Top 25 SFX Movies

The Top 25 SF & fantasy films ever as voted for by you!


25 Forbidden Planet

1956 • Director: Fred M Wilcox

The director would like to thank: Shakespeare, Walt Disney

One line pitch: The Tempest done SF-style

Why it’s great: Robby The Robot; the monster from the id attacking the spaceship; the monster from the id trashing Dr Morbius’s house; the vertiginous chasms full of Krel machinery (still massively impressive even today); the C-57D landing on Altair IV.

Not to be confused with: The Forbidden Kingdom , The Forbidden , the Forbidden Zone, a chain of SF shops

The alternative view: “The strictly formulaic direction and by-the-numbers script leach any true drama or humanity out of the bulk of the film, consigning it in the end to the category of interesting and strangely influential oddity.” Chris Barsanti, Filmcritic.com , 2006

24 Dark City

1998 • Director: Alex Proyas

The director would like to thank: Philip K Dick, film noir, Norman Rockwell, Jack Vettriano

One line pitch: Mickey Spillane meets some powerful drugs in a city that keeps changing every night

Why it’s great: The FX of the city morphing (awesome); the freaky, gliding strangers (and their great names – Mr Quick, Mr Hand, Mr Hand); the eerie site of a whole city falling asleep simultaneously; Kiefer Sutherland channelling Renfield; the big reveal of the nature of the city.

Not to be confused with: The Dark Knight , Dark Skies , Sin City , The Matrix

The alternative view: “This is one of those movies that’s more concerned with set design than anything that’s going on inside the characters’ heads.” Paul Tatara, CNN.com , 2008

23 The Thing

1982 • Director: John Carpenter

The director would like to thank: The Thing From Another World , Jaws , Doctor Who “The Seeds Of Doom”, Rob Bottin

One line pitch: Shapeshifting alien likes frozen food

Why it’s great: Rob Bottin’s make-up effects for the Thing; the doctor getting his arms bitten off; the head that grows legs and scuttles off; “You’ve gotta be f**king kidding!”; the tense-as-Hell blood test sequence; a dog that turns itself inside out; “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while... see what happens...”

Not to be confused with: The Blob , The Sure Thing , Ben Grimm

The alternative view: “A foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80s”. Vincent Canby, The New York Times , 1982

22 Avatar

2009 • Director: James Cameron

The director would like to thank: Native Americans

One line pitch: Dances With Wolves with Smurfs

Why it’s great: The groundbreaking, utterly meticulous special FX; the 3D,; the truly alien alien culture; actions scenes in which you can actually see what’s going on; great big mecha; the dragon bonding; the destruction of the tree.

Not to be confused with: Avatar: The Last Airbender , a vat of tar, Ava Gardner, Ave Maria, Dances With Wolves , The Smurfs

The alternative view: “Avatar is overlong, dramatically two-dimensional, smug and simplistic.” Philip French, The Observer , 2009

21 Highlander

1986 • Director: Russell Mulcahy

The director would like to thank: New romantic pop videos, vocal coaches (or not)

One line pitch: Eternals with dubious accents kill each other until there’s only one left.

Why it’s great: Explosive decapitations; Sean Connery not bothering to sound at all Spanish; the ingenious editing from the present to the flashbacks (the one from a fishtank to a Scottish loch, especially); the Queen soundtrack (“Who Wants To Live Forever?”); “There can be only one!”; Clancy Brown as the Kurgon.

Not to be confused with: Outlander , High Noon , Brave Heart , Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head

The alternative view: “Joins Pete’s Dragon , Condorman and Unidentified Flying Oddball in the category of films better remembered than re-watched.” Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central


20 Labyrinth

1986 • Director: Jim Henson

The director would like to thank: Brian Froud, The Brothers Grimm, The Wizard Of Oz , Daedalus

One line pitch: Teenage girl in the bloom of puberty enters a fantasy world to retrieve her baby brother who’s been kidnapped by a goblin king with a big codpiece and even bigger hair.

