Worst. Ranked list. EVAR.
November 6, 2018 5:08 AM   Subscribe

The Onion AV Club's "Best SF movies since Blade Runner..."...AKA something we can point to and shriek at, getting into arguments that would terrify passersby, until we start getting election returns tonight.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace (305 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dune is too low, Aliens too high and no Ex Machina ? FAIL!!
posted by Pendragon at 5:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


ATROCITIES THIS RANKING COMMITS:
  • List holds itself as "best" but includes Starship Troopers
  • List includes AI as #10, which is a crassly manipulative pile of Spielbergian excess, but does not include Ex Machina
  • List includes GitS and Battle Royale but not Akira
  • List includes silly just-for-fun movies like Jurassic Park but not LEELOO. DALLAS. MULTIPASS.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [47 favorites]


THINGS IT OCCASIONALLY GETS RIGHT
  • Yeah okay Eternal Sunshine really is pretty darn good
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


Kind of afraid to go back and watch Starship Troopers to see exactly how it plays but boy the context has really changed on that movie.
posted by Merus at 5:20 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Starship Troopers only gets better the more accurately it reflects current events.

All that we're really missing now is for Trump to call immigrants "bugs." (However, in Toronto, thankfully now-ex-city councillor Mammoliti famously called his PoC constituency "cockroaches" so I'll accept a half point on it.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:24 AM on November 6, 2018 [44 favorites]


You know, they probably purposefully left some of those out to keep people reading and coming back to the page for ad impressions...
posted by Samizdata at 5:28 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I actually think this list isn’t terrible. Moon’s on there, which is the important thing.

I’d include Interstellar on mine, but I know I’m in the minority there.
posted by Sokka shot first at 5:29 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Dark City
posted by cybrcamper at 5:31 AM on November 6, 2018 [31 favorites]


I don't normally do the "No XXXX?" thing - but, no Akira?
posted by carter at 5:32 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Kind of afraid to go back and watch Starship Troopers to see exactly how it plays but boy the context has really changed on that movie.

I rewatched it a few weeks ago; it holds up pretty well. WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

plus Jake Busey
posted by logicpunk at 5:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [16 favorites]


I'm glad they included They Live, which I think is still very relevant.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:34 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


So if Being John Malkovich had a scene where they crawled through a duct to try to disable the Malkovich Portal Generator, it'd be classified as science fiction?

(Yes, I took the bait. It was my density.)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:35 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Including Ghost in the Shell and leaving out Akira is weird.
posted by ardgedee at 5:35 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


> logicpunk:
"Kind of afraid to go back and watch Starship Troopers to see exactly how it plays but boy the context has really changed on that movie.

I rewatched it a few weeks ago; it holds up pretty well. WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

plus Jake Busey"


Hey now, I did MY part.
posted by Samizdata at 5:36 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Yeah, Starship Troopers almost seems more prescient than over-the-top these days. Also, it was a goddamn fantastic movie. I will admit to a certain guilty pleasure at watching libertarian cranks froth at the mouth about the movie, though.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:36 AM on November 6, 2018 [14 favorites]


Wow. That is incredible. An absolutely 100% accurate list. I never thought I'd live to see the day. Amazing!
posted by gusottertrout at 5:37 AM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


Crtl+F 'Buckaroo'

Ah.

Carry On.
posted by Faintdreams at 5:39 AM on November 6, 2018 [19 favorites]


I would've put both Starship Troopers and Aliens higher on the list.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:40 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've seen most of the movies in the list, and enjoyed quite a few of those. It's not the list I would make, but it is surprisingly non-terrible for a piece of clickbait.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


I guess we can be thankful none of the Star Wars movies are on the list.

Also released after the 1982 cutoff but excluded from this list: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, all the Predator movies, all the Alien movies after the second one, both Bill & Ted movies, all the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies, and Masters of the Universe.
posted by ardgedee at 5:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Contact.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:45 AM on November 6, 2018 [27 favorites]


I guess we can be thankful none of the Star Wars movies are on the list.

Rogue One was pretty good....
posted by Pendragon at 5:49 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Electric Dreams is a better movie than Her there I said it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:53 AM on November 6, 2018 [13 favorites]


...it's like Dune but from the pug's perspective.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:54 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yo AV Club, I'm gonna let you finish but it looks like Shane Carruth hacked your page.
posted by ftm at 5:55 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


and no Ex Machina

Thank god, that's one of the most overhyped and stunningly boring sci-fi films in the last 20 years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 AM on November 6, 2018 [21 favorites]


I loved Starship Troopers, but I'm not sure I'd count it as scifi, really.

Back to the Future is shithouse.

I generally like the list, because it gives good points to Primer and Brazil.
posted by pompomtom at 6:00 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


ESOTSM is a fantastic film but I wouldn't really call it sci-fi. I mean, strictly speaking it involves fictional science to propel its plot but its really not _about_ that. Sci-fi is about change, if ESOTSM was sci-fi it would look at the wide-scale changes to society wrought by a memory deleting device. But it focuses on a handful of people. Its probably one of the best movies ever made about modern relationships.

If we're being that flexible about the genre that ESOTSM is on there then I would ask you all to consider Black Panther. Yes its a 'super hero' movie. But actually there isn't any super-hero stuff in it (no-one gets saved from a falling lift, etc). Its an afro-futurist movie about the foreign policy of an advanced state. Sci-fi should make you wonder about how different the world could be, and Black Panther did that. I wanted it to be real, like no other movie in the last few years has made me want it to be real.

Great to see both Primer and Upstream Color on there. And Arrival.

Also: This list was written just before Blade Runner 2049 was released, I think it might also make the list.

Brazil is a bit over-rated I reckon. Its visually impressive and has lots of atmosphere, but the two leads just don't really carry it. Something off about the acting, and unconvincing about the romance. Its great that it exists as a film but I wouldn't put it at #3.

A.I wasn't really that good.

Ex Machina should definitely be on there.
posted by memebake at 6:02 AM on November 6, 2018 [12 favorites]


FYI, Children of Men is now streaming on Netflix.

A few they missed: District 9, A Scanner Darkly, and Gattaca, and I thought the biggest omision was E.T. but then I looked it up and it was the same year as Blade Runner, which is crazy.
posted by gwint at 6:02 AM on November 6, 2018 [18 favorites]


Oh crikey yeah District 9. Thats a hell of a sci-fi film.
posted by memebake at 6:03 AM on November 6, 2018 [23 favorites]


Oh, yeah, shit, Contact FOR SURE should be on there.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2018 [18 favorites]


Also, goddamnit Shane Carruth, where's my supertanker movie?
posted by gwint at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I came here to chew bubblegum and complain about They Live not cracking the top 20. And I am all out of bubblegum.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


I don't necessarily disagree with Battle Royale being included, but it doesn't sound like whoever wrote the blurb even watched the movie, or at least understands the cultural context under which it was made:
When one of dystopian literature’s cruelest solutions to overpopulation made it to the big screen
Nope nope nope. Leaving aside the fact that overpopulation isn't really a cultural concern in Japan (as opposed to a falling birth rate and aging populace), the movie and to a much greater extent the book make it clear that the game is all about an authoritarian government suppressing youth rebellion through fear and confusion.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:07 AM on November 6, 2018 [14 favorites]


Dark City

I didn't fully appreciate this movie until I moved to a real city and noticed all the businesses changing all around me all the time.
posted by srboisvert at 6:10 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Get rid of AI (schmaltzy garbage) and Minority Report (boooooring), bring Gattaca in there somewhere, swap out Ghost in the Shell for Akira, and I'm pretty much ok with this list.

Also it's reminded me that I need to watch Upstream Color one of these days.
posted by ook at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Dirty Old Town and other fans of They Live-I recently found the They Live episode of Monstervision in its entirety with guest Rowdy Roddy Piper. I highly recommend it, but also Roddy claimed that line was an ad lib of his.
posted by miss-lapin at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


I also was dismayed by the omission of Ex Machina, one of the best Sci Fi movies of the past decade.
posted by justkevin at 6:17 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yo AV Club, I'm gonna let you finish but it looks like Shane Carruth hacked your page.

I'll give you that over Upstream Color, but Primer kicked righteous ass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


No Aronofsky's The Fountain?
posted by eclectist at 6:21 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Once I saw that this was a group project from the AVC reviewers, there were no real surprises on this list; yep, there's the inexplicable high-ranking inclusion (AI) and the equally inexplicable exclusions (none of the Star Wars movies after the original, none of the Star Trek movies after TWOK, etc.). Pretty pro forma for clickbait.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:23 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


holy shit i just figured out why they call it gattaca
posted by logicpunk at 6:27 AM on November 6, 2018 [19 favorites]


No Aronofsky's The Fountain?

I was thinking about that - and came down on, maybe the thing is that The Fountain is more....metaphysical than it is sci-fi. Yeah there is ostensibly a space traveler, but it's more about reincarnation and the afterlife and that kinda stuff more than it is anything I'd call science fiction.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I loved Avatar. Very ambitious, mostly pulls it off. Swap it in instead of A.I.
posted by memebake at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Was very happy to see Under The Skin even on the list. A very underrated film.

Ex Machina and Dark City were definite omissions.

I've never been on the Starship Troopers bandwagon, so I could stand to see it off the list.

A.I...ummm...I dunno. I think it definitely suffers from being a Spielberg movie, but the story itself is solid (imho).

Battle Royale? I just don't see it as sci-fi. It's more a hand-wavy, freshman-philosophy-class excuse for an ocean of inventive, stylized blood-bathing.

Jurassic Park??? Other than the ground-breaking SFX, the sci-fi element is pretty thin beyond the opening premise of "Reanimating dinosaur DNA! What could go wrong?" After that, it's more or less a chase movie with dinosaurs.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Martian
posted by memebake at 6:38 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Moon should be much higher. They Live should be somewhat higher. Gattaca should be on there somewhere. There's too much space to action and expensive extravaganza that has an SF-related gimmick (so yeah, dump AI, Minority Report, and Jurassic Park)

Eternal Sunshine is pretty damn good.
posted by mark k at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I find it hard to get upset at an arbitrary ranking of 35 films I mostly love. That being said, I prefer Alien to Aliens. I also like Starship Troopers a lot; it deserves to be on the list.
posted by exolstice at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Gravity
posted by memebake at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Other Thing of the Planet of the Apes
posted by memebake at 6:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [13 favorites]


I was about to crow that I hard seen every movie on one of these lists for the first time ever but then I hit Upstream Color. I'm now SUPER MOTIVATED to watch that movie
posted by Dmenet at 6:51 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, Minority Report is just so dumb on the central gimmick. The pre-cogs think Tom Cruise will have killed the victim because he's in the room, even though he didn't do it. So it's like any murder that works at a distance (poison, a sniper, sabotaging someone's brakes, a bomb) should be easy to commit. They'll only stop unpremeditated acts of passion.

But the movie had personalized ads not long after they already existed so people say it's insightful. I say not. To borrow a line from Paul F. Tompkins, "Not science, barely fiction."

I did like the slow-speed chase in the shopping mall, which was a nice change from the normally obligatory car chase. But John Woo's Paycheck (also not list worthy) had more of that fun with less pretension.
posted by mark k at 6:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'll give you that over Upstream Color, but Primer kicked righteous ass.

Upstream Color may be my favorite SF of the last decade but I can maybe see why people reacted negatively to it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:54 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Count me down for "Ex Machina" is overrated.


This list is like 5-7 items too long. I watch Alien Groundhog Day frequently and I enjoy it but it's not really that spectacular of a film. Pretty much the same for Looper. If we're dipping into B sides, how about Equilibrium? In some ways it's like a cheap knockoff of the matrix.

The weirdest part about Starship Troopers is that it was a 50's homage to military life that was then made forty years later into an ostensible satire about American jingoism with soldiers dressing up as Nazis, which itself was then spun off into a straight forward half hour children's animated tv show.
posted by Query at 6:54 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thank god, that's one of the most overhyped and stunningly boring sci-fi films in the last 20 years.

Overhyped isn't really a disqualification of the movie itself, but what was stunningly boring in Ex Machina ?
posted by Pendragon at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also consider:

Melancholia
Another Earth
Solaris (2002)
Source Code
posted by memebake at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Everybody complaining about AI being on this list: I think the movie is potentially one of the darkest pieces of fiction in Spielberg’s filmography. The entire plot revolves around a profoundly misguided decision by a robotics company to Simulate The Love You Have For Your Mother that leads to a completely terrifying dystopic ending (the ending people decry as cheesy. It’s not). It’s much better than people remember.

Looper, on the other hand, is Not Good. It’s a movie where a character literally tells the audience not to think about the film’s time travel rules too hard. If you want to swap a movie out of this list for your own favorite, remove Looper.
posted by RubixsQube at 6:59 AM on November 6, 2018 [17 favorites]


Should the Stepford Wives count as sci-fi? I'm thinking about the original film, not the remake. I mean robotic simulacra of people seems like it should count.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't dislike this list. If nothing else, it speaks to the awesome diversity of scifi. I mean story diversity, mind-you, because damn we need more black and brown in our USian scifi. To that end, I'm kinda wondering if Get Out might fit on this list. It's certainly a bit hand-wavy on the hard science, but it fits as well as Donnie Darko, Her, or Spotless Mind, which are all more about the speculative concepts and the human themes of the proposed technologies than the nuts and bolts.

I also don't really care for Looper, but I do like that it's part of the trilogy of Bruce Willis going back in time to meet his younger self. This includes the excellent Twelve Monkeys, of course. Can we remove Looper and sub in The Kid? Then this list would be awright.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:01 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Gotta vote but while I've got time, this is the most correct opinion in this thread:

Everybody complaining about AI being on this list: I think the movie is potentially one of the darkest pieces of fiction in Spielberg’s filmography. The entire plot revolves around a profoundly misguided decision by a robotics company to Simulate The Love You Have For Your Mother that leads to a completely terrifying dystopic ending (the ending people decry as cheesy. It’s not). It’s much better than people remember.

Looper, on the other hand, is Not Good. It’s a movie where a character literally tells the audience not to think about the film’s time travel rules too hard. If you want to swap a movie out of this list for your own favorite, remove Looper.
posted by RubixsQube at 8:59 AM on November 6 [+] [!]

posted by TheProfessor at 7:03 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


I haven't seen AI since it was in the theater but I did like it then and never did understand the criticism of the ending which is pretty bleak.
posted by octothorpe at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


kids from a futuristically Caucasian version of Buenos Aires
Argentina is whiter than the U.S. why do USians seem to have a mental block against this fact?
posted by Space Coyote at 7:12 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Overhyped isn't really a disqualification of the movie itself, but what was stunningly boring in Ex Machina ?

