AFI defines “science fiction” as a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with imaginative speculation. Whether it’s a flying saucer whirling through space or a gleaming city on a distant planet, at the core of all science fiction is the provocative question, “What if...?” Science fiction presents stories and situations that tap our brightest hopes and darkest fears about what might, one day, turn out to be true.
The list includes only narrative, feature-length films. Some spoilers ahead.
1984 • David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch based on the novel by Frank Herbert
Principle Cast: Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Kenneth McMillan, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Alicia Roanne Witt, Sean Young
Genre: Epic Science Fiction, Space Travel
A WORLD BEYOND YOUR EXPERIENCE, BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION
A much-maligned production with a controversial final cut, Dune confused many viewers at the box office looking for another Star Wars clone. Despite it's box office failure and critical backlash, the film still remains mostly faithful to the source material and delivers fantastic, if over-achieving, visuals for the time. Bonus: Watch the documentary Jodorowski's Dune for a glimpse of what could have been.
Father! The sleeper has awakened!
2013 • Sebastián Cordero
Screenplay: Philip Gelatt
Principle Cast: Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.
Genres: Space Travel, Exploration, Alien Life
FEAR. SACRIFICE. CONTACT
A found footage film, set in the future, of the first crewed mission to Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter. The crew loses contact with Earth and a series of crises continue to set them back, but a mystery of potential life found on Europa keeps the crew moving forward.
Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known... what does your life actually matter?
1984 • Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Peter Hyams based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke
Principle Cast: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea
Genres: Space Travel, Exploration, Alien Life
WE ARE NOT ALONE
Set 9 years following the events of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a combined team of American and Soviet astronauts venture out to Jupiter, the last known location of the Discovery which mysteriously disappeared in the previous film. Upon arrival, the crew detects signs of life coming from Europa...
My God! It's full of stars!
1997 • Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Philip Eisner
Principle Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs
Genres: Space Travel, Horror, Black Holes
INFINITE SPACE. INFINITE TERROR
A rescue crew has been dispatched to answer the the distress call from the Event Horizon, a starship that disappeared into a black hole and has now mysteriously reappeared. But has it returned with someone, or something, on board?
Look, if what Doctor Weir tells us is true, this ship has been beyond the boundaries of our universe, of known scientific reality. Who knows where it's been, what it's seen. Or what it's brought back with it.
1996 • Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Principal Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Vivica A. Fox
Genres: Alien Invasion
ON JULY 2ND, THEY ARRIVE. ON JULY 3RD, THEY STRIKE. ON JULY 4TH, WE FIGHT BACK.
The record-breaking blockbusters pleased audiences across not just the United States, but across the world. When aliens invade Earth, destroying major cities (and iconic landmarks), it's up to the President of the United States, an air force pilot, a crop duster and a cable repair man to save the world. Twenty years later, it's still fun, even if the whole "virus" thing doesn't make sense.
Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
2009 • James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Principal Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi
Genres: Exploration, Action, Alien Encounter
ENTER THE WORLD
Currently the biggest worldwide box office hit of all time, Avatar certainly has its share of critics. The film uses a familiar story and retreads some familiar ground with the story of a white explorer "gone native" amongst the new people he's discovered, those new people being the blue cat-like aliens of Pandora. Originally tasked to gather intel on the groan-worthily named "Unobtainium," paraplegic marine Jake Sully, under the guise of his avatar, becomes torn between his duty and his conscience. Mocked as "Dances with Smurfs" or "Space Pocahontas", Avatar must at least be recognized for breaking new ground in dazzling visual effects and motion capture imagery, and its cultural relevance as being the biggest film of all time can't be ignored.
Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream.
1936 • William Cameron Menzies
Screenplay: H. G. Wells Based on The Shape of Things to Come by H. G. Wells
Principal Cast: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle, Margaretta Scott
Genres: Dystopian futures
A HUNDRED YEARS AHEAD OF ITS TIME
An epic science fiction film, whose story spans 100 years, was written by HG Wells himself as a response to the film Metropolis. Written before World War II, the film "predicts" the future in which a second world war erupts and lasts, not just for years, but for decades. In the dust a rational and logical society eventually rises from the ashes and attempts manned space travel.
