Star Wars changed the face of cinema when it was released in 1977, never mind the face of scifi movies. In the decade following its whirlwind success, 13 films (included the Star Wars sequels) built on the new paradigm which director George Lucas had provided.
STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Amazingly, the sequel to the biggest movie (at that time) was actually an even better movie. New alien environments (ice planet Hoth! swamp planet Dagobah!), new memorable characters (Yoda! Boba Fett! Lando!), new fantastic visual effects (the asteroid field!) and an unforgettable twist (“No, I AM your father”!) demonstrated that George Lucas’ space opera had what it took to be a successful movie franchise and how!
Infamous for its opening scene of a man’s head exploding like a giant tomato , David Cronenberg’s classic scifi-horror flick about scanners (people with telepathic & telekinetic abilities) would set the tone for many similarly themed films to come. Also notable for featuring beloved character actor Michael Ironside as the evil Darryl Revok. The movie ended very ambiguously like classic 70s scifi.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Fresh from his success with Star Wars, George Lucas teamed up with his good friend Steven Spielberg and roped in Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford to launch yet another movie franchise based on the classic pulp serials of the 1930s. The Indiana Jones series would fire the imagination of the world and make Ford a superstar leading man.
Expectations were high for Ridley Scott’s 2nd movie. His first – Alien – was a smash hit and the studio was hoping to ride the Star Wars wave with this atmospheric moody noir adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Instead, it flopped and was critically savaged as well upon release. Since then, Scott has tinkered with different cuts (removing the awful voiceover) and the film has achieved cult status.
A somewhat natural progression from director Steven Spielberg’s first alien movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. would go on to beat Star Wars box office record. It’s fair to say that E.T. was a cultural phenomenon back in the early 80s and reinvented the alien visitor as a benign character rather than a threat.
Talking about alien visitors as threats, they do not come scarier than John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s alien is a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. Brilliantly essaying the 80s’ Cold War fears (the enemy amongst us), The Thing was a visual masterpiece and a thrilling horror tale that the 2011 prequel totally failed to match.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Before Star Wars, there was Star Trek, of course. The 60s TV series that very much defined what geek fandom would look like in the future. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a cerebral affair which lacked the swashbuckling action of Star Wars. However, the sequel fared much better. Connecting with Star Trek lore with the re-introduction of enhanced villain Khan Noonien Singh, the movie had everything viz. drama, revenge, space battles and the ultimate self-sacrifice.
STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI
The final instalment in the original trilogy did not quite match up to the two movies before it but for the most part, Jedi was a suitable conclusion to the saga. The use of the Death Star seems forced (and repetitive) in retrospect but the highlights of Han Solo’s rescue from Jabba the Hut, the final confrontation between Luke and Vader and thrills of the battle of Endor, more than make up for this.
The threat of nuclear annihilation during 80s Cold War tensions was a distinctive mark of the decade. War Games introduced the concept of computer hacking to the movies and represented a high watermark of commentary about the times. A rare example of a relevant scifi movie which barely exists, at most maybe once in a while now.
A dystopian future where man fights machine for supremacy. A time travelling soldier is transported to the past to save the mother of his commanding officer from being terminated by an android. A time paradox is duly created. Ah, the stuff of scifi legend. Writer/director James Cameron made his name with this compelling movie, borrowing scifi ideas liberally and shaping them into a top notch thriller.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The perfect scifi trilogy — almost. Up there with the original Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings, for sure. Basically a comedy, Back to the Future banked on the idea of a kid finding out what his parents were really like when they were his age. Yes, Marty McFly goes back in time and messes up his teenage parents’ lives and in turn endangering his own existence. A feel-good thought-provoking classic.
Hot property after the success of Terminator, writer-director James Cameron took on the Alien sequel and made it into a full-on war movie, his own take on Robert A. Heinlen’s Starship Troopers. Sigourney Weaver reprised her role as Ripley and cemented the concept that a female action lead could succeed at the box office.
An exceedingly violent blend of black comedy, science fiction, and crime thriller and that’s why it’s revered amongst scifi geek fans. It is a story about how one man refuses to give up on his own humanity even after he is turned into a cyborg killing machine. It’s also a commentary on evil corporations, corruption and the threat of automation.
… still there’s more …