Friday, September 12, 2008

10 best Sci-fi and Fantasy films of all time...

There really haven't been many good films at the cinema since the summer blockbusters, and so following my pick of the ten best feel-good movies, here's my round-up of what I think are the ten best ever sci-fi and fantasy movies.  

I've excluded super-hero and films adapted from comic books, as I think that deserves a top ten all of it's own for a future date. 

So in no particular order my movie choices are:

The Dark Crystal movie poster
This all-puppet movie is a must for fantasy adventure fans.  In a wonderfully realised world of peaceful Mystics and evil Skeksis, one little Gelfling must embark upon a perilous quest to fulfill his destiny and save his world.

Even though there are no human actors in Jim Henson's Dark Crystal universe it's utterly captivating and the lead puppets are believable heroes in this exciting adventure romp.
The Dark Crystal movie poster
I love the character designs for the vulture-like skeletal Skeksis and they come across as really sinister foes, maybe a bit dark for kids, but that's the appeal - you have both the cute 'muppet' factor and darker elements in this fantasy film, so it appeals to children and adults alike.

Favourite creature: 'Landstriders', which are giant hare like creatures with long legs (men on stilts basically). 

Buy the DVD in the U.S.A: The Dark Crystal
Buy the DVD in the UK: Dark Crystal [1982]

1980's Flash Gordon Movie poster
Some may argue that Flash Gordon is actually comic strip character, but in my mind he's more a sci-fi action hero.  

In an effort to save the Earth from destruction by Ming the Merciless, Flash must survive the alien planet Mongo and ally himself with its outlandish and deadly inhabitants.

I'm sure my love of this film had nothing to do with a blonde and buff all-American Football player Flash (Sam J. Jones) in his skimpy leather execution outfit, or the ultra-camp costumes and colourful set design and pumping Queen movie soundtrack.  I'm sure it's all about the fine acting and dramatic storyline, hmm wait a minute, it is about all the other stuff.

Brian Blessed plays the leader of the winged Hawkmen, Vultan, with his usual over-exuberant gusto, whilst Ornelia Muti and Mariangelo Melato up the camp quota as exotic vixen Princess Aura and Ming's devious henchwoman Kala.
Flash Gordon Movie poster
Flash Gordon is just one of those fun holiday movies to put on whenever life is feeling too serious and you need a break from reality. 

Favourite line:
Dale Arden (Melody Anderson):
"Flash I love you, but we have only 14 hours to save the Earth".

Buy the DVD in the UK:  Flash Gordon [1980]

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens movie poster
Action. Big guns. Marines in space. Explosions. Carnage. Corporate greed. Mayhem. Acid for blood spewing aliens. Running through corridors. This is a war film in space. And it's also pure sci-fi. Cryogenic sleep chambers, space travel, androids, an egg laying Alien Queen, face-huggers, futuristic weaponry, gestating parasitic chest-bursters, colonies on other planets - Aliens has it all.

It also has Sigourney Weaver in the stand-out role, as Ellen Ripley, that cemented her in cinematic history as one of the strongest female leading characters of all time.  Ridley Scott's genre defining Alien (the one that started the Alien franchise), established her as a courageous survivor, whilst Aliens further enhances her character by putting her in equal positions of surrogate mother, leader, love interest and warrior woman, proving that you can have emotions and still be a strong capable person. She's one of my favourite kick-ass movie women.
Aliens movie poster
James Cameron's 1986 big budget movie has it all from hi-octane action to creepy alien creatures trying to kill little kids.  What starts off as a rescue mission soon turns in to a battle for survival on a remote colony.  

The special effects still hold up after twenty odd years, from the android bishop being impaled by the Alien Queen's tail and ripped in half, to Ripley donning the exoskeletal rig for the final beat 'em up showdown.  Joining Ripley's female action hero is the Alien Queen, who rightfully takes her place in the Movie Monster Hall of Fame.

This is the film to watch if you need some good mindless escapism and like your sci-fi futuristic and action-packed, but with a great story.

Favourite line: 
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to Alien Queen
"Get away from her you Bitch!"

Favourite sound: The noise the aliens make when they are being blasted to bits, like weird trumpeting elephants - it sounds truly, well 'alien'.

Cube DVD artwork
The reason I like this low-budget film is that it's so simple, yet so sophisticated. Filmed on a meager budget by big studio standards, six strangers awaken to find themselves trapped in a strange and surreal prison.   

