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November 16, 2010


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Ian W. Hill

Yeah, it's the kind of list that anyone with strong opinions about SF can (and will) argue about, but it is indeed solid and definitely entertaining -- only two films on there I can't stand (MARS ATTACKS and THE OMEGA MAN) and a handful of others that I don't like, but understand why others do -- but all outweighed by the love given some deserving and often-forgot faves.

Maybe you could get them to illustrate your writeup on INVADERS FROM MARS with a shot from the one you're talking about and not the remake. Not your fault, I know.

Matt Miller

I bow to no man in my love of David Foster Wallace's work (our host excepted), but his critique of T2 in "FX Porn" is probably the least convincing argument he ever made (and I don't even like the film that much). A significant chunk of his argument is about how Arnold didn't want to play a bad guy, and how that resulted in the kid-and-robot humor and ridiculous "thumbs up" ending. And I don't think that he's persuasive in pinning that decision on the FX budget--I think it's much more a result of Arnold pandering to his increasingly family-friendly screen image.

Oh, and the list was a great read, and generally in line with my tastes. STARMAN being my only "really?" moment.


I think that T2 stuff is more a result of James Cameron sucking.

Matt Miller

Rereading the essay for the first time in a couple of years, I see that Wallace did acknowledge the Arnold thing. Somehow I misremembered the argument. My bad.


My main complaint is about the mandatory slide show. Is there a way to read it without needing to click through 50 pages? I'd like to scan the list and only read about some of the films in detail.


I concur with Ian W. Hill's observation: Omega Man and Mars Attacks stick out as bad movies in the bunch. How about substituting those for something mindbending from Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the shell or Avalon), some modern 'hip' stuff like Donnie Darko / Children of Men or stone cold classics like Eraserhead / Stalker? Otherwise enough stuff to keep me busy, and I love all the write-ups and food for thought you've crammed in there!

Lord Henry

Good stuff!

I'd have put MAN FACING SOUTH-EAST in there somewhere, though.

Castle Bravo

How did the #1 film of all time wind up only the #2 sci-fi film?


If we can forgive Ozu an excruciatingly didactic and incongruous cameo by Chishu Ryu at the end of 'The End of Summer', we can certainly forgive Cameron Arnie's thumbs-up at the end of what I regard as the 'Godfather Part II' of sci-fi blockbusters.


For fun and pure visual delight I liked Men in Black and The Fifth Element.

Didn't like the forced 50 page march either. I was on a slow computer that got lost a half a dozen times and I had to backtrack 1 or 2 movies to be able to move ahead. Then at number 4 the thing locked up and I had to shut the browser down. Fortunately I could restore my last session and didn't have to start over.


@Oliver - Even if I was willing to forgive the thumbs up, I wouldn't be willing to forgive "why do you cry?", and all the similar stuff that makes me double over in agony.

Besides which, "If we can forgive Ozu [blank] then certainly we can forgive James Cameron [blank]" is just a completely odd construction.


"So, yeah, to each his own."


I had the same problems with the 50 page slideshow.

Otherwise great list. Loved to see the underrated Mars Attacks over there. And the great Starship Troopers so high on the list. I was only missing Children of Men and Robocop, you know, for a Verhoeven trifecta.


@Oliver - Touche'. Sorry if I sounded dickish.

Tony Dayoub

Great list, and I understand why personal favorites like LOGAN'S RUN, MINORITY REPORT, or the '78 BODY SNATCHERS didn't make it. But please tell me you simply forgot to include the original PLANET OF THE APES. Or can you please explain your thinking behind leaving it out?

Robert Karol

Can I also say, content is good, but the actual slide-show is a pain to navigate through.

Johan Andreasson

Great fun reading this list! I also miss PLANET OF THE APES. And is this list only for feature length films? Otherwise I would have included Clair’s PARIS QUI DORT.

warren oates


Matt Miller

If we're at the naming omissions part of the show: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.


Blade Runner is my favorite film of all time, so I'm glad (and a bit surprised) that you rated it number one.


