Cinematic Discussion: When Does Sci-Fi Become Fantasy?

September 17, 2009

Still from Matrix Revolutions

Note: For this discussion, the definitions below are localized to the medium of the motion picture and the genres of science fiction and fantasy films only. Though there are many examples in television, literature, and even video games, here is not the place for such examples to be entered as evidence.

We can probably all agree on the broad-stroke definitions and differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy. Where fantasy, at its most generalized, contains elements of magic, the supernatural, and a plot centralized and dependent on one, the other, or both, science fiction differentiates itself by utilizing elements that, while extraordinary and often times imaginary, are grounded in the basis of actual, established scientific law or scientifically-postulated theory. In other words, Rod Serling's to be precise, "Fantasy is the impossible made probable; science fiction is the improbable made possible." Using these definitions, it's often very easy to differentiate one film from another (a process that most probably is so easy and devoid of any real brainpower that discussing it at all may seem a bit silly) and dub it either sci-fi or fantasy.

As I'm writing, I'm listening to Nicholas Hooper's orchestral score for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (iTunes) -- a film that, without doubt, is firmly born and resident of the fantasy genre. Earlier this summer we bore witness to the big screen-release of the re-imagined, franchise reboot of Gene Roddenberry's classic sci-fi television show Star Trek. Again, an easy fit into its respective genre. As are the likes of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (fantasy), 2001: A Space Odyssey (sci-fi), The Chronicles of Narnia (fantasy), Contact (sci-fi), the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Pan's Labyrinth, Stardust, Edward Scissorhands, King Kong (all fantasy), and Sphere, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Stargate, Soylent Green, Jurassic Park (all sci-fi). All of the films above (and many more, of course) are firmly rooted in the conventions of either the fantasy or science fiction genres.

But it's not these films that I want to discuss.

When the the line separating fantasy and science fiction becomes a bit blurred, when each genre begins to feel the creep of the other straying into its genome, the categorization process may be more difficult than one has previously realized. Of course, the first question that must be addressed is also the most irrelevant: Why does it matter? Well, does it? To most people, probably not. To most, strolling past the line of movie posters at their local theatre, using the broadest of definitions will always be enough -- "Look, a dragon! Fantasy. I hate fantasy." "Look, a spaceship! Sci-fi. Nerds." But to some, to those reading this especially, the debate of whether a film is more stably balanced on the edge of science fiction or if it has toppled into fantasy will undoubtedly arise. And more often than not, the film in question will always travel from science fiction to fantasy, not vice-versa. As science fiction has more stringent qualifications, fantasy acts as more of a catch-all than its lab-coat wearing cousin. But it's this process of discussion that is able to upend the balancing act.

In fact, this article was born of exactly such a debate. A while back, Genevieve "ScarletScribe" Blaber and I were at odds over James Cameron's upcoming film Avatar. On the surface, the film could easily be placed in either genre. I suggested, and still believe, that because of the catalytic conceit of the film itself is one born of science fiction, that the entire film is therefore science fiction. That is to say that discovering intelligent life outside our own solar system and the science (albeit the fringe-science) of consciousness transferal are both sci-fi markers. Genevieve's opposing argument was that this just isn't enough to label the film as sci-fi, as (from the looks of it) most of the film takes place on an alien world, with impossible (at least by our science) creatures, with a story grounded in the fantastical, not the possible. That the sci-fi percentage is far below that of the fantasy elements in the film.

So, is that the gauge, then? Mere numbers, a checklist of sci-fi and fantasy elements compared to one another, whichever has most triumphs? What of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Vanilla Sky? Both films are very much not of the generalized science fiction tradition, but both are, at their nuclei, definitely science fiction films. Without the science fiction elements seen in each (both having to do with futuristic technologies that are able to erase or re-write a part of one's memory), the films would have been unable to explore the more traditional dramatic elements of relationships, destiny, and happiness. So, then, to label a film as science fiction can not be solely based on the sheer amount of science fiction presented within.

And this holds true when applied to fantasy. Synecdoche, New York, another Charlie Kaufman script, lends itself perfectly as evidence. The film, a heart-wrenching exploration of mortality, family, regret, artistic struggle, and creation, could not have delved so deeply and to such affect without its fantastical elements. It is, of course, scientifically impossible to build a full-scale replica of New York City inside New York City itself and to continue to build full-scale replicas of each interior New York City exponentially within each subsequent "city." It is pure fantasy that a woman's house would be perpetually ablaze. And though small plot points, they are crucial and the film must therefore be considered fantasy.

