Best Science Fiction Films Of All Time
Here is our list of the best sci-fi movies of all time!
This movie shouldn't exist. After Joss Whedon's original TV series Firely failed to gain high enough viewership to justify it's bigger-than-usual-budget, the series was cancelled. In the years following, however, sci-fi fans found the show on DVD and it gained a cult following. In an unprecedented move the studio gave Whedon the greenlight to make a movie to wrap up the show for the fans. Whedon's witty and realistic writing and the excellent actors playing these memorable characters make this one of the most fun, different, and emotional films of the decade. It's western aesthetic, rugged, working-class characters, and lack of lasers make this a uniquely grounded sci-fi flick.
19. Starship Troopers
Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven has made no less than three classics of the genre in his varied career, the best of which is Starship Troopers. This satirical take on Robert A. Heinlein's fascist novel is a genius parody of America's militaristic jingoistic patriotism. It's got some amusingly over-the-top performances and extremely gory battles which play into it's hilarious brilliance. Portions of the film are shot like a political propaganda video while the rest feels like a 90s soap opera. From beginning to end it's a fun and wild ride with lots of intense action, cheesy romance, and funny bits.
18. Ex Machina
Perhaps the most haunting of all the films on this list, Ex Machina is a psychological thriller unlike any other. Writer/director Alex Garland crafts a taut story with three characters all of whom have their own agendas. It's fun to watch because each of the leads turn in some of the best performances in sci-fi history. This is a small intimate drama which sets it apart from many of the films on this list. Most of this film takes place in one location and again it has a very small cast of characters. The movie looks beautiful thanks to some astonishing cinematography. You can't guess what will happen next and the ending will leave you breathless.
17. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy may be the most fun movie set in space ever. This cast is phenomenal in their respective roles as a band of misfits who join forces for the greater good. You get to know each of the characters well and understand why they are who they are while each of them also have surprisingly emotional character arcs over the course of the film. It's also funny and dramatic thanks to James Gunn's poised and poignant writing and direction. The soundtrack is also a blast and plays into the story in meaningful ways. It's got some big action, but most of all, lots of heart.
A bold and boisterous film from up-and-coming auteur Rian Johnson, Looper is one of the best time travel films ever made because it's all about the characters... or character. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis are at their best here playing the same man at two different points in his life. It's a shocking and intense story as their two agendas clash with each of them fighting for the same life. It's a fully fleshed-out world of the future in which hit men kill people sent back in time. There are tons of excellent action sequences with each of them escalating to the heartbreaking finale.
This Japanese anime from Katsuhiro Otomo is the best the stylized animation format has to offer. The film follows the leader of a biker gang who's friend is captured by the government and experimented on leading to an epic conflict. It's emotional, creepy, and action-packed. This movie from 1988 inspired countless movies to come with it's unique neo-futuristic look and dark tone. There are tons of astounding action scenes like the fast-paced chases and brutal fights. Never has a stand alone anime movie been better than it is here.
Science Fiction is best when it says something about humanity and that's exactly what Arrival does so well. Making a movie about communication engrossing and interesting is a difficult task, but it's one that director Dennis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer pulled off. This entertaining, interesting film is given weight and pathos with it's shocking twist. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner have never been better than they are here with subdued, yet realistic performances. It's a must-see movie with intellectual and emotional depth.
13. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
One of the best sequels ever made, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day displays action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger at his best. It's a surprisingly touching story about a boy and his robot who acts as his only father figure. Linda Hamilton deserved an Oscar for her performance as a deranged mother with knowledge of the future who will do anything to protect her son and save the world. This film features incredible special effects which help tell the story rather than mesmerize. This is how you do a sequel, changing the formula from a sci-fi horror film to a sci-fi action movie, without forgetting about the central characters and their development at the heart of the tale.
12. Back to the Future
One of the most influential and important films of the past forty years, Back to the Future is a wonderfully entertaining film. It's got everything from drama, to romance, to comedy, to music, as well as action. This is a perfect example of great storytelling and memorable characters. Robert Zemekis created the quintessential time-travel movie because it focused on characters we can all relate to as Michael J. Fox gives the performance of his career as Marty McFly. There are so many unforgettable lines of dialogue from Bob Gale's script and plenty of visuals that won't soon leave your mind.
11. The Matrix
When you talk about films that changed the game in movie making, The Matrix is near the top of the list. It's not that slow motion had never been used before but it had never been used like it was here. The story is wholly original even though it is inspired by Star Wars, Blade Runner, and the aforementioned Akira. The Wachowskis were able to craft an adult sci-fi film with tons of action, characters you care about, and a story with meaning. The cast is fully committed to their roles, the visuals are outstanding, and the audience is fully immersed in this never-before-seen world.
Ridley Scott is a genius filmmaker and his 1979 film Alien is one of the best examples of that. He creates a mood from the opening shot and builds on that throughout the film. This is really more a horror movie as the crew of a run-down spaceship freighter called the Nostromo is terrorized by an unseen monster in the coldness of space with no help or chance of rescue. It's the most suspenseful movie ever made due to it's dark, damp atmosphere and excellent pacing. The performances from the cast are totally real, making you think you're just watching a documentary. Horror and sci-fi have never been better together than they are right here.
