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 (H.G. Wells called it “the silliest film” and “already as a possibility a third of a century out of date.”)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.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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