5. Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973)
Before director Woody Allen evolved into making more serious, realistic comedies like Annie Hall, he rose to fame by making some of the zaniest films of the early 1970s. His first big breakthrough as a director was the the film Bananas about a goofy Cuban revolutionary, followed the vignette film Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, both of which starred Allen. Continuing his hit streak, Allen thought up Sleeper, his most wacky outing yet.
Again starring himself, Allen plays a Miles Monroe, a jazz player who is cryogenically frozen against his will and is not woken again until 200 years later. The scientists who unfreeze him explain that the country is now under dictatorial control and that Miles is one of their only hopes. Because he has no registered bio-tracing he can infiltrate the government system from the inside.
The rebels soon are busted by government forces but Miles pretends to be a robot to avoid punishment and is sent to be a servant in a wealthy woman Luna, played by one of Allen’s muses Diane Keaton. He eventually tells her that he is actually a human causing her to want to alert authorities so Miles is left no choice but to kidnap her and the two soon fall in love.
The couple and the rest of the rebellion forces then must fight the government and their evil plan to control the entire population of the country. There is a definite divide in both content and atmosphere between Allen’s early comedies like Sleeper and his more mature later works.
Instead of being driven on dialogue and awkward situations, this film borrows from some of the early comedy greats like the Marx Brothers and focuses on slapstick comedy and more physical laughs. Although Sleeper is not Allen’s most iconic film, it might be his funniest and shows the true breadth of his comic genius.
4. Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997)
Unlike most of the films on this list up to this point, Men in Black was not a cult film but a smash critical and commercial success. Much of the film’s initial popularity was no doubt due to the immense star power that the central actor Will Smith carried at his then-prime, but it has endured as a classic blockbuster, spawning two sequels, many video-games and helped sell a lot of Ray-ban sunglasses.
The film starts with Smith’s character, a cop in New York, who, while chasing a subject, witnesses evidence of alien technology. He is approached by Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones, a member of the secret “Men in Black” division of the FBI, and convinces Smith to join the organization, becoming Agent J.
Agent J is quickly thrust into a race to save the planet from an alien bug who is trying to frame Earth for killing another alien species’ leader. J & K must work together and piece together the clues in order to find and stop the villain before he can escape and Earth destroyed by a giant alien ships.
In terms, the film is not much more notable than a clever summer blockbuster but its entertainment value is elevated far above the average due to the excellent chemistry and ribbing between Jones and Smith’s characters, getting the perfect crotchety old man to smart ass young guy dynamic perfect. Like most big budget science fiction films, it also benefits from great special effects, makeup and a great score by composer Danny Elfman.
3. Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot, 1999)
Another cult classic, this film features an incredible ensemble cast that turn what could have been an average movie into one of the most memorable science fiction comedies. TIm Allen stars as Jason Nesmith, the lead actor in a fictional show called “Galaxy Quest” which has a plot and fanbase similar to th “Star Trek” series.
Unable to revive his acting career after the show ended, he tours the country, attending “Galaxy Quest” conventions with the other actors of the show, played by Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub and Sam Rockwell. His life changes when he is approached by people claiming to be aliens who need his help. Nesmith agrees, thinking them to just be weird fans, but soon discovers that they are actual aliens who came to him, not realizing that “Galaxy Quest” was a fictional show.
After convincing his co-stars to help, the crew of the fictional show must adapt to their television roles, travel through space and defeat the evil alien Sarris, all the while dealing with past conflicts between the actors. Justin Long also appears in his film debut as a superfan of the show who assists Nesmith with the layout of the show’s spaceship.
In addition to the overall setting of the “Galaxy Quest” show plot, the main characters are also clearly supposed to represent the characters in “Star Trek”, for example, Nesmith is a parallel to WIlliam Shatner and Rickman’s character is similar to Leonard Nimoy. Filled with meta-fictional jokes and clever allusions to the base show, Galaxy Quest is a smart and unique science fiction comedy.
2. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
Similar to another film on this list, Re-Animator, the genre of Ghostbusters is a bit fuzzy, featuring a mix of both science fiction and supernatural elements. Comedy legend Bill Murray stars as Dr. Peter Venkman in this all time classic about investigators of the paranormal.
Venkman and his colleagues Raymond Stantz and Egon Spengler, played by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, open up their own business of catching ghosts after being fired from the university where they conducted research and, after a few publicized successes, become celebrities and need to hire a fourth ghostbuster WInston Zeddemore, played by Ernie hudson, to deal with all of their business.
Most of the ghosts they deal with are small and manageable but that all changes when Venkman visits Dana Barrett, played by Sigourney Weaver, who is experiencing violent intrusions by a spirit named Zuul. Interested not only in her case, but also in her affections, Venkman keeps close tabs on Dana and finds her one day under possession of Zuul, claiming to be the “Gatekeeper”.
The other ghostbusters find Dana’s neighbor Tully, played by Rick Moranis, crazed as well, calling himself the “Keymaster.” When the two get together they summon the ancient god Gozer who comes to destroy the world and the ghostbusters must work together to stop him.
Altogether with great special effects, a great, largely improvised, performance from Murray and memorable imagery, the end result was one of the most iconic and popular comedies of the time, delivering many quotable lines, spawning a sequel, videogames and, currently in the works, a remake.
1. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
Back to the Future is not only one of the most inventive and clever science fiction movies of the 1980s but it is one of the most definitive films of the decade, capturing the era’s atmosphere perfectly and performing as the biggest blockbuster of the year. In his most iconic role ever, Michael J. Fox stars as teenager Marty McFly whose parents are unhappy and his dad is still under the control of his high school bully Biff.
One night, Marty meets his friend, Doc Brown, an old scientist, who shows Marty his new invention, a time traveling Delorean. Just then, a group of terrorists drive up and kill Doc, but Marty escapes in the car, accidentally triggering the time travel function and is transported back 30 years earlier to 1955.
Not wanting to get stuck in the past, Marty tracks down Doc and explains everything that happened and asks him to send him back to the future, but Doc explains that he needs a lot of energy to do it, causing the pair to have to wait until the next lightning storm. As they wait, Marty meets his teenage mom and dad but is distressed to find that they are not together. Within a short time frame, Marty has to figure out a way to get home and guarantee that his parents get together.
This goofy, unlikely smash hit has since become one of the most recognized pop culture phenomenons in American history, propelling the cast to stardom and spawning two more successful sequels. Back to the Future may not be the most intellectual or groundbreaking science fiction film, but its heartwarming story and zany antics cement it as a classic of the genre.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.