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December 15 2009

io9's Greatest SF Movies of the Past Decade. Serenity gets described as "one of the most audacious, most memorable, science-fiction films of all time".

I liked their gushing over Serenity. I just rewatched it for what must be the thirteenth or fourteenth time (including six times in theaters, woo!). It isn't my favorite movie of the decade, but it is probably my most watched.

What's interesting about Serenity is that it had so much working against it -- a tiny budget, a first time features director, and the difficulty of a show that no one saw outside of a loyal cult following (change too much or overexplain for newbies, you lose the cult, don't change or explain a thing and you lose everyone else) -- and yet it was not only "not a disaster," it was pretty darn close to a triumph. The thing is funny, it's exciting, it's moving, it's surprising, it's full of great characters AND great ideas and its paced like a rocket.

Still, I long to see what a 100 million dollar original movie written and directed by Joss (i.e. with far fewer limitations) would look like. I mean, I enjoyed the hell out of Star Trek, but something of that size in Joss' hands could have been far richer.

Also, while this is a cool list overall, and I liked seeing some love for lesser known sci-fi like Primer and Paprika (plus stuff I haven't seen that sounds cool like Robot Stories and Sleep Dealer), but it is weird, as one of the comments points out, that the masterful Children Of Men is absent.
I don't have to look to know it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie...

*giggles*
It's great that Serenity is on these sort of things, but honestly, this list is full of fail.
I agree with recoil, Serenity and a fey others aside there isn't much I think was really great on this list.
I don't think this list is terrible. LIke bonzob already said, the only really glaring omission is Children of Men. I also like the inclusion of Slither. It is just a fun movie (plus it has Nathan in it).
I'd have at least half the list on there myself which isn't a terrible hit rate. Probably swap something out for 'Sunshine' which isn't perfect but is "proper" sci-fi in the grand old tradition (not back-door sci-fi like '28 Days Later', much as I enjoyed it). And though I thought 'Children of Men' was flawed too, it still deserves to be on there IMO (moreso than 'Slither', sorry Nathan ;).

And yep, couple of mentions for smaller films I missed ('Sleep Dealer' and 'Robot Stories' for two) and can now track down which is always a bonus with these lists (the biggest reason for even bothering with them to me, discussion on here aside).
Paprika...is like the worse movie EVER. Just kidding, that's sort of harsh, but it's all sorts of bad.
Lot of good movies on the list, but a lot of them aren't what I'd call sci-fi.

Slither - I loved it, but if that's sci-fi, so is every other monster movie.

Donnie Darko - I suppose the idea of mental time travel could be considered sci-fi (if that's even what it's about, I'm still confused). But-- actually no, I just don't see it. Fantasy, maybe.

Spider Man 2 - If that's sci-fi then so is every other superhero movie. While a lot of superhero stuff involves gadgets, it's not the same as sci-fi-- it's really its own genre.

The Incredibles - Ditto superhero.

28 Days Later - If that's sci-fi then so is every other zombie movie. It's fiction about a virus that makes people crazy-- I can't think of anything remotely sci-fi about it.

Iron Man - Ditto superhero.

The Dark Knight - Ditto superhero.


Yeah, who am I to go and define what "science fiction" is, but a lot of those just don't feel right.
Dispatch pretty much nailed my main issue with this list. Many of those aren't Sci-Fi. And what's more, best of the decade? Most of those don't fall into best of the year.

Look I loved Slither, don't get me wrong, but I knew what it was before I watched it. A B-level horror movie that happened to star Nathan Fillion and I watched it because he was in it, and he made it awesome and fun. Doesn't change the fact that it was a B-movie and in no way should be on any "Best of the Decade" list. BTW thats not a slam on B-movies, I do enjoy them. "Zombieland" was fantastic fun, but it shouldn't be a Best of the Decade movie.

Even Star Trek I have an issue being on that list even though it is Sci-Fi. It was an action movie that was over-stimulating due to bright colors and pretty people being in it, that just happened to have the Star Trek name on it. (Red Matter? Really JJ? I liked that textbook plot device of yours better when it was the mysterious red ball that Sydney Bristow found a couple times in Season 1 of Alias)

Moon, Serenity and District 9 may have a place on there. Donnie Darko probably as well. But the rest I've either never seen so I cant comment on, or are way way off base.
They debate a lot about "what counts as sci-fi" over on i09, and have since expanded their coverage to urban fantasy/horror as well as just straight sci-fi (they cover Buffy, for instance).

Superhero films are usually included because of the gadgets -- they explain how they included The Dark Knight because it's partially about Batman's eavesdropping tech and the implications of that, which is very sci-fi. Spidey 2 I imagine would count because of Doc Ock, the very definition of the mad scientist. His arms and other inventions are also very sci-fi. Likewise, the villain of the Incredibles (I forget his name) is a "sci-fi" villain, using inventions, not powers.

Monster movies I think are partially included because of the urban fantasy/horror elements, and partially because they are often caused/created/mutated by man/science (this is true in The Host and sort of true in District 9, the only one that doesn't fit is Slither).

Serenity and Star Trek aren't "hard" sci-fi (especially Trek) but they definitely count as fun space operas (if the list was just hard sci-fi I imagine Sunshine, Children Of Men, and a couple others would replace Serenity, Trek, and the monster movies).

