Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Sci-Fi

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This is the continuation of a series I began in January of this year that examines and remarks on The American Film Institute and its recent propensity to create Top 10 lists. Specifically, the organization’s need to gather publicity by documenting their celebration of cinema’s centennial via a series of TV specials. Each time, the AFI went about giving importance to a set of motion pictures based on criteria and judgments their groups of ‘experts’ determined. It has generated opinions among fans and film aficionados ever since in varying degrees of disagreement. If you’re unaware, the AFI is a non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts back in the 60s. One of its main charters is the preservation of American film legacy. As they put it,

“Each special honors a different aspect of excellence in American film.”

Unquestionably, their prime purpose was to get people talking about film. So be it. This series on AFI’s Top 10s (out of their 100s lists) for 2012 is my motivated response to compare their picks with a moviegoer (me) per each of their indexes. Naturally, I’m fully aware that readers’ mileage may vary (indeed, we know they will) when it comes to these selections. Fair enough. Either way, it’s going to be painful as picking one above the other always is in such endeavors. You’re invited to add your own and/or disagree all you want in the comments or your blog site (all I ask is that you leave a link so we, the readers, can peruse). Shall we continue?


AFI defines “science fiction” as a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with imaginative speculation.

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
  3. E.T. – The Extraterrestrial
  4. A Clockwork Orange
  5. The Day The Earth Stood Still
  6. Blade Runner
  7. Alien
  8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  10. Back to the Future

My list:
  1. Blade Runner [AFI #6] – I’m proud that it is this film that breaks the streak of me matching AFI’s #1 genre selections. I’ve seen just about every version of this Ridley Scott film over the thirty years since its début. Haunting, visionary, strangely touching and insightful as only science-fiction can, and regularly does, intrigue and absorb those who follow it, I could not have chosen otherwise.
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey [AFI #1] – my close second is AFI’s top pick, and the second Stanley Kubrick film I ever saw (Dr. Strangelove being the first). As I once tried to describe it, the film remains a “… one-of-kind and enjoyably stupefying sci-fi film“. Its Arthur C. Clarke tale still manages to enthrall me to this very day.
  3. Planet of the Apes (1968 version, that is) – the other sci-fi film out the same year as my #2 pick and one no less stunning and fitting for that seminal annum. Franklin J. Schnaffer’s film blew the doors off of the genre and viewers expectations with this masterpiece. As with the others on this list, it has been influential.
  4. The Day the Earth Stood Still [AFI #5] – the original 1951 Robert Wise film was one of the first science-fiction works I ever saw growing up and remains my one better pick over AFI’s. As much as its initial visual wonderment brings, it is the movie’s small, interpersonal moments between the alien visitor (Klaatu) and the Earth woman (Mrs. Benson) that make this a sci-fi classic.
  5. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – I’m well aware that AFI’s #2 pick is what started it all for the sci-fi blockbuster in 1977, but this was the rare case where the sequel, directed by Irwin Kershner three years later, actually exceeded the film it followed. It brought an unexpected maturity to all that swashbuckling in outer space story.
  6. Alien [AFI #7] – the second Ridley Scott film on my list is one better than AFI’s. Like what Star Wars did two years earlier, this was another game-changer for science-fiction given the style, craft, and the unanticipated story woven across movie screens and the frightened and anxious faces of the audience.
  7. Forbidden Planet - another sci-fi classic from the formative 50s must break into this top ten of mine. Fred M. Wilcox’s  loose but imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, now situated on a distant planet of Altair IV, would prove pivotal for audiences and instrumental in sci-fi projects to come (like Roddenberry’s Star Trek in the very next decade).
  8. The Matrix - the next one that completely changed the way sci-fi (and even action) movies were done, thought about, or made occurred with this film in 1999. Plus, the Wachowski Bros. managed to turn on its head viewers thoughts in unforeseen ways — certainly by bringing to life the now mundane computers and networks users had gotten so used to by this time.
  9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers [AFI #9] – I agree the 1956 film fits perfectly in this slot. It had the ability to simultaneously creep out audiences while making them contemplate what was the nature of life as they knew it. Don Siegel’s film was notable enough that it would be remade three times with generational incarnations in later decades.
  10. Children of Men - I feel the need to close this list with a science-fiction film I think will be thought of, years from now, like my lot of sci-fi fanatics currently feel toward Blade Runner. Though Alfonso Cuarón’s motion picture is so unlike it, the connection it generates with its protagonist in a dystopian world is similarly as remarkable for those genre fans of this time.
Note: these things are not getting easier. I probably anguished more with this particular genre than any of the previous in the series. Having to rank the order of each on my list was made more difficult since this category of film has been one of my favorites since childhood. Though I re-ordered and dropped half from AFI’s list, that’s not to say I had a qualm with any film on their list. I admire and enjoy all of them. I hated to leave off Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, E.T., A Clockwork Orange, T2 and Back to the Future, but I had to be honest for those I think were slightly more influential and served as more inspiration to this long-time sci-fi fan. And clearly with three from the 50s in my Top Ten, it showed how crucial that era was to me growing up. Although, I’ll proudly point out, without any conscious attempt, I incorporated something from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and even the 00s here.

