Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

JKM’s Reader Top Ten » Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s

Aliens LV-426

My good friend and author John Kenneth Muir has come up with another of his superb Reader Top Ten collaborations on his blog. And he’s offered more than a few of them in 2013, with splendid contributions from his readership. I being one. This time, returning to a longtime favorite of his and mine, the science-fiction genre. As well as revisiting another distinctly appreciated period we both admire. The “…beloved age of filmmaking: the 1970s.

Reader Top Ten: The Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s?

“In particular, I want to know the answer to one question.  What are your selections for the ten best science fiction films of the 1970s?

Personally, I love this decade of science fiction films, in part because of the overwhelming schizophrenia.  Half of the decade is downer dystopian-ism, and the other half is Star Wars swashbuckling.  Which trend wins out?”

John is right, of course. It was a maelström of economic recession, oil crises, Vietnam, Watergate, terrorism. Disco. Filmmakers reflected back on the eyes of viewers across movie screens. And yet, some surprising mood-lifting work graced cinema houses, too. Motion pictures that could only find their way into people’s hearts during this span of time. Like John’s, and the 70s itself, mine will be a mix of both views.


1. Alien (1979) – I’ll flip the order of the John’s first two picks. Maybe this says something about me having lived through this decidedly turbulent period as a young adult than as a youth. No matter, Ridley Scott’s masterful film works as both a horror film and sterling piece of science-fiction. One that had something to say about our future living with corporations.


2. Star Wars (1977) - JKM’s is right again as this was “a phenomenon, and a cultural touchstone, but the important thing is that it is also a great movie…after all the imitations and knock-offs, originates from George Lucas’s incredible ability to ground his otherworldly “space opera” world in a reality that is immediately recognizable to all of us.


3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – Steven Spielberg’s polished sci-fi film seems to get lost in people’s reflections when looking upon his career. A film that brought the ‘awe’ in awe-inspiring for those of us who caught this on the big screen. Though he and I (post-family life) wouldn’t make Roy Neary’s choice at the end, but back then, oh yes.

andromeda strain

4. The Andromeda Strain (1971) – John nailed why Robert Wise’s thought-provoking film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s debut novel — a book that enthralled me in high school, by the way – worked: “The film’s final message, diagrammed in a computerized “601 Error” is that machines are ultimately only as good as their users.”

invasion of the body snatchers

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – While Don Siegel’s 1956 original sci-fi/horror/film noir masterpiece remains my favorite, Philip Kaufman’s late-70s remake is still stellar. Eerie in the way of horror, but sublime in its story of suspense that we think we can somehow get out of the decade unscathed. Huh uh. Like the first, the film fits its time to a tee.

time after time

6. Time After Time (1979) – Nicholas Meyer, the same filmmaker who would deliver the two best Star Trek films in the entire series years later, crafted one of the small yet best time travel films with this effort. An odd but endearing love story concoction involving H.G. Wells, Jack-the-Ripper, and liberal-feminism in the quaint realm of 70s San Francisco.


7. Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970) – Believe me, this early 70s gem doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Joseph Sargent delivered a wonderful adaptation of D.F. Jones’s 1955 source novel. Want to know where James Cameron’s Terminator got its vision of a nightmare ‘Skynet’ future? Go no further than this unsung masterpiece of Cold War science-fiction.

star trek v'ger

8. Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979) – “Forget that you’re watching a Star Trek movie here, and simply experience a “human adventure” about a possible future where man and machine might co-mingle, to the benefit of all, and you start to see how The Motion Picture is one of the decade’s most forward-looking and visually spectacular films.” ~ JKM

phase IV

9. Phase IV (1974) – The legendary American graphic artist and film title designer Saul Bass directed only one feature film in his notable career. And this intelligent sci-fi film was it. Like some films birthed during the 70s, history has left a few of them on the scrap-heap. A superbly astute film that didn’t need a big budget or spectacular special effects to work.


10. Rollerball (1975) – I’ll close with an underappreciated film by Norman Jewison. It bookends my list with another dark corporate-controlled future piece. A story involving athletes participating in violent televised showcases to placate the masses. To make them forget their humanity amid the corporate state’s dominion over them. Sound familiar?