Just having exited a summer filled with excellent additions to the science fiction tradition (Star Trek, District 9, Moon, to name a few), what of the classics before them? The discerning reader may have wondered why Star Wars, of all films, was left out of paragraph two. Well, is Star Wars science fiction? "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" certainly doesn't breed immediate thoughts of science fiction. Again, the possibility of intelligent life outside our own solar system is a definite scientific possibility, space travel being even more concrete, but space travel that's faster than light remains fantasy. As do light sabers, mind you. So, like Avatar, where does one place Star Wars on the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum? Does setting a film in space instead of in some fantastical, alternate Earth make the adventure, the encounters, the story any less fantasy? Planet of the Apes -- fantasy or science fiction? Armageddon -- fantasy or science fiction? Terminator -- fantasy or science fiction? 28 Days Later? Minority Report? The Matrix? Wall-E?

When applying the tactics above, it's not so easy. While the genre of science fiction may be overfilled, it's no wonder why. As a brand, science fiction remains a much more acceptable descriptor than fantasy. Science fiction films, while impossible now, always provide its viewers with glimpses into the future of what may be. However tenuous, that connection alone is enough to solidify one's suspension of disbelief. In fantasy, it's much more difficult to earn an audience's suspension of disbelief because, at its core, what's being presented to them is not, and will never be, possible. Hence why, when compared to science fiction, there are so few fantasy films. And with that in mind, it's also much easier to understand why films that may very well be fantasy brush so closely against the line of sci-fi. So, perhaps when asked to name a few of your favorite fantasy films, you'll now have a newly refreshed list of former sci-fi stalwarts to add.

So, when does sci-fi become fantasy? What amount of each is necessary to tip the scales in favor of one or the other? In my opinion, the amount is insignificant, it's the ultimate effect of the element that matters most. A film becomes science fiction when present science can not replicate what is seen, but with all probability may be able to do so in the future. A science fiction film becomes fantasy when even the most speculative of sciences can no longer account for or explain the elements within a film. And a film that teeters between the two must be categorized as one or the other when its most crucial plot device, the story element without which the story would cease to exist is identified as either science fiction or fantasy, which will therefore dictate the film itself as either/or.

But, as always, it's all up for discussion. And now, it's your turn. Let the debate continue…

Find more posts: Discuss, Editorial, Opinions



What about a third catagory? Sci-Fantasy?

S on Sep 17, 2009


Just as a rule I have always considered Fantasy = older simplier technologically based cultures and environments while Sci-fi = More technologically advance. Fantasy is elves and wizards and swords and spells. Scifi is robots and aliens and space ships and lasers.

Stevo on Sep 17, 2009


Great stuff Brandon, but I need to point out that my argument was only that the science was a mere excuse for the premise, and that since it and its far-reaching effects weren't the focus (and the science wasn't even plausible) the movie shouldn't be labeled as sci-fi. Basically, it's a fantasy film with a flimsy scientific premise that aims to make people who aren't comfortable with fantasy movies watch it. In other words, "I'm not watching make-believe, I'm watching smart science-fiction!" I should add here that I love both genres which is why I don't like mislabeling one as the other, except for when they actually do mesh.

Genevieve on Sep 17, 2009


Planet of the Apes — fantasy or science fiction? Armageddon — fantasy or science fiction? Terminator — fantasy or science fiction? 28 Days Later? Minority Report? The Matrix? Wall-E? all sci fi by the way. come on Alex you knew that.

JEFFREY on Sep 17, 2009


What's wrong with calling it science fantasy? That's certainly where Star Wars falls.

RC on Sep 17, 2009


I say, when the line between Sci-fi and fantasy becomes too hazy. Call it fiction! However I've always argued that Fantasy is in itself Sci-Fi. I mean, is it safe to say that Fantasy literature came before Sci-Fi? Sci-fi is clearly something that arose out of technological advances towards the later years of humanity. Also, I believe that magic, or the manipulation of the laws of physics, could still have a scientific base to a certain degree, which is why i think that Fantasy is in itself Science Fiction. I think fantasy is a term that should be blended with the term Sci-Fiction, and from Sci-fiction we can sub-categorize certain flicks like Star Trek vs. Harry Potter in order to appeal to the audiences of each. If you think about it, the Sci-Fi Channel is already a step ahead of us. They very openly call themselves the SCI-FI channel when in reality (reality doesn't seem to be the right word to use in this discussion) they play a mixture of "fantasy flicks" as well as "sci-fi" flicks. hmmmmmmm.

judgejobrown on Sep 17, 2009


im into hard sci fi, fantasy is bullshit

real talk on Sep 17, 2009


Jeffrey: First of all, check the byline. Second, all of those films are most definitely NOT sci-fi. Planet of the Apes, based on what I discuss, is fantasy. Armageddon may be sci-fi. Terminator is fantasy. 28 Days Later, fantasy. Minority Report, fantasy. The Matrix -- a really tough call. Wall-E, sci-fi. Discuss amongst yourselves....

