Science fiction movies have given us many timeless lines, such as E.T.’s “phone home,” the Terminator’s “I’ll be back,” and HAL 9000’s downright unsettling “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.” Sci-fi films have also provided a few classic misquotes, perhaps most notably Darth Vader’s frequently repeated “Luke, I am your father”— Vader’s actual line is the less catchy “No, I am your father.”
But what science fiction does best is make us think. As Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Science fiction is often very far from escapism, in fact you might say that science fiction is escape into reality… It’s a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future.” Or consider Steven Spielberg's assertion that “science fiction’s always been the kind of first level alert to think about things to come.”
It’s no surprise, then, that sci-fi movies are replete with thought-provoking quotes. Here are some of the best, from 1950s classics to modern sci-fi masterpieces, covering everything from artificial intelligence to the nature of reality and humankind’s place in the universe.
I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.
— "The Day the Earth Stood Still," 1951
In this 1950s classic, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), a humanoid alien, comes to Earth with his powerful robot Gort as an ambassador from an extraterrestrial confederation. His mission: to make humans see reason and accept peace — or face obliteration. The movie is set during the early stages of the nuclear arms race.
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
— "Blade Runner," 1982
Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer’s) emotional and lyrical “tears in rain” monologue touches upon some of the movie’s central themes: What is humanity, and what do life and death mean to an artificial “replicant”?
Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.
— "Jurassic Park," 1993
Jeff Goldblum’s character in the original Jurassic Park is overconfident and irreverent, but he does make some very valid points, including this one about the ethical side of technological “progress.”
The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space. Right?
— "Contact," 1997
Are there aliens out there? And if there are, where does that leave religion? Contact posits many such questions, which is to be expected from a movie based on a novel by Carl Sagan.
There's no gene for fate.
— "Gattaca," 1997
Vincent (Ethan Hawke) dreams of going to space, but he faces genetic discrimination in a future society driven by eugenics. The movie raises many questions that could well be commonplace topics in the not-so-distant future.
Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you seemed so sure it was real? What if you were unable to wake up from that dream? How would you tell the difference between the dream world and the real world?
— "The Matrix," 1999
The Matrix tackles some big philosophical questions, including fate versus free will, the differences (and similarities) between humans and machines, and, perhaps most importantly, the very nature of reality itself.
I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid I haven't been alive enough. It should be written on every school room blackboard: Life is a playground — or nothing.
— "Mr. Nobody," 2009
Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) is a 118-year-old man and the last mortal on Earth. The movie, which is primarily about choice and chance, is now considered a cult classic.
If you've created a conscious machine, it's not the history of man. That's the history of gods.
— "Ex Machina," 2014
Ex Machina is another sci-fi movie that tackles complicated ethical questions raised by artificial intelligence, as well as concepts of creation and individualism.
Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.
— "Interstellar," 2014
Interstellar deals with mind-bending science such as black holes, wormholes, and time dilation, while at heart maintaining a simple story of love and sacrifice.
We don't know if they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool.
— "Arrival," 2016
Arrival is one of the most philosophical movies of the last decade. While it considers the nature of time, suffering, alien life, and other themes, at its core it is about how language shapes our understanding of the world.
Photo credit: Jose G. Ortega Castro/ Unsplash