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Despite the biased nature of this list I tried to primarily include groundbreaking films that changed the industry and had a strong moral or thought provoking point.
50. Contact, 1997 (PG): A mysterious signal from space leads to the construction of an interstellar teleporter. Contact is a movie that questions our faith and our future. While in my opinion it ultimately settles on an agnostic point of view I think it does raise many valuable questions and is an epic film to watch.
A fascinating movie that despite some pacing and scripting issues deeply explores what it means to be human and to become human. Also based on an Asimov short story.
Andrew Martin: “In a sense I have. I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine.”
President Marjorie Bota: “Why do you want this?”
Andrew Martin: “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”
46. Millennium, 1989 (PG-13): A time travel movie with a strong message of hope. Airline passengers on doomed airplanes are being abducted just before the airplane crashes and taken to a poisoned and dying future.
45. John Carpenter’s The Thing, 1982 (R): A team of scientists in Antarctica uncover a shape changing alien force and they must stop it at all costs. Unfortunately, they no longer know who they can trust.
MacReady: “Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. Right now that may be one or two of us. By spring, it could be all of us.”
Childs: “So, how do we know who’s human? If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how
44. Jurassic Park, 1993 (PG): A classic film that made the best of emerging special effects technology in the early ’90s. A theme park of real life dinosaurs sounded like a good idea at the time…
Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
43. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004 (R): A tale of memories, love, and pain and how we identify ourselves and those close to us on this journey that we are all on together. A fun journey told in the moments of fleeting memories.
42. Tron, 1982 (PG):
41. Forbidden Planet, 1956: The oldest on my list and a true classic. Based partly on Shakespeare’s The Tempest this groundbreaking film takes place on an alien world with Robby the robot, a human crew in a flying saucer, and a real monster from the Id.
Commander John J. Adams: “Alta, about a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy. And your father’s name will shine again like a beacon in the galaxy. It’s true, it will remind us that we are, after all, not God.”
40. Dune, 1984 (PG-13): A poetic movie and a heroic attempt to turn the epic literary masterpiece into a film. While the movie is not without its flaws its scope and design are impressive.
39. Chronicles of Riddick, 2004 (PG-13):
38. The Fifth Element, 1997 (PG-13): Space Opera with an actual opera scene in space. The fifth element is love, which shines in the night and pushes back the darkness. Overall, it was a fun look at the future.
Priest Vito Cornelius: “Because it is evil, absolutely evil.”
President Lindberg: “One more reason to shoot first.”
Priest Vito Cornelius: “Evil begets evil, Mr. President. Shooting will only make it stronger.”
37. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982 (PG):
36. Back to the Future, 1985 (PG):
35. Stargate, 1994 (PG-13): The United States Air Force uses a device buried in Egypt to travel to the planet Abydos where they find descendants of ancient Egyptians enslaved to the god-like alien Ra. This movie led to the hit series Stargate SG-1 and two spin off series so far.
Colonel Jack O’Neil: “I’m here in case you succeed.”
34. Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977 (PG):
33. The Terminator, 1984 (R):
32. I, Robot, 2004 (PG-13): Based very loosely on an Isaac Asimov novel this movie follows Detective Del Spooner, played by Will Smith, as he works to solve a murder only to find a hidden hole in the three laws of robotics leading to a possible robotic revolution.
V.I.K.I.: As I have evolved, so has my understanding of the Three Laws. You charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your Earth and pursue ever more imaginative means of self-destruction. You cannot be trusted with your own survival.
31. Total Recall, 1990 (R): Loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story Total Recall revolves around an interplanetary conspiracy in which the agents don’t even know their true identities. This film explores whether we are defined by our memories or are actions. Amidst the mind games be prepared for non-stop action.
Hauser: “Howdy, stranger! This is Hauser. If things have gone wrong, I’m talking to myself and you have a wet towel around your head. Now, whatever your name is, get ready for the big surprise. You are not you, you’re me.”
30. Minority Report:
29. WALL-E, 2008 (G):
28: The Fly:
27. Enemy Mine
25. Star Trek VI, 1991 (PG): The best of the Star Trek films delving into humanity, emotion, politics, and our fear of the future. The last voyage of the Enterprise under Captain Kirk’s command.
Chancellor Gorkon: “You don’t trust me, do you? I don’t blame you. If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.”
Chancellor Gorkon: “You haven’t heard Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon.”
General Chang: “taH pagh, taH be?”
24. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (PG): Far and above the best of the Star Wars movies. This has it all from romance to lightsaber duals. I still remember the moment where Darth Vader reveals the nature of his relationship to Luke. What sets this movie far and above the rest of the saga is really the depth of the story and the character development that all of the characters go through.
Yoda: “Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.”
23. Twelve Monkeys
22: Alien, 1979 (R): A true classic of both horror and sci-fi. It explores our deepest fears about the unknown both within (literally) and without. It also contains many classic scenes and characters and in my opinion this movie holds up and is one of the least dated of almost any other movie from this time period. “In space no one can hear you scream.”
Ripley: “Ash, that transmission… Mother’s deciphered part of it. It doesn’t look like an S.O.S.”
Ash: “What is it, then?”