What would be yours?

Next Up: Fantasy

The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series:

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54 Responses to “Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Sci-Fi”

  1. filmplicity

    Sci-fi is my favourite genre Michael, thanks for this list. I’ll give it some thought and come back to you with my own. Cheers.

    • le0pard13

      I look forward to your list, Ronan. This is such a rich genre that people could come up with those not on AFI’s or mine and still be quite awesome. Thank you.

  2. Nostra

    I probably wouldn’t be able to keep E.T., Back to the Future and T2 out if I made my own top 10. But I have to admit I have not seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Forbidden Planet.
    As for 2001, I guess I have to revisit it, but thought it was an extremely slow and boring movie the first time I saw it (which was on VHS, so that was ages ago). My movies tastes have probably changed slightly since then :)

    • le0pard13

      I understand perfectly. The 50s had so many great old sci-fi movies and I do recommend IofBS and Forbidden Planet. And yeah, Kubrick’s 2001 can be that. But, it has visuals and concepts that are very much associated with this filmmaker. As well, I took the film in at the theater and that only hadn’t to the experience of it all. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Nostra.

  3. fogsmoviereviews

    Hells Yeah! Blade Runnnnerrrrrr!!!

    Tough to put it atop 2001, but it dfeinitely has more watchability!

    I also approve of Empire over Star Wars, absolutely. Not necessarily feeling the “Children of Men” inclusion. GREAT flick. Dont get me wrong there. But doesn’t leap to mind as an example of Sci-Fi.

    My “Substitution Pick” would probably be “Dark City”. That’s some hardcore Sci-Fi right there!! :D

    • le0pard13

      Great pick, Fogs. I love Dark City, too. Like I said, there are just so many great sci-fi films out there. Any of them will get no argument from me — well, as long as someone doesn’t try and hoist something like ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ here, that is ;-). Thanks for joining in on this, my friend.

  4. Max Covill (@Impsndcnma)

    Is Clockwork Orange really an American Film? Somehow I thought it wasn’t. Planet of the Apes is one I’m sorry I had to keep off my list. You’ve seen my list, but I can’t imagine leaving T2 off a scienice fiction list….@Fogs, I put Gattaca on my list.

    • le0pard13

      I’m probably with Jamie on this regarding ‘A Clockwork Orange’ qualifying as sci-fi. And yes, I remember your list quite well. It’s a great one, and we have a good amount in common (always good to find another ‘Children of Men’ fan). Wonderful inclusion of ‘Gattaca’, Max. Thanks for joining in on this.

      • impsndcnma

        I’ve had arguments with people on debating if ‘Children of Men’ is a Sci-Fi movie. I can’t understand the argument against it, but I suppose one could be made.

        • Jamie Helton

          Science fiction is largely speculative, often futuristic, dealing with scientific theories or technology. Given that “Children of Men” is set in the near future and its subject is based in science (women unable to conceive for some mysterious reason), then it would definitely fall within the definition. This is why “A Clockwork Orange” can also be thrown into the category of SF with its element of brainwashing. However, a case can be made with that film that it’s just a heightened version of contemporary times rather than presenting a “what if” scenario.

