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The Top 17 Scientifically Accurate Science Fiction Movies

Updated on November 3, 2015
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Nerd, cinephile, TV-junky, research-loving, left-leaning, science-fiending, atheist from the gutter. Follow me on Twitter @TheGutterMonkey.

Putting the SCIENCE back in science fiction

Sure, we all love sci-fi, but have you ever noticed that in movies these days there seems to be far more "fi" than there is "sci"? What's up with that?!

Wookies, tribbles, and flux capacitors are all fine and dandy (and we wouldn't trade them for all the tea in China!) but what we're going to focus on today, ladies and nerds, is the realistic side of science fiction, and the handful of movies that put on their thinking caps, consulted their local rocket scientists, and got their facts (more or less) straight.

Now I'm no prude or anything, I love a nice dose of fantasy just as much as the next guy, but good, well-researched, and plausible science in science fiction can be a much needed breath of fresh air from this wonderful genre that's all but abandoned such attention to detail. And, while they may be few and far between, from the 20's to the 2000s these smart, often prescient movies that put science first have always been around; making us think, filing us with wonder, and giving us a realistic glimpse into what might just very well be the future to come.

A few website which helped in the keeping this page scientifically accurate are...

NewScientist.com

BioDesign.asu.edu

BadAstronomy.com

Wikipedia.org

GuardianNews.com

Fast Company.com

Telegraph.co.uk/

17. Mission to Mars (2000 film directed by Brian De Palma)

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Many may disagree with the inclusion of this critically lambasted Brian De Palma flick from 2000, but as far as realistic science fiction movies go, the pickin’s are slim, alright? Give me a break. And besides, I liked Mission to Marskinda.

Once you get past the films cheesy dialogue, silly looking aliens, alien-looking Gary Sinise, and the excessively touchy-feely vibe, it’s not that bad. You at least get a little bit of awe and wonder, and even an interesting speculation on the beginnings of life on Earth. This, by the way, as handled in the film, is done by directed panspermia (not to be confused by indirect panspermia) which, in a nutshell, is the hypothesis that the seeds of life may have been intentionally spread on Earth by an advanced alien civilization. And while this may seem like wacky-stuff, it is at least a valid — albeit improbable — possibility; a possibility which is really fun to watch simulated in the film.

Aside from the cracked and dry ground seen in many scenes, the general landscape of Mars is also pretty well done: it at least looks like Mars should and we even get a glimpse of some of the planets massive dust storms. Also refreshing is the centrifuge shown at the space station, which is designed to simulate the astronauts' much needed gravity. We’ll see several more of those as this list continues, as all too often sci-fi films neglect to explain how their astronauts are acquiring their Earth-like gravity. Suffice it to say, it’s always appreciated when the filmmakers go through the trouble of showing us that centrifuge (seriously, all we need is one quick shot of it and we're good... it shouldn't be that difficult).

Of course, not all is perfect about the scientific accuracy of this movie. In fact, a lot isn’t perfect. But that’s why this addition rests at the bottom of our list. Which, as you may have gathered, says a lot about how few scientifically accurate sci-fi movies we have to choose from here. But it gets better. I promise.

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16. The Andromeda Strain (1971 film directed by Robert Wise)

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In this adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, the US government uses a satellite to capture an extraterrestrial virus in order to study its potential as a biological weapon. The satellite ends up crashing near a small town in New Mexico killing all but two of its inhabitants.

Most of the film is dialogue driven, revolving primarily around a group of scientists who are studying the virus they've dubbed as "Andromeda". They use plenty of accurate scientific language about immunology, electron microscopy, and molecular biology. And while it may be unlikely that microbes which have adapted to living in cold and airless space would be able to thrive in the human body, studies have nevertheless shown that microbes can be affected by space flight, making them more infectious. So maybe there's something to the idea after all.

To read more about how salmonella bacteria flown aboard the space shuttle were shown to be more virulent when tested upon their return to earth, click here.

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15. 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984 film directed by Peter Hyams)

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Being the sequel to a film as legendary as 2001: A Space Odyssey can't be easy. Due to the inevitable comparisons to occur while living in the grandiose shadow of it's older brother, 2010 was more than likely destined to be perceived as mediocre from its very get-go. So let's try to forget 2001 when talking about it here. Looking at the film from on its own, it's actually got quite a bit to offer.

Other than acting as a very respectable and entertaining coda to the original film, the movie holds its own in scientific realism by giving detailed descriptions of the scientists journey to Jupiter to explore the remains of the apparently abandoned ship Discovery. And it gives yet another eye to detail when portraying the scientists attempt to get back home.

My favorite aspect of the film (and the Arthur C. Clarke novel it was based on) is the attention it gives to the moon of Europa which orbits Jupiter. In the film they suggest that there's a possibility of life on this moon, which, in real life, scientists actually do believe is possible. In fact, many believe Europa to be one of the only other bodies in our solar system that may harbor life. Trips to this moon are already in the works!

