Updated in 2016, the book takes you through over a century of film, chronologically by decade. It starts, naturally, with Georges Méliès’ Voyage to the Moon (1902) and progresses up to the 2000s, with the last entry being Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). This edition of the book has been updated since its previous 2009 edition, which makes me wonder what got bumped for the addition of (blech) Avatar (2009), Attack the Block (2011) and Cuarón’s popular film. Each film gets exactly the same treatment: poster art, two-page summary, and a film still, and the text is from a variety of contributors.
As with any list, there is always room for argument. I’m not sure when the cutoff date was for the content, but I’d choose 2015’s Ex Machina or The Martian over the pulpy Avatar or the visually impressive but otherwise kind of craptastic Dune (1984). As with any list, you get a sense of the writers accommodating their personal faves, with the addition of films like the mostly-forgotten 1984 (1984), the super-weird Tetsuo (1989) (which I had watched on a dare, and can’t unsee), and the cult film Flash Gordon (1980), which tanked at the time.
Also, sci-fi is one of those genres that bleeds into others. David Cronenberg, for instance, has always seemed more like a horror director (both Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983) are included here), and Alien (1979) and its first sequel lean in that direction (basically horror in space). Terry Gilliam’s fantastical Brazil (1985) feels like it has absolutely nothing in common with, say, monster movie Gojira (1954) or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), which seems more like an adventure film.
The writing, from several contributors, runs from the dry and critical (basically implying a movie kind of sucks but you “must” see it anyway) to the enthusiastic. There is no cohesive list of the films (for those you like to scan and make checklists); you have to flip to the index to look for anything specific. Also, be forwarned, there are even some spoilers in here if you haven’t seen the films in question. But no book like this is perfect. The list may be squishy at times, and some of the films deserved more in-depth analysis, but it is a good place to start as any when delving deep into a genre. There are many films in here that I haven’t seen. I look forward to finding copies of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966), Michael Crichton’s Westword (1973), and the Kiwi drama The Quiet Earth (1985), among others to explore, based on this book’s recommendations.