Jun 10 2009 10:34am

Ten Movies to Watch Instead of Star Trek

So, you’ve used up the rest of your vacation time for the year going to see Star Trek in the middle of weekdays so you could get a decent seat. Don’t worry: it happens to the best of us. But while you’re stuck at home waiting, turn off that Countdown to the Special Edition DVD desktop widget and check out some movies that tackled science fiction just as well as the new Trek (and often better).

1. Contact

You want to classify prime numbers now?

This is how interstellar travel begins: not with a bang, but a committee. Contact (adapted from the Carl Sagan bestseller), goes into the nuts and bolts of space travel when an interstellar communiqué gets caught in a web of red tape. Though it lacks the astronomy-candy of the novel, the movie paints a picture of a near future where religious conservatism, economic trouble, and political turmoil conspire to prevent scientific exploration. So close to life it’s hardly science fiction.

2. Solaris

There are no answers, only choices.

Proving it’s possible to set a movie in a spaceship and not blow up everything in sight, this adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel is a drama about an encounter with the truly alien. When psychologist Chris Kelvin travels to a spaceship orbiting oceanic Solaris, his dead wife appears in bed beside him, with no memory of having been gone. The struggle between the crew members (and between the ideals of morality and happiness) is compelling—though George Clooney struggles to carry it off. Caveat viewer.

3. Event Horizon

I thought it said “Liberate me”—save me. But it’s not.  It’s “Liberate tutame”—save yourself.

You think space is scary when you’re ejecting your warp core to avoid being sucked into a black hole? Try a ship that’s come out of a black hole and brought an alien with it—an alien out to break down the rescue crew, one mind at a time. The typical horror tropes ensue (never go anywhere alone, what is wrong with you?), but the idea that the truly alien is more terrifying than humans can handle is enough to make you think twice about exploring strange new worlds.

4. Buck Rogers

And you are the men I made counsellors of Earth? I would be better served by this Buck Rogers who walked through your men as if they were children.

Laser-gun-toting Buck Rogers and his loyal underage sidekick enlisted the people of Saturn to rebel against a tyrannical Earth in this serialized movie based on the uber-popular short stories and comics about space’s first badass. (Fact about Buck Rogers: Buck Rogers does not dive in freefall towards the Romulan mining platform. The Romulan mining platform dives in freefall towards Buck Rogers.)

5. Starship Troopers

Every day, Federal scientists are looking for new ways to kill bugs.

A dark-side-of-Trek look at the camaraderie within a soldiering space force, Starship Troopers takes a liberal dose of World War II-era propaganda wars and points it at a colonial army of chiseled young no-talents out to rid the solar system of the insectoid aliens they’ve been told threaten Earth’s existence. Bonus: this movie used more ammo than any movie before it, which is good for those who enjoy a bit of the old ultraviolence.

6. Voyage to the Moon

[piano playing]

Bad news: it’s a silent movie. Good news: it’s the first science fiction movie ever made (in 1902, pretty much any movie was a first), and is full of inspiring imagery—literally, since many other filmmakers of the era were directly influenced by director Georges Méliès’ use of special effects. Its tale of scientists who battle moon monsters was so good that Edison pirated it and made it famous. (Which is good news for everyone but Méliès.)

Extra-good news: it’s only eight minutes long, so it’s not going to take a huge chunk out of your day.

7. Pitch Black

Would you die for them?

This movie launched Vin Diesel’s career. However, if you can forgive that, this hardscrabble adventure is well worth a look. Made on a shoestring budget, the movie follows a motley crew whose space transport crashes on a planet where monsters come out at night—and they’re on the verge of an eclipse. The survivors struggle to restart the ship in time to avoid a grisly demise, including convicted murderer Riddick, who’s been modified to see in the dark and deliver all his lines in a gravelly monotone. (Bonus: in this movie, the leading lady gets a character arc of her own!)

8. Gattaca

That piece can only be played with twelve.

