Six New Films That are Now Sci-fi Classics (and a Few That Aren’t)

(click to enlarge)

Words can’t quite explain how excited I am that Prometheus is coming out this year. I’m hoping it’s both a return to form for Ridley Scott and the blockbuster sci-fi genre as a whole, which needs to keep growing as technology gets more and more powerful and the stories get more involved.

I got to thinking about the films that have been released recently that would be considered actual sci-fi “classics” the way Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner were. The same goes for Star Wars, ET, Predator, Terminator, you know the list.

So I went ahead and made some picks of what will and will not be considered classic sci-fi in the future. No superheroes, and nothing over ten years old, so no Matrix and Gattaca here. Check out the list for yourself below:

Sunshine (2007)

I love Sunshine. I try and show it to everyone I know, sci-fi fan or not, because It’s just that damn good. Danny Boyle is a master in any genre he attempts, and his first voyage into space produced perhaps my favorite film on this list.

Sunshine is sci-fi at its hardest. No aliens and the only real villain is human error. Yes, it has third act problems when it introduces an ACTUAL bad guy, and the film morphs into Jason Goes to Space for a little while, but it doesn’t negate the excellence that came before it.

The sun-centric film has powerful visual imagery that will stay with you long after you see it, and draws terrific performances out of its cast with actors like Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans better than we’ve ever seen them. Who needs aliens to make a good sci-fi flick?

Moon (2009)

Moon is another hard sci-fi project, also free of extraterrestrials. Well, it’s free of people altogether really. It’s about the seemingly mundane task of a lonely moon miner tasked with harvesting rock and shipping it back to earth.

It’s more of a character study than anything else, and Sam Rockwell is a one-man show that deserved an Oscar for his performance here. He plays every part in the film, but you’ll have to see it to truly understand what that means. Kevin Spacey voices a robot, GERTY, who might be one of my favorite movie sidekicks to date.

The film is sad and far from action packed, but it’s a phenomenal debut from Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son who went on to direct Source Code, which has made him 2 for 2 in quality films.

Minority Report (2003)

This is a bit on the older side at this point, but it’s within the ten year range in 2003. It’s from Steven Spielberg, who is behind half the sci-fi classics that inspired this list, and it shows that he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to the genre. War of the World and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull aside.

No aliens, and not even space travel, but the movie is perhaps the most well-executed vision of a plausible future I’ve ever seen from a technology perspective (outside of the whole psionic beings predicting murder thing).

Tom Cruise does a great job here, as he usually does given good material, and it’s a movie I can watch an endless amount of times and still enjoy.

Inception (2010)

It was a toss-up here between this and The Prestige, but I think that despite the fact that I like The Prestige better, you don’t really know that movie is sci-fi until the end.

But Inception rather is clearly such from the get-go. It might be more of the non-traditional variety, and might even be classified as a psychological thriller instead, but the technology the film is based around is definitely science-fiction, and I think it deserves a spot here.

Christopher Nolan created an exceptionally nuanced plot with stunning visuals and some of the most complicated scenes ever filmed (the spinning hall fight for one). Once he’s done with Batman, I hope to see more films like this.

District 9 (2009)

Finally, aliens! I thought District 9 looked sort of awful when I saw trailers for it. It almost looked like a joke, and with no budget and no famous faces, few took it seriously.

But once the film came out, everyone could see they’d been wrong. It was a fascinating story about a stranded alien population, and the effects looked quite good for it having about 10% of the budget as a traditional blockbuster.

The aliens were cool, their weapons were cooler, and the story was probably the best part. Add in an unexpectedly great performance from the human lead, the unknown Sharlto Copely, and we could the next great sci-fi franchise on our hands, if only they’d get around to sequel.

  • Rob

    Paul, if you liked Primer you should check out Timecrimes as well. They are the only two movies that really do time travel well, in my opinion.