          • le0pard13

            I’d agree on those terms that ‘Children of Men’ is sci-fi (along with ‘A Clockwork Orange’). The interesting potential with both is what happens if/when their stories become true ;-).

  5. Jamie Helton

    I really can’t argue with any of the films on either AFI’s or your list, though I had to really think whether “A Clockwork Orange” is truly science fiction (it’s futuristic and speculative, but it doesn’t really use science per se other than the brainwashing aspect, so I guess it sort of counts). I’m glad that you included “Planet of the Apes,” as it’s one of my favorite films and was very influential and had a huge impact on the genre and on our society. With the best of fiction (especially science fiction), it had a lot to say about humanity.

    • le0pard13

      I understand what you mean, Jamie. I couldn’t leave off Planet of the Apes on this one. No way (and why it’s showing up for sort of an encore tomorrow). I agree it’s been very influential across the board. Thanks very much, my friend.

  6. Marianne

    I want to like 2001. I really really do, but I haven’t been able to yet. I’ll watch it again next year. I may just need to mature some more.
    And I couldn’t agree more about The Empire Strikes Back.

    • le0pard13

      I understand what you mean, Marianne. Kubrick’s film can be harder to like than say a Star Wars film. I also think it’s much more immersive when you take 2001: A Space Odyssey in a theater (that’s where it first struck me) as opposed to watching it on a set at home. But, we’ll always have The Empire Strikes Back. We didn’t have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night. ;-).

      Thank you for reading and the comment, Marianne (and letting me channel my Rick Blaine).

  7. Arlee Bird

    I’d have to fit in “The Incredible Shrinking Man” on my list. There are some great choices on both of the above lists.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    • le0pard13

      Another great 50s science-fiction classic, Lee! I had forgotten about that wonderful adaptation of the Richard Matheson story. Kudos, my friend.

  8. The Sci-Fi Fanatic

    Loads of fun here.

    Blade Runner. Yes! Right there with you.
    I alternate between A New Hope and Empire. It’s a tough call. I still lean toward A New Hope, but it’s tough. Stranger to think that one was actually directed by George Lucas. His newer films pale in comparison.
    I also love fogsmoviesreviews choice of Dark City. That’s a sensational science fiction film. I love everything about that film by Alex Proyas. Brilliant. For me, that film felt, for its time, as good as Blade Runner.

    Overall, liked your choices and AFIs. You make a great point about films from our youth that impact us. 2001 – I love its infuence on so many aspects of science fiction but can’t get into it.

    I LOVED Planet Of The Apes- another classic choice!
    1. Blade Runner
    2. Alien
    3. Planet Of The Apes
    4. A New Hope
    5. Dark City
    6, District 9 – a terrific, powerful film with loads of political and social overtones – the kind that made Planet Of The Apes great. It was the antidote to Avatar the same year and the one I really responded too.
    7. Gojira.
    8. The Thing
    9. The Matrix
    10. The Abyss – I’ll go with this one from Cameron. I love his Aliens. Avatar not as much. The Terminator films are very good, but for repeat viewing my nod goes to The Abyss. I enjoy the beautiful human components of this film a little more than most of his pictures.

    That’s it my friend. These are simply films I do enjoy as being the cream of the crop for me.
    All the best, sff

    • le0pard13

      I knew you’d put together a great list, too! Wonderful. I love the Dark City and District 9 selections, as well. Woo hoo for Ishirô Honda’s original Gojira (the unadulterated Godzilla from Japan for those who aren’t aware) making it there on your catalog, SFF. It really is quite something, alright. Marvelous to see John Carpenter’s The Thing and James Cameron’s The Abyss in there, too. For that last one, I hope someone will finally release it to anamorphic widescreen on Blu-ray Disc, and soon. It’s been too long and there’s a big group of us waiting on this. Always glad when you can join in and leave a comment, my friend. Many thanks.