An underrated gem, Gattaca tackles the ethics of genetic modification and the aesthetics of a world so sterile that the presence of an eyelash is enough to get you convicted of a crime. Deliberately paced, the movie still manages to make use of every scene; with lived-in dialogue and casual world-building, it’s cerebral science fiction with a streak of dry humor. Plus, Ethan Hawke and Jude Law have the sort of antagonistic male friendship a thousand Kirk/Spock slash fics were made of.

9. Moon

Two weeks, two weeks, two weeks…

It’s not even out yet (release date: June 12), but this Sam Rockwell drama about a man on a lunar mining facility losing his mind (or not) promises to be interesting for at least the first hour. With the always-quality Sam Rockwell at its center and top-notch effects guys painting the moon’s ghostly palette, the buzz is strong enough that it’s worth getting tickets for this tale of a man stranded where, uh, three men have gone before.

10. Ultraviolet 

Please remove all articles of clothing and proceed into the scanner.

I mean, if you’re going to watch two hours of inexplicable plotting punctuated by lengthy prologues, hyper-edited fight scenes, and lens flares, at least renting this is less expensive than a movie ticket.

Angela Korra'ti
1. annathepiper
Event Horizon?! Seriously? :)

I'm sorry, I have to take issue with this inclusion on the list on the grounds that that movie is hands down one of the worst I've ever seen. When five of us went to go see that thing in the theaters, I spent much of the movie feeling physically bludgeoned from all the BANG!-type sudden scares it felt it had to employ. And when the captain delivers his line "we're leaving!", the only thing that kept my partner from standing up and saying "GOODBYE!" and marching right out of the theater was that she was not under any circumstances *going to let that movie beat her*.

When we did finally escape, one of the others with us turned to us all and announced, "I'd rather have been cleaning my toilet!"

All things considered, I think seeing the new Trek another time or two is an infinitely preferable option.
Mitchell Downs
2. Beamish
"Starship Troopers"...the Paul Verhoeven movie?!

I think you have just managed to offend every Heinlein fan on the site.

Might I suggest you drop that turd from the list and replace it with the far better film you referenced with "...for those who enjoy a bit of the old ultraviolence", Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Or at least track down copies of the Starship Troopers Animated series instead of that horrific Verhoeven film.
Torie Atkinson
3. Torie
No love for Dark City? I think that, Wall-E, and 2046 are all better SF films than many mentioned here.
Carol Witt
4. carolwitt
"Bad news: it’s a silent movie."

Why do you consider that to be bad news?
Angela Korra'ti
5. annathepiper
Torie @ 3: Oh yeah, Dark City is very solid and is worth another look. Only a cautionary note to anyone out there who hasn't actually seen it yet: if you rent the DVD, turn down the volume through the opening credits so you can skip the voiceover, which is entirely unnecessary and gives away a few critical plot points that are much more effective if you're allowed to discover them via the flow of the story.

Also, in general, I do however quite approve of Gattaca being on this list, as it was indeed underrated and rather good indeed.
Blake Engholm
6. UncrownedKing
WALL E was the best suprise of the past year for me. Superb.

Fifth Element? Bruce Willis and Chris Tucker....Common its gold. Plus LeeLoo is so sexy.

The Last Starfighter?
Mitchell Downs
7. Beamish
@#6 "The Last Starfighter?"

Yes! There was a reason I played so many video games in the 80's...Death Blossom!
G Manchess
8. G Manchess
I understand that many films hit us in many different ways, depending on the mood or awareness we are in at the moment...

But I completely agree with comments on Event Horizon (cheap scares) and about that absolutely dreadful pile of celluloid drivel, Starship Troopers.

But I will say that it had one of the truly scariest moments in cinema: when they look over the wall and watch millions of the bugs coming toward them. That was creepy.

Still not worth the price of admission....
Paul Howard
9. DrakBibliophile
On that Paul Verhoeven movie, I've always thought if he had done a sequel, the heroes would have learned that the Earth Government had bombed Earth to start the war against the Bugs.

IMO it isn't even a good movie even if you didn't know about the Heinlein novel.
Blake Engholm
10. UncrownedKing
@ Bugs
Well the animated series was unreal. Loved that show.
Paul Eisenberg
11. HelmHammerhand
I may be in the minority here, but I thought "The Island" with Ewan McGregor was a pretty good recent SF flick.
Genevieve Valentine
12. GLValentine
@ annathepiper: If people are willing to sit through two hours of people in space making a series of bad decisions that lead to weirdly-lit fight scenes, I'd say Event Horizon and Star Trek are largely equal!

