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December 13 2009

The Best Science Fiction Films of the Decade. SciFi Squad's end of decade assessment: "Serenity is the best space opera since The Empire Strikes Back..."

I still love my Captain. Maybe we'll see a Firefly spinoff someday. Or a Serenity sequel?
I agree with most of the entries on this list. Of course I love Serenity, and Children of Men and Eternal Sunshine are two of my all time favorite movies.
Great list esp Children of Men and Serenity. Although, Minority Report was classic too. l was surprised none of Will Smiths' movies ie I Robot didn't make the list.
It's nice that Serenity is on the list, though I'd rather see it on Time, Newsweek's or Cahiers du Cinema's top ten science fiction films (however, it is listed 383 on Empire's 500 Greatest Films of All Time). That said, interesting that Minority Report was chosen over say, War of the Worlds by the same director and star. I, of course, think that Minority Report is superior, but WOTW had some things going for it, one of which was the claustrophobically effective minor role starring Tim Robbins. Both of Spielberg's films suffer from Spielberg-happy-ending-syndrome but WOTW's ending is far worse.

Yes, there's a lot missing that I would take over other films but it isn't my list. Just one for instance because it's sort of pointless to argue but reflects my taste. I would have left Prime off and inserted Equilibrium or Sunshine, which got high marks from me both evoking memories of other better known films, but doing their own thing quite well.

[ edited by Tonya J on 2009-12-13 02:46 ]
Wow, a surprisingly strong list. Haven't seen them all but the inclusion of Children of Men, Eternal Sunshine and Minority Report (in addition to the BDM and I would expect Donnie Darko and Wall-E) was a welcome change for a sci fi list. And extra Whedon-goodness, Chiwetel Ejiofor makes the list twice for Serenity and Children of Men.

[ edited by E-Rawk on 2009-12-13 03:37 ]
Serenity is the best space opera since The Empire Strikes Back


What oher big screen space operas have there been since Empire Strikes Back?
Not your usual summation list. Well thought out and considered. Eternal Sunshine has quasi-Whedon tinges (and Dollhouse owes a little something to it), but ends up being something completely unique. I love that movie so.

I would have put Being John Malkovich on there. More fantasy than sci fi, perhaps, but sweet fuzzy Buddha, what a ride.
Simon, I suppose that depends on if everybody can agree what the strict definition of a filmic space opera is, and I'm not sure there is one. I mean I've seen Blade Runner listed as a space opera, but none of it takes place in space. And by that reasoning, District 9 is space opera and now that I think about it, I'd rather see that on this last decade list. What else?

Starship Troopers
Alien/Aliens
The Fifth Element
Gattaca
Event Horizon
Dune (arguably)

That's a few I'd make a case for.
That's an interesting question. Here's the Wikipedia definition:

Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing powerful (and sometimes quite fanciful) technologies and abilities. Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale.


I'm not sure how I feel about some of the definition, but I agree with the emphasis on drama and/or romance. The word opera invokes that; and large scale-ness too, or at least a feeling of large scale-ness.

Serenity and Star Wars fit that definition nicely. Probably The Fifth Element and Dune too, although they lack the "what we're doing affects the entire universe!" punch. Event Horizon and Alien I would call horror; Aliens I'd call action; Blade Runner I'd call neo-neo-noir (neo-noir is already its own genre!).
Definitions are notoriously hazy in SF&F (including of SF&F itself ;) but i'd say a working definition for "space opera" is that it's an adventure story, possibly with a "larger than life" quality that's mainly or exclusively set in space. On that basis i'd love to hear the actual reasoning behind calling 'Bladerunner' a space opera when it's known for being, y'know, gritty urban realism that's not set in space ;). To me 'Bladerunner' is sci-fi noir, pure and simple. 'Gattaca', another low key, more naturalistic film that's not set in space also isn't space opera. 'The Fifth Element' you could make a good case for (it's in space for a big part of the film and certainly has a larger than life element) and also maybe 'Alien' and 'Event Horizon' (though they seem to be more straightforward sci-fi horror to me). 'Aliens' is sci-fi action (space is just what they travel through to get to that action).

