June 21, 2007
In 1998, as part of its 100th anniversary, the American Film Institute presented a list of the top 100 American movies of all time based on factors such as box office success, film making innovations, and cultural impact. Films like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz made it with Citizen Kane as #1, while Blade Runner was left out. Now, on the tenth anniversary of that list, the AFI counted them down again on CBS. This time around, Blade Runner was joined by 1999’s cyberpunk-action-blockbuster The Matrix as eligible candidates for the big list. With The Matrix Trilogy out on HD-DVD and Blade Runner – Final Cut later this year, fans would love to see both movies on this list, though judging by my informal poll, more would want to see Blade Runner make it. You asked for it, you got it!
The venerable cyberpunk classic made it! It barely made it, but it’s on the list! I know many would have preferred to see it higher, like top ten, but just getting on the list is a major accomplishment in itself, as now it can stand along side movies like Star Wars and Citizen Kane as a great American film. If you were watching, you would have heard Harrison Ford (Deckard) call it “urban science fiction” and even seen a commercial for the Final Cut edition. Replicants and sympathizers, rejoice!
The Stanley Kubric classic makes a return to AFI’s big list. This masterpiece of pre-cyberpunk cinema has been warping minds since its release in 1971 when it nearly got an X-rating for its content. If you have the DVD, you have the full X-rated version of the gem.
While A Clockwork Orange still being on the list will come as good news, there is some bad news for the classic: It has fallen from #46 since the first listing, beaten out by films like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
What? No Matrix??: The impact of these films on cyberpunk cannot be denied and deserve a place on the list; Blade Runner giving cyberpunk its look and feel and its transhuman themes, while The Matrix gave mostly technical innovations like “bullet time” that will be copied for years to come, but it also offered cyber-religious themes as pointed out in SFAM’s essay on The Matrix Trilogy: A Man-Machine Interface Perspective. I was certain that The Matrix would have made the list, but it seems the “experts” didn’t feel that it was good enough.
Some might question why films like The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Ghost In The Shell, and Sneakers haven’t made the list. The AFI represents American film makers, so GITS is not considered (it’s Japanese); Sneakers, while a good film, hasn’t had much impact on culture so much as reflecting hacker culture at the time; The Terminator movies, probably because the AFI doesn’t consider action movies “artistic” enough for such a list of legends.
Future AFI Lists and Cyberpunk Films: Certainly, there will some controversy over the results; Why The Matrix didn’t make it and why Blade Runner came in so low. In ten years AFI will do the list again, and maybe the cyberpunk films will get the recognition they deserve… and could possibly include Neuromancer as well. Hopefully, there will be enough recognition of cyberpunk films by the “experts” to give the genre its due.