back to article Ten serious sci-fi films for the sentient fan

Zap guns, robots, lightspeed-smashing spaceships and bikini-busting princesses do not real science fiction make. Just ask George Lucas. Star Wars defined movie SF in the mind of many a mainstream viewer. But while the film and its sequels and, er, prequels certainly provide the sci-fi enthusiast with thrills a-plenty - guilty …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Silent Running

    You put Zardoz in there but missed Silent Running?

    Zardoz is terrible. Watched it a few months back and aside from some neat ideas and imagery its actually one of the worst films I have ever seen. A film so bad it actually hurts.

    It's essentially takes what would make a good Doctor Who or Blakes 7 story and turns it into the longest 100 or so minutes of your life.

    I wanted to like it, there of bits of it that I think are really quite good, but it's just a confused po-faced mess that gets worse as the movie progresses.

    That said, you can pick Zardoz up for pennies on Amazon so if you are interested in such things (as I am) at least you don't have to pay through the nose to get a copy. Think mine literally cost me a few pence + the postage!

    1. Smallbrainfield

      Re: Silent Running

      Ha ha ha, the unfortunate image of Connery in his thigh high boots and 70s underpants is burned onto many people's retinas.

      I can't watch Silent Running any more as Bruce Dern's murderour eco-tool character is such an idiot. Why are the flowers dying, Bruce?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why are the flowers dying, Bruce?

        I thought that was making a serious thematic point about how separated from nature humanity had become, not just suggesting that he was dumb.

        1. Smallbrainfield

          Re: Why are the flowers dying, Bruce?

          Hmm, I used to think he missed the obvious answer because he'd gone bonkers.

    2. FartingHippo

      Re: Silent Running

      FWIW, I always found Silent Running a bit mawkish. I do like the fact that the robots were so small they to use amputees to operate them, though.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Silent Running

      Fully agree. Silent Running is true sci-fi, reflecting upon the beginnings of environmental consciousness in the contemporary world through the medium of a futuristic story.

      Plus of course provided the template(s) from which R2-D2 was drawn in Huey, Dewey and Louie.

      1. BorkedAgain
        Thumb Up

        Re: Silent Running

        ...Although I did find the question of how his dickish shipmates ever landed a job, let alone a job in Space, something of an unanswered mystery...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Silent Running

        Huey, Dewey, and Louie now available in paper

    4. Efros

      Re: Silent Running

      There is always Charlotte Ramplings boobs!

      1. Nightkiller

        Re: Silent Running

        Er..Aren't you thinking of The Night Porter with Dirk Bogarde? She never did a nude scene after that one.

    5. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Silent Running

      Silent Running was on the shortlist, but was ultimately rejected for making the author blub like a gurlie when he was eight.

      Actually, it's not a bad film and would have made a longer list, if a tad mawkish.

      Mind you, I can forgive Doug Trumbull for this, his directorial debut, because of the bravura special effects work he would later do.

    6. Aldous

      Re: Silent Running

      With Eco being the latest trend watch for the remake:

      All male cast? nope lets get Miss blonde hair silicon stick insect in the main role

      Silent Droids? Hell no where would be the merchandising? one has to wise crack, one be clumsy and one romantically confused over miss silicon

      Corporate telling them to dump the gardens? Nope, make it the UN and the gardens are the last pieces of 'Murica that are not radioactive

      Then add in a few whizz bang special effects (maybe they can send some spitfires after the ship this time! and the droid-blonde love thing and we have a movie!

      Hollywood i await my cheque!


      Re: Silent Running

      Silent Running is overrated and painful to watch. It's also feels terribly dated and hokey based on when it was made and especially silly given the real horticultural preservation going on right now planet side.

      Zardoz is also a bit painful but it seems to be a valiant effort.

      What really seems out of place on the list is the first Star Trek film. It's basically one of the old original episodes dressed up with a lot of fluff to make it go on for a feature length run time. That makes it a failure as film making and not so interesting intellectually either.

      The first Star Trek film needs to be sterilized.

    8. NomNomNom

      Re: Silent Running

      "You put Zardoz in there but missed Silent Running?"

      What's a bobsleigh team got to do with Sci-Fi? am I missing something??

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Zardoz is terrible.

      Maybe.... but there's boobs in it.

