The Last Ten Sci-Fi Movies I Watched (And Why You Should Watch Them Too)

By Hannah Reigle from Fort Worth, TX

          If you read my staff submission from last semester (if you did… oh boy. I salute you for your patience!), you probably have inferred I am somewhat of a sci-fi geek. I would say I am, but you might be disappointed to find my repertoire of science fiction media is actually small and shallow. In the last year, however, I have tried to rectify this by expanding my horizons (of the non-event kind) and catching up on some of the most notorious science fiction movies made in the last half-century or so.

          Before you read this list, I must give some disclaimers. Firstly, yes, I know, most people have seen most of these movies, and it is an egregious sin that I have waited this long to see some of them. I will say, though, that there are benefits to being an older viewer. I definitely think I appreciate Alien, for example, more now than I would have at any younger age when boredom was an intolerable and frequent occurrence. Secondly, these movies aren’t technically the last ten sci-fi movies I watched, at least according to Letterboxd. I didn’t count Marvel movies, nor A Quiet Place II—the former because I feel the ‘superhero’ genre overpowers any sci-fi elements in those movies, and the latter because my list was looking a little Cillian-Murphy-heavy.

 

1/27/22 The Thing (1982, dir. John Carpenter)

          Sometimes a movie is simply perfect. Every frame, shot, and beat in this John Carpenter vehicle is like candy to the eyes, whether it’s a wide shot of the Antarctic compound, a flash of light on a bloody ax, or a dark figure stumbling out into the snow. The momentum climbs purposely and then races forward to its inevitable end. The part of this movie I truly fell in love with, though, were the practical effects. The amount of work that went into each moment of exaggerated extraterrestrial gore is mind-boggling, especially when considering that this movie predates CGI! (Even if it didn’t, practical effects and puppetry trump CGI every time, in my book). Not to mention that headliner Kurt Russel looks capital-g Gorgeous—almost too gorgeous to believably work at a research base in Antarctica, in fact. 

 

8/16/21 Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott)

          Computer—enhance. This one might be more of a slog for those who are not invested in sci-fi; Blade Runner, based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is definitely not your average popcorn movie. As I’ll get into later, my favorite sci-fi trope is androids, which is why I was excited to check this one off the watchlist—that, and I wanted to make sure Ridley Scott wasn’t a one-hit wonder! Surprisingly, though I was enamored by the elaborate set pieces, this movie wasn’t my favorite. However, I made the mistake of not watching the director’s cut which does not have Harrison Ford’s patronizing voiceover making sure you’re keeping up with the plot. Not every one of these reviews is going to close out with me objectifying the lead, but, c’mon—you can’t beat a young Harrison Ford.

 

8/14/21 Invasion of the Body-Snatchers (1956, dir. Don Siegel)

          No, I’m not joking. This movie, at a scant 80 minutes, is surprisingly able to pack in a lot of stakes in its brief runtime. It’s fun and plays not unlike a Twilight Zone episode. Additionally, if I recall correctly, this movie influenced much of subsequent sci-fi media. Throughout my screening I was reminded by various aspects of plot and construction of several different Star Trek episodes. It’s a creepy concept—without giving too much away, imagine if everyone in your small town started acting a little…differently—and the movie is short enough to give it a chance. 

 

8/13/21 Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott), and 8/14/21 Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron)

          These are two movies, I know. But since, as reviewers have said before, they follow a similar (the same) plot, so I feel it is best to compare and contrast them instead of considering them alone. The directorial styles of Scott and Cameron are so jarringly different that each work as standalone movies, and perhaps even for different audiences. Scott’s Alien is a focused, careful, small science fiction story told by an auteur (pay attention to its slow, methodical beginning). Cameron’s Aliens is a true 80s blockbuster popcorn movie, gritty and fun. My only qualm with Aliens is that it undermines the lore of the first film substantially. But as the average viewer watches the films in consecutive order, it shouldn’t matter. Just don’t think about it too much (a good rule of thumb for science fiction, generally). 