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14. Moon (2009 film directed by Duncan Jones)

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I can't get too into the awesomeness of this flick without spoiling the whole kit and caboodle, so here's a condensed version of the plot: It's a one-actor show about an astronaut named Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) who is nearing the end of a three-year solitary stint mining helium-3 on the far side of the Earth's moon. One day, not long before he's due to head off back home, he suddenly finds a duplicate version of himself inside of his ship. Is it a hallucination or something more? *cue dramatic music*

As most of the picture takes place in a ship with a robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey), our protagonist, and his mysterious doppelganger, there's really not much to get into over the films science. In fact, one of the few scientific things that pop out in the film is actually a scientific blunder involving the apparent unexplained abundance of gravity within the ship (one of the most common inaccuracies in most science fiction movies). But that's really small potatoes (although it did knock the film to a lower spot on this list). The real interesting aspect of Moon is the analysis of how a man mentally copes with being stranded alone in space for three whole years.

And as for the mining of the moon for helium-3, that's not as farfetched as you may think. Many scientists actually do suspect that the moon really does contain a wealth of useful materials. (Read more about moon mining on New Scientist)

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13. Woman in the Moon (1929 film directed by Fritz Lang)

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With rocketships submerged in water before launch, a moon full of gold and breathable air, astronauts whose uniforms consist of sweaters and ties, I'll readily admit that, if it were released today, Woman in the Moon would be scoffed at by even the most scientifically illiterate of audiences. But try to bear in mind that this film was released in 1929, where manned space travel wouldn't become a reality for another 32 years, and we wouldn't go to the moon for another 40. It was a time when imagination had no other choice but to compensate for a lack of scientific understanding. Considering all of this, the film did amazingly well.

It's not only the foresight that we would one day make it to the moon that gives the film its accuracy though. Using scientists as advisers, showing the basics of rocket travel to a mass audience for the first time, explaining the basics of gravity, and presenting the first ever occurrence of the "countdown to zero" before a rocket launch, the film put an astounding amount of effort into retaining as much realism as it could without sacrificing any of its very soapy melodrama. Due to this, Woman in the Moon is often rightfully cited as being one of the first "serious" science fiction films ever made.

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12. The Man from Earth (2007 film directed by Richard Schenkman)

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Imagine starting your life as a Cro-Magnon caveman. Think about what your existence would be like and how little you would know. During that time there was no real language, no religion, and no real concept of family, time, or death. Now imagine that you grow to about middle age and simply quit aging; surviving all the way up to modern times. What would it be like to see religion, science, and society evolve around you from what it was then to what it is today? These issues and more are covered in this extremely underrated and overlooked masterpiece (yeah, I said it) written by science fiction writer Jerome Bixby on his deathbed.

The film consists of only about 9 actors (including extras), its only setting is a small house, and the most action packed scene is when a man falls down at one point. It's simply a group of intellectuals and scientists speaking to and questioning a man who claims to be an immortal caveman. Granted, this isn't your typical science fiction movie, but in covering topics such as biology, religion, history, archeology, anthropology, and the nature of human psychology (in the past and the present) in a realistic and often accurate manner, the film ends up being one of the most perfect, insightful, and thought provoking blends of science and make-believe to ever hit the screen.

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11. The Fountain (2006 film directed by Darren Aronofsky)

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First of all, this movie is overlooked way too often. Not only in the sci-fi genre, but in the movie genre period. It's premise and meaning isn't an easy one to wrap your head around on the first viewing (what else do you expect from the guy who brought us Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan?) but when stripped down to its core, the real meaning — as far as I'm concerned — is about the very real struggle to cope with death and the poetic way in which our universe has the ability to recycle life. And this is where The Fountain gets its science right. After all, wasn't it Carl Sagan who famously pointed out that we're all made of star stuff?

There's a woman in the film who is sick and dying, and, while coming to terms with her mortality, begins to think a lot about how life never really ends but merely changes from one form to another (not exactly true, but close enough). One example of this is a story she tells about a man who has died but is said to still live on because a seed was planted where he was buried; causing his decaying body to become a part of the tree which grew there. On a larger scale, the film shows something similar occur when a man in a spaceship heads toward a dying high-mass star which is on the verge of going supernova. When a star goes supernova at the end of its life it releases all kinds of new elements which mix with gas clouds. These rich gas clouds are eventually pulled together by gravity to form things like stars, planets, and, after a while, humans. This means that it's through the death of a star that our planet, and our very species even exists. When our space-man becomes a part of this supernova, he's returning right back to the kind of "star stuff" which created him.

As an added bonus to this poetic view of the universe is the fact that the supernova that we actually see in the film is a pretty accurate depiction of how one occurs in real-life.

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10. Primer (2004 film directed by Shane Carruth)

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I've said this about many films in my day, but never has the statement "You'll have to watch this one a few times to get it" been more appropriate as it is with this ultra-low budget time travel movie by Shane Carruth. And even after you watch it a few times (about 7 or 8?), you probably still won't understand it. Trust me... your brain will hurt.

