'2001' Writer Arthur C. Clarke's 12 Favorite Sci-Fis (and Where to Watch Them)

Looking for some fundamental science fiction films? This is a good place to start.

In 1964, a young director named Stanley Kubrick had just wrapped production on his seventh feature, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He came to the conclusion that it was time to do something different.

Back then, the science fiction genre had an entirely different credibility than it does today; a movie like Arrival would never have been made, let alone earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. That's because sci-fi was largely comprised of B-movies. Take Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 From Outer Spacefor example—they were cheap, cheesy, and easy to put together on the fly. The audience didn't care if it was believable or prescient; they were merely excited by the opportunity to experience a few frights (and maybe a little sex) in the cinema.

Kubrick wanted to change that. He wanted to create a work of science fiction that had never been done before—something epic and serious, something that encompassed the entire scope of humanity. He determined early on, however, that this is not a task he could accomplish on his own. That's where Arthur C. Clarke enters the picture.

"Plan 9 From Outer Space" Credit: Valiant Pictures

In 1948, Clarke wrote a short story called The Sentinel, which caught Kubrick's eye nearly 20 years after its initial publication and became the basis for 2001. Here's an excerpt from a letter written March 31, 1964, in which Kubrick reaches out to Clarke for the first time:

"I had been a great admirer of your books for quite a time and had always wanted to discuss with you the possibility of doing the proverbial 'really good' science-fiction movie.

My main interest lies along these broad areas, naturally assuming great plot and character:
1. The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.
2. The impact (and perhaps even lack of impact in some quarters) such discovery would have on Earth in the near future.
3. A space probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars."

At this point, Clarke had moved past short fiction and was well known in the public eye. His book Childhood's End had been published in 1951 and was heralded as an instant classic. In fact, Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein were now known as the "Big Three" of science fiction writers. The film medium, however, would be uncharted territory for this elevation in the genre. Clarke agreed to help. 

Over the next four years, Kubrick and Clarke would meet with each other repeatedly to discuss the film. The main idea was that Clarke would write a novel and then Kubrick would adapt it, but both would develop the ideas for the plot as the writing process progressed. Their script was an unnecessarily convoluted collaboration; Kubrick thought that the script should be developed as the book was being developed, with the hope that the two entities would be released in tandem. But it was only a matter of time before the famously controlling Kubrick got on Clarke's nerves. The main issue here was that Kubrick kept wanting rewrite after rewrite from Clarke, even as the movie went into production. Eventually, the novel was released a few months before the movie. 

After spending a lifetime in science fiction, effectively legitimizing the genre in film, a reporter once thought it apt to ask Clarke about his favorite sci-fi movies. To this day, his list holds up as a solid foundation for science fiction filmmakers: 

  1. Metropolis - 1927 (FilmStruck)
  2. Things to Come - 1936 (FilmStruck)
  3. Frankenstein - 1931 (Amazon)
  4. King Kong - 1933 (Amazon)
  5. Forbidden Planet - 1956 (Amazon)
  6. The Thing from Another World - 1951 (Amazon)
  7. The Day the Earth Stood Still - 1951 (Netflix)
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey - 1968 (Amazon)
  9. Star Wars - 1977 (Amazon)
  10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 1980 (Amazon)
  11. Alien - 1979 (Amazon)
  12. Blade Runner - 1982 (Google Play)

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1 Comment

I read everything Clarke wrote when I was a boy. An interesting novel of his to adapt would be Against the Fall of the Night, which he later revised as The City and The Stars. Clarke, unlike Asimov and Heinlein, had poetry in his soul.

March 8, 2017 at 5:02AM, Edited March 8, 5:02AM

Curtis Polk