 

6/18/21 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

          I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave. How does a 21-year-old who has never studied film, formally or informally, talk about 2001 without sounding like an idiot? The answer is simple: by not saying much. Do not be afraid of the age of this one, unlike Invasion, it looks like it was filmed yesterday. Kubrick’s visual style drips from the screen, and the moments without the eerie, hypnotic music are the best uses of silence I’ve ever seen in a film. 2001 never condescends its audience, from the primal, mythic beginning to the psychedelic, existential roller-coaster of the end. 

 

5/30/21 Arrival (2016, dir. Denis Villeneuve) 

          Based on Ted Chiang’s novella Story of Your Life (if you take nothing else from this article, read this immediately), Arrival is the story of two scientists attempting to translate an alien language; but, it’s also a story about love, loss, life, and time. Even if you’re like me, hollow and desiccated on the inside with a bull’s skull and tumbleweeds where a heart should be, prepare for some real emotions. Amy Adams, as always, acts like she’s got something to prove, and distant co-star Jeremy Renner is surprisingly tolerable (I don’t hate the man, but if you haven’t looked into the app he used to shill… do some research. And, once you do, yes, it’s real). This is a good sci-fi movie for those who consider themselves more discerning—those legitimate cinephiles and elitist snobs who limit themselves to screening ‘real’ movies. Don’t be misled by the monumental spaceships and tentacled aliens; this is a very human story that will have you asking questions, reevaluating your place in space and time, and realizing how you take your interpretations of reality for granted. Ultimately, and ideally, isn’t that what science fiction is supposed to do? 

 

5/29/21 Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan)

          Even though over half these movies came out before I was born, this is the one that I was most embarrassed to not have seen before now. Considering how often friends and family raved about it in my youth, it still feels almost unbelievable. I blame my late introduction to Inception on the fact that, as a kid, I started bawling half an hour into The Matrix and decided that any movie that plays with reality is too much for me to handle. (I left when I interpreted a scene to say in the real world, in which the titular matrix is held, old people are fed to the babies, and to this day I have no idea whether or not this is accurate Matrix lore.) With almost an Ocean’s Eleven level of cast chemistry, Inception makes full use of its heady premise and modern CGI through nonstop action. If you watch Inception now, you will be left with questions (one, really), and a perfect conversation starter as long as your friends don’t mind you being a decade behind. 

 

5/27/21 In Time (2011, dir. Andrew Nicoll) 

          Okay, I’ll admit that putting In Time, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, in the same list as 2001 seems a little sacreligious. As a kid I saw bits and pieces of this movie and thought it was boring because I wasn’t a big fan of action. After rewatching it at length, I find that In Time makes use of a great dystopian concept and executes it mostly decently until it begins to lean a little too heavily into the action towards the end. I say this because it seemed to me like these car chases and shootouts were tacked onto the script so they could sell the film as an action movie. This is unlike a science fiction movie where action and violence service the plot in enjoyable and innovative ways (like Aliens, or the next entry on this list). 

 

2/21/21 Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)

          Ex Machina stars Alicia Vikander, and Star Wars’ Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason (whom you might also recognize from Black Mirror, another sci-fi production worth watching). As mentioned above, I am someone who loves the concept of androids, and if you share this affection you must watch this movie. Like Arrival, this movie is modern, contained, character-driven, and could appeal to those who don’t always love the (as Blake Snyder would dub them) monster-in-the-house, high concept popcorn movies. My tips for viewing this one: watch it blind, don’t pass judgements, and pay attention. 

 

          That’s it for this past year! After all that, I feel like I have a little bit more of a foothold into the science fiction genre, though I know I still have much to watch and read before I can pick any favorites or make any sweeping claims. If you’re curious, the next movie on my list is Total Recall (1990, dir. Paul Veerhoven). If you, reader, have any recommendations send them over subspace radio, or just give me a call on a picturephone.