5 The Thing
Please note that we’re talking here about the 1982 cult classic, not its 2011 remake. And even this 1982 version is a remake of a 1951 sci-fi horror which is based on John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There. The Thing refers to an alien that has landed on Earth and can turn itself into any other life form that it’s killed. When it first opened, critics said it was overdone gore but nonetheless it lives on as one of the classics of sci-fi horror, complete with suspenseful music and disgusting visuals.
4 Jurassic Park
Sci-fi doesn’t just mean robots and aliens and Michael Crichton was definitely thinking outside the box when he wrote Jurassic Park. In his vision of the future, a group of scientists have figured out how to clone dinosaurs from fossils and have set up a theme park where visitors can see these creatures. Inevitably however, the dinosaurs get loose and chase the heroes around the island. Although the story may have lost something in translation to the screen, it also gained. In a technological revolution, Spielberg used animatronic dinosaurs that look unnervingly real. This movie gets triple points for appealing to both sci-fi and dinosaur geeks as well as any child of the 90’s.
3 Starship Troopers
Let’s start out by admitting that this movie doesn’t have the best acting and it’s not particularly deep. But it’s a good old fashioned war movie that just happens to take place in space against aliens that look like giant bugs. So what could be bad? It’s based on Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel about a militaristic society in which a group of new recruits is sent out to battle the bug aliens on another planet. Unlike the novel, the movie clearly means you to disapprove of the near-fascist culture of this futuristic world but it’s still not a social commentary. It’s an out and out violent gore-fest and one of the best of its kind.
2 War of the Worlds
This H.G. Wells novel is so good that it’s never gone out of print but it’s probably most famous as a radio broadcast. In 1938, Orson Welles adapted it and presented the first half of the story as a newscast. Unfortunately, people who missed the beginning thought they were tuning in to a real news broadcast and there was panic as people were convinced that Martians were invading southern England. The 2005 Stephen Spielberg version isn’t quite that believable. Instead, it’s more of the running around and screaming alongside action heroics that we’re used to seeing in alien invasion movies. And it does that well. The aliens may not scare you because you think they’re real but they will scare because they’re just scary. But don’t worry, Spielberg didn’t ignore the genius of H.G. Wells. Voiceovers done by Morgan Freeman are taken from the book nearly word for word.
1 Blade Runner
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner was a bust when it was first released but has since developed a serious cult following. Harrison Ford stars (that’s a good sign already, right?) as Rick Deckard, a film-noir detective type who is a blade runner: An expert hunter of rebelling humanoid slaves. For sci-fi lovers out there, this movie features and meticulously detailed vision of the future, complete with flying cars and the awesome spectacle of well thought out futuristic settings. But on top of that, it gets into the philosophical and moral issues that do their best in science fiction, such as when do robots needed to be treated humanely? Although this isn’t Harrison Ford at his best and the original release was a bit cluttered, Ridley Scott has made some changes that make the later releases some of the most creative sci-fi you can get for the big screen (even if you can’t actually see it on the big screen. Which is a shame.)
Honorable mention goes to Frankenstein, a story that only Hollywood and Boris Karloff could save from being despised by high-school English students for the rest of time.