Codes and conventions of the science fiction film genre
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Codes and Conventions of the Science Fiction Film Genre. JC Clapp, North Seattle College. Setting and Narrative. Set in a futuristic setting or an alternative history Usually set in a city or a space-ship Always some form of “not-real” alternate reality, time, or place

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Setting and narrative
Setting and Narrative

  • Set in a futuristic setting or an alternative history

  • Usually set in a city or a space-ship

  • Always some form of “not-real” alternate reality, time, or place

  • Often includes space travel and time travel

  • Often set on distant planets or in space

  • If set on earth, then it’s usually a dystopic reality (set after a nuclear holocaust, or after technology has taken over, or after an oppressive government has limited freedom or rights, etc.)

  • There’s an improbable quest or epic journey – usually to save humankind or the Earth against an invasion or oppression

  • There are binary opposites of good and evil

Typical characters
Typical characters

  • Hero on an epic quest, often is either totally arrogant or quite self-doubting. If arrogant, then he/she gets beaten down, but then pulls it back together and against-all-odds goes on to defeat the enemy. If self-doubting, then will question whether or not he/she is the right person (destined) to do the job – has to be convinced and developed before saving the world.

  • Side-kicks, mentors, or helpers (sometimes human, sometimes not – often at least one of them dies) assist the hero

  • Aliens or non-humans are the antagonists/villains (including robots, monsters, killer microbes, space creatures, androids, super-computers) – often the villains are stubborn and arrogant with cronies or soldiers to do the dirty work

Style and visuals
Style and visuals

  • Plenty of special effects and lavish costuming (to portray the aliens, robots, spaceships, etc.)

  • Helmets, lasers, guns, metal

  • Often lots of explosions, crashes, and shoot-outs

  • Fast panning and tracking shots are used to follow the action and create tension

  • Establishing shots show the futuristic city or space-ship before moving in to closer shots

  • Lots of electronic equipment, computers, and technology that seem too complicated for us to understand

  • Sometimes taps into the Horror genre codes and conventions to add suspense and fear


  • Dystopia – technological mis-utilization. The futures is bleak, oppressive, and to be avoided.

  • Commentary on Societal and Cultural issues such as the warning against over-use of technology, war, racism, ecological destruction, medical ethics (genetics), and one-world government oppression

  • Express society’s anxiety about technology and the future