Musings of a Geek: The Essentials – Science Fiction Movies

Musings of a Geek: The Essentials – Science Fiction Movies

by JC Craig (Planetarium Director, Schiele Museum)

A long time ago, someone told me that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. That’s especially true for those of us who are fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy. All these genres have long rich histories on the screen.

Below, I’ve made a list of what I consider to be the essential movies in science fiction (I’ll write lists for the others later). It’s by no means all-inclusive and I’m sure that I’ve missed something that you consider indispensible. Please feel free to create your own lists. My list is a starting point for discussion, not an invitation to an argument.

Despite what some people might think, science fiction wasn’t born in 1977 with the release of “Star Wars.” For the sake of this list, I’m including movies that came to the screen prior to that date.

 Number 52001: a space odyssey (1968)

It’s not the easiest film to follow. The acting is minimal and the main story is somewhat lost behind the business with the HAL-9000 computer. Still, it had a remarkable vision of a future world. It also included some of the most incredible special effects then and now.


Number 4 – Silent Running (1972)

This movie is visually stunning with some of the best use of miniatures and practical effects ever caught on film. It also has a strong story carried by solid acting from Bruce Dern and his three robot companions.


Number 3 – Forbidden Planet (1956)

What happens when someone combines Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with spaceships and laser weapons? You get “Forbidden Planet.” This movie is definitely a product of its time with strongly sexist and racist overtones (Capt. Adams’ crew is all white and male). Still it has a good story and special effects that are all the more amazing when you realize when it was made. This was the first science fiction film shot in Technicolor by a major motion picture studio.


Number 2 – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Minimal in special effects but strong on story and character, this was probably the best science fiction movie to come out of the 1950s. Michael Rennie’s portrayal of Klaatu, an alien visitor who has a message for our planet, is calm and understated. His silent robot companion, Gort, is simple yet menacing.*


Number 1 – Metropolis (1927)

This is the grandparent of modern science fiction. Director Fritz Lang experimented with visual effects to create a movie that, despite being silent, is still very watchable today. The robot Maria would look at home in one of the upcoming “Star Wars” sequels.


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*There is no remake of this film. There was a movie of the same name that starred Keanu Reaves but to call it a remake is a travesty.