I'm interested in what sci-fi movies not only were entertaining, but also made a big difference in your thinking.
There were a lot of sci-fi movies in the fifties, but most of them don't tell their story in a high-quality way. Perhaps "the day the Earth stood still" is one of the more notable of these.
"2001" was exciting for it's portrayal of technology, but even better as one to make you think. Are we really? (and still?) a bunch of smart-ass monkeys who live by their ability to destroy their opposition? And is a rocket and a bone basically the same thing (tool/weapon)?
"The Andromeda Strain" challenged the way extreme security risks should be dealt with. Both the political background and the technical details were fascinating. While computer power even beyond what we have today was demonstrated, it was the simplest technologies that caused all the trouble. I will forever know what's wrong if I see a "601" error code pop up with no explanation. A piece of paper in a teletype bell? Well, I've seen a "not-plugged-in" problem with a million plus dollar computer. There was two big extension cords plugged together under the false floor, and they came loose. Obviously should have been a locking connection. I remember them being taped, but I'm not sure if that was before they came apart, or if that was the fix. Wait a minute -- are we talking movies here, or real life? which is weirder?
One of my favourite all time movies is Forbidden Planet with Robbie the Robot. Amazing look to the film similar to Ben Hur which cost over 15 million dollars to film in 1959!
I regret that I missed seeing "Forbidden Planet", and knew little about it. I just read the synopsis on wikipedia, and it seems the movie had a good message warning about the demons that exist within us. Definitely an improvement over "the day the Earth stood still". The threat of nuclear weapons likely motivated both movies. In stood still, it is addressed very directly. Forbidden seems to deal more with the root cause of the problem.
Movies will always be products of their time, scifi movies are no different. Im not sure what "high quality" meant in SonLight's comment, but i think its regarding sensitivity towards sex, race, gender and identity? Movies are a frozen moment in time even if the story is set in a different era. What the screenwriter, director, producers and actors lived and breathed would still influence the piece.
One of my favourite films/series was Battle Star Galactica. It's first episode aired on 18th October 2004 and ended on 10 January 2010. Since then they have followed it up for a few films and the nostalgia gets me every time.
Shortly after the last episode aired a game was released and that was of the main games I played ever since it's release, sadly they will be shutting down the servers for it at the end of March.
StarWars! This is my favorite all time sci-fi series. I was 10 years old when I first watch it in 90s. First I watched The New Hope and then Empire Strike Back. Both these movies made a huge impression on me. Made me wonder about aliens and galaxies for hours in bed. No other movie fascinated me like these 2 movies and series. Even the opening crawl you see before the New Hope thrills you. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... makes you think about how long ago and where is this Galaxy. It was an amazing feeling.
Software and cathedrals are much the same – first we build them, then we pray
My list is of the pure SF story, that which looks at scenarios based in science or high theoretical concepts, current or future.
Primer (2004) - A group of small time inventors create a time machine. Very low budget, but highly recommended. The story is complex with a few mind benders along the way.
Predestination (2014) - A time cop searches for a time traveling terrorist. Seriously twisted and mind bending. Ethan Hawke plays the bartender, who happens to be so much more.
Imposter (2001) - Aliens are using android bombs to wage war against the Earth. A weapons specialist accused of being one such bomb races to prove his innocence. Based on the Philip K. d*** short story.
12 Monkeys (1995) - A convicted criminal in a bleak post apocalyptic world is sent into the past to stop a terrorist group from starting a deadly viral pandemic. Based on the 1962 French photo montage film “Le Jetee”.
Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (1969) - An alternate Earth is found orbiting the Sun directly opposite our Earth. When a mission is sent to investigate it, they discover it’s inhabited.
Time Lapse (2014) - Three friends discover a camera that takes pictures 24 hours in the future.
Moon (2009) - A lone maintenance man working a three year stint on the Moon discovers a disturbing reality about his employment. Sam Rockwell solos and Keven Spacey lends his voice talent to this one.
Pandorum (2009) - A pilot on board an intergalactic transport ship is awakened for his shift, only to find things have gone terribly wrong. This movie has a lot of horror elements, but the ending is a mindblower. Dennis Quaid stars.
Eden Log (2007) - A man wakes up with amnesia in a strange underground complex. As he makes his way through, he’s being chased by a strange creature. This is a French film, and depicts a future dystopia.
Cargo (2009) - In 2270, the Earth is uninhabited. A woman takes a job on a cargo ship to travel to Rhea, the new home of humanity, to meet her sister. However, there appears to be a stowaway on the ship. Swiss movie in German, but also dubbed.
Existenz (1999) - A video game designer may or may not be a character in their own game. Very existential ending, as with any David Cronenberg flick.
Ghost In the Shell (1995) (Anime) - A group of special division cops try to find an escaped artificial intelligence. Japanese with either subtitles or dubbed.
Vanilla Sky (2001) - A publishing magnate has his life upended after a car crash. This is an American remake of the 1995 Spanish film Abre Los Ojo (Open Your Eyes), which some consider better.
The Quiet Earth (1985) - A man wakes up to find he’s the only one left on Earth. This movie is from New Zealand, and the ending is a real brain melter.
Total Recall (1990) - A man having memories implanted discovers he’s a secret agent in hiding, or is he? The ending will leave you guessing as to what’s really happening. Based on the Philip K. d*** story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. The 2012 remake is disappointing, and doesn’t do the story justice.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - A war veteran returns home after secretly being brainwashed by the Koreans. The story isn’t advertised as SF, but it’s SF at heart, and with some real doozies for twists. Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury (whose role is far from the friendly lady types she’s usually played). The 2004 remake with Denzel Washington updates the story, but isn’t as good.
Millennium (1989) - An agent from the future is sent on missions to collect passengers from planes that are about to crash, to help repopulate the future. Based on the John Varley novel of the same name.
A Scanner Darkly (2006) - An investigator is trying to catch a drug kingpin, who turns out to be himself. Based on the Philip K. d*** story and using rotoscope animation.
Other David Cronenberg honorable mentions: Videodrome (1983) and The Naked Lunch (1991). Both of these movies are psychadelic, with strange creatures and a little body horror to boot. Videodrome could be considered a horror, but is more of a commentary on popular media, while The Naked Lunch, an adaptation of the William Burroughs book, is more of a retro drug fueled adventure.
Other Philip K. d*** honorable mentions: Paycheck (2003), Screamers (1995), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Minority Report (2002). These 4 movies are not as mind bending as their source material, but they’ve been added as a group since they still make you think to some degree. I’m not adding Blade Runner (1982) as an entry, partly because someone else did, but also because it’s not as thought provoking as the others. It’s a great movie, to be sure, but I don’t think it fits the criteria here.
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Judging by that list, I think you'd get a kick out of "Upgrade", Xty. Or have you seen it already?
I would go with Close Encounters Of A Third Kind and The X Files when it comes to scfi..I can watch Close Encounters every day and never get bored.