My theory on the slide-show format is that it is used to generate more forced page clicks and boost ad revenue. And with a feature like "50 greatest sci-fi films of all time" it's pretty much guaranteed to get a whole boat-load o' clicks. That's gotta be it, right?


That was a very enjoyable read, Glenn. Thanks! Was BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER considered? That's a personal favorite.


Some comments:

(1) Strictly speaking, aren't the Frankenstein movies science fiction? They are science fiction in the 1810s, but still science fiction.

(2) Are comedies disqualified from being science fiction? Because I would prefer "The Man with Two Brains" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to many of the choices. Is that also why there's no Joe Dante?

(3) In the category of post-apocalyptic world, I'd put "Delicatassen" first, but what about "The Quiet Earth," "The Road Warrior," or "The Last Battle"?

(4) I'd also like to second the absence of "Stalker," "A Clockwork Orange," "The Fifth Element," and "A.I." Also, no "Twelve Monkeys," "Wall-E" or "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"?

(5) Some comments on Ridley Scott. First off, unlike Kubrick, Scott's two films combine a gorgeous visual style with a striking lack of common sense. I mean, I know the Company are a bunch of bastards, but you'd think that a ship the size of the Titanic could shell out for an escape pod that could hold six people. (You'd also think they'd put the ship self-destruct mechanism right by the pod.) As for the replicants, you'd think that if you created super strong beings who could snap like your neck like the proverbial twig, you'd find a safer and more reliable way of detecting them than having them submit to a half-hour questionnaire. Second, the "humanity" of the replicants strikes me as flawed. There are good reasons why the machines in "2001" and "A.I" develop feelings. In the first case, scientists are trained to be unimagainative bureaucrats, so they're not paying attention to HAL until it's too late. Inn the second Pr. Hobby realizes that thinking robots can make him rich. But there's no reason why the Tyrell corporation should give Rutger Hauer a soul, while many of Dick's musings on the subject show paranoia.

Third, I would say that Scott has a great cast in "Alien" and largely wastes it. I would say that not only does he do a poorer job than Sidney Lumet in "Murder on the Orient Express," but also poorer than John Guillermin in "Death on the Nile." Not only Finney and Ustinov make superb Poirots, but Widmark, Bacall, Gielguld, Connery, Roberts, Hiller and Bergman in the first film and Niven, Smith, Farrow and Lansbury are better. Fourth, has anyone noticed that "Blade Runner" has much the same plot as "Angel Heart," which in turn has much the same plot as "Oldboy"?


Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451. For years I've loved this despite its faults. Now I don't think it has faults. Truffaut did some amazing things in a London film studio in 1966. A great film. Strangely this and his other supposed bomb MISSISSIPPI MERMAID have turned out to be only two that have really stood the test.


Glenn, now that I'm finally on a computer on which I can read this whole list, I have to say...this is one crazy list. I'm flat stunned that you didn't include AI. I remember it was your review in Premier that convinced me to ignore the "it's a disaster" contingent, and didn't you say something along the lines of "This is the best-directed film of Spielberg's career"? I think you may have. Tastes change, and all that, but boy I sure think you were right the first time. (But ET does, indeed, still work like a dream.) AI is also one of the few pure SF movies we've gotten in the last, I don't know, 40 years, a distinction it shares with 2001 and BLADE RUNNER, which are both about true SF concepts -- they're films whose stories can't be translated into some other genre. INDEPENDENCE DAY can replace the aliens with Commies, tweak a few story points, and Bob's yer uncle. AI and BLADE RUNNER and 2001 are science fiction, or they're nothing.

One of the pleasant surprises of this list was SERENITY. Very strong piece of entertainment.

Glenn Kenny

Well, I knew you guys would set me straight on a lot of things. Truth to tell, you do enough of these lists (and we did a lot of them at Premiere) and you get kind of philosophical, so as to avoid going insane. If you've got room for 50, you need to have 100. If you have room for 100, you need room for 150. Eventually you realize that 50 is 50 and that's that. I wish I could pinpoint the moment in the process when I knew that "A.I." was going to have to make room for something else, and the precise logic that led to that; I do remember it was relatively early in the project. I still love it, but what are you going to do?

