What Makes a Good Sci-Fi Movie?

Each year, a handful of movies are released bearing the sci-fi label in the hope that they will find their place among the best sci-fi films of all time. The problem that many of these films share, however, is their deep misunderstanding of what sci-fi really is and how it works to create a great movie. Although most movies that reach the distinction of being the best are older, classic films, several modern movies have made the leap as well. A closer look at these films can help to illustrate the criteria for a good sci-fi movie.

Easily Explained Technology

Despite the elaborate machines, ships or robots used in sci-fi films, an important element for a good sci-fi movie is how easily the technology can be explained. "Avatar" (2009), for example, took a ship full of people to a new planet and placed those people into alien bodies. Sounds complex, does not it? The greatness and popularity of the film "Avatar" lies in the ease with which the technology can be explained. By the time the ship lands on Pandora and the main character (Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington) is thrust into the alien land in the body of an alien, the audience has fully understood how all of this technology works. In fact, the explanation comes so easily that it is fitted seamlessly into Jake's training. The audience never has to face an information overload. Therefore, a good sci-fi movie must let the audience in on how the technology used works, no matter how complex it may be.

Characters to Care About

Technology, however, is not the sole focus of a movie. A good sci-fi flick still has to worry about character development and likeability. Having characters that the audience can care about is another way that filmmakers can help dole out the explanation of the technology. However, the characters and their part in the plot should always stand on their own merits.

A good example of a sci-fi movie with very likeable characters is "Independence Day" (1996). The film is full of stars, including Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. From the drunken pilot who dries out long enough to protect the nation, to the President of the United States who straps into a jet to help save his country, there are several characters to love. By the time that the President, played by Pullman, gave his rallying speech to the public, audiences in theaters were thoroughly riveted and rooting for this world fighting against alien invaders.

A Compelling Story

The story is often the reason that audiences are drawn to the movie initially. The film may have cool graphics, slick technology and great actors, but if a sci-fi flick lacks a compelling story, it will surely fail. Good modern example A of a film with a compelling story A is " District 9 " (2009). This film is built on the premise that aliens have landed on earth, but that instead of taking over, they have become a second class of citizen. This was a new concept that audiences flocked to the theaters to see. What was initially billed as an alien colonization story quickly became a tale of discrimination, set in the future of what is supposed to be a discrimination-free world.

Keeping with the Rules of Science

Keeping with scientific rules is also important. In some cases it is acceptable to break the rules of science, but the film must have an explanation for doing so, and must also share that explanation with the audience. Otherwise, breaking an essential rule could break the film before it is widely released. A film that went against this was "Red Planet" (2000), a film that had actors roaming around the planet Mars for much of the film before they realized that their own technology allowed for breathing the Martian air. The scientists in the film also botch basic DNA strand sequences. In addition, they often use the wrong scientific terms to describe basic scientific items. For example, the scientist in the film calls the beetle-like creatures nematodes, which is a term to describe worm-like creatures.

In order to make a film that sci-fi audiences will enjoy watching, filmmakers must keep in mind these basic tenets of the genre. Sci-fi is fraught with opportunities for fantasy, but there are also limitations. Several successful movies have been built within these limits without sacrificing cinematic quality. There are definitely several sci-fi contenders in the works for next year.