  • Rosstopher

    I think Hunger Games needs to be on this list. After reading the next few books and knowing whats ins store, I believe it will be the highest grossing trilogy in history, and better actors are on the way for the next two installments

  • @Rosstopher: It won’t be a trilogy. It’ll be four films

  • japjay

    I agree with the list, for the most part. I think Primer is a classic, although not by the standards of the others. I guess you do state “its not a ‘true’ classic”. Maybe I’m just sticking up for the film.

  • Jake Fortner

    The only thing I agree with on here is District 9, and MAYBE Moon. The others either fit into cult film, or just sci-fi films people seem to like. Although, in your mentioning of sci-fi films that are already classics, you mentioned Predator . . . have you seen that movie? It’s definitely not a classic, and I would be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks so. Cult film? That’s even pressing it. It’s not very good, and the only reason people like it is mostly for the design of the monster. Alien and Aliens are classics, they’re both higly regarded among sci-fi fans and critics alike, and they are incredibly put together and tense.

    As for your not list . . . er, Primer might be a classic one day. It doesn’t seem like it, but then again, there are a lot of indie films/ foreign films that are much harder to watch/understand, and Primer is really well regarded among fans and critics alike, and is still mentioned often as one of the best sci-fi films of all time.

    Inception will go the way of the cult film because it’s almost become some sort of joke (the film sort of rips off of Paprika and The Matrix, and the plot is essentially just Chris Nolan explaining his idea for 2 and a half hours; literally, once he’s done explaining to us how all of it works and showing us what happens when this this and this happens, he ends the film, without resolution – which, I get was a gimmick – but the lack of resolution shows an already serious lack of plot development.)

    Haven’t seen Sunshine, but I do really like 127 Hours and 28 Days Later, and LOVE Trainspotting from Danny Boyle, so I’ll get to it, but later career Danny Boyle has dissapointed me . . .

  • trashcanman

    Not sure you’re suing the word “classic” properly here, Tassi. Classic doesn’t mean “personal favorite”, it means an enduring accepted popular standard of excellence. If you have to recommend a film to all of your friends, you can’t really call it a classic. If it’s a classic, odds are they’ve already seen it. Alien is a classic. Blade Runner is a classic. And yeah, folks will remember Avatar who have already forgotten Moon (assuming they even saw it, which they probably didn’t). Even bringing up Avatar’s rehashed plot works against your premise. Why has that plot been rehashed so many times? Because it’s classic. Like Star Wars. The difference between Star Wars and Avatar is that in the 70’s, when something became a cultural phenomenon, everyone hopped on board. It’s a different era now and the “cool” thing to do is relentlessly bash anything that has had the success Avatar has had. The original Star Wars trilogy would not stand a chance if it had been released in these cynical conditions. And why would you say that Avatar isn’t any good outside of the theater when you already admitted that you haven’t seen it again? The extended cut is fantastic. EVERY film benefits from the theatrical experience, but that doesn’t necessarily make them all any less good or bad.

    Oh, and Inception (while entertaining) is overrated and was plagiarized from a fucking Donald Duck comic (yes, seriously, look into it) and contradicts it’s own ridiculous made-up rules a few times to boot. Definitely not a sci-fi classic by any stretch. It will be forgotten in a decade or so. Some really good picks on this list, though. Just not necessarily classics in the true sense so much as just great films. Prometheus is going to kick our asses.

  • Joe

    Avatar was a fantastic movie, but I don’t understand why people thought the 3d was good. There were a few parts that were cool in a gimmicky kind of way, but i’d really rather save myself a headache and appreciate it in 2 dimensions.

  • jasiri160

    screw you for taking a crap all over the star wars prequels. that is all.

  • Jim

    Don’t listen to any of the comments above. I agree with this list 100%. The ones you listed will endure, the rest will be forgotten.

    That’s what he means by “classic” people.

