Video Top Ten Reviews - 1999

Concatenation's calculation looking at the UK weekly video rental top ten charts. Accounting for only fantastic films we have compiled the overall SF top ten for the year to Easter 1999.

This SF top ten is based on the level of UK weekly video rentals. Remember, this is the public we are talking about and not fantastic film buffs. Nonetheless here we go...

1. Starship Troopers

(Touchstone, 18)

Paul (Robo Cop) Verhoven directed this film based on the 1959 Hugo Award-winning novel of the same name by Robert Heinlein. Though it does not contain Heinlein’s armoured space suits, this offering does convey the philosophy portrayed in Heinlein’s book of soldiers earning the right to citizenship, and the thinly disguised insect hive, portrayal of communism. The special effects and action scenes are well done and the plot moves along at a steady clip. Alien insect hordes wage war on Earth whose finest stand in the way. This film was the one in this chart that actually came top of the UK all-film (not just SF) video rental top ten for a whole month and stayed in the top half of the all-film chart for the subsequent month. (Deep Impact below only came top of the all film chart for one month but stayed in the all-film top ten for three months.)

2. Deep Impact

(CIC, 12)

Reporter (Téa Leoni) stumbles across the American President’s (Morgan Freeman (giving rise to rather bitter joke about when a black man will be president of the USA)) secret that those in power know that a huge asteroid is heading towards Earth. Panic, tidal waves, deep space missile strikes all added to make this the disaster movie of the year. Much comparison was made with that year’s other asteroid collider Armageddon (see below).

3. Tomorrow Never Dies

(MGM/UA, 12)

Pierce Brosnan, in his second outing to save the World as secret agent 007, continues to rival Sean Connery’s position for the title of best James Bond. The high tech gadgets still delight: here, the scenes with the remote controlled BMW car are particularly memorable. Judi Dench returns as Bond’s boss ‘M’ and Jonathan Pryce plays the media tycoon villain who attempts to manoeuvre Britain and China into a military confrontation to boost ratings.

4. Alien Resurrection

(Fox, 18)

‘Ripley’ (Sigourney Weaver) in her fourth bout with the highly evolved, predatory aliens. This time it is actually a ‘Ripley’ clone. The series seems to have lost its way somewhat following the excellent Aliens and the plot of Resurrection is somewhat contrived. Despite this fans can get their fix of the Alien blend of tension and special effects and the film is undeniably entertaining on its own level. Earth’s military secretly clone Ripley from cells from when she was infected by an Alien back in Alien3 and in the process obtain the alien genetic code. Not surprisingly they clone several aliens. These escape and proceed to take over the military space cruiser. Everything is resolved with the usual gung-ho.

5. Sphere

(Warner, 12)

Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L Jackson are the disparate experts sent to the Pacific Ocean floor to unravel the secret of an ancient extraterrestrial space craft. Based on the novel by Michael (Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Jurassic Park) Crichton. A fair, if not above-average, SF offering.

6. Lost in Space

(Entertainment, PG)

The spin-off film to the 1960 TV series. Despite cameos by the original cast (look out for the press conference scene), and the use of every one of the original series’ catch phrases, the original’s atmosphere is never captured. Nonetheless this film entertains in its own way.

7. Godzilla

(Columbia Tristar, PG)

An excellent tribute film to the original Godzilla Japanese monster film series. Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo get caught up in the mayhem when a giant lizard talks a stroll through New York. Jurassic Park writ large? Great fun.

8. Contact

(Warner, PG)

Purists have solid grounds to argue that this was the best science fiction video release of the year to Easter 1999. Not only did the film win a Hugo (World SF convention) Award for Best Dramatic Presentation but the book of the same name, on which it was based, by Carl Sagan came top of the annual Locus readers’ poll. Astronomer (Jodie Foster) detects a message from space which is essentially a ‘build-a-device’ set of instructions. So that is exactly what they do. Astronomer and cosmologist Sagan wrote the screen play, so it is a good adaptation of his book even though the film’s time constraints mean that much of the novel’s philosophical approach is lost. Admirably directed by Roger (Back to the Future) Zemeckis. Essential viewing for fantastic film buffs.

9. Armageddon

(Touchstone, 12)

An asteroid the size of Texas (bigger than Deep Impact’s above) threatens to destroy all life on Earth. Only the oil explorer Bruce Willis and his roughneck team can save the day planting explosives in the asteroid. Despite the effects, and directed at a frenetic pace (no shot last more than a minute and frequently shorter, before being cut) this film is seriously flawed. SF fans have a right to expect the science being as up to scratch as the fiction. Unfortunately the three science howlers in the film’s first minute set the trend. Anyone with an elementary school education will have to switch their brain into neutral. However do this and it is possible to be carried along by it all. Superbly tongue in cheek this ‘Sci fi’ (and we use the term advisedly) offering delivered the goods to both general cinema and, later, video viewers. That the video was released just a month before Easter meant that it only scored nine in this poll. It will be interesting to see if the rental continues to hold up and it appears in next year’s top ten.

10. X Files Movie

(Touchstone, 12)

Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) continue their TV roles as FBI agents investigating the paranormal in their first big screen outing. A bomb plot in Texas is linked to a conspiracy involving prehistoric alien parasites (aren’t they all?). X Files addicts will love this, but nothing is really added to the on-going overall X Files story. Passable hokum.

And then the also rans, which might have been included if this had been an SF fan viewing poll...

Men in Black

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones police alien visitors to Earth in a secret government organization. They stumble across an insect-like terrorist bent on causing a galactic incident. A comedy action offering released just prior to Easter 1998 and so its rating score was split between this and last year when it came second: had it been released a month earlier it would have been the film of that year. This comedy-action romp is hugely enjoyable. Recommended.


In the future your promotion and opportunities in society are as much governed by your genes as anything else. So natural borne would-be astronaut (Ethan Hawke) adopts the genetic identity of a look-a-like (Jude Law) who was crippled in an accident. Unfortunately a murder enquiry might just tip off the authorities as to the deception being played out. GATTACA is hard, new wave SF at its best. The public at large probably found it a little too cerebral and so it only appeared once in the all-film (not just SF) top ten weekly rental poll. Nonetheless for that one week it did come fourth! Stimulating stuff.

Dark City

This atmospheric offering featuring Richard (Rocky Horror Show) O’Brian hits the spot. Alien immortals are missing something from their genetic make-up and face possible extinction. However they think they can find it in humanity and so have created a laboratory city(1950s style) performing experiments on its unwitting human inhabitants. After one such experiment a human remembers it taking place and so sets out to discover what is going on. Dark City was in and out of the cinema so fast that the public missed it, as did many fantastic film fans. However we predict that as word spreads that this will become a cult classic!

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