Unless you’ve been hiding out from the Galactic Empire in a small hut on the planet of Dagobah, you’re probably well aware that both the characters of Star Wars and the heroes and villains of Marvel comics are the biggest things in the world right now. Both properties (now owned by Disney) have been cultural phenomenons for several decades now.
As many of us know, Marvel started out publishing comics that changed the medium in the 1960s. As years progressed they had a lot of success with animated series’ but had been known to really miss the mark when it came to cinema. Does anyone need to be reminded of their first attempts at The Fantastic Four? Now, Marvel is at the top of their game in the cinematic world and they show no signs of slowing down. Their days of being relegated to direct-to-video are long over.
Star Wars, while it had already put in its time as a pop-culture cornerstone, suffered for a short time due to a trilogy of prequels panned by critics and fans alike. Luckily, due to the wonderful Clone Wars animated series, a rabid and loyal fan-base, an excellent extended universe of novels and comics books, and Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, Star Wars appears to be back on the fast track to global sci-fi domination once again.
While both Marvel and Star Wars are excellent sources of entertainment, they’re everywhere, and sometimes a lot of other great properties go over-looked as time goes on. With their ground-breaking special effects and imaginative stories, a lot of other sci-fi movies have performed rather well at the box-office too. We just don’t seem to keep talking about them like we do with the Star Wars and Marvel properties.
Go ahead and grab yourself a bucket of pop-corn and maybe give one of these cinematic gems another viewing!
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This film is a true science fiction classic. It took some liberties with the source material but Stanley Kubrick has a way of making these changes yet somehow still making brilliant films (The Shining and Clockwork Orange). His unique stamp and artistic vision seem to make-up for any major change he tries to make. This probably went largely unnoticed because 2001 is actually based off a short story called The Sentinel and Arthur C. Clarke helped write the script with Kubrick while writing the novel about man’s encounters with the evolution inducing “monolith” throughout history alongside the script.
Some truly iconic images are presented in this film such as The Space Child and a group of prehistoric apes finding the “monolith” and learning to use tools.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% Fresh
10. Alien (1979)
This film about a spaceship crew of seven miners checking out possible alien life under orders of the company is a true film classic in both science fiction and in horror. The image of the alien itself wasn’t the real scare tactic of the film, but rather claustrophobia and rarely ever seeing a full shot of the alien; the fear of the unknown. The film was so unique in vision and influenced many films to come with its use of a strong female lead in an action role. It wasn’t the first film to do it, but it was the first film to do it and succeed in a much different era. Sequels and prequels in the series are still made to this day. The film has even been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
9. The Hunger Games (2012)
These films about a dystopian future where children are forced to fight to the death weren’t exactly box office givens. For every Young Adult novel that sees success on the big screen there is one that doesn’t do so well (see: Beautiful Creatures or The Host). For some reason these films based on books aren’t as critic-proof as films based on comic book heroes.
The films in The Hunger Games series have a lot going for them though. Of course changes are made but they’re rather faithful adaptations to the source material and they managed to snag an absolutely stellar cast. The franchise has been so successful it even got the “break the last book up into two films” treatment because at this point, everyone is rushing to see these movies.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% Fresh
8. Planet of the Apes (1968)
It’s hard to believe there was even such a thing as sci-fi films before Star Wars considering the way some people talk. When you think about it, the original Planet of the Apes was the granddaddy of the big sci-fi franchise. The original series was connected to a veritable plethora of big names including Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and had a script penned by The Twilight Zone legend Rod Serling. Most studios didn’t want to touch the flick but Fox took a chance and made their money back on the first film almost six times over. It spawned four sequels, an animated series, a live-action television series, and two remakes (the last of which has its own sequel due out this summer). The make-up effects were absolutely ground-breaking at the time of first film’s release and it would seem impossible for anyone to forget that post-apocalyptic twist ending!
