The Best and Worst Sci-Fi War Films

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Science Fiction War Films Are Also War Films


There's been some debate within the small very niche "war film" fanboy community about whether to include the likes of Star Wars, Starship Troopers, and other science fiction spectacles in the war film genre, a genre normally reserved for the like of Saving Private Ryan and .

But I say a war is a war is a war.  The theme of war films is armed conflict, of battles, of armies clashing.  Whether this occurs in ancient Rome, World War II, or outer space makes no difference.

So without further are the best and worst Science Fiction War Films!  (Please note, this is not a list of sci-fi films, but sci-fi war films!...This is a war movies site, after all.)

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Star Wars Saga (1977 - Present)

Star Wars.

The Best & The Worst!

I've been told that I can't write about Star Wars because it's not a war film.  I disagree.  The title says it all:  It's about a war in the stars.  (A war that occurred very long ago, in a faraway place, purportedly.)

Star Wars holds the unique position of being one of the few films (or franchises) to simultaneously earn badges declaring it "the best" and "the worst."  But how else to fairly represent such an uneven history of content?

Throughout the six films in the franchise (soon to be eleven films after Disney is done with its intended run), the saga has delivered the goods (The Empire Strikes Back) and made audiences cringe (The Phantom Menace).

Still, there's something about the saga that a fanboy just can't shake.  After being (mostly) horrified by the prequels, the simple news that Disney is preparing not just another trilogy of films, but also two stand-alone films (purportedly to focus on a young Han Solo and Boba Fett), I immediately felt a surge of excitement and anticipation.

While individually the films may differ wildly in quality of content, nonetheless, the Force remains strong with this franchise.

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Aliens (1986)


The Best!

The second in the Aliens franchise, the one directed by James Cameron, the one with the Colonial Marines, is still the best.  And it's the best, in large part, because of the film's militarization, the intensity brought on by a cast of Colonial Marines (including a young Bill Paxton), whom - like Jarheads everywhere - are apparently still riotous and overtly aggressive even in the future.  And also features not one, but multiple Aliens, creatures that remain one of the all time best nemesis developed in all of cinematic history.

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Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day.

The Worst!

As mentioned in my article on science fiction war movie weapons, the alien flying saucers basically are well...just big flying saucers with an equally big laser gun.  As viewers, we know the aliens are timing their attack, getting into position before they start firing, but why they do this is unknown given that the alien crafts have force fields that wholly repel all attempts at counter-attack.  The worst part though is the ending where the Americans win the day by uploading a virus into the alien computer.  Yes, you read that right:  A virus which can be stored on a Mac and a thumb drive is plugged into the alien mainframe and crashes their system.  Apparently, the alien computers read Earth computer languages.  That ending alone was enough to ruin the film for me.

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Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers.

The Worst!

While this film (and the subsequent straight to DVD sequels that followed) have a consistent following, mostly due to the film's intentional satire and campiness, and despite my namesake being similar to the film's protagonist (Johnny Rico), I've never been a big fan of the film.  (Instead, I've long preferred the Heinlein book on which the film is loosely based.)  And my distaste for the film is based solely on my inability to engage in the very necessary, "Suspension of Disbelief."  Specifically, my inability is based on the tactics used by the military in the film, which seems entirely focused on sending out infantry soldiers with weapons that appear to be largely ineffective to battle huge swarms of giant man-eating insects.  Anyone ever hear of a mortar?  Or an airstrike?  Or how about just dropping nukes from low orbit?  (Sure the film features some of this, but I just can't shake the over reliance on an infantry force, which, I might add, gets largely decimated over the course of the film.)  

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Soldier (1998)


The Worst!