The disparate band of misfits (comprised of a cop, a math genius, thief, psychologist, and autistic man), doesn't know where they are or how they got there and the great thing about Cube is you never really know why they are there either.  

Have they been abducted by aliens, is it some sinister government plot or the actions of a shady corporation?

Like lab rats they have to try and find their way out of this deadly maze, as one by one they get killed off by room after identical room of perilous traps and also from a threat in their midst.

It's clever, brutal and a bit gory at times, but it's a great concept for a movie and well acted (by relative unknowns) and directed.
Cube movie poster
Later sequels and prequels expanded on the nature of the Cube (and became even gorier), but I'd advise against watching them, as this is one of those films that should have been left to stand the test of time on its own merits.

Favourite character: The maths whiz played by Nicole Deboer, who later went on to play Ezri Dax in the final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and starred as Sarah Bannerman in 56 episodes of The Dead Zone TV show.

Buy the DVD in the U.S.A: Cube
Buy the DVD in the UK: Cube [1998]

Donnie Darko - The Director's Cut movie poster
Donnie Darko is the movie that really introduced Jake Gyllenhaal to the world and started his ascent to Hollywood leading man.

It's a really sweet and sad film which has become a cult favourite (as well as one of mine!). Set in the 1980's (with accompanying soundtrack), troubled teenager Donnie starts having hallucinations where he sees a menacing man in a bunny costume called 'Frank' and learns that the world will end in 28 days.
Donnie darko movie poster
The film has a real creepy, weird feel to it and an element of time travel and wormholes thrown in for good measure.  It's not hard core 'Star Trek' type sci-fi, but it is engaging viewing.

Favourite scene:  The last montage showing all the film's characters with the haunting Gary Jules reinterpretation of Tears for Fears 'Mad World' playing in the background.  It's very powerful and I think brought a tear to my eye in the cinema.
The Matrix movie poster
'Bullet-time', cool shades, long leather coats, black PVC outfits, lots of guns, down the rabbit hole, big brother is watching you, the internet.  Original and genre defining, The Matrix is a movie that moved the whole sci-fi, action and fantasy industry in exciting new directions by setting new standards in special effects.

The story is another one of those simple ideas, imagine that you living in a computer generated world where nothing you see, feel or do is real.  You are in fact living a fantasy life as your body is used as a 'human battery' to power the machines that rule your futuristic world.

Imagine then that you are Neo, a hacker who discovers he's the saviour of the human race, 'The One', who gets to hang out with cool named characters like Trinity and Morpheus, learn all kinds of awesome kung-fu moves and shoot the baddies up with mighty big guns and a never ending supply of bullets.  Welcome to The Matrix my friend, the movie that made Keanu Reeves cool again.
The Matrix movie poster
It's a shame that the Wachowski brothers and Warner Bros Studios couldn't leave well enough alone and had to chase the cash with two really confusing and underwhelming sequels.  Or that they couldn't have made two staggeringly amazing sequels that blew our minds.

Nevertheless, The Matrix is great action sci-fi at its best and looked outstanding in the cinema when I first saw it.

Favourite scene:  Near the end of the movie when Neo and Trinity storm the building to rescue Morpheus.  There are bullets flying everywhere, they are shedding guns all over the place, running up walls and pillars, it's just a pulse pounding exhilarating action sequence.

Buy the DVD in the U.S.A: The Matrix
Buy the DVD in the UK: The Matrix [1999]

Serenity movie poster
This movie really took me by surprise.  I'd never watched the fourteen episodes of the short-lived TV series, Firefly, that begat Serenity, but you really don't need to to enjoy this film.

In an almost unprecedented move, creator Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Angel fame), brought his futuristic frontierland concept to the big screen after the TV series wasn't commissioned for a second season.

The reason I loved it so much is that in just under two hours he delivered an action packed sci-fi story in a fully realised world, with interesting characters who each had their own personalities, big space battles, flesh-eating zombies, high kicking martial art combat and a ton of 'wow' moments.  Even better it didn't feel like a cheap TV movie.
Serenity movie poster
On the strength of the film I bought the Firefly TV series and thought it was a shame it didn't last longer, although then we'd never have been treated to such an enjoyable movie.

Favourite thing:  The fact that I really enjoyed seeing this film at the cinema.  It was a total surprise and such a breath of fresh air that it revitalised my interest in sci-fi again.