If we don't end war, war will end us.
1966 • Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), Jerome Bixby, Otto Klement (Story), David Duncan (Adaptation)
Principal Cast: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence
JOURNEY INTO THE LIVING BODY OF A MAN
In order to save the life of an important man, a CIA Agent and a team of scientists is shrunken to microscopic size and injected into the man's body. Their mission? Destroy a blood clot in his brain. Featuring revolutionary Academy Award winning visual effects, this imaginative film was intended as a "Jules Verne"-esque style adventure.
The medieval philosophers were right. Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there's no limit to either.
1972 • Douglas Trumbull
Screenplay: Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, Steven Bochco
Principal Cast: Bruce Dern
Genres: Space Travel, Post-Apocalyptic
EARTH'S LAST BATTLE WILL BE FOUGHT IN SPACE
All plant life on Earth is dead, and the remaining flora and fauna are on a large spacecraft, looked after by astronaut Freeman Lowell, played by Bruce Dern. The crew of the spacecraft gets orders to destroy all the plants and return home. Lowell refuses, killing his crew and takes the ship deeper into space to protect the plants. The film is an acting showcase for Dern, who only has three robots (Hewey, Dewey and Louie) to keep him company as his character enjoys the solitude of "nature." Soon, he gets word that a "rescue crew" is coming for him, and he only has one option left.
Look on the wall behind you. Look at that little girl's face. I know you've seen it. But you know what she's never going to be able to see? She's never going to be able to see the simple wonder of a leaf in her hand. Because theres not going to be any trees. Now you think about that.
1973 • Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Stanley R. Greenberg Based on Make Room! Make Room! (1966 novel) by Harry Harrison
Principal Cast: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson
Genre: Dystopian Future
WHAT IS THE SECRET OF SOYLENT GREEN?
At this point, it's not a big secret to film fans as to what Soylent Green actually is. However that doesn't stop one from enjoying this pulpy early 70s sci-fi thriller where Charlton Heston tries to unravel the mystery of the mass produced green substance. In this near-future set film, Soylent Industries provides an overpopulated planet with its product, Soylent Green, which supposedly contains all the nutrients one needs to consume. But what is the dark and sinister matter of which it is composed (Pssst. It's people.)
You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You've gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people! We've gotta stop them somehow!
1971 • George Lucas
Screenplay: George Lucas, Walter Murch
Principal Cast: Donald Pleasance, Maggie McOmie, Robert Duvall, James Wheaton
Genre: Dystopian Future
THE FUTURE IS HERE. STAY CALM.
George Lucas' first foray into science fiction was not Star Wars, but in fact, THX 1138, a feature based on his short film of the same name. The film takes place in an uncertain future, where the population is controlled and emotions are regulated by an oppressive government. Two mindless drones, THX 1138 and LUH 3147 stop taking their daily dosages and start feeling emotions again, especially towards each other. They plan an escape, but will they work. The 1984 influence is strong in this one, and it's a far cry from the space opera fantasy that Lucas would become known for 6 years later.
Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.
1973 • Michael Crichton
Screenplay: Michael Crichton
Principal Cast: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin
Genre: Dystopian Future, Western, Artificial Intelligence
WHERE NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG
In an undetermined future, The Delos Company offers the realization of the wildest fantasies of rich vacationers. Medivalworld, Romanworld and the titular Westworld provide realistic settings with lifelike robots to completely fulfill the fantasies. But when a gunslinger robot in Westworld malfunctions, it soon goes on a killing spree and wreaks havoc throughout the amusement park. The Gunslinger, played by Yul Bryner in one of his final roles, is based on his role from The Magnificent Seven and even wears a similar costume.
We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment. Almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they have been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work.