Brandon Lee Tenney on Sep 17, 2009


Ah, never thought how Star Wars might be considered fantasy with "impossible" elements like the Force. Then again, who's to say what will be possible or impossible? Perhaps sci-fi just tries to offer an explanation, but I guess Star Wars does just that with the midiclorians (sp?)... Maybe it was Lucas' attempt to make it more sci-fi than fantasy. Even here he says he wanted the force "based in science" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midiclorians#Midi-chlorians_and_the_Chosen_One

BL on Sep 17, 2009


i would argue that that planet of the apes is Sci-Fi... its based on relativity, as one approaches the speed of light they will age much slower relative to the time as if they were standing on the earth... and if a people were nuked back to the stone age in the meantime who is to say apes wouldn't evolve beyond them in 2006 years you would have theoretically missed. 28 days later i wouldn't as either... to me its based more in sci-fi but is a zombie action film (though not your traditionally slow moving zombies) minority report i'd base in sci fi... though the precogs weren't explained you could have technology to read peoples minds armageddon isn't really either... its more action/drama based on a rocket/meteor... like apollo 13 The matrix if I had to describe it to someone as either would be sci fi and so would wall E

Janny on Sep 17, 2009


fantasy = unexplainable scientifically "magic" in "lands before time" scifi = futuristic or "past" civilizations where every single little thing can be scientifically explained in a technical way (the force = midichlorians in blood stream of jedi...lose limbs = lose power) and so forth.

buggy166 on Sep 17, 2009


This example came to mind when reading the article: Pitch Black = Science Fiction Chronicles of Riddick = Sci-Fi Fantasy I think when you're dealing in the realm of possible scientific advances (space travel to meet new planets and creatures) then it can be thought of as science fiction. When things get a little more ethereal or "other-worldly" (ghosts, magic, superpowers, etc) then it starts delving into the realm of fantasy.

Joshua Lane on Sep 17, 2009


Hey Brandon, good article! Very interesting. I think that the purpose for the two are the same. Fantasy started from folk tales when people told stories of mystical things to explain their world. Today, Fantasy in the typical sense is more just for the fun of it. Science Fiction is the folk tales of today. Our understanding of the world is through science so therefore we mystify it in order to fill in the gaps I guess. So I think they are the same. Whether it be Dragons or Warp Speed doesn't matter. It's something to us that is impossible that is created to say something about our reality.

Mike Gizienski on Sep 17, 2009


Star Wars , to my mind, resides in the fantasy genre. This is because of a central plot device which relies on a form of spirituality, in this case, the force. The technology is subservient and is in fact the enemy. The Matrix lies in the same genre although the style is more sci-fi (or maybe Kung Fu), the references to The One and the messianistic storyline echo Star Wars in many ways. The likes of Minority Report, Blade Runner, Star Trek, The Terminator, Total Recall are more Sci-Fi.

cinemabandit on Sep 17, 2009


I think too many people forget Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Also, is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics science or fantasy?

Dark Fist on Sep 17, 2009


Star Wars: sci-fantasy (more fantasy than sci-fi) Avatar: sci-fantasy (more sci-fi than fantasy) Terminator franshise: sci-fi Alien franshise: sci-fi District 9: awesome sci-fi, that is not always scientifically explained, like the strange black fluid that is both rocket fuel and alien virus, turning humans into prawns. Agree with Joshua Lane, Chronicles of Riddick was very much a sci-fantasy, while pitch black was pure sci-fi. Oh, and great article btw.

Martin on Sep 17, 2009


one other thing that came to mind.... what I would call sci-fantasy blend was Event Horizon

Janny on Sep 17, 2009


Star Wars is Fantasy, or Science Fantasy if you want, but certainly not Science Fiction. Simply put, for a story to be Science Fiction, the science has to be a part of the story, not just a location. As for the others... Man, I don't know. Fantasy, is a much broader topic than people give it credit for. It can be set in any time and any place. #8 I would argue that Minority Report is sci-fi. It was an examination of something which hasn't been disproved, even if it is widely regarded as unlikely (though it was more an action/thriller than anything). The only reason I can't call it fantasy is there was nothing overtly fantastic about it. People could argue that precognative abilities are real (but I wouldn't). It's right on the borderline for me.