    10. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Silent Running

      Agreed. Zardoz is as bad as Barbarella. Neither would be on anyone with a brain's list of top-10 Science Fiction movies. Many movies such as Silent Running, Moon, etc that didn't make the list are vastly better.

    11. Jnemo

      Re: Silent Running

      +1 on addition of silent running.

      Also, no Soylent Green?

      1. Neil 30
        Thumb Up

        Re: Silent Running

        +1 for Silent Running - it made me cry too

        +1 for Soylent Green - Soylent Green is people

        But what about Akira - or are we keeping away from Anime?

        1. Richard 120

          Re: Silent Running

          I read the list, I too immediately thought what about Silent Running? It always seems to be missed out on lists of this nature.

          It's the only sci-fi film I've known that can make people cry.

    12. sabba

      Re: Silent Running

      Damn, you beat me to it. I was going to mention Silent Running. Excellent film.

  2. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    Wot, no Avatar?

    OK joking aside, great list.

    Forbidden Planet has always been a favourite of mine. Always amazes me how it doesn't look particularly dated considering its 1956 vintage.

    1. Silverburn

      Re: Wot, no Avatar?

      I watched it last week. Again. Awesome.

      In addition, I have every film here, including the missing Silent running. And all the other Ape and Trek films. And Dark Star. And Ghost in the.

      All are watchable, but above all, Zardoz should be avoided at all costs.

      A thought occurs...I have too many Sci-fi movies.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no Avatar?

        "A thought occurs...I have too many Sci-fi movies."

        I don't have nearly enough. I have far to many horror films, though.

        Actually, I have far too many films.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Silverburn (Re: Wot, no Avatar?)

        Ah yes, Dark Star. I've never looked at beach balls quite the same way since.

        Let there be light.

        1. Richard 120

          Re: @Silverburn (Wot, no Avatar?)

          We were discussing Avatar the other day, and the technology behind it, most specifically how the "synch" is happening between the host and the controller.

          Ultimately we determined that it must be akin to SMS, but with some serious bandwidth.

          Or alternatively, tripe.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Tom 13

        Re: Zardoz should be avoided at all costs.

        I concur. It wasn't even bad enough to make the list for our college SF club's Top 10 Bad SF movies.

        Although I have since seen one that was even worse. Some soulless twit had transferred a video copy to commercially released DVD. And unfortunately for him, the previous soulless twit who transferred the film to video had the reels out of order. We knew it was transferred from video because at one point you could see the video tape scroll line roll up the screen. Yes, these were the memorable things about the plot. That, and that it somehow revolved around using guns that looked like 1970s hair dryers.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Wot, no Avatar?

      I remember seeing Leslie Neilsen interviewed about his career. One of the things touched on was Forbidden Planet. He said that he thought he had it made when he did that. He was the hero, he got the girl, the reviews were good and it sold well. Pretty much everything an actor could ask for to endorse their credentials as a box office draw in a lead role.

      He said he sat back and waited for the phone to ring. It never did and to this day he still wonders why it didn't.

      I'm with him. I thought he was bloody brilliant in it.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no Avatar?

        I couldn't believe it was him when I saw Forbidden Planet. first film I saw with Leslie Nielson in was Airplane, then all the comedy offerings he was in over time, Police Squad, Naked Gun etc. I thought comic roles was all he'd done, shame, Forbidden Planet is cool.

        And what's wrong with Zardoz? Granted it really doesn't fit in with the others on the list, you wouldn't sit down for a 'marathon' sci-fi film session and watch 2001, Close Encounters and then Zardoz. It would be like setting your musicplayer to play several classical music albums and then an album by Space Cat or Eat Static.

        Fantastic Planet is a good film too, a Surrealist story based on the Soviet Occupation of Czechoslovakia. It, I think, like Zardoz doesn't so much ask questions so much as answer them in a language we've yet to learn... (either that or pass me the bong!)

        Moon is another recent 'thoughtful' Sci-Fi movie, andd I too think Silent Running should have been on the list.

        Frankly, several lists would have been better, Dystopian Visions: 1984, Gattaca, Blade Runner, Soylent Green

        First Contact: Contact, 2001, Close Encounters

        IT gone mad: Colossus the Forbin Project, Android

        Mind Expanding: Fantastic Planet, Zardoz,

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: Wot, no Avatar?

