Frank Herbert's brick of a sci-fi novel defeated efforts to film it in the 1970s, with directors including David Lean, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott attached to the project at one time or another.
It was David Lynch who finally brought Dune's sandworms, space messiahs and desert vistas to the screen, albeit in compromised form – his original cut was three hours long, it was hacked down by the producers and subsequently disowned by the director.
Dune plays fast and loose with Herbert’s novel – while simultaneously requiring viewers to have read it in order to get the references. That makes it a somewhat compromised narrative, but Lynch’s eye for an image makes it a worthwhile viewing experience. Plus you get to see Sting running around the desert in a giant metal codpiece.
22. Silent Running (1972)
If its environmental theme didn't immediately mark Silent Running out as a product of the hippy generation, the film's folksy score featuring Joan Baez clinches it. With plant life on Earth extinct, the only surviving specimens are held in orbit around Saturn – but when orders come through to destroy the geodesic domes, Bruce Dern’s botanist rebels and flees with three robots and his ecological cargo.
Director Douglas Trumbull was inspired to create the film while working on the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where Kubrick’s film was a chilly, sparse vision of space exploration, Trumbull wanted to create a more human film – and despite the fact that for much of the film’s running time, the only person on screen is Dern, Silent Running is a heartfelt, emotional eco-parable. Sci-fi with a conscience.
More after the break...
23. Event Horizon (1997)
Before he found his vocation pitting endless hordes of zombies against Milla Jovovich, director Paul WS Anderson created this gruesome outer-space horror pic, in which an experimental spaceship returns from a trip to another dimension, bringing horrors in its wake.
Not since Alien had a space horror made so many people jump – though where Ridley Scott opted to keep his monsters in the shadows, Anderson floods the screen with gore and disturbing visions of hell. Watch from behind the sofa.
24. Destination Moon (1950)
Like When Worlds Collide, this is a fairly sober tale of space travel for the '50s, depicting a realistic privately-funded space program and Moon shot. Elon Musk would be proud.
With not a flying saucer or rubbery alien in sight, the main dangers confronted by the intrepid astronauts are technical challenges; a shortage of fuel, a crew member lost overboard, and so forth. Think of it as a 1950s version of Gravity or Apollo 13 – and a surprisingly accurate fictional precursor to the Apollo Space Program.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The first Star Trek movie was a sober, philosophical tale that wholly embraced series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian, conflict-free future. It was also achingly slow and a box-office flop.
For the sequel, director Nicholas Meyer had to contend with a tiny budget – reusing sets, costumes and even footage from the first film. Much of the action is confined to the bridges of the starships Enterprise and Reliant – realised using one set; despite those limitations – or perhaps because of them – The Wrath of Khan is a far superior film.
Embracing, rather than ignoring, the advancing age of the crew, and confronting them with a foe from their past in the form of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, the film builds on themes of revenge and sacrifice. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” indeed.