Watching grungy and gray-skied London in Guy Ritchie's action/drama Sherlock Holmes made me think of the future. Ritchie presents the fictional detective as a reflection of the period in which he lived, and as such Robert Downey, Jr. stands out as much for his independent thinking and alternative lifestyle as for his deductive reasoning.

That means he would have fit in very well in the future, or in an alternative today, as well illustrated by the ten films I've chosen for this list. As usual, it's a very personal list, which means I cheat sometimes on the nationality of the film. To me, born and bred in America, these films feel very British, reflecting a very distinct point of view. I'm sure that's more reflective of my own (perhaps misguided) perceptions rather than reality, but at least I've stuck with flicks that are set somewhere in Great Britain, somewhere in time. Are they all great? You be the judge.

1. Children of Men (2006)
My pick for SciFi Squad's The Best of the Decade. Without repeating myself, let me add that the film feels like a James Bond spy thriller in which the world has gone to hell. Clive Owen makes for a very good, tattered, weary 007, no longer interested in bedding or drinking martinis or gambling or chasing after the bad guys. The picture also tilts and narrows its worldview to present conditions after Britain has shut itself off from the world. Once again, the British Empire rules the world -- or, what's left of it.


'Brazil'2. Brazil (1985)
A magnificent cry of anguish and pain, Terry Gilliam's ungainly beast of a flick could easily have been titled 1985, as in: 'George Orwell's nightmare has pretty much come true; now what?' Jonathan Pryce plays the desperate, put-upon everyman character as a drone too dense to know he's a cog in a machine he can't understand. He's surrounded by set pieces that still stun.

3. Quartermass and the Pit (AKA Five Millions to Earth; 1967)
This one still haunts me from the day I first saw it on a little black and white television, reduced to rocking on my knees like a baby. Roy Ward Baker's film explores the aftermath of the discovery of skeletal remains in the London Underground. The remains are "not of this earth."

'The Day the Earth Caught Fire'4. The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Just thinking about this movie makes me sweat. It's a superb exploration of a nation caught between two superpowers whose colossal blunder has set Earth on a path to destruction, featuring many stiff upper lips -- and all other body parts -- perspiring like crazy.

5. 28 Days Later (2002)
England is again isolated, this time because the "Rage" virus has torn the country apart, literally. From the empty streets of London to the ruined splendor of a lordly mansion, Danny Boyle's zombies run rampant and rend open the soul of the country and its people.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)
Disowned by creator Alan Moore (but of course) and dismissed by many critics, the movie has a sharp edge and several explosive sequences that made it a sheer, downright pleasure to watch and rewatch. The ideas and ideology, unfortunately, have been dynamited into oblivion. Still, it's grand fun in a faux-subversive kind of way.

7. Night Caller From Outer Space (1965)
What if sex-starved aliens landed, not in a wheat field in Kansas, but in London in 1961. I think you'll agree that scientists are sexy people, which makes for a combustible combination, in a movie that considers the possibilities of interspecies mating.

'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Approaching the film completely cold, without any personal knowledge of Douglas Adams' book or the TV series that followed, may explain why I found Garth Jennings' flick fresh, weird, and funny. It strikes me as a rare, good-hearted, genial, genuine adventure comedy that may have tried the patience of hardcore devotees yet strikes a very welcome chord.

9. The Day of the Triffids (1962)
I confess that it's been many years since I've seen this chestnut, so chances are it doesn't hold up to my nostalgic remembrances, but it's another example of a film where the basic premise is sufficiently compelling: a meteor shower blinds nearly all of mankind, except for our hapless hero. Oh, yes, and aliens have landed under the cover of the meteor shower and plan to devour the world. Or whatever it is that plants do when they conquer a world.

10. Lifeforce (1985)
Guilty pleasure? Guilty as charged. Mathilda May's naked performance is, of course, the most eye-catching and most memorable -- the way she strides through all the fusty British stereotypes just cracks me up. And Steve Railsback's wildly miscalibrated performance is a problem. But you've also got Peter Firth and Patrick Stewart and a tremendous amount of entertainment value.

Mathilda May in 'Lifeforce'

categories Sci-Fi