"Hard" science movies

Most of the hacks are actually from famous (or infamous) hacks (practical jokes) done at Caltech or Harvey Mudd/Claremont. Of course, that still doesn’t explain why a couple of penniless undergrads (even really brilliant ones) had access to a Motorola brickphone in 1985, or how they’re able to talk their way onto an Air Force base and into a B-1 facility with obviously faked I.D.s. On the other hand, it had Jordan, who is the second most attractive geek girl ever.


“Anna, if you tell me to bend like a willow I’m gonna throw up.”

A very good show. Pity it had such a short run; nine episodes, I think. And in that time, it used the scientist-can’t-get-approval-to-test-his-invention-so-stages-accident-to-require-its-use more than once, didn’t it?

Can I take a guess at who’s number one?Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Maybe not quite what the OP is asking, but there’s Until the End of the World; made in 1991 and set in 1999/2000. Unlike most movies set in the future (so to speak), the characters don’t act as if they’re awed by the technology. There’s a video phone in a train station, and it’s scratched and abused as any public phone would be. The vehicles on the road aren’t all visionary concept cars, there are some old beaters, too. 2001 may be the pinnacle of “hard science” movies, but it misses some points in how people would live with that technology. The real world has scuffs and scratches. 2001 looks like it takes place in a world where no one invented graffiti.

To do this sort of thread, you have to distinguish between two types of scientific unreality.

The first is where the science is just wrong, for no other reason than the filmmaker

  • couldn’t be bothered, didn’t have the budget, or didn’t have a clue, or
  • is really just making an ordinary action/drama etc movie which happens to be set it in the future or in space, but doesn’t want to scare off the average punter by making them deal with how different things would be.

For these reasons we get gratuitous inaccuracy, like sound travelling in a vacuum and fighter craft in space that manouevre like aeroplanes. This sort of stuff in my mind disqualifies a movie from being “hard” science fiction.

However, there is another type of inaccuracy or implausibility and that is where it is part of the story that an aspect (or several aspects) of technology or reality are, in the story, different to what we know. This second sort of scientific unreality (as long as it is not otherwise accompanied by the first sort) is virtually the essence of hard SF.

I think it was Asimov who said that you can write good hard SF that involves something impossible as long as you include a plausible line of scientific bull$%#$ explaining why this was permitted.

In bad sci fi people travel in spaceships to a distant star in two weeks. In good SF they do the same thing but using a “hyperdrive”.

Don’t they have artificial gravity and some sort of force fields? I think it’s also a little bit forgiving on the issues of drive systems and fuel supplies, but I’d concede that might just be ‘future technology’.

You think that this doesn’t happen in real life??? :wink:

What else can this possibly mean, then?:

No, I think it does happen in real life. That’s what makes The Dish so much fun: everything in it could have happened in real life, even though at least some was made up for the movie.

Well, this runs the risk of getting this thread seriously offtrack, but I would have guessed he meant (in no particular order) either Agent Scully from The X Files, Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, Counselor Troi from ST:TNG, River Tam from Firefly/Serenity, or Trinity from The Matrix.

But that’s just me.

Also, the more forgivable version of this is artistic license. You can’t hear radio transmissions either, but we often hear pilots chatter and probes beep in movies. We see the outer planets looking like they do in NASA photos, and not as gray or black bulks like they would to human eyes in those light conditions. That’s not bad science so much as it’s translating things humans can’t directly perceive or can’t perceive well into a form we can, to make the movie work better. You could even excuse the infamous spaceship “whoosh” this way; they do create shockwaves in the charged gas that fills the vacuum. And to our Earthbound perceptions, that creates the perception of fast movement, which is good moviemaking.

Just making sure. :wink:

It was, to my mind, when I watched it (as a radio astronomer) really rather believeable (right down to the 'OMG! We’ve lost them :smack: ’ moment), moreso than say Contact which royally did my head in on so many levels. (The book I can cope with, the film, not so much).

I will also add that the whole “playing cricket on the radio dish” made me giggle too. Its perfectly possible, and knowing the Aussie/Aussie based astronomers that I do, entirely likely that they’d do something like that. :wink:

Thanks for the suggestions, folks. I’m looking for the scientifically accurate (as much as possible) movies. The idea of AI in Blade runner being advanced enough for an android to contemplate its own mortality is within the realm of possibilities for future technology. Lasers zapping through space or spaceships maneuvering like F-16s violate the laws of physics within our known universe.

I forgot about Andromeda Strain! And, yes, Awakenings fits within my OP because it was accurate. Movies like Independence Day though are right out.

I think that we know so little about what future androids will be like (whether their built in five years or five hundred) that any movie that portrays them in any detail–esp. Blade Runner style androids–counts as implausible. It’s possible blade runner style robots will exist at some point in the future just like it’s possible we’ll have FTL travel and time travel and teleportation at some point i the future–possible but the mechanisms can not be understood at the present so any mechanisms presented in a movie count as implausible.


As Slypork says; FTL, time travel, and teleportation require breaking or finding a way around known laws to be practical/possible. Androids don’t. It’s a near certainty that androids can be built; the existence of humans proves that nature allows the construction of human level creatures.

Look, to be clear: I think there will be androids someday. I haven’t been trying to say we won’t.

I don’t mean it’s implausible to think there will be androids. Rather, what I think is that once you do much description, much more than saying simply “there are androids,” you stretch the bounds of plausibility, because you’re moving into the territory of pure unbounded speculation. Who knows how androids would or could be built, or what they would or could be like?


While it may have done well in the physics department, much of the allegorical ending had to do with evolution, in which it did not do so well. Any reference to “the next step in evolution”, human or otherwise, is not scientifically accurate. Nor is any speculation about how humans might evolve in the future (without knowing the environmental conditions between now and “then”, such speculation is as scientifically accurate as is picking lottery numbers). Even if our evolution is being guided by aliens, one individual transcending this existence doesn’t equate to “evolution” in the sense the we know it.

Soundless space is fine; “Star Babies” are crap.

As much as I hate to criticize… no way. The bacteria in The Andromeda Strain and the aliens in, well, Aliens were little short of magic plot devices. Not even close to hard sci-fi, but it was well-done enough that most people wouldn’t notice.

Arguably rude, as well.

No disagreement there. But without some of the stretching of imagination, you basically wind up with a future documentary. :wink:

Some movies set in the future extrapolate from current technology and attempt to provide plausible scenarios and situations. For example, Alien and Aliens as well as 2001 had people dealing with long space flights by being placed in hibernation, something that NASA and other organizations have explored. Red Planet had a Mars lander use airbags just like the Pathfinder mission did (although I doubt astronauts would be thrilled about bouncing in a giant balloon) and also flexible thin screen displays which are just coming into development.

Obviously science fiction movies will have to provide some “fantastic” ideas. Terminator robots with biological exteriors or machines composed of “liquid metal” that is self aware and capable of reconstituting itself? No way. Terminator robots made of strong alloys or swarms of nanobots functioning as a single unit and capable of reconstituting themselves? Feasible.

Since Serenity has been mentioned, what about the character of River Tam? After some kind of brainwashing procedure, she gains vaguely-implied telepathic abilities as well as melee combat and marksmanship skills that border on the supernatural. Does that qualify as bad/unrealistic science, or does it fall under “science so advanced it looks like magic”?

The British/German series Space Island 1 is very much like a documentary about a super-ISS (spinning cartwheel type), with only one episode ever veering away from Hard Science IIRC (a “weird alien artifact from Mars” episode). Like* Star Cops*, it also had a “no hope of rescue talking with dead men” episode.