I found it pretty to watch and competently done, but definitely boring and not particularly memorable. I don't begrudge it a place on their list since it is better than many other movies and so many people like it; it just wasn't a movie to my tastes. Different folks, different strokes and all that.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:12 AM on November 6, 2018


A friend of mine suggested that AI would have been significantly improved if the aliens-resurrect-the-kid ending had been cut. The real ending is at the bottom of the sea.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's all arguebait. I know what films I like, and mostly why. I know whose taste I respect enough to listen to what they recommend. And no, I'm not going to put flipping numbers next to them.

Here's another list for you:

1. Apples
2. Oranges
posted by pipeski at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine suggested that AI would have been significantly improved if the aliens-resurrect-the-kid ending had been cut. The real ending is at the bottom of the sea.

That's how I feel about the ending of Minority Report. I like it a lot more if I imagine the LA Confidential-style happy ending was his last dream before being frozen.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


It’s much better than people remember.

I remember it fine thank you. And I could barely stomach it. Manipulative Spielbergian pap. As for the rest, while I could easily quibble on some films, the list is fine as far as lists go.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:21 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


A list like this should include Gattaca. Also I'd put Vanilla Sky in there somewhere, either version.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 7:22 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


No Turbo Kid, list is bullshit!!!
posted by rodlymight at 7:22 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


"List holds itself as "best" but includes Starship Troopers"

That isn't a sin, it's a given.

I've never seen Buckaroo Bonzai, but it sounds kind of like a wacky, off-brand episode of Doctor Who so I am curious about it.

For my money, Edge of Tomorrow and Inception are the two big sore thumbs in my eyes. I'd also say all of the too-many Terminator movies they added in, but I will concede it's just because I didn't like any of them, not that they're bad sci-fi necesarrily. Eternal Sunshine is also weird since it doesn't seem like sci-fi really and the whole movie would have been unchanged if they'd done the memory stuff with hypnosis or something instead of cool new technology.

Oh, and nthing that A.I. was no bueno. My youngest sister was upset by the scene where they drop off the ghost kid in the woods. When she would misbehave, we'd tell her she had to behave or we'd take her to the forest and she'd change her tune real fast.
posted by GoblinHoney at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Source Code, Europa Report, A Scanner Darkly, Dark City, Gravity, Bill & Ted, The Abyss, District 9, Total Recall, and Galaxy Quest are all better than several of the films on this list.
posted by straight at 7:24 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


The omission of Fifth Element is really perplexing. I can think of no metric by which it could not have surpassed at least half of the other movies in the list. Similarly I can think of no exclusionary principle one might apply to it that would not also apply to many other movies that made the list. It must be a voting system problem; this kind of thing can happen with ranked ballots.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:25 AM on November 6, 2018 [16 favorites]


Not bad, once you get past the exclusion of Dark City. But A.I, WALL-E, and Back to the Future all in the top ten? Too family-friendly for me. Not that I have anything against children and puppies.
posted by kozad at 7:25 AM on November 6, 2018


OK I'll weigh in on AI: I was hyped for it, saw it in the cinemas when it first came out. I really wanted to like it. Speilberg and Haley Joel Osment. It had everything going for it.

Its nearly great. Up until the 'flesh fair' its great. Then it just seems to get a bit too O.T.T. and messy. And the world - once David is out in it, isn't very convincing somehow.

The idea of it skipping forwards 2,000 years was fantastic. In the cinema I was loving that bit.

And the ending should be epic. You've got a child robot programmed to love his 'mother', the human race are extinct, the robots far future descendants are waking him up. Its got all the right ingredients for an epic ending. But the narrator/future robots voice, that goddam teddy bear, the exposition about why exactly we're going to get the tearjerking ending, and schmaltzyness ruin it. It was very nearly great, the ending just needed the same concepts but executed in a smarter way. More show, less tell. Here's the last scene if you want to remind yourself. You can see glimmers of how great it could have been, but that annoying soft robot narrator voice telling me what I'm looking at just ruins it for me.
posted by memebake at 7:27 AM on November 6, 2018


Bill & Ted is common shorthand for an entire conceptual philosophy of how time travel stories could/should work. It is as seminal a work of SF as The Matrix. And it rules.
posted by straight at 7:28 AM on November 6, 2018 [13 favorites]


The reactions in this thread seem to be a division between those who think the sci-fi elements of a sci-fi movie should be rooted enough in reality to be plausible, and those who believe the sci-fi elements are just a tool to facilitate the story. I'm in the latter camp, so the hand-waving in time travel movies doesn't bother me. I loved Looper because of the totally unexpected message in its second half (which I won't spoil). I also really loved Upstream Color and don't care whether it made sense or not.

I also would have put Ex Machina on the list (boring? pshaw), and I agree that it's a stretch to call Jurassic Park sci-fi, but otherwise this is a pretty good list.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:28 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


> pipeski:
"It's all arguebait. I know what films I like, and mostly why. I know whose taste I respect enough to listen to what they recommend. And no, I'm not going to put flipping numbers next to them.

Here's another list for you:

1. Apples
2. Oranges"


Yeah, but apples suck SO BAD! You need a list of BEST fruits, not WORST fruits.
posted by Samizdata at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've never seen Buckaroo Bonzai, but it sounds kind of like a wacky, off-brand episode of Doctor Who so I am curious about it.

One of my favorites of all time, and still a movie that I quote on the regular. But I'm scared to go back and watch it, in case it is either totally dated or not as good as I believed it was when I was 12.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


YOUR LIST OMITS PEARS!!! DOES NOT COMPUTE!!!
posted by Pendragon at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Ben Trismegistus:
"I've never seen Buckaroo Bonzai, but it sounds kind of like a wacky, off-brand episode of Doctor Who so I am curious about it.

One of my favorites of all time, and still a movie that I quote on the regular. But I'm scared to go back and watch it, in case it is either totally dated or not as good as I believed it was when I was 12."


It still is one of mine and stands a rewatch every so often.
posted by Samizdata at 7:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


honest answer - I think this is a good list. I love every single film on there, and I see many of them as better than Bladerunner.
posted by bradth27 at 7:35 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Overall, it's a pretty good list. I've only not seen two films in it, Battle Royale and The Host and only dislike two of them: Jurassic Park and their #1, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I've never understood the love for either of those films even though I'm generally a fan of both Charlie Kaufman and Steven Spielberg.
posted by octothorpe at 7:35 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine suggested that AI would have been significantly improved if the aliens-resurrect-the-kid ending had been cut.

Your friend made the same mistake that so many others who dislike AI seem to make. They weren't aliens. They were the robot descendents of the AIs, thousands of years in the future after humans were gone.

Under the Skin is the SF film of recent years that has haunted me the longest. On the low-budget end, Coherence was great (and didn't make their list).

No The Quiet Earth? Harrumph.
posted by rory at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


> I've never seen Buckaroo Bonzai, but it sounds kind of like a wacky, off-brand episode of Doctor Who so I am curious about it.

I'll be honest, I only watched Buckaroo Banzai once, a couple decades ago, but as I remember it was boring and a struggle to get through. So many people I know like it that I feel like I should give it a rewatch before writing it off for good, because it's as if I saw a movie completely unlike the one I hear praised.
posted by ardgedee at 7:38 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: Buckaroo Bonzai is kinda hard to just sit and watch blind. Not bad with a couple of friends with beers. Moviebob has a good primer.

and while we're on movie vloggers, Movies with Mikey champions AI as Spielberg picking up Kubrick's unfinished project and fleshes out the darkness of the ending.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:39 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Your friend made the same mistake ...

Maybe. Could be my mistake and not my friend's. For me, AI was one of those films that you recognize as really good but that you never, ever want to watch again. Anyway, yeah, I thought they were aliens at the end. I'll own the error and not blame my friend. :)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2018


A friend of mine suggested that AI would have been significantly improved if the aliens-resurrect-the-kid ending had been cut. The real ending is at the bottom of the sea.


I did not care for the film, but the truly horrifying ending is the seemingly tacked-on "happy" ending. An immortal child - the last of his kind - who has outlived his world and wants nothing more than to be comforted by his mother one last time.

It may be one of the bleakest endings in all of film.
posted by Svejk at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Buckaroo Bonzai is kinda hard to just sit and watch blind

I disagree. I think you just need to roll with it. I watched it again recently with my son (his first time seeing it) and I think, if you are willing to let it work for you it is fun. It is meant to be fun. My 9 year old enjoyed it throughly and was quoting for a week. Its doing a post modern pastiche of comics and B-movies - it knows what it is and doesn't take itself that seriously. I think it works throughly.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'll give you that over Upstream Color, but Primer kicked righteous ass.

I even liked Upstream Color - I saw it at the local indie and was just the right amount of drunk - but seeing two Carruth movies and zero Fifth Element on this list rankled me.
posted by ftm at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Your friend made the same mistake that so many others who dislike AI seem to make. They weren't aliens. They were the robot descendents of the AIs, thousands of years in the future after humans were gone.

That difference is not going to affect whether people thought the film was good or not. If you substitute robots for aliens, the ending still has all the same problems.
posted by memebake at 7:47 AM on November 6, 2018


I saw Buckaroo Banzai with my older brother and his date when I was 13, and I remember them turning to each other and going "what the hell was that?" but I knew exactly what it was. (And the movie adaptation of the book is incredible, expands upon Buckaroo's philosophies, and reveals what sinister criminal mastermind left that Maserati outside the insane asylum for Dr Lizardo to steal. )

Fifth Element should be on this list. I saw it at a press screening, back when I was one of those 'line people' who went to a lot of them. (I have a Fifth Element t-shirt from it!) Then I went and saw it again and again and again. 11 times. I've even elaborately imagined a sequel called Mr Shadow where the evil just manages to have a portion of itself escape man who fell to earth style.
posted by Catblack at 7:50 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


A Scanner Darkly is better than 110% of the movies on the list.
posted by signal at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I saw an online headline promising "John Carpenter's take on #metoo" and I winced immediately, as he's a personal hero of mine and I was loathe to hear him say the kind of dumb shit 70 year-old men are prone to say on this subject.

I am glad to report that John Carpenter's take on #metoo is that he's frustrated more of the creeps involved aren't in prison.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2018 [17 favorites]


If you substitute robots for aliens, the ending still has all the same problems.

Aliens would be random interlopers who had nothing to do with the preceding 90% of the movie. Far-future AIs have everything to do with it.
posted by rory at 8:02 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Buckaroo Bonzai, where a scientist rockstar drives a little tree through a mountain, is a completely different film.
posted by Catblack at 8:02 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Aliens would be random interlopers who had nothing to do with the preceding 90% of the movie. Far-future AIs have everything to do with it.

I refer the right honourable mefite to the answer I gave some moments ago
posted by memebake at 8:08 AM on November 6, 2018


The Iron Giant.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:09 AM on November 6, 2018 [15 favorites]


On the low-budget end, Coherence was great (and didn't make their list).

Seconding this. We watched it one night on Netflix because nothing else was on, and were pleasantly surprised.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, Minority Report should have finished when they put the halo device on Cruise.
posted by biffa at 8:15 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Minority Report should have finished...

Yeah that's our pal Spielberg. Minority Report has 3 different endings - it's like he doesn't trust the audience or his film enough.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2018


Starship Troopers is a national and humanity level treasure.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:19 AM on November 6, 2018 [12 favorites]


A.I. is great. Spielberg doing Kubrick cuts through the worst tendencies of each and emphasizes the best of both directors. Spielberg keeps the human side warm, something Kubrick's control fetish never allowed him to do, which isn't necessarily to the wrong in the films he made, while Spielberg's tendency to bail out from the darker suggestions of his films by giving in to emotional excess is held in check by Kubrick's script.

The movie holds light and dark in remarkable balance throughout. The lightness of love and care buoys the movie by remaining a constant potentiality which is sometimes fleetingly realized to give proof of its existence. At the same time though, that potential is under continual threat of loss and great psychological or physical harm from its absenting is a never ending concern.

The movie is both compelling on its surface while also being remarkably subtle at times. Just look, for example, at the opening of this scene where David is brought home to meet his "new mother" Monica and she sees him for the first time through the frosted glass of the doorway. Compare that to David's awakening at the end of the movie where he first meets the "aliens", who embody a mechanistic form, able to process information in a machine-like fashion. The "aliens" are to David as David is to Monica visually, and I would suggest evolutionarily as well. They aren't so much aliens as the result of the continued process David's "birth" represented. This is further driven home, visually, in the decor/symbol of Professor Hobby's office, where we first meet David.

The movie explores a series of relationships that relate to each other by how different recurring themes reverberate as those themes are sounded from differing perspectives. (And since I'm getting all high falutin' and stuff I'll say AI uses liminal spaces and moments to examine its central ideas and feelings attached to them without ever settling for a definitive answer on what it all means. It's really fantastic.

Oh, and perfectly placed on the list of course as per my earlier comment.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:20 AM on November 6, 2018 [12 favorites]


Kind of afraid to go back and watch Starship Troopers to see exactly how it plays but boy the context has really changed on that movie.

I went back and re-watched it recently. As caveats to all conclusions drawn, I was not sober at the time.

Generally speaking, it holds up... better than I, and my fellow viewers, thought it would? But that was a very low bar.

There's definitely stuff that was supposed to feel more foreign to the audience when it was released, but now seems like Just Another Day in 2018. Some of the incipient fascism / endless-war stuff, for sure, but also having a gender-integrated military and women in combat. (One comment from a friend who was watching it: "If it guaranteed that dudes would be as un-creepy as they are in the shower scene and treat everyone that equally, I'd take the fascism.") shrug

I'm well aware that Verhoeven claims the movie was supposed to be some sort of satire / social commentary / inversion of Heinlein's book... but IMO, it doesn't really come across in the movie. Maybe an anti-fascist satire was Verhoeven's intent, but who cares about intent. The film comes off ambiguous at best, mostly because it's not obvious whether it's satire, or earnest lowbrow fascist propaganda. This could easily be a sign of the times; in 1997, you didn't need to wonder as much whether you were watching actual crypto-Nazi (or... not-crypto Nazi) propaganda, so the satire was more obvious. But now... I could easily see someone watching it and thinking "well, the effects were bad and the dialog was stilted, and it was a wee bit on the nose... but man, they had some snazzy uniforms! Sign me up!" It's the old trap of trying to make an anti-war war movie; I just don't think it's possible.