I know, I know. It's difficult to believe that there could be a realistic time travel movie out there. So far, though, this is the closest we've ever come to one (as far as backwards time travel goes, at least). However it's not exactly the time travel itself that makes the science in Primer feel so real, as much as it is the fact that it presents time travel in a fashion you'd actually expect if someone were to discover it. Shot without fancy cameras, in commonplace settings, and containing dialogue that's delivered in such a way that it feels almost too real to have been written (including more scientific and technical jargon than I've ever seen in a sci-fi movie before), watching the film feels almost like voyeurism — as if we're eavesdropping through hidden cameras at real scientists who've discovered something amazing.

As for the time machine itself, one thing about the devices discovery actually does ring true to actual scientific discoveries of the past. And that's that it's plain, without flashy gizmos or blinking flux capacitors, and that it was discovered not in a fancy, secret government lab but rather in a regular garage by accident. As the director put it: "Whether it involved the history of the number zero or the invention of the transistor, two things stood out to me. First is that the discovery that turns out to be the most valuable is usually dismissed as a side-effect. Second is that prototypes almost never include neon lights and chrome. I wanted to see a story play out that was more in line with the way real innovation takes place than I had seen on film before."

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9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004 film directed by Michel Gondry)

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind revolves around heartbroken characters who have recently ended relationships, yet still can't seem to get their ex off their minds. To mend this problem, they go to see doctors who are capable of wiping out all memory of the person plaguing their thoughts.

Selective memory loss is a real occurrence, typically as a side effect of head injuries and the blacking out of traumatizing events (causing the victim to lose only certain parts of his or her memory). In an attempt to help such people as post traumatic stress disorder victims and the like, some neurologists are actually looking for ways to utilize this kind of selective memory loss for a good cause. Whether or not this will ever become a reality is unknown, though, and it's highly doubtful if it would ever be as efficiently done as in this film, but it could come close. (To read more about this, check out this article from The Guardian)

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8. Destination Moon (1950 film directed by Irving Pichel)

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Seven years before Sputnik, 19 years before the actual moon landing, at a time where the only Earthling to ever venture into space was a monkey, 1950s Destination Moon was the first major science-fiction film produced in America to deal realistically with the prospect of space travel. The movie clearly explained to its audience the basics of space flight, gravity, and how rockets are launched. One of the more interesting ways this was done was by a scientists presentation of an animated cartoon featuring Woody Woodpecker; a clever and educational animated sequence which foreshadowed the one used in the film Jurassic Park over 40 years later.

Made during a time when the best CGI available included a length of string and a cardboard backdrop, clearly many aspects of this film are going to be dated. But that notwithstanding, Destination Moon got a whole lot more right than it did wrong; including nailing the motivating force that convinced Americans to ever go to the moon in the first place -- to beat the enemy to it!

In actuality, it weren't for conflict between ourselves (such as our resolve to out do the Russians at the time -- and vice versa), mankind would probably still be space virgins to this very day. Which is a shame when you think about it. The real reasons that man should be encouraged to make such "giant leaps" were summed up quite nicely by a character in this very picture. When asked why we should bother going to the moon at all he replied, "We'll find out when we get there, and we'll tell you when we get back."

Amen, brother.

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7. Gattaca (1997 film directed by Andrew Niccol)

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Gattaca takes place in a dystopian future where most children are test tube babies, genetically engineered from their parents "best parts" to have perfect health, high IQ's, and long life-spans. There are, of course, still babies conceived and born in the oldfashioned way but these more flawed children are known as in-valids, who typically live less rewarding lives and wind up qualifying only for the most menial of jobs due to their less-than-perfect genetic makeup.

Theoretically, the science presented to us in Gattaca (a word derived from the initial letters of the four DNA nitrogenous bases: guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine) is a real possibility in our future. And in some ways it's already occurring today! In some animals it's already possible to genetically modify them to have enhanced strength, learning, and memory. This monumental achievement is believed by scientists to one day be possible for humans as well.

Already, we can have our genes mapped for a (relatively) low price. This kind of genetic screening allows us to see the real probabilities of such things as diseases we're more likely to be at risk of in the future. But along with this fantastic new ability came the first signs of the kind of genetic discrimination we're warned about in this film. Already there have been cases where individuals have lost their jobs or healthcare due to results of the genetics that they were born with.

This is not to send the message that this kind of new knowledge is bad (on the contrary, actually, it's quite beneficial) but to warn us to be careful about how we use it.

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6. Minority Report (2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg)

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Minority Report, if you haven't seen it, takes place in the near future of 2054, when police stop crimes before they happen. To do this they use three precognitive humans who drift in a flotation tank where their brain waves are tapped by computers. These "Pre-Cogs" are able to pick up thoughts of premeditated murders and warn the cops, who swoop down and arrest the would-be perpetrators before the killings can take place. The story soon turns into a whodunit, noir-style mystery tale when one of the police (Tom Cruise) learns from the Pre-Cogs that he is destined to kill a man who he's never even seen before.

