Good Sci-Fi doesn't have to be Scary

  • Lost in Space
  • Buckaroo Bonzai across the 8th Dimension
  • Back to the Future (1-3)
  • SpaceCamp
  • The Iron Giant
  • Stargate
  • Jurassic Park
  • Men in Black
  • Outland
  • Flash Gordon
  • Wargames
  • Total Recall
  • The Star Trek Movies
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Sneakers
  • Bicentennial Man
  • E.T.
  • Galaxy Quest
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Space Cowboys
Author Comments: 

It seems that Hollywood thinks that Science Fiction is either aliens coming to eat/kill/destroy everyone or future world wars (or both.) They're wrong, of course. Science Fiction can be a simple adventure set in the future or making use of futuristic technology or what-have-you.

The real concept of science fiction is "What if?." That is, what if someone invented a time machine? What if we discovered a fast, easy way to travel between planets? Take these, or any other such question, and focus on one possible aspect of one possible scenario: what if the time machine were invented by an eccentric, disenfranchised scientist who accidentally sends a teenager back in time to meet his parents? What if that travel method were actually invented by aliens who had showed up way in the past, pretending to be Gods, and by activating it, we end up running into them again?

Note: Star Wars (et al) isn't listed because it's really Fantasy, a genre I generally loathe. Star Wars wasn't hardcore fantasy, and was pretty good, but still... Jurassic Park was kinda scary and "they're gonna get you!"-ish, but it was still good. I'm sure I've missed others, and I didn't include Sliders because it's a TV series, and while it fit the category originally, it has lately gotten really stupid with the "run-around-and-fight-the-bad-guys-in-a-multi-universer-uber-war" schtick. I am definitely looking forward to Bicentennial Man and will probably add it to this list as soon as I get a chance to see it.

Also, I'm pissed that of all of Robert Heinlein's wonderful novels and short stories, they picked his only horror story (Puppet Masters) and his only war novel (Starship Troopers). Why not Friday or Door into Summer or something? (And they've not done anything with James P. Hogan's work, the numbnuts.)

Okay, I finally got around to watching Bicentennial Man. It was great. A little sadder than I remember (not exactly what a 5-year-old girl who likes Robots is after) and I have a problem with a slight violation of the first law of robotics, but I will definitely pick this one up on DVD. Definitely recommended.

This isn't a comment on your list, rather, a comment on your comments - or one of them. All of us who have a good grounding in written science fiction know that there are incredible riches in stories and novels (not just Heinlein's) waiting to be made into movies. With the fx technology available now, almost any story can be brought to the screen. But no, movie-makers don't want to pay for the rights to those stories, they'd rather write their own, usually half-assed, sf screenplays.

Or even worse, take an old TV show and turn it into a terrible movie. (They already own the rights; why pay someone for something new when they can recycle the Beverly Hillbillies?)

But yes, there is plenty out there waiting to be turned into good movies. And if you know of some that fits this list, *please* let me know -- I'm always looking for something new.

Good, non-scary sf movies? Okay, if you're not prejudiced against movies made before 1980, try THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FORBIDDEN PLANET, PLANET OF THE APES, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, WESTWORLD. Some of these have scenes that are a bit scary, but not very.


I haven't seen The Day The Earth Stood Still in years, so I'm going to have to rewatch to make sure it meets the "good" (as in I like it a lot) requirement. Forbidden Planet was good, but still a little scary. I wasn't crazy about Planet of the Apes, and 2001 was a little too confusing for me. I remember Westworld as good but scary; still, I think it might fit.

Of your post-1980 titles, the only ones I've seen don't quite fit the "Good" requirement -- Last Starfighter "Gonna be a sparklin' day! Sparklin!" 8^) and ST IV was okay... "He did a little too much LDS in the sixties." "Double Dumb-ass on you!" "Where are the nuclear wessels?" Okay, it was pretty good. And, Kirk got totally snubbed (romantically) by the whale lady, so I guess it fits.

I'll have to check out the others. Thanks!

Or did you mean stories and novels that might be turned into good, non-scary movies?

I meant movies. I have boxes and shelves full of good stories waiting to be made into movies. 8^)

So do I, so does any fool who's spent an obscene percentage of his life reading the stuff. But I'm interested in hearing which titles you think are crying out for movification.