This mirrors a feeling I've had about other stuff from the 90s that was putatively intended as satire; recently I wrote something pretty similar about 90s corporate punk — listening to it now, divorced from its original context, the satire that it may have been intended as doesn't necessarily come across. (And tbh, again with the authorial intent problem, I question whether that satire was ever really received by the audience.) Sarcasm is a double-edged sword, in that it requires your audience know you're being sarcastic: if they don't, you're just an asshole. The most charitable interpretation I can give to Starship Troopers is that it had more faith in its 1997 audience to get that, than I have in one today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


I haven't seen Starship Troopers since the '90s and don't remember it very well, but the way you describe it makes it sound like Showgirls, in the sense that nobody can agree on what it was aiming for and/or whether or not it was successful.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


In the "100 greatest non-English language films" thread I commented "Are we getting more of these "all-time" cultural lists earlier in the year than usual? Is somebody assuming we just won't be around after November 6th?" This list definitely feels like somebody trying to get in before the doors close...
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:33 AM on November 6, 2018


Looper, on the other hand, is Not Good. It’s a movie where a character literally tells the audience not to think about the film’s time travel rules too hard. If you want to swap a movie out of this list for your own favorite, remove Looper.

As I think I have mentioned on the blue once before, Looper threw me for a, well, you know, because I paid too close attention to it. Our hero is Joe: Young Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while Old Joe is Bruce Willis. Young Joe’s contemporary and rival is Kid Blue, played by Noah Segan.

Segan and Willis are both left-handed, while JGL is right-handed. No attempt is ever made to disguise this: there is a lot of gunplay and everyone uses his dominant hand. I spent at least an hour watching closely to see when the reveal that Old Joe was not the elder version of Young Joe. No dice. And it’s not like this sort of might not have occurred to anyone involved: for The Sixth Sense, Willis’ character took notes right-handed so his absence of wedding ring would not be easily noticed.

TL; dr: it irks me when filmmakers pay less attention to their films than the audience does.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


I loved Avatar. Very ambitious, mostly pulls it off.

In my opinion, Avatar is, at its heart, a fantasy movie. For its science fiction counterpart, see How to Train Your Dragon.

Yes, I'm completely serious.
posted by teraflop at 8:37 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


it doesn't sound like whoever wrote the blurb even watched the movie, or at least understands the cultural context under which it was made

Yes, this was rather sloppily written. Snowpiercer is based on a French comic, not a novel, while Edge of Tomorrow is based on a light novel, not a manga, both of which are not difficult facts to check.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:38 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Everybody complaining about AI being on this list: I think the movie is potentially one of the darkest pieces of fiction in Spielberg’s filmography.

It's only dark if what happens to the boy robot matters, but it doesn't. The boy robot is just an engine that maximizes "Mommy smiles because of what I did," of no more moral consequence than any other tool. It never moves beyond that, never does anything to remotely hint that it has become anything more than a machine for making Mommy smile.

The parts of the movie that I've always objected to and hated were the path along the way. AI is a movie where a character says -- utterly sincerely, without any hint of irony, as something we're supposed to take seriously and not laugh at -- "I'm sorry I never told you about the world." Bleah.

There are bits of the movie that are almost good. The bits with Jude Law's gigolo robot trying to reconcile self-preservation against other programmed drives are good, as are the bits where you can sort of see the teddy bear robot maybe growing beyond its original programming. But Spielberg never does anything interesting with them, so instead we just keep gawking at the cute kid robot as if it mattered just because it has big sad fake eyes.

I would love to have seen the Kubrick movie.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:41 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm well aware that Verhoeven claims the movie was supposed to be some sort of satire / social commentary / inversion of Heinlein's book... but IMO, it doesn't really come across in the movie.

The best you can say about Starship Troopers is that it's a crappy B-movie that's good because making it a crappy B-movie was an act of explicit directorial intent as satire.

Even in 1997, it mostly failed as satire -- in the theater I was seeing, lots of people were cheering at the moments you would want to be sure the gestapo saw you cheering at.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


And totally agree that A.I. could have been great, but was merely "okay", solely as a result of Spielberg not being able to keep his hands off the Emotional Manipulation dial and turning it all the way to 11 for the final scene.

The ending doesn't even make sense. Brains the size of planets and you can only bring back his mom for a day? Why? Because it's sadder that way, that's why. Coooooome on.

Although the last scene is probably the most interesting from a plot-premise point of view, it seemed weirdly tacked on and just there to get the audience crying. If someone wants to do a "humans are extinct but the robots created in their image and programmed to love them live on" movie, call cstross and see about getting the rights to Saturn's Children, it's a much better treatment of the idea.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


Glad to see Arrival listed. Would like to have seen Dark City on here somewhere.
posted by J. Tiberius at 8:54 AM on November 6, 2018


GCU Sweet and Full of Grace - It's only dark if what happens to the boy robot matters, but it doesn't. The boy robot is just an engine that maximizes "Mommy smiles because of what I did," of no more moral consequence than any other tool.

Hmm, I didn't like AI, but I never had a problem buying David as a conscious protagonist. I'm surprised to read that. Especially from a GCU.
posted by memebake at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Even in 1997, it mostly failed as satire -- in the theater I was seeing, lots of people were cheering at the moments you would want to be sure the gestapo saw you cheering at.

It fails as satire because the aliens blow up the home town of all the main characters while they are still in basic training. It's not satire, at best it's a revenge fantasy with silly hats and posters.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:59 AM on November 6, 2018


GCU Sweet and Full of Grace - It's only dark if what happens to the boy robot matters, but it doesn't. The boy robot is just an engine that maximizes "Mommy smiles because of what I did," of no more moral consequence than any other tool.

Hmm, I didn't like AI, but I never had a problem buying David as a conscious protagonist. I'm surprised to read that. Especially from a GCU.
posted by memebake at 10:55 AM on November 6 [+] [!]


How did I not catch that. Just re-reading Excession, too.
posted by TheProfessor at 9:04 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


> Are we getting more of these "all-time" cultural lists earlier in the year than usual? Is somebody assuming we just won't be around after November 6th?

The linked article has a dateline of 2017.
posted by ardgedee at 9:08 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wasn't it hinted at pretty strongly In Starship Troopers that the humans staged the bug attack? It certainly didn't indicate that the bugs they encountered had any ability to aim asteroids across the galaxy.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


The film comes off ambiguous at best, mostly because it's not obvious whether it's satire, or earnest lowbrow fascist propaganda.

That comment along with the others who don't see Starship Troopers as a satire are interesting. When I saw it with Europeans at the time and it was very clear to all of us that it was very much a pointed commentary on the US miltarism and to a lesser extent propaganda masquerading as blockbuster movies.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [14 favorites]


Wasn't it hinted at pretty strongly In Starship Troopers that the humans staged the asteroid attack
No, it was not in the movie, and it doesn't hint that the humans have that ability either. Maybe in the book.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:19 AM on November 6, 2018




The Martian, Interstellar, Gattaca, Contact, and Serenity would have been on my list.
posted by ShakeyJake at 9:24 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


No Until The End Of The World, no credibility!
posted by octobersurprise at 9:27 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


The Arrival, but not Contact?

And why is Battle Royale on there at all?
posted by koucha at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Overall, it's a pretty good list. I've only not seen two films in it, Battle Royale and The Host and only dislike two of them: Jurassic Park and their #1, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I've never understood the love for either of those films even though I'm generally a fan of both Charlie Kaufman and Steven Spielberg."

Heh, I read that as Andy Kaufman for some reason, and was like no no, ESOTSM is the one where Jim Carrey erases memories, not the one where he plays Andy Kaufman.
posted by Grither at 9:38 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Even in 1997, it mostly failed as satire -- in the theater I was seeing, lots of people were cheering at the moments you would want to be sure the gestapo saw you cheering at.

At some point it makes sense to think of the audience failing
posted by thelonius at 9:44 AM on November 6, 2018 [9 favorites]


It fails as satire because the aliens blow up the home town of all the main characters while they are still in basic training. It's not satire, at best it's a revenge fantasy with silly hats and posters.

I haven't seen it in awhile, but isn't that the entire point of the satire? That what we are watching—Starship Troopers the movie—is itself a fascist propaganda piece lifted straight out of this alternate future/universe. And so of course it doesn't provide sly, biting commentary on the events as they are unfolding. Of course it plays like a bombastic revenge fantasy with silly hats and posters. Because the audience is not us, but rather the future soldiers of New Argentina.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Please forgive me, I didn't see Ex Machina until recently, so this is my first chance to vent. UUGGGH! This tropetastic bundle of nonsense can't even distinguish between "passing the Turing test" and "fully-operational fuckbot."

Sorry, but there is so much actually going on right now IRL with respect to Artificial Intelligence, and this film was about as fresh as Westworld (1973).
posted by whuppy at 9:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


At some point it makes sense to think of the audience failing

That was my thought. Verhoeven made as a satire of American's tendencies toward fascism and the fact that an American audience didn't get the joke only proves his point.
posted by octothorpe at 9:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [17 favorites]


Wasn't it hinted at pretty strongly In Starship Troopers that the humans staged the asteroid attack

In the movie its very fishy, because some of the characters encounter the asteroid in space and it's clearly moving at sub-light speeds. In the movie there is this graphic that shows the insects are based on the other side of the galaxy. There's no way they can get an asteroid from over there to Earth in less than hundreds of thousands of years. So viewers of the movie, bearing in mind that the insects are on the other side of the galaxy, should have some doubts in their mind that the insects could be responsible for the asteroid.

In the books (apparently, I haven't read them myself) the insects can exploit wormholes to send things accross the galaxy. But clearly Verhoeven is working to a different vision than the books.
posted by memebake at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Buckaroo Banzai was ok and all but it left me unsatisfied with respect to the fact that no one ever came back later to tell me about the watermelon.

(I kid.)

And yes, Gattaca should be on the list, and add me to those surprised that 5th Element was omitted.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Tucker Stone & Sean Witzke took a look at Verhoeven's oeuvre (That feels like it wants to be a palindrome) for their podcast's annual Halloween marathon and talked about Starship Troopers for quite a bit (@1.40.10 mark). It's pretty clearly satire; heck, I remember Entertainment Weekly recognizing it as such at or shortly after its release, it's not subtle.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


[sneaks into room]

No Men in Black or Independence Day?!

[runs out of room]
posted by General Malaise at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Outrage! Travesty! Nonsense! How could anyone make a list like this and not include Space Truckers.
posted by sfenders at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, Lifeforce.
posted by sfenders at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


whuppy: Please forgive me, I didn't see Ex Machina until recently, so this is my first chance to vent. UUGGGH! This tropetastic bundle of nonsense can't even distinguish between "passing the Turing test" and "fully-operational fuckbot."

I don't think you're giving the script enough credit there. The writers know exactly what a Turing Test is. The actual film is more about Eliezer Yudkowsky's AI Box thought experiment - a sufficiently intelligent AI will be able to talk itself out of any box. Nathan deliberately sets up an AI Box situation, it was never meant to be a Turing Test at all - he admits that in the final third of the film. But he mistakenly thinks he's going to stay in control of the situation.
posted by memebake at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


I also thought the Buenos Aries asteroid in Starship Troopers was a false flag. It did seem pretty clear that Games & Theory would be capable of that kind of duplicity. However it sounds like the evidence must have been less explicit than I remember. I might actually do a re-watch tonight.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2018


Starship Troopers is sort of a weird movie that I don't think can be talked about without mentioning other movies. I compare it to Black Hawk Down, which is suppose to be an anti-war movie but largely glorifies an excursion in Somalia with hoo-rah patriotism, intense battle choreography, and the dehumanization of the other. If you saw Starship Troopers in the theater and people were cheering at the "wrong" moments, then I hope you saw Black Hawk Down in theaters, because people were cheering at the wrong moments. There is also an emotional density in BHD where the pilot who is trapped underneath inside the helicopter is attacked by Somalis. They throw rocks at him, shoot at him, and finally rip him from the cockpit and take him away while people shoot off AK-47s and cheer, and then he loses that picture of his wife and kid while they parade his body through the street. This is meant to completely vilify a group of people.

Starship Troopers has obvious-to-us fascist imagery, dialog, and concepts. It's meant to be completely ridiculous. It satirized Black Hawk Down before it was even released. One of the best moments of the movie is when Rico and his friends had gotten their test scores back and he's joining the mobile infantry. The person he's talking to is some sort of military guy who has to stamp their tests, and when Rico tells him he's joining mobile infantry the man says "Good for you, the mobile infantry made me the man I am today". He shakes Rico's hand with a robotic hand (a prosthetic, these days) and when he turns for a moment the camera shows that the man is missing both of his legs. This isn't typically something most war movies show, and in 1997 we didn't know that loads of Americans were going to be coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq with missing limbs, or that we'd have a drone campaign doing the same to people at weddings.

The whole "anti-war" satire genre is a tough nut to crack. Starship Troopers isn't perfect, and I'm not sure if the typical American understands the dark undertone of laughing at "bugs" while ostensibly white Americans gun them down in a blaze of glory, with fascistic statements like "the only good bug is a dead bug". I think some of the themes were halted by editing choices, or maybe weren't well-done to begin with. The thing about smart bugs/brain bugs is meant to show that the bugs are actually capable of making decisions, are tactical, and have some sort of hierarchy or possibly a culture to them, but it doesn't exactly put this in there well.

I much prefer Verhoeven's other satire, which is also on this list: RoboCop. Some of the themes of RoboCop are obvious, and I think others are a bit more subtle. I'd like to list some of these, no matter how obvious they are:

1. Identity. Alex Murphy has his brain ostensibly wiped of all memories, but some of them come back after he's changed over to RoboCop. This is a major plot point of the movie and Alex Murphy discovering his previous life is what moves the plot forward.

2. Corporate ownership. OCP (Omni Consumer Products) buys the Detroit police force and manipulates personnel in order to find a proper candidate for the RoboCop program. When Alex Murphy dies they are able to disassemble his body and augment it because they "own" "it". If I am to understand the movie, it seems like when the police signed their contracts, they gave ownership of their bodies to the corporation upon death.

3. Mega incorporation of multiple industries. OCP is not only in the business of owning police, but they have military contracts too, and the main storyline of the movie is that they are building a new Detroit called "Delta City", which is suppose to be a utopian vision for New Detroit. So not only is OCP in charge of the police force, who will ostensibly be eliminated for their new robocops, but they're also building a gigantic new part of the city, and on the back end will be selling drugs and prostitutes to the construction workers of this development. Backing up to what I mentioned before, there's a quote where Clarence Boddicker/Red Foreman is talking to Dick Jones about killing RoboCop, and mentions that he needs military weaponry. Dick Jones says "we practically are the military".