Now the idea of precognitive humans who predict all murders before they happen is, of course, absurd. But that's not where the scientific accuracy comes into play with this modern Spielberg classic. What's so interesting about this film is its attention to detail concerning the future of technology.

Spielberg consulted numerous scientists in an attempt to present a much more plausible future world than that seen in other science fiction films. Some of the technologies shown in the film have already become a reality (including similar multi-touch interfaces and retina scanners) and many of which are currently in development. Some of the ones to look forward to are facial recognition advertising billboards used for personalized advertising (currently being worked on by the Japanese), electronic paper (e-paper, like the electronic newspapers shown in the movie) which has been a work in progress since before the film was even released, and crime prediction software that uses predictive analytics (mining years and years of incident reports and law enforcement data) to forecast criminal hotspots. (According to business magazine Fast Company, police in Memphis have already had great success with the $11-billion "precrime" predicting tool: Since installing Blue CRUSH, the city has seen a 31% drop in serious crime.)

The only future technology depicted in the film which isn't based on reality are the jetpacks used by police, which Spielberg threw in as an homage to old science-fiction serials such as Commando Cody. Like the pre-cogs, we're just going to have to let this bit of science fiction slide for the sake of entertainment.

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5. Interstellar (2014 film directed by Christopher Nolan)

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With the enlistment of Caltech cosmologist Kip Thorne and a story which threaded together the fantastical imagination of director Christopher Nolan with the actual physics of black holes and time dilation, Interstellar managed do the (surprisingly) rarely done before: it created a fun story where the real-life, ultra-weirdness of spacetime was paramount to the plot.

And when it comes to time dilation and black holes, weirdness certainly abounds in the best of ways. Interstellar correctly utilizes this fantastic bit of relativity all throughout the film, when the astronauts are seen getting closer and closer to a black hole, causing time to slow down drastically for them while remaining the same for everyone on earth. The fact that time slows for someone who gets too close to something with intense gravity isn't anything new in science, of course (that's relativity 101, folks, and it's an observed, well-established phenomenon in science that's both stranger and more fascinating than fiction could ever be), but having a film revolve their entire plot around this real-life manner of time travel, well, frankly, it's about time.

The real star of Interstellar (or collapsed star, rather — heh) is the fictional black hole, Gargantua. The films depiction of this super massive black hole received a lot of hype for its authenticity and while it wasn't quite as accurate as the press advertised (read here to see why it wasn’t) it was nevertheless the most realistic of black holes thus far seen on film, thanks to the collaboration between Kip Thorne and the movies visual effects studio, Double Negative. This collaboration even resulted in new scientific papers ("Gravitational Lensing by Spinning Black Holes in Astrophysics, and in the Movie Interstellar" and Visualizing Interstellar’s Wormhole) which examine the computer algorithms designed to create the black hole in the film.

While some scientists, such as physicist Lawrence Krauss and "The Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait have taken the film to task for having the tenacity to brag about its realism too much (click on each's scientists name to see their thoughts on Interstellar), it nevertheless remains more accurate than most pictures Hollywood shells out these days (or any days). And has hopefully set the tone for a new generation of science fiction films to come.

To see more positive opinions of the film from scientists, try checking out Neil deGrasse Tyson's many tweets, videos, and comments about the movie or purchase Kipp Thornes companion book for the movie, entitled The Science of Interstellar (available below).

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4. Deep Impact (1998 film directed by Mimi Leder)

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Released about two months before the unscientific stinker Armageddon, 1998's Deep Impact was the rare disaster movie that made sure to get its facts straight. (For the most part at least.)

One of the most visually stunning and scientifically accurate scenes in the movie was when a fragment of the oncoming comet (a fragment broken from the original comet after a failed government attempt to nuke the sucker) collides into the Atlantic Ocean, creating an enormous, supersonic megatsunami that devastates much of our cities. If there ever were to be a comet to smash into this big blue ball, the ocean would almost certainly be where it would hit (the Earth is 70% water, ya know) and the effects would be at least equal to those seen in the movie.

The scenes of the comet itself are also well done. Unlike that clunker Armageddon, where the astronauts mysteriously manage to somehow park on a low-gravity asteroid, the crew who make contact with the space rock on Deep Impact use harpoon-like things to latch onto the comet while hovering above it.

(SPOILERS to follow!)

The only real problem with the movie (with its science, at least) was its ending, when the comet is blown to millions of tiny pieces that all burn away in our Earths atmosphere. The issue here is that even if all the comets pieces were to be broken into sand-sized grains that didn't impact Earths surface, the kinetic energy of the comet would still be heading toward us and getting converted to heat in our atmosphere. So while the Earth may be spared the effects of an impact, there would still be an immense, catastrophic effect that would wreak havoc on our weather and probably kill everyone anyway.

