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The Best Science Fiction Film of All Time?

So, it's been thirty years since we first saw STAR WARS. Hard to believe.

Amidst all the hype and hoopla of this anniversary, I keep seeing people calling STAR WARS "the best science fiction film of all time." Uh... really? I don't think so. The original STAR WARS was a good movie, and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was even better (Leigh Brackett wrote that one, so there's good reason), but RETURN OF THE JEDI went downhill, and you really don't want to get me started about those three wretched prequels. Even the original triad hasn't aged as gracefully as one might have hoped. It has become apparent that much of the charm of the first movie came from the novelty of seeing favorite tropes from classic SF books realized on the screen for the first time... but that charm wears off on repeated viewings, and once it does you realize that neither the story is, well... not all that it could have been. You also realize how much retrofitting and backfill has gone on since the movie's first release. I don't care what Lucas says, I will never believe that Darth was meant to Luke's father from the outset, or that the romantic pairing was always supposed to be Leia and Han (it is plainly Luke and Leia)... and damn it, Han shoots first!

Never mind about all that. STAR WARS is what it is, and it had a profound effect on both SF and on film, for both good and ill... but it is not even close to being the best SF movie of all time.

What's better? Try 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Try THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Try the first ALIEN, or even better, ALIENS (but never mention the third installment in my presence). Try CHARLIE (the film version of the classic "Flowers for Algernon"). All worthy. Try George Pal's wonderful adaptation of H.G. Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS (a better film than the Spielberg remake, in my opinion), or Pal's version of THE TIME MACHINE (a MUCH better film than the really truly abominable recent remake).

The best, though?

MGM, 1956. Leslie Nielson, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robbie the Robot. FORBIDDEN PLANET. Also known as the Tempest on Altair-4. Inspired by Shakespeare, in turn it inspired Gene Roddenberry, who borrowed heavily from it when coming up with STAR TREK. State of the art special effects (for 1956, admittedly), gripping story, some fine performances (especially by Walter Pidgeon, whose performance as Morbius beats anything ever seen in any of the STAR WARS films). Unlike STAR WARS, this is a film that only grows richer every time you watch it. A monster that makes sense, characters with a little psychological depth, science that isn't just empty technobabble, a sexy heroine, a tragic hero, the awesome caverns of the Krel... FORBIDDEN PLANET has it all.

Winner and still champion.

The best science fiction film of all time.


( 141 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 31st, 2007 01:47 pm (UTC)
I find it telling how Alien to the power of 3 must not be spoken of in your presence and yet you don't even acknowledge the existence of Alien: Resurrection (and rightly so).

My personal vote goes for Aliens. It was my first sci fi movie ever and it had a profound effect on me. You know, besides the nightmares.
May. 31st, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
Why are there no votes for Spaceballs? -pouts-

May. 31st, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC)
I wholly agree and thank you for making the point, sir.
May. 31st, 2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
Yay Netflix
I concur, and now runs to Netflix to add "Forbidden Planet" to my queue.
May. 31st, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
Sith Lords
While I agree that the Leia/Han romance was probably added after the first movie, I just want to say this about the whole "I am your father" issue: in Dutch, the name Darth Vader translates literally as Dark Father. I think you have to give the point to Lucas on that one..... : )
Jun. 8th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC)
Re: Sith Lords
Yep, I agree on this one. Also if you read Joseph Campbell (which George Lucas did too) it seems clear that the son much challenge the father to complete his journey. Leia was never meant to be her brother though "Good Luck" - kiss - ew!
May. 31st, 2007 05:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, Alien/Aliens forever! I love the dark realism (or whatever you call it) and Ripley is a great character.
Recently I liked Will Smiths; I Robot. Although I have never read the book so not sure how it maches up..
Jun. 1st, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
I Robot
I Robot is a collection of short stories about Robots. I don't recall one that was similar to the movie. But the movie did draw upon the three laws of robotics and was a sci-fi mystery in the Asimov tradition.

Re: I Robot - fireballofdoom - Jun. 3rd, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
For those attending the event, you can use this link to get to it in SL(if you have an account).

Jun. 1st, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
I took the time to register to add 12 Monkeys !
Jun. 1st, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
I love the original trilogy but I still love the cult classic Blade Runner. I don't know what went through Dick's mind but his books are great. Some of the movies don't live up to his name but that is a different story.
Jun. 1st, 2007 02:13 pm (UTC)
I'd like to suggest to you my favorite SF film, in the off chance that you haven't seen it, Serenity.
Jun. 15th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
i'm glad someone mentioned this :)
Jun. 1st, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
Science fiction can be a tough genre to define, but for my money, no other sci-fi flick can hold a candle to The Matrix.

