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The 10 Best Hard Sci-fi Movies of All Time

17 March 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Chris Tsoukaladelis

gattaca movie

Hard science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction, containing movies that while not losing their fiction status, largely emphasizes on the scientific accuracy and/or the technical detail of the movie.

While most science fiction movies especially in earlier years were all about alien invasions and action, or were giving a more comedic approach to the genre, these movies are mostly dramatic, slow paced and boast long running times.

What action they do have is there to serve a very specific purpose, usually having to do with the nature of the film, as they are mostly dependent on dialogue and cinematography, or in some cases the viewer to get their point across, making for a much harder viewing than your typical sci fi flick.

 

10. The Martian (2015)

The Martian movie

The Martian is the latest hard sci fi movie as of now, and it tells the story of an astronaut trapped on Mars, left for dead by his crew, as he tried to make contact to earth and gradually get back.

This story is told in two perspectives. The astronaut’s (Matt Damon), with his day to day struggle to survive on a hostile planet, and NASA’s (along with other countries’ space organizations), who ponder about the pragmatic risks of a possible rescue attempt, coming down to respect for humanity against economical profit.

It’s considered by many a strong comeback by Sir Riddley Scott to the genre, since his earlier days of Blade Runner and Alien, and it is quite apparent as to why that is so: It is a movie that is based around science, putting together some humor and mostly drama, never taking realism out of the equation. More than that though, it’s proof that hard science fiction is an ever evolving genre, and not limited to monologuing and/or long epic shots.

To a film society that is drawn more and more to faster plot developments, and less toward philosophical pondering, the “Martian” is guarantee that this subgenre can and may evolve along with the people’s expectations of it. Whether that is good or not, is something that is left to the viewer to decide.

 

9. Interstellar (2014)

matthew-mcconaughey-in-interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s space epic, is a homage to 2001 and it manages to nail most of the classic’s ideas. It’s set in the near future, in which humanity is losing its grip over agriculture as more and more kinds of crops become extinct one by one.

It focuses on the relationsip between a father (Matthew Mcconaughey) and his daughter, who get seperated when the first goes into space to find a new home for humans to live at, as the earth is dying out slowly but surely.

What Interstellar does, is use science such as Einstein’s theory of relativity and not only make correct use of it, but also explain it to the audience at the same time.

It’s not necessarily a movie that will hold your hand throughout and explain itself, although it does do that at times, and it’s up to the viewer whether they like that or not. For its first two thirds of its runtime it sticks really close to science only to take some artistic liberties, much like 2001, although for entirely different reasons.

It’s a great blend of action and science and it manages to create the most gripping docking scene imaginable, taking what 2001 had and speeding that up times 10. What is truly incredible, is that it all mostly holds up despite the fact that it’s a rather long film.

 

8. Gravity (2013)

Gravity-film-Sandra-Bullock

Remaining in most people’s recent memory due to its run at the Oscars, this is a clear example of how a hard science fiction movie should be like.

This movie which can be regarded as a Sandra Bullock solo performance, with George Clooney’s contribution to parts of it, is about two astronauts’ struggle to survive in space following the destruction of their spaceship by debris and meteorites, in one of the most realistic and stunning 3D scenes in recent cinema.

The entire movie revolves around what would happen if that situation was to actually happen in real life, showing us a step to step procedure while also taking time to delve into the psychology of people at such a situation. It is one of the most realistic depictions of the dangers of outer space, showing that it doesn’t take insane AI or a corrupt alien colony to make outer space a deadly place to be.

What might put off some viewers, is that the film was shot to be viewed mostly in 3D theaters, where the experience is significantly superior to its 2D counterpart. It is mostly a movie about immersing yourself in its universe, made clear by the first person view we are given when for example is spinning out of control in outer space, and the 2D experience just doesn’t manage to put you in the astronauts’ boots.

 

7. Moon (2009)

moon

A movie largely influenced by 2001 and Solaris, “Moon” is a film of small budget but boasts a great leading performance by Sam Rockwell, who plays an astronaut doing chores on a lunar base waiting for his contract to end so he can return to earth, and Kevin Spacey who keeps the viewer intrigued with nothing but his voice.

What may sound as a simple plot is executed extremely well and while it is slow-paced, the performances alone keep it going. As should be obvious by its influences, it both deals with its character’s psych going through what can be described as an emotional train-wreck as he becomes more and more agitated by what he finds on the base, as well as the technical details of his daily life and his work on the station.

It is necessarily a one-man show, and Rockwell’s performance is a reason alone to watch the movie. If you are a fan of the earlier hard sci-fi movies, then this sort of homage to them will be a pleasant surprise.

 

6. Man from Earth (2007)

The-Man-from-Earth

A rather unusual entry, this film follows the story of a scholar’s hypothesis, evolving into a claim of him being 14,000 years old, during his retirement party, yet the film evolves into so much more than one can expect from such a plot, going deep into human psychology and human relations.

The entire movie is not about the professor himself, but rather about the interactions of his fellow scholars when they begin considering that his story might not be hypothetical, but reality, as they start to question their knowledge, or even their work ethic.

A true mind-bender that has you questioning reality and poses some great philosophical questions and dilemmas, though it requires an open mind and is not a film made for mindless enjoyment, but rather for testing your thinking and putting it to its limits.

 

 

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  • Valentin Genev

    Great list, thanks!

  • Xanian

    You have a list of hard sci fi and exclude primer? While including interstellar? OK.

  • GeronimusRex

    Excellent

  • GeronimusRex

    What about adding: SOURCE CODE and EX MACHINA which are 2 of my faves ?

    • Confucius

      Source Code hardly contains any science apart from a general introduction of their source code machine….it’s a drama/action movie about terrorism, if anything.

      • GeronimusRex

        Erm I beg to differ—Source Code touches on multiverse theory. And theories of time / multiple universes, In that respect it does relate to scientific theory

        • Xanian

          Ex Machina has a claim to being called hard science though Source Code doesn’t. You seem to be misunderstanding what hard science fiction means. it essentially consists of the work focusing more on the nitty gritty details of the “science fiction” world in itself as opposed to the science fiction being the backdrop. The Martian can be a hard sci fi novel while Douglas Adams’ books can’t. So Confucius is actually right.

          • GeronimusRex

            ok–de gustibus non disputandum

  • Jorge Pancolart

    Trying to understand this sub-genre definition and match it with the given list i am lost 🙂

    • kthy

      Hard sci-fi usually means science fiction that is more realistic and could be explained with science more.

      Think soft sci-fi is something like Star Wars with laser swords and galaxy-spanning empires, while in The Martian they barely set up temporary exploration sites on Mars.Hard sci-fi is more plausible

      • Jorge Pancolart

        Thanks, i’ll give it some thought. Trying to remember how “realistic” Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution 1965, was.

  • Rodrigo Miravalles

    Primer! The hardest film ever made.

  • soufwans

    How is The Martian not “giving a more comedic approach to the genre”. I’ve never seen such a light-hearted movie about being stuck in such horrible circumstances.

  • Klaus Dannick

    I think I’d include Aronofsky’s Pi on such a list.

  • ㅇㅇ

    Man from Earth, Really?

    • Veronica Clarke

      Agreed. I wouldn’t call that any kind of science fiction to be honest. More a philosophy movie with fantasy elements.

  • Unkle Dee

    Silent Running (1972) is one of the best

  • Rajesh

    Nice article. Primer, is missing though..