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3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 film directed by Stanley Kubrick)

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With Stanley Kubrick typically getting all the props for this groundbreaking science fiction classic, his script collaborator, world renown sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, often gets overlooked. After becoming fascinated with the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life, it was Clarke that Kubrick went to for help in making what Kubricked dubbed "the proverbial good science fiction movie." The mix of Kubricks stylish, artistic direction and Clarke's keen eye for technical scientific realism made 2001 not only a "good" science fiction movie, but a beautiful one that got most of its science right.

Aside from the many subtle scientifically accurate details (the depiction of space as being silent, for instance, or the fact that the crew eats the proper kind of space food) the film also handles the larger common sci-fi movie problems well. A good example of this is how they dealt with the lack of gravity on their spaceships. On most sci-fi movies, astronauts stroll around their ships as if they were strolling around on earth, without even a hint of weightlessness, while giving no explanation as to how this is possible. 2001, on the other hand, made the rare decision to confront and explain this issue by showing people walking with sticky shoes and ostensibly showing that many of the ships contained a giant centrifuge which produced artificial gravity through centrifugal force. In today's real-life space travel, this artificial gravity isn't necessary because all our trips outside of Earth are so short (the harmful affects of weightlessness aren't so harmful unless you live with it for too long). But if humans ever decide to get off their butts and do some long-term space exploration these giant centrifuges would be an ideal way to handle the situation.

Another example of science-gone-right in the film is how many of the technologies shown have actually been realized. Sure, we haven't colonized the moon or made civilian space travel commonplace yet (mostly due to our public and governments waning interest in space exploration since the 70's) but such things as voice-print identification, in-flight entertainment displays for aircraft, flat-screen monitors, voice-controlled computers, personal video communication, and tablet devices are used all the time. And the films influence on technology continues even today. Try picking up your iphone and asking Siri if she will sing a song to you or open the pod bay doors, chances are that her responses will sound oddly familiar.

I could go on and on about this movie, but I've already written too much already. One final side note, though, is that it wasn't only Clarke who assisted in making this film as accurate as it was. One of the most notable scientists who was consulted was the famed astronomer Carl Sagan, who was asked by Kubrick about how the films extraterrestrials should be portrayed. Originally Kubrick had planned to hire actors to play humanoid aliens, but when he ran the idea by Saga, the scientist informed him that alien life forms were unlikely to bear any resemblance whatsoever to Earthlings and that to show them as such would introduce "at least an element of falseness" into the picture. Sagan proposed that the film only suggest, rather than depict, the aliens. And in the end, that's what Kubrick did.

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2. Contact (1997 film directed by Robert Zemeckis)

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Based on the only science fiction novel ever to be written by everyone's favorite astronomer, Carl Sagan, Contact went to great pains to remain scientifically accurate in both its physics and its extrapolation of current scientific theories.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI, for short) program is an actual collection of projects currently being used in the search for intelligent life outside of our own planet. And many believe that if we ever were to actually achieve contact with an alien species it would be through the same kind of radio signals shown to us in the film (either through signals we've received from them or that they've received from us). This is due to the fact that planets in other solar systems are super far away from our own; much further away than we'd be expected to travel with even our fastest ships. Our sun itself is about 8 minutes away (meaning whenever we look at it, we're seeing how it looked 8 seconds ago), the nearest star to our own solar system is over 4 light years away, and our nearest neighboring galaxy (the Andromeda Galaxy) is 2.6 million light years away! And since we can't travel at the speed of light, that means that it would take us even longer to reach the galaxy even if we moved at our fastest speeds (about 15 quadrillion years if we went at the speed of sound).

Radio signals are a good means of long distant communication because they actually travel at the speed of light. And we've been inadvertently sending out these signals through the cosmos (from our TV shows and radios) for about a century now. So, theoretically, intelligent beings in our galaxy may have already heard from us! Or, as the film shows, heard from Hitler (awkward). Other than the attention to detail on the science itself, the film also gives a realistic demonstration of the political and public reaction which could occur if we ever came in contact with an intelligent being from outside our world.

It was a grueling task choosing between Contact and 2001 for the number one spot on this list. Both are brilliant and beautiful in their own ways, but it's this film that gives science heart; demonstrating the awe, hope, and wonder that scientists and science enthusiasts live for every day.

(UPDATE: Since October, 2015, Contact has been knocked out of #1. You're still loved, Contact! But as film progresses we have to acknowledge those changes.)

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1. The Martian (2015 film directed by Ridley Scott)

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As much as it pains me to have to knock Contact off from it's number one spot, when The Martian came along in 2015 it set a precedent for scientifically accurate science fiction movies that just can't be ignored.

In short, the movies plot is Castaway meets Astronaut MacGyver; where, after a major dust storm causes a manned Mars mission to go horribly wrong, an astronaut (played by Matt Damon) finds himself stranded on the red planet alone for several years, with only his scientific literacy and his out-of-the-box ingenuity to help him survive. And that's it. No villains, no aliens, no wormholes, time travel, or any other of the usual sci-fi gimmicks. Just one marooned man on Mars who — with a little help from tons of scientists on Earth — has to use science in order to get back home.