The sequels on the other hand...
Jun. 3rd, 2007 08:46 am (UTC)
One of the few memories I remember clearly as a 10 year old kid, is going to see Return Of The Jedi at movies. No other movie has impressed me as much since , and probably no other movie will ever do. It was like a first kiss ;) . For me Star Wars is not the best Science Fiction movie , its the best movie period.
Hell I even loved the new trilogy. It doesnt hold a candle to the first one , but the new movies are some of the best adventure movies of the last 20 years. Crap now I have to go watch all six again hehe.

PS sorry about my english , I spell better in greek :)
Jun. 4th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
The New BSG
Maybe it doesn't count as film, but the new Battlestar Galactica does it for me.
Jun. 6th, 2007 05:52 am (UTC)
best movies?
I agree about Star Wars. But I didn't much like Alien either, just a splatter movie.
Forbidden Planet was a good movie, and certainly better than Star Wars and 2001.

I have seen very few good SF or fantasy movies recently; they re-write everything and take away all the literary surprises. I hated the movie version of "The Lord of the Rings," not because of character changes, but every possible surprise was ruined; war scenes made no sense; Aragorn's and the Hobbits' offers of service were turned into kidnapping; etc. etc. (Sorry, I also felt that Sandkings as a movie did not have the pathos and sarcasm of the original story.)

Good movies (besides Forbidden Planet):
The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bladerunner, The Lathe of Heaven (original version, not the horrible re-make), and even Baron Munchausen for its vision, and Dragonslayer for its sarcasm.

My all time favorite? Two movies: both the Russian and English versions of Solaris, spectacular, disturbing, but more clear ending than 2001.
Jun. 6th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
Re: best movies?
I forgot about 12 Monkeys. That's a good one too.
Jun. 7th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
The best sci-fi of all time?
Aliens is a horror film plain and simple.

The Star Wars films are movies for children.

Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still were OK, but you only need to see them once.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the best sci-fi movie ever done.


End of Story.
Jun. 9th, 2007 09:30 am (UTC)
best science fiction movies ever...
per "starlog," who reprinted earlier interview w/lucas [before or after iv's release], lucas said vader is luke's father. in "revenge/return of the jedi," leia asked luke if he remembered their birth mother & how she was so sad. does the force help them remember what their mother looked like on the day that they were born? i liked "revenge of the sith." when anakin was w/the emperor @ a theatre, the emperor said that he once knew a sith lord who could bring life from mitochondrians? i think the emperor's master[before the emperor killed his master in his sleep(i think it was)] was that sith lord. pick a slave, use mitochondrians to get her pregnant, knowing that the child wouldve a hard, difficult life, which could result in the child becoming angry/hateful/full of hurt, which could lead someone 2 the dark side, or according to "300," could make 1 a very good Spartan ;P

as for han shooting 1st, i agree. he wouldnt live very long shooting 2nd. iv-vi were a lot of fun. 'though ford couldnt act @ that time, his improv lines regarding his thoughts on the force, &, "i know," made iv-vi more fun & left a gaping hole in i-iii. i dont think lucas ever meant to have han shoot 2nd, or spielberg meant for the agents in "et" to have walkie talkies instead of guns, or children dressing up as hobos instead of terrorists. i think it was revisionist history at work after 9/11.

"2001" is visually stunning & has beautiful music, like "fantasia." "2001" is boring, yet intriguing to me.[when the year 2001 started, i thought we'd find a monilith on the moon. haven't read the book yet.]

my best science fiction films list: "Forbidden Planet" ['though it has been a very long time, & i only saw most of it, but wow!], "The Day The Earth Stood Still" [would a mother actually allow a stranger to take her daughter to the movies?], "War Of The Worlds" [the original, havent seen spielberg's remake], "Solaris" [the original, havent seen the remake yet, but wanted to see the original 1st, because i normally hate remakes. (i like george clooney)], "Blade Runner" [went to see it because i love the whole concept, & liked harrison ford before i saw this film & liked rutger hauer after seeing this film], "The 5th Element" [i heard this was a remake, of what, i dont know. but to me, this was so original to me, it's one of those films i can see again & again], "Serenity" [1 of my very best friends recommended it.this film is awesome/original], "1984" [because "1984" is now & has been since 1948 (at least)], "Gattaca" [our impending future], "Hardware Wars," "Spaceballs," "Terminator 1 & 2," "The 6th Day," "Imposter" [like "blade runner," based on a Philip K Dick story], "The Empire Strikes Back" [definitely the original, i prefer when luke takes a step off of the plank, defiantly, telling his father he refuses the dark side, not falling clumsily in the reworked version], "Revenge Of The Sith" [if anakin hadnt walked in, mace windu wouldve killed the emperor], "V For Vendetta" [1 of my favorite films. period.(see "serenity")], "The Matrix" [until ii(which was ok)] & iii [which ruined "the matrix"(i wished i couldve my $$ back on iii)], "Metropolis" [except for the music], "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" [without this film, what would we be watching?]
Jun. 9th, 2007 09:34 am (UTC)
Re: best science fiction movies ever...
forgot about, "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." thanks for reminding me, "getoutatheway." that film has francois truffaut, richard dreyfuss, melinda dillon, william atherton, lance henrickson, and john williams' musique.
Re: best science fiction movies ever... - the_lady_snow - Jun. 10th, 2007 07:39 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: best science fiction movies ever... - the_lady_snow - Jun. 11th, 2007 08:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: best science fiction movies ever... - elenarnoldo - Jun. 15th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 14th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
sci-fi movies
2001:A space odyssey was one of the slowest movies of any kind ever made. I absolutely hated it. TDTESS was a much better film. I also enjoyed The Forbidden Planet. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (hayao miyazaki)was easily my favorite sci-fi/fantasy film ever.
Jun. 15th, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
Star Wars not SF
JMO, but star wars was'nt meant to ever be science fiction. It's
fantasy in space. High Fantasy, they have Kings and Queens and Knights and Laser SWORDS. I don't believe that it was ever meant to be considered Science by any stretch.
Jun. 15th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)