A lot of the other omissions involved trade-offs. I love both "Stalker" and "Solaris," but couldn't have both, so I went with the outer-space one. Fassbinder's "World on Wire" is great, magnificent, but it does seem a wee bit perverse to put it on a list that's going out to a very mainstream American audience which, at this particular point in time, has very little way of actually SEEING it. And so on.

The other thing about lists like these is, no matter how many times you go over them, no matter how many back-and-forths you have with knowledgeable people so you can cover your ass and make sure you're not forgetting some movie that's actually VITALLY IMPORTANT, you WILL in fact just plain forget AT LEAST one movie that's VITALLY IMPORTANT. And yes, here that would be "Planet of the Apes." To which I can only say, "D'oh!"


The lack of foreign films (only Solaris, and over the superior Stalker?), especially anime, is disheartening.

Miyazaki's Nausicaa is one of his best, and better than most on that list. Someone else mentioned Oshii but also there's Otomo and then from France you have Rene Laloux, who should have been represented with Gandahar or Fantastic Planet.

Nice to see Soderbergh's great Solaris, but I doubt I'm alone in missing Gattaca as well when it comes ot the modern stuff. Or what about Dark City? Forgive me if I sound like a snob, this list sure had a lot of old-school shlock that seem more like guilty pleasures than serious intelligent works in the genre.

Glenn Kenny

"Forgive me if I sound like a snob..." OK, you're forgiven.

But seriously...I actually have to say, I'm a long-time, on-the-record non-believer in the "guilty pleasure," and genuinely like and have no problem standing up for a lot of the "old-school schlock." Furthermore, when it comes to genre material, I sometimes tend to consider "intelligence," such as it is, to be frequently overrated. I've never had a problem with purely sensationalistic cinema, and if the sensations are good enough, I don't really mind dumb all that much, as long as it's not overtly messing with me. Which is one reason I continue to enjoy Lang's "Metropolis," in spite of its being one of the most overtly dopey films of ANY genre. And while I wouldn't call myself an anti-intellectual, as it happens, I WOULD take "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" over the portentous, self-conscious slog of Significance "Gattaca" any day. "Dark City" is a bit of another matter. And I love the Laloux films and have written about them elsewhere. And again, to include them I would have had to have gotten rid of something else. And then I'd have somebody complaining, with as good if not better reason, about the absence of, say, "Quatermass and the Pit."


"Which is one reason I continue to enjoy Lang's "Metropolis," in spite of its being one of the most overtly dopey films of ANY genre."

I have to admit that, while the restoration has added a little more coherence/follow-ability to the plot, a few entertaining scenes (anything with the Thin Man is gold), and perhaps a little balance to the whole messy structure, my main reaction, when I went to see it, was that the thing had become unbearably long. I guess I've never been able to take action films (I've never even seen more than ten minutes of a Terminator, Die Hard, or Michael Bay movie), and that's what it really is. As crazy as I'm sure it will sound, I actually prefer WOMAN ON THE MOON. I wouldn't make any great claims for it, but the way people talk about that film you'd think the only worthwhile part was the rocket launch. It's more like an inessential but frequently quite effective variation on ideas from SPIES and the Mabuse films (the pre-launch part), followed by the launch itself, which is pretty stunning, followed by a paranoid, claustrophobic variation on the classic "several people who hate each other trapped together on a long trip" theme. Visually it's up there with any of his German films.

warren oates

What I'm missing most in the big list is low-tech low-fi sci-fi--the minimalist "hard" science fiction of ideas. Just about the only one that qualifies is ALPHAVILLE, which I was happy to see made it. For me, science fiction as a genre in literature and film is first and foremost about ideas. So that when I come across a book or a film that manages to foreground the ideas with a minimum of special effects or spectacle, something like LA JETEE or STALKER or PRIMER, I'm even more impressed by it than by a scaled-up masterpiece like 2001. NEVER LET ME GO, shortcomings and all, kind of did it for me this year.

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