Why it’s great: An amazing range of Muppets – Ludo, Sir Didymus, Hoggle, William The Worm; the helping hands – a well walled with hands that form faces; the Escher sequences with the eye-boggling, sense scrambling staircases; David Bowie only just staying the right side of camp; artist Brian Froud’s bizarre imagination brought to life; fairy tale puzzles given a Henson twist; curious lichen; Humungous, the 15-foot mechanical guard operated by goblins; a Musical number (“Magic Dance”) that involves throwing a baby around.

Not to be confused with: Pan’s Labyrinth , The Crystal Maze

The alternative view: “What an enormous waste of talent and money.” Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune


19 The Terminator

1984 • Director: James Cameron

The director would like to thank: Harlan Ellison’s Twilight Zone episode “Demon With A Glass Hand” (legally, in fact…)

One line pitch: Cyborg from the future comes back to the present to kill the mother of a future resistance leader.

Why it’s great: Arnie a playing a relentless, monosyllabic, part machine killer; the stop-motion Terminator skeleton rising from the flames (complete with limp); the Terminator’s POV shot of its internal HUD choosing between responses: “POSSIBLE RESPONSE: YES/NO; OR WHAT?; GO AWAY; PLEASE COME BACK LATER; F**K YOU, ASSHOLE”; the Terminator digging around inside its own damages arm; “Come with me if you want to live”; “There’s a storm coming in”; the Terminator using a phone book to locate and kill anyone called Sarah Connor.

Not to be confused with: The Exterminator , Terminal , Terminal Impact , Cyborg , Star Trek: First Contact

The alternative view: “Schwarzenegger is presented as a lumbering slab of dumb, destructive strength - the image is more geological than human - and Cameron plays his crushing weightiness against the strangely light, almost graceful violence of the gunplay directed against him. The results have the air of a demented ballet.” Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader , 1984

18 2001: A Space Odyssey

1968 • Director: Stanley Kubrick

The director would like to thank: Arthur C Clark, Nasa, kaleidoscopes, metaphysics, recreational drugs (apparently, the film was very popular with tripping alternative types), Erich Von Däniken

One line pitch: Aliens give humanity a helping hand on the evolutionary journey

Why it’s great: The exquisite, faultless effects and scientific accuracy that make you feel you truly are travelling through the solar system; the stunning sets, some built on gimbals so that they can rotate to give the effect of weightlessness; the sheer, uncompromising hard SF core of the plot; spaceships docking to the sound of “The Blue Danube”; the completely unique, utterly baffling, yet oddly hypnotic lightshow of the stargate; the creepy, calm psychosis of the computer Hal 9000 (“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”).

Not to be confused with: Homer’s Odyssey , James Joyce’s Ulysses (though at times it’s difficult to tell them apart), Planet Of The Apes , an action blockbuster, the year 2001

The alternative view: “A film that is so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull.” Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic , 1968

17 Terminator 2 Judgment Day

1991 • Director: James Cameron

The director would like to thank: CG morphing technology, The Morning After , Threads , Stan Winston

One line pitch: What if the Terminator was actually the good guy and there was an even scarier new Terminator?

Why it’s great: The morphing T1000; the scary nuclear explosion visuals; Linda Hamilton transformed into a killing machine (oooh, is that some kind of clever allegory?); BIG explosions; Arnie waving goodbye as he dissolves in a vat of molten metal; the T1000’s harpoon hand; the motorbike chase; “Have you seen this boy?”; the relentless run that Robert Patrick developed for the T1000.

Not to be confused with: Independence Day , Judgement At Nuremberg , Transformers 2 , Judgement Day , Morph

The alternative view: “A humongous, visionary parable that intermittently enthrals and ultimately disappoints. T2 is half of a terrific movie – the wrong half.” Richard Corliss, Time Out , 2009

16 Shaun Of The Dead

2004 • Director: Edgar Wright

The director would like to thank: George Romero, a few hundred times

One line pitch: Zombies – they’re actually a bit funny, aren’t they?

Why it’s great: It’s unashamed Britishness, the “Don’t Stop me Now” pool cue fight in the Winchester; the bit where they meet the other group of survivors lead by Jessica Hines as if they’d had a crossover with another movie; zombie Penelope Wilton; zombie film and video game in-jokes; Dylan Moran being Dylan Moran; “Feel free to step in any time.”

