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The best science fiction movies take us to new worlds, but they also make us think about our own planet and how we humans interact with each other and our environment. These winning films don’t need millions of dollars in special effects. They rely on strong performances, compelling stories and sure-handed directors.
5 “Blade Runner”
Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” didn’t do well in theaters when it was released in 1982. Audiences wanted another “Star Wars,” especially since Harrison Ford starred in it. Instead, they got one of the bleakest science fiction films of all time. Ford is the nominal hero, but he’s not nearly as sympathetic as the bad guys he is trying to track down, replicants that look and act human but aren’t. The ending is especially divisive, but in a good way.
4 “District 9”
“District 9” is one of the more chilling science fiction films on this list. Why? Because it’s a perfect allegory for how nasty humans can be to one another, especially to fellow humans who look a bit different than we do. Director Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 film details what happens when Aliens land on our planet. Here’s a hint: It’s not good for us or our alien visitors.
Some might prefer its sequel, but Ridley Scott’s “Alien” remains one of the most frightening science fiction films of all time. The movie, about a space crew that stumbles upon a murderous alien, tells a simple story. But the synopsis doesn’t do justice to the film. Consider “Alien” a haunted house movie in space: The alien creature picks off the heroes one by one, making audiences jump from their seats every time. And the chest-burster scene? Few scenes have ever been more shocking.
2 “2001: A Space Odyssey”
In 1968, director Stanley Kubrick put his stamp on science fiction with “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The story, which charts the encounters between humans and black monoliths that are messing with human evolution, is not nearly as important as the mood and feel of this piece. The film in parts feels like a hallucination. In other scenes, it’s funny. And throughout, it’s also frightening. Few films have done a better job of capturing the terror of space exploration. Who, after all, could ever forget the calm, yet sinister, voice of HAL?
1 “The Empire Strikes Back”
The “Star Wars” franchise helped change the way movies are made. Special effects became king. Unfortunately, George Lucas too often favors the digital worlds he can create over plausible dialogue and good storytelling. But “The Empire Strikes Back,” the middle film of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, combines both stellar special effects and dramatic, moody storytelling. The mood of this film is far darker than in its predecessor, “Star Wars: A New Hope.” And the dramatic confrontation between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader near the film’s conclusion is still one of the most stirring good versus evil battles ever captured on film. “The Empire Strikes Back” doesn’t even have Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks, so that’s another plus.