The movie is based on the sci-fi novel of the same name by author and engineer Andy Weir (the real-life offspring of a physicist and engineer), who deliberately set out to tell a fictional story using nothing but realistic science. The film-versions director and crew took their cues directly from Weir, in this respect, by collaborating more closely with NASA than any other film that's come before it. NASA, who saw the movie as an opportunity to promote their future plans space exploration (to Mars especially), was happy to oblige. They even went as far as to help promote The Martian by hosting a "Martian Day" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, screening the film at the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers, and even showing the movie to astronauts at the International Space Station (250 miles above Earths surface!). Oh, and don't you find it interesting that there was an announcement about water on Mars just days before The Martian hit theaters? Anyone else small a little cross-promotion going on?

During their time together, the filmmakers questioned NASA over hundreds of different things, from what the "habs" in the film should look like to what should be on the computer screens of the control centers. Everything from how Damon's character uses human feces to grow food, to how he uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to get heat, to the process he used to create water is all accurately done (in fact, the process shown to create water is currently being used by NASA for a planned Martian rover!). Unsurprisingly, the look of Mars itself was of special interest to the filmmakers, and the space agency made sure to send them hundreds photos of the planet to make sure the visuals were spot on. The outcome was a beautiful, cinematic landscape which gave us a realistic-looking tour of Mars courtesy of a big, fat Hollywood budget. NASA even later made a 'The Martian' update of their interactive 'Mars Trek' web tool (an interactive map that allows you to scroll through Mars Google Maps-style) so that we can follow the specific path that the films protagonist takes; including insightful info on such things shown in the film as the 'Hab', the dust storms, the dust devils, various craters, and more.

The few innaccuracies of the film include the fact that Mars actually has 40% less gravity than what the movie shows and, of course, there's that dust storm that set the movies plot in motion. The filmmakers openly admit that such a dust storm wouldn't be nearly as devastating in real-life due to Mars’ atmospheric pressure being only about one percent of the pressure of Earth. In reality, a 100 mph wind on Mars — as NASA scientist Jim Bell put it — would actually feel more like someone throwing a bag of feathers at you than the deadly tornado the movie made it seem like; but, hey, they needed some reason to strand Matt Damon on the planet.

Other than those two flaws, though, the rest of the ways in which The Martian deviates from reality would involve a lot of nitpicking (unless its important to you that the Johnson Space Center isn't as fancy in real-life as it is in the movie, that is). As a whole, though, accuracy is king here and scientists everywhere are signing the films praise. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about The Martian though is that, along with its technical accuracy, it's also an unabashed love-letter to science. While it may lack the poetry of Contact, it's nevertheless a showcase of just how, and how well, science and scientists work together to do amazing things.

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The Top 20 Atheist Friendly Movies

Today The Gutter Monkey reviews 20 ballsy movies that actually put atheism and skepticism as their focus. Well, or at least went out of their way to knock religion off its holy pedestal for a change.

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    • TheGutterMonkey profile image
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      The Gutter Monkey 2 years ago

      @ Robert Sacchi

      It's certainly safer not to show the aliens, that's for sure! Many science fiction films fail when trying to show an intelligent extra terrestrial species due simply to the fact that it's beyond our imagination what such a species would look like. The result is that almost every alien we see in film is anthropomorphic; i.e. they are far too similar to humans.

      It's, of course, an understandable mistake in science fiction — after all, humans are the only paradigm of "intelligent species" that we have to choose from — and plenty of sci-fi movies survive well and remain entertaining even when they do fall into that trap. So I don't know if I'd say that it exactly hurts the films. If anything, it only hurts their scientific realism. But I suppose that's where the "fiction" part comes in for sci-fi. ;)

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      A good list. I think you made the right choice between 2001 & contact. Do you think actually showing aliens puts a film at a disadvantage from a Science standpoint? Thank you.

    • Joebeducci profile image

      Joebeducci 3 years ago

      What an amazing list! I saw some of these and liked them really much. I got the Fountain, so I'm really curious, Aronofsky is a genious director! Greets, Joebeducci

    • Killgrace profile image

      Killgrace 3 years ago

      A great list, I'm going to have to rewatch some of these!

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 4 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I enjoyed reading your review of the movies.

    • mcsburlea profile image

      mcsburlea 4 years ago

      wow, nice list, I think I am going to have to watch some of these movies again.

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 4 years ago

      Great list here! I'm a big fan of both Moon and Minority Report.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Enjoyed reading the descriptions of the movies on your list!

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      Can't wait to watch woman in the moon and 2010. Thanks for this GREAT lens.

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      Great list for searchers. I'm waiting for the sequel to Primer.

