Let’s try an experiment. When I say "science fiction movies," what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you didn’t say something with aliens, space ships, or robots, you’re lying. That’s because even though sci-fi is an expensive field, TV shows like Star Trek and movies like Star Wars (which I wouldn’t even consider “sci-fi,” since the force is basically magic) have invaded people’s minds. They’ve also put the ideas of aliens, space ships, and robots as being the building blocks of the genre. Honestly, you couldn’t get a more sci-fi movie than Jurassic Park, which doesn’t have any of those concepts.
That’s the thing that a lot of people seem to forget. Stories that deal with science at the heart of the plot would essentially be science-fiction. It’s what separates the genre from something like The Lord of the Rings movies, which is straight up fantasy. Sci-fi, for the most part, should be conceivably possible. This is why space exploration and robots have always been prominent in the genre. But, that doesn’t mean all sci-fi has to be that way, and the five films on this list have nary a time traveling robot nor people trying to reignite the sun. Yet, they’re all very much sci-fi. How many of these science fiction flicks have you watched lately?
Oh, and a few minor spoilers up ahead.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is one of those movies that I think is actually better than the book. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park is about a theme park of cloned dinosaurs. Of course, things go south fast, and the dinosaurs get loose. What else is new?
Jurassic Park is a fantastic science-fiction story since it deals with DNA and cloning, which are very much possible today and were on the cusp of being possible back in 1993. Only three years later, Dolly the Sheep was cloned, and even today, people are weighing the idea of actually creating dinosaurs, as if the story of Jurassic Park WASN'T a cautionary tale by Michael Crichton. Oh, jeesh.
Children of Men (2006)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, Children of Men is a doomsday scenario like no other. Instead of artificial intelligence turning on us or a comet hitting the earth, it’s focused on infertility, and how people are dying off because there are no more babies. Except, of course, until there is. Just one. And, it may be the only hope that’s left in this world.
Children of Men is an amazing film, and it’s so dour and depressing that you might just forget that science is at the heart of the story. In this world, people just aren’t having babies anymore, and not for not trying, either, as humanity wants children. It just can’t make any more. There are no shortage of people on this planet—in fact, quite the opposite—there are actually countries in the world where low birthrate is a real problem, with Japan being one of them. So, really, the idea of a population shrinking in numbers isn’t really all that far off, as it’s already happening in certain parts of the world. Now, that’s good sci-fi.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Elliot Page, Cillian Murphy, and many others, and directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is about something that more films need to be about: dreams. In this heady heist film, a bunch of dream thieves go into somebody’s head to plant an idea rather than steal it. They do so by using a device that allows people to share and travel into other people’s dreams. Eleven years later, and it’s still one of the greatest films out of modern-day Hollywood.
Inception is like, the perfect sci-fi film, since it uses science as a means to an end. What I mean is, the movie is really about how cool Christopher Nolan could make dreams look and sound on an IMAX screen, but none of that dream jumping could exist without a machine that enables it to happen. In that way, Christopher Nolan was pretty much forcing Inception to be a sci-fi film, since he loves setting these big, bombastic stories in a somewhat realistic setting. Tenet would probably be an even purer sci-fi film since it deals with stuff like entropy, but I don’t like Tenet, which is why I’m not highlighting it on this list.
The Terminal Man (1974)
Directed by Mike Hodges and starring George Segal, The Terminal Man is about a man who gets terrible seizures that make him black out and become violent, and he wants to do something about it. So, he has a surgery where electrodes are put into his brain to correct the problem. But, since this is based on a Michael Crichton story, things go bad really fast.
The Terminal Man is a hidden gem. The book is much better, but the idea of putting computers IN YOUR BRAIN is, of course, something that scientists have been talking about for awhile now. So, like all good sci-fi, The Terminal Man was incredibly forward thinking back in 1974. And, like The Terminal Man getting addicted to the pulses from the electrodes, I’m sure you could imagine what would really happen if our own brains became addicted to computed pulses. I mean, we’re already addicted to our cell phones. Could you imagine if we had our phones inside of our heads? Nightmare fuel.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Last but not least, yes, The Hunger Games is considered science fiction. Dystopian science fiction, sure, but science fiction nonetheless. Directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games is about a future society where wealth and income inequality have gone way past overboard. So much so, in fact, that the wealthy get to watch kids from poorer districts hunt each other down and kill each other on live TV. It’s like The Running Man … but with less Arnold.
There is future tech and hover planes in the world of The Hunger Games, but what really makes it sci-fi is the aspect of sociology involved, which is the crux of most dystopian fiction. Here is a society that has been pushed so far apart economically that murdering the poor has officially become a sport. The interesting thing is that we actually have to look to the past at the Roman gladiators, or public executions, to really understand how messed up humans are. The Hunger Games makes for great sci-fi because it revitalizes those ideas, and connects them to the entertainment industry that we have today. I’m not saying that it could ever happen, but I’m also not saying that it can’t happen, either. People are strange.
Out of the movies mentioned here, which do you think is the best sci-fi film that doesn’t feature aliens or robots? Sound off in the poll below. And, to hear about the best sci-fi movies of all time or any future movie news, make sure to teleport here often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.