Kurt Russell's failed science fiction soldier movie wants to be a sort of Mad Max from space, a minimalist anti-hero who rarely speaks.  The film has an intriguing premises:  In the future, super soldiers are raised from birth, not unlike the Spartans of ancient Greece, to be extreme soldiers.  Growing up in a perpetual military environment, these super soldiers become emotionally stunted.  Russell plays one such soldier, a hardened combat veteran who find out he's being replaced by soldiers that are genetically engineered to be virtual psychopaths, without any emotion.  Russell's soldier protagonist is almost killed by one of these new soldiers and is left for dead on a wasteland planet where he eventually makes his way to a human settlement who nurse him back to health; as it would turn out, these humans are having a problem with the corporation that manages the new line of super soldiers.  Of course, a re-match between Russell and the soldiers that replaced him is inevitable.

The film's main problem is that Russell is such an unlikeable protagonist that as viewers we don't really care much about him.  Russell's protagonist is mostly as unlikeable as the genetically engineered psychopaths that replaced him.  Only speaking a few lines of dialogue across the whole movie, the audience never gets to understand if Russell actually has a "soft inner self" or not.  By the film's end though, we also mostly don't care.

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Battlefield Earth (2000)

Battlefield Earth.

The Worst!

This film is, just perhaps, the worst film I've ever seen.  Of any genre.  It's horrible in so many ways.  It has a horrible story, a horrible script, horrible special effects, horrible direction, horrible sets, horrible acting, horrible camera work.  It's awful.  Like really, really, really, really, really bad.

When watching this movie, it became a sort of torturous endurance contest, not unlike Ranger school.  When I left the film, I had a pounding headache in my temples.

There are some films that are so bad they are good.  You know it's a crap film, but it's fun to make fun of and it provides some silly entertainment in its own bad way.  Not here.  Here it's only headache inducing awfulness.

Did I mention this is a very bad film? 

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War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds.

The Best!

Spielberg's attempt at an Earth invasion film (alien's attempting to terraform the planet, again!) is fun, and visually spectacular.  The film has its detractors, but I'm a fan.  While not a perfect film, it has competent actors, a serviceable story, great special effects, and wisely focusing on just a father and his children allows the story to stay intimate against a backdrop that's massive in scope (the U.S. military's attempt to repel the invasion occurs all around them in the background.)  The film's only fault is its ending, which is a bit too tidy and neat all of the sudden, as if Spielberg realized he ran out of running time and decided to wrap things up in two minutes.

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Avatar (2009)


The Best!

James Cameron's Avatar was something special when it was released.  A huge, big screen spectacle made for 3D from the ground up.  Follows the classic "Going Native" storyline where a character from a dominant military culture learns to accept the simplicity and spirituality of a less technologically advanced indigenous culture and switches sides.  Sort of a futuristic Dances With Wolves.  Still, the film is exciting, and the production values are, of course, unsurpassed.

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Battle L.A. (2011)

Battle LA.

The Worst!

This alien assault on planet Earth with intentions to terra-form the planet is the oldest story in the book.  The film wisely just focuses on a squad of Marines trying to cross Los Angels during the alien invasion, leaving the larger scale military campaign to play in the background.  Still, the film could at least provide us with some context for how the rest of the planet and/or the country is faring.  In trying to keep the story small in scope, it almost becomes too intimate of a film for something as grandiose as an alien invasion.  And, of course, there aren't any characters we care about, the aliens seem to be fairly unimaginative, and the film fails to elicit any sense of awe or wonder (hey, this is an alien invasion after all!)

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow.

The Best!

This 2014 Tom Cruise film offers up every soldier's dream:  The ability to repeat battles until they are won.  The film features Cruise stuck in a time warp, every time he dies, he starts the previous day over again, re-living the same battle over and over.  And eventually, he gets very good at fighting this battle.  (As you would, if you had to live it a few hundred times, and had the ability to almost have a muscle memory recall of how the elements of the battlefield moved about.)  The film is exciting, thoughtful, and makes the most of it's sci-fi time looping premises.

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Your Citation
Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst Sci-Fi War Films." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2017, Rico, Johnny. (2017, March 1). The Best and Worst Sci-Fi War Films. Retrieved from Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst Sci-Fi War Films." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).