Pixar simply outdid themselves with this 2008 film about a robot stranded on Earth to clean up after the human population leaves for a space cruise. The brilliance of the film is in it's opening half-hour when we're alone with WALL-E on Earth. There's no dialogue and still you're caught up in the story of this little robot that could. Things ramp up when he gets launched into space and the real adventure begins alongside his love-at-first-sight interest EVE. The depiction of humanity is a hilarious commentary on our modern way of life and where it will lead if we're not careful. This cautionary tale is one for the ages.
8. The Road Warrior
After blowing Australian audiences away with Mad Max, director George Miller brought his tortured character to the U.S. with The Road Warrior, a follow-up to the low-budget dystopian car chase film he made in 1979. In 1981, American audiences had never seen anything quite like The Road Warrior with it's high octane action, thrill-a-minute car chases, and subdued lead character. Mel Gibson's performance as the title character is an ode Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name who also rarely speaks, but new deeper layers are there in Gibson's anti-hero. This is the one that kicked off Max Mania and led to two more sequels, but none are better than this one with it's odd characters and mythic narrative.
7. War for the Planet of the Apes
The best film in the Planet of the Apes franchise is last year's War for the Planet of the Apes. It's a personal, intimate journey of revenge set within an epic conflict to decide the fate of the planet. Andy Serkis' astonishing work as Caesar cannot be overstated and Matt Reeves direction is genius. The performance capture technology utilized in this film is better than it's ever been before, so much so that you forget you're watching computer-generated apes and just think of them as real characters. This film is inspired by classics like The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Ten Commandments, and it shows in the grandeur of the cinematography and the emotional journey of our lead character. In Caesar, these filmmakers have created a hero for the ages.
6. The Iron Giant
Before he created The Incredibles or Ratatouille, Brad Bird made what is still his best film, The Iron Giant. This is a feat in movie-making as Bird crafts a scary, funny, and dramatic story for all audiences. The voice cast is wonderful, including Vin Diesel as the Giant who learns emotion and humanity from the young boy Hogarth Hughes. The connection they make is believable and it drives this story forward as the Hogarth must hide the huge robot from the prying eyes of the U.S. military. Here's a well-balanced, perfectly-paced film, with great characters and a fantastic story. It's message is hopeful, it's ending is heartbreaking.
5. Forbidden Planet
The importance of Forbidden Planet is perhaps unmatched by any other film on this list. This movie was released before Star Wars or Star Trek, yet it had humans travelling in a flying saucer to another planet, a lead character who's a robot, and a shocking plot twist. No one had seen anything like that before. It's also an intense story of deception and intrigue. Robby the Robot turns in his star-making performance here and the special effects team deserves accolades for their amazing work on not only the bot, but also the ray guns and space ships. Performances are solid throughout the movie with Leslie Nielsen bringing us one of the best sci-fi movie heroes of all time.
4. Star Trek
J.J. Abrams had a difficult task in bringing Star Trek back to the big screen. Recasting iconic characters like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock seemed impossible but somehow he managed to do it with this new cast who each brought something new to their characters while remaining true to the spirit of the original performances. It's hard to understand how this movie works so well, but the biggest reason it succeeds is because the characters are the focus and the cast is so good. The story is an interesting sci-fi concept which works well and the vengeful villain has reason for what his maniacal mission. There's plenty of stunning action here too, but the highlight is the smart script. This one went where no sci-fi film went before.
3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
One of the most emotionally satisfying films of all time, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is Steven Spielberg at his best. It's all told from the point of view of the children who encounter this out-of-this-world being which makes it so very relatable. There are a lot of intensely moving moments in the film, some sad, some joyful, but it's the characters that make it memorable and their connection to one another. This alien isn't here to hurt us, but instead brings a broken family together and helps them move forward in life. It's a beautiful journey you'll want to take over and over again.
2. Blade Runner
When you talk about films that inspire filmmakers and move a genre forward there's perhaps no better example than Blade Runner. Ridley Scott's 1982 film blends genres and creates a whole new aesthetic unlike anything seen before. The dark, damp crowded landscape of 2019 Los Angeles is like something out of a old film noir which is exactly what the entire plot is based on. The story, though, is a high concept sci-fi idea based on Phillip K. Dick's short story about a cold-hearted man finding his humanity again by hunting down rogue replicants or artificial humans. It's one of Harrison Ford's most underrated performances and the rest of the cast is just as brilliant. This is an odd, moody piece of work with lots of style that doesn't sacrifice it for substance.
1. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
The best science fiction film of all time is Star Wars. The original film from 1977 changed the movie making industry forever. It's a hero's journey unlike anything that came before it. The characters, the action, the story, the effects; all of it works together perfectly. George Lucas wrote and directed his best film which everyone thought would fail and ended up being the most popular movie of all time. Every scene is meaningful and moves the compelling story and likable characters forward. It's fast-paced, funny, and full of heart. This depiction of the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire is still the most entertaining movie of them all.