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89% Fresh
7. Super 8 (2011)
This was a sleeper hit that no one saw coming. Directed, written, and co-produced by “sci-fi golden boy” J.J. Abrams, Super 8 was a breath of fresh air in a sea of remakes and sequels. It was the story of a group of kids trying to film their own Super 8 movie when a train derails near their filming location and they catch something leaving the wreckage on their camera that certain organizations don’t want them to have. It hearkens back to kid-friendly adventure films like Gremlins and The Goonies, but also had some very dramatic moments that you would see in more adult adventure films starring a group of kids like the Rob Reiner classic Stand By Me. The film was very well received by critics and movie goers alike. It was able to collect $260 million on a budget of $50 million.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82% Fresh
6. Inception (2010)
Inception was written and directed by current Hollywood “can’t seem to do wrong” director Christopher Nolan coming off what is arguably the best installment of his Batman franchise. The film starred some of the current biggest names in Hollywood such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page.
Inception was a totally original picture about a thief that didn’t steal from homes, or banks, or expensive department stores, but stole secrets while their keepers slept by entering their dreams. It’s sometimes hard to watch this film and know what is real and what isn’t and it includes some of the most groundbreaking and reality-bending effects to hit theaters since the release of the first Matrix film. Many believe Christopher Nolan was snubbed for not getting a Best Director Oscar Nomination for this wholly original film.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86% Fresh
5. Wall-E (2008)
This little film was pretty powerful for what seems to be a children’s movie when taken at face value. In a dystopian future set 700 years from now, the world is overrun by garbage and all signs of life seem to have disappeared up to and including all plant-life. A little robot named Wall-E is still trying to clean up a mess as he collects trinkets of Earth’s past. Eventually he finds a little green plant growing out of the rubble that starts a chain reaction of events leading to the return of a ship of humans to the planets surface. The humans are fat, out of shape, and ride around on flying chairs that give them a constant feed of mindless entertainment.
Wall-E is a cautionary tale that you wouldn’t expect from the usually bright and cheery Disney/Pixar production combo. The film didn’t even look like your typical Disney/Pixar film with its directorial cues seemingly inspired by independent cinema rather than Hollywood blockbusters.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96% Fresh
4. Back to the Future (1985)
This classic sci-fi flick about a teenager, his mad-scientist best friend, and a time-traveling Delorean is one of the most defining movies of the 1980s. It brought viewers on an adventure that answers a question for Marty that most of us dream of when we were younger: What if I could go back in time and see what my parents were like when they were my age?
Michael J. Fox was one of the biggest young actors on the scene in 1985 and everyone involved with this project wanted him on it. It appeared at first that Fox wouldn’t be able to take the lead role of Marty McFly due to scheduling conflicts with his television series Family Ties. Luckily for everyone involved Fox was able to tweak his schedule and take what would become one of his most defining roles.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96% Fresh
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
This film about a geneticist that tries to create a theme park full of real dinosaurs to this day remains a viable franchise. It’s spawned two sequels with a third installment projected to be released some time in 2015, and a whole slew of video games across several generations of consoles.
Like many science fiction films, Jurassic Park broke major ground in the special effects department but instead of scene after scene of flashy CGI, massive animatronic dinosaurs were built to achieve absolute realism. A combination of so many different effect styles were used that an untrained eye would probably never be able to tell what they are looking at. The film still occasionally plays in theaters as a “classic” and even saw a second huge theatrical release when it was given the 3D treatment in 2013.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% Fresh
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
This is another one of those decade defining films that was carried to the blockbuster promised land by what were some of the greatest comedic actors of the time – Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray.
This film that put paranormal investigators on a par with rodent and insect exterminators had a truly unique visual look in its effects work and went on to spawn a widely popular cartoon series as well as a sequel. Ghostbusters 2 would not do as well as its predecessor but a rabid fan base, a new younger fan base, and Dan Aykroyd himself have kept rumors of a third installment alive for over two decades.
Recently, real talk seems to have surfaced about a possible third installment following the death of Harold Ramis, a writer and star of the first two films.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% Fresh
1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Another truly unique science-fiction film with the name Steven Spielberg attached to it. It’s amazing what one can accomplish without making seven sequels, a shared cinematic universe, or resorting to remaking the same films over and over again.
Close Encounters of the Third kind could very well be the definitive film about man-kind’s first encounter with extra-terrestrial life. Richard Dreyfuss is superb as Roy Neary, a father whose family thinks he’s going mad when he starts receiving strange visions and hearing the same musical notes over and over again in his head. These notes and the films final scene have probably been referenced in more pieces of media than one could probably count!
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% Fresh