2001 • Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Ian Watson based on the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss
Principal Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Genre: Artificial Intelligence
JOURNEY TO A WORLD WHERE ROBOTS DREAM AND DESIRE
The human race has become so advanced that they have created human, lifelike robots (mechas) to serve them in their everyday needs. When a young couple's son is stricken with a life-threatening disease, they adopt David, a mecha that is programmed to be a little boy and love his mother eternally. However, when the couple's son is cured, they quickly discard David, feeling he has served his purpose. What follows is a sci-fi fairy tale, in which David teams with Gigolo Joe, a sex mecha, to find the Blue Fairy to turn him into a real boy so his mother will love him again. Originally developed by Stanley Kubrick before he passed away, Kubrick handed over the reigns to Spielberg, feeling his sensibilities would be a better fit for the film.
You are neither flesh nor blood. You are not a dog a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific like the rest of us... and you are alone now only because they tired of you... or replaced you with a younger model... or were displeased with something you said or broke. They made us too smart, too quick and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us.
1984 • Michael Radford
Screenplay: Michael Radford based on the novel by George Orwell
Principal Cast: John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Cyril Cusack
Genre: Dystopian future
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
The world has been divided into three states following an atomic war. Oceania rules its citizens with extreme monitoring and has complete control. Winston Smith is a mindless bureaucrat, whose main function is to rewrite history that is constantly in flux. But when he falls in love with Julia, he commits a major crime. Released in the same year as its title, Radford brings Orwell's vision of a dystopian society to fruition on the big screen in perhaps the best film adaptation of the classic novel. John Hurt and Richard Burton in particular put in fine performances.
This is our land. A land of peace and of plenty. A land of harmony and hope. This is our land. Oceania. These are our people. The workers, the strivers, the builders. These are our people. The builders of our world, struggling, fighting, bleeding, dying. On the streets of our cities and on the far-flung battlefields. Fighting against the mutilation of our hopes and dreams. Who are they?
1997 • Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay: Ed Solomon Based on The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham
Principal Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn
Genre: Aliens, Secret Government Agencies, Action, Comedy
PROTECTING THE EARTH FROM THE SCUM OF THE UNIVERSE
A shadowy organization of men in black suits has been secretly keeping the world safe from alien menaces for decades. Now, after his partner was "retired", Agent K is on the lookout for his replacement and finds it in a tough New York City cop. The newly christened Agent J is taken on an on-the-job training exercise as he and his new partner track down a rogue alien threatening the world's safety. After the success of Independence Day, Will Smith dove headfirst back into the sci-fi action genre, and ramped up the comedy as well. Still a fun movie, despite its terrible sequels, the film succeeds based on its fish-out-of-water story and the undeniable chemistry between Smith and Jones.
You know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look GOOD.
1966 • François Truffaut
Screenplay: Jean-Louis Richard, François Truffaut Based on Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Principal Cast: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack
Genre: Dystopian Future
WHAT IF YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO READ?
In the future, firemen do not come to your home as saviours to protect you and your loved ones. On the contrary, firemen come to your home to destroy books on sight. Guy Montag, the hero of our story, begins to question his duties as he destroys ideas that could lead to an independent, free-thinking society. Montag falls in love with a rebel book-hoarder, Clarisse, and begins to read the banned material, setting his mind free. Montag must now decide if he will run, knowing full well the consequences if his government ever finds him. Based on the 1951 masterpiece by Ray Bradbury, this was Truffaut's first color film and the only film he ever made in English.
Behind each of these books, there's a man. That's what interests me.
1931 • James Whale
Screenplay: Francis Edward Faragoh, Garrett Fort, Robert Florey, John Russell; Peggy Webling (Play); John L. Balderston (Adaptation); Based on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Principal Cast: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff
Genre: Horror, Monsters, Playing God
THE MAN WHO MADE A MONSTER
The most well-known adaptation of Mary Shelley's immortal work. Dr. Henry Frankenstein believes he can give life to dead flesh and creates a man to prove his theory, instead he gives birth to a monster. One of the first books and films to really start blending genres. Whale (through Shelly's work) used elements of science fiction and horror to create the monster, and his "birth" scene is still one of the most memorable in film history. The movie spawned dozens of sequels, interpretations and imitators, but the original remains the standard classic.
Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE! Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!
(Later Retitled as STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI)
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)