Gen Z stars react to classic ’80s sci-fi movies

If you were a moviegoer in the 1980s, you were constantly being asked questions that seemed cosmic and existential. Will humanity ever be able to resolve its differences here on earth and learn to travel the stars as one species? Or are we destined for a dystopian future with nothing but smoky skies and giant billboards to look forward to? Can our advanced technologies literally absorb us or completely replace us? Could we ever meet alien life that is intelligent and benevolent? Perhaps the year 2000 in the distant future will answer some of these questions.

Released 40 years ago in the summer of 1982, Blade Runner, Alien, Tron, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were seminal works that shaped the next several decades of fantasy franchises. But what if it wasn’t the sci-fi movie you grew up watching? What if you came of age in a later generation and only knew these movies as famous from a somewhat distant influence? Will they still feel exciting, innovative and thought-provoking? Or — to counter another terrifyingly speculative scenario — will they just seem uncool?

To find out for ourselves, we recruited four modern stars—all born in the 21st century—and asked each of them to review one of these seminal sci-fi films. They shared their reactions and thoughts, didn’t judge the special effects too harshly, and still cried when they thought ET died. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.

I knew that Han was Captain Kirk’s most famous rival and I found both of their performances [William Shatner as Kirk and Ricardo Montalbán as Khan] really fascinating. Han is very dictatorial in the way he leads his team, and Kirk is—I use that word very carefully—a diplomat who takes his team into account. Their courage and jokes are very relevant. They’re two confident men just trying to poke each other, and Kirk knows how to get under Hana’s skin, like when he says, “I laugh at a higher intelligence.” It’s a really great reflection of how well they know each other and how deeply they hate each other. The fact that the machoism of the executives hasn’t changed in the future, I wouldn’t say it’s funny, but I find it very interesting. Like, yeah, it’s still two guys trying to see whose ship is bigger.

I don’t know how I got this far without knowing that Spock dies at the end. I feel like a terrible franchise member. Even when I saw the title [of “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”]in my understanding there was no world where Spock died [in “The Wrath of Khan”]. I thought, oh, he’s lost in some space grocery store. At first I thought they would figure out a way to save him. And then we cut to Kirk giving the eulogy, Scotty playing the bagpipes, and me crying. When people think of the best sci-fi bros, they think of Kirk and Spock, and it’s heartbreaking to see that love somehow torn apart. It was heartbreaking but beautiful and I hope one day to be loved the way Kirk loves Spock.

Jacob Bertrand

The old movie Tron is one of my dad’s favorite movies. I went and saw Tron: Legacy [the sequel, from 2010] in cinemas with him. I remember how we came out at the end and he was just disappointed. And I thought that was the best thing that could be done. A few months after that, my brother and I were playing this phone app that was like the light bikes in Tron, and we were racing each other and trying to cut each other off. I still like Tron: Legacy, but I definitely think the first Tron is better – I feel like the new one doesn’t hold a candle to the old one.

When I was very young, my dad still had his old Atari and I grew up playing it. My brother and I played pong together, a lot of Pac-Man. My mom would kick my ass in Donkey Kong. So I’m very used to that era of gaming and that aesthetic. I was laughing the whole time [“Tron”] to some of the effects that definitely look older. But I was actually really impressed—I was trying to think of how they could do that with the technology of the time, and everything I could think of sounded like such a big job. I thought, man, how did they do it then? Holy cow, these people were dedicated.

Young Jeff Bridges doesn’t look like the Jeff Bridges I know. I was really shocked. I was surprised at how charismatic he was. I thought of him in “True Grit” [2010] – it’s so different. He was a fatalistic programmer at this huge game company, and it would have been easy to play him a bit of a nerd, to make him more ordinary. Back then, many coders were stigmatized as weirdos. But he played straight all the time. He was too self-confident. I thought that was pretty cool.

Iman Vellani

I feel like it hit the mark. This is strange, because the action takes place in 2019, and now it is not the future, but the past. But the movie finally caught up with reality. It gives you a good look at where humanity is compared to how people in the 80s envisioned the future. Forget flying cars, electronics, and technology—I feel like everyone in my generation is always searching for some higher purpose or trying to prove that they’re worthy enough or special enough to be in the spotlight or just worth continuing to live. After watching it again, I find myself sympathizing with the replicants a lot more than I expected.

I’ve always seen Harrison Ford as this Han Solo kind of cool guy, but I’ve never really looked into his performance until now. Seeing his face when he was buying alcohol at the bar after killing the snake girl [Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy] — oh my God, the vulnerability. Roy [Batty, played by Rutger Hauer], especially, is just an outstanding character for me. He is clearly meant to be an enemy or a villain. But the way he delivers his final speech—the awe on his face—he’s one of the few characters who truly realizes how beautiful humanity and life are.

I felt super existential after watching this movie. What does it mean to be human, I asked? What is the meaning of life? Usual sober Friday afternoon thoughts. It’s crazy to think that it didn’t get enough attention when it came out in the first place. Honestly, I was trying to get people to watch this movie. This is a task. I don’t know if today’s average moviegoers will enjoy such a movie. It requires a lot of patience. I feel like you have to give in completely, emotionally and psychologically, to love it. And when you do, it’s phenomenal.

It was one of my big childhood movies. I had an anniversary DVD that I watched until it was scratched [expletive]. Then it disappeared for a very long time, and then I saw it on 35mm in a theater in Atlanta when I was doing Stranger Things. Seeing it as a more established personality made me see things much differently. It was a lot of nerdy stuff for me. The opening scene where the kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons, the way it’s lit—the whole room is mostly dark, except in the middle of the room where they’re at the table, and there’s this extremely bright light that illuminates the board and the kids. I thought this movie was so well made. But this is Spielberg. Nothing hot.

This movie also completely traumatized me. [E.T.’s apparent death] this is a real slap in the face. But it is so earned. It’s such a chaotic scene and it turns into a different movie. This turns into a really serious operation. Oh, we may never see these characters again. These two are in real danger. You’re watching a movie that’s a really fun adventure, and then something happens and you realize that life is precious and everything can die. But this is not a cynical film at all. It’s actually incredibly sweet. I was talking to my dad recently about this and I told him that I would love to make a movie for kids, but I want it to have a moment that scares everyone [expletive] of them forever. It’s fun, and they remember it, and it shapes who you are, what you fear, and how you feel.

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