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Ten serious sci-fi films for the sentient fan

In space, no one can hear you ponder the eternal verities

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2001: A Space Odyssey

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Stanley Kubrick's attempt to turn sci-fi into a serious movie genre - no man-in-suit monsters, no flying saucers, no screaming chicks - presents a world where advanced technology (for the late 1960s) has almost entirely dehumanised the people living in it. Boffins and spacemen - they're all as cold as the airless lunar surface under which they discover an alien beacon awaiting the arrival of a species sufficiently evolved to uncover it.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick's surreal Heaven
Source: Warner Home Video

Worse, technological supremacy has given mankind delusions of grandeur - our attempt to play god and create life leads to failure when artificial intelligence HAL is forced to become too human and fib. He can't cope and kills the crew - and the hope we're ready to become quite as god-like as the makers of the Monolith. It also has aliens as a metaphor for God - they're certainly advanced enough. Powerful intellectual stuff, but it's a hard journey for sci-fi fans who prefer the black-and-white not-so-nuanced philosophy of Star Wars and its successor.

Director Stanley Kubrick
Writer Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke
Release 1968
Notes Yes, the 1960s styling grates today, but the pre-CGI star gate sequence remains one of SF cinema's most arresting episodes. The space craft photography is very special too.

Planet of the Apes

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Only the man who created The Twilight Zone's dark view of inner space could have worked Pierre Boulle's bizarre allegory into a sci-fi classic with a true twist in its (prehensile) tale. But that's what Rod Serling's script gives us: an adventure in the far future that makes us question our own prejudices.

Planet of the Apes

Taking liberties
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Forget Chuck Heston the wrinkly old gun fanatic, and enjoy Chuck Heston the granite-faced anti-hero so disillusioned with the human race's self-destructive sabre-rattling that he has to he fling himself off into space to get away from it all. But he's brought down to Earth with a very literal bump, crashing landing on a world where humans are speechless animals and apes rule supreme. And they're just as bad as we are: hubristic, blinkered, dogmatic, dismissive of the different and preferring the comforts of easy religion to the harsh facts of life. Goddamn us all to hell!

Director Franklin J Schaffner
Writer Rod Serling and Michael Wilson
Release 1968
Notes The source of a quartet of stock sci-fi sequels notable only for building on the paradoxical notion that chimps returning to the past from the future establish the conditions for the apes to succeed man. Timey-wimey.

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