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Best Science Fiction Movies by Decade

By Edited Jan 29, 2014 4 7

Plan nine
Bad science fiction movies run the gamut from disasters like Plan Nine from Outer Space to outright farces like Barbarella. While both of these movies are eminently worth watching for other reasons, they are hardly worthy of the title, science fiction. 

On the other hand, true science fiction injects a measure of otherworldliness, not just a bunch of earth people in outer space. For this reason, on this list, I leave out movies like Star Wars which are thinly veiled action movies complete with chase scenes and predictable twists set in outer space. With a few changes, that movie could easily have been set in Detroit.

Incidentally, I was a fan before I even saw it.  Star Wars is the only movie I ever waited outside a theater overnight to see. The experience completely put me off the idea.


I also did not consider sequels, prequels or spin-offs set in the same “universe” for the top spot. If the original wasn’t good enough, then rehashing the concept undoubtedly did no good other than to line the producers pockets. I also didn’t consider comic books, graphic novels or other works written on the backs of napkins. The list is intended for fans of “hard” science fiction and lovers of evocative concepts.


This Island Earth
1950s - This Island Earth

The quintessential story of a dying planet looking for resources. Instead of monsters, however, we get the highly civilized and anthropomorphized Metalunans who, apparently, are in love with bad puns.

In any event, these creatures are fighting a losing battle against the Zagons and intend to capture the  and enslave the humans. Of course, one Metalunan, Exeter, is appalled by the actions of his government and recognizes its folly. He helps three humans foil the plan. The ending is bittersweet but highly rewarding.

Runner Up: The Day the Earth Stood Still - “Klaatu barada nikto!”




960s - 2001:A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001 is a visually stunning and, though many would disagree, an intellectually challenging film. The movie involves recently sapient apes, a deranged artificial intelligence and an unknown alien entity that is inexplicably interested in the development of the human race.

There is no doubt that Kubrick was ultimately concerned with the conception and development of the Star Child but it was a masterful stroke allowing Douglas Trumball to oversee the special effects. Combined with a near perfect use of classical music, Kubrick has crafted a movie that is both intimately human and decidedly alien.

Runner Up: Planet of the Apes  - “Get your hands off me, you damn, dirty apes.”



1970s - Alien

Reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s novels about marooned or isolated sailors, this movie is surprisingly modern. The monster from its larval stage to its fully developed  form is unique and appalling. Be sure to catch the reactions of the cast members when the monster first leaves John Hurt’s body. Obviously, they were just as surprised as the audience.

Alien delivers on every front. Tension, gore and great sets combine aith an excellent plot lead us by our noses from one surprise to the next. The humanity of the crew as it is slaughtered one by one is only underscored by Ripley’s actions at the end.

What sets this movie apart from other ones with similar plots is that there are no “deus ex machina” moments. The creature’s capabilities are defined. While it is incredibly durable and lethal, it is nevertheless capable being defeated. In short, there are no ??? at the end.

Runner Up: Soylent Green - “Soylent Green is peopllllle!”


Blade Runner
1980s - Blade Runner

Androids are people too or so Rutger Hauer’s character, Roy, would have you believe. Watch the movie and decide for yourself. Along the way, revel in the dystopian, Cyberpunk universe created from the minds of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott as Deckard attempts to “retire” the AWOL replicants

The movie weaves the questions of life, death, humanity and the right to live in a taut crime thriller. There are several versions of this movie. Be sure to catch the one with the Roy’s soliloquy at the end as he sits dying. In all, the movie is an eye catching and thought provoking production from the opening scene to the final dissolve on the origami creationmade by Deckard’s partner.

Runner Up: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  - “Khaaaannnn!”


Twelve Monkeys
1990s - Twelve Monkeys

Not really a remake of the French film La Jetee, Twelve Monkeys is, instead a nurturing and development of the seed of an idea. There is simply so much more science fiction in this “movie” than in its earlier incarnation as an existential “film.”

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are fantastic as on-again, off-again delusional schizophrenics. Keeping up with who is is currently nuts in this flashback ridden movie is actually quite enjoyable.

My only qualm with the film is its almost, but not quite, insufferable environmentalism. If you can ignore the “message,” then this film works well as an investigation of time travel and alternate realities.


Runner Up:  Gattaca - “There's more vodka in this piss than there is piss.”


2000s - A. I. Artificial Intelligence

Spielberg finally gets it. Science fiction is not about cute creatures who need a phone or star struck, Moog devotees who create mashed potato mountains. Instead, it is about boundaries both physical, mental and emotional. Exploring the nature and extent of the human existence in unusual, albeit contrived, circumstances is the bread and butter of sci-fi.

Admittedly, most viewers rolled their eyes when Spielberg had the mother “discard” the little robot boy. Unlike in the past, however, Spielberg did not reach for immediate reconciliation. For the first time, he ran with the ball. The Earth turned, humanity as a whole came and went and another species completed the task of fulfilling the robots dream.

Give it another look with different eyes.

Runner Up: Idiocracy - “Go away! ‘Batin!”


All of these movies including the last runner up - the proper title should be is kakistocracy - offer valuable insights into the human condition and what the future might possibly hold. Each is enjoyable for the creators’ visions and for the what ifs. Enjoy them all but save the last one for a night when you can stand to have the soda come out of your nose.


Thanks for reading.  please leave a comment. Also, if classic American westerns are of interest, please check out my other articlel here.




Apr 6, 2012 1:22pm
The old 2001 A Space Odyssey from the 1960s is worth seeing even today. A classic! Thumbs up!
May 12, 2012 9:07am
I have never heard of some of these movies, but I am going to get copies and take a look. Great Article!!
May 17, 2012 12:29pm
Aliens is one of my all time favs, thanks for sharing!
Jun 1, 2012 11:38am
Very well written review, fine choice of films!
Jun 1, 2012 1:52pm
Thank you , Pindar. Looking forward to your first article. BTW, Love the name.
Jun 1, 2012 5:35pm
Interesting article. I will have to see a few of these movies, as I am only familiar with 'Blade Runner'.
May 22, 2013 5:40pm
I personally am a huge Blade Runner fan
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