What oher big screen space operas have there been since Empire Strikes Back?

Star Trek: Nemesis. Star Trek '09.

(Trek being about as clear an example of space opera as can be found IMO. Maybe after Star Wars but this decade Clones and Sith are both ambiguous since they largely don't take place in space)


ETA: Much of which dispatch said 4 minutes ago.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-12-13 13:01 ]
Yep. For some reason I thought it was older than that but you're right Simon, copyright 2000 apparently, just under the wire.
From the article:
I know people who fell in love with Serenity and then realized there was a TV series that came before it.

(StinkyCats raises his hand). I was aware of the series (via Slashdot) but had never watched it. I saw the movie and immediately wanted more.

Interestingly, Wash's death was shocking, but didn't have the emotional impact for me that it did for fans of the series. However it did have Joss's intended effect of making me believe no one was getting out alive from that fight against the reavers.
I got the warm-fuzzies when I saw the part where he called Serenity "A Masterpiece". :D
Loved his respose for WALL-E. Love love love that movie. Everything he said about the first part of the movie is true to me. I just loved being there with WALL-E.
I'm a baaad geek. I've only managed to see three of those films to date. *sigh* My imminent toppling "To Watch/Read" list continues to grow ever more precarious.

And I personally think that the second half of WALL-E disqualifies it from this list. Not that it was bad, it was just lacking the magic of the first half and was a bit more... predictable.
Great little list, which I agree with pretty much all of the ones that I have seen.

I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think going in with too high expectations and having really liked Gondry's similar Science of Sleep meant it wasn't going to live up to what I had in my mind. Much like the recent Let the Right One In, everything was there, but I just didn't get attached in the way I was expecting to, which left me disappointed.

Enjoyed Star Trek, but not sure whether I would include it on this list. I think my main problem is not being able to get on board with the usual comment of it being the best Trek film of all time, when I would probably not have it in my top 5. It did a lot right, but the main plot wasn't particularly interesting, with a bad guy that was unoriginal. The characters were there though, harking back to the original series and films, but with a modern twist that really worked. The time travel element that allows them to do pretty much anything they want was a clever touch too, although I expect it was quite dividing for some audience members.

My main feelings when coming out of the cinema was that it was a great start to a new franchise, rather than a great film in its own rights. Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't have good time while it lasted and it is probably one of the best big blockbuster films I have seen in a long time, but including it in a best of the '00s list seems a bit much.

Can't disagree with Children of Men, Minority Report, Serenity or Wall-E and Donnie Darko is one of my favourite films of all time. I do agree to some extent with BreathesStory on the second half of Wall-e, which did become quite generic, but the first half is so good that I think it deserves a place on this list. I still think Pixar are probably the best people making mainstream cinema at the moment.

[ edited by Vandelay on 2009-12-13 19:09 ]
SPOILERS AHEAD: I don't get the complaint about Wall-E. There's no story if he never leaves the planet. As awesome as the first half was, if that's all the movie was as a whole, what's the point?

I love the idea that he has one simple goal: to hold the hand of the girl he loves. That's it. Throughout the entire movie. And with that pure idea, he ends up affecting everybody he meets to the point where they break out of their routines and the world gets a second chance.

And Wall-E never even realizes it, which might be the best part. Plus, it leads to that great end credits sequence.

[ edited by pat32082 on 2009-12-13 20:17 ]
Hair splitting definitions aside, calling Serenity a "masterpiece" is good enough for me. I loved it even more than Firefly.

I agree with Tonya J about "Spielberg Happy ending Syndrome", which was especially irritating in Minority Report.
I'd knock that one off for the seriously creepy I Am Legend.
I'm liking these lists. 'Children of Men', 'Donnie Darko', 'ESOTSM', 'Serenity', 'The Man From Earth' and 'Moon' would all be on my list as well. In fact: these movies (especially those first four) are among my favorite movies of the past decade, period.

I don't think I'd add 'Star Trek', great though the movie is, and would leave off 'Minority Report' which I found to be underwhelming. If I had to add a Spielberg, I'd pick WOTW over it. Yes: there's the sugary ending, but the sense of doom and the 'emerged in the war as it unfolds'-feeling was created quite expertly. I was physically tired after that movie.