          "I couldn't believe it was him when I saw Forbidden Planet. first film I saw with Leslie Nielson in was Airplane, then all the comedy offerings he was in over time, Police Squad, Naked Gun etc. I thought comic roles was all he'd done, shame, Forbidden Planet is cool."

          He was also in the original version of the Mel Gibson film "Ransom."

          I think he plays the role taken by Gary Sinise.

          The first film I saw him in was a TV movie from the 70s as a disgraced US Army office planning a large military payroll robbery. For me all the comedy stuff came later.

      2. SteveCarr

        Re: Wot, no Avatar?

        Yes, no Avatar - a grossly over rated over hyped piece of twaddle! Seen through eyes other than those blinkered by American myopia, it is trite, sentimental codswallop!

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wot, no Avatar?

      Avatar - Dances with Aliens ...

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no Avatar?

        And there's the issue: Avatar is *not* a science fiction film.

        That is: it's undoubtedly a film (even if you ignore the ridiculous and overhyped 3-D) and there is *some* science - but if you take the science away it's no more than a 'let's build an oil well/mine/factory/whatever over the objections of the locals'.

        A science fiction book|film can only be one in which the film fails if the science is removed - for example, Gattaca, The Day The Earth Stood Still, or Blade Runner... there's a lot more science fiction in print than we're ever likely to see in film, particularly when instead of science fiction we get extruded comic book product...

        And Avatar had such potential... consider: every animal shown in the film had six limbs, with the sole exception of the smurfs, who had only four. And yet the smurfs had the same tentacle thingies to do the mind control of the animals... Mr Average Science Fiction Fan thinks to himself... okay, given that there's no obvious evolutionary route, the smurfs are obviously an introduced species. The ability to communicate is obviously engineered... so who engineered it, and why? And then the film turns into a humans bad, aliens good spiel with not even a glimpse of this fascinating stuff... meh

        1. Philip Edwards

          Re: Wot, no Avatar?

          There's a pretty strong sic-fi element in the Avatars themselves. The ability to put your consciousness in to another body, cloned or otherwise, could be incredibly relevant in the near future. Would full-body replacements be available to the public if they could afford them? Would it be possible to transfer minds completely from body to body? Is immortality the next step for the super-rich?

          As for the difference between the Na'vi and the other creatures in the area, just look at the huge difference between humans and other various animal and insect species on Earth. It's unlikely that the Na'vi are related to the animals of Pandora for the reasons you list. However, it's not impossible.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Wot, no Avatar?

            Avatar = Pocahontas = Not SciFi.

            In 1607 (2194), a ship carrying John Smith (Jake Sully) arrives in the lush new land of North America (Pandora). The Settlers are mining for gold (uranianium) under the supervision of Govenor Ratcliffe (col john quarty). John Smith (jake sully) begins exploring new territory, and encounters Pocahontas (Neytari). Initially she is distrustful of him, but a message from

            Grandmother Willow (the Tree of Souls) helps her overcome her trepidation.

            The two begin spending time together. Pocahontas (Neytari) helps John (Jake) understand that all life is valuable and how all nature is connected at a circle of life

            Furthermore she teaches him how to grow crops (tame dragons) and of her culture. We find that her father is Chier Powhatan (eytucan) and that she is set to be married to a Kocoum (Tsu Tey), a powerful warrior, but whom Pocahontas (Neytari) does not desire.

            Over time John (Jake) and Pocohontas (Neytari) find that they have a love for one another. Back at the settlement, the men who believe that the natives are savages plan to attack them for thier gold (uranium). Kocoum (Tsu Tey) tries to kill John (Jake) out of jealousy but he is later killed by the settlers. As the settlers prepare thier attack, Jake is blamed by the Indians (Navi)

            and is sentenced to death. Just before they kill him, the settlers arrive.

            Chief Powhatan (eytucan) is killed and John (Jake) sustains injuries from Govenor Radcliffe ( col quaritas) who is then brought to justice (shot with arrows) Pocohontas (Neytari) risks her life to save John (Jake).

            John (Jake) and Pocahontas (Neytari) finally have each other and the two cultures resolve thier differences. The End! (stolen from the web)

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: Wot, no Avatar?

        "Avatar - Dances with Aliens ..."

        I think the less kind version was "Dances with smurfs"

  3. Smallbrainfield

    Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.

    I've never watched it all in one sitting.

