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Science Fiction Flowchart

What makes a movie science fiction versus fact-based non-fiction, like Apollo 13 or October Sky, or another genre altogether? It's a tricky question and one that made my colleagues pause for a healthy Monday-morning head-scratching session. Think you know?

Leslie Neilsen - the star of "Don't call me Shirley" fame - died this weekend of pneumonia. He will be missed. Though he was a fantastic comedic actor, Neilsen actually got his start in dramatic films, including one of my favorites - Forbidden Planet.

Musing over the glory days when all science fiction movies had flying saucers* in them, we turned to a question so broad that the only way to solve it was to create a flowchart: What qualifies a movie to be labeled 'science fiction'?

The answer is above. Since no one would agree with me 100 percent on the definition of what constitutes a science fiction film, I welcome your thoughts on where the chart fails (even though it doesn't).

*We also spent a good half-hour harping over the question of "Whatever happened to flying saucers anyway?" The answer: Back in the fifties and sixties, the government was experimenting with making Frisbee-shaped flying machines. They never took off (pun intended), however, because of their inherent lack of stability. There was moderate success with the Avrocar, but it was ditched in favor of a more practical vertical take-off and landing vehicle: The helicopter.


  1. I don't think sci-fi has to violate the laws of physics. There are a number of physically allowed but technologically nonexistent scenarios one could use. Usable fusion power, for example, is currently science fiction.

  2. I was JUST having this conversation this weekend about what constitutes sci fi. I think that a dystopia usually constitutes science fiction, even if it's not driven by technology or robots. Say "Children of Men" or "GATTACA" (though I guess GATTACA has space ships in it, but that part just makes it a story about space, it's not fantastical at all.) Otherwise I agree with your chart!

  3. A science fiction doesn't necessarily have to break the laws of physics. However, all the famous sci-fi movies do. So....yeah, good chart!


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