4. Media in general. There's a scene where the newscasters are discussing the police union potentially going on strike because they are getting killed way too much on the street and aren't getting any support. They "interview" a guy who is looks like an upstanding citizen, and next they interview a guy who they bill as "homeless man" who has long hair, looks unkempt, is sort of babbling about "hippie" stuff. There's another sequence where it's mentioned that a missile defense satellite that shoots lasers accidentally went off and blew up a bunch of cities around the world, and even killed several ex-US presidents. It's mentioned in a short blurb on the news and barely even registers any emotional output from the newscaster. This isn't even to mention the car commercial for the 6000-SUX, which is happily advertised with having terrible gas mileage.

5. Union/labor issues. This isn't as prominent as everything else, and since it's a police force and police union that we're talking about here it doesn't exactly hold up to modern standards. The police force is meant to be the "working class" of the city, and the only ability they have to get concessions from OCP is to use their union to launch a strike. I think there's probably some deeper connection here between Alex Murphy as a cop (who is coded as working class, and works in the coded-as-working class police department) and RoboCop as an entity, and how that all figures in with this particular theme, but I don't have the vocabulary to explain it. The basic thread of it is that the police force and police union are having a hard time with OCP and their ownership of them, and the fact that the police union wants to strike in order to gain concessions. They effectively want to fight against their control by OCP. RoboCop's plotline isn't only to seek revenge (or to seek justice) for his past self, but it's to get rid of OCP's control/ownership over him and his body.

There are definitely other themes, and people like to talk about the Christian imagery of RoboCop, and there are obvious judge/jury/executioner issues with RoboCop as an entity. I think Verhoeven did a great job hitting almost every idea at least once, even if it's just a short snip. I feel like RoboCop as a smaller, more local movie (albeit one with global themes) shows off Verhoeven's style a lot better than Starship Troopers.

I looked through the list and I have pretty much a lot of the same disappointments as other people here. Akira not being on there is ridiculous, as it's probably the best or one of the best examples of cyberpunk out there, and has the honor of being one of the only cyberpunk movies that actually has its main characters as punks. Hell, it's probably the only cyberpunk movie where the main characters are punks. What's with cyberpunk movies always being from the point of view of the police forces? Blade Runner: Deckard's a cop. RoboCop: Alex Murphy is a cop, gets turned into a robot cop. Ghost in the Shell: Section 9 is a secret police force, meaning they're cops. I have complained about this before but it's fucking ridiculous to me that cyberpunk movies never have any actual punks in their stories.

I've been watching a lot of cyberpunk lately and there are two movies I think should be mentioned in here: Strange Days, which is one of the best, most well-done cyberpunk movies; and Johnny Mnemonic, which is one of the worst cyberpunk movies. If you haven't seen Strange Days then you just need to go see it. It has Ralph Fiennes in it but he sort of looks like Bradley Cooper. Awesome neo-noir storyline.

Johnny Mnemonic, however bad it is (and wow is it so bad and so cheesy), still deserves a spot on there simply due to its attempt at being a cool cyberpunk movie. It could have been amazing, but it completely failed. I watched it recently and I mostly just imagined how good that movie could have been if done properly. It's one of the only movies that I hope gets a remake, or at least a properly done version.

I think I would have switched out Videodrome with ExistenZ.

One movie that I think is extremely overlooked, isn't cyberpunk, but qualifies as sci-fi, is...

Speed Racer.

Everybody go watch the Wachowski's Speed Racer movie. It is amazing. It is seriously, unironically, one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. It got slammed so hard when it was originally released, but I absolutely love it. Ostensibly a working-class storyline about a family trying to stay independent in the face of a gigantic, morally corrupt corporation that seeks to buy them out, or destroy them. I love the special effects in the movie, and I think the editing and the way the movie is stylized is so well-done. It definitely needs a critical re-assessment.
posted by gucci mane at 10:07 AM on November 6, 2018 [20 favorites]


The Card Cheat : I remember Electric Dreams as being the one movie that made me cry as a child. Whenever I hear the classical music used when Edgar started to fall in love, I think of the movie and get a bit sad.

I've got a copy that I keep meaning to re-watch - I haven't seen it in ~30 years. But it's really mentally hard to approach a re-watch while wondering both how it will hold up, and what it will do to my barely-remembered memories of the film.
posted by nobeagle at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2018


Also here's an interesting essay about Ex Machina and how it relates to Yudkowsky and also to Turing's original gender-based formulation of the 'imitation game'.
posted by memebake at 10:09 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


No The Road Warrior? Buuuuuuunnnnnnnk.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Looper is great but Upstream Color is The. Worst. Most. Horrible. Movie. Ever. A great movie for folks who think "People are basically Pigs" is deep.

My personal faves: Arrival, A Quiet Place, and #1: Attack the Block.
posted by latkes at 10:22 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


No The Road Warrior? Buuuuuuunnnnnnnk.

US release of 21 May 1982; so it misses the cutoff of June 25, 1982 just barely. Hence Fury Road, but not the Road Warrior.
posted by nubs at 10:23 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


D'oh!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:26 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


sfenders: "Also, Lifeforce."

My roommates in '86 - '87 loved that movie and it seemed to be on HBO constantly at the time.
posted by octothorpe at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2018


How has no-one mentioned Attack the Block?

It's John Boyega's debut film, and he's incredible. As is Jodie Whittaker, and Nick Frost, and a ton of other actors who launched careers after this film. It's criminally underrated, a modern cult-classic.
posted by juice boo at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2018 [19 favorites]


Upstream Color AND Under the Skin?
Very, very edgy. Good list.
Would add Time Crimes.
posted by PHINC at 10:33 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I saw A.I. shortly after reading Baxter's _Titan_, so I definitely saw the ending as aliens instead of robotic descendants. And put me on the A.I. naysayers list - I did not enjoy very much of that movie at all.

I'm not 100% in love with this list. Most of the things I would have added have already been mentioned, like District 9, Electric Dreams, and Fifth Element, but I'd like to have seen space for Enemy Mine, The Last Starfighter, and Timecop.

I'll go with "B+, put a little more effort in next time".
posted by hanov3r at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2018


What's with cyberpunk movies always being from the point of view of the police forces? Blade Runner: Deckard's a cop

To answer the general question: because police procedurals are generally easier stories to craft and write, would be my guess; audience understanding and expectations are clear, and you can spend time showing how the world is different via the lens of a police officer without having to fill in details about the nature of the job the person is doing.

To look at a specific: Deckard is a Blade Runner, but one who apparently quit the force and returns to work under duress. There's a threat made to get his compliance; he is an unwilling cop and one who goes on to participate in hiding a runaway replicant. Past that, there's the question of Deckard being a replicant himself; but the whole film is riddled with questions of identity, humanity, and memory in such a way that it starts off as a detective story and becomes something else by the end as it begins to spend more and more time with Roy and Pris. Roy is the protagonist of the film, and the story is only Deckard's in as much as it is about how this job and the encounters along the way change him.
posted by nubs at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


My roommates in '86 - '87 loved [Lifeforce] and it seemed to be on HBO constantly at the time

Ya gotta wonder, did that love the movie or love the acres and acres of naked woman in that movie?

Speed Racer.

Between that and Jupiter Ascending, you really have to give the Wachowskis credit for accepting and doubling- and tripling-down on the crazy. I'm not a big fan of Speed Racer except for the moment when John Goodman picks up a bad guy and twirls him over his head like a baton.

But Jupiter Ascending... a movie about "I am the prettiest princess and I own the Earth and I get to have the prettiest boyfriend who is also a puppy and he will carry me with his rocket skates and I will beat the bad men who want to turn everyone into goo and the nice lady will clap at me and the guy with the elephant face will clap at me and everyone will clap at me because again the prettiest princess and then I will go back to cleaning toilets!" And... yup, that's exactly what they made. You have to admire just the audacity of it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also, Minority Report is just so dumb on the central gimmick. The pre-cogs think Tom Cruise will have killed the victim because he's in the room, even though he didn't do it. So it's like any murder that works at a distance (poison, a sniper, sabotaging someone's brakes, a bomb) should be easy to commit. They'll only stop unpremeditated acts of passion.

Isn't that the main point of the movie? That the pre-cogs actually aren't a very good system, and they're being used by authoritarians to impose an unrealistic sort of order on society?

Looper is great but Upstream Color is The. Worst. Most. Horrible. Movie. Ever. A great movie for folks who think "People are basically Pigs" is deep.

That's not even remotely the message! What!?

Even in 1997, it mostly failed as satire -- in the theater I was seeing, lots of people were cheering at the moments you would want to be sure the gestapo saw you cheering at.

I don't think that's a failure of the movie, so much as a failure of the audience.
posted by codacorolla at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Strange Days, which is one of the best, most well-done cyberpunk movies

I haven't seen Strange Days since it opened, but I recall liking it a lot and feeling that captured the cyberpunk je ne sais quoi better than most of the attempts at the time. And speaking of which, tho not a theatrical release, 1993's Wild Palms belongs somewhere, not just for its take on the society of the spectacle, but also for anticipating the niche HBO/Amazon/Netflix serials to come.

My favorite line from Robo Cop is Murphy's assurance to the badly injured Lewis that "They'll fix you. They fix everything."

(I knew people in college who never seemed to grasp that Robo Cop was a satire, either.)
posted by octobersurprise at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


If memory serves, Paul Verhoeven conceived of Starship Troopers as a work of anti-authoritarian, anti-militarism satire, and had developed it considerably before he'd ever heard of the Heinlein book. Later the book was licensed for commercial reasons and its "adaptation" was superficial. Verhoeven never read it.

I believe I once read a rather long analysis of the movie that mentioned all this and more, but I haven't been able to find it.

One article that mentions a lot of this is Poking Fun at Militarism: How Paul Verhoeven’s Cult Classic Starship Troopers Willfully Discards Robert Heinlein’s Novel. Some of these points are mentioned at Wikipedia.

Anyway, although it's perfectly natural to assume that Starship Troopers was an adaptation of the novel, it really wasn't.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


RoboCop is a decent satire until the end. Starship Troopers is a generic war movie that's not as good as StarWars. Isn't the most famous line from Aliens 'let's nuke it from orbit to be sure?' What's the difference between that and Starship Troopers?

A good satire of war movies is Futurama's War is Heck. Watch that instead. The 1960s Batman is actually a decent satire of crime shows, where there is costumed vigilante who is mostly stopping petty crimes that the police don't deal with because they are busy stopping real crime.

Naturally the movies had to amp up the crime and killing because satire is a tough game to play.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:56 AM on November 6, 2018


Buckaroo Banzai belongs on the list because of dialogue like this:
Mission Control: Buckaroo, The White House wants to know: is everything okay with the alien space craft from Planet 10, or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?

Buckaroo Banzai: Tell him yes on one, and no on two.

Mission Control: Which one was yes? Go ahead and destroy Russia... or number 2?
posted by slkinsey at 11:03 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


And speaking of which, tho not a theatrical release, 1993's Wild Palms belongs somewhere, not just for its take on the society of the spectacle, but also for anticipating the niche HBO/Amazon/Netflix serials to come.

And having as far as I know, William Gibson's only cameo role in a movie.
posted by octothorpe at 11:03 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I really don't get the love for Mad Max: Fury Road. Everyone seems to think it's this masterpiece of balls to the wall something or other, but it just feels like a regular ol' action movie to me. Am I missing something? The original Mad Max broke all the ground on the idea so besides being nicely done I just don't see how it does anything meaningful for sci-fi.

On the other hand, another vote for Interstellar. Yes, it has problems, most notably the schmaltzy ending that kind of throws it's hands up and says "magic love, man", which feels like a sci-fi sin, but the early part of the movie seemed the most impactful to me. People living broken lives on a broken planet, holding on to some echoes of normalcy. It's one of the few sci-fi examples I can think of how people might actually exist during the global warming fallout, and I feel like that should be a more necessary exploration in sci-fi right now. We have a jillion examples of "post-nuclear/apocalyptic" worlds and looming 500 foot tsunamis, but not too many dealing with a slowly worsening global existence with increased hardship across the board.
posted by lubujackson at 11:06 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Urgh looper. It all rests on the really flimsy premise that it's impossible to murder people in the future, whilst having the murder of his wife in the future as the motivation for 50% of the plot. How's that for a time travel paradox.

Also at the end the dude could have shot himself in the hand instead of the head but whatever.
posted by Ned G at 11:08 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


OK I'll bite: what is the secret meaning behind the title Gattaca?
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:10 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


G A T C are the symbols for the four nucleotides that make up DNA. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine. Also I think the formation gattaca might also have a meaning in genetics.
posted by memebake at 11:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


You can spell it with the nucleotides in DNA?

A adenine
C cytosine
G guanine
T thymine
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


35. Dune (1984)
Was recently revamping my okcupid profile, and they've added a bunch of alternative essay prompts. I guess since I list "sci-fi" as one of my interests, one of the questions asked "Which director would you want to see remake Dune?" I chose Baz Luhrmann. Only the mastermind behind refurbishing Romeo and Juliet as a battle between Surfer Bros and Catholic Machismos in Southern Cali would offer the kind of wild outlandishness that movie deserves.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:23 AM on November 6, 2018 [12 favorites]


WORLD OF TOMORROW

It's right there in the title!

Oh, you say it's not long enough to make the list?

Well, there's an Episode 2, too!
posted by FJT at 11:28 AM on November 6, 2018


Anyway, my favorite SF movie is that really well-made Culture one, the one that gets all the ship-to-ship comms right and nails the microsecond space battles, with just the right mix of grandeur and ennui, you know the one, right? The one based on Banks' recently found series of six previously unknown finished Culture novels?
posted by signal at 11:28 AM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


I really don't get the love for Mad Max: Fury Road. Everyone seems to think it's this masterpiece of balls to the wall something or other, but it just feels like a regular ol' action movie to me. Am I missing something?

In the words of Roger Ebert, films are perhaps the most powerful "empathy machines" in art. Now, as with all art, films are a matter of taste and what works for one person may not work for another. But in the interests of helping you understand why someone else loved a particular movie and furthering the idea of the empathy machine, here is what I loved in no particular order: In an era of CGI spectacles, Fury Road has a lot of practical effects. It's storytelling is amazingly done; there is very little dialogue that explains anything about the world yet I feel I clearly understand Immortan Joe's cult and the beliefs present, along with that of the group that Furiosa is trying to reach, without any big expository lumps; the same can be said for how the relationships between the characters develop (this is a film that has taken "show, don't tell" to heart). As a result, the pacing is incredible and the film feels propulsive to the point that when a quieter moment happens, it becomes significant for what is shared during it. It's also a film that takes pretty straight aim at ideas of toxic masculinity, not just in the presence of female characters but clearly in the text regarding what happened to the world and in the attitudes of ownership and possession.
posted by nubs at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2018 [15 favorites]


Also, Minority Report is just so dumb on the central gimmick. … They'll only stop unpremeditated acts of passion.

