March Madness of Movies: Best Sci-Fi Movies

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Leading off the first round were some truly epic matches, such as “Back to the Future” against “Jurassic Park.” Between Marty McFly’s performance of “Johnny B. Goode” and the T. rex attack, both films are filled with iconic moments. Ultimately, Steven Spielberg’s dino romp pulled an upset over Robert Zemeckis’ time-bending comedy, but it certainly wasn’t the only exciting upset from the first three rounds. In the second round, “Inception” upset the No. 3 seed, “Alien.” The latter film is a master class in tension building, complete with landmark creature design and a truly badass heroine in Ellen Ripley. Still, it couldn’t shake off Christopher Nolan’s mind-twisting thriller. Perhaps even more surprising than “Inception” taking down “Alien” is the upset win of “Mad Max: Fury Road” over “Star Wars” (AKA “A New Hope.” It’s confusing, we know). George Lucas’ original 1977 film is the one that started it all — a franchise with nine theatrically released films (and with more coming until the apocalypse of “Mad Max” happens), and yes, a whole slew of action figures. Though “Star Wars” has been influencing filmmakers since 1977, the more recent “Mad Max: Fury Road” is bound to play a similar role by inspiring filmmakers of the future. Its boldness and controlled sense of insanity make it a worthy victor over a titan such as “Star Wars.”

In fact, recent, influential films winning out over older classics was a trend throughout the sci-fi category. The oldest film on the list, a film still cited today as groundbreaking, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” lost out to Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” a behemoth that seems to have left a lasting impact, despite mixed-to-positive reviews, due to its undeniable and incomparable ambition and scale. The first “Terminator” took out the 1956 classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and the close-seeded match between legendary Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” tipped to the 2006 film.

Both Christopher Nolan giants knocked out both xenomorph/Sigourney Weaver films, and, similarly to the “Mad Max” win over “Star Wars,” “Interstellar” surprisingly beat what is widely considered to be the greatest film in its franchise, “The Empire Strikes Back” (that’s Episode 5 for the young folks).

The fact that Nolan held two films — original stories, too — in the sci-fi final four proves that he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest minds working in Hollywood today. Despite his space movie’s relatively tough reception, both will easily stand the test of time as the seminal genre pictures of the early 21st century.

The No. 1-seeded contenders, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Blade Runner,” rode their all-time classic force through to the final four. Interestingly enough, Christopher Nolan takes massive inspiration from Kubrick and his magnum opus, so much so that many see “Interstellar” as the modern day counterpart to “2001.” Their battle tipped to the classic for very good reason. But the other classic versus modern battle ended the other way, with “Inception” beating out Ridley Scott’s astonishing “Blade Runner.”

While it would’ve been easy to see a win from “2001,” the competition resulted in a tie — fittingly so after a moment to think about it. 1968’s “2001” was a revolutionary science fiction film, using the genre’s massive scope to comment on humanity and technology. That tagmark, “revolutionary,” could also be applied to “Inception,” which was truly a phenomenon at the time of release, as it immediately entered the cultural zeitgeist and lexicon. It seemed to be the first story of modern times to really offer all that is great about the medium of cinema: a vision so large that the visual and aural experience is unmatched in any other art form, an originality so specific to cinema but so rarely found in it and a story that makes audiences think and question even after leaving the theater. It seems fitting that the two share the win, especially considering that, despite “Interstellar” being the direct comparison, it’s “Inception” that adapted the literal rotating set that Kubrick used in his masterpiece.


March Madness of Movies brackets were voted on by the Arts & Entertainment staff.

Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Kyle Kizu is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.