find what might be considered the most heady and emotionally tugging sci-fi films. The ones that cause us to feel and think in ways we might not have before. The films that challenge our beliefs and are sometimes a direct mirror of the times we live in as a species.
When it comes to social commentary sci-fi, some of my all-time favorites include movies like Interstellar (2014), Metropolis (1927), and Snowpiercer (2013). Three films dealing with the similar idea of survival. Trying to make it in a world no longer suitable for us humans or at least for those of us that are not so fortunate. With the use of sci-fi elements, these three films take drastically different approaches on how we would react in similar situations. The various social-economic struggles, the philosophical conversations, and even how they choose to visualize this universal desire to adapt in spite of the worst conditions is what makes these types of films stand the test of time.
Likewise, movies like Arrival (2016) and The Matrix (1999) deal with different types of problems within our modern world like the invasion of our privacy, questioning reality, or even how time affects us. In the spirit of all of these big ideas and confronting our societal struggles head-on, none of these films has affected me more than War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). This, along with the entire Planet of the Apes franchise, has always had the unique perspective of directly addressing bigotry, racism, and xenophobia unlike any sci-fi films that I’ve ever seen.
From the warring factions of apes versus mankind to the delicate reflections on what makes humans human, this movie delves deep into some of the biggest questions that modern day humanity has to deal with now. With its allusions to socialist regimes of the last century to the harsh treatment of minorities during the early years of America, this film speaks on so many subjects and yet nails every single one of them. It’s a modern masterpiece and is my favorite social commentary sci-fi flick.
Not all heroes wear capes and not all films get the attention that they deserve. These are the underdogs. The odd ones out that for some reason or another, don’t get the credit they deserve. Some of these personal favorites include Minority Report (2002) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). These are films that while good, never seem to get enough attention, in my opinion.
Another underrated movie that I think is pretty fun is I, Robot (2004) starring Will Smith. A movie that follows a detective (Smith) as he tries to solve the suicide of the founder of U.S. Robotics, but believes that a robot is actually the culprit behind the whole crime. It’s got an uneven tone and the third act is really dumb when compared to the rest of the movie, but it has a heart to it thanks in large part to Smith’s great performance and the fun mystery of solving the crime.
Although, my favorite underrated sci-fi movie is Equilibrium (2002). In a post-Matrix world, this at first glance appears like a cheap rip-off of the whole slo-mo kung fu that would define the next two decades of movies. Yes, it has bland production design, some poorly written dialogue, and uninspired cinematography, but this film works because the story concept is just so fascinating and the acting ensemble sells it as best they can with what they’re given. Speaking of casts, this one is kinda loaded as it stars Christian Bale acting alongside the likes of Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen, Sean Bean, and William Fichtner. It borrows heavily from George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as the film is centered on a world where emotion is illegal, along with all things that provoke said emotions. It’s a gem and I’ve grown up always appreciating it as a diamond in the ruff.
In short, my favorite sci-fi films are as follows by subgenre:
So those are just a few of my favorite sci-fi films. I couldn’t talk about all of them, but this should give you an idea of what sci-fi films interest me most. Next time in this series, I’ll go over my favorite war movies. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!