The way I remember it, they’d virtually stamped out premeditated murder. Acts of passion are the only murders left.

The McGuffin of the story is: Director Burgess committed a complex premeditated murder, which the precogs did indeed predict. But his plan had accounted for this, depended on it. This was the history that set all the rest of the movie in motion.

When the system predicts Anderton will commit murder (because Burgess has set him up), doesn’t it drop a yellow/amber/brown ball, indicating a premeditated (by Burgess) crime? Don’t the other characters comment on how rare a prediction this had become?
posted by Western Infidels at 11:37 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


> Everybody go watch the Wachowski's Speed Racer movie. It is amazing. It is seriously, unironically, one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. [...] It definitely needs a critical re-assessment.

I agree, it's an undeservedly underrated movie, and that a lot of people were taking it to task for doing the things it was deliberately trying to do (and doing successfully, for that matter), like using a brightly color-saturated and deliberately fakey-looking retrofuturist design as a satirical element, seems to me mostly an object lesson in how crowds coalesce around whichever critical voices get to drive popular opinion, since nobody seems to have had problems with how the Fallout franchise did more or less the same thing.

Film Critic Hulk has been carrying the torch for Speed Racer in several essays (including this 10th-anniversary retrospective which you should probably read first because it's the one that's not all-caps).
posted by ardgedee at 11:41 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


At some point it makes sense to think of the audience failing

Well, there's an argument to be had there, for sure. But I think it's the same issue that I have with the Beastie Boys and their retrospective claim that Licensed to Ill was a parody album and if adolescent boys just didn't pick up on the sarcasm, then it's not their problem. Uh, no. And maybe this is influenced by my general lack of sympathy here in 2018 for "I was just kidding!" defenses, but if you're engaging in satire, your success or failure as an artist depends on communicating the fact that it's satire to the audience. If they don't get that it's satire, then you failed. And the failure mode of sexist or fascist satire is really bad, because it's having people take it earnestly.

Now, that said... some allowances should be made for the audience changing over time; some changes can't be easily foreseen. Something that might have been clearly seen as satire in 1997 might not be seen quite the same way in 2018; I think that's definitely true with Starship Troopers. There weren't a lot of actual Nazis running around in 1997, that I recall. So putting your indeterminate-future military in Hugo Boss 1939 Collection uniforms, and have an opening scene that's a shot-for-shot tribute to Leni Riefenstahl, was perhaps a defensible satirical choice. Today it just seems... ambiguous.

I put a bit of blame on movies that came after Troopers, and were not meant as satire. E.g. the weird Travolta Battlefield Earth thing, which failed in the opposite direction—it's so bad it succeeds unintentionally at times as satire—and then those Atlas Shrugged movies that got made against all odds and better judgement a few years ago. If you were flipping around cable today and came across Starship Troopers and didn't know anything about it or the backstory, you might be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled across another weird Scientology vanity project.

Not Verhoeven's fault, of course, but neither would it be the audience's either. 1997 was, in retrospect, a simpler time.

I really don't get the love for Mad Max: Fury Road

Look, when we needed a man in spandex suspended in front of a huge wall of loudspeakers, mounted on a truck, driving hell-for-leather through the desert, playing a flamethrower guitar... Mad Max: Fury Road was there.

It's not going to age well either, but for different reasons.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


AI is horror movie masquerading as a heartwarming Spielberg movie. There is literally a moment in the middle of the film where a man in an Indiana Jones hat descends from an Amblin Images logo-balloon to warn the audience not to be taken in by the emotionally manipulative artifice on display.

It is Kubrick's last, best joke on Hollywood, and Spielberg's involvement is brilliant, IMO.

And if you think the ending is supposed to be heartwarming, I encourage you to watch it again. It's horrific.
posted by chromecow at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


> It's not going to age well either, but for different reasons.

It is going to age like the best creative works from Weimar Germany and for roughly the same reason.

It's not about a man in spandex suspended in front of a huge wall of loudspeakers mounted on a truck driving hell for leather through the desert playing a flamethrower guitar. It's about a diverse group of warrior women escaping from under the thumb of a viscerally disgusting sexually abusive brutally stupid narcissistic tyrant, gathering weapons, resources, and allies, then coming back, beating the hell out of the tyrant and his lackeys, and thereby liberating the rest of his victims.

It's the story of our goddamned times, or at least the version of our goddamned times that ends well. If you don't have an election party to go to, I recommend watching it tonight.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:58 AM on November 6, 2018 [21 favorites]


If they don't get that it's satire, then you failed.

As was pointed out, some of the audience did get that it was satire. I did. The Europeans I was hanging with at the time certainly did (especially the Germans). Many of my activist friends did, to such an extent that it is still used as a shorthand for militaristic propaganda films like Transformers. Perhaps the problem might stem from the tone of the film. Tonally, like Speed Racer or Buckaroo Banzai, for instance, it is telling you one thing but giving you another. It is using a language you know, that of stupid blockbuster films, but using that coding in a way that calls your attention to the work so you have to step back because you're not on even ground anymore. Robocop functions in a similar way but works better because of producers who had a better understanding of what Verhoeven was trying to do. Starship Troopers is imperfect but it is very clear that it is a satire.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:07 PM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


MULTIPASS
posted by simra at 12:12 PM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


I still think the best part of A.I. was Ashley Scott.
posted by and for no one at 12:15 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


The problem with satire is that, save for the very best instances, serves only to show those already in agreement something is treated as correct or normal is in fact wrong via exaggeration. Done well, the hope would be in providing the trigger to allow someone who didn't already see thing X was a problem to be able to see it. Done exceptionally well satire can provide connections between different seemingly unrelated elements to show give perspective on why these things are linked and what some issues are at the heart of those connections. Most satires don't manage much of that at all. They just exaggerate surface elements to give those in the know some fun.

Verhoeven's US satires are often well made, enjoyable enough in their way for those aligned to his thinking, but not really bringing much of anything very deep to the revelations. Showgirls is probably his best made satire, the movie crackles with filmmaking energy, but its primary targets, Hollywood/show business and its myths of Horatio Alger like personal journeys, is such a meager thing to attack that it feels a little like using a flamethrower to clear out some spiderwebs. It may feel satisfying, but it's definitely overkill.

Verhoeven has some enthusiastic supporters among film critics and fans, and there is some reason for that given his ability, but for me Starship Troopers isn't saying much more than Culture Club did with War is Stupid, Verhoeven just does it "ironically" which mostly just serves to leave half the audience thinking he's being genuine. That, at least, Culture Club managed to avoid.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2018


Fury Road was okay, and it gave us a nice new pithy catchphrase for people to shout when they're about to do something unbelievably stupid.
posted by sfenders at 12:21 PM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


more than that, "witness me" is the perfect slogan for underlings in a fascist movement. Fascism is about denying the populace the resources they need to live a full life, and giving them as compensation the mass spectacle of war. The war boys achieve apotheosis by becoming a part of that spectacle through their deaths. Their lives are brutal and stunted, but their consolation for their suffering is that their deaths are witnessed, sometimes even witnessed by the fascist leader himself. They give the leader all that they could potentially be; in return they get to watch the spectacular destruction of that potential.

For more on this, see Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, particularly the epilogue, which closes with these lines:
[Humanity's] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.
Fury Road isn't the slightest bit dumb; giving it a fair watch, while keeping in mind that much of the story is told through cinematography and balletic action rather than through words, will show you that it's quite smart indeed.

More than that, though, I'd argue that no matter how smart you think Fury Road is, you should assume that it's actually even smarter than you think it is. There are few movies that reward rewatching as much as Fury Road does.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:31 PM on November 6, 2018 [10 favorites]


memebake: "Another Earth"

Criminally-underrated, largely, in part due to the fact that it was only barely Science Fiction, contrary to the expectations of anybody who saw the poster/trailer/title -- but a superbly haunting and beautifully-acted film.

The moment shown at the beginning of the trailer is a pretty awesome "holy shit" moment -- such a great subversion of most "first contact" scenes.
posted by schmod at 12:32 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


okay I could defend Fury Road forever, but instead I'm gonna add another movie to the list:

Sound of my Voice.

Spoilers abound on that wikipedia article, so be careful. Suffice it to say: it's a better version of 12 Monkeys (at least, from a certain point of view), and you'll never forget the scene with the Cranberries song.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:39 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, Lifeforce

Just watched that one recently, and while, yes, it has a lot of Naked Vampire Lady, it also has Exsanguinating Patrick Stewart and FRIKKIN' SPACE VAMPIRES. It is so weird.

OTOH, we also just watched Saturn 3 which has lots of Naked Kirk Douglas and a strangely overdubbed Harvey Keitel, along with Tiny Faced Murderous Robot With Baby Brains. It is a truly terrible film built on the skeleton of what would have made a fantastic PKD novel.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:46 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Terminator should be at least in the top ten, if not top five.

Upstream Color is interesting, but unlike Shane Carruth's previous masterpiece Primer, it's NOT science fiction.

Glad to see Fury Road in the top ten.

WALL-E starts fantastic until we go to the spaceship and then it's just silliness and bad writing.

Eternal Sunshine as #1 is surprising, but probably deserves it.

Man I could go on and on but need to go live life.
posted by zardoz at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Everybody go watch the Wachowski's Speed Racer movie. It is amazing. It is seriously, unironically, one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. It got slammed so hard when it was originally released, but I absolutely love it. Ostensibly a working-class storyline about a family trying to stay independent in the face of a gigantic, morally corrupt corporation that seeks to buy them out, or destroy them. I love the special effects in the movie, and I think the editing and the way the movie is stylized is so well-done

I saw this movie on Netflix or something and was SO MAD that the critics had dissuaded me from seeing it in a theater. The tone is just perfect: light, silly, and fun without being stupid. The action scenes are creative and consistent in their cartoonishness (this is a movie where a car dragging spiked balls on chains flips upside down to swat another car with the flails, only to be thwarted when another car jumps up so the racer can punch the other driver in the jaw as their cockpits fly past each other. And the actors (Goodman especially) mostly nail the tone as well ("See! This race if full of cheaters!"). And the whole thing is so crazy bright and colorful; I would have LOVED to see it on a big screen.
posted by straight at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Ex Machina is technically great but if we don't already know the story of Frankenstein's Monster, then we have a problem.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Overhyped isn't really a disqualification of the movie itself, but what was stunningly boring in Ex Machina ?

It seemed to think it was profound, but it struck me as philosophy/psyche 101 class, with the ending telegraphed a mile away and zero interesting characters.

I didn't like Dark City either.

Loved Fury Road though, one of my absolute favorite movies of all time.

Blade Runner is interesting. It's not faultless and hasn't aged seamlessly, but it still feels "real" for lack of a better word, what it's trying to communicate still feels just as meaningful and powerful as when I first saw it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:20 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh, yeah, shit, Contact FOR SURE should be on there.

CONTACT is a fantasy set in a universe where it's possible to say to an astronomer, "Well, how do we know that signal from Vega wasn't just faked by a satellite?" without getting your face melted off by a rant about parallax.
posted by straight at 1:27 PM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


Eternal Sunshine is one of my most favorite movies ever. And it does not belong on this list.
posted by old_growler at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Contact was fantastic until the end where [FACE-PALMINGLY OBVIOUS CHARACTER NAME REDACTED] showed up. I audibly groaned in the theater.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Speed Racer: Maybe not your cup of tea, but it delivers what it promises and then some. I still want my money back from the Matrix sequels but this makes me fell less bad about it.

Wall-E: Like its characters, a bit flabby in the middle. But it was gorgeous in places and a surprisingly touching love story.

Inception: A dumb guy's idea of a smart movie. There, I said it. To me, Nolan is like Shyamalan, always retreading the same idea. But I'll give him this much... the movies are pretty.

Donny Darko: Starting to feel like a documentary.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've come to this thread to defend the honor of FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, an omission of criminal proportions, in which Pee-Wee Herman plays a time-traveling space walnut.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:38 PM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


I remember seeing AI in the theaters and feeling outraged that 2/3 of a great movie had been saddled with a crap final 1/3, but some of y'all are making smart and impassioned comments about the final scenes. Maybe I should revisit ... ?

memebake And the ending should be epic ... But the narrator/future robots voice, that goddam teddy bear, the exposition about why exactly we're going to get the tearjerking ending, and schmaltzyness ruin it. It was very nearly great, the ending just needed the same concepts but executed in a smarter way. More show, less tell. Here's the last scene yt if you want to remind yourself.

... yup, just rewatched it; still agree, total schlock.
posted by alleycat01 at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


> The Card Cheat : I remember Electric Dreams as being the one movie that made me cry as a child. Whenever I hear the classical music used when Edgar started to fall in love, I think of the movie and get a bit sad.

I've got a copy that I keep meaning to re-watch - I haven't seen it in ~30 years. But it's really mentally hard to approach a re-watch while wondering both how it will hold up, and what it will do to my barely-remembered memories of the film.


My wife and I watched it last year. I'd never seen it, and while it's definitely of its time (i.e. there are definitely some cheesy '80s elements, and the male lead isn't the most compelling actor) I honestly thought it did an effective job of portraying the inhuman (and eventually creepy and menacing) presence of Edgar, and a lot of the "personal digital assistant gone horribly wrong" stuff definitely resonates in the age of Siri, Echo, Google Home, etc.. The scene where Edgar (SPOILERS) commits "suicide" was surprisingly moving, and brought to mind the "Daisy" scene in 2001, as well as the scene in Her where Samantha informs Theodore that "she" and all the other AI's are leaving the human world. Anyway, YMMV, but I thought the ideas underpinning the film were solid even if the trappings (and sexual politics) were occasionally a bit dated.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Electric Dreams is a wonderful movie, making the absence of a US Blu-Ray release the more criminal.
posted by hanov3r at 1:55 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Does Event Horizon count as Sci-Fi ? It's mostly horror and critics panned it at the time, but I really enjoyed it.
posted by Pendragon at 2:01 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thats odd, I'd always heard that Electric Dreams was a forgettable movie with an outstanding and enduring theme song. Maybe I should check it out.

