The Best Realistic Science Fiction Films

Credit: Interstellar (Paramount Pictures)

Credit: Interstellar (Paramount Pictures)

By Maria Ramos

Science fiction often focuses its attention on the second part of the name, but every once in a while a film looks to the future but grounds itself in harder concepts of what is and is not possible. Here are just a few sci-fi movies that are a more realistic depiction of the future.

Metropolis (1927)

Set in a dystopia, Fritz Lang‘s silent classic tells the story of Freder and Maria and their cross-class love. The huge machines at the center of the film reflected and predicted an increasingly industrialized world, and the early form of Maria doesn’t look too much different from many robots being built today.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)

A series of vignettes, 2001 (based on the novel written by Arthur Clark) tells the story of an alien object that continues to appear and push mankind further up the evolutionary ladder. While this is far-fetched, everything from the way people move in space to the homicidally logical AI HAL-9000 ring very true today in an age of drone warfare and surveillance cameras that can recognize your face and determine your emotional state. It’s another classic example of how Clarke has accurately predicted everything from advanced home security systems to the internet and many of its components.

Alien (1979)

Part of what stood out about this Ridley Scott classic about the crew of the Nostromo and their encounter with a deadly extra-terrestrial was that it presented a future of spaceflight that was not sleek and glamorous. The ship’s crew were blue collar workers with no matching uniforms on a rusting ship with bare pipes and large open fans everywhere. In the future, space travel will be dictated by efficiency, not aesthetic design.

Blade Runner (1982)

Another offering from Scott, Blade Runner gives us an image of the future in which a bleak and overcrowded Earth serves as incentive to move to the mysterious “colonies” and enhanced replicants of humans can be grown by scientists. Thus, the lead character Roy Batty and his crew are not impossible to make, nor are many of the technological marvels that are treated as base in this film. That being said, hover cars and extreme picture enhancement are probably still a while off.

Jurassic Park (1993)

We’ve learned a lot in the over 20 years since this film came out, but the basic concept of using dinosaur DNA preserved in mosquitoes trapped in amber to clone the terrible lizards still fascinates us. Perhaps the most realistic thing about this film is that the owner of the technology would create a theme park, seeing as how that is the most useful application of the technology.

Gattaca (1997)

In a world where your life is determined by your genetic makeup, one man engages in a high-stakes deception to fulfill his dreams. The use of genetics to determine a number of physical traits before birth is available even today, and it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that manipulating genes in utero to prevent diseases and ailments could be in our near future.

Contact (1997)

Jodie Foster gets wrapped up in a plan to build an interstellar ship after apparent contact from aliens. From the use of radio telescopes to try and hear alien signals to the eventual ship design, this movie adaptation of a book by Carl Sagan keeps one foot firmly planted in real science.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

When Jim Carrey can no longer stand the pain of a bad breakup, he hires a company to erase his memories of his former lover while he sleeps. Memory manipulation doesn’t seem too far-fetched. We learn more about how the brain works every day, so it may be possible to one day forget that painful ex.

Interstellar (2014)  

Christopher Nolan’s space epic about a group of astronauts trying to find an alternative world to the slowly dying Earth relies heavily on theories of special and general relativity to craft its plot and demonstrates the problems with faster-than-light travel.

Ex Machina (2015)  

This mind bending film asks us to really consider the possible reality of intelligence when a programmer is asked by a reclusive billionaire to perform a Turing Test on what he believes to be the first true AI. Ava not only presents a believable idea of how AI might interact with people in a controlled environment, but also gives us an idea of a believable progression to a more human-like attitude and associated behaviors. It keeps the fiction grounded in what we know today of AI.

Science fiction doesn’t have to be realistic, but the realistic ones allow us to expand our thoughts on immediate concepts rather than prospective ones. These are only some of the amazing films out there that take their science as seriously as their fiction and try to explore technical concepts as much as they do philosophical ones.

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.

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  • Sui Generis

    Love Jurassic Park! It never gets old!