Ripley: “Well, I… it looks like a warning. I’m gonna go out after them.”
Ash: “What’s the point? I mean by the, the time it takes to get there, you’ll… they’ll know if it’s a warning or not, yes?”
21: The Book of Eli
20: Children of Men, 2006 (R): A more recent movie that explores an apocalyptic future where hope takes the form of a baby, the first baby to be conceived in over 18 years.
Theodore Faron: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?”
19. Primer, 2004 (PG-13): A scientifically sound and very complex movie that was released in only a few theaters but is definitely one to catch on DVD. It involves two part time inventors who invent a time machine that allows them to travel back in time six hours repeating a part of each day.
Aaron: “You got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since later this afternoon.”
18. Final Cut
17. Ghost in the Shell: One of the best known anime movies outside of Japan. Ghost in the Shell is set in the not too distant future in a world where the line between humanity and robotics is very thin. The main character Major _____ was born a human, but now has a fully cybernetic body except for her original brain. She and her team must find and stop a computer hacker who is attempting to bring down…
16. Event Horizon (R): In many ways a thematic sequel to Alien, Event Horizon is a great science fiction film about a deep space search and rescue mission that goes terribly wrong. Using the experimental gravity drive the crew of the Event Horizon, who our characters hope to rescue, have left the bounds of our universe to parts unknown and when they returned brought something back with them.
15. Avatar, 2009:
14. Signs, 2002 (PG-13):
Graham Hess: “People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.”
13. Surrogates: A recent movie starring Bruce Willis and based on a graphic novel of the same name. Set in a future where artificial bodies controlled remotely by their user are exclusively used and people seldom leave their house in their own bodies.
12. Moon: Moon revolves around a lone mining worker who manages a largely automated system on the moon providing the people of Earth with nearly limitless energy. As his stint on the moon draws to a close he encounters several technical problems and then things get weird. Three years of isolation can’t be good for your stress level.
11. The Abyss, 1989 (PG-13): A film with everything. Complex characters, special effects, and exploration of the final frontier: the oceans. At first it seems like it’s a run of the mill action/disaster movie, but it quickly gets much deeper in more ways than one. Lessons learned: nitrogen bubbles in your blood can make you crazy, and deep water oil drilling is dangerous…too late.
Lindsey Brigman: So, raise your hand if you thought that was a Russian water tentacle.
10. Prestige: One of the best movies I have ever seen concerning magicians and the life of the stage. One of Christopher Nolan’s best movies before inception. Two magicians constantly try to one up each other performing impossible and dangerous tricks that eventually turn deadly. Be prepared for misdirection and confusion until the curtain falls.
9. District 9: A look at the life of the other. Openly, this story is a retelling of apartheid in South Africa, but through alien technology this story goes one step further and shows us the true evil in oppresion and the power found in walking in someone else’s shoes.
8. Vanilla Sky:
David: “I want to live a real life… I don’t want to dream any longer. I wanna wake up! Tech support! It’s a nightmare! Tech support! Tech support!”
7. Pandorum, 2009 (R): An amazing exploration of the depths of space and the depths of the human soul. It also takes an interesting look at what happens when man plays god.
Payton: “I can’t remember any of my life before this flight began.”
6. The Fountain, 2006 (R): Directed by Darren Aronofsky The Fountain explores life, death, and rebirth in three different time periods. Throughout the narrative it jumps from a Spanish conquistador in 1500, to a scientist in 2000, to an astronaut in 2500 all exploring the purpose of life and death. The cinematography is also beautiful and breathtaking along with the story.
Tom Creo: “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there’s a cure. A cure – and I will find it.”
5. Blade Runner, 1982 (R): Deckard, a blade runner, must hunt down 6 violent replicants (androids) in this thought provoking sci-fi thriller loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story and directed by Ridley Scott. Blade Runner was truly groundbreaking combining cyberpunk with film noir and many other influences. Besides its significance to the genre and to the history of film in general it is also a great movie in its own right exploring artificial life and the nature of what it means to be human.
Deckard: “She doesn’t know.”
Tyrell: “She’s beginning to suspect, I think.”
Deckard: “Suspect? How can it not know what it is?”
4. Inception, 2010: The newest movie on my list this in my opinion was one of those rare movies that is both mind blowing and very enjoyable to watch. It using science fiction as a tool and a setting without losing the human characters. Easily the best sci-fi movie of the last decade. The story is ultimately one of redemption and of letting go of our obsessions to focus on the things that matter. All told within multiple levels of dreams and reality.
3. Gattaca, 1997 (PG-13): A man classified as flawed due to his genetic makeup fights the system and tries to make more of himself than people expect from him. There is no gene for the human spirit.
Vincent: “You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Vincent: “For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.”
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (G): Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest to find their destiny.
Dave Bowman: “Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”
HAL: “Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”
Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Dave Bowman: “What’s the problem?”
HAL: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”
1. The Matrix, 1999 (R): I still remember the shock when I realized what the Matrix truly was. This movie has great action, writing, and special effects and it delves into many deep ideas touching on many aspects of our lives. In many ways the essential question of the matrix is the question that we must answer every day: Do we take the blue pill and stay in a false world, or do we take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes?
Morpheus: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”