City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

JG Ballard’s Top Ten Sci-Fi Films

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As reported in Wednesday’s Independent newspaper, JG Ballard’s top ten:

1. Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
2. Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981)
3. The Man Who Fell To Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)
4. Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974)
5. Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968)
6. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1963)
7. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
8. The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957)
9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
10. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

A good, if predictable, list. Funny there’s no real ‘inner space’ movies in there (save Solaris?), given the author. Just thank god that S*** W*** nonsense isn’t in it. Personally, I’d chuck The Day The Earth Caught Fire, La Jettée, 2001, Dawn of the Dead and a few more in there, probably at the expense of numbers 2, 5, 8 and 9, but such is the joy of lists.


8 responses to “JG Ballard’s Top Ten Sci-Fi Films”

  1. Jimmy Avatar

    Enemy Mine would definitely be at the top of my list! Enemy castaways on a strange planet, political and social commentary…what more could you ask for in a sci-fi film?


  2. peterme Avatar

    Is there more pretentious claptrap than Alphaville. I think not. Snoozeworthier a film is hard to find!
    And La Jetee is an interesting formalist exercise, but not much of a movie.
    And definitely not better than Mad Max 2 (or, as we Yanks call it, The Road Warrior).
    And no Metropolis?
    Blade Runner?
    The Terminator? (Probably the best 80s sci-fi. The sequel doesn’t even come close.)
    Forbidden Planet (Creatures of the ID!)


  3. César Avatar

    What, no Bladerunner?


  4. Colin Avatar

    Alphaville – luverly, not surprising that Ballard loves it. Initially surprised at the absence of THX1138, but then perhaps it’s too simplistic a narrative and takes itself too seriously. On rereading the list, it seems a tad underwhelming. Mad Max, Close Encounters? Solaris rather than Stalker? It ultimately emphasises that there should be a Ballard-based movie in this world (and I’m not talking about Empire Of The Sun). Tarkovsky himself might have done a decent job. Cheers, Colin.


  5. marty Avatar

    I’m surprised there haven’t been more Ballard film adaptations other than Crash and Empire of the Sun. I’d love to see a film version of High Rise (Amazon UK), (great analysis here), probably my fave Ballard story so far, and with arguably the greatest opening line in the whole of literature:
    “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
    BBC 4 did a great adaptation, recently shown on BBC2, called Home, of the Ballard short story the Enormous Space, about a man, Gerald Ballantyne, who decides to see how long he can last without leaving the house.
    All the familiar Ballardian tropes are here – the character thinly disguised alter-ego of Ballard, middle class, adulterous, and with mental instability, spatial anxiety, (sub)-urban angst and more gratuitous pet cuisine. Excellent, and with a terrific performance from Antony Sher as Ballantyne.
    Someone should try making a film of Concrete Island (Amazon UK), a book which unfortunately couldn’t live up to the promise of it’s back cover blurb:
    “A 35-year-old architect is driving home from his London office when his car swerves and crashes onto a traffic island lying below three converging motorways. Uninjured, he climbs the embankment to seek help, but no one will stop for him and he is trapped on the island, where he remains.”


  6. Dan Avatar

    Oh this one could run and run.
    Oi Merholz! J’adore Alphaville! ‘Tis not snoozesome at all. It certainly has a different pace to the latest Vin Diesel flick, but that is A Good Thing, and in this context, pretension is probably a good thing too (not that that film is, really – you saying Godard is a ‘pretender’ when it comes to cinema?!). Likewise, La Jettée is a formalist experiment, yes, and therefore a great film, see?!
    Good call RE Metropolis, though. Deffo. And I suppose Blade Runner would be up there, yes … Though then Akira springs to mind, just in terms of a better evocation of an Eastern-influenced info-overload of a future city …
    As for Robocop, it’s great fun with some smart touches but not exactly deeeeep. I’d rather have Sleeper in there!
    Or Rollerball, maybe. Or Silent Running anyone? I’m tempted, somewhat mischievously, to suggest Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle and Playtime – in the scifi as ‘stretched versions of now’ definition.
    Cheers Colin, and thanks Marty. I too would love to see High Rise filmed … I guess the issue with filming Ballard is who, amongst today’s directors, is talented enough to do a proper adaptation, rather than a simple filming of a screenplay? But agreed, that BBC4’s version of Home was excellent. I’d love to see someone take on The Unlimited Dream Company, but christ knows how.


  7. David Avatar

    Ballard is certainly a big fan of La Jetée: he wrote an essay about it, which is in his User’s Guide to the Millennium collection (I think there’s also a similar list of his favourite sci-fi films in the book, but my copy’s in storage at the moment, so can’t check).


  8. Colin Avatar

    Proper adaptation? I still recall the feeling of disappointment experienced on seeing Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. I had so dreamed of something as structurally cataclysmic as the book. That audacity was singularly lacking, but perhaps inevitably so. There was another version of Lunch I seem to vaguely recall seeing which featured Ornette Coleman or am I mixing that up with some kind of film featuring his Chappaqua Suite? In my vague memory it was very self-indulgent b&w 60s claptrap. I’m whittering about Burroughs because of Marty’s mention of Crash which I’d quite forgotten – probably for much the same reason. That let-down again of seeing such a fascinating book ill-served by a director one might hope would do better. I do think any proper version of Ballard – or Burroughs – would require a great directorial stylist. Someone with real guts and absolutely no regard for the box office… I loved those quotes from the books – they reveal the author’s wonderful if bone-dry humour. Cheers, Colin.


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