When I decided to write this I was instantly struck with a question. How the hell am I supposed to decide what the 5 best sci-fi and fantasy films were? What are my criteria? How could I even pretend that this would be some kind of definitive list? It just isn’t possible to sift through all the films I’ve seen and loved and make a list that others would agree with. So this list isn’t definitive, it’s essentially more like my “go to” lost of movies I love in the genre or genres.
Many will disagree with me. Many will probably tear me a new one on the infinite space that is the internet. But whatever, these are my favourites. You’ll notice that I’ve lumped series into one listing, otherwise this list would essentially be all Star Wars. I’ll do that list another day, maybe. So here it is, my list of my 5 favourite sci-fi/fantasy movies. Be warned this doesn’t include movies based on comic books. That’s a whole other thing.
5. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Bringing Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth alive is a daunting task. So many have loved these books for so long that any attempt could be viewed as a monumental success or a complete failure. Luckily Peter Jackson followed his passion for the material and made 3 movies that captured the essence of the story along with it’s epicness. Yes, he made some minor changes to the story and omitted some details but what he created was a sweeping tale of adventure. He managed to create exciting battles and keep the gore to a minimum, tell a touching story of friendship without making it groan inducing and tell the story of a man finally accepting his rightful place on the throne. The attention to detail that went into every aspect of these films is truly astounding, even things that weren’t even really seen on screen were crafted to feel real and authentic. The movies are long and can be slow in parts but this trilogy along with The Hobbit trilogy are like watching a D&D campaign come to life.
Before Lord of the Rings made it’s way on screen fantasy movies were, well, not great. There were some like Excalibur and Conan the Barbarian that were well done but there were many others that were just awful. In 1988 Willow was released, directed by Ron Howard and based on a story idea by George Lucas. I was 8 years old when I saw it in theaters and it I loved it. It’s a sweeping fantasy adventure with magic, sword fighting, monsters and love. A perfect recipe for a fantasy movie. The special effects at the time were state of the art putting it above fantasy movies that had come before it. The story of a dwarf protecting a baby from the evil queen and the reluctant hero he meets on his journey, played by Val Kilmer, along with two tiny people called brownies, is touching and exciting. Watching Val Kilmer in a sword fight while dressed as a woman on the back of a horse drawn cart is worth the price of admission alone. I was always disappointed that there was never a sequel to this movie, but to me it’s still perfect as it is.
3. Predator / Aliens
These were among the first “horror” movies I saw as a kid. It started with Predator then Aliens and eventually spread to all the sequels and crossovers. These were among the first movies to share a universe. The Predators are galactic hunters stalking prey all over the universe for their own amusement. Among the races they hunt are humans on earth and xenomorphs (the titular stars of the Alien franchise). This captured my imagination as a kid knowing that there was a connection between the movies. The idea that these movies were connected, even though only through props seen in the background of Predator 2, was something that hadn’t really been done before. And then came the books and comics that expanded on that and gave us the story of how they are connected. And then the two somewhat disappointing Aliens vs. Predator movies. They weren’t great but the were something. Alien, Aliens, and the first Predator are infinitely re-watchable. The others might take some time between viewings. However this doesn’t change the fact that these movies created a shared universe without advertising it and let it grow on its own through different mediums.
2. Princess Bride
This is by far one of my favourite movies ever. It’s the story of true love and what one man would go through to be with his one true love, even coming back from death. With a bizarre cast of characters including a giant (Andre the Giant), a Spaniard seeking revenge for the death of his father (Mandy Patinkin), the 6 fingered man (Christopher Guest) and the Dread Pirate Roberts (Cary Elwes) coming back to save his true love from a forced marriage to Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon), it’s arguably a perfect movie. It’s also the most meta movie I’ve ever seen, a movie of a story being read to a sick boy by his grandfather and based on a book by William Goldman about a fictional book by S. Morgenstern. If you’ve never seen this film there is something missing from your life. It’s funny, exciting, has some of the most memorable lines of movie dialogue and a message about love. Stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie. I’ll wait.
3. Star Wars (ALL OF THEM)
Yes all of them. This includes the Phantom Menace. I’ve talked about why I love Star Wars here so I’ll be brief. When I first saw Star Wars as a kid in the mid 80s it changed my life. I fell in love with the story of a farm boy from a galaxy far far away and his quest to defeat the evil Empire and, spoilers, redeem his father. With each following movie I saw my love of this universe grew, eventually forcing me to read the books to continue the story when there were no more movies to see. Now, however, for any kid discovering Star Wars for the first time they’ll have 11 movies to see along with multiple cartoon series. I envy any kid who has never seen the movies and falls down that rabbit hole now. The Star Wars galaxy was created from the mind of one man who had a vision and made it a reality, ignoring everyone who said it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. Besides being fun movies with breathtaking special effects there’s a lesson in perseverance to be learned behind the making of them. Regardless what you may think of the prequels, or the new sequels it’s hard to deny that the saga of the Skywalker family is among the best sci-fi/fantasy movies ever made.
In writing this I realized I was forgetting so many that I have loved over the years. Why isn’t Indiana Jones on here? It’s arguably a fantasy movie. What about Blade Runner, or Fifth Element, or Conan the Barbarian. Well I don’t know. They’re great movies and I still enjoy them, but they didn’t have the same effect on me as the ones that made the list. In the end it’s all subjective, what resonates with one person might not have the same effect on another. What I can say is these movies have always been in my rotation and will be forever.
Let me know what your top 5 are in the comments.