'Primer' I own on DVD, but haven't sat down to watch yet, but I'm sure it deserves to be on there. Haven't seen Wall-E yet, because I get annoyed at the overhyping of Pixar's movies (even if they are, sometimes, quite good, like this years' 'Up'), but they're usually not as good as people make them out to be.

Movies I'd add, would be 'Sunshine', which was quite, quite good (even despite the problems people have with the final third of the movie), 'Solaris', 'Pitch Black' (which was a great movie, unlike its successors) and 'Signs' (even if the sci-fi is just a 'gimmick' there to tell a very personal story).

All in all, my list would probably look like this:

1. Donnie Darko
2. Children of Men
3. Serenity
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5. Sunshine
6. Moon
7. Signs
8. The Man From Earth
9. Solaris
10. Pitch Black

Bubbling under: War of the Worlds, Star Trek, The Butterfly Effect, K-Pax, The Fountain and The Box
Resisted 'K-Pax' because I liked the book quite a bit. Is it good then ?

And 'Signs' GVH ? 'SIGNS' ??? ;-)

(great first half, loses it by the end IMO. And I just can't get past the plot-holes. Normally they don't worry me too much but in this instance just. so. lazy. Disrespectful to sci-fi. And sci-fi is ma boiee, don't be dissin' ma boiee. Also the central idea is basically anti-story. Or anti-heroic-story at least)

Apart from that your list looks fairly close to mine. I for one am amazed. Astonished even ;).
I haven't read the K-PAX book, Saje (although I have almost bought it a couple of times). The movie isn't mind-blowingly good, but it is very charming, with a nice, ambiguous story and a good central performance by Kevin Spacey. I felt it was refreshing when I first watched it.

As for 'Signs': it's a love-it-or-hate-it experience. It's actually my favorite of Shyamalan's movies. Yes: the sci-fi story is quite silly (especially the end), but that takes a total backseat to the way that Shyamalan directs the movie to be a total sweaty-palms, claustrophic experience. Also: the acting is absolutely top-notch, with both Joacquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson delivering very impressive performances (which Shyamalan milks for all it's worth with the way he frames and lights his shots), and the script is often very funny (and made more funny because the humor usually comes in at very stressful moments) and frequently moving.

I also think the final scene is often completely misunderstood, which is why a lot of people hate it (or at least: it's what I hear most when people explain to me why Signs is actually crap ;)). But: the 'twist' isn't (beware for spoilers) the fact that the aliens are vulnerable to water (which, yes, silly, because earth and humans? Mostly water!), but it's Gibson's character regaining his lost faith, and trusting his instincts and the seemingly random words his wife told him. I like that it's ambiguous - is it him assigning something that isn't there, or is it a divine 'sign' giving him strength - and I like how this massive invasion story actually boils down to a very small tale of a man fighting for his family. It's not perfect (if only Shyamalan had made the surface story a bit less nonsensical, more people would've flocked to it, I'd think), but all in all - if you're me - it's a great movie.

Apart from that your list looks fairly close to mine. I for one am amazed. Astonished even ;).


Yep. I'm amazed as well ;).
Heh ;).

Yeah, the water thing is very daft, too daft just to overlook for me though that line's in a different place for everyone (in fact, it's in a different place for me at different times). But the pre-destination issue (which I remember as being less ambiguously depicted than you're suggesting but I only saw it twice close to when it came out) put it over the bar. I don't mind it as a world-view but I do see it as inconsistent with a hero story - that was the inconsistency that broke the camel's back for me.

Agreed though, the film's got a lot of good stuff in there - the low-key, naturalistic feel is perfect for an alien invasion movie, Joaquim Phoenix and Gibson are both great, the quick shot of the alien is one of the best jump-scares i've had in the cinema (a couple of women actually screamed when I watched it - or maybe guys with high voices ;) and I still love for instance the shot of the wall with dirty/stained paint and a paler patch in the shape of a crucifix (or cross at least) where he's taken it down - hard to think of a more succinct, artful way to depict a loss of faith in one simple image.

It's got a lot going for it and it throws it all away IMO. Frustrating.

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