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NASA names best and worst sci-fi movies of all time – or not?

Jan 5, 2011 9 comments

A front page article in this week’s Sunday Times stated that NASA had named 2012 the most absurd science-fiction film of all time. In a follow-up article on page nine, the Sunday Times stated that NASA had recently held a conference at the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) to highlight the good and bad scientific practices of Hollywood. According to the Sunday Times, NASA and the Science and Entertainment Exchange produced the following lists:

Worst sci-fi movies:
1. 2012 (2009)
2. The Core (2003)
3. Armageddon (1998)
4. Volcano (1997)
5. Chain Reaction (1996)
6. The 6th Day (2000)
7. What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? (2004)

Most realistic films:
1. Gattaca (1997)
2. Contact (1997)
3. Metropolis (1927)
4. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
5. Woman in the Moon (1929)
6. The Thing from Another World (1951)
7. Jurassic Park (1993)

I was curious about the reasons for some of the choices, so I thought I’d look this up on the NASA website. But I couldn’t find any mention of these films on NASA web site, the JPL web site, or the Science and Entertainment Exchange web site. There were plenty of articles reporting NASA’s choice of films, but none of them I looked at had links back to a primary source at NASA. Many had links to articles in other newspapers. And curiously, none of the articles were in American newspapers.

Then, today (Jan 4, 2011), The Science and Entertainment Exchange issued a statement on its blog:

The article in the London Sunday Times on January 2, 2011 “To Absurdity and Beyond: NASA damns flaws in sci-fi films” incorrectly attributed a top-ten worst sci-fi films list to the Science & Entertainment Exchange. We were not involved in creating the list.

This raises some interesting questions:

  • Did NASA, in fact, publish a list of best and worst sci-fi films?
  • Where did the lists published by the Sunday Times originate?
  • Did NASA have a conference about sci-fi films?
  • Why did so many newspapers publish a story about this without bothering to check the primary source?

The newspapers and journals that re-hashed this story include:

Update, 6th Jan 2011

Dave Kellam, at eightface.com, also wrote a blog post on this subject: NASA and bad science movies. Kellam emailed Donald Yeomans, the manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, who was quoted in John Harlow’s Sunday Times article. In his reply Yeomans stated:

There is no list and there was no meeting to put together such a list. NASA would never put together a list of “worst sci-fi films.” We are not movie critics.

According to Kellam, Yeomans stated that he was interviewed by a British journalist, but was subject to misquotes and manufactured quotes.

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