    Have to agree about Star Trek, it's my favourite Trek film (providing you fast forward through the 'look at the cool spaceship' scenes).

    What about 'Moon'? That's a corking modern science fiction film.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.

      Moon is very good, but was nudged out of the final list. Would definitely be in a Top 15 or Top 20.

    2. VinceH Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.

      "What about 'Moon'? That's a corking modern science fiction film."

      Yes. I saw that for the first time a month or so back, and promptly kicked myself for not having seen it sooner! A definite corker.

    3. Andrew Moore Silver badge

      Re: Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.

      I loved Moon, it had the faint touch of Solyaris about it...

    4. Graham Marsden

      Re: Moon

      Whilst Moon was interesting to begin with and had excellent visuals (apart from people moving like they were in 1g when they were on the moon in 1/6th of a g!), IMO it explained itself too quickly and then ended in a fairly commonplace manner after a potentially good start.

      [Possible spoilers in the next couple of paragraphs...]

      I felt there could have been a lot more done with the "paranoia" aspect of "is this real or not" scenario and GERTY being helpful by giving Bell the password struck me as a convenient plot device which, given that it wouldn't answer his questions previously, didn't seem credible.

      Also one thing that I didn't follow was that (presumably) the girl he hallucinates at the start is supposed to be the one who is now 15, but how did he know what she looked like as he wouldn't have had memories of her?

      A nice idea, but flawed execution.

    5. Blastodon
      Thumb Up

      Re: Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.

      yeah moon was awesome. I was going to comment about it but you mentioned it first. Sunshine is another good one.

      1. The Indomitable Gall


        Sunshine was an excellent spectacle, and a great attempt to revive the "endeavour sci-fi" genre, but two problems:

        A) it was fairly light on the "human nature" side of things -- the baddie in Sunshine wasn't much of a clear analogy of anything. To be fair, a lot of endeavour sci-fi is lacking in this respect, and often they do descended into chase movies in a metal box.

        B) the only reason we left the cinema impressed with it was the sheer scale and spectacle of it. I loved it. I said to a friend how much I loved it. He criticised the ending. I realised he was right. The film was really well crafted, and it perfectly generated willful suspension of disbelief, which excuses a really nonsensical ending only as far as "good entertainment", but not to the point where it can be considered "excellent sci-fi"....

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: Sunshine...?

          "and it perfectly generated willful suspension of disbelief, "

          Sorry but a space the size of a soccer stadium depressurising through a door sized hole won't evacuate in 8 hours. WTF

          Like the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves (who sounds like an alien anyway), great imagery but not enough plot.

    6. Tom 13

      Re: Have to agree about Star Trek, it's my favourite Trek film

      Are you and the author DAFT?!?!?!?

      There's a reason Trekkies call it "The Motion Sickness." It was 110 long, boring minutes. The original show did better with less money and less time. Vger was an obvious Nomad ripoff even when the movie was released. Some damn fool making another "what would Ed Wood have done if only he'd had a budget' movie. Yes after 20 years we all went to see it because we were starved for something new and birthed the series again. But if you're picking an original crew Trek movie it's obviously Wrath of Khan.

  4. FartingHippo

    Missed one

    Plan 9 From Outer Space. A masterpiece of futurology.

  5. oddie

    came into the comments just to lament the lack of 'moon', and then saw it had already been lamented :) if anyone reading this has never seen it then do so; then wait a week and watch it again... its a different movie the second time around, and surprisingly just as enjoyable.

  6. joeW

    Obligatory "What, no...?" comment

    What, no Akira or Ghost In The Shell?

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Obligatory "What, no...?" comment

      Oh, definately "Ghost in the Shell". Required watching that.

      Original DVD version played on a decent upscaling player is the way to go. Downside is that you don't get the sumptuous soundtrack of the HD remaster, upside is you get to see all the artwork rather than most of it and some CGI.

      This is one that must be watched in Japanese with subtitles. Whoever did the Motoko free-diving soliloquy in the English dub should go back to flipping burgers for a living.

      If you like that, the two "Standlone Complex" spinoff TV series' are also well worth watching. As it happens I've just finished watching the whole lot.

      1. Rob
        Thumb Up

        Re: Obligatory "What, no...?" comment

        Ditto. Took me awhile but I found all the original soundtrack albums as well to add to my collection, particularly fond of the 2 SC soundtracks.


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