  • mark

    I will still watch Primer in 10 years

  • Shoggoth_King

    Very interesting list! I don’t agree 100%, but I think it’s a solid idea and it’s obviously generating a heated discussion.
    I have an idea for another list: Directors who should try making sci-fi films (but who never have or never did) and WHY they should try sci-fi. Prime example? Michael Mann. I’ve always wanted to see a Mann sci-fi. He creates the most complex, so-real-they’re-surreal settings for his characters (I expect Looper to be as close as I’m going to get). Another would be Nicholas Refn. He’s come very close with Bronson and Valhalla Rising and their themes of alienation and identity; I’d love to see him tackle a little space opera (can you imagine if he got to make a Dune movie? Holy shit!). Anyway, just a thought. Keep up the good work!

    ps: Timecrimes should absolutely NOT be on this list. Good call.

  • Joe

    No Children of Men? Your argument is invalid.

  • Amy

    Please tell me that the only reason Frequency wasn’t on the list was because it was made in 2000?!

  • Kandice

    What Jim said.

    I think the only thing that I wouldn’t agree with is Moon, but I wholeheartedly agree on everything else. I think a classic is something you HAVE to see if you’re a fan of that genre. It’s something that everyone has seen and will remember and/or reference. And I think that pretty much everything on this qualifies (though I would add Avatar, it isn’t very rewatachable, but if you haven’t seen it in theatres, it’s still pretty engrossing to see it for the first time).

  • David

    You should check out Cargo + Renaissance

  • David R

    @ trashcanman
    “If it’s a classic, odds are they’ve already seen it. Alien is a classic. Blade Runner is a classic.”

    You wouldn’t believe how many of my friends I’ve had to introduce to those two movies, ESPECIALLY Blade Runner.

    Moon is definitely a legit choice. It’s not an insanely popular movie, but the list isn’t about popular favorites or all-time classics. It’s about sci-fi classics. Moon is only going to gain popularity among the sci-fi crowd, and it’s already a movie that shows up on 90% of lists like this.

    The Thing is a genre classic, but was nowhere near a hit when it came out. Moon’s never going to go out of style.

    I personally can’t get with the notion that Sunshine is a great movie (a good one, sure), but I understand that a whole lot of people consider it that. It and District 9 are “maybes” for me in terms of lasting value. Star Trek won’t be forgotten, if only by virtue of the series as a whole.

    Minority Report has already made its mark in some ways. I hope it’s considered one of the greats as years go by, because it’s an easy entry into my top three sci-fi movies of all time.

    I do think Inception is another “maybe.” It hasn’t had a lot of lasting value for me, but it’s a pop culture staple at the moment. I’m curious to see how it’ll look in twenty years.

    Also, as an aside, War of the Worlds is awesome. Not perfect, but awesome. Some of the coolest imagery of the past decade in that one.

  • Look

    I agree with the list but I agree with joe that children of men should be there too.

  • How did Equilibrium not make this list?

  • Going to have to agree to disagree on District 9. I felt like I had my intelligence insulted at several points. Wasn’t impressed by Moon or Children of Men either. Need to see the rest on the list, but just haven’t been happy with sci-fi for a while. Been reading instead!

  • Korky

    I think of the Star Wars movies as fantasy, not sci-fi.

  • Minority Report was an ok film with terrible directing. Most of the time you could not hear the dialogue as there was way too much background noise (main example, the opening with the kid rabbiting on means you cant hear the parents talk). Plus the shotgun/blaster thing where clearly designed to make Thom looks cool, but are not practical at all.

    Aside from the futuristic UI he uses, I don’t understand the hype for this poor film. One of Spielberg’s worst films.

  • Bob Loblaw

    I gotta agree with the people saying most of these films won’t be classics. While I enjoyed most of the films that I’ve seen here, that doesn’t mean they’ll be remembered the same way years from now.

    The only definite sci-fi classic would be Children of Men, which you didn’t even mention. I don’t know if Primer and Moon will be considered a classic, it might be more a cult favorite.

    @ Rosstopher LOL No. Plain and simply, no.

  • Nick D Pags

    I think you’re downplaying how much Sunshine got fucked up by the third act.
    There was just no reason for it.

