Arbitrary Rankings Corner: The Best of Sci-Fi

I got a fun email a few days ago from Time Out magazine. They’re asking contacting a bunch of writers, artists, and scientists including such luminaries as George R R Martin and, er, myself, and asking us for our top 10 science fiction films of all time. From this, they’ll compile a top 100. They left it to us to determine our own definition of sci fi. Here’s the one I went with.

For me, science fiction includes any film that uses either extragalactic life or as yet unknown technology to forward the plot, whether or not either element is at the heart the film. To be truly great sci-fi, I feel as though the internal rules of the world need to be well-established and most importantly, self-consistent. So, for example, “Back to the Future,” while a great movie, is a mess in terms of self-consistency of the time travel rules.

My list is, I think, diverse enough where it would be tough to rank them, so I’ve simply listed them chronologically. I will note that for my money, Terminator is the most outstandingly self-consistent time travel narrative out there (if you’re looking to have a “best of breed” for different types of sci-fi).

  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Fantastic Planet (1973)
  • Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • ET (1982)
  • Bladerunner (1982)
  • Terminator (1984)
  • 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • Wall-E (2008)
  • Inception (2010)
  • Her (2013)

In writing this, I was reminded of some of the goofier stuff that Jeff and I included in A User’s Guide to the Universe. In particular, our recap of the failings of sci-fi television:

and our “two-sentence time-travel summaries”:

which, continuing onto the next page reads, “Timecop (1994) (no stars). In 2004, time travel is illegal. Jean-Claude Van Damme is (predictably) a time cop who saves his (supposedly) dead wife’s life without changing the timeline.”

Feel free to comment on how I’ve entirely missed the point of science fiction.


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