Not to be confused with: Shawn The Sheep , Dead Set , Lawn/Porn/Corn/Faun/Morn/Thorn/Car Horn Of The Dead

The alternative view: “Desperate, dull and enough to have Romero’s zombies spinning in their graves. Well, more than usual, anyway.” RTE Interactive , 2004

15 Back To The Future

1985 • Director: Robert Zemeckis

The director would like to thank: HG Wells, Doctor Who , Robert Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps”, Converse All-Stars, Johnny B Goode

One line pitch: What if you had to go back in time to make sure your mum got off with your dad?

Why it’s great: The skateboard chase; Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in career-defining roles; the de Lorean; the ingenious time travel shenanigans; Biff being shat on (almost literally at one point); the triumphant theme tune; the final gag – “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.

Not to be confused with: Back To Bataan , Red Dwarf: Back To Earth , The X-Files: Fight The Future , 99.9 , any number of Star Trek: Voyager episodes

The alternative view: “The trilogy gets so knotted in alternate realities, multiple roles, frantic mugging, and mountains of exposition that it seems in danger of triggering an epileptic fit, or at least a few dips into the Excedrin bottle.” Scott Tobias, The Onion AV Club , 2003

14 The Dark Knight

2009 • Director: Christopher Nolan

The director would like to thank: Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Frank Miller, James Bond, Heath Ledger

One line pitch: Let’s take Batman about as dark as he’ll go…

Why it’s great: Heath Ledger’s Joker; a plot that’s a deep, complex thriller first and comic book movie second; a daringly experimental, raw soundtrack; an amazing Batmobile; Micheal Caine as Alfred; Batman as utter psycho bastard (though the voice does grate after a while); an uncompromising dénouement which makes you think about the whole nature of Batman; the Joker in a nurse’s outfit.

Not to be confused with: The Dark Knight Returns , The Dark Half , A Knight’s Tale , anything ever directed by Joel Schumacher with Batman in the title, A Hard Day’s Knight

The alternative view: “The plot is often impossible to follow. And the film, though dark, isn’t as deep as some have claimed. It’s pretentious and overblown, and its unwarranted length of more than two-and-a-half hours left me more fidgety than exhilarated.” Christopher Tookey, The Daily Mail , 2009

13 The Princess Bride

1987 • Director: Rob Reiner

The director would like to thank: Just about every fairy tale ever

One line pitch: Granddad sparks sulky youth’s imagination with the tallest tale ever

Why it’s great: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”; Rodents of unusual size; “I am not left-handed”; the evocative score by Mark Knopfler; “You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is, ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia.’ But only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!’ Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha... urgh!”; or any number of other quotable gems.

Not to be confused with: The Prince’s Trust, Camilla, The Runaway Bride

The alternative view: “Cary Elwes and Robin Wright as the loving couple are nearly comatose and inspire little passion from each other, or the audience.” Variety , 1987

12 Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

1982: Director: Nicholas Meyer

The director would like to thank: “The Space Seed”, Captain Horatio Hornblower, fractals

One line pitch: Let’s not do Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture again…

Why it’s great: “Khaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn!”; the sly nods to the ageing Trek cast; the battle inside the Mutara Nebula; Spock’s death; the Genesis device; Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy at their very best; the new naval feel to Star Fleet; Ricardo Montalban, especially his chest (it was real! Meyer swears to it!)

Not to be confused with: Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek , The Grapes Of Wrath , Genghis Khan, James Caan

The alternative view: “It’s a tacky movie with a tacky script.” John Brosnan, The Primal Screen , 1991

“A movie at once post-TV and pre-DW Griffith.” Time Out , 1982

11 Alien

1979 • Director: Ridley Scott

The director would like to thank: It! The Terror From Beyond Space , The Thing From Another World , The Voyage Of The Space Beagle , Star Wars , Giger, Freud

One line pitch: A bunch of space rednecks are killed one-by-one by a giant willy

Why it’s great: The alien; the eggs; the chestburster scene; the grim and gritty production design; Ash, the gooiest android ever seen at the point; Ellen Ripley – a new breed of hero; some of the most terrifying and claustrophobic movie horror moments ever; the hints of a conspiracy plot.

