6. Soylent Green (1973)
This film’s success is in large part a reason for Logan’s Run’s inception. It is a piece of cinema that has had a lasting impression on pop culture with an ending that most have already had spoiled for them. Not to mention being helmed by science fiction legend, Charlton Heston. Having said this, the film is rarely talked about beyond the twist. That is why it is on this list. It offers so much more, with the ending perhaps even being one of the lesser aspects to the film.
Yet again, the world building is fantastic. Its setting is a world ridden by the consequences of dramatic climate change. The world is overpopulated, the streets are dirty, crime is everywhere and the streets are hot. This films atmosphere is perfect. Heat and sweat oozes from the films aesthetic. Stairwells are clogged by people without homes. Streets also brimming with people awaiting the delivery of the titular, ‘Soylent Green’ a mysterious protein alternative from the sea.
Charlton Heston plays a detective, living in the poorer end of town; he is investigating a murder that has occurred in the upper class section of town. He is partnered with an aged man, Sol, portrayed by Edward Robinson; who acts as his researcher. Sol and Heston’s Robert have such a wonderful father and son bond in this film. There is Sol who still remembers the old days and Robert who was born into this new dystopia. Some of the most beautiful scenes are of Sol describing the most simple of things. When Robert happens upon a few relics of the past from scoping the crime scene of a rich man’s death, he shares these with Sol and it creates some beautifully simple scenes that remind the audience never to take anything for granted.
The film offers some great concepts to chew on, from euthanasia, to over population, corporate greed, climate change and classism. It is certainly not without fault, offering little to no satisfaction in its resolution, despite how memorable it may indeed be. But it is more than worth revisiting for those that only know the twist; the film offers such depth and richness to its world that should not be forgotten.
7. Enemy Mine (1985)
A forgotten 80’s classic that deserves a lot more. It is a sweet tale of friendship in the most unlikely of places. Set in a future where Humans are at war with an Alien race, in the beginning our protagonist portrayed by Dennis Quaid is in the midst of a dog fight among the stars. He is chasing an enemy ship and they both crash land on a foreign planet. The planet is incredibly hostile by nature, with dangerous creatures and traitorous weather conditions. The two abandoned surviving enemies must come together in order to stay alive. They look completely different and cannot speak each others’ languages. Can they find a common ground?
What follows are some tried and true tropes of looking beyond ones exterior to find friendship. The film shows the foolishness of hatred and war. When the politics are swept aside, human or alien, it is never as personal as soldiers are perhaps led to believe.
Louis Gossett Jr. wonderfully plays the alien Drac, with great sounds, movement and awesome makeup. The film is like a warm blanket, with a science fiction sugar coating. It offers a fun alien planet with some great and unique creature effects, some really interesting weather conditions with some lovable banter between the two leads.
It falls apart a little toward the end, but keeps its emotional hold on its audience throughout. There are some classic explorations of being different on the outside but the same on the inside, but also some interesting conversations about alien species gender roles and cultures. It is really great to witness the care and details given to this make believe race.
It is a really special film that, despite falling flat a little towards the end, offers a truly memorable experience that will leave its viewer fondly looking back with a smile.
8. Rollerball (1975)
Rollerball is a film that might give you the impression that it is a simple, high octane, violent film, centered on an extreme sport; especially if you have only heard the title, the synopsis or that gorgeous poster by Bob Peak. But this film is far from that, it is slow, methodical and offers a lot more for audiences to soak up than that.
Rollerball is set in a dystopian world in which disputes between territories are fought though an extreme game, Rollerball. Jonathan, played by James Caan is a veteran of this game and is quickly becoming idolized by the population. But the plot begins when the corporation that owns his team wants to force him to retire. What follows next is a mystery where with each scene we find something new about our lead, the world and the potentially menacing scheme at hand.
Firstly, the games are a blast to watch. They must have been a chore to shoot, involving motorbikes, every team member on roller skates and being on a real area with an incline. But it is so much fun to watch through this lens alone. The first scene is witnessing one of these games. It is shot so carefully to explain the rules of the game by simply watching different plays. Learning the different roles, what is and isn’t allowed and so on. There is no introduction scene to drop exposition on the viewer. Similarly the motivation of the villains also requires work on the viewers part, the answers are there, but without a scene detailing exactly what the audience should be thinking, and what conclusions they should be drawing. This deserves praise in and of itself.