Couldn't agree more.

Jun. 15th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
Haha, as I was reading the beginning of this post, I said to myself, "But what about Forbidden Planet?!" Glad to know you agree.
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
Not a great movie, but great fun
I still remember seeing Star Wars the first time- I was 7 years old and my best friend and I got dropped off at the theater on some horribly sticky hot afternoon. We sat in the front row and I remember swinging my head from side to side as I tried to see all of the introductory scroll and read it. And then there was the Imperial ship, just going on and on and on as the theater rumbled... Afterwards, we bought rolls of SweeTarts and pretended they were light sabers as we waited to get picked up. Best movie experience of my life. To this day, whenever I'm watching a movie and the screen goes dark and I hear the music for 20th Century Films, there's this tiny surge of adrenaline and the thought, in the very back of my mind, "Star Wars!" Just for a second, I'm seven years old again. I swear, it happens every single time.

I'd have to call Blade Runner the best Sci Fi movie, though. Other favorites, all of which are previously mentioned; Terminator I and II, Alien (still scares the crap out of me), Aliens, Wrath of Khan, Empire Strikes Back, Predator (what other movie stars 2 future governors?), and Serenity. One minor thing about Serenity that bugs me: you could hear the explosions in a vacuum, a detail that Firefly got right. I loved the complete silence.
Jun. 21st, 2007 08:44 am (UTC)
It's always very enlightening to read (either books or select journals like this)

I agree with most of the quoted films here, but what really disturbs me is the fact that all really good sf (and fantasy) movies are quite old (exceptions like LotR included). Newer movies are numerically rare and overburdened with CGI effects, leaving no room for either character evolution or a real description of the world outlined. I, for one, am very interested in hints at what keeps the world I see on the screen running (not much time for the director to get them in in 120 minutes worth of movie-time, of course).
A good example is Bladerunner, while watching you get a good impression of the world that is outside the main story.

The director of the remake of Raumpatroullie Orion (german classic 50s sf series) said in an interview that for a modern audience you have to show a fast pace. The original series had a spaceship launch scene that went on for over 3 minutes, the remake had to cut it down to about a minute or so because the audience wouldn't watch a launch for a longer time without falling to sleep.

While movies nowadays really lack in terms of world detail, the TV-shows make use of long storylines, good examples are Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, but also the imo underestimated Dark Angel series. Sadly those incredibly rich stories seem to impede the popularity, which means they get dropped after one or two seasons, or don't get the finale they deserved like Babylon 5.
My greatest hope at the moment is that Battlestar Galactica won't die on the way to earth (or somewhere else).
Jul. 4th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
I want to go THERE
Sorry George, have to disagree, because my criteria for this kind of fiction is "do I want to go there?" If the magic portal appeared in my closet and it led to Middle Earth, I'd go. To Westeros...in a bare minute. To any Star Wars planet...in a heartbeat. To Star Trek...I'd take a leak against the doorpost and close it.

Star Wars is important for the mythos. Who cares about the crappy dialogue? I'm watching the rest of the world unfold in all its gritty detail. This is what drew me and keeps me interested in the Ice and Fire story...except thankfully your dialogue is much better :-)
Jul. 11th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
The Best Science Fiction Film of all time
is definitely Forbidden Planet. Can't beat Robbie's voice. And the fact he couldn't kill the monster.

But I'd like to suggest as most interesting Brother From Another Planet. Part psycodrama, part comedy, part social commentary, it really directs your attention to a part of the urban reality that most people can't see, from an alien's point of view.

But for sheer fun, Earth Girls are Easy hits the spot
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