Science Fiction Movies

science fiction

science fiction, literary genre in which a background of science or pseudoscience is an integral part of the story. Although science fiction is a form of fantastic literature, many of the events recounted are within the realm of future possibility, e.g., robots, space travel, interplanetary war, invasions from outer space.

Science fiction is generally considered to have had its beginnings in the late 19th cent. with the romances of Jules Verne and the novels of H. G. Wells. In 1926, Hugo Gernsback founded the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, devoted exclusively to science fiction, particularly to serious explorations into the future. Good writing in the field was further encouraged when John W. Campbell, Jr., founded Astounding Science Fiction in 1937. In that magazine much attention was paid to literary and dramatic qualities, theme, and characterization; Campbell "discovered" and popularized many important science fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov, Frederic Brown, A. E. van Vogt, Lewis Padgett, Eric Frank Russell, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, Robert Heinlein, Raymond F. Jones, and Robert Sheckley.

Science fiction has established itself as a legitimate branch of literature. C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet (1938) used science fiction as a vehicle for theological speculation, and works such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Cat's Cradle (1963) demonstrate the particular effectiveness of the genre as an instrument of social criticism. Science-fiction literature anticipates and comments on political and social concerns, and a variety of science-fiction subgenres have emerged: feminist science fiction; disaster novels and novels treating the world emerging from a disaster's wake; stories postulating alternative worlds; fantastic voyages to "inner space" ; and "cyberpunk" novels set in "cyberspace," a realm where computerized information possesses three dimensions in a "virtual reality."

The rich variety of notable science-fiction writing to emerge since the "classic" work of Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury includes Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) and its sequels, which conjured up a desert world where issues of ecology, ethics, and human destiny and evolution were played out; Philip K. Dick's satirical and philosophical vision of postnuclear war southern California in novels such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and Valis (1981); the apocalyptic disaster fiction of J. G. Ballard, including The Crystal World (1966) and Vermilion Sands (1971); the rigorously science-based works of Poul Anderson, such as Tau Zero (1970) and The Boat of a Million Years (1989); Brian Aldiss's Greybeard (1964), in which nuclear weapons have created a world without children, and Helliconia trilogy (1982–85), concerning a planet where seasons last more than 2,000 years; Michael Crichton's best-selling science-fiction suspense novels, particularly The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990); William Gibson's evocations of urban "cyberpunk" desolation in novels such as Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988); Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives, a series of four novels (1979–83) that explores the possibilities of a feminist utopia; and the writing of Ursula Le Guin, who has imagined ecological utopias in works such as Always Coming Home (1985) and The Word for World is Forest (1986).

Over recent decades, science fiction has become popular in the nonliterary media, including film, television, and electronic games. Star Wars (1977) and its sequels and prequel, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) were among the most financially successful motion pictures ever produced.


See H. Harrison and B. W. Aldiss, ed., Astounding-Analog Reader (1973); B. W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973); B. Stableford, Masters of Science Fiction (1981); N. Barron, ed., Anatomy of Wonder (1981); E. Rabkin, ed., Science Fiction (1983); J. Gunn, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1988); E. James and F. Mendelsohn, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Science Fiction Movies: Selected full-text books and articles

Science Fiction Film By J. P. Telotte Cambridge University Press, 2001
Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World By Peter Szendy; Will Bishop Fordham University Press, 2015
The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film By Steven M. Sanders University Press of Kentucky, 2008
Sound Design & Science Fiction By William Whittington University of Texas Press, 2007
SF: the Other Side of Realism: Essays on Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction By Thomas D. Clareson Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1971
Librarian's tip: "A Short Tragical History of the Science Fiction Film" begins on p. 248
Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films By Cyndy Hendershot Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999
Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction By Gary Westfahl Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Part II "The Cinema of Space"
Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth, and Ideology in Popular American Film By Joel W. Martin; Conrad E. Ostwalt Jr Westview Press, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time" and Chap. 7 "With Eyes Uplifted: Space Aliens as Sky Gods"
Eros in the Mind's Eye: Sexuality and the Fantastic in Art and Film By Donald Palumbo Greenwood Press, 1986
Librarian's tip: Chap. 16 "The Power of the Force: Sex in the Star Wars Trilogy" and Chap. 17 "Sexism in Space: The Freudian Formula in Star Trek"
From Trauma to Paranoia: Nuclear Weapons, Science Fiction and History By Hendershot, Cyndy Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 32, No. 4, December 1999
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction By Edward James; Farah Mendlesohn Cambridge University Press, 2003
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