Barry Norman’s 101 greatest films: sci-fi

From Alien to Star Wars, our critic picks his favourite movies from cinema history

Alien 1979 18 116min Colour


Some prefer James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, but Ridley Scott’s original set the benchmark not only for the franchise but for numerous rip-offs. Screen debutante Sigourney Weaver found instant stardom as Ripley, intrepid crew member of a spacecraft invaded by an extremely scary alien monster. It’s dark, violent, full of Freudian undertones and includes one of the cinema’s great shock moments when the alien bursts out of John Hurt’s chest.

Tom Skerritt Dallas, Sigourney Weaver Ripley, Veronica Cartwright Lambert, John Hurt Kane, Ian Holm Ash, Yaphet Kotto Parker, Helen Horton Voice of “Mother”, Bolaji Badejo Alien 

Director Ridley Scott

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DID YOU KNOW? In the egg chamber sequence near the beginning of this science-fiction thriller, when Kane (played by John Hurt) is initially infected, the thin protective membrane covering the alien spawn was created using smoke and a pulsating scanning laser borrowed from the Who.

Bladerunner 1982 15 111min Colour

Ridley Scott again. In dank, menacing, futuristic Los Angeles, former cop (or blade runner) Harrison Ford hunts down a group of rebellious replicants, artificial humans with a built-in lifespan. Beneath all the action and Ford’s romantic interest in replicant Sean Young lies the question of what it means to be human and indeed who here is human. Scott fiddled with and improved the film five times up to 2007 when, hopefully, he was satisfied.

Harrison Ford Rick Deckard, Rutger Hauer Roy Batty, Sean Young Rachael, Edward James Olmos Gaff, M Emmet Walsh Bryant, Daryl Hannah Pris

Director Ridley Scott


The film is based on Philip K Dick’s story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but the title came from a book called The Bladerunner, the rights of which were bought up by Ridley Scott.

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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 1977 U 115min Colour

A lot of people seem to believe that the movies started with this one. They didn’t, but Star Wars was brilliantly innovative in combining pulp fiction with sci-fi. It’s a sort of western in space with its gun-toting heroes (Han Solo and company), its dark villain (Darth Vader), the evil Empire instead of ruthless cattle ranchers and spaceships replacing horses. Glorious stuff, thrilling and funny, that never seems to stop attracting new fans.

Mark Hamill Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford Han Solo, Carrie Fisher Princess Leia Organa, Peter Cushing Grand Moff Tarkin, Alec Guinness Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Anthony Daniels C-3PO, Kenny Baker R2-D2, Peter Mayhew Chewbacca, Dave Prowse/James Earl Jones Darth Vader

Director George Lucas

SAY IT AGAIN! “Use the Force, Luke.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

DID YOU KNOW? The design of their guns forced most of the stormtroopers to be left-handed

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The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers 1956 PG 80min BW

Don Siegel’s tale of alien pod people colonising the Earth by taking over the bodies of humans and dispensing with their souls, transcends its B-movie origins to become a classic study of paranoia, still better than any of the remakes. It’s thrilling, frightening and in a time of Hollywood blacklisting takes an ill-disguised swipe at McCarthyism and its horrors.

Kevin McCarthy Miles Bennell, Dana Wynter Becky Driscoll, Larry Gates Danny, King Donovan Jack, Carolyn Jones Theodora, Jean Willes Sally

Director Don Siegel

DID YOU KNOW? The total budget for the film was $417,000, of which only $15,000 was spent on special effects.

SAY IT AGAIN! “I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you.” Dr Miles Bennell

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2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 U 135min Colour

Stanley Kubrick’s engrossing, baffling, beautifully made film is sci-fi for grown-ups. What’s it about? All manner of things, the evolution of man for a start, the meaning of life and the possible existence of a Supreme Being. On a spaceship headed for the stars, the most important character is HAL, the arrogant robot that controls it, not the human crew. There’s very little tension but plenty of ideas and the special effects are spectacular even now. Not a film to everyone’s taste but one that should be seen.

Keir Dullea David “Dave” Bowman, Gary Lockwood Frank Poole, William Sylvester Dr Heywood Floyd

Director Stanley Kubrick

DID YOU KNOW? Kubrick took out insurance against an alien invasion upstaging the film’s release.

SAY IT AGAIN! “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” HAL

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Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 1 was first published in Radio Times magazine (21-27 January 2012)


Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 2 is available in this week’s Radio Times magazine (28 January-3 February 2012)