Top Science Fiction Movies

Via Jeff "jefitoblog" Giles, who wrote the Editor's Notes, the collaborative review site Rotten Tomatoes has generated a list of the top 100 science fiction films, based on their user ratings. It's split over 100 individual pages, and tarted up with lots of slow-to-load graphics, so here are their top twenty films:

  • 20) Mad Max
  • 19) Frankenstein (the 1931 version)
  • 18) 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 17) Solaris (the 1972 version)
  • 16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1956 version)
  • 15) The Terminator
  • 14) Brazil
  • 13) Galaxy Quest
  • 12) Bride of Frankenstein
  • 11) The Road Warrior

(The top 10 are after the cut...)

  • 10) Aliens
  • 9) Star Wars (the 1977 version)
  • 8) The Host (a Korean movie from this year)
  • 7) Children of Men
  • 6) The Empire Strikes Back (the 1980 version)
  • 5) Minority Report
  • 4) Alien
  • 3) Metropolis
  • 2) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • 1) E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

It's in... interesting list. It's somewhat skewed toward recent movies (four of the top ten are from 2002 or later), but that's not terribly surprising given that it's based on a compilation of ratings from the Internet. That aside, though, it's a pretty reasonable list.

The other remarkable thing about this is that there are four original-sequel pairs (Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Max/The Road Warrior, Alien/Aliens, and Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back). I'm not sure what this means, other than that SF is an extremely series-heavy genre, but it's sort of interesting.

What do you think of the list? Surely, there are some glaring omissions-- what's left out, and what would you replace?


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Forbidden Planet. It was strange to see ET in the First Place slot, as opposed to, say, something as grand as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I suspect it has more to do wiith ET's wider appeal . . .


I'd replace Star Wars with The Day the Earth Stood Still, and I'd find a spot for Ghost in the Shell.

Galaxy Quest was good, but not that good. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan should go in that spot (or higher).

Any such list that omits The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet cannot be taken seriously. And what about Blade Runner (director's cut)?

E.T. and Galaxy Quest can be removed for lack of gravitas.

E.T. and Galaxy Quest can be removed for lack of gravitas.

All good science fiction films have artificial gravitas.

I agree with comments 2 and 3. George Pal's War of the Worlds was pretty good too. Unlike most, I didn't care that much for the whole Star Wars thing.

By afarensis (not verified) on 17 Jun 2007 #permalink

I'd put Contact on that list - it's one I'll watch over and over (even if the book is better, the movie was still good - gotta love Jodie Foster).


Aw, don't try to spin the question like that!


Contact was good, but the ending fell apart. Notice how it throws out all narrative sense while, by the way, stomping on the facts which the movie itself established earlier? Remember when Jodie Foster and her friends first detect the signal from Vega: like sensible astronomers who are well aware of interference from planes, satellites and other local sources, they verify that "whatever it is, it ain't local". In the very next scene, an Australian radio astronomer also pegs the signal as originating from Vega. Parallax alone means humans couldn't fake that!

In the novel, the politician character goes kooky and insists that the signal was a fake, perpetrated by S. R. Hadden ("Esarhaddon"). But he doesn't make a worldwide scandal out of it; he can't.

If the filmmakers were striving for a genuine ambiguity, they ruin it by telling us, the viewing audience, that Ellie Arroway's experiences were real. Her video unit recorded static, of course, but eighteen full hours of it. How plausible is it that nobody noticed this except the "analysis team"? And if all the tapes were sequestered, wouldn't even one member of that analysis team shoot for worldwide celebrity by revealing the evidence that Arroway was telling the truth?

I would risk getting fired for that. Hell, I could make more money on the lecture circuit than I did as a nameless NASA engineer!

How to do it better? Well, we could have Arroway return at the moment she left, leaving everyone all puzzled. They carry her off to the infirmary while trying to figure out what happened, and Kitz — the slimy politician — pipes up saying that she couldn't have gone anywhere and Hadden must have faked it all. In the tension of the moment, this seems pretty plausible, but then Palmer Joss feels a jolt of inspiration and tells the nearest technician to check how much static Ellie's video recorder captured.

We establish, on a personal level, that science and religion can be allies, a message which would have pleased Sagan greatly. And we do it while being true to the tone the movie had established from the beginning, without stamping all over its face with giant hobnail boots of stupidity.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is on the list, at #30. I didn't go down far enough to find Blade Runner and Contact, but I'm sure they're probably on here somewhere.

It's worth noting that the rankings are based on the ratings posted at Rotten Tomatoes, and thus give an advantage to films where the critical opinion is fairly uniform. Contact and Blade Runner are both good movies, but both also provoke a range of different reactions, some positive and some negative. This probably drops them below a lot of less ambitious movies that are more consistently received.

