2001: A Space Odyssey
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.
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.
Writer Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke
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
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.
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!
Writer Rod Serling and Michael Wilson
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.
Next page: Zardoz
You put Zardoz in there but missed Silent Running?
Zardoz is terrible. Watched it a few months back and aside from some neat ideas and imagery its actually one of the worst films I have ever seen. A film so bad it actually hurts.
It's essentially takes what would make a good Doctor Who or Blakes 7 story and turns it into the longest 100 or so minutes of your life.
I wanted to like it, there of bits of it that I think are really quite good, but it's just a confused po-faced mess that gets worse as the movie progresses.
That said, you can pick Zardoz up for pennies on Amazon so if you are interested in such things (as I am) at least you don't have to pay through the nose to get a copy. Think mine literally cost me a few pence + the postage!
Oh, and one other thing: Dark Star
Dark Star was the first movie to show the non-utopian(*) version of the Sci-Fi space travel future: bored, lonely people in a cramped uncomfortable dirty spaceship with everything breaking down and going wrong and a disinterested planet Earth back home cutting off their funding.
(*) - Yes, I mean non-utopian as opposed to dystopian. I'm treating topianity as (at least) three-valued, and I don't think it's really about a dystopia
Bit of an underappreciated classic methinks. Directed by Katherine Bigelow who got the rights as part of her divorce settlement with James Cameron who wrote the script. It has dated a bit because they chose to set it in 2000 and the technology seems to involve MiniDiscs; but the idea of people recording their experiences seems somewhat prescient in the era of Google Glass.
The opening POV robbery is a work of genius and it has the amazing Angela Bassett as one of Cameron's strong female roles. There are a couple of incredibly violent scenes, including a rape, which some people might find too much.