President Obama’s List of Essential Science Fiction Is Hella Lame

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.

People may disagree on Barack Obama’s accomplishments or the legacy he will leave when he exits the Oval Office, but there’s one way he has truly earned the nickname “Obummer”—and that’s in his list of what he considers essential scifi viewing.


It’s not that Obama’s list of seven scifi films and TV series—which he revealed as part of that special Wired issue he guest-edited—is wrong. Far from it! It’s just so… boring. Here’s the list in its entirety:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Blade Runner
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Star Wars: A New Hope
  • Star Trek (The Original Series)
  • The Martian
  • The Matrix
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

Come on. This is like picking a list of best movies ever and naming Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Casablanca. It’s like announcing his favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla (and not even French vanilla). Literally the most exciting pick in here is The Matrix, and that’s because despite being very, very popular and stylistically influential, it’s basically a dumb action flick. (Although the idea of Obama watching the lobby scene in the presidential theater delights me to no end.)

It’s even more disappointing, because I know this isn’t his real list. It’s his “safe” list, the list that no one could argue with. But look at this man:

Illustration for article titled President Obama’s List of Essential Science Fiction Is Hella Lame

This is a fanboy. The leader of the free world, yes, but also a fanboy, who’s freaking out because he’s hanging out with Uhura. I have zero doubt the man knows more science fiction than he’s letting on. He’s absolutely got more movies and TV series he considers essential. Hell, he probably prefers Empire Strikes Back over A New Hope, too. And that’s fine!

Come on, Obama. What are you hiding? Alien? The Prisoner? Terry Gilliam’s Brazil? Forbidden Planet? The new Battlestar Galactica series? What are you hiding, and why are you hiding it? Is it something genuinely shameful, like you’re actually a big fan of Enterprise, or the 1998 Lost in Space movie? Do you have a big Jupiter Rising poster in the Oval Office? Is that the problem?


Look, if there’s ever been a good time for you to throw a few scifi skeletons out of your closet, this is it. The nerdy people have a right to know!

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.


Dr Emilio Lizardo

Counterpoint. As “essential SF in a visual medium” there is nothing wrong with this list.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mind bending sixties/seventies stuff.
  • Blade Runner. One of the first of the dystopian near futures, an acknowledgement of Japan’s influence over technology, and a classic that was not recognized as such when it was released.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Peak Spielberg. ‘Nuff said.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope. The movie that made so many of us geeks. I saw it maybe a dozen times in the theater when I was 10. My mother kept asking me “again?” YES MOM!
  • Star Trek (The Original Series). Anybody going to argue with including this? With a black man including this? Didn’t think so.
  • The Martian. Show me a better, more engaging, hard SF movie. That was made from an independently published book, which embolizes how anybody can get published these days.
  • The Matrix. Yeah, a big, dumb, action movie. And nobody had ever seen anything like it before. I remember thinking I was seeing a B-movie. Then I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after the first scene.
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Who are you going to argue with here? Sagan or Tyson? Either way, you lose.

Are these “safe” picks? Maybe. Could you pick edgy stuff that most people had never heard of before? Probably. But that would be more of a hipsterish exercise in showing why he is better than you because he knows his genre. Not a demonstration of influential, approachable works.