Mark on Sep 17, 2009


Wait.. The argument for saying AVATAR is a "Fantasy" film is because the creatures "are grounded in the impossible"? Have these people seen Ridley Scott's "Alien"? My two cents on this is that Science Fiction and Fantasy have the same common Denominator: The Human Imagination. I think there was a time the two were very different, but the constant evolution of both has reached a point where they dive into common themes that in the past belonged to neither: Morality, Social Mores, Politics, Analogies to Current Problems, the Environment, Romantic Love, and so on. Compare for example "Frequency", "Kate and Leopold", "Just Visiting", "Time Machine", "Enchanted"....... All of them are about crossing time and space for purposes of furthering the exploration of inter-personal relations..... But the means to achieving them vary from Magic, to Invention, to unexplained Pheonomena.... Fantasy, Science Fiction? None of the above? And that's my view of it, we can be confused about the two not because they cross into each other, but because today both of them tend to talk about the same issues and in some way borrow themes and "means to tell" the story from each other or anywhere the imagination finds it suitable.

SS on Sep 17, 2009


Science fantasy = a story with science, space, and/or technology elements that is otherwise fantastical. I think it's a perfectly acceptable new genre tag.

Lana on Sep 17, 2009


I feel like it is all about how a film is presented that determines which genre it falls under. A film series like "Lord of the Rings" is set in a fantastic world with fantastic creatures inhabiting it. It isn't trying to to be science fiction, its not trying to make itself seem real in any way. While the film "Fantastic Voyage" I think is sci-fi because as ridiculous a world as it creates it is still trying to root itself in fact. And I do believe that this is the reason for the "Star Wars" issue. It is fantastic in both setting and characters, but Lucas tries to tie it back to terrestrial reality. The simple statement of "A long time ago, in a galaxy far away" forces the viewer to compare what is going on in the film to our current reality. In my opinion it is sci-fi if it tries to shape itself into real life in some way. While fantasy is a story taking place on a totally different place not trying to be our world in any way.

Professor Brian O'Bilivion on Sep 17, 2009


I liked you Brandon till now. now it's not cause you called Edward Scissorhands or King Kong fantasy, wrong genre all together, it's because you manged to conjure up that piece of crap Avatar for a rather non-debatable but possible fun discussion. But to get on topic..I see no argument for Avatar to be fantasy? Nothing. Yes, I'm taking into account as to what has been presented. That means every alien film is fantasy and not sci-fi, correct? That's the only way it will fly...and it doesn't. And no, sci-fi fantasy? Seriously? Brian makes an excellent point as well.

Tra la la la la di da on Sep 17, 2009


Tra la la la la di da: Sorry to have fallen away from your approval! But it's a bit funny that it's just now that it's happening, 'cause I think we actually agree when it comes to Avatar. I think it's ultimately sci-fi. Hence my conclusion. Its very conceit is one born of sci-fi, therefore IT is sci-fi. Though I am taking issue with your categorization of Edward Scissorhands and King Kong. Both are most definitely, absolutely fantasy films. But I'm curious how you would label them. I mean, the guy has scissors for hands -- how much more fantastical can you get? Lastly, I still like you. Appreciate you being such a vocal contributor to FS.net. In other words, well, this is for you: <3.

Brandon Lee Tenney on Sep 17, 2009


I will put in this way... Science fiction is the world you create with rules... you always put scientific explanation to it.. Its the world with elaborated or exaggerated scientific thoughts.. Fantasy is the world you create without any rules.... Just think of Alice in the wonderland.. how you set rules for that type of story.. ? And if you ever try to do so.. then It would look insane.. In my view they both are contradictory .. May be that is the reason they are different genre ? To my view only one thing tat sounds like Sci-fi fantasy.... Time Traveling.. we are simply fantasizing about science in this...

suresh on Sep 17, 2009


@17 Event Horizon? That had a sci-fi candy shell, but wasn't really sci-fi or fantasy for that matter. it was HORROR. (I consider 28 days/weeks later to be in the horror genre too.) As for sci-fi vs. fantasy, I think sci-fi is a subset of fantasy and not the other way around. Both genres have a fantastic otherworldly element to them, but I think sci-fi is more thought out in trying to find ways to make the fantastic seem plausible by extrapolating known science or using scientific theories, where fantasy just says: "Who cares how it works, it's magic. Lets just tell a good story." Planet of the Apes:Sci Fi (The original one anyway) Theorized the aftermath of atomic weapons centuries later, as well as asked questions about evolution and how we deal with new concepts. (Like a different species becoming sentient, and what does that mean to the current culture) Star Wars: Fantasy. They never explain how the droids are sentient, how hyperdrive works, or why the hell Vader was mostly robotic when cloning technology was available. (That still drive's me nuts.) They just came up with ideas that would be interesting to play with and create a compelling myth.