Buy the DVD in the U.S.A: Serenity (Collector's Edition)
Buy the DVD in the UK: Serenity [2005]

Terminator 2 - Judgement Day movie poster
In the first movie he uttered those now immortal words 'I'll be back!" and he was, but this time he was the good guy, rather than the relentless cyborg killing machine.

These days he may be 'The Governator' of California, but back in 1991 he was the number one action hero around and at the height of his 'acting' career.

It was interesting to flip the concept of the Terminator, so that he becomes the protector and not the aggressor in this installment.  The visual effects were also groundbreaking at the time and director James Cameron took the effects he'd pioneered on The Abyss and created a formidable opponent in the form of the almost indestructible, liquid metal T-1000.

Favourite character: Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) is transformed from the damsel in distress that needs rescuing in the first film to a hardcore single-minded soldier.  Linda Hamilton is totally convincing in her pumped up body and 'trust no one and keep off the grid' attitude.
The Fellowship of the Ring movie poster
For me it's very hard to look at any of The Lord of the Rings films in isolation as it's basically one big epic story (hence why three movies are one entry in my top ten).

I have fond memories of the three consecutive festive seasons that LOTR movies were released, as it became our annual pilgrimage to the cinema just before Christmas to watch a truly spectacular movie each year.

Peter Jackson & Co. did a truly amazing job of bringing Tolkien's literary masterpiece to the big screen and creating such a believable world of Hobbits, Elves and Orcs.  
The Two Towers movie poster
The casting is near perfect and I can't imagine another person playing Gandalf after Ian McKellen, the costumes were fantastic and the world of Middle-Earth wonderfully realized using the breath-taking locations in New Zealand.
The Return of the King movie poster
This is the ultimate quest movie trilogy and I'd recommend watching all three of the extended DVD editions to get the ultimate viewing experience.

Favourite scene:  When Gandalf the White comes charging down the mountainside in slow motion at the besieged Helm's Deep with the horse Riders of Rohan - it's a very stirring scene and you just want to punch the air as Good triumphs over Evil.
Star Wars - A New Hope movie poster
Now where would Sci-fi be without Star Wars?  

Before 'Episode Four' was referred to as 'A New Hope' it was simply called Star Wars (cue music!) and this is the film which changed the movie landscape for all time.  Honestly, this really is the movie that kick started the big Hollywood blockbuster movie.

What's not to love really?  The Force.  Jedi.  Yoda.  Darth Vader.  R2-D2. Chewbecca.  Lightsabers.  Princess Leia's buns on the sides of her head.  So many iconic additions to popular culture.

I was an avid Star Wars figure and toy collector in my childhood (which I subsequently sold in my student days), and like most children of the 70's the movie trilogy was such a massive influence on me.  It was always the film that was shown at Christmas time or Bank Holidays in the UK, along with Grease and a James Bond film, and I could watch it over and over again.
Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back movie poster
There's so many fab ideas in the movie and such imagination, from the creature designs and the alien planets to the dynamic deep space battles.  Even though I rushed to the cinema to watch the new installments (Episodes I-III) like everyone else, they can't compare and their over use of CGI and cutesy characters make them seem cartoony and cheap and they lack the depth of the original and superior trilogy.
Star Wars - The Return of the Jedi movie poster
I loved how each film had about three different chapters, in The Empire Strikes Back it was the ice planet Hoth, the swamps of Dagobah and Cloud City in the Bespin system.  Everything just looked so alien. 

And am I the only person who loves the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi?  Maybe I am, but I've always had weird taste, but I think they are cute.

Favourite character:  Even though everyone thought Han Solo was supercool and the fact he got the girl in the end, Luke Skywalker was always my favourite. Who doesn't want to be able to do Jedi mind tricks, levitate, wield a lightsaber and be taught by Yoda?  He was like a superhero in a sci-fi movie.

So there you have it, my top ten picks of the best sci-fi and fantasy films, according to Jason in Hollywood (well top fourteen really).

Honourable mentions also have to go to Alien, the original Planet of the Apes movies, Terminator, E.T., Cypher, Dark City, Labyrinth, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Pitch Black, Gremlins and many others that don't make the shortlist.

My choices may not all be classics that everyone agrees with and my round-up is certainly not going to win any literary awards, but they are based on fond childhood memories and my love of the genre.

If you totally disagree with my selection let me know, or share with me your favourite characters, scenes or dialogue from the movies mentioned above.

I think I may just have to watch a few of these movies again...

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