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October 16, 2007


by Don Rose

The answer seems clear when you look at the sci-fi films released during that magical ten year timespan between 1977 (when the original Star Wars hit theatres) and 1987 (which brought the first Robocop, and the Mel Brooks spoof-fi film that satirizes Star Wars space epics, Spaceballs). I hereby proclaim that the period 1977-1987 must be deemed the greatest decade ever for science fiction films.

As initial evidence for this claim, consider the following 20 movies released between 77 and 87 (listed with title and year of release):

Star Wars 1,2,3 (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi): 77, 80, 83
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 77
Star Trek 1,2,4 (The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home): 79, 82, 87
Superman: 78
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: 78
Blade Runner: 82
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: 82
The Thing: 82
Alien, Aliens: 79, 86
The Terminator: 84
Gremlins: 84
Back to the Future: 85
The Quiet Earth: 85
Brazil: 85
Robocop: 87

What an astonishing collection of solid sci-fi entertainment. All were hits, financially and/or critically. But wait, there's more -- as in many more examples of stellar science fiction movies released between 1977 and 1987, such as these 2o additional films:

The Black Hole: 79
Superman II, III, IV: 80, 83, 87
Flash Gordon: 80

2010: 84
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: 84
Star Trek 3 (The Search for Spock): 84
The Last Starfighter: 84
Dreamscape: 84
Dune: 84
The Philadelphia Experiment: 84
Night of the Comet: 84
Ghostbusters: 84
Enemy Mine: 85
Cocoon: 85
Lifeforce: 85
Predator: 87
Innerspace: 87
Spaceballs: 87

I believe the evidence is clear. The combination of box office popularity and revenue generated (and franchises launched) during these ten years has simply never been matched in any other decade. These films also introduced the most famous sci-fi lines of all time ("May the Force be with you"; "I'll be back"; "Who ya gonna call?"; "E T phone home"; and even a famous line made of music not words -- the five notes heard in Close Encounters).

So why did this period from 1977 to 1987 spawn so many science fiction classics? Perhaps it was the combination of many forces coming together -- the main force being film technology, getting cheaper and better and hitting a technical sweet spot, leading to widespread use of a new generation of special effects, accelerated by the spectacular success of that space spectacular, Star Wars. Perhaps it is also related to the fact that this ten-year timespan brought the rise of the personal computer, from the first simple Apple machines to the IBM PC and the Mac; our nation was falling in love with home technology. Third, it was the age of Voyager - the first spacecraft launched in 77 with its twin launched soon after, exposing our solar system for the first time - and Cosmos - the PBS series that made Carl Sagan a worldwide science star and "billions and billions" a household phrase. Voyager and Cosmos inspired the nation to fall in love with space all over again, a post-SpaceRace post-Apollo renaissance.

Then again, some would simply say Star Wars as the sole reason for the ten-year sci-fi film boom that began 30 years ago. Looking back on it now, Star Wars seemed to arrive out of nowhere, or from some alien cinematic world; it felt so new at the time, so fresh and exciting. Star Wars was the Elvis of sci-fi flicks, popularizing a new filmic form (epic sci-fi adventure laden with hi-tech effects) just as Elvis had popularized a new musical form (rock and roll). Star Wars was born in theatres just weeks before Elvis died; perhaps a torch passed from one legendary innovator to another.

Of course, when it comes to the greatness of the great sci-fi films of 1977-87, you don't really have to worry why. Why not just enjoy some 20/20 hindsight and rent these forty fantastic films, for fun. (Netflix, here I come!)