jasonmd2020 on Sep 17, 2009


In the words of arthur c. clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

dan on Sep 17, 2009


Ok Brandon, I forgive you! lol It actually explained, if you recall, how his hands became as such. We can label it fantasy, but it's cutting it close. It's more like an alternate fantasy because then Pleasantville is now fantasy. And yes, King Kong is fantasy, but adventure, fantasy adventure which is quite a different genre. Let's not get too detailed, I'm an English major and this could go on quite awhile if we really break down genres. Never the less, 28 days is horror. not sure how that even got thrown into the mix. Jason, you explained everything via Sci-fi. Cloning Vader would not create Vader. Did they clone Jango and have a bunch of Fetts? No. You can't make a statement and then contradict yourself if you expect to make a point. How hyperdrive works? I'm sorry...does every Sci-fi story decide to tell us how the invented everything that exists in that time? Sentient? What!? Have you seen Star Wars? it's sci-fi, pure and simple. A lot of people have forgot a genre called adventure which is a make up of fantasy ideas and themes but not to the extremes of trolls, hobbits, and other familiar themes. Indiana Jones is a prime example in this debate. Indian Jones is immortal, allegedly. He drakn from the Holy Grail, there was some really really really really old dude protecting it. Ghosts appeared, sacrafices were made and things happened but it's not horror (ghosts), sci-fi (aliens), or Holy Grail (fantasy). We can make it more familiar by calling it fantasy adventure although adventure generally covers it as most adventure movies have some "out there" element. It's like punk, metal, and screamo. You know what I'm talking about without throwing "rock" at the end of each one. You do not need to say fantasy adventure as I just pointed out why. With this, we have many many many genres but some lean a bit more to one side. With this we shorten the idea to one word as we never like more than one word, look at all the acronyms we've made! Never the less, with that, I'll leave this to more debate. Star Wars is a bit fantasy, I can understand the idea, the concept, the want. But no, it is indeed sci-fi...well, maybe sci-fi adventure. ?????????

Tra la la la la di da on Sep 17, 2009


As #7 already pointed out, Eoman said it best on the Starz series "Party Down". Basically to be considered sci-fi everything needs to have a bio-physical principle behind it or else it's magic and magic is fantasy, which is not sci-fi. Because of this Star Wars would be considered fantasy due to the force having no scientific attributes.

dontcthis on Sep 17, 2009


"Sci-Fi" and "Fantasy" are not genres. They're settings. The only genres that really exist are based on the emotional responses they elicit. Action = adrenalin and excitement. Drama = reflection Comedy = happiness and laughter Horror = fear (and often disgust) Other 'genres' aren't really genres, they just describe the setting or the theme. Romantic Comedies are funny movies that have a romance story. Sci-Fi movies can be dramatic, action-packed or comedic, and thus are not a genre but a setting. The same goes for Westerns, Fantasy, War and more. Romance, Supernatural, psychological, etc are common subject 'genres' that aren't really genres. In fact, you can basically carve them all down to "drama" and "comedy" or some combination of the two. I include 'action' and 'horror' because they are often neither funny nor dramatic, but you could probably lump them in as a mix of the two. Porno is also a thematic 'genre'. I have just rendered this entire thread pointless. Good day.

Squiggly_P on Sep 17, 2009


Luke...you are going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view... It's all fantasy, baby....it deals with the fantastic. But some of it is science fiction, too, with that basis in sound reason and "fact." There is a reason these books are all grouped together at the book store, because better than any other two genres (with the possible exception of fantasy and horror), sci-fi and fantasy naturally mesh together... Look at BSG...on the surface, one might say pure sci-fi...but then add the elements of a Cylon "God," Starbuck as an Angel, and the mystical prophecy of Pithia, and WHAM, you have one of (if not THE) best sci-fantasy series ever created. BTW, I absolutely HATE the new Sci-Fi moniker "sy fy." Every time I see it, it's like a kick in the nuts.

Frank N. Stein on Sep 17, 2009


One of the best Fantasy/Sci Fi movies.... The Fifth Element. Unless you want to classify it as a comedy... Are we green?

Frank N. Stein on Sep 17, 2009


I personally believe it will be what you want it to be. I guess it depends also on litetary background, and maybe even gaming background. Ever read Colin Wilson's 'The Mind Parasites'? I read it without ever having heard of the Cthulhu Mythos. It is Science Fiction, but only from the moment you start believing that there is a thing called mind parasites. Then the question rises : is it because you believe they are, or because they really are?

