Top Five – sci-fi films without space travel or aliens

Metroplois

Ever since I first visited a cinema I’ve been in love with all things science fiction. My first experience, aged five, was watching Christopher Reeve’s debut as Superman. My mum loves to tell me I spent 80% of the film asking questions and annoying all the other paying customers. I like to think my mind was instantly alive with questions because of the sheer majesty of watching a flying alien save mankind and discover his mighty destiny. What five year old mind wouldn’t be fizzing with exuberance and curiosity?

Over the years I’ve soaked up dozens, if not hundreds of sci-fi films. Everything from the recent comic book blockbusters like Black Panther, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers : Endgame (which I seem to be in the minority of hating) to sci-fi classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Metropolis, and crowd pleasers like Terminator, Alien, The Matrix and Jurassic Park. All vastly different but equally nourishing.

But one sub-genre I’ve found myself loving more and more as the years roll by are sci-fi films that don’t contain space travel or aliens. Films that are often earth bound, very rarely stem from comic books and play with some of the bigger existential and moral questions.

Over the last decade or two, cinemas and TV screens have been awash with this loose sub-genre. TV shows like Lost, Fringe, The Leftovers, Maniac and the new adaptation of Westworld. Films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ex-Machina, Snowpiercer, Inception and Her. Maybe it’s something to do with the outlandish creativity of those shows and films or the fact superhero blockbusters have opened up people’s minds. Either way I hope the trend continues.

A couple of weeks ago I opened up the debate of which of these kinds of films are the best (or at least people’s favourites) to friends on Facebook. Dozens of film titles were hurled my way, everything from Mad Max and Back to the Future, to Children of Men and Rollerball. The more I chatted with friends, the deeper the dive went, Altered States, The Fly, 12 Monkeys, Minority Report, Akira. There were comedies too, like, Weird Science, Inner Space, Hot Tub Time Machine and Short Circuit.

The more I chatted the harder it became to put together my own top five. I had to get rid of absolute classics like Brazil, Terminator, The Dead Zone, and a recent favourite, Blade Runner 2049.

So, without further ado, here are my top five – tell me yours in the comments below:

Blade Runner

Blade Runner:
Ok, so this one would make plenty of people’s top five I’m guessing. Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic has seemingly improved over time like a fine wine. Amazingly it underperformed at the box office when initially released and the film’s final cut became a notorious sticking point amongst executives and Scott, eventually culminating in seven different versions of the film being cut. Ridley Scott considers his edit of the film to be probably his most personal and complete movie. 38 years on it’s still one of those film’s that gets better with every watch.

robocop

Robocop:
When Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop finally arrived on VHS in 1989 I was 13 years old. I guess that’s the initial reason I loved it so much. It was so extreme it utterly blew me away. From the heart-breaking murder of Murphy near the film’s start to the bad guys that get melted in acid near the end and all the intense futuristic violence in between. It was the simple, unadulterated, visceral thrill of it all. It became my all-time favourite film for a couple of years and overtime I’ve learned to appreciate all its subtleties and layers too. Rumour has it the screenplay had been offered to and rejected by virtually every big director in Hollywood before Verhoeven got hold of it. He threw it away after reading the first few pages, thinking it was dumb, until his wife read it in full and convinced him it was multi-layered and far more than just another silly action romp.

Westworld

Westworld:
Michael Crichton books have quite a decent hit rate when it comes to movie adaptations. There’s been, amongst others, The Andromeda Strain, Coma, Jurassic Park, Twister and number three on my list, Westworld. 1973’s Westworld was another movie that blew my mind as a pre-teen. It scorched such a big impression on my mind it’s remained a favourite film of mine for many years now. In the last few years Crichton’s source material has been adapted into a hit TV show that’s now in its third season. The series is brilliant too but there’s something about the lean, punchy movie adaptation that just grips you and doesn’t let go.

Donnie darko

Donnie Darko:
Often written off as some kind of pretentiously trippy emo bollocks, Donnie Darko is one of those rare films that completely and utterly backs up its bizarre premise – namely, a teenager named Donnie sleepwalks out of his house one night and sees a giant, demonic rabbit named Frank. Frank tells him the world is going to end in 28 days. When Donnie returns home, he finds that a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. Is Donnie having a breakdown – or is the world really about to end? It could easily be a load of gubbins, but writer/director Richard Kelly spins a dizzying yarn off the back of that premise. The film seemingly came out of nowhere and made stars out of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the process, and there’s something about its brooding oddness that’s utterly gripping.

ACO

A Clockwork Orange:
When I think of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange I’m always amazed by the variety of emotions that come flooding back. It’s a horrible film but Kubrick’s cold and wildly creative mind turned it into an otherworldly ballad of immorality and delinquency. It offers no easy answers, just a dystopian dissection of free will and totalitarianism and the dubious concept of aversion therapy. It’s a tough watch for a lot of people but the sheer detail and completeness of the movie’s world building and the intense, often comic violence has always hypnotised me. There’s something about the microscopic detail Kubrick always brought to his films that I find endlessly fascinating.

So that’s my top five – not huge surprises I guess. What are yours?

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