Honorable mentions include The Black HoleSoylent GreenWestworldThe Omega ManA Boy and His Dog, and Slaughterhouse Five. I should mention, Superman: The Movie remains one of my all-time favorite films, as I noted here. For whatever reason, I do not include comic book characters in my science-fiction lists. It’s just me. Lastly, I’ve not seen the original version of Solaris, or even its more recent film remake. Something I should fix, and soon, I think.

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32 Responses to “JKM’s Reader Top Ten » Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s”

  1. Mark Walker

    Great list Michael. It’s a hard one to compile and your top two are hard to argue with. I’d probably put Spielberg’s Close Encounters as my #1 though.

  2. jnational

    Great list, especially for additions to my “lost gems” category. The Saul bass flick will my first exploration. the fact that you mention the budget being small is a huge plus and must mean the visual story pulls the weight. my knind of picture!!

    • le0pard13

      It does, jn. The Saul Bass film is a lost gem, indeed. At least, JKM and I do ;-) Please let me know what you think. Many thanks for the read and comment. Much appreciated.

  3. Cavershamragu

    Well, I would have to knockout a couple of suggestions personally, especially the first STAR TREK (nice defence but I go with most Trekkers and prefer the second one) and I have never been able to understand why anyone liked ROLLERBALL – much rather have the likes of MOON and BLADE RUNNER. Really glad to se ANDROMEDA in there.

    • le0pard13

      Have you seen Robert Wise’s director’s cut for his film? It might change your mind. Of course, I do love Wrath of Khan even more, but we were limited to the 70s. I am a bit of a rebel, as you can see with my selections ;-). Many thanks, Sergio.

      • Cavershamragu

        I owe you an apology Michael, I somehow managed to miss the crucial bit about the 70s as part of the selection criteria! I have seen the ‘director’s cut’ and I do think it’s worthwhile but like you, prefer the even-numbered entries. The one addition I would make from the 1970s would be WHO, the adaptation of the Algis Budrys novel starring Elliot Gould and Trevor Howard that really deserves to be better known

  4. Dan Heaton

    It’s cool to see Time After Time in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers on this list. Both are excellent films and deserve more attention. Very strong list across the board!

    • le0pard13

      You’ll get no argument from me, Dan. I know the ’78 IotBS has a great many fans, but so glad to hear from others about Time After Time. Fond memories with that one. Many thanks, Dan! :-)

  5. ruth

    Lots of great recommendations here Michael, thanks for that! Since I’ve only seen a couple from your list, I definitely need to check out more. I always love a good sci-fi!

    • le0pard13

      There are some great ones here, I think. Please let me know what you think of them once you catch them, Ruth. Many thanks, my friend.

  6. jackdeth72

    Hi, John and Michael:

    Excellent run down of classic 1970s Science Fiction!

    Great to see ‘Phase IV’ included. One of least known, yet refreshingly cerebral offering in the genre. Always pleased to see ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ receive some proper accolades. Even in this day of computers becoming our Big Brother and benevolent overlords.

    Likewise, ‘The Andromeda Strain’. Which is adult science fiction done right!

    Great catch on ‘Time After Time’. One of the “go to” date night films of that era.

    • le0pard13

      Great to hear, Kevin! Glad to hear you’re a fan of those mentioned. They are classic 1970s sci-fi, indeed. Thanks so much for the read and the splendid comment, my friend.

  7. John W. Morehead

    I’m so glad to see some often neglected films mentioned here. I’m thinking of The Andromeda Strain, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Phase IV, and especially Time After Time. Great list.

  8. mummbles

    Seeing the first two made me very happy. I have yet to see many of the films on the list which makes me excited as I have much to learn and now see from this post.

    • le0pard13

      Can’t go wrong with that top two! Let me know what you think once you view those mentioned, mummbles. Many thanks :-).

  9. The Sci-Fi Fanatic


    I want you to know that I loved your point about our perception of things depending on our age at a specific time and place.

    So true.

    Unquestionably my more youthful exuberance during the 1970s truly cemented films that indeed still mean a great deal to me.

    IF I was a little older I might have seen those things much differently. Great point.


    • le0pard13

      Thank you so very much, G. Much appreciated. The 70s was a monumental time, with some equally wonderful film. In this genre especially.

  10. Eric @ The Warning Sign

    Wow, I am sorely lacking in 70s sci-fi it seems. I have only seen the first two on your list. I’m going to have to bookmark this so I know what to check out next. Thanks, Michael!


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