Peter T'Sas on Sep 17, 2009


wouldn't it make the most sense to have Fantasy be the big catch-all division, of which Sci-Fi is a subdivision, Magic Fantasy is another, and Extraterrestrial Fantasy is another? That makes the most sense, doesn't it??

Alfredo on Sep 17, 2009


Any time religion/mythology is used as a tone in the film, it automatically becomes fantasy for me.

Dirty Dutchman on Sep 17, 2009


@29 I love your idea of them being settings more than genres because sometimes stories need to be set in fantasy or science to make them work. All the movies mentioned are one of those two genres (Drama, Comedy) however even then some transcend those genres with elements of both (Princess Bride, Stranger Than Fiction, and the Truman Show to name a few all being favorites of mine). Drama basically equals suspense. In some way every drama is emotionally suspenseful. Comedy means humor. Sometimes these movies are set in different places or time periods therefore Sci-Fi and fantasy are merely the setting.

Jordan on Sep 17, 2009


science fantasy - the future.

Kalladin on Sep 18, 2009


star wars is science fantasy. it elicits adrenaline, excitement, reflection (is that an emotional response?), happiness, laughter and fear. it also has the added elements of magic, 'the impossible' and science fiction. i believe this area can be the most progressive. when done right, a movie with a complex emotional and intellectual essence at its core can change a person's consciousness.

Kalladin on Sep 18, 2009


To have fun discussing whether something is Science Fiction or not I created a web site called Is it Science Fiction? that you can access at http://isitsciencefiction.com.

J. Pablo Fernández on Sep 18, 2009


Frank, I thought they changed it to Sifi. lol Yeah, idk, but I laugh every time.

Tra la la la la di da on Sep 18, 2009


There's no difference.

Governor on Sep 18, 2009


This is the stupidest discussion ever....we might as well be asking "What's better, coke or pepsi?"

Google the Oct8pus on Sep 18, 2009


Star Wars is a fantasy novel in a futuristic setting (with the unexplainable Force and prophecies). Same as The Matrix. 28 Days later is definitely science fiction: there's nothing "impossible" in what happens there. Planet of the Apes... well, if you see it as some kind of "parallel universe" it could be sci-fi (there's nothing scientifically unexplainable there, either). But then again, "a parallel universe" or "a world in another galaxy" could be an easy explanation for many fantasy settings (like, fer instance, "The Dark Crystal").

Luis M on Sep 18, 2009


Films by genre Action Adult Adventure Animation -traditional -computer-animated -stop-motion Biography Children's Comedy Crime Disaster Documentary Drama Fantasy Horror Musical Mystery Romance Sci-Fi Short Sport Thriller War Western Man vs technology-Sci-Fi Man vs magic-Fantasy

David Banner on Sep 18, 2009


@ Tra la la la la di da: " Cloning Vader would not create Vader. Did they clone Jango and have a bunch of Fetts? " Maybe I should have been clearer. We're experimenting with cloning individual body parts now. I didn't mean growing a whole new Vader. Just some limbs so he wouldn't be all robotic. But that's an interesting point: Shoulda cloned little Anikin, sent the original one home to his mommy, and have the Jedi's raise the clone. But that assumes midichlorians can be cloned as well... My apologies for going way off topic...

jasonmd2020 on Sep 18, 2009


I'm good with Sci fi Fantasy.

JEFFREY on Sep 18, 2009


Midichlorians are a joke and you can't grow parts and sew them on like Frankenstein. Not to mention, why? Robot hand that can get shot with blaster (Watch Jedi) or human hand that could get shot off? Common sense wins this one or did you forget all of Jedi and base Star Wars off those joke prequels (which don't exist)?

Tra la la la la di da on Sep 18, 2009


@ 41 Coke for sure lol But back to topic where would film like Reign of fire land in a gerne catagory? It has Fantasy elements for sure... I'm not sure you can get more fantasy than Dragons. But and its a pretty big BUT. Its in a modern setting and most of how the dragons are explained is explained logically like how they breathe fire. With the two chemicals mixing together to create napalm which is the dragons fire breathe. Which would lead me to believe that it is a sci fi movie.

JKshins on Sep 18, 2009


Interesting debate topic, and one that has been around since the actual beginning of the sci-fi genre. The two fathers of sci-fi (in some people's view) were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. They both had opposing views of what sci-fi was. H.G. Wells based his stories on science that doesn't exist ("The Invisible Man", "The Island of Dr. Moreau", etc.), while Jules Verne based his stories on where current science might eventually lead ("20,000 Leagues Under The Sea", "A Journey to the Center of the Earth", etc.). I've read that Jules Verne actually looked down on the work of Wells because he wasn't using real science to build his stories. Yet what sci-fi fan would exclude "War of the Worlds" from the genre? Many films include multiple genres, but may lean slightly more towards one rather than another. Perhaps us nerds should embrace multiple genres within the "fantasy" and "sci-fi" categories.