@ Beamish: I dunno, the script for Starship Troopers was no less stilted than Star Trek, if you ask me, and Starship Troopers attempted a meta-commentary on its protagonists that I don't think Star Trek did.

@ Torie: I tried to stick with more spacefaring-type movies in this list, though all the movies you listed are awesome and should be in every film fan's library.

@ carolwitt: Because then you have to make all the overwhelming explosion noises yourself. ;)

@ annathepiper: Oh MAN, one of the most unecessary voiceovers of all time. "Here, have the plot! And now, your movie." *cringes*
Alejandro Melchor
13. Al-X
I'm in the small minority of people who *liked* Event Horizon. Looking past the cheap scare moments, it's positively Lovecraftian :)

And as much as I like Carl Urban and Zachary Quinto... there's Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburn!

One thing I do have to praise the new Trek casting choices is that I hate Young Kirk as much as I did Shatner Kirk.
Dayle McClintock
14. trinityvixen
Starship Troopers is either the stupidest or most brilliant movie ever. I still can't decide if it was a parody or not. The ads, sorta? The rest of the movie, not really?

Event Horizon was the most abusively awful space-faring movie I've had to the misfortune to see in the theater. It relied too much on direct, gory violence rather than genuinely chilling concept scares. (Bloody, naked Sam Neill and sweaty Laurence Fishburne! Oooooh!!!)

For better concept horror, not to mention an interesting spacefaring movie, I'd say you can't beat Sunshine. Even when it fell apart towards the end, it was still damned good.
G Manchess
15. Snowkestrel
My personal favorite would be Forbidden Planet.

Looked at from the right angle, it's proto-Trek. You have the womanizing captain, the 'force beyond human understanding', and thinly veiled Shakespeare!

In all seriousness though, despite being an adaption of The Tempest, it's great sci-fi. Cool spaceships, a believable military setup, and a great take on interpersonal crew relationships. All this and alien technology that doesn't get figured out by the characters within 3 minutes!
G Manchess
16. Black -
You've clearly been bashed enough for Event Horizon and Starship Troopers, so I'll pick on you for Solaris. I was with you on that one until you mentioned Clooney and I realized you were talking about the remake and not the brilliant (if slow moving) Tarkovsky version. Alas.
Heather Johnson
17. HeatherJ
Enough with all the criticisms, I've got some compliments. :)

Thanks for including GATTACA - I think it is an excellent movie and one more people should watch. I've never looked at stray eyelashes the same way since seeing that movie.

AnD CONTACT was a great movie as well. I thought the concept of space travel in that movie was pretty unique, at least in my (limited) experience.

Both of these were great movies - thanks for including them!
G Manchess
19. Blessed+2Greyswandir
Event Horizon did have some cheap scares, but I think it does what it does very well. It's downright CREEPY. And while the writers seem to have copied some of the scenes directly from the examples on TVTropes, I'd still give it 3.5 out of 5 stars for a mission accomplished.

I was actually saying Last Starfighter out loud to myself while scrolling down the list. It belongs on the list just for being the first movie to extensively use CGI and to successfully capitalize on the dreams of every video game geek ever. Bonus points for actually being a great movie from my childhood that has actually stood up well, which is rare (cf. Dagger, Cloak and).

Count me among the snobs that thought if you didn't like Starship Troopers, you didn't *get* Starship Troopers. Hilarious satire.
Bill Siegel
20. ubxs113
I will defend the movie Starship Troopers to my dying breath! And I totally agree that The 5th Element should be here too but Pitch Black isn't even really sci-fi.