    • JeremyBentham LM profile image

      JeremyBentham LM 4 years ago

      Nice list! Primer is a great flick. Definitely have to watch 3 or 4 times in order to fool yourself into thinking you understand it.

    • BrandonCase profile image

      BrandonCase 4 years ago

      Yay! It's always nice to see Primer mentioned somewhere :).

      I love a number of your other picks too (Eternal Sunshine, 2001, Contact, Mission to Mars, Deep Impact, etc).

      Anyway, I had fun revisiting the films, thank you for sharing them :)!

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 4 years ago

      I like Contact and Minority report because of the philosophical they raise too.

    • bluelily lm profile image

      bluelily lm 4 years ago

      Dreams are the preview of Future coming alive. It's just the matter of time when many seemingly impossible ideas will come to reality.If we read history then we will realise that each and every time these fact is reiterate itself.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great lens!!!

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      I'm a long time science fiction lover. You have listed some of my favorites as well as a couple I have never heard of. I am going to put these on my list to see.

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image
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      The Gutter Monkey 4 years ago

      @abakes98 lm: Haha well, as stated in the overview of Minority Report's placing on this list, it isn't the film as a whole that's scientifically accurate, but, rather, the large amount of detail and research given to the various technologies used in the film.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Excellent movie guide.

    • abakes98 lm profile image

      NobodyLoser 4 years ago

      I enjoyed it. Mission to Mars was a favorite of mine when I was younger and Minority Report is something I always put the tv on when I come across in the guide. Since you argue the scientific plausibility of Minority Report, I'm curious to know if the material is your honest opinion. It's a favorite of mine, but I think the older I get the less I buy it.

    • audrey07 profile image

      audrey07 4 years ago

      I have watched a few of these movies like Deep Impact, Minority Report and Contact. I don't really look for any inaccuracies but then again, I'm not a science buff. As long as the story is interesting and makes sense, I'm fine with it.

    • Glen Kowalski profile image

      Glen Kowalski 4 years ago

      Still like my star trek. Personally I think the biggest flaw in Star Trek is the idea that humans will live in some sort of utopia, with no need for money. I never see that happening. All the other 'technology' is at least plausible, which is what science-fiction is supposed to be about.

    • profile image

      timetoact 4 years ago

      I've never really cared if a science fiction movie is good science or not. I care more about the plot and characters. My father, however, went bonkers whenever anything in a movie went against science.

    • Brians Secretary profile image

      Brians Secretary 4 years ago

      Love this lens, I think I have only seen half these. Off to see if any of them are on Netflix

    • pumpum profile image

      pumpum 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed in this lens of yours. There are some great movies here which I watched and I must say I learned something new. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @TheGutterMonkey: Cheers man, I can sleep now! :D

      Yeah, I don't feel it's entirely suitable for this list either, despite it being one of MY absolute faves. It's not really like the others in some ways, more of a psychological film really.

      Gonna check out The Fountain, one of the few I've not yet seen that grabbed my attention.. and then I'll check out 2001, which, shamefully, I've still not seen.

      Again though, great list, and thanks for solving the issue so quickly.

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image
      Author

      The Gutter Monkey 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Problem solved (for now). The website has undergone changes recently and has been a bit technically flaky ever since. Hopefully you can see all the entries now. I apologize for the problem.

      Also, I loved K-PAX (I wouldn't call it a modern classic or anything, but I did find it extremely entertaining; which, what else could one ask?). It just didn't seem right for this list though.

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hmm.. I assume Contact is #1 as I see it on the 'check out the books' section, but I'm a bit confused, I can't see a single mention of it elsewhere. The #1 is the only one without a write-up, such an anti-climax!

      Really brilliant list. Most are amongst my favourite sci-fi films.. The only notable exclusion IMO would be K-PAX. It seems fairly scientifically accurate, given that the main character is playing someone supposedly from a far more advanced civilisation.

    • profile image

      stiga42 4 years ago

      What I found most unrealistic about "Mission to Mars" was they way that Gary Senise "convinced" someone in a heated discussion that they had to do the rescue mission - something that would require another zillion dollar grant to be passed in congress...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I really enjoy your movie lists and that you stick with what you enjoy. It definitely makes me want to try a movie more hearing someone tell why they enjoyed it. Thanks again.

    • IncomeFromHomeT profile image

      IncomeFromHomeT 4 years ago

      "Ladies and nerds"? If you're going to rattle on about being scientifically accurate you might want to avoid making statements that treat the two as mutually exclusive. Emilie du Châtelet is a prime example.

      Otherwise . . . good work!

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 4 years ago

      An interesting review on science fiction movies. I've seen some of them but looks like a few more to go.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      As we note elsewhere (wink, wink) one thing that always bugged us about the ending of 2010 is that Europa is less than a million kilometers from Jupiter. Turning Jupiter into a sun isn't going to nurture life on Europa, it's going to turn Europa into a cloud of vapor. NICE JOB ALIENS.

    • profile image

      SolarEclipseWatcher 4 years ago

      Wow! Love the collection. There are some I haven't seen yet--guess I better get watching!

