Ultimate physicist Brian Cox talks films to expand your sci-fi collection

Professor Brian Cox talks sci-fi films in BFI Player’s new series The Cut

From January through to September 2018, BFI Player will play host to The Cut, a monthly series of new short films featuring nine high-profile artistic creators lauded for success in their respective creative spheres – from fashion and music to science, art and design – who all have a passion for film and chose the titles that have most inspired them.

This month will see Britain’s best loved scientist, Brian Cox, reveal the films that have most influenced and inspired his life and career to date. Made famous outside of scientific circles by his highly accessible and engaging books and documentaries (including BBC’s Wonders of the Universe), Brian Cox is at least partially responsible for the influx of interest in science amongst young people.

“Science is different fundamentally, I think, from the arts in that there is a gold standard, if you like, against which you can be judged. You can be wrong. In the arts you can’t be wrong. It’s not objectively a bad film or a good film or a great film. There is a debate to be had.” – Professor Brian Cox

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a classic ‘end of the world’ film, but what makes it stand apart from other famous stories is that the disaster isn’t caused by an external factor like aliens invading or meteors falling to Earth, but because of the good old human race. The film kicks off with America and Russia accidentally testing their atomic weapons at the same time and as a result the Earth’s axis is altered and is gravitating towards the sun.

Cox points out that the film is in some way a warning to the future of mankind to be careful and to not let our greed for power destroy the planet, and that “by our actions we could destroy our civilisation”.

“What [H.G.] Wells signifies for me is the power of science fiction. Science fiction at its best can be an exploration of ideas.” – Professor Brian Cox on the classic sci-fi author

The Man Who Fell To Earth

The 1976 adaptation of Walter Tevis’ classic science fiction novel is just as highly acclaimed as the book. Sent to Earth by his species to save his planet, T.J. Newton (David Bowie) seeks aid but instead finds loneliness, despair and tragedy. When talking about the influence the film had on his life, Cox said, “At the time, thirteen/fourteen years old, what I wanted was David Bowie and science fiction. What you actually get is a film that challenges the way that our society works, that way that it influences people.”

“What would I be doing if someone said the Earth had come off its axis and you as a scientist need to try and do the calculations to make this very small chance that we can try and fix the Earth’s orbit? I’d probably say, no I’m off, I’m going to go and listen to David Bowie.” – Professor Brian Cox

Local Hero

The only non-sci-fi film on this list is Local Hero, a film that Cox describes as “a tremendously gentle… funny film.” It follows a man sent to Scotland by an American oil company to buy an entire town and makes Brian Cox feel very nostalgic and warm inside as it reminds him of his childhood.

“I don’t know what it is about the disaster scenario that’s so common in films – the end of the world – that is kind of perversely attractive.” – Professor Brian Cox on apocalyptic films

If you are interested in hearing more about the way these films have impacted Brian’s life and his views on science and the world, then head to the BFI Player to watch his full Cut which is now live.