Mark P on Sep 18, 2009


@Tra la la la la di da

Dyi on Sep 18, 2009


^= Edward Scissorhands is a Sci-Fi by my standards, but the town itself was blantently a twisted form of "modern" (for that time period). Although who's to say that somewhere on this earth there is NOT a place that is that colourful? Anyway, it is Sci-Fi in the sense that Edward was created by SCIENCE. He just wasn't finished, his hands were left to be scissor, which if you think about can be made almost exactly like an artifical hand that a doctor can connect to the arm. Functional artifical hand right there. But think of this, what if the fantasy (however you percieve it) can be explained through a scientific method. There is "fantasy" in this "reality". (Though "reality" in itself is just individual perspective.) (I.E. Scientist believe/shown that humans average brain power is 10%. What if a human exceeds that? 15% 20% 50% Who's to say that that person can not control what's around them with thought power. Or even delve into someone else's concious.) Would that still be "Fantasy" or would that be "Sci-Fi"? Another: (movie reference) Nightmare on Elm St. (Yes it is a horror, but take that away and what is it?) Dreams are very "real" to whoever has them, yet are not scientifically explained... thoroughly... and some call them fantasy. Thoery has it that you can get hurt in your dream. Be it that the dream is representing something that happened to your body while you're in your subconcious or that the dream actually inflicts it on you. So will something that is in books as Scientific be considered as "Fantasy" because one person experinces something that others can't percieve? My point, through all that mumble jumble, is that "Sci-Fi" and "Fantasy" feed off each other. To a GREAT extent. Every Fantasy has a least a tint of Sci-Fi and vise-versa. By the way... Good topic for comments, since this won't cease... ever. Until they merge..... Then again, all this is just my perspective.

Dyi on Sep 18, 2009


In the article there is a picture, what movie is that from?

Jeff C. on Sep 19, 2009


#51 - The main image used at the top of this article comes from the sci-fi film Matrix Revolutions... It's a visual from that movie that has always remained in my mind...

Alex Billington on Sep 19, 2009


Alex, the fact that you find easy to consider Star Trek sci-fi and have doubts about Star Wars is ridiculous... Same with Terminator. You failed to set the parameters stright for the separation between those movies, in your point of view. How can you consider The Matrix sci-fi and not Star Wars?!?! I mostly agree with Squiggly_P, those "genres" that you are trying to discuss are actually settings. I'm gonna break the rules and call the example of Isaac Asimov's writting, which is considered one of the best sci-fi writers, and remind people that he mostly wrote about things so simple and "down to earth" like relationships and human emotions, using the science fiction setting as a vehicle for his insightful storytelling.

rml on Sep 22, 2009


Sorry, I meant "Brandon" on the above post. My appologies, Alex.

rml on Sep 22, 2009


rml: Isaac Asimov wrote vast science fiction premises that were global, often universal in scope. That's what he was best at. His character development, his exploration of human emotion, are the weakest parts of his stories. A more apt reference would have been to mention Kurt Vonnegut, whose science fiction stories did, to a much greater degree of success, exactly what you say: "using science fiction as a vehicle for his insightful storytelling" -- his, in this case, being Vonnegut, not Asimov. And yes, I do find it quite easy to place Star Trek in the sci-fi genre, while my reservations regarding Star Wars remain. The inclusion of The Force in Star Wars alone calls its genre into question. Star Trek is a more stereotypical representation of "hard" sci-fi. Star Wars is a fantasy set in space. And I never came down one way or the other on The Matrix. It's a tough call, either way. It becomes a philosophical argument after a while, leaving behind the issues of what's sci-fi (what's possible) and what's fantasy (what's not). Terminator, well, straddles the line. But its use of time travel (as per the way it's explained in the film) pushes it a bit into fantasy. Where as a film like Primer, even with its use of time travel, is most certainly sci-fi. As far as sci-fi and fantasy not being genres, but being merely settings -- that's ridiculous. A genre is defined as "a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like." Therefore, as science fiction and fantasy films both contain particular, similar, and recognizable content, as respective and exclusive to each genre, and are both categories providing reasonable separation and classification, sci-fi and fantasy are both genres of artistic endeavor, in this case: the artistic endeavor of film. That last paragraph goes out to Squiggly_P. And to you, Squiggly_P, if that is your real name, I say, good day to YOU, sir!

Brandon Lee Tenney on Sep 22, 2009


I call them movies and I enjoy them regardless of their categorization by close-minded individuals who fail to appreciate movies in other "genres".

