Science fiction is a genre that translates well to the screen, and when done well, inspires the kind of love and dedication that only film can. A good science fiction film walks the line between fantasy and science, and tells a story so compelling that it can transport us to another time, sparking the imagination.
From the terrifying to the cerebral to the whimsy of childhood, Toronto Film Scene’s writers share the films that made us fall in love with this genre of film.
Ada Wong: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
In 1985, I was living 12,000 kilometres away from home in Hong Kong, where my mother took me to a local theatre showing E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. How delighted I was to see the familiar landscapes of suburban North America, kids that looked like the ones I went to school with, and speaking a language I understood. It was a slice of home, but of course, with one marked difference – their out-of-this-world friend with the heart of gold. This would become my favourite format for sci-fi tales, those rooted in reality, then branching off, taking me to fantastical places. A true sci-fi masterpiece will always transform me back into that little girl watching E.T. for the very first time, with her feet dangling from the theatre chair, wide-eyed, filled with anticipation, and loving every moment of it.
Alexis McLaren: Army of Darkness
When I was 12 years old, the night before an important softball tourney, I couldn’t sleep because I was really nervous. I snuck down to the basement, turned on the TV and Army of Darkness just started. I feel in love with the classic one-liners, the bravado of Ash and just the sheer awesomeness of the film. I went to the tournament the next morning shouting “THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK” whenever I held a bat. Naturally, everyone gave me that “WTF” look and that’s when I knew. I was destined for nerd greatness… aka people having no clue what I was rambling on about.
Darja Pilipovic: Return of the Jedi
The film that got me into sci-fi is probably Return of the Jedi. There is something special about the worlds that were created for the saga; all of the effects, sets, costumes, and of course the music really inspired my imagination as a kid. And if none of that, I’m sure that a lot of people can relate to the special brand of ridiculous that are those little bears called Ewoks.
Jordan Adler: 2001: A Space Odyssey
As a young boy, the first sci-fi film that captivated me is one that probably astounded millions of others, too: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I caught the first 10 minutes on TV one Saturday evening as a young, transfixed by the Dawn of Man opening. There was no dialogue and no people I could relate to, but I was floored at the film’s scope and unconventionality (or the oddity of this Odyssey). Few films had or have left me as speechless. I made sure to tape it the next time it came on. Even as a boy of 11, the glorious music, visual splendor and the icy tones of the HAL 9000 remain etched in my memory (I then made the calculating computer my desktop background, of all things.) It’s as ethereal, heady and ambitious as most of science-fiction wants to be but cannot quite achieve.
Liam Volke: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park, hands down. I don’t know if it was my first science fiction film ever, but it was my first big screen sci-fi love. It’s science fiction in the truest sense of the term, although I wouldn’t have thought of it that way when I was a kid; it was simply a movie with the most badass dinosaurs anyone had yet ever seen, and that’s mostly what mattered to my five year old self. Good storytelling helped too, I suppose.
Mark Hanson: 2001: A Space Odyssey
There’s a reason 2001 is called the ultimate trip. No other movie has so completely transported me to another world, with special effects that are still more impressive and realistic than most of what’s onscreen in today’s sci-fi/fantasy films. Kubrick’s opus was also my introduction to higher-minded science fiction and it’s what really made me fall in love with the genre. Exploring the vast expanse of outer space became a powerful inner journey into our own existence, one that would influence legions of films to come, from Solaris to Gravity. 2001 isn’t just why I love sci-fi; it’s why I love movies, period.
Nadya Domingo: Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko is about a young man who is told by a mysterious rabbit that he has a short amount of time to save the world — his world. The movie, which has a cult following, centers on the possibility of time travel in suburbia. Donnie Darko is, simply put, a great story with a soundtrack that has a sense of timelessness to it. It’s not only just a sci-fi film, but also a love story and a commentary of the educational system and the suburbs. I love this movie because it’s one of those stories that you can revisit and discover something new each time.
Sean Kelly: Flight of the Navigator
Flight of the Navigator (1986) was not the first science fiction film I saw, but it’s one that I still have many fond memories of. While at its core a family film, its plot about a boy finding himself 8 years in the future, after being abducted by aliens, is as sci-fi as they come. Particularly memorable in the film is Paul Reubens as the voice of the robotic spaceship commander Max, particularly when the character gains a sarcastic personality. It’s also fun to note how the film features a young Sarah Jessica Parker in one of her early film roles.
Trista DeVries: Alien
When I was 12 or 13 a family friend was looking after me so my parents could go away and she decided it was time for my science fiction film introduction. That night we watched Terminator and Alien, both films with great female protagonists and truly scary monsters, but it was Alien that stuck with me. Watching Ripley sing “You Are My Lucky Star” and surviving perhaps the most terrifying monster I’d ever seen made an indelible mark on my young feminist mind. After that I became a true sci-fi fan, but few things match that first viewing of Alien.
Will Brownridge: Blade Runner
I’ve loved sci-fi since I was a little kid, spending my weekends watching Star Wars over and over, but the film that really captured my attention, even years later, would have to be Blade Runner. It’s a film that I’ve discussed, dissected, and continuously returned to. It’s a masterpiece from every angle. The incredible visuals, without a reliance on CG, the astounding music, terrific performances from the entire cast, and a story that still has me trying to decide if Deckard is a replicant. Blade Runner creates an atmosphere that I still get lost in, even after 30 years.