28 Days Later is on there BECAUSE of the virus angle, Dispatch (well, and also because of the urban fantasy/horror thing). But a man made virus is a "science gone amok" idea in the same tradition as monster movies or Frankenstein.

Recoil, what sci-fi films would you put on instead? Most sci-fi released this decade has been absolute drek. Slither wouldn't make my top 100 films of the decade either, but I can absolutely see it making my top 20 sci-fi films of the decade. I mean, what hasn't been mentioned? The Star Wars or Matrix sequels? The Resident Evil films? Paycheck? The 6th Day? Terminator 3 or 4? Slither is way better than all of those.

Oh, and Paprika is a fantastic film.

[ edited by bonzob on 2009-12-15 23:23 ]

[ edited by bonzob on 2009-12-15 23:24 ]
They debate a lot about "what counts as sci-fi" over on i09...

That's cos sci-fi fans in general debate a lot about what counts as sci-fi ;).

I think the difference is partly in the conventions used in telling the story and partly in the "worldview" of the film (which is related). '28 Days Later' is a horror film IMO. It's a horror film with a science based idea at its core but the feel of it isn't an examination of the question "What if mankind created a virus that turned people into zombies ?" it's more "Shit ! Zombies !" ;). I.e. the virus is a macguffin used to tell a horror story. Same with e.g. 'Alien' - we call it sci-fi horror because the sci-fi trappings are so overt but it's basically a horror movie that just happens to be mostly set on a spaceship.

Superheroes are less clear cut IMO with many/most of them fitting into a subset of sci-fi (or science fantasy at least - if we let Star Wars with its magic powers into SF then Spider-man, Batman and particularly something like 'Iron Man' have a pretty good case). It's fuzzy though, much more a continuum than hard and fast boxes (which is why crossed genre labels seem more useful to me - sci-fi horror, sci-fi noir, sci-fi action etc.) and I can also see the point of just having them in the separate-but-related superhero genre/sub-genre (it makes it easier to talk about e.g. Thor and Spider-man inhabiting the same universe for instance).

And ultimately of course, it's fun to discuss but the only "genres" that really matter are "good" and "bad".
bonzob: Recoil, what sci-fi films would you put on instead? Most sci-fi released this decade has been absolute drek. Slither wouldn't make my top 100 films of the decade either, but I can absolutely see it making my top 20 sci-fi films of the decade. I mean, what hasn't been mentioned? The Star Wars or Matrix sequels? The Resident Evil films? Paycheck? The 6th Day? Terminator 3 or 4? Slither is way better than all of those.

Truthfully, I'd have to sit down and think about it. I'm not a good "think of a list guy" which I guess is why I don't run a blog. :) It would be hard for me to think of all the Sci-Fi movies I've seen this decade let alone pick 20 of them. The added difficulty for me would be removing great Sci-Fi I have SEEN in the last decade versus what actually was MADE in this decade.

Its easier to read a "Top 100 Sci-Fi movie" list and for me to pick a top 20 out of that, letting them do all the up front "this was made in the last 10 years" research. :) As I said though, I could see three of the movies in that Top 20 list maybe making mine.
The 28 Days Later virus was never explained. I've seen it twice and just re-watched that opening sequence-- the scientist says they're trying to cure the monkeys, but no mention is ever made of how they got it in the first place.

The unexplained virus seems to be a zombie fiction tradition: the remake of Dawn of the Dead doesn't mention the source either, it simply begins with an infected guy being brought to the hospital. World War Z (a great book that you should all read!) is the same-- a child in China is diving at night when something under the water bites him, and he becomes infected.

Superhero isn't sci-fi, science is just one of the many ways people get powers. It can be science, or mystical, or alien, or being born with them, or having a mutant gene, or having a "power ring"-- frequently all mixed together, which is part of the problem.

It's hard to call one guy "sci-fi" when the guy next to him is a superpowered flying alien that defies all laws of physics, and the guy next to him is a magician who can alter reality with spells, and the girl next to them is simply the "chosen one". (=p). It's not science fiction, it's just fiction-- superhero fiction.
The 28 Days Later virus was never explained. I've seen it twice and just re-watched that opening sequence-- the scientist says they're trying to cure the monkeys, but no mention is ever made of how they got it in the first place.

Yeah that's fair comment dispatch. According to the prequel segment of the graphic novel the virus is a manufactured delivery system for an anger control "cure" that then mutates (it's a modified strain of Ebola - yeah, these are the dumbest scientists in the history of dumb ;) but i've no idea if the comic is considered canonical (and either way, it's not the film).

As I say, I agree 28 Days isn't SF but I also feel science doesn't need to instigate the problem for the results depicted to be science-fiction - it's more how they're depicted that counts (in sci-fi, even "science run amok" sci-fi, an important element is usually that science works i.e. it's a good, complete framework for examining and affecting the world. In horror that's either not true or largely/totally irrelevant to the story).

Same with superhero stories - you can take most superheroes and tell their individual story as sci-fi (it's significant to me that the new Batman films don't - and likely won't IMO - feature superpowers), partly by bringing their abilities within reasonable limits or finding a plausible mechanism for how they work. But when you consider the fictional universe as a whole (certainly with Marvel/DC) then it's more consistent just to call "superhero" a sub-genre of SF&F, the same as sci-fi is.

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