Definition of Science Fiction Movies

Why do we rack our brains to come up with a definition of science fiction movies? Why even bother? We all know an SF movie when we see one. So why then?

It is much easier to decide which movies belong to science fiction genre, and which do not, if we have some kind of a definition to go by.

Did you know...

the term Science Fiction was first used in William Wilson's book of essays called A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject published in 1851.
Hugo Gernsback, who started the fist science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926, is more commonly credited as a creator of this term. However, he preferred the term "scientifiction".

It surely comes in handy when we try to put together a list of best science fiction movies.

Definition of science fiction also helps to dust away the cobwebs created by various misconceptions which linger around this movie genre.

It's so easy to say something like:
"It is just for kids or nerds or ...." (feel free to fill in the blank with another label) and
"Ohh, it is all about special effects, ray guns and aliens." or
"It is just about mad scientists who invent ray guns to zap aliens."

I am sure you heard them all before. But we know that science fiction movies have to offer much, much more.

Actually, the complexity of this genre is the main reason why it is harder to define than any other movie genre.

A definition of science fiction movies has to cover a lot of ground. It has to show all aspects of the genre - including various sub-genres and themes - without making it too broad or too narrow.

It sounds like it's as hard to define as love, go figure.

Which makes it a perfect challenge for SFM Explorers! Do you have a favorite definition of science fiction? Share it and discuss it on the SF Movie Forum!

Rod Serling used to say:
"Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible."

Our two cents worth...

Science fiction movies are movies with thought-provoking stories which explore topics like:

  • Known and unknown worlds which include everything from distant alien worlds to microcosmos and other dimensions.
  • Known and unknown time periods future, past and alternative history.
  • Scientific discoveries and advanced technology which cover medical (new viruses or cures, genetic engineering) or biological (mutations, new species, alien lifeforms) breakthroughs, robots, time machines, virtual reality and alien technology.
  • Social issues which include topics such as utopian or dystopian societies, themes which explore what it means to be human or how technology can affect society and individuals.

Considering an amount of imagination involved, the key element of science fiction genre is plausibility.

Every SF movie has to provide explanations - even bad ones - why things happen the way they do. Otherwise it slips into a realm of fantasy.

Here are some interesting views and definitions:

Arthur C. Clarke

Science fiction is something that could happen - but usually you wouldn't want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn't happen - though often you wish it would.

Ursula K. Le Guin
[introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1976)]

All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life — science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another.

John Clute
[SF: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (1995)]

SF has never really aimed to tell us when we might reach other planets, or develop new technologies, or meet aliens. SF speculates about why we might want to do these things, and how their consequences might affect our lives and our planet.

Sean Redmond
[Liquid Metal: the science fiction film reader (2004)]

Science fiction is, in essence, a time travel genre. Events either open in the altered past, the transformed present, or the possible future, transporting the reader or viewer to another age, place, dimension or world.


If you have to ask what science fiction is, you'll never know.

Frederik Pohl
["Pohlemic: Mail Call" (1992)]

SF looks toward an imaginary future, while fantasy, by and large, looks toward an imaginary past. Both can be entertaining. Both can possibly be, perhaps sometimes actually are, even inspiring. But as we can't change the past, and can't avoid changing the future, only one of them can be real.

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