The coolest science fiction movies are often ones which unscrew your head and then screw it back on, slightly askew. But a select few movies go even further, pouring some rainbow soup into your head while it's still semi-detached. This weekend sees the release of John Dies at the End, which is part of a proud tradition of total lunacy.
To celebrate, here are the 10 best gonzo science fiction movies of all time, according to you. To compile this list, we asked you guys on our Facebook page, and then compiled the best and most clearly gonzo responses. How are we defining "gonzo"? We're kind of not — it's a "know it when you see it" thing. A movie can't just be comedic, or somewhat weird — it has to be a total trip, with its tongue in its cheek and its brain in its pants.
So here are the 10 best — share your own choices below!
We've celebrated the awesomeness of this post-apocalyptic movie, featuring Sean Connery in the weirdest fetish-wear of the 1970s, many times before. In particular, here's our round-up of the 10 most befuddling scenes from Zardoz, including some NSFW insanity. To quote from that write-up:
Because the Eternals cannot kill "renegades" in their community, they hyper-age them instead using psychic jazz hands. In this sequence, a renegade Eternal named "Friend" refuses to meditate, so the cast of Godspell use their super-aging brain waves to give him a grand mal seizure.
There you have it.
This is another deliriously bewildering movie — ostensibly, it's a space opera about a future where water is a scarce commodity, but it quickly lurches into a lot of psychosexual weirdness. To quote from our writeup back in 2008:
There are a ton of gratuitous space sword fights, junior high sex humor (yay!), an appropriately cheesy quest for the missing, watery "lost planet," and (goofiest of all) the party scenes where people "get high" by shooting themselves with electricity and floating on the ceiling.
This is more of a straight-up teen comedy than most of the other films on this list — but a ton of people nominated it, and we can see why. It features a pretty nutty storyline, in which a 15-year-old genius teams up with a party boy to create the ultimate space laser system. And there is lots of partying and silliness, in between using the laser to pop rather an inordinate amount of popcorn.
Like Zardoz, this is a strange post-apocalyptic sort of film, but it takes place in an alternate history where the Soviet Union nuked the United States in 1957. Now it's the 1960s in Nevada, aka the Kingdom of Elvis, and a guitar-and-sword-wielding hero named Buddy has to take a young protégé under his wing so the two of them can try and reach the rock'n'roll capital of Lost Vegas. Along the way, he fights off a Russian army, some bowlers, and Death himself. So it's got lots of weird elements shoved together, including a very skewed version of history and a celebration of rock'n'roll kitsch and kung-fu weirdness.
A ton of people nominated this film too, along with several other John Carpenter classics (and we'll see more Carpenter in a sec.) I think what sets this one apart from several other 1980s Carpenter films is the commitment to non-stop weirdness and silliness, with Kurt Russell on top form. Check out this supercut of Kurt Russell acting confused in this film. When we posted our early review from Sundance of John Dies at the End, we compared it to Big Trouble for a reason.
This is another movie that features nonstop wackitude, coming thick and fast, as we follow aliens in World War I Egypt and then the future, confronting a Great Evil that's coming to consume Earth. Gary Oldman gives one of his all-time most insane performances and the action veers from exhilarating to slapstick and back again, pretty seamlessly. It's the closest you're ever going to get to seeing one of those nutty French bandes dessinees comics in movie form, and it deserves a place on this list for the opera fight scene alone.
As Charles Pearson put it: "Depressed spacemen and sentient doomsday devices? 1974? Yes!" This is John Carpenter's first stab at creating a piece of cinematic nuttiness for the ages, but it's also an early creation of Dan O'Bannon, who went on to give us Alien and Total Recall — so the potential for ludicrous weirdness is already very high. But nobody could have predicted the denouement involving a self-aware bomb and the downside of Cartesian philosophy. Definitely one of those films that's never been duplicated anywhere.
From the weird mind of Harlan Ellison comes another post-apocalyptic slice of weirdness — a young Don Johnson, years before Miami Vice, is one of the last survivors of the end of the world, trying to get laid with the help of his telepathic dog Blood, who just wants to eat. And Jason Robards is hanging around in clown makeup. It has one of the darkest, most misanthropic endings of any movie, ever.
A young punk gets a job as a repo man, working with a seasoned old pro — but things quickly get much weirder than that plot description could possibly convey. In particular, there's a stolen car with some dead aliens in the trunk, and the radiation from those aliens drives people nuts. This film never lets up with the sardonic comedy, and is full of some awesome running gags. As Roger Ebert <a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19840101/REVIEWS/401010375"wrote several years ago: "This is the kind of movie that baffles Hollywood, because it isn't made from any known formula and doesn't follow the rules."
But really when it comes to nonstop insanity, and ideas flying out of the screen at a million miles per hour, you can't beat Buckaroo Banzai. You could watch this film a couple times and still not be entirely sure just what it is you've watched. Buckaroo Banzai is a scientist, rock star, race car driver, neurosurgeon and various other things, who opens a doorway to the eighth dimension with his weird "driving through solid rock" antics. And this is the movie that gave us John Lithgow as Dr. Emilio Lizardo. As Joshua writes, "[Buckaroo Banzai] is one of my favorite movies. I lament daily that we will never have Buckaroo Banzai Vs. The World Crime League. Truly we all suffer for this."