Not to be confused with: A lion, Lily Allen, Inseminoid and any number other rip-offs

The alternative view: “An empty-headed horror movie with nothing to recommend it beyond the disco-inspired art direction and some handsome, if gimmicky, cinematography.” Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader , 2007

10 Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2002 • Director: Peter Jackson

The director would like to thank: The chance to do reshoots, All’s Quiet On The Western Front

One line pitch: Let’s make the biggest siege movie ever.

Why it’s great: The battle of Helm’s Deep (which is about half the movie, it feels like); amusingly camp elves; the ents; the destruction of Isengard; Gollum’s internal dialogues.

Not to be confused with: The Twin Towers (though lots of overly sensitive reviewers did)

The alternative view: “Nuanced characterizations and performances are not what you expect from Epics, or high-tech video games, and The Two Towers is more of the latter than the former.” Boston Phoenix , 2002

9 Star Trek

2010 • Director: JJ Abrams

The director would like to thank: Gene Roddenberry and the cast of the original series, Nicholas Meyer, lens flare

One line pitch: Let’s reboot Star Trek with a pomposity by-pass

Why it’s great: The destruction of the Kelvin; Quinto as Spock; Pine’s impression of Kirk; clever in-jokes (“Ensign Authorization code: nine-five-wictor-wictor-two!”); Sulu fencing; a wicked sense of humour (“out of the chair”); “I like this ship, it’s exciting!”; Spock Prime; lens flare!

Not to be confused with: Star Trek: The Next Generation , Star Trek: Deep Space Nine , Star Trek: Voyager , Star Trek: Enterprise , Galaxy Quest

The alternative view: “It’s been 30 years since I last found myself at the movies, rooting for a black hole.” Gregory Weinkauf, überCine , 2010

8 The Matrix

1999 • Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski

The directors would like to thank: Bullet time, Philip K Dick, anime

One line pitch: Men in long coats versus men in suits in slow motion for control of a virtual world

Why it’s great: Bullet time; comic book OTT violence; outrageous, mind-bending imagery; Alice in Wonderland allusions; Carrie Anne Moss in PVC; Hugo Weaving as the creepy Agent Smith; cool CG robots; it’s not the sequels.

Not to be confused with: MANTIS , Matt Rix (actor, “Steve” in HSE Accidents at Work advert), Dark City

The alternative view: “It’s astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid.” Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle , 1999

7 Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King

2003 • Director: Peter Jackson

The director would like to thank: Kleenex, JRR Tolkien, motion control technology

One line pitch: Hobbits destroy ring then say goodbye. For hours.

Why it’s great: Bloody great epic battles, the mumakil, Denethor going bonkers, Pippin singing over the massacre of the Pelenor fields, Gollum, Minas, Tirith, Shelob, “I can’t carry the ring, but I can carry you!”

Not to be confused with: The Lord of the Dance, The Return Of The Jedi , The Lord Of The King: The Return of the Ring , King Kong

The alternative view: “Made me feel as if I’d been sent to an outdoor New Zealand prison work farm, and had been tethered to a post with a heavy chain around my neck, and given bowls of rain water and cold oatmeal for sustenance.” Hollywood Elsewhere , Jeffrey Wells, 2003

6 Aliens

1986 • Director: James Cameron

The director would like to thank: Ridley Scott, HR Giger, Sam Peckinpah, Howard Hawks, latex

One line pitch: Let’s take Alien and turn it into a war movie.

Why it’s great: Loads and loads and loads of aliens; the alien queen; the moment when the drop ship comes to Ripley’s rescue; “Get away from her, you bitch!”

Not to be confused with: Aliens In The Attic , “Allons-y!”, a US Marines recruitment advert

The alternative view: “Not for the first (or last) time does Cameron write a handful of pathetic stereotypes that are about to ruin the fun with some of the worst dialogue you’ll find in movies.” The FreshSite , 2005

5 Serenity

2005 • Director: Joss Whedon

The director would like to thank: The studio boss who fell for the one-line pitch below

One line pitch: “Hey, let’s make a film out of that TV show that flopped!”