    • ruth

      I do love The Abyss as well. It’s just so magical… that moment when Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio (ok I spelled that without looking at IMDb! :D) encountered the liquid-y alien, I literally went ‘whoa!’ like Keanu did in The Matrix, ahah. District 9 is also one of my faves of the recent sci-fi offerings.

  9. mummbles

    Great list you have made here.I cannot disagree with any movie on your list. I love Children of Men and it is great to see it show up on your list.

    • le0pard13

      Thanks very much, Mumbles. Glad to find another who is fan of ‘Children of Men’. I’d note that I didn’t really have that much enthusiasm of the film initially, though I found it haunting. I only began to change my mind towards it when I revisited the film as part of the duo post series Rachel and I do (see my review here). So I have her to thank for this, too.

  10. ruth

    I’ve only seen half of your list, so that means I have tons of catching up to do don’t I? :) I’m especially curious about ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ as it was recently remade, right? I usually would rather see the original first if I hadn’t seen the original.

    • le0pard13

      Oh, yes. Please take in ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’. The remake had its moments (though Will Smith’s son wasn’t one of them), but this is one of the definitive, IMO, classics of science-fiction films. Thank you very much, Ruth.

  11. Novroz

    I am glad you put Matrix in your list because it is one of the best sci-fi ever…for me, it is the best

    • le0pard13

      Yes, I could not not include this one. I think many now dismiss it for what it brought to sci-fi and action films and forget how breakthrough it really was. Thanks very much, Novroz.

  12. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael:

    Intriguing list from AFI.

    I’d drop ‘ET’ and insert Howard Hawk’s ‘The Thing From Another World’. Since I was raised on 1950s ‘Red Scare’ Sci-Fi films. Don’t have any use for a cute alien life form. Unless it is following its Universal Prime Directive of tearing up downtown Tokyo and/or kicking in the backsides of the Army or Marines.

    ‘Alien’ is nothing more than a bigger, gloomier, more shocking and hugely budgeted take on the 1950s B-movie classic, ‘It! The Terror from Beyond Space’. AFI’s choice really should be ‘Aliens’.

    • le0pard13

      Great comment, Kevin about sci-fi films and your selections. The 50s were a formative time those who came from it and the films that came out of it. Ah, ‘It! The Terror from Beyond Space’. I remember it well. Scared the crap out of me when I first watched on an old B&W TV. And James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ I can never get enough viewing of that one, to be sure. Wonderful comment, as always, Kevin. Many Thanks.

  13. Eric

    Great work here, Michael. I generally don’t think of myself as a big sci-fi guy, but I love quite a few movies from these lists (2001, Alien, A Clockwork Orange, T2, TDTESS). Maybe I’m more into the genre than I thought.

    I still need to see Forbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    • le0pard13

      Great to hear about what films in this genre you’ve enjoyed, Eric. Please watch ‘Forbidden Planet’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and let me your thoughts about them. Love to hear them. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. Urban Fantasy Books

    Hi, Neat post. There’s an issue with your site in web explorer, would test this? IE still is the marketplace leader and a good part of people will leave out your wonderful writing due to this problem.

    • le0pard13

      I’ve looked at it with IE 8, and it seems to render okay. What are you see spotting? Thanks for reading and welcome.

  15. Joachim Boaz

    Hmm, what do you think of Forbidden Planet from the 50s? I’m inclined to believe that it’s the best of the 50s — even better than The Day The Earth Stood Still, thoughts?

    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Joachim. I have a lot of respect for both (something the AFI didn’t when as it left off ‘Forbidden Planet’ from their top 10). Certainly, by my list order, they’re my top two out of three total from the 50s. It was tough separating and ranking them as I love these films dearly. They formed my childhood. I guess I have TDTESS above it only per the fact it seems the film Robert Wise delivered fully on.

      I guess it comes down to the scene that was removed from ‘Forbidden Planet’ that’s still pretty noticeable in the final print — Morbius’ confrontation of the Id monster after it melts through the Krell metal door. Cut from the film, I’ve always wondered about it. I finally found a reference to it, here. I know it’s a nitpick, but these two films are so close in quality and importance to me I had to draw at something to separate them.

      Thanks so much for the read and comment :-)


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