  • If we are going by popularity, most people don’t like “Sunshine”. It might be one of your personal favourites, but that doesn’t make it a classic in the eyes of anyone else. Look, I love the “Masters of the Universe” movie (which did pretty well making nearly 2 million dollars more than “Legend” in the US and 5 million more than “Labyrinth”), but I’m not about to call it a classic.

    I think “Star Trek” is a pretty good choice, but only if they make a sequel. It’s either the successful reboot that reinvigorated the Star Trek movie series, or it’s a random one-off blockbuster movie that was quite fun at the time. We gave the first one a lot of credit for successfully reintroducing us to the Star Trek universe, but if that was the only story they had to tell it’s not really so impressive.

    One film I’m surprised not to see on your list is Pixar’s “Wall-E”. Unlike Andrew Stanton’s attempt at live-action sci-fi, “Wall-E” captured the real awe-inspiring side of science fiction movie-making. It’s a real classic.

  • @Shoggoth_King
    While Timecrimes was an interesting take on the time travel story, I thought there were problems. It seems to me that it’s an impressive debut from the director, but not a classic sci-fi. So yeah, agreed.

    Nicolas Winding Refn adapting Dune? Wow, that is quite a cool thought.

    That being said though, did you know that he’s going to adapt Logan’s Run? I’m pretty excited for that… 🙂

  • Minority Report is a terrible movie and a poor adaptation of a Philip K. Dick book.

  • Pingback: Kate Upton, Science Fiction Classics, and 15 Amazing Roles Almost Played by Nicolas Cage | Brand New Cool()

  • Allen Kerensky

    SUNSHINE … was SOLAR CRISIS, again.
    It was okay, and has a die hard following of people who only recently began watching sci-fi, but it was mostly watchable and forgettable, especially since I’d already seen it years before.

    MOON – dead on. This film does in $5mill what most films can’t do in $50mill. And, its soundtrack alone is better than most whole movies.

    MINORITY REPORT – I wasn’t impressed, and that was before Tom Cruise went off the deep end. Another PKD story sliced and diced into something barely resembling its origin. And, frankly, Steve Spielberg and sci-fi shouldn’t mix. AI was proof of how badly he can saccharine up an otherwise good movie.

    INCEPTION – you’re probably right… likely a classic that grows its audience over time. But… maybe not. I saw it and wasn’t tempted to go any “deeper” with it. You should have stuck with your gut and went with THE PRESTIGE – it was a hugely more entertaining movie, and just because it doesn’t advertise as sci-fi means nothing. Universally, everyone sits the last scene, picks themselves back up off the floor, and immediately thinks they need to rewatch it to get all the clues they missed. Most folks even say so “now I gotta watch that again!”

    DISTRICT 9 – can take or leave it – but it got an audience that may grow over time.

    STAR TREK – well.. duh. Even the haters had to see it to validate their hate. As long as there are conventions, this movie will have arguing camps. Classic Trek, at least…

    I haven’t seen PRIMER so, skipping.

    Totally agree on Star Wars prequels being forgettable.
    AVATAR was worth the big screen watch to see the bar set for 3D, but everything else about it was barely warmed over rehash, done better in hundreds of anime and previous movies.

    Some I’d maybe add to the list:
    SERENITY – was classic before it was even made, only got better once it was.
    TRON LEGACY – undeniably found its audience and will continue to.
    The same with JOHN CARTER despite the flop trolls.

    THE THING (2011) will inevitably take its place as the “warm up” act for THE THING (1982) and many showings of either will become double features of both from now on.

    Another one that I think will continue to gain audience over time is PANDORUM, if even as a guilty pleasure when you’re rounding out your sci-fi horror romps.

    And finally, I think IN TIME was missed, and like GATTACA will find a much more widespread place than most initially expect.

  • kevin

    great list and i agree with all except district 9 (which was ridiculous and not a good movie) and sunshine (which i thought was a cool concept but just a so-so movie)

    its too bad there aren’t more sci fi movies that aim to be straightforward and not campy sci fi.

    children of men should def not be on this list as its not really sci fi and a terrible movie at that.

  • Pingback: Five Directors Who Should Make a Sci-Fi Movie |()