It is not perfect; some scenes most certainly do drag on quite a lot. But it is all building to a wonderfully engaging climax that is emotionally poignant and resonates with the audience. Rollerball offers a lot in terms of depth to its world, social commentary and thematic through lines. There are clear parallels drawn between nationalism and sports fans. The rabid nature of the fans, watching them cheer on as the players beat each other senseless, showing how expendable the players really are. There is clear divide between the privileged and non-privileged. This is shown literally through Jonathan having a, rather on the nose, privilege card. It does this also by highlighting the seemingly random nature of how people are selected to be famous and wealthy.
Books can only be accessed with special permission, there is an all knowing computer that has the power to reveal and conceal information. Perhaps the most important theme in the film being what it means to be free. The difference between real freedom, and the freedom afforded to those through wealth. Not to mention the very idea that the countries are now run by corporations, how each game begins with, “We will now sing our corporate anthem.”
There is more than enough to enjoy in this film, but be warned that it is a slow moving 70’s futurist film. It takes its time developing the world, the game and building the emotional investment for its protagonist. In doing so, it is all the more rewarding upon finishing. But it is also at the cost of some scenes feeling drawn out and far too meandering.
9. The Omega Man (1971)
Another Charlton Heston helmed science fiction flick. He is a charming fellow to watch and here he is no different. Before I am Legend, but after Vincent Price, there was The Omega Man. It is another adaptation of Matheson’s novel, I am legend. In which Charlton Heston plays the last remaining survivor of the human race, after a plague has wiped out the rest of humanity; turning them into mutant ‘vampires’, that cannot come out during the day.
The film is simply entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. Seeing Heston walk the streets, slowly losing his mind and watching him in his apartment alone is all fantastically entertaining. The film unfolds as he witnesses another survivor, played by Rosalind Cash. This provides some nice societal progression having their romance and sharing an interracial kiss together. The right for interracial marriage in the US was granted just four years before this film’s release. In Cash’s own words, she also acts as a symbol of the rising in popularity of the Black Power movement in America. This offers a great dynamic between the two leads.
The film is paced really well, never out staying its welcome. The shots of empty streets look great. There is however, the more obvious issue being that the mutants are and look incredibly dated. They are simply people in black robes with makeup on. They are not as intimidating as they perhaps should be for this film. There are scenes that will leave questions or decisions left unanswered in what is a rather rushed ending that is unfortunately rather underwhelming.
But having said that, this film is a very solid watch, it doesn’t ask too much and it is an incredibly easy and straight forward entertaining film. Heston’s presence and charm is always felt on screen, his charisma and relationship with this world carries the film on and past the finish line. It is endlessly re-watchable and quite simply a good time.
10. Time after Time (1979)
This film has such a wonderfully original and creative premise that it is guaranteed to hook the average science fiction lover in and not let loose. It follows legendary author H.G Wells played fantastically by Malcolm McDowell, who has recently built a time machine. Jack the Ripper uses said time machine to escape the police into the future, H.G Wells then chases him through time to bring him in to justice. This is undoubtedly an insane plot. But it works, in part due to the gravitas of H.G Wells and Jack the Ripper’s performances, but also in part due to the lighter tone this film possesses. It feels almost akin to a Disney adventure film, or perhaps more aptly, The Last Action Hero’s tone.
This tonal consistency throughout is what makes this film so lovable and so full of charm. McDowell is brilliant as the esteemed writer, and captures the essence of the actual man’s identity, his politics and all. Jack the Ripper, portrayed by David Warner is intimidating and menacing. There back and forth is captivating, beginning with a game of chess in 1893. Seeing Wells wonder the streets of a modern San Francisco in awe and trying to rationalize everything is so much fun and so contagious to see. Not to mention him imitating those around him and using intuition to master this modern world.
The film suffers in part sadly due to a lackluster performance by Mary Steenburgen. Her delivery and reactions lack quite a lot to be desired. This is in large part due to the clunky dialogue she is given but is also more prominent through her facial reactions and in the more physical side of her performance. Luckily her character is interesting and you do buy that the two enjoy each other’s company. It suffices enough to get you through, and the ending provides the emotional punch needed to feel satisfied with the pair of them. The more time spent in the film, the more the characters resonate with the audience. It is a highly contagious and light hearted film, filled to the brim with creativity. It is most definitely deserving of a larger following.