That would make a good list, I think... Thrice Upon A Time (James P Hogan) comes to mind, as does the Heinlein one about the kids on the survival test that can't get home, and Double Star, and Doorway into Summer... Only problem is, Hollywood is sure to totally screw them up. Anyway, I am going to have to think about this...

Shall you host the list or shall I? Here are some suggestions: ORPHANS OF SPACE Heinlein, STARMAN JONES Heinlein, RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA Clarke, TIMESCAPE Benford, THE LEGACY OF HEOROT Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes. With a little research I could come up with many more.

BTW, that Heinlein title you couldn't think of is TUNNEL IN THE SKY.

Blade Runner, of course, and a dark horse: Barbarella. Both are detective movies (of a sort): BB is actually doing search-and-rescue, but has to deal with a big, dangerous, weird city outside her culture to rescue her target (who actually doesn't want to be rescued.) Both are eyecandy, BB is (very) mildly spicy (although Blade Runner comes close). Both have scary parts, but it's not the main point of the movie. Oh, yes, and one more that rattles between SF and spy thriller: The President's Analyst (cooler than the Prisoner, and more real. Really.)

I'm going to have to re-watch Blade Runner and I'm not sure if I've ever seen Barbarella. I seem to remember the former as being pretty dark, so I'm not sure if it fits this list really.

The President's Analyst didn't really strike me as being SF, more of a Spy+Spoof. The Prisoner (which I thought was totally cool) wasn't really SF either, so much. (And I had heard a rumour that Mel Gibson was going to star in a movie version -- I wonder what happened to that?)

How about Starman? I can't remember if it was particularly scary or not, but I do remember it being very good.

Another one to add to the rental list... Now we just have to get heat in the living room and find some time... Thanks!

I'd vote to put Gattaca on this list.

Good suggestion for a list. I generally avoid most "SF" movies because I don't like the violent gore-filled ones (hated Aliens, cringed the whole way through Starship Troopers, etc).

I'd second the suggestion of Gattaca, and offer up Until the End of the World as a suggestion.

I'm not into gore-for-gore's sake either, or scary movies, for that matter. (And I'm pissed that of all of Heinlein's novels, the only two that get made into movies are his war (Starship Troopers) and horror (Puppet Masters) novels.)

I'm going to have to check out Gattaca and Until the End of the World as well.

How 'bout Galaxy Quest?

Y'know, based on comments on the Listology, I went ahead and bought it on DVD. Unfortunately, the DVD drive in my laptop doesn't like it (it works fine on my brother-in-law's machine.) So I haven't seen it yet. Now I just need to find time to watch it on his machine, or get around to putting my entertainment computer together in the living room. But, I suspect it qualifies...

I agree with the additions of Gattaca & Galaxy Quest. I'd also put these up for consideration:

2001: A Space Odyssey -- Not only one of the best films ever made, but is easily the finest piece of SF ever put to celluloid.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind -- certainly Spielberg's best

A Clockwork Orange -- engrossing depiction of a violent future, but not really 'scary'

E.T.: The Extra Terrestial -- cute & fun

The China Syndrome -- is this Sci-Fi...?

How about Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan

I haven't seen Gattaca. Galaxy Quest definitely needs to be added (finally got to see it).

Of the others, I have to admit I didn't understand 2001 at all, (Well, not much, anyway,) so I'm not sure it fits with the title "Good Sci-Fi". (Yes, I know it was a great Film, but good Sci-Fi?)

Close Encounters was excellent, but it was a bit scary too. Hmmm... I'll have to think about that one.

Clockwork Orange is on this list; it's not really scary, but it's not what I had in mind for this list.

E.T. should be here too. I haven't seen The China Syndrome, so I can't comment on that one, and while most of the Star Trek movies don't really fit with the "good" part of the list, I think I'll go ahead and add them. Thanks!

I know this post is kinda old, but it was interesting anyway. There's a new movie I just saw in a private screening here in NY called 'Messengers' that definitely fits the bill as well, though in a different, indie kind of way. It's got Michele Hicks 'Twin Falls Idaho' in it and was directed by a newcomer, Philip Farha.

It does sci-fi but not in a 'green alien suit' kind of way. It's almost philosophical in ways with a laconic edge. I hope you can see it!