Why it’s great: Great characters; great dialogue; lots of fun reinventing Western clichés for SF; genuinely heart-rending death scenes; River going from freaky emo chick to ass-kicking femme fatale; deliciously sadistic villain; just a hell of a lot of fun…

Not to be mistaken for: Serendipity, Serena Williams, Blake’s Seven , an attempt to get the series recommmissioned

The alternative view: Serenity is so like TV that it ought to come with a clicker so we can switch over to the next movie at the multiplex.” Kyle Smith, The New York Post , 2005

4 Blade Runner

1982 • Director: Ridley Scott

The director would like to thank: Philip K Dick, Hovis, rain, Chris Foss

One line pitch: Private detective hunts down rogue androids in a future where daylight doesn’t exist.

Why it’s great: The meticulous creation of future LA, right from the breathtaking open aerial shot, swooping through gas explosions; Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty; Roy Batty’s death (“Like tears in the rain…”); creepy automatons; stunning cinematography; the unanswered mystery over whether Deckard is a replicant or not; origami with foil.

Not to be mistaken for: Blade , The Kite Runner , Cool Runnings

The alternative view: “At several points in the story, Deckard is called on to wonder whether Rachael has feelings. This seems peculiar, because the icy, poised Rachael, played by Sean Young as a 1940s heroine with space age trimmings, seems a lot more expressive than Harrison Ford.“ Janet Maslin, The New York Times , 1982

3 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2001 • Director: Peter Jackson

The director would like to thank: JRR Tolkien, New Zealand Weta Workshop, helicopters, horses

One line pitch: Heroes of varying heights go on an epic hike.

Why it’s great: Some stunningly good casting (Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean); majestic sweeping shots of New Zealand mountain ranges; faithful adaptation of the ideals of the book; Rivendell looking wonderfully mythical; the contrasting range of locations, tones, styles and atmospheres (which is one of the reasons voters consistently told us they preferred this film over the sequels); epic battles; the Balrog; Boromir’s amazingly protracted death scene; (but definitely not any “humorous” moment involving Gimli).

Not to be mistaken for: An advert for the New Zealand Tourist Board

The alternative view: “Frodo is played by Elijah Wood, whose pert features are permanently set in a kind of glazed, dazed, saucer-eyed expression of shock, as if he had just been goosed by one of the elves. The Fellowship and the plot itself simply drift unidirectionally across a vast, undulating plain, pausing for the odd sword-clashing punch-up.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian , 2001

2 Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

1980 • Directed by: Irvin Kershner

The director would like to thank: Everyone who queued up to see the first film

One line pitch: The Empire strikes back

Why it’s great: Lightsabers; AT-ATs; Yoda hitting R2D2 with a stick; C-3PO being blown to bits (sadly, they can rebuild him); the best dialogue in an any Star Wars film (“I love you.” “I know”); giant space worm; the chase through the asteroids; John Williams’s music for the chase through the asteroids; the loop-the-loop the Millennium Falcon does at the end of the chase through the asteroids; Boba Fett.

Not to be mistaken for: An advert for safety matches, Star Wars 2

The alternative view: “I’m not as bothered by the film’s lack of resolution as I am about my suspicion that I really don’t care. After one has one’s fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Han Solo and Leia (it’s straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30s), there isn’t a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times , 1980

1 Star Wars IV: A New Hope

1977 • Directed by: George Lucas

The director would like to thank: Joseph Campbell, Flash Gordon , Akira Kurosawa

One line pitch: Farm boy brings down galactic Empire

Why it’s great: lightsabers; dog fights in space; Darth Vader; Han Solo; sheer range of bizarre aliens; the theme tune; Leia’s freaky buns; Chewbacca growling at that box droid; stormtrooper costumes; Luke standing on that ridge as the two suns of Tatooine set; X-Wings; TIE fighters; the trash compactor scene; “That’s no moon…”

Not to be mistaken for: An American defence initiative

The alternative view: “Badmouthing Star Wars these days is considered a felony; on a level with spitting on the American flag, denigrating motherhood, admitting you hate Apple Pie, or trying to dope Seattle Slew. In the hysterical wake of all-stops-out media hype, uncritically slavish reviews, effulgent word-of-mouth praise and the chance of being trampled to death by ex- Star Trek groupies, who’ve had their epiphany-conversion, as they queue up to see the film for the sixth or eighth time…anyone daring to suggest that Star Wars is less monumental than the discovery of the fulcrum and lever, runs the risk of being disembowelled by terminal acne cases.” Harlan Ellison, 1980