The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer (2013).
Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer (2013).
© 2013 - RADiUS/TWC

How do you narrow down the entire history of science fiction cinema into a list of only the 10 best movies? Help us, Mental Floss! You’re our only hope! (That Star Wars movie isn’t included, but another one is. Let us use the quote.)

1. METROPOLIS (1927)

Director Fritz Lang delivered one of film history’s earliest dystopias with Metropolis, in which the eponymous city’s wealthy ruler (Alfred Abel) and a mad scientist (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) attempt to use the robot doppelgänger of a beloved worker (Brigitte Helm) to incite open rebellion. Metropolis was famously subject to substantial cuts to its initial 153-minute running time, as a result of negative reviews following its 1927 Berlin premiere. (H.G. Wells called it “the silliest film” and “already as a possibility a third of a century out of date.”) In 2008, cinephiles rejoiced when a 16mm negative was found in a Buenos Aires film museum that included the bulk of the missing footage.

2. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

One of the few movie sequels that improves upon its already excellent predecessor, The Bride of Frankenstein reunited director James Whale with actors Colin Clive (Frankenstein) and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s Monster). New to the mix was Elsa Lanchester as the Bride and (in a prologue) Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Whale originally balked at the idea of making a sequel to Frankenstein, telling a friend that the original script “stinks to heaven.” Ten or more writers later, and Whale had an acceptable script—in which Frankenstein attempts to create a mate for his monster—to work with. Earlier drafts of the script involved death rays and circus lions.

3. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

The long and storied career of Stanley Kubrick netted the legendary director only one Oscar: Best Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. The famous “Star Gate” scene gave 2001 the edge over its competitors … or should we say “competitor,” as only one other film was nominated in that category, John Sturges’s mostly forgotten Ice Station Zebra. Known to 2001’s crew as the “Manhattan Project,” the Star Gate sequence—which utilized various photography methods, including “slit-scan” photographywas shot in secret at a former corset factory in Manhattan on Broadway and 72nd Street.

4. ALIEN (1979)

If any director is deserving of two movies on this list, it’s Ridley Scott. (More on that later.) Three years before Blade Runner, Scott introduced one of cinema history’s most famous monsters in Alien, which was famously pitched to studios as “Jaws in space.” The creature was designed by surrealist painter H.R. Giger, who was handpicked by scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon. As O’Bannon later recalled, upon being introduced, Giger immediately offered him opium.

5. STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

It’s hard to pick one Star Wars movie to be on sci-fi’s “best of” list … but not that hard, as the second installment in the original trilogy is generally regarded to be the best one. (What, were we going to choose The Phantom Menace?) The Empire Strikes Back gives the franchise its most memorable (and oft-misquoted) line in Darth Vader’s “No, I am your father.” Keeping the twist a secret was so important that, at the time that scene was shot, only a handful of people knew about it: George Lucas, Empire’s producers, director Irvin Kershner, and Mark Hamill, who got the heads-up only seconds before he was to deliver his reaction shot. Not even David Prowse, the man in the Darth Vader suit, knew about his character’s true identity. He delivered the line “Obi-Wan killed your father,” which was later dubbed (along with the rest of his dialogue) by James Earl Jones.

6. BLADE RUNNER (1982)

The work of author Philip K. Dick has been like catnip to directors over the years, with Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and more all pulling from his work. The most famous Dick adaptation, however, is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford as an L.A. cop tasked with hunting down rogue androids, or “replicants.” (The original book is titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) Preview screenings went so poorly that an infamous voiceover was added to make the plot easier to follow. (In Ford’s words: “[A] f*cking nightmare.”) Eventually Scott got his way, and the voiceover was chopped from 1992’s “Director’s Cut” and 2007’s “Final Cut” home video releases.