But if you want a classic sci-fi space-faring movie can you get any better than 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Christopher Key
21. Artanian
If you are going to include Event Horizon and Starship Troopers, how in the world could you leave off Supernova? Any list that contains those two obviously should contain it as well.
Samantha Brandt
22. Talia
Rather than seeing 'Ultraviolet,' I might suggest bashing one's head against the wall for two hours. It is less painful and you lose fewer brain cells.
G Manchess
23. firkin
sorry, i need to join the pile-on: Event Horizon fucking sucks. frankly, it isn't even a science fiction movie, it's a horror movie thinly disguised as SF. i felt literally cheated and betrayed after watching it. in no possible universe does it belong in a list with Contact and Gattaca.
G Manchess
24. RobMRobM
Anyone see A Boy and His Dog, the excellent movie version of the Harlan Elliaon classic? I recall Don Johnson playing the Boy; can't remember who played the voice of the Dog (who is much smarter than the Boy, the joke at the core of the tale). Rob

P.s. Really enjoyed Starship Trooper - in that camp absolutely.
Dan Sparks
25. RedHanded
@ 20 ubx5113
Agreed. I like Starship Troopers. Come on! Doogie is in it!
Oh and 5th Element is one of my favorite sci-fi movies for sure.
Tess Laird
26. thewindrose
How about Galaxy Quest?
I thought Starship Trooper was satire, so I had many lol moments watching it.
5th Element was good too.
G Manchess
27. Ispan
@17 HeatherJ

I completely agree on the Gattaca choice. Gattaca simultaneously shot my interest in genetics through the roof and made me terrified of the possibilities. My family laughs but I get a little preachy about "the dangers of genetic research and advancement" and I fully blame that on Gattaca.

Also Talia@22 is right... Even though I got to see Ultraviolet in theaters for free, I still felt cheated.
Angela Korra'ti
28. annathepiper
GLValentine @ 12: If people are willing to sit through two hours of people in space making a series of bad decisions that lead to weirdly-lit fight scenes, I'd say Event Horizon and Star Trek are largely equal!

*snerk* Oh now come on, New Trek and Event Horizon may have these things in common, but aside from that, they are very different movies.

I see a few folks on the thread have spoken up in favor of EH, so clearly it has its audience. I'm just not in it. With Trek, while I will cheerfully allow that much of it is deeply silly, the character portrayals engaged me enough that I didn't mind; there was enough fun there for me that it outweighed the silly parts. With EH on the other hand, there just wasn't anything in there at all for me to outweigh the parts that I found actively annoying.

Like I said though, two thumbs up on Gattaca as a choice. Man, now I want to see that again. :)
Dan Sparks
29. RedHanded
@26 thewindrose
By Grabthar's hammer, Galaxy Quest was awesome.
Dayle McClintock
30. trinityvixen
@21 Artanian:


Seriously, James Spader makes two movies where he's not the bad/creepy guy, and one of them just HAD to be Supernova?! If you can have a movie with Angela Basset in a zero-G sex scene and still be awful, you're so wrong you're coming back the other way

(The other Good!Spader movie, for those keeping score, was Stargate, which, to be fair, could get a spot on this list, too. It's technically spacefaring!)
G Manchess
31. warreno
Solaris. Oh my, yes, but only the Russian version, please. The Clooney-butt-ful remake was not only unnecessary, it contained just a little too much Clooney butt.
Christopher Key
32. Artanian
trinityvixen@30, to be fair, the unrated edition of Supernova is tons better than the theatrical release that was PG13. The large cuts they had to make for the rating just really hacked it to pieces, as they had to remove any scene with Robin Tunney in it, as she was topless basically the whole film, and they didn't actually bother to fix things like, oh, continuity. It's like Plan 9, only not quite as good.
Bill Siegel
33. ubxs113
Alright, well now it sounds like I'll have to watch Event Horizon, Ultraviolet, and Supernova just to snark on 'em.

And absolutely yes to Serenity, Stargate and Galaxy Quest. Anyone feeling Flight of the Navigator?
Dan Sparks
34. RedHanded
Definitely Flight of the Navigator
And they are remaking it
Tess Laird
35. thewindrose
Alright - I have to mention one more - Spaceballs...
Luke M
36. lmelior
Just watched Voyage to the Moon on my lunch break. It is interesting to try and separate what the filmmaker thought about the moon with what he purposely made unrealistic. For example, the giant cannon idea was taken straight from Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, which Verne based on scientific analysis (classical orbital mechanics had been around for a couple hundred years by then). The moon itself was probably based directly on H.G. Wells' idea of the moon in his novel First Men in the Moon.

