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THE B-LIST: Keep your serious sci-fi; make mine gonzo

In honor of birthday boy James Spader's greatest film, "Stargate" — a sci-fi movie full of wormholes, soldiers and alien villains designed around the Egyptian gods — let's dive into gonzo sci fi.

Not to be confused with the Muppet, gonzo is practically its own genre. It's outrageous, campy, wildly colorful and larger than life. It skews towards the goofy and surreal. It may play with the trappings but it scoffs at the "science" aspect of sci fi, rarely offering up any sort of explanation for the magic and whimsy.

Don't question gonzo. Just hang on for the ride.

Here are six other wacky and weird films to get lost in:

6. "THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION" (1984). Before Peter Weller was RoboCop, he was Buckaroo Banzai: a physicist, inventor, neurosurgeon, test pilot, rock star and race car driver who saves the universe from inter-dimensional aliens known as the Red Lectroids from Planet 10. In between sold-out concerts and brilliant bouts of surgery, of course.

Jeff Goldblum is a cowboy with a thing for furry chaps. John Lithgow is the evil Dr. Lizardo. Clancy Brown and Christopher Lloyd are there. Sure, the plot makes next to no sense — Ellen Barkin plays Penny Priddy, the long-lost twin of Buckaroo's late wife, who is alternately suicidal and madly in love with our polymath hero, a man who can drive through solid objects — but it's the best kind of bizarro insanity and well worth a watch.

5. "TANK GIRL" (1995). Anti-heroine Tank Girl (Lori Petty) gives the totalitarian, water-hogging regime of her post-apocalyptic world the middle finger by teaming up with Jet Girl (a pre-fame Naomi Watts) and a clan of kangaroo mutants called Rippers to thwart the monstrous Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell).

What's the best thing about this cult comic adapt? There's the in-your-face feminism, hardcore punk stylizations and "angry girl music": the soundtrack includes Bjork, Veruca Salt, Hole and Joan Jett. Lori Petty in the lead role — such an underrated actress — and the Stan Winston-designed Rippers. Ice-T as a kangaroo mutant. Obviously it's all of the above. A female-centric apocalyptic tale set in the Australian Outback, this would be a perfect double feature with "Mad Max."

4. "JUPITER ASCENDING" (2015). Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under auspicious signs, but spends her days cleaning bathrooms. Until a flying wolf hybrid named Caine (Channing Tatum) shows up and she finds out she's the reincarnation of an intergalactic queen.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I refuse to be ashamed of how much I love this movie! It's the most over-the-top, complete wish fullfillment film, a teen girl's fanfic come to life. Eddie Redmayne is so gloriously ludicrous as the shrieking glam villain. The costumes and visuals are magical. Sean Bean is a BEE. Named Stinger. I just ... Thank goodness for the Wachowski Sisters, who gave us both "The Matrix" AND this.

3. "BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA" (1986). Big rig driver Jack Burton (the ever perfect Kurt Russell) helps old buddy Wang (Dennis Dun) rescue his kidnapped fiancee while facing down elemental gods, hungry ghosts and giant eyeball things in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Jack Carpenter is No. 2 on my Top Five Greatest Directors/Screenwriters list. His stuff is pure entertainment, and the team-up of Carpenter/Russell never fails to delight. Like the audience, Jack spends most of the movie either yelling or confused, and at one point two magical oldsters fight via thumb lasers. Wacky fun from start to finish.

2. "THOR: RAGNAROK" (2017). The God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) is forced to fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in gladiatorial matches on a far-flung world ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, so often a mainstay of gonzo sci fi). Desperate to escape and save Asgard from evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor has to team up with the drunken Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and serial betrayer/adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to prevent the mythic apocalypse of Ragnarok.

Bless Taika Waititi. The Kiwi director/screenwriter didn't just turn the dial up to 11 — he broke the dang knob off, delivering the weirdest, silliest, most colorful Marvel film to date. "I know him!" Thor shouts when he realizes his opponent is the Hulk. "He's a friend from work!" This is a superhero extravaganza that will leave you giddy with laughter — until "The Immigrant Song" kicks in and you get legit chills. SO DANG GOOD.

1. "THE FIFTH ELEMENT" (1997). In the far-flung future, a planet of evil is hurtling across the galaxy on a crash course with Earth. Everything depends on Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), a supreme alien weapon, who joins forces with jaded cabbie Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), bumbling priest Cornelius (Ian Holm) and the outrageous radio host Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker). Amidst flying cars, kung fu action sequences and alien operas, our heroes have to dodge the nefarious Zorg (Gary Oldman, at his scene-chewing best).

Few films embrace the gonzo quite like this one. Everyone's rocking Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion, machines deliver full-cooked chickens and full faces of makeup, and Chris Tucker in leopard print and bright red lipstick is the ultimate male sex symbol (something I will applaud and love to my dying breath). Writer/director Luc Besson's vision of the future is truly bright and wondrous.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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