In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Science Fiction Film Theory and Criticism

  • Introduction
  • Encyclopedias
  • General Science Fiction Film
  • Periodic Science Fiction Film
  • Feminist Science Fiction Film
  • Race and Science Fiction Film
  • Cyborg/Monster/Other/Zombie and Science Fiction Film
  • Science and Technology and Science Fiction Film
  • Apocalyptic Science Fiction Film
  • Web-Based Resources

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Cinema and Media Studies Science Fiction Film Theory and Criticism
Ritch Calvin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0088


Defining science fiction is a difficult task. The origins of the term reside in the scientific fantasies of technological developments. However, science fiction can be defined as characteristics of the text (or film), as the speculation on or extrapolation from current events, or as a set of reading (or viewing) protocols. However, in common usage, the term science fiction often encompasses a wide range of concerns, including fantasy and horror. Arguably, the origins of all film lie in science fiction. Many of the early, short films by George Méliès, Gaston Velle, Max Fleischer, and others were depictions of trips to the moon or Mars. They speculated about other planets and offered fanciful technologies in order to reach them. However, these early films often had little to do with actual science, technology, or the laws of nature, but were fantastical in nature. Consequently, some critics argue that science fiction film came of age in 1950 with Irving Pichel’s Destination Moon by ushering in a more scientifically grounded age of science fiction films. In actual practice, science fiction film remains quite varied in its focus and topic. Much of the early writing on science fiction film dealt with techniques, with lineage, and with plot summary. A great deal of science fiction film theory and criticism has been rooted in the auteur; that is, it is focused on the creative mind behind the work. Over time, the criticism of science fiction film shifted toward genre theory, a focus on the generic characteristics of science fiction film that both delineates the history of the genre and develops the definitive characteristics. As the number of science fiction films proliferated, and as the number of texts dedicated to its study proliferated, science fiction film theory and criticism has also become more specialized. Some texts consider the history of the genre; some undertake particular thematic considerations (such as a particular author or a particular trope); some utilize and develop a particular ideological or theoretical framework (such as feminism or Marxism); and some analyze significant films within the genre. As the number of science fiction films continues to grow each year, the number of analyses of those films and the number of approaches to those films also increase.


Although encyclopedias of film can be extremely useful, they can also vary greatly in scope and focus. Some encyclopedias attempt a comprehensive overview of the genre (Henderson 2001, Maxford 1997, Young 2000), some offer an examination of only significant or canonical films (Costello 2004, Scalzi 2005, Scarratt 2008), and others provide encyclopedic looks at particular topics within the genre (Rovin 1995). Finally, pParticularly after the introduction of the videocassette, the DVD, and the Internet, some encyclopedias detail the availability of films (Schwartz 1997).

  • Costello, John. Science Fiction Films. New York: Pocket Essentials, 2004.

    A short volume (96 pages) that describes blockbusters, international films, and cult classics.

  • Henderson, C. J. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies: From 1897 to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 2001.

    An alphabetical catalog of approximately 1,300 science fiction films. Includes studio and personnel information and plot summaries. It also notes the availability of the films on DVD or other media. Also includes the author’s opinions on the worth and watchability of each film.

  • Maxford, Howard. The A-Z of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films. London: B. T. Batsford, 1997.

    An alphabetical catalog of science fiction films, actors, directors, and studios.

  • Rovin, Jeff. Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

    Descriptions of all manner of devices (spaceships, robots, computers, and aliens) that have appeared in science fiction film and television.

  • Scalzi, John. The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. London: Rough Guides, 2005.

    From the science fiction novelist Scalzi, this collection offers a history of science fiction film, descriptions of fifty “canonical” science fiction films, and then several short sections on “Icons,” “Crossovers,” “Science,” “Locations,” and “Global” science fiction film.

  • Scarratt, Elaine. Science Fiction Film: A Teacher’s Guide. New York: Auteur, 2008.

    Provides a history of science fiction film, a primer on media studies, and an analysis of science fiction film within the broader film context. It also offers discussions of several iconic films, and a section on teaching students to create and market science fiction film.

  • Schwartz, Carol A. Videohound’s Sci-Fi Experience: Your Quantum Guide to the Video Universe. Detroit: Visible Ink, 1997.

    A guide to the science fiction films available on videotape. Now dated in terms of available films, but certainly of interest to the historian.

  • Young, R. G. The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film: Ali Baba to Zombies. New York: Applause, 2000.

    An alphabetical catalog of nearly nine thousand films. Includes information on writers, directors, and other studio personnel. Also includes plot summaries.

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