Have to post it: Electric Dreams - Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder
Apparently Giorgio Moroder recorded Phil Oakey's first sing-through of the lyrics and said that was the one to use. Phil demanded to record a second time but Giorgio used the first take.
posted by memebake at 2:03 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Isn't the most famous line from Aliens 'let's nuke it from orbit to be sure?' What's the difference between that and Starship Troopers?

Starship Troopers depicts a culture which is essentially fascistic. Which shows how people buy into the underlying philosophy of a fascist state, how it influences their education, their beliefs, their willingness to sacrifice themselves, unquestioningly. It also draws in the viewer and asks them to support the perspective of that society.

Aliens doesn't.*

*(Though clearly it is the best action movie ever made.)
posted by biffa at 2:04 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


teraflop: In my opinion, Avatar is, at its heart, a fantasy movie. For its science fiction counterpart, see How to Train Your Dragon.

The sci-fi bit of Avatar is that Pandora is a functioning conscious entity, and also acts as an upload-afterlife for its inhabitants. I imagine the umpteen imminent sequels with expand on that.

So tell me about How to Train Your Dragon?
posted by memebake at 2:21 PM on November 6, 2018


Tell me, boy: do you have room (in your heart) for the computer boom?
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:30 PM on November 6, 2018


I found AI's ending totally horrific and I never figured out if it was intentional

It's a horror story for MONICA, his mother.

The movie up until that point is demonstrating that the kid was basically completely inhuman. Humans grow and change and learn - the kid never did, was hardcoded to imprint on his human parent figure, and spend thousands of years caring about nothing but that.

So, X years later the super-AIs find the kid right, and they have the technology to bring back a human to make this inhuman creature 'happy' so they do. Monica wakes up confused, unclear on what's going on, and then dies again, one inhuman creature treating a human as a toy for the benefit of another inhuman creature.

The AIs say 'you are the lasting proof of humanity' to another fucking robot and forget that there's a human right there used and discarded. The AIs are monsters.
posted by xiw at 2:33 PM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Having never seen AI, the move I most object to here is Snowpiercer. It severely did not live up to the hype, for me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:40 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Forreal though, this is a good list of movies. "Best Of Whatever" can be distracting framing, but I don't think you'd go wrong with any of these. Dig the Cronenberg presence.

I thought AI was one of those really interesting failures as a film. It does a lot of things super well but (for me) just didn't come together in such a way that it had the impact it could have. I just thought it was super cool to see the Kubrick-by-way-of-Spielberg thing, and where their creative sensibilities aligned and clashed in interesting ways, even if I wasn't crazy about the result.

Similarly I guess, I liked Inception a lot but I think I would have liked it even better if - I don't know - Terry Gilliam had directed it? Somebody with more of a sense of dream logic and manic visual storytelling. I get the feeling I love the same movies Nolan loves, but I also feel like he plays everything stylistically straight in a way that disappoints me.

I'd like to second Gattaca, Strange Days, and ExistenZ as excellent movies that get a little overlooked.

I believe Starman, Enemy Mine, and TRON live in the stated time period and I won't assert that they're better or worse than anything here, but they're really good and you otta watch them if you haven't. Flash Gordon with the dope-ass Queen soundtrack, too.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 3:05 PM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think the Hunger Games movies are better science-fiction than some of the ones on this list too. They do some pretty thoughtful stuff with ideas about entertainment and propaganda and myth-making, about constructing artificial selves in reaction to ubiquitous surveillance and 24/7 "reality" entertainment / life-blogging.
posted by straight at 3:09 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Reporting as missing: Pacific Rim
posted by vers at 3:12 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


I did not enjoy Strange Days. I was so excited for it for some reason (Angela Bassett), but I just experienced it as plotless snuff.
posted by latkes at 3:12 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I enjoy Inception and Interstellar despite their issues, but they’re interesting to me because they have such similar plots. They’re both helmed by widowed men who are attempting to get back to their children. I’m not sure if this is a conscious choice by him, but it’s weird, and I guess it could be chalked up to misogyny. To me, it appears to be a theme that Nolan is deeply tied to, for whatever reason.
posted by gucci mane at 3:12 PM on November 6, 2018


I forgot to mention, if you enjoy anime/are open to watching anime, Paprika is extremely good, and Inception took a lot of its ideas from it.
posted by gucci mane at 3:13 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


Tron was released a few weeks after Blade Runner, interesting. Tron is obviously influential, not sure if it should make the list.

Hey what about Innerspace - anyone remember that?
posted by memebake at 3:15 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Inception: A dumb guy's idea of a smart movie. There, I said it. To me, Nolan is like Shyamalan, always retreading the same idea. But I'll give him this much... the movies are pretty.

My brother!

I went through a phase of watching films blazed out of my mind and then reviewing them while in the same state, writing dense 1,000 word essays about them and sharing the reviews via email with a small group of friends who don't mind receiving dense 1,000 word essays about films that I thought were funny while I was high [NB: those friends... those friends are the keepers]. The reviews were always pans, because writing coherent sentences while high is difficult, and I only feel sufficiently inspired to bother by the prospect of making fun of really bad movies. (I still do the odd one when the mood takes me; my review of Life, the remarkably lazy sci-fi/horror Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle, was the medium that I used to tell that group of friends that I was going to be a dad).

Anyway, the perennial discussion within the mammoth email thread that this has spawned happens to be "Christopher Nolan movies that aren't scripted by his brother: actually very good, or actually very bad?" with me taking the latter position. That's because of the first review that I wrote in the series. I was picking on Interstellar rather than Inception, but here's the first line:
Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s big-budget reboot of M Knight Shyamalan’s Signs, shares the wide cornfields, brooding atmosphere and awkward cod-philosophical arguments* of the original, and the profoundly unsatisfactory “twist” ending is left largely intact (wooo... the dead significant other was communicating from beyond the grave, even though it's superficially a film about space and aliens!).
I'm now worried that -- in a twist ending worthy of Shyamalan/Nolan -- perhaps you are really me, communicating from the future. Or vice versa??!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 3:36 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


My brother, don't even get me started on Interstellar.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:43 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Spoiler alert: you're actually a ghost.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:44 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


--- -. -.-. . / -.-- --- ..- .-. . / .- / .--. .- .-. . -. - --..-- / -.-- --- ..- .-. . / - .... . / --. .... --- ... - / --- ..-. / -.-- --- ..- .-. / -.-. .... .. .-.. -.. .-. . -. .----. ... / ..-. ..- - ..- .-. .
posted by chappell, ambrose at 3:53 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, yeah, shit, Contact FOR SURE should be on there.

"The people in charge of deciding who should be the first human being to make Contact with aliens have narrowed it down to two astronomers!"

"But Occam's Razor says there can be only one! HIEEEEYA!"

"Occam's what? In this fantasy universe you can get a Masters Degree in Divinity or a Masters Degree in Science without every hearing about that thing, whatever it is."
posted by straight at 3:54 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think the most likely reason Interstellar was left off the list is because the authors saw the film and are therefore aware it is hot garbage.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


ExistenZ is IMHO the most interesting of the "What Is Really Real Trilogy" featuring also The Matrix and Dark City.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:59 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


"Also, if you zoom way, way out, leaving the Milky Way galaxy far behind, you eventually get to a region of space that is only just now receiving our earliest radio broadcasts, before you finally emerge from the pupil of Jodie Foster's eye when she was a kid."
posted by straight at 4:01 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't know that Annihilation, Pitch Black , or Never Let Me Go has been mentioned yet but they'd be candidates for inclusion, and Idiocracy also deserves a rewatch if not a place.
posted by gryftir at 4:01 PM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Does Event Horizon count as Sci-Fi ?

It's basically Solaris with an evil-Spock beard, so it should.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:03 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


List is missing Liquid Sky, Earth Girls Are Easy, and The Shape of Water.

Plz do not think about my taste in movies.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:05 PM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Star Trek IV: Whales in Space
The Truman Show and/or EDtv; I can't remember which was the good one.
Demolition Man
Mars Attacks!
posted by sfenders at 4:31 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't know that Annihilation, Pitch Black , or Never Let Me Go has been mentioned yet but they'd be candidates for inclusion, and Idiocracy also deserves a rewatch if not a place.

Annihilation is a striking film, but I cannot fault the writers overmuch for not not including a movie that was about five months away from release. This is not IMDb, where a movie will be running a rating of 9.7 out of 10 based on its teaser trailer. Pitch Black is a better Alien movie than many of the Alien movies.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:49 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah Truman Show is pretty damn good.
posted by latkes at 5:37 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Pleased to see a lack of Gravity, a film that did not have a clue about its titular subject.
posted by SPrintF at 6:18 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


The only problem with Never Let Me Go is that the rage and despair it inspires in me dogs me for months after I watch it. It’s a story that says something very true and very, very nasty about humanity.

I don’t know about it as sci-fi, but as a grim treatise that deftly allegorizes present-day society, it is perfect. and soul-destroying.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:19 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


12 Monkeys is the only time travel movie to have an internally consistent idea of how time travel works, but that doesn't actually matter. What matters is that it's also a good movie.

Looper is an inferior 12 Monkeys.

Starship Troopers is the most over the top satire ever made, and it doesn't matter if cinematically illiterate rubes somehow didn't get it despite that. It's unsubtle, which is good because fascism doesn't deserve subtlety.

Total Recall belongs on the list, as does Predator. The Running Man is just as prescient as They Live, without as much of the unfortunate conspiracy theory angle.

Pacific Rim is a mediocre film by a consistently mediocre director. Robot Jox was more original, and better, and less orientalist (but more sexist). Crash and burn.

Speaking of Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator.

Donnie Darko is pretentious philosophy 101 nonsense.

The Matrix is two-thirds of a good movie and the remainder is pretentious philosophy 101 nonsense. Everything else the Wachowskis have done has been the latter. Much as the LOTR movies contained in lesser form all the problems that would be seen in the Hobbit movies, The Matrix contained in lesser form all the problems of every subsequent Wachowski film.

Solaris is dull like every Soderbergh movie and missed the point of the novel. No one will ever make a good adaptation of it. At least Tarkovsky's one had a unique perspective and style, even if he also aggressively missed the point.

Nothing by Christopher Nolan deserves to ever be on a list of the top anythings.
posted by hyperbolic at 6:24 PM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


The sci-fi bit of Avatar is that Pandora is a functioning conscious entity, and also acts as an upload-afterlife for its inhabitants. I imagine the umpteen imminent sequels with expand on that.

So tell me about How to Train Your Dragon?


I won't try to spin an entire essay out of it (though I would love to see someone else do so!) but basically, I see this as a consequence of how the nominally "sci-fi" or "fantasy" elements are used in the narrative.

In Avatar, the resolution of the plot has very little connection to the science-fictional elements that were presented earlier in the film, such as the genetically-engineered avatars themselves or the superconducting mineral that the humans are trying to mine. That stuff helps set the premise, and then eventually ceases to matter; all that matters is that Eywa, the planetary mother goddess, was correctly invoked. Sure, there are some throwaway lines about a "planetary neural network", but they don't really seem to have much connection to Eywa's properties or how the characters relate to it. It's depicted as being about on par with Aslan showing up and killing the White Witch.

Also, take the way "souls" are depicted, especially the idea of them being scooped out of a human body and downloaded into an avatar. From a naturalistic, physicalist, sci-fi perspective, this requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. (Didn't Na'vi and humans evolve independently? Aren't the avatars specifically engineered for remote control, rather than consciousness? And how does Eywa know how to do this transplant when it's never interacted with a human before?) It makes a whole lot more sense from a fantasy viewpoint, in which "souls" are fundamental objects with their own ontological existence, rather than being an emergent phenomenon of brains.

(And just to be clear, I don't mean to use fantasy vs. science fiction to imply any kind of value judgment. I have issues with the plot of Avatar, but they have nothing to do with it being insufficiently "pure" or "hard" sci-fi.)

Now, contrast that with How to Train Your Dragon. The dragons mark it superficially as a fantasy, but there's no magic, and no indication that the conflict has anything to do with superhuman or supernatural forces of good and evil. Ultimately, the conflict between humans and dragons is revealed to stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the natural world. The protagonist resolves the conflict partly through studying the dragons themselves, and how they fit into their ecological niches; partly by inventing the fledgling field of Viking aeronautical engineering; and of course partly through good old-fashioned friendship and heroism. I'd call HtTYD at least as science-fictional as, say, the Pern series.
posted by teraflop at 6:33 PM on November 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


12 Monkeys is the only time travel movie to have an internally consistent idea of how time travel works

Except that Bill and Ted did already did it six years earlier.
posted by straight at 6:34 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Now, contrast that with How to Train Your Dragon. The dragons mark it superficially as a fantasy, but there's no magic,

I agree with you about the ways the story works more like science fiction than fantasy, but the breath weapons of the dragons and their ability to ignore the square-cube law and some fundamental principles of aeronautics are definitely magic.
posted by straight at 6:40 PM on November 6, 2018


It's the end of the day, so I'm going to list some films that I'm surprised that neither the article nor anyone here has mentioned yet, that I also feel that are at least as good as some of the films that have already been mentioned:
-Dredd (2012)
-Nausicaa (1984)
-Shin Godzilla (2016)
-Sunshine (2007)
-28 Days Later (2002)
-The World's End (2013)
-Ghostbusters (1984)
-Logan (2017)
-Sorry to Bother You (2018)
posted by FJT at 7:08 PM on November 6, 2018 [12 favorites]


Ugh, the Matrix. Tiresome overrated chosen one gun porn philosophy 101 shit. Badly paced too. Really the peak of nineties dumb.

Like someone said above, a smart movie for dumb audiences.
posted by Sauce Trough at 7:17 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


What was the name of that movie whose premise was that people exaggerate their opinions and adopt seemingly unshakable positions on subjective things in order to make themselves feel more real and appear more defined as a person to outside observers? I liked that one.
posted by some loser at 7:20 PM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]


Really the peak of nineties dumb.

I mean Encino Man is arguably a sci-fi movie...
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 7:33 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Really the peak of nineties dumb.

Okay, I accept the challenge. I see your Matrix and put forth Face/Off as the peak 90s dumb sci-fi film.

And I love Face/Off too.

(Makes the Nic Cage gesture of pulling off face with the hand)
posted by FJT at 7:43 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I like lists, & I like revising lists.

The Host (2006), could go higher, it's unconventional but very entertaining. See it if you haven't! I'm glad that it made the list. (The Host (2013) is gonna mess up these lists)

Missing so far worth a mention:

Gravity. Sandra in Space.
Sunshine. It's hot.
The Abyss. Sub epic if you like subs.
Various English Zombie Films debatable if you think English Zombie Films are Sci-Fi: 28 Days, Sean, Girl with Gifts, etc. Leading to another question mentioned about whether fantastic horror or vaguely futuristic dystopia qualifies as Sci-Fi? Does High Rise (2015) count?
*the I'm also forgetting something very good here slot.