Lists like this are always a mess. Nobody can agree on what "top," "best," or such mean; the debate over sequels versus series factors in (more on that in a second), and you always think of something two minutes too late. I'm reminded of the "top five" scenes in High Fidelity, which I just read recently...

Here's my shot.

I'd probably use some movies to stand in for series; I would not, for example, have put in both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but just Star Wars with implications. (OK. Admittedly, if I was going to break that rule, it would probably be for Empire first and foremost. But the principle is solid.)

I do not believe that Children Of Men or Minority Report deserve spots on such a list. Though they were interesting and I enjoyed both, they had neither the immediate genre impact which qualifies The Matrix to the list, nor the historical genre impact of 2001 or, yes, Star Wars. (You don't have to like it. You do have to realize that it isn't just a fad.)

I fail to see why E. T. gets the top spot. A place on the list, maybe; maybe. But not the tops.

I'm not going to try to rank them, but I'd put the following movies on any such list...and yes, I'm cribbing in part from the lists and comments above:

Star Wars, as discussed above. Partly a stand-in for the saga, but had there not been a saga, had there only been that one, it still would have found a place.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. In part because it's Trek, in part because it's probably the best Trek (up there with First Contact, anyway, and Wrath being original series Trek gives it the edge).
Blade Runner.
2001: A Space Odyssey.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Forbidden Planet, yes.
The Day The Earth Stood Still, again, yes.
Frankenstein, the 1931.
Aliens, edging out Alien.
The Matrix.

...and that's all I can think of now.

Children of Men is way overrated (as it's the poor man's Minority Report). 12 Monkeys should absolutely be on the list. 2001 needs to be higher. 2010 should arguably make it, as one of the very few "hard SF" movies out there.

And Soderbergh's Solaris, which nobody likes, is also excellent.

I'm amazed that the original Solaris received so many ratings, being a foreign-language film. I'm also impressed that old films like Frankenstein were so highly ranked on an internet site. Though no Metropolis, sigh!

Forbidden Planet is on the list, just not in the top 20 (which IMHO means not as high as it deserves). Blade Runner is also there, much lower down. I didn't see Contact anywhere.

I was struck by the absence of any of Ray Harryhausen's films. Perhaps his animation skill is shown better in his fantasy movies than his SF efforts, but if Gojira and Ghostbusters qualify for a list of SF films, then why not Jason and the Argonauts? For that matter, if Gojira qualifies, then why not King Kong?

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 17 Jun 2007 #permalink

What? Not a single Science Fiction film from 1902 through 1910?

1902 Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) -- by George Melies

1904 Voyage a travers l'impossible [An Impossible Voyage] -- George Melies
(the father of science fiction/fantasy films) a half-hour epic which includes a railroad train which morphs into a spaceship

and he soon had imitators:

1906 The ? Motorist (driving around the rings of Saturn...)

1909 A Trip to Jupiter

1909 The Airship Destroyer (also known as Aerial Warfare, also known as Aerial Torpedo, also known as Battle in the Clouds) by Charles Urban,
20 minutes in length, and the first such serious and violent drama

1910 A Trip to Mars

1910 Frankenstein (Thomas Alva Edison's version, the first)

Then they miss a whole bunch that are worthy of notice after 1910:

I'm up to #53 on the list, starting from #100. Should be able to get up to #21 in a short while.

By Tom Renbarger (not verified) on 18 Jun 2007 #permalink

Nos. 100-21 on the list are given below. I have to think the dude with the big red S on his chest belongs somewhere on the list. The Star Trek franchise has 5 entries between #99 & #35, so they are plenty represented, just not top-20 material according to RT. Blade Runner checks in at #37. No Contact on the list. I think Poltergeist might belong somewhere on the list, too.

100. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
99. ST III: The Search for Spock (1984)
98. Primer (2004)
97. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter version)
96. A Boy And His Dog (1975)
95. Dark Star (1974)
94. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
93. Dreamscape (1983)
92. It Came From Outer Space (1953)
91. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

90. Death Race (1975)
89. War of the Worlds (2005)
88. Flash Gordon (1980)
87. Return of the Jedi (1983)
86. Starman (1984)
85. Innerspace (1987)
84. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
83. Signs (2002)
82. Dark City (1998)
81. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

80. The War of the Worlds (1953)
79. Total Recall (1990)
78. Gattaca (1997)
77. Videodrome (1983)
76. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
75. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
74. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
73. Alphaville (1965)
72. Seconds (1966)
71. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

