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When did sci-fi movies stop evolving?

Time to move forward.

Science fiction is one of the finest forms of escapism. Taking its audience to unexplored worlds and introducing technologies beyond people’s wildest dreams, the genre is a consistent source of fun and adventure. From little green men invading the planet to introducing elements of horror, sci-fi seemed to be constantly stretching the limits of the imagination. Until one day, it wasn’t.

When did science fiction movies stop evolving?

Sci-fi movies have been around since the earliest days of film. Audiences immediately took a liking to the wild stories that were being shown. They started off as shorts or serials that proved to be very popular. These early tales also proved to be influential to future filmmakers. It was not long before books were adapted and social commentary was injected into the genre. (Holding a mirror up to society soon became a sci fi trope.)

Initially, the genre was filled with silly B movies. Fodder for late night matinees and drive ins, sci fi movies were seen as something more for children and teens than anything too serious.  The genre never seemed to have anything of consequence to say until director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Personal tastes aside, there is no doubting the lasting influence of the film on sci-fi.

A Space Odyssey seemed to give sci-fi mainstream acceptance while also providing even more inspiration. Already an avenue to look at modern society and the human condition, the films became even more personal. Themes of paranoia and self-doubt crept into the genre. The movies and stories were no longer seen as just a phase kids go through. Things then took an even greater leap with Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien.

When did sci-fi movies stop evolving?

Terror had always been an important part of sci-fi. This was usually seen in cheesy creature features. Alien injected so much terror that people still question whether it five or whether it is horror. This paved the way for a franchise and clones of varying quality. The 1980s began to see the first cracks in the foundation. Fresh off of Star Wars and with visionary filmmakers like James Cameron, the genre seemed ready for a new golden age. The decade did bring fun continuations to Back to the Future and classics like Terminator, but there was little else of note.

The increase of VHS and the easy availability to bring movies home saw an influx of all types of film. Sci-fi was one of the genres at the top of the list. While this was good for consumers, it was not always a good thing for movie fans.  A nonstop barrage of Star Wars knock off‘s, movies that involved dinosaurs in the future, and Mad Max lookalikes hit the video store shelves every week. Clearly, the genre was becoming water down.

Id4 independence day white house GIF on GIFER - by Vizahn

As the 20th century came to a close, things did not get much better. There were outliers like 1996’s Independence Day, but they were usually another installment in a franchise or a reboot. There were not sci-fi movies being released, it just seemed like few stories were being told. And the fresh ones that were being presented were better left unsaid. 

The 21st-century has done little for the genre. Last year is a great example of what sci-fi has become. Two of the most talked about films come from another time. Sputnik is a passable Alien retread while the awesome The Color Out of Space is based on an early 20th century short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Ironically, a genre that was all about presenting the future seems to have become stuck in its past.

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