Missing from list but mentioned in comments:

Event Horizon. Underrated B movie which is better than many films mentioned.
Fifth Element. Deserves academy award for Gary Oldman's bizzare accent.
Solaris (2002). Give it a chance, it's a thought experiment at recreating a unique Tarkovsky classic as a conventional movie, and it works.
Speed Racer. I haven't seen it but it's on my list.
Contact. I liked it despite many flaws & things that I would change. It's kinda charming. Love that opening Galaxy.
Mars Attacks! We come in peace!

Obtuse opinions about ratings & your film I didn't feel the luv for:

Starship Troopers. I've rewatched it many times, so I go with the irony side in thinking that it is a classic. But if you don't like violence I understand, it's gruesome.
AI. Spielberg can be very cloying & treacly about his feelings of the innocence of childhood, and they syrup over the story. The moon balloon gunship was interesting. I'd be curious to see what Kubrick had actually envisioned, it was very much a Spielberg story the way it turned out.
Fury Road. Good story but maybe overrated.
Eternal Sunshine Spotless Mind. I felt that the emotional things that were supposed to click didn't click for me. I found it difficult to relate to or feel empathy for the protagonists who would really have been better off without each other.
Back to The Future. Question about categories? If you include this, do English Zombie or wierd horror fantasy count as Sci-Fi?

Bonus mini-review:
Blade Runner 2049. This entire movie is a replicant. It's a meta-movie in search of itself.
posted by ovvl at 7:48 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


The ending doesn't even make sense. Brains the size of planets and you can only bring back his mom for a day? Why? Because it's sadder that way, that's why. Coooooome on.

I think I've mentioned this here before, but I had a professor in grad school who I took for 3 different classes and for some reason he decided to show the ending of AI in each of these three separate classes on the last day of class. I'll say that it's one of my favorites--I actually don't believe David has a consciousness, honestly, just cruel and unrelenting programming (but does a consciousness matter if something elicits empathy from us? hm). Anyway, I firmly believe, after viewing the ending over and over again, that they don't bring his mother back at all. It's actually a programmed dream right before they euthanize him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:49 PM on November 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


I came looking to see if Starship Troopers made the list and stayed for the thread love. Because of Robocop, I knew going into the theater to expect some amount of tongue in cheek and appreciated the satire on first watch. Fucking Beverly Hill 90210 in space! On a recent re-watch, it holds up brilliantly and was so much smarter than I appreciated. It’s a rare film that can make you think “oh my god, fascism is so fucked up” and “fuck yeah, get those bugs!” and “oh my god, they totally hooked up I’m so happy but then she got stabbed with a bug pincher through her heart for her love I’m so sad!” I mean:

“THEY SUCKED HIS BRAINS OUT!”

is a brilliant line.

And this, right here, is one of the most amazing lines of film criticism ever written:

Time has been kind to Starship Troopers, just as Starship Troopers has been very unkind to our time.

Kudos to the Onion.

On the whole, this is a good list. I thought Minority Report and AI were shit. But good for them for excluding the Sixth Sense which was clumsy and tried too hard to be smart when it was obvious they were failing and ultimately became cartoonish. And good for them for recognizing Arrival as a classic.

I would have also included:

Gravity
The Martian (both for utterly compelling nail-biting stories)

The Hunger Games movies.

Avatar (for the total commitment to astounding world building, the reason we all fell in love with Star Wars and Blade Runner)

Any Star Trek movie (this might fit better into the super-hero genre, with beloved characters using their known powers and limitations to fight unspeakable evil in well crafted stories)

Idiocracy (for being completely right about everything despite its apparent lunacy)

Any Futurama movie (because, come on, the show is amazingly well written, smart, and comments satirically on society far better than any Simpsons episode. Also, they did a parody of Starship Troopers that included references to both M*A*S*H and Henry Kissinger).
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:57 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Idiocracy (for being completely right about everything despite its apparent lunacy)

I like Idiocracy, but I think it's kind of spread the really fucked up view that intelligence is a genetically inherited trait. It's too often that conversations about that movie begin with Camacho jokes and end with eugenics.
posted by FJT at 8:23 PM on November 6, 2018 [9 favorites]


I like Idiocracy ... eugenics.

I wish I could "favorite" that more.
posted by sjswitzer at 8:27 PM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


The entire plot revolves around a profoundly misguided decision by a robotics company to Simulate The Love You Have For Your Mother that leads to a completely terrifying dystopic ending (the ending people decry as cheesy. It’s not). It’s much better than people remember.

I walked out thinking I'd seen three mediocre Outer Limits episodes. The robot as the cruelly overlooked child, discarded for the nastier but favored scion who's more like his parents. After the family banishes him he's part of an outcast community, an obvious metaphor for the abused minority group treated as Not People. Finally an SF based Pinnochio remake. (I didn't know at the time the first family bit was in fact its own stand alone short story, it was just that obviously disjointed to me.)

All of these are standard framing for an SF story *and* for Spielberg. Say what you want about his talents but subtlety is not a big one. Sad kids are meant to evoke sympathy and Nazi-style haters disgust. Having a tormented child / minority wake up and finally be accepted as he is, as a real person, is wish fulfillment. Sure, it's a post-human magical utopia but it's still a magical utopia. I don't see how you can view this as dystopic unless you buy into the anti-mecha view that an intelligent robot isn't a "real person" and we should have wiped them out. And trying to do that robs the other 99% of the movie of any meaning. If you look at him and see a wind up toy then why is any of it worth while?

I have a friend who takes your interpretation but I think it's smart people projected their intelligence onto a really mediocre film. I will buy there might have been some screenwriter who intended all that involved at some point, but not that Spielberg did or the movie communicates it.
posted by mark k at 9:02 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Solaris (2002). Give it a chance, it's a thought experiment at recreating a unique Tarkovsky classic as a conventional movie, and it works.

Tarkovsky's Solaris, which is of course very VERY good even if I don't know that the shots of freeways needed to be quite *that* long, is an intellectual movie about the science-fictiony aspects of the situation.

Soderbergh's Solaris is much more directly about the devastating emotional reality of being made to confront an entity with godlike power.

They're both excellent and different enough that Soderbergh's isn't just a pale imitation of Tarkovsky's and doesn't take anything away from it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:20 PM on November 6, 2018 [9 favorites]


> and for no one:
"I still think the best part of A.I. was Ashley Scott."

She was the best part of Birds of Prey too, IMO...
posted by Samizdata at 9:44 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


> latkes:
"I did not enjoy Strange Days. I was so excited for it for some reason (Angela Bassett), but I just experienced it as plotless snuff."

Really? How so? I thought it was one of the most brilliant cyberpunk movies ever with some effortlessly built and presented worldbuilding.
posted by Samizdata at 9:55 PM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have to admit one of my favorite parts of The Host was it's rejection of the assumption mutant creatures would be "pretty", symmetrical, canny and coordinated.
posted by Samizdata at 10:04 PM on November 6, 2018


Fifth Element could be anywhere from the last position to the first, depending on how you evaluate it. I think I'd put it in the top ten because regardless of what you think of the plot the production design is awesome.

If you want to go full dumbass, then put the first fucking Avatar in there. It's SciFi in two ways, which is that it's impossible Liberal propaganda about the transformative properties of technology alongside an actual story about how a marginal amount of computing tech (in retrospect) can completely cloud the minds of various middlebrow film critics. That's cyberpunk (real, current) if I've ever heard it.

Finally, Hackers is fucking wonderful, mostly because it presents a boring thing to do (hacking a damn lightning box) as something visually interesting. At the same time Hackers gets a lot right: first, that teenagers with no actual qualifications can wreck all sorts of social systems; second, that computers would become (to a certain marginal perspective) all encompassing which is played for laughs in the movie but is actually true; third that that the main villain (a ridiculous misogynistic hacker named Plague) would actually be kinda the norm in tech after a while.
posted by codacorolla at 12:15 AM on November 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


We'll start by tossing out Looper. It shouldn't be in the top 3500. Next, we'll toss out Mad Max: Fury Road. It's not horrible, but top 35? No, I don't think so. Then there are too many Tom Cruise films. Keep the one where he's killed over and over. Let's lose Children of Men, which I found so bad I wanted the human race to go extinct. Under the Skin is something you watch only if you hate yourself and want to suffer; "A tripod" should have been in the credits as DP.

That gives us five slots to fill. At least one Men in Black should be there. Just as a screw you to Looper, I say we should put in number 3. The Fifth Element should be in there. As should The Martian. How about Stargate?

I'll let the crowd decide if Total Recall or Serenity should take the fifth slot.

Meanwhile, Moon is too low. Swap it with Starship Troopers. Better yet, remove Starship Troopers entirely and put Pacific Rim in instead. If we're going to have a popcorn flick, at least make it a Guillermo del Toro.
posted by krisjohn at 12:29 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Meh. I agree with some of it. Disagree with other parts of it and the stuff it omits, but it covers a fairly large sample. Enjoy your manufactured outrage AVClub, and clicks.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:50 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm going to put in a vote for Brainstorm, which has similar themes of recording experiences to 'Strange Days' but came out 16 years earlier, and gets a lot more mystical with it. Also Christopher Walken.
posted by leibniz at 1:29 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Someone mentioned these above, behold I shall second them:

The Abyss
The Shape of Water

They are seconded.
posted by memebake at 3:49 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sunshine

I know people hate the ending, but I don't. So ner.

The Abyss

Thirded
posted by jonnyploy at 5:02 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


We watched Speed Racer last night as a result of the recommendations in this thread (and to give us something to do other than watch the election returns trickle in). Not gonna call it a masterpiece or anything, but to its credit it took me way longer than it should have to realize it was, y'know, For Kids™. (You'd think the animal sidekick would've clued me in sooner but no.) Solid craftsmanship from start to finish -- so many movies these days feel like they put all their filmmaking attention on a couple of action setpieces, then fill in the the rest like a three-camera sitcom, just competent unimaginative shot / reverse shot / etc. This was not that. I'll have to rewatch it sober and with the kid, he's gonna dig it.
posted by ook at 5:05 AM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


ExistenZ is the second best movie version of a Philip K. Dick book, especially since it's not a movie version of a PKD book.
posted by signal at 5:24 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


I will cheerfully forth The Abyss, as long as we're talking the longer cut.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 AM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


Haven't read all the comments, but just in case nobody has mentioned it, the director's cut of Dark City is much better than the original release.
posted by Pouteria at 6:30 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


If we're doing PKD movies not based on something PKD got around to writing himself I am adding Dark Star to that list. It includes humor as well as despair and an atom bomb having a philosophical crisis too.
posted by mark k at 6:30 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I will cheerfully forth The Abyss, as long as we're talking the longer cut.

I'm of two minds on that one, as the extended cut does dramatically improve the first four fifths of the film, even as it makes the ending laugh out loud stupid. As a result, I'm never entirely comfortable coming down for or against it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:58 AM on November 7, 2018


I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works. Because time travel. exists. somewhere. yes. potato.
posted by bradth27 at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love lists like this because I never, ever take them to be absolute declarations of "these are totally the best movies ever and if you disagree screw you." I'm always way more interested in the explanations for why things made it onto the list, and the Metafilter discussion of stuff that didn't make the cut (or why some movies shouldn't have made the cut) has led me down some interesting roads as well.

For example, after trying to figure out which of the three(!) streaming services I subscribe to have any of the movies on the list, I ended up watching A.I. on Amazon Prime of all places. That movie certainly goes places, but it fails all sorts of basic checks for me. To start: robot children don't resemble actual children very closely at all. They can't eat, they're far too compliant, and most importantly they'll never grow and evolve. Which I imagine is at least part of the point of the movie, but what bugs me is how did anyone decide this would actually make sense as a child surrogate?

Some of the plot points in that first third feel like shortcuts for what would actually be significant concerns. Eventually the family comes to see David as a threat, but the way they get there basically requires no one to talk to each other about why David does the stuff he does. Maybe that's intentional too (no one cares very much about the rights of robots in this world so why get their side of the story or get other people's accounts of what happened) but it basically means David's plight is caused by a series of sitcom-esque misunderstandings, and that's not satisfying at all. Also: how come no one bothers to talk to the company that built David about any of these concerns? And why send the mother, who is clearly emotionally conflicted, to bring David back alone? There's a lot of contrivances here to make that first part of the story work.

The rest of the movie is fine, though I kind of agree that it's a stronger movie if you end it early ala Minority Report. That said, though I don't think the ending is super bleak like some in this thread, I also don't think it's a particularly comforting ending either. I've already gone into too much detail about the movie so I'll stop here. I definitely file this one under "interesting failure," with the caveat that even then the movie drags in some parts and I probably won't watch it ever again as a result.
posted by chrominance at 8:07 AM on November 7, 2018 [6 favorites]


... it basically means David's plight is caused by a series of sitcom-esque misunderstandings, and that's not satisfying at all.

Oh god that's so true.
posted by memebake at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Nothing by Christopher Nolan deserves to ever be on a list of the top anythings.

Memento tho
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:39 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works. Because time travel. exists. somewhere. yes. potato.

Well yes. BTTF2 has a reasonable grasp of how it might work. And Primer has a slightly different vision.

But the way its presented in Looper is completely baffling - where cutting off Young Seth's tongue will instantly effect Old Seth (who has travelled back to Young Seth's time) and make his tongue disappear, but apparently wont effect any of the other events in Seths life that happen between 'young seth' and 'old seth'. Surely Seths whole timeline should alter after such a cataclysmic event as that, and Old Seth will be a substantially different person and probably in a substatially different place and situation.
posted by memebake at 9:15 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've been confused by this thread because I've been mixing up Primer (which I liked!) with Looper (which I haven't seen!)
posted by latkes at 9:20 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


We watched Speed Racer last night ... it took me way longer than it should have to realize it was, y'know, For Kids™... I'll have to rewatch it sober and with the kid, he's gonna dig it.

Yeah. I watched it the first time with adults and loved it, then later watched it with my kids and REALLY loved it. It's got a tone or sensibility that made me feel like, YES, this is the kind of movie I want to watch with my kids. A feeling like I get watching the better Pixar movies, but it's not l the same tone as a Pixar movie the way that Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon are sorta like Pixar movies.

It's silly in a way that too few kids movies are silly, silly without being condescending to the audience or the material. Looking at it again, I forgot how much I love the name "Inspector Detector." If the idea of John Goodman calling someone "Inspector Detector" without even the slightest wink brings you joy, this movie might be for you.
posted by straight at 9:33 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works. Because time travel. exists. somewhere. yes. potato.

