When it comes to science fiction and social commentary in literature, there is a long and rich history going back centuries. Unfortunately in film, there is a real tendency for science fiction to take on the form of spectacle and escapism, barely containing any of the provocative ideas that have made it one of the most forward-looking of genres.
In the '50s through the '70s, that changed and cinema saw the rise of allegorical science fiction that looked at atomic warfare, the plight of the individual in conformist society, the struggle for racial equality, and the dangers of McCarthyism. Then came a little film called "Star Wars" and science fiction went back to being escapism aimed at children.
By the time the Reagan Years reared their ugly head, most science fiction films were epic space adventures ("Return of the Jedi" and "Dune") or corny comedies ("Weird Science" and "Earth Girls Are Easy"). "Blade Runner" set the stage for the return of cerebral science fiction films in 1982, but it would take a few more years for sci-fi to regain its power of critical thought and social awareness.
Then John Carpenter, best known for his stylish horror films, made "They Live", an acidic commentary on Reaganomics and the worst excesses of '80s materialism and privilege. The film would become an immediate cult classic. It is also responsible for one of the all-time great film quotes: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubble gum." 😎
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