70. Time After Time (1979)
69. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) (of course...)
68. The Abyss (1989)
67. ST VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
66. Escape from New York (1981)
65. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
64. Pi (1997)
63. The Thing (1951)
62. Jurassic Park (1993)
61. Open Your Eyes (1997)

60. Robocop (1987)
59. Altered States (1980)
58. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
57. Planet of the Apes (1968)
56. Westworld (1973)
55. Fantastic Voyage (1966)
54. ST IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
53. They Live (1988)
52. Save The Green Planet! (2005) (It's an Asian film, didn't wait for the page to load to narrow it down...)
51. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

50. Things to Come (1936)
49. District B13 (2006) (French)
48. Serenity (2005)
47. Donnie Darko (2001)
46. Delicatessen (1991)
45. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
44. 12 Monkeys (1995)
43. Re-Animator (1985)
42. 2046 (2005)
41. ST II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

40. THX 1138 (1971)
39. The Fly (1986)
38. Time Bandits (1982)
37. Them! (1954)
36. Blade Runner (1982)
35. ST: First Contact (1996)
34. Forbidden Planet (1956)
33. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
32. The Matrix (1999)
31. The Invisible Man (1933)

30. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
29. Ghostbusters (1984)
28. Men in Black (1997)
27. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
26. Young Frankenstein (1974)
25. Gojira (aka Godzilla) (1954)
24. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
23. Sleeper (1973)
22. Back to the Future (1985)
21. Repo Man (1984)

By Tom Renbarger (not verified) on 18 Jun 2007 #permalink

Uh, Scott, check out #3.

Methinks you need to get them eyes checked Dr. Spiegelberg (and I can't believe YOU of all people would comment on a movie thread considering how often your last name gets mistaken for a certain director and how that annoyed you (and I assume still does)).

A list with ET as #1 and Minority Report #5 and no Blade Runner in the top 10 has absolutely no credibility with me. But them I'm the one who lists my top 3 SF movies as Blade Runner, Blade Runner, and, oh yes, Blade Runner. Minority Report was stupid and ET was nothing but buckets of cute sentimentality. Bah humbug.


"Soylent Green" is not even on the list?

Quite a few of the movies from the last 10 or 20 years will never last compared to classics like Forbidden Planet. Lots of them would not even know imagery to use if not for movies people rank in the bottom half, if at all. Even "The Blob" is better than some on that list. Metropolis must be an anomaly, where everyone who knew about it rated it highly, and the clueless did not vote on it.

By the way, my list always includes "Magnetic Monster". Any physicist has to like the idea of accidentally creating a magnetic monopole that threatens to explode if not fed enough energy to double its mass every few days.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 18 Jun 2007 #permalink

Having a list of 'Top 100 science fiction films' inevitably means that you're going to be barrel-scraping before the end. It's like publishing a Top 40 for US presidents.

I was shocked by how good the director's cut (not the commercial release) of "The Butterfly Effect" was. It is deceptive in the extreme, but turns out not to be Sci-Fi, but fully realized Science Fiction. And why nothing from the award-wining "Cube" series?

Moving to lower budget but genuine Science Fiction, without going to my much longer list (much deeper into the past, much more international), I've got to agree with # 15 (Johann Thorsson).

My wife and son and I have seen "Primer" about half a dozen times each, read the websites and blogs with their differing reconstructed chronologies and clashing hypotheses, and argued long into the night.

Made by nerds, for nerds, about nerds, with an awesomely sophisticated plot, insight into how real science and engineering is done, Venture Capital, jealousy, and so much more. It is much more tricky than it looks the first time through. It gains on re-viewing, for those who do the work of interpolation from noisy and intentionally misleading data. Numbering it 98 of 100 is absurd.

For big budget, I've seen "2001" over 20 times, and loved it every time. But for microbudget?

Dollar for dollar, "Primer" is the greatest Science Fiction movie ever made.

My son, 18, responded to this thread thus:

As far as surprise Science Fiction endings go, butterfly effect was good, but The Prestige which I've just seen has sparked a lot more discussion. I am thoroughly convinced that Hollywood has found an excusable way to package straight science fiction plotlines to be palatable to the public. This technique of hiding the science fiction under subterfuge and dramatic plot twists until a shocking suprise science fiction finale are preferable to movies which defy basic physical laws in the name of science right from the beginning (The Core being an extreme example, violating all four laws of thermodynamics with a new element named Unbelevium).

Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.

By fast size (not verified) on 05 Aug 2007 #permalink

Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.

A lovely sentiment. Much more lovely than the spam URL that it came with, so I took the liberty of deleting that...