What is good science fiction? I have never been a big fan of the apocolyptic future envisioned by most science fiction films because they focus only on the earth and its inhabitants. We always destroy ourselves whether because of politics, or the creation of artificial intelligence, or because of some disease we created, or some other fantastical reason. Some are well done and others laborious and far-fetched.
In Star Trek IV of course we should have saved the whales to avoid our future fate...ahem, yeah.
In The Terminator series AI would eventually wipe us out if not for John Conner who is still being saved over and over again from time travelling cyborgs, until who knows, maybe he won't ever save humanity. Since they have to make it into a TV series I suppose it is still in doubt whether he will actually live to be a hero at all. And here's the problem with possible time travel- is anything ever final?
Blade Runner is a nicely crafted vision of the not too distant future where once more our creation of AI has harmful consequences. My big question is since when does it rain that much in Los Angeles?
The Matrix is a bit different in that we are conquered by an alien race who make us into microchips or something for their big machines. I found the idea fascinating in the first film, which of course was necessary to disguise the cyborg-like acting of Keanu Reeves. But then they had to make 2 and 3 and ruin everything. I know the Matrix isn't real, but does anybody but me think that wearing sunglasses in the dark all the time is a bit pretentious and stupid?
12 Monkeys is one apocolyptic film I really love, perhaps because Terry Gilliam is well-suited for that style. (After all, he did also direct Brazil, even though I find that one a bit too dreary.) In 12 Monkeys it is a virus or something which kills most of earth's population but is released by a madman. Time travel is again a key ingredient to stop this, and like those Terminators, as many trips as necessary to get the job done.
A.I. is a particularly depressing view of our future and once again the consequences of scientific ambition.
I Am Legend and Omega Man both from the same book deal with another virus which instead of curing cancer wipes out most of humanity. I am depressed just writing this.
In The Postman Kevin Costner proves once again he should stick to cowboy roles only! (or ex-cons as in A Perfect World) But once again we destroy our society and our mail delivery (Gasp!) in the future.
Escape From NY, Death Race 2000, and the Mad Max films are all bleak despite comic moments and cult status. I find that in most of these type of future flicks people just need to take a shower and maybe pick up some trash here and there. I mean does hygiene have to go just because of nuclear holocaust and what not?
In 2001: A Space Odyssey arguably the greatest science fiction film ever made, everything is pristine and clean. Of course we don't get a glimpse of downtown Manhattan as a prison or rain swept LA at night either. I guess space is always pretty clean.
Silent Running is all in space and still pretty depressing about the state of our future.
I guess my point with all of these observations is that the one sci-fi franchise that stands apart from all of the rest is Star Wars. Although George Lucas' first film THX-1138 does show us an Orwellian future he decided to take Star Wars away from earth's future by setting it "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away". Even in it's darkest moments Star Wars is not depressing to us because it is not our fate. That is escapism at it's finest. Now just skip Greedo shooting first, ignore Episode I and you have some great sci-fi!