Originating in the early 20th century, Sci-Fi is a genre which taps into the desires and fears of society projecting them on to the big screen, often giving films from this genre more room for the imagination to flourish. To celebrate the start of the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, now screening at Genesis, we’ve put together a list of some of the most inspiring and influential films the Sci-Fi genre has seen over the past 100 years.
First up is the 1920s Fritz Lang’s expressionist classic, Metropolis. Often cited as one of the most influential Sci-Fi films ever made, Metropolis imagines a futuristic and idealised city, one which juxtaposes harshly with the bleak existence of its exploited workers who live in the abandoned space underground. Stylistically inspired by the Art Deco movement, and the oppressive nature of the Weimer republic after WWI, the film itself is said to be responsible for introducing genre staples such as the mad scientist, the futuristic oppressive city and artificial intelligence. Paving the way for films like The Fifth Element, Artificial Intelligence and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Metropolis is not only staple of the genre, but is a film that is so evidently decades ahead of it’s time.
Next up is James Whale’s adaptation of H.G Well’s 1897 novel of the same name. In the film, scientist Dr Jack Griffin, discovers an invisible elixir with one crucial side affect – insanity. Drawing on anxieties around scientific development around the late 19th century and early 20th century and making them a cinematic reality, The Invisible Man can also be singled out for it’s (at the time), ground-breaking special effects, through the use of wires and photographic images which were treated in the lab, to create the invisible effect. As well being influential in regards to SFX, it was also a box office and commercial success & paved the way for a range of Sci-Fi spin-offs including The Invisible Man Returns and The Invisible Woman.
In the 40s interest into genre took a sharp decline, which was mainly due to WWII, one film which did make the cut however, was Victor Fleming’s remake of Stevenson’s 1886 novel. Known for bizarrely sharing an almost identical screenplay and plot with Mamoulian’s 1931 adaptation, about a doctor who invents a serum which releases the brutal alter-ego Mr Hyde to the world, the film did not share the previous film’s commercial success, but is noted for its casting of Spencer Tracy as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Ingmar Bergman as Ivy, in what was her first gritty role as Mr Hyde’s mistress.
Known as the golden age of the Sci-Fi genre, the 50s saw a sharp incline in the number of Sci-Fi films released for a number of pivotal reasons, including scientific developments like the invention of the atom bomb and the famous U.S UFO sightings of 1947, which inspired a flood of alien invasion related films, including the 1956 classic, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
Directed by Don siegel, the film is based in the fictional town of Santa Mira, where people have been replaced by emotionless phonies who are discovered to be alien lifeforms which duplicate the DNA the humans in close proximity to them. Noted for creating horror without the use of special effects or even violence, The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers also drew on anxieties around conformity and post-war anti-communist making the film inherent to the atom age of the 50s.
Next up is Kubrick’s 1968 epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey,which explores human civilisation through a black structure which acts as a timehole, and a mysterious mission to Jupiter. Inspired by the short story, “The Sentinent”which was written by the film’s co-writer Arthur. C Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey is known for being technically revolutionary, using amazing stage production, including a human hamster wheel to create the illusion of zero gravity.
Along with this, 2001: A Space Odyssey has been hailed as one of the most visually stunning films of all time, using images against zero dialogue for over 20minutes at a time, giving the film it’s unique aesthetic and being one of the key reasons why the film is heavily regarded as the greatest Sci-Fi film of all time.
It’s difficult to imagine a Sci-Fi film that’s as beautifully shot as 2001: A Space Odyssey, except for Tarkovsky’s 1972 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel. In the film, psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent on a mission to orbit the newly discovered planet Solaris in order to investigate the death and mental conditions of cosmonauts on the space station, which leads to a surprising discovery about the planet’s abilities.
Winning the Grand Prix Special du Jury prize at Cannes, Tarkovsky’s Solaris has been hailed as a Sci-Fi art film and a cult classic, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the film was screened continuously on limited release in the USSR, for an incredible 15 years
Next up is Ridley Scott’s thriller, Blade Runner, based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Depicting a futuristic world where Blade Runners hunt down genetically manufactured replicants who roam Earth, the film is known for being one of the first Tech Noir or neo-noir Sci-films alongside Terminator, using dark cinematography to add to its aesthetic. Inspired by Lang’s Metropolis and the Futurist art movement, Blade Runner’s unique style has in turn inspired more recent and notable Sci-films including Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) and Rian Johnson’s 2012 film Looper.
It’s difficult to think of 90s cinema and not think of the 1999 classic, The Matrix, all about a dystopian future where reality is discovered to in fact be stimulated by computer generated machines, leading to a revolt and a quest to destroy the dream world. Hailed as the best science fiction movie from the last 25 years, the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix, was the forerunner of a wide range of visual effects, most notably “bullet time”, which created the famous slow motion effect that’s synonymous with the film, whilst also revolutionising the fight scenes taken from Hong Kong action cinema, which in turn inspired a huge number of films ranging from X-Men to Charlie’s Angels.
Next up is Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s 2004 classic about an ex-couple who undergo a medical procedure to erase all memory of each other. Using a non-linear narrative to explore romance and the scientific manipulation of the mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is another great example of a film from the genre i.e. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which relies less on special effects and more on the way it successfully and ingeniously captures the desires and anxieties of society, paving the way for the film’s cult following.
Finally we have Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex-Machina. Starring Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac, the film centres on a computer programmer who is invited by his employer to administer the Turing test with an android. Known for using zero special effects whilst shooting, with all effects being achieved in post production, the SPX Oscar winning film’s editing lends to it’s terrifying exploration of the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence.
Words by Yasmeen Ismail