With the release of Prometheus, which I haven't seen, a lot of blogs are talking about cerebral science fiction. And for me, nothing has done this better than television. When I looked into making a top list of intelligence sci-fi movies, I was left pretty disappointed with it. I know everyone has their favorites like Donny Darko, but their have been episodes of Star Trek much deeper than that. And for me, few movies really fall into the science fiction genre clearly and are truly thought provoking. But a short list of films I've seen would include Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Also, before anyone jumps on me, I've taken film classes and have pretty much seen every highly praised, artsy / classic science fiction film, like Brazil, Metropolis, and Akira. But none of the story telling has ever affected me as much as the writers of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. So without further ado, here is my top 10 list in no particular order.
Inconstant Moon (The Outer Limits)
A physics professor looks at the moon one night, and it appears much brighter than usual. He concludes that the sun must have gone nova and that he has only the rest of the night before the western hemisphere of the planet will be exposed to it.
It's a Good Life (The Twilight Zone)
Written by one of my favorite writers, Jerome Bixby — who also wrote Man from Earth, this is about a small town held captive by a boy with unimaginable powers. It touches on many philosophical levels and has tons of tension and drama.
Eye of the Beholder (The Twilight Zone)
One of the most classic episodes of science fiction television, period. We are first introduced to a bandaged woman who believes she is completely hideous, and a team of surgeons desperately try to reconstruct her face. This episode challenges us to really think about our instinctive, default positions.
Abduction (The Outer Limits)
Some people may really disagree with this one. And I don't blame them. It's going to be one of those "bad" entries on my list. However, I don't care. There is more here than just a PSA against school shootings. The story involves five students suddenly finding themselves alone and trapped inside their high school. They have no idea why, until an alien being shows up and commands them to choose one to sacrifice in exchange for sparing everyone else.
The episode touched home for me as I was very much like its anti-hero, Cody. It's transformative, introspective, and touching if you give it a chance. It's all about having the courage to express your true emotions and to simply coexist with your fellow man.
The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (The Twilight Zone)
A small community experiences a strange event that causes a complete black out and failing of their technology. The cause is, most likely, alien beings experimenting on mankind. They toy with them and soon the neighborhood breaks down into a paranoid witch hunt.
Stream of Consciousness (The Outer Limits)
In this future world, almost everyone is connected to an Internet like network. It feeds them all the information they ever need directly into their mind. One boy, Ryan, can't use it due to a brain injury. And he's forced to learn through reading, which he is mocked and ridiculed for. He can't even order food in a restaurant as everything is done through the network. I won't give away the rest of the plot, but it's something that is becoming more metaphorical as time progresses, and I think this was intentional.
Dead Man's Switch (The Outer Limits)
In this episode, the Hubble telescope gets an image of an Alien fleet approaching Earth. And several people around the world are sent into these underground bunkers with a kill switch. The mechanism routinely goes off and arms itself. And the inhabitant of the bunker must then get up to disarm it. Communications from their governments eventually stop, and the people inside start to die from mysterious malfunctions. Paranoia eventually sinks in, and the remaining people are left with the biggest decision anyone could ever make.
The Architects of Fear (The Outer Limits)
This is the episode that inspired Alan Moore's ending for Watchmen. A group of scientists transform themselves into alien looking beings with the goal of uniting man kind against an alien invasion. But nothing is ever that simple.
Final Exam (The Outer Limits)
A grad student, probably in nuclear physics or engineering, invents a cold fusion bomb and holds the world hostage, in order to take revenge on the people who've wronged him. This sparked a lot of debate and conversations with everyone from my father to fellow chemistry students, after it aired. And as usual, it digs much deeper than science.
To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone)
I can't really talk much about this one without ruining it. But it pits the two general dichotomies of mankind against each other when faced with alien visitation.