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The Best Sci-fi Films for People Who Don’t Like Sci-fi

September 26, 2011

There is so much more to science-fiction than people running in the streets from alien invaders, dodging explosions.

This is why I’ve decided to create a list of “The Best Sci-fi Films for People Who Don’t Like Sci-fi.” The titles on this list are firmly within the sci-fi realm, but do not rely on viewer inclination towards the genre. They all feature rich, balanced stories and just seem to have a touch of the other-worldly. This list is completely alien-free! I promise!

Without further ado, here are seven great sci-fi films that don’t have any overbearing sci-fi-ness and shouldn’t scare away any hesitant newcomers.

In order of release date:

Back to the Future (1985)

By its title, this one may not sound like it keeps the sf elements on the down-low, but without the time-travel elements, this is just one of the all-time-great romantic comedy quirkfests. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels back in time and disrupts the budding romance between his teenage parents. With his future existence at stake, it’s up to him to make sure they end up together.

BTTF is a goofy 50s period piece with ample charm and memorable performances. See Fox in one of his career-defining roles, and enjoy the pantheon performances of Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and the gawky but loveable Crispin Glover as George McFly. The time-travel theme persists throughout but manages to mostly disappear into a genuinely magical story.

Brazil (1985) & Twelve Monkeys(1995)

Johnathan Pryce in "Brazil"

Terry Gilliam, of “Monty Python” fame, directed these two darkly-comedic dystopia flicks. He has become known for directing bizarre films that are undeniably weird yet well-crafted.

 Brazil is a slapstick take on an infuriatingly bureaucratic future. A young Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) plays a government office worker who weaves his way through a paperwork-ridden labyrinth of roadblocks in pursuit of true love. Pryce is fabulous, as is Robert De Niro, in a bit part as a vigilante air conditioner repairman (read that last part again and just let it sink in). This film is kooky and rather bleak, but if you can stomach a non-fairy tale ending, you’d be wise to not miss this one.

Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis in "Twelve Monkeys"

Twelve Monkeys is a little more accessible, but it does incorporate a dense and disorienting time-travel plot. Bruce Willis is a convict repeatedly sent back in time with the intent to uncover the source of a disastrous man-made virus. Trouble and dark-comedy abound thanks to imprecision in the time-travel methods. The twisty story will keep you on your toes, but the real treat here is a particularly unhinged performance by Brad Pitt.

The Truman Show (1998)

Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show"

This Jim Carrey starrer is easily the most accessible film on this list. It’s the story of man whose life has unknowingly been a continuously-broadcast reality TV program since his birth. Literally living in a bubble, with actors populating his daily routines, Truman (Carrey) has been completely unaware of his situation. Little by little, the façade crumbles just enough for Truman to start questioning his surroundings. What follows is a human drama that transcends genre, as well as the most prescient piece of science fiction in recent memory. Carrey gives a balanced performance and the film as a whole seems to predict the reality TV boom that would occur about two years after its release.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

In an unlikely sequence of events, Jim Carrey now finds himself on this list twice. Eternal Sunshine, from the innovative minds of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, is a gripping journey through the mind of Joel (Carrey) as the memories of his recent failed relationship are being erased. Occasionally tough to follow, the moving story about love and regret cuts through the mire. Carrey gives a career-best performance, and teams up with a great supporting cast including Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo. Sunshine is an infinitely romantic film that rewards repeat viewings and is not to be missed, no matter what your tastes are.

Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men is an intense near-future thriller. The human race has become completely sterile and society has degraded to a frightening degree. When a miraculously pregnant woman surfaces, the task of keeping her safe from volatile political extremists and nihilists falls on a disillusioned hippie (Clive Owen). This is the most action-packed film on the list, but the action isn’t slave to sci-fi elements. Chalk it up to good-old-fashioned chases and shootouts. This is also possibly the most powerful human drama on the list. Check out this link for a full review.

Moon (2009)

Sam Rockwell in "Moon"

It almost feels like I’m cheating by including this because of the futuristic space-travel element. The reason it’s not cheating is because Earth doesn’t seem to have changed much; the only difference is the newfound ability to harvest a new energy source from a base on the far side of the moon. It’s the story of Sam (Sam Rockwell), the lone operator of the moon base for nearly three years, and the nightmares that come with such prolonged isolation. Moon also raises a few unexpected ethical questions. The debut feature for writer/director Duncan Jones is a must-see for film fans of all stripes.

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2 Comments
  1. Tony, I am not one to find an interest into the Sci-fi genre, but this post made me re-think about films that are offered in the genre. I find your blog very interesting and informative! Keep up the great writing and tips!

    • So glad you are able to reconsider! I’m doing my best to remove some of the baggage from “sci-fi,” and I’m happy to see that some progress is being made. Thanks Elyse!

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