    • Justinleon LM profile image

      Justinleon LM 4 years ago

      it is very impressive work done by you. All the films are very interesting.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You have described your films well. Love your emphasis on science in sci-fi.

    • Rankography profile image

      Rankography 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens. I liked your different take on the Sci Fi genre. BTW, Moon is such an underrated film -- just excellent. Blessings.

    • BLemley profile image

      Beverly Lemley 4 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Your cool lens would be great with the new Squidoo Sci-Fi theme ~ check it out! B : )

    • irminia profile image

      irminia 4 years ago

      Well, I don't mind some unrealistic stuff in movies - reality changes anyway :)

    • molsfisher profile image

      molsfisher 4 years ago

      Woo! Awesome list! Keep those movies rollin', buddy, and don't forget the ape mask.

    • gregorymbrooks profile image

      gregorymbrooks 4 years ago

      Contact is a great movie! All them are great. It's nice to know that some directors and writers behind movies actually care about their subject matter.

    • TaraWojt profile image

      Tara Wojtaszek 4 years ago

      Great selection. Loved Gattaca and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image
      Author

      The Gutter Monkey 4 years ago

      @futureme lm: Thanks, futureme! And I'm happy you enjoyed the list.

    • TheGutterMonkey profile image
      Author

      The Gutter Monkey 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Whoops! Looks like I was typing faster than I was thinking again. Thanks for keeping a look out â correction applied.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Apollo 18 is also *very good*.

      For some reason, if was overlooked by the general public.

      No much special effects! - other than very real shots of Apollo program.

      99% realistic !..

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Correction: our Sun is 8 light-minutes away, not 8 light-seconds.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      Science and fantasy are closely related. Nothing fascinates more than the ugly truth of reality:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Great movie choices.

    • Vortrek Grafix profile image

      Vortrek Grafix 5 years ago

      Some producers are less worried about substantiating their story line premise scientifically than they are about the entertainment value. That's OK -- after all, there are some fascinating special effects sci-fi flicks out there, but I personally do hold the entertainment value of such flicks to a higher standard than if they reconcile more accurately with facts. Haven't seen many of the movies listed here, but will bookmark and take note. Nice lens.

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 5 years ago

      Thanks for posting this; I too am sick of the dumbification of sci-fi. It's not just in movies, but TV as well. All of the most recent and upcoming sci-fi shows have been so dumbed down, it's not even funny. On Terra Nova, the colony had a small wooden fence to keep out giant, man-eating predators LOLOL!!!

    • futureme lm profile image

      futureme lm 5 years ago

      BTW - just nominated you for LOTD

    • futureme lm profile image

      futureme lm 5 years ago

      Great stuff. My son and I were just discussing 'lazy plots' that don't take into account the science. Will watch minority report... thanks. It is strange how the background work to a film filters through to the final product and makes it so much better.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Excellent lens. I've always like Science Fiction movies for the fact that they are often based on truth or at least the possibility of truth at some point in the future.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      Great write-up! I always wonder when I'm watching movies, "Could that really happen?"

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      Wow! When I was in my teens I couldn't read enough science fiction. I think I overdosed because I moved on to other things and never really went back. Many of the books and movies you mention are new to me but you've rekindled (no pun intended - I read "real" books :) ) my interest for sure.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      This is really cool, because I have often wondered if the things mentioned in science fiction books were real. Thanks for the great selection.

    • magictricksdotcom profile image

      magictricksdotcom 5 years ago

      Very interesting "take" on science fiction movies. Made me think.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting list of possible and plausible Sci-fi movies! :)

    • pcgamehardware profile image

      pcgamehardware 5 years ago

      Very cool lens, thought provoking and clever.

      Liked and Blessed... :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Great idea for a lens - thanks for sharing! I'll have to check a few of these out! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Actually, Jupiter's moon, Europa, isn't the only possible place where there may be life on a world other than Earth. New speculation is that one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, may also harbor life as organic compounds have been found to be spewing out of the geysers in the south polar region.

    • Mistl profile image

      Mistl 5 years ago

      I am also a big fan of minority report and this list in general is very interesting! :)

    • MargaretJeffreys profile image

      MargaretJeffreys 5 years ago

      I love Minority Report, and you've given me a few more films to see. Great lens!

    • zillermil profile image

      zillermil 5 years ago

      Moon doesn't get enough respect. What a great movie.

    • profile image

      Science-Fiction-Fan 5 years ago

      Great write up of Realistic Science Fiction movies (Primer is my favourite)

    • iWriteaLot profile image

      iWriteaLot 5 years ago

      Awesome lens! And lots of movies I've never seen. I'm gonna start with 'Moon' I think. 3 years ALONE on the moon?! Sounds very intriguing. Well done!

    • kaposzta profile image

      kaposzta 5 years ago

      Wow, fantastic lens! I haven't heard of some of these movies, I have to watch them :)

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