Jon the Rob-ot on Sep 22, 2009


Maybe in movies you can call fantasy & science fiction 'genres', but in literature, I would strongly object. Even though fantasy might be classified under 'fairy tales', and even some scifi might belong there too, most good scifi books can hardly be considered as mere action. I do not agree with drama being named 'reflexion', since most drama doesn't really make me reflect at all. It has as much to do with emotions as romance, it's just the other end. I walk out of the movies, and forget by the time I'm home. I think good scifi novels are always 'reflexion', because that is what scifi all about. Too bad so few movie makers understand that these days. Let's see if Ridley Scott still can bring it up in his new sf-movies to come.

Peter T'Sas on Sep 22, 2009


Oh ok I get it...Its kinda like categorizing geeks and dork. So would you guys be geeky dorks or dorky geeks. Hope all goes well in this life shattering debate! live long and prosper

I am Ron Burgandy? on Sep 22, 2009


^ Quantam mechanics itself is based on theoretical science, there's not even a real question there. Armageddon - science fiction, and barely fiction at that. Terminator - science fiction. 28 Days Later - I wouldn't put this in either category. Minority Report - science fiction. it's based on technology, the inclusion of "exceptional" people hardly makes it fantasy. The Matrix - science fiction, see above. Wall-E - science fiction. In short, it's fantasy when there's dragons, mages, or fireballs being thrown from your hands or whatever. *********** You want something that would be considered a confusing blend, look at X-Men. ***********

case on Sep 22, 2009


oops.. I didn't look at all the comments. my ^ comment was to #15

case on Sep 22, 2009


This is a very intersting topic as both categories deal with imaginary elements placed in a form suited for a degree of believability. The force of the arguments tend to point as to which to more believable as well as possible. A key thing is becuase we don't know what exist in other galaxies or planets beyound our own, anything remains possible. What gives most movies inbetween the two categories a boost is the fact that they combine believable points and possiblities to make it seem real despite its surreal concepts. They may be very diffierent but they also have things alike as well. Just becuase you have trouble believing it does not prevent it from being possible.

Veratis on Sep 27, 2009


Just read the article and was not madly astonished by the findings as I have been noticing myself over the years the blending of both Genres.....I would, however, like to throw a more recent film, than most mentioned, into the mix. The Time Traveller's Wife. The title says Sci-Fi but the premise of the story is that the titular character has a "Genetic Abnormality" that causes him to travel in time specifically to periods within his and one other person's life. Despite the fact the people do have some "Genetic Abnormalities" the fact that his allows time travel is pure fantasy, especially as it is not a random abnormality that throws him to any period in the past or future. I would also dispute with anybody who says that The Matrix falls even slightly into the fantasy genre. To talk about the One and the Messiah complex in the film, as fantasy elements, is to forget that essentially the Matrix itself is simply one very large computer game. The One is not a Messiah he is simply someone whose grasp of the game is much better than anyone elses and he uses his skills to hack the game and change elements in his favour. As it goes I happen to be a proponent of both genres and would happily sit through both at any time and if, in the long term, we lose the two genres and wind up simply with Sci-fantasy as a term would that necessarily be a bad thing?

Simon on Oct 2, 2009


well.... this is a debate that can never be definitively resolved. For what its worth I humbly throw my own benchmark into the mix..... Events happen by the application of science/pseudoscience/evolution etc....... Sci Fi Events happen by the application of mysticism/magic/supernatural means..... Fantasy Thus the X-men..... superheroes created through evolution......Sci Fi But Thor (when it comes out)....superhero created through mystic or supernatural powers.....Fantasy. I am sure people will now try hard to throw spanners into my rule....I can already cite Star Wars as having elements of both but since Lucas himself says that Star Wars is NOT Sci fi but is actually "space opera" then I wont count it either 😉

FOOM on Oct 9, 2009


Planet of the Apes is not fantasy.

Geoff on Oct 12, 2009


#64 True...and it holds with my benchmark.... Planet of the apes is all about alternative evolution and/or time travel......

FOOM on Oct 13, 2009


i have coined the phrase future fantasy for movies like star wars,and archaic fantasy for movies like lord of the rings.being a writer myself,i dont see science fiction as a usable term unless the science part of the story is a central plot point.in other words,if i can swap setting elements in a future fantasy story with archaic,mythological elements and keep all of the plot and characters intact(like star wars) than its all just fantasy to me,i like to have a good mix of archaic and somewhat futuristic elements in my stories anyway,and all that is just setting,i could still shift it either way and keep plot and characters as they were,but thats just me

NapalmSanctuary on Nov 8, 2009

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