7. BRAZIL (1985)

The old chestnut returns: dystopias that were subject to major attempted—and in some cases successful—studio interference. Universal refused to release Brazil in the U.S. with Gilliam’s original ending, wherein mild-mannered government cog Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is driven insane by torture, instead preferring an alternate cut where he gets the girl and drives off into the sunset. Gilliam organized secret (and forbidden) screenings of his cut for members of the Los Angeles press, who subsequently awarded the film L.A. Critics's awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Universal, whose hand had been well and truly forced according to Gilliam, “immediately released it in New York and Los Angeles, [even though] they had no posters. They had nothing—they had a Xeroxed copy of the artwork they were going to eventually make a poster of … And it did proceed to do the most business per theater of any film at that time.”

8. THE FLY (1986)

With his offbeat sensibility and love of body horror, David Cronenberg isn’t exactly the Oscar “type.” It’s his 1986 film The Fly, in which an eccentric scientist (Jeff Goldblum) accidentally genetically splices himself with the insect of the title, that earned Cronenberg’s filmography its only Academy Award to date. Fittingly, the Oscar was for Best Makeup, awarded to Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis. In an early cut of the film, there was even more makeup-enhanced grossness; Cronenberg cut a scene where Goldblum’s character beats a genetically mutated half-cat/half-baboon to death because “If you beat an animal, even a cat-monkey, to death with a lead pipe, your audience is no longer interested in your problems."

9. JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Director Steven Spielberg has a lot of successful films under his belt, but nothing has quite measured up to Jurassic Park (at least if we’re talking financials). With a $1.029 billion worldwide gross, the dino caper remains the highest earner of Spielberg’s career and one of only three pre-2000 films to pass the billion-dollar mark. (The other two are Titanic and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.) The film’s impressive box office haul isn’t the only thing that’s aged well; the effects, too, still look remarkably realistic, nearly a quarter-century later—the result of Spielberg insisting on the use of practical effects (including giant animatronic puppets) augmented by CGI.

10. SNOWPIERCER (2013)

Behind-the-scenes interference dogged the most recent film on this list, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, which found itself at the mercy of Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein. Like Metropolis, Snowpiercer is a dystopian drama that centers heavily on class conflict. In the case of Snowpiercer, the remnants of humanity live on a train, with the inhabitants getting richer and richer the further toward the front of the train you go. The Weinstein Company wanted to cut 20 minutes from Snowpiercer for its North American release. Bong Joon-ho refused, and after two years a full version of Snowpiercer was eventually released … into just eight theaters. In the wake of overwhelming critical acclaim, the screen count was eventually upped to more than 350. The movie is currently being adapted into a television series for TNT.

15 Surprising Facts About Scarface

Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman—who passed away on June 16, 2018—offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay. But Stone, who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand, wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

11 Things You May Not Know About John Lennon

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at a few facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles

1. HE WAS A CHOIR BOY AND A BOY SCOUT.

Yes, John Lennon, the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast, was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

2. HE HATED HIS OWN VOICE.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

3. HE WAS DISSATISFIED WITH ALL OF THE BEATLES'S RECORDS.

Dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

4. HE WAS THE ONLY BEATLE WHO DIDN'T BECOME A FULL-TIME VEGETARIAN.

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) of the Beatles plays the guitar in a hotel room in Paris, 16th January 1964
Harry Benson, Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

5. HE LOVED TO PLAY MONOPOLY.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

6. HE WAS THE LAST BEATLE TO LEARN HOW TO DRIVE.

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

7. HE REPORTEDLY USED TO SLEEP IN A COFFIN.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

8. THE LAST TIME HE SAW PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS ON APRIL 24, 1976. 

Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon (1940-1980) of the Beatles pictured together during production and filming of the British musical comedy film Help! on New Providence Island in the Bahamas on 2nd March 1965
William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO SING LEAD ON THE BEATLES'S FIRST SINGLE, 1962'S "LOVE ME DO."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

10. "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" WAS THE BEST LYRIC HE EVER WROTE.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

11. THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHER TO SNAP HIS PICTURE WAS PAUL GORESH.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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