Contrast these things to the idea of getting back to Earth by just falling off the moon, and the scene where the explorers go to sleep when the Earth rises instead of being based on the sun.

Lastly, it was pretty obvious when this movie was made. The women in the movie are purely decorative, all wearing silly, skimpy outfits while the men do all the planning and adventuring.

P.S. Another Galaxy Quest fan here. Way underrated!
Eugene Myers
37. ecmyers
I had a strong negative reaction to Event Horizon, but I love Starship Troopers. One of these days I should try Pitch Black and Solaris. I only made it about halfway through the Tarkovsky Solaris.
René Walling
38. cybernetic_nomad
@26: Voyage to the Moon also reflects where it was made: Méliès hired cabaret dancers to be in his films. One of the reasons was that that is the milieu he was in.

@ the OP: Voyage to the Moon, Gattaca and Contact are the redeeming features of this list. (I'll reserve judgement on Moon until I see it)

If I had to do a list like this I would probably add Blade Runner, Wings of Honneamise (yes, it's anime -- it's also one of the best SF films ever made. Period), Alien, Frankenstein (the original with Boris Karloff), and Charly

For laughs few things beat Spaceballs -- though the latter Star Wars films come close
John Massey
39. subwoofer
Starship Troopers wasn't bad at all. Was campy and fun. Have issues with the way they bastardized one of my tatoos but whatever. Contact was good too and I am a fan of Jodi Foster so she could do no wrong.

If we are going to lump in Ultraviolet into this list then Equilibrium should be talked about. The last five mins was worth it. And why not The Matrix? That's as sci-fi as they come.

And I must pay homage to Arnold-Total Recall. Come on, for that time, it was a landmark movie. Aliens was off the hook. The directors cut with the Sentinels counting down rounds... perfect.

Spaceballs, Stargate, 5th Element,and Galaxy Quest all rocked too.
Angus McIntyre
40. angusm
I saw "Starship Troopers" and hated it. Then, more or less by accident, I saw it again, and realized that I'd somehow failed to notice that much of the movie is intended as satire. What makes it good satire, rather than just parody, is that it brings up many of Heinlein's ideas (about society, citizenship, authoritarianism, militarism, self-reliance etc etc) and invites you to think about them, even as it pokes fun at them.

"Event Horizon" was at least lovely to watch. I found the endless gore tiresome, but the set design was beautiful.

For me, the best thing about "Pitch Black" was the way that it light and darkness were so important, not just to the plot, but to the feel of the movie. When the protagonists emerge from the semi-darkness of the hull into the glare of the planet's surface, your eyes narrow reflexively. It's a simple trick, but it gives you a very visceral feeling of "being there".
Joseph Lewis Szabo III
41. pointman74250
The majority of your list is fine except for these three:

One: "Event Horizon".

I found this was all style and no substance. Besides, it's boring.

Two: "Ultraviolet".

It has even less style and less substance. It made me yearn for the days of "Resident Evil", another Milla Jovovich turd.

Three: "Moon".

I can't say anything bad about this movie, however the idea that you recommended it before it's even reached the general public has me puzzled.

Have you seen this film yet?

If not, how do you know it's even good?

Yes, you've read reviews from people who says it's good however I've seen some terrible films where critics gave vast amounts of praise and yet it turned out painful for me to watch.

Think of Roger Ebert and his review of "X-Men: The Last Stand." A praised movie, a bad movie (in my eyes).

I want to see "Moon" and if it's fine film I'll recommended it but I won't say a movie is worth seeing until I know, for a fact, it's worth seeing.

The rest of your list is fine.
Julian Hall
42. Jules
Event Horizon... not actually that bad, IMO. Sure, it's a stereotypical horror film with nothing particularly innovative or great about it, but it was reasonably well made and for those of us in the front row at the cinema that opening scene was rather dizzying.

It also has the rather dubious honour of being the best film Paul W S Anderson has directed so far. I mean, it's even better than Death Race, so how could you not like it? :)

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