SF Sunday: cult SF films

This topic seems timely given the discovery of a full-length version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that had been disregarded for years in the archives of a museum in Buenos Aires.
Image Source: Emory Libraries

Metropolis is a classic utopia revealed as dystopic narrative, with our hero leaving his life of idyll to discover the dark underbelly that makes the luxury of the elite possible – very Siddharta. I find even the disjointed fragments we currently have to be compelling, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing the complete restored version once it’s released. As we discussed regarding utopic/dystopic novels previously, this rude awakening of the protagonist in a seeming utopia is an enduring SF theme, and thus one that is explored in many sci-fi films e.g. Logan’s Run depicts an automated society with no underclass, but at the price of a shortened life disguised as “transfiguration”, The Matrix is literally a fantasy overlaying a horrific reality.

Many cult SF films depict full totalitarian dystopias that Our Protagonist strives to dismantle (a disturbing number of which in recent decades starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, because action + special effects = box office!). Arnieless examples: Blade Runner, Soylent Green, Brazil, The Handmaid’s Tale, V for Vendetta. Post-apocalyptic dystopias abound – e.g. A Boy and His Dog, Mad Max, The Quiet Earth, Tank Girl, 12 Monkeys, The Quiet Earth, Terminator, Children of Men. Corporate exploitation dystopias – RoboCop, Rollerball, The Truman Show, The Island.

Then there are the scary monster flicks – Alien/s (best ever?), Predator (Arnie again), The Thing, The Fly etc. Time travel/paradox – Terminator, The Time Machine,The Philadelphia experiment. etc. Time seems to make for the best (loosely defined as?) SF comedies – Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Groundhog Day, Blackadder: Back and Forth, The Three Stooges meet Hercules

And I haven’t even got onto alien contact yet! (My favourite is the under-rated Abyss, especially the director’s cut). Or the space operas of distant galaxies! Or the many films which tick several of the above boxes.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to share your favourite cult SF film. Is it the story or the cast or the cinematography that makes it for you? What films came so close to being great but “missed it by that much”? What about those ones where you loathe the narrative but love the scenario?

Bonus: what SF novel do you wish would be filmed? (or hope never is because they’ll only ruin it?)

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, media, relationships, Sociology, technology

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7 replies

  1. I love Metropolis,I even like the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack.
    I would love to see Michael Marshall Smith’s books made into films.Esp ‘One Of Us’ and ‘Only Foward’
    God, I read and watch soo much Sci-Fi, so of course i can’t think of any you haven’t mentioned…I’ll get back to you.
    I really liked the movie ‘Children Of Men’, way more than the book, which is strange cause I love P.D. James.
    Firefly/Serenity. Movie wasn’t as good as the show, but was willing to take anything with Capt Tightpants and his crew.

  2. We’ve just been racing through V: The Original Series at our house, and MY GOD it’s awesome. A talented female biochemist guerrilla leader as co-protagonist? A spectrum of ideology and commitment to the cause among both the humans AND the aliens? Cannot emphasise how good it is and how annoyed I am to not have seen it sooner.
    And Children of Men was so, so damn good.

  3. Heh Q.
    I remember watching ‘V’ when I was in Year 6 or so.
    Pretty much all my school books were covered with the symbol. Backward S with 2 dots either side or something like that…Google is no help (which is odd)
    Man i drew that everywhere.
    Gotta love rat eating Reptiloids

  4. Oh, I liked the Abyss too, though that may have had as much to do with Ed Harris as anything else at the time.
    How about Altered States? Repo Man, of “flip you, melon-farmers!” fame? And if we’re branching out into fantasy (since you said “SF” in the title, not “Science Fiction”…) – the Dark Crystal.
    Of the super-bad SF schlock horror flicks, it’s hard to go past the 1985 Re-Animator.

  5. OOH OOH OOH! *jumps up and down* Haven’t seen Reanimator, but when it comes to awesome Lovecraftian movies, At The Mouth of Madness is an absolute classic. Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Lovecraft/Stephen King insanity-inspiring schlock.

  6. Massively underrated SF with the benefit of Matthew Maconaghey eye-candy is Contact. Far better than the Carl Sagan book and really good example of how women are undermined by their male professional fellows. Jodie Foster is a hard science heroine. I personally like it due to the sci fi/religion mix also found in Signs even though my absolute fave is still probably Predator. It’s what I call ‘small but beautifully formed’ – there isn’t much to it but the idea is kicking and the plotting superb.

  7. I enjoyed Children of Men at the cinema but was then very disappointed with it on comparison with the original book.
    Why did disability disappear as an issue? Why was The Quietus sanitized? And was it significant that the reproductive problem was the men’s fault (sperm failure) when written by a female author but became women’s fault (inability to conceive) when in the hands of a male director?

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