It's like any other science-fiction counterfactual where you can judge a story by how consistently and coherently it deals with the "what-if" premise, just on the more complicated end of the spectrum.
posted by straight at 9:38 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works. Because time travel. exists. somewhere. yes. potato.

So there's basically two visions of time travel that are realistically possible.

1) You can change things, but not for yourself. Time travel creates branches. Things can be different in the new branch, but the old branch still exists, you know, out there somewhere, unchanged. There are no paradoxes, it's not possible.

2) There's a single timeline, but you can't change anything because the fact of your time travel is already factored in. There are paradoxes of causation, but everything is consistent.

Most other types of time travel rely on some version of meta-time. If at the start of your story the timeline is in one configuration, and at the end of it it is in another, then sometime time-like has occurred between those two configurations. The original configuration is "in the past", but it's not in the past of time, per se. So another time-like dimension is required, which we can call meta-time. Meta-time is required for consistency paradoxes, collapsing timelines, changes to your own timeline, and many other common tropes.

Meta-time is good for stories, but less consistent with known physics than time travel without meta-time. Meta-time stories can be internally consistent, but if you don't realize you're using a form of meta-time it can be a little trickier to get right.

potato.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:10 AM on November 7, 2018 [6 favorites]


I would very much like to watch/read a science fiction story that features time-travelers who acknowledge the presence of meta-time and who encounter evidence of meta-time-travelers messing with the meta-timeline.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:33 AM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


(This is just to thank everyone for the network of arguing that helped keep me sane)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:58 AM on November 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


The World's End, someone mentioned upthread. Its very good and is proper sci-fi.
posted by memebake at 11:42 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm really glad to see Speed Racer getting the love, because I was working at a theater when it came out and all my coworkers thought it was stupid and made fun of it, and I loved every minute and thought I was taking crazy pills or something.

(I mean... there were some crazy pills being passed around at the time but I stand by my assessment.)
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:46 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


> bradth27:
"I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works."

It's like when people were complaining about the unrealistic vampires in the Twilight series.
posted by signal at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2018


> Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon:
"I would very much like to watch/read a science fiction story that features time-travelers who acknowledge the presence of meta-time and who encounter evidence of meta-time-travelers messing with the meta-timeline."

The End of Eternity might scratch some itches.
posted by signal at 12:15 PM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel might work, too.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:34 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Predestination perhaps?
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:37 PM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, every 'Emotion Lord' episode of Bravest Warriors. Watch out for the temporal pair-a-socks.
posted by signal at 12:44 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just read through the entire thread. No one else has any love for John Dies At The End?
posted by tdismukes at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm very fond of John Dies at the End, but even putting aside the matter of whether it craps out in the second half too badly to make a best-of list, it's still got a pretty resolutely horror-centric vibe, so maybe that is what shut it out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:11 PM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Hypothesis: There are still an infinite number of Sci Fi films that nobody has mentioned yet that are good enough, by the evidence of what's already on it, to be on this list.

Cocoon.
posted by sfenders at 3:31 PM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


On subsequent reminiscing, I regret my choice of Cocoon and would like to substitute Cargo.
posted by sfenders at 4:19 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


If y'all think Starship Troopers was designed as some right wing wet dream, you really don't understand that movie at all. Watch it again, but watch Robocop first.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:39 PM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am really disappointed reading some of the opinions in this thread. They are bad and some of you seem to lack one of the good taste and judgement genes.

But Seattle People Who Are Cool Like Me might be interested to learn that this Sunday's Hecklevision at Central Cinema is featuring Starship Troopers. Text your wisecracks and have them displayed on the screen in real time!

I'm waiting to confirm I'm able to go before I post the MeFi meetup thread, but if someone else wants to, go for it.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:20 PM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


One of the most hilarious things I have experienced is listening along in voice chat as a pro-military friend watched through Starship Troopers. The person who recommended it to him was not sharp enough to get that it was satire. He was.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:22 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Riffing on Starship Troopers is deeply weird.
posted by codacorolla at 7:26 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


The hero’s name is “Johnny Rico.”

Also:

Dizzy: My mother always told me that violence doesn't solve anything.
Jean Rasczak: Really? I wonder what the city founders of Hiroshima would have to say about that.
[to Carmen]
Jean Rasczak: You.
Carmen: They wouldn't say anything. Hiroshima was destroyed.
Jean Rasczak: Correct. Naked force has resolved more conflicts throughout history than any other factor. The contrary opinion, that violence doesn't solve anything, is wishful thinking at its worst. People who forget that always die.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:37 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Naked force has resolved more conflicts throughout history than any other factor.

Ahh, the ultimate violence argument! All the explanatory power of "Gravity has resolved more issues with what happens when you step into an empty elevator shaft than any other factor" with none of the creamy nougat goodness.
posted by Chitownfats at 1:31 AM on November 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


straight: In my opinion, Avatar is, at its heart, a fantasy movie ....

In Avatar, the resolution of the plot has very little connection to the science-fictional elements that were presented earlier in the film, such as the genetically-engineered avatars themselves or the superconducting mineral that the humans are trying to mine. That stuff helps set the premise, and then eventually ceases to matter; all that matters is that Eywa, the planetary mother goddess, was correctly invoked. Sure, there are some throwaway lines about a "planetary neural network", but they don't really seem to have much connection to Eywa's properties or how the characters relate to it. It's depicted as being about on par with Aslan showing up and killing the White Witch.

Also, take the way "souls" are depicted, especially the idea of them being scooped out of a human body and downloaded into an avatar. From a naturalistic, physicalist, sci-fi perspective, this requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. (Didn't Na'vi and humans evolve independently? Aren't the avatars specifically engineered for remote control, rather than consciousness? And how does Eywa know how to do this transplant when it's never interacted with a human before?) It makes a whole lot more sense from a fantasy viewpoint, in which "souls" are fundamental objects with their own ontological existence, rather than being an emergent phenomenon of brains.


OK I'll bite.

You seem to be deliberately ignoring the planetary neural network aspect. There are specific scenes showing Sigourney Weaver discovering this and trying to explain it to people. Those aren't throwaway lines, they are the crux of the plot. Pandora is a massive planet sized neural network. The Navi can plug themselves in to their various steeds and can also plug straight into Pandora at the tree of souls and talk to their ancestors. Its the Gaia hypothesis re-imagined as a sci-fi concept, crossed with the cyberpunk idea of uploading minds. The idea might be partially inspired by the real and enormous fungal networks that earth has.

So the biosphere of Pandora is a massive brain and the Navi call it Eywa. Its obvious to me without it being made explicit that Eywa is not really a 'god'. I dunno perhaps its only obvious to me because I come from a genuinely secular country and so I naturally assume that most sci-fi (or fiction in general) is coming from an atheist background.

Pandora has previously absorbed Sigourney Weavers character as she dies, and prior to that has lots of previous experience of humans romping around and also at least one instance of directly interfacing with it (e.g. when Jake goes to the Tree of Souls). So its not that big a stretch at the end when it transplants Jake directly into his avatar body. I mean, its a bit of a stretch. But thats what sci-fi does, it shows you a few ingredients and then tries to re-combine them in a way that goes beyond what you expected. Thats what the final scene of Avatar is doing.

Rumour is that Col. Quaritch (Steven Lang's character) is returning in the sequels, and that Sigourney will be around in a different form, so I think Cameron is going to continue to play with the concept of 'zapping peoples mind from one form into another' in the sequels. And thats kinda what the word 'Avatar' means so it would make sense for it to continue as a theme.
posted by memebake at 3:55 AM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


oops - that reply was to a post by teraflop, not straight. apologies
posted by memebake at 5:24 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


One of the most hilarious things I have experienced is listening along in voice chat as a pro-military friend watched through Starship Troopers. The person who recommended it to him was not sharp enough to get that it was satire. He was.

Years ago, before I'd ever read or seen Starship Troopers, I sat in on a panel about military SF at a scifi convention that somehow devolved into all of them complaining about the movie and how horrible it was. I was surprised, then, a few months later, when I watched it and found it scathing and hilarious. A few years after that, I finally read the book and was horrified to find that Heinlein took everything that had been transformed into delicious satire in the film and taken it seriously. Like the character is actually named Johnny Rico and all that dialogue about how military force is great is actually there and it's actually more sexist than the movie?!

Anyway it was fascinating because, years later and only in retrospect was I given insight on the political positions of all those old white men at the scifi con. Surprise!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:52 AM on November 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


From Starship Troopers:
Jean Rasczak: All right, let's sum up. This year we explored the failure of democracy. How our social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and established the stability that has lasted for generations since. You know these facts, but have I taught you anything of value this year?

[to a student]

Jean Rasczak: You. Why are only citizens allowed to vote?

Student: It's a reward. Something the federation gives you for doing federal service.

Jean Rasczak: No. Something given has no value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you're using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.
Holy shit. I don't remember that bit. I did see Starship Troopers roughly when it came out, 98 or so. The nazism was pretty obvious, what with the flag they use and everything. A lot of the news media stuff in Starship Troopers was at the time a pretty clear reference to the first gulf war, which had been about 6 years before and was the first '24 hour cable news' war.
posted by memebake at 9:42 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Like the character is actually named Johnny Rico

In this book, Juan Rico is Filipino as an explicitly antiracist gesture against 1950s anglos. This is why (IIRC) it doesn't come out that he speaks Tagalog at home until quite late in the book -- haha, white reader, it's too late! You've already identified with a Filipino as a military hero even though you believe Filipinos are so inherently inferior that they could only ever perform as menial servants! MWUHAHAHA! Now I'm going to go stroke my pornstache and think about all the sex I want to have with my time-paradox daughterself.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


I love that people are complaining about errors in time travel here.... because, after all, we all know how time travel works. Because time travel. exists. somewhere. yes. potato.

The first time I saw Terminator 2, I was so excited right up to the end to see how they'd resolve all the paradoxes. Then they just didn't bother and I felt so betrayed.

12 Monkeys is the only time travel movie to have an internally consistent idea of how time travel works

Haven't seen Primer?
posted by pompomtom at 3:29 PM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


Primer isn’t exactly a movie.

(also if you watch it closely you’ll find that there’s a particular detail that cannot work under the rules of the film. this is by all accounts a deliberate choice by the filmmakers)
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:59 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Primer isn’t exactly a movie.

....then what is it, a toaster strudel?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:05 AM on November 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


And if so, then what flavor?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:36 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've probably re-watched Primer more than any other movie released this century. I actually seldom watch films more than once but I've definitely seen primer at least four times.
posted by octothorpe at 5:00 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I believe Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon is referring to the part in Primer that attempted to portray a temporal paradox from the inside.
posted by whuppy at 6:08 AM on November 9, 2018


I've definitely seen primer at least four times.

At different times in series, or four times all at the same time in parallel?
posted by memebake at 7:21 AM on November 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


> I believe Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon is referring to the part in Primer that attempted to portray a temporal paradox from the inside.

Alternately, I’m trolling Primer fans.

You’ll probably have to go watch it two or three more times to figure out whether that’s what I’m doing...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:59 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


>> Primer isn’t exactly a movie.

> … then what is it, a toaster strudel?


A screenplay with a partially complete proof-of-concept demo implementation. A VC pitch that was accidentally released to theaters.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:41 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


The problem is: that isn't exactly a real argument.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:16 PM on November 9, 2018


Yes it is.
posted by sfenders at 1:36 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Now that's just contradiction.
posted by nubs at 1:37 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


My issue with Primer was that it was a hideous movie to look at. However interesting the ideas at work (and they were interesting) the movie itself had all the aesthetic appeal of a Michael Scott self-produced action thriller starring Michael Scarn.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I would love to see a remake of Primer made by someone with visual sense.

Actually, what I’d really love is a stage adaptation of Primer. The spareness/everyday ugliness of the locations would be fairly easy to turn into stage sets, and the heightened attention that watching a play demands would make it somewhat easier to follow.

Well and also, I’d like to see what stage performers could do with that dialogue to make it less opaque, or at least more engagingly opaque. Or at least, something better than the “mumble mumble physics math mumble” of the extant version. Like, I’m someone who genuinely loves intense discussions of math, but the Primer guys kept murdering all their math stuff with their bad delivery.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:07 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Huh, Primer is one of my favorite movies to look at. I'm just in love the his compositions and I love that really physical super grainy 16mm look. And his lighting and use of color just blows me away. I've watched it once with the sound turned off just so I could look at it.
posted by octothorpe at 5:11 PM on November 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


All I know is that the first time I saw Primer, the combination of flat cinematography and fly-on-the-wall dialogue (with multiple conversations going on and people are talking over each other and all that engineering jargon) seemed like a novel flavor of verisimilitude, and it worked really well to suck me into the story. It had my disbelief hanging off in a closet next door or something.
posted by straight at 5:27 PM on November 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


(Looking at those screenshots in octothorpe's excellent link, "flat" is the wrong word. It's more that the POV feels like someone trying to watch or spy on these people. The lighting seems like just whatever florescent bulb happens to be there in the garage or office, not lit and staged for the viewer, although of course it is all quite deliberate.)
posted by straight at 9:03 AM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


Primer was a movie made by an engineer, and it shows. Which is odd, since Upstream Color was so much better.
posted by codacorolla at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2018


See, what some of you are seeing as "flat" in Primer is what I saw as vermissilitude, and that is exactly what drew me in. It had none of the "rogue scientist in a lab" tropes you see in many other movies - it had a sort of "credibility" in terms of how the characters behaved and how things looked that made me nod and say "yes that is exactly how an office in which time travel gets accidentally invented would look and that is exactly what those dudes would do with it", which ultimately led me to nodding and agreeing that why yes, that time travel tech method makes total sense. Which it doesn't, but the rest of it felt so true on an almost documentary level that I bought the rest.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:35 PM on November 10, 2018 [10 favorites]


codacorolla: "Primer was a movie made by an engineer, and it shows. Which is odd, since Upstream Color was so much better."

He hadn't been an engineer for a long time by the time his second film came out. Also don't discount the influence of his girlfriend and co-star Amy Seimetz who is a director herself and runs the show Girlfriend Experience which he does the music for and acts in.
posted by octothorpe at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2018


I also thought Primer had a decent visual style. Not groundbreaking, but perfectly respectable. And all the more amazing when you consider the film was made for $7,000. That's not a typo. It was a no-budget indie that made it into national release. It looks damn good for $7,000.

Upstream Color was interesting, but a real departure from the science fiction of Primer.
posted by zardoz at 1:16 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


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