The sci-fi genre has often been looked at with disdain amongst the self proclaimed elite, although there are some good reasons for this. With a library of films that are normally aimed at the juvenile most thumb their nose at anything even remotely associated with space, the supernatural, etc. Still there are a few films that I believe even the most snobbish amongst us can agree that deserve credit for making it's audience not feel ashamed that they enjoyed it.
1. Brazil - Like a lot of sci-fi literature this hilarious and often disturbing parody of a people who willingly fall victim to bureaucracy gone amok has it's roots deeply embedded in Orwellian thought. Terry Gilliam's visual treat does the almost impossible task of making one laugh at, as well as feel sympathy for, the subjects of this story.
2. Blade Runner - Okay I'm sure a lot of you saw this coming. Many fans of this film will gladly throw their two bits in the debate of which of the versions released is the best (I think there's like twelve now), but I believe all should be watched. Following a private detective's journey of seeking out a fugitive Replicant, i.e. robot, Blade Runner does not disappoint with it's outstanding lighting, visual effects, and rich noir-ish narrative.
3. Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan - While I'm not a huge fan of Star Trek I can appreciate the series from time to time. Most of the films are complete crap so heralding it's first sequel as the film series high point isn't saying much at all. Starring Ricardo Montabaln's chest, The Wrath of Khan delivers a story that you would expect from it's title, but has some great surprises such as good acting (which is saying a lot) and one of the greatest starship action sequences I've yet to see. This is quite possibly the only sci-fi film that made me cry. Granted I think I was eight years old, but still..
4. Children of Men - Taking place in the future where mankind has seemingly become infertile a cynical Clive Owen takes a pregnant woman under his care to escape totalitarian authorities and mad revolutionaries. This film has some of the greatest shots ever in cinema and for that alone I highly recommend it. The script is incredible detailing a government led by fear and a populace enslaved by it's own insecurities. After my first viewing of this movie I rushed out to buy it.
5. 1984 - Fans of the book, of which I am one, mostly look at this film with scorn, but I disagree. Sure Orwell's novel is superior in many ways, but this movie has strong merits while keeping true to the vision inspired by it's author. Winston is a lonely character who questions the oppression of his party's leadership and is subjected to a cleansing of sorts of what his superiors refer to as thought crimes. With an incredible performance by John Hurt I find this film captivating.
6. 2001 A Space Oddessy - Chronicling three stories, which all have one large monolith in common, 2001 is an excellent film detailing the rise of man, nature of war, delicate balance of space travel, human dependence on technology, and an ending that's still divisive amongst it's fans. It's often confusing third act is what I enjoy most about this picture for it's one of the few that I still manage to take something different away on each viewing. It's soundtrack is nothing short of amazing.
7. A Clockwork Orange - Hard to watch for some, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who's viewed this, but it's hard to argue how powerful this narrative is. Set in the future where society is complacent and extremely bored Alex leads a group of young thugs who participate in all sorts of mischief including crimes that are almost unspeakable. After his eventual capture the story's protagonist is subjected to behavior modification therapy and forced to exist as one who cannot chose to do evil. It's a fascinating look at the nature of justice as well as humans' ability to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
8. The original Star Wars trilogy - While this is not high brow cinema by any means and one can argue that this is more fantasy than sci-fi, but George Lucas' creation of a civil war set in a far off galaxy has entertained millions including your author here. It's a charming tale of good and evil which borrows liberally from old film serials from the late 40s and early 50s and yet has a timeless quality. It's one of those few children's movies that can captivate adult audiences as well.
9. Serenity - I imagine for people who never watched the quickly cancelled TV series Firefly would be confused about many points in the plot, but it's strong cult following is a testament to how great this story is. Set somewhere in the future where mankind overpopulates the Earth to the point where it's forced to colonize other worlds a civil war erupts. Malcom Reynolds fought for the Independence and after they lost he resorted to barely making a living leading a crew in smuggling and other crime rackets while escaping the thumb of a brutal Alliance. Obviously modeled after a western Serenity continues the story about the complex captain who's at times distant, but fiercely loyal to an ideology that seemed to die with the war. This film has amazing dialogue, rich characters, great action sequences, but also has a lot of heart. The script also has a sense of humor about itself and never takes the movie too seriously.
And no I'm not a Whedon devotee.
"You're an idealist, and I pity you as I would the village idiot." - Stanley Kubrick