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Scifi Movies/Equivalent of a small thesis on Sci-Fi


Heya Barbara,

First of I would like to say thank you for this opportunity, what you're doing is a great so thanks a lot :) I'm doing the equivalent of a small thesis on SF and would like the opinion of an expert on this matter. What would you call SF, are there like key things which make a film of a book SF? And what is SF?

Thanks for your time,
Patrick! :D

Dear Patrick: By a "small thesis" I am guessing this is a school project of some kind? You don't give the level or further explanations so I cannot be sure. Normally I don’t do school work, but in this case I will address parts of what you asked, and give you some suggestions for additional research that would be far more suitable for a thesis than any website.

The questions you ask are very huge and complicated. To start, there are many different definitions of SF. Some consider it to include only those films that deal plausibly with science, while others would include horror and fantasy films. This has been true from the start of cinema, and films like Melies' A Trip to the Moon (1902), widely viewed as the earliest SF film. Since you asked for my view, I tend to see SF as type of speculative fiction, which would include SF, Fantasy-Adventure, and Horror as strands that interweave in various ways. One key difference is that films of science fiction explore possibilities of the future, unlike the more nostalgic worlds of fantasy (which explore the impossible, the magical, the supernatural, etc.).

Thus science fiction would tend to be those films that use hypothetical science-based elements and themes, usually set in the future (although not always), set on earth (or a place similar to earth) or out in space. They can be positive(utopian) or negative (dystopian) in their themes. John Scalzi, in The Rough Guide to Science Fiction writes that science-fiction movies take place in the future or alternative timeline, "it uses technology that does not exist" (p. 3) and is based primarily in science or rationality (thus no magic or supernatural). Yet that clearly is not the definition most popular writers would limit themselves to, as any cursory web search of SF Films shows--for 2015 alone that would include films more traditional SF like The Martian and Ex Machina with films like Jurassic World, Mad Max Fury Road and Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. For example, AFI's defines SF films as "usually scientific, visionary, comic-strip-like, and imaginative, and usually visualized through fanciful, imaginative settings, expert film production design, advanced technology gadgets (i.e., robots and spaceships), scientific developments, or by fantastic special effects" (see in other words, there are a lot of disputes about what constitutes SF and its specific components.  

As for making a film of a SF book, there you get into issues of adaptation as well as components of a particular genre. Movies get made from books because those books are popular and Hollywood believes the film can make money. Most screenwriters also must be concerned with showing, not telling, with making a script that would make a good movie, something that is both aural and visual. Thus certain SF elements in a novel that help clarify the writing as SF may not be easily translatable to film. Especially given the current trends to include what I consider to be mostly fantasy films into the mix. For example, I would argue that Star Wars is as much a fantasy adventure film than a SF film--it has SF elements but relies heavily on fairy tale tropes. Lucas, who studied anthropology, deliberately had each of the three films in the original trilogy follow what is known as a monomythic structure (the hero's quest, from Joseph Campbell). The films also borrow heavily from other types of genres, ranging from Westerns to Samurai and war films.

Because this is a complex question, I have included some resources below to help you develop your thesis more fully. These are better sources than I could ever be (and if you are a student, would be better accepted by your faculty):

1. Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space: The American Science-Fiction Film (NY: Unger, 1993 for 2nd edition). This is a classic book, the first full-length, comprehensive study of the genre which grapples with the definition of the genre.

2. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska, Science-Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace (London: Wallflower Press, 2000). A personal view of several different SF films

3. John Scalzi, The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (NY: The Rough Guide, 2005). A basic history of the genre.

There also are some good collections of articles with contributions from various scholars—often heavy going, but good resources none-the-less:

1.Annette Kuhn, Ed. Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction (London, Verso, 1999). The first Alien Zone (also edited by Kuhn) also is interesting

2. Sean Redmond, Ed. Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader (London: Wallflower Press, 2004

I hope this helps you with your thesis.

Below I have listed some resources for you  

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Barbara L. Baker


I am a professor of communication at a midwest university, with expertise in film. I can answer most questions on the original "Star Wars" trilogy, and some on the newer trilogy. I also have expertise in general science-fiction film (both history and theory), especially in the United States. For movie titles, I need to have the release date (or a date range, or at least when you saw it). It is better if you note significant, major plot details and characters rather than minor plot events, and it is even better if you can recall an actor or director's name, and if it is a film or TV movie. Plesse do not just provide a set of links to someplace else (e.g. imdb discussion threads). I am less able to answer the following, although I will do my best to track down an answer for you--recent SF films, horror films, or made-for-TV movies. Most SF films from other countries are out of my areas of expertise. In addition, I cannot answer questions about animated SF films, anime/manga, television series or shows, or about film collectables. Nor will I answer obvious homework (although I will point you to resources to help answer the question, if asked). I also can't help you find movie stars, movie memorabilia, or tell you how to break into the business.


Coursework in science-fiction and fantasy films, plus teaching courses in the subject for several years; I've also conducted research into SF and fantasy films and TV.

Ph.D. in Communication, with emphasis on film and rhetoric.

Awards and Honors
A dissertation award from a national organization and various paper awards.

Past/Present Clients
My students.

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