Top 20 Sci-Fi Movies of the Century So Far
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Sci-Fi Movies of the Century So Far.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the best science fiction films released since 2000. However, we won’t be including any animated features or superhero movies.
What’s your favorite sci-fi movie of the century so far? Head to those comments and let us know!
#20: “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014)
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt shine in this adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s “All You Need Is Kill.” Set in the midst of a detrimental war against aliens, it follows an Army Major who’s forced into combat and immediately dies. Lucky for him, he gets trapped in a time loop, teaming up with a war hero previously stuck in a loop to find a way to defeat their invaders. The film’s engaging premise offers a ton of creative fun with killing the heroes over and over. It never gets overly bleak, with Cruise and Blunt turning in charming performances. While it didn’t impress at the box office, it’s much better than we initially imagined.
#19: “Coherence” (2013)
This thriller proves that sci-fi doesn’t need a big budget to completely enthrall you. During a dinner party, eight friends discover that a strange comet passing overhead gives them access to alternate dimensions. Or, at least, alternate versions of the home they find themselves in. Seeing the characters dig deeper, turn on each other, and interact with alternate versions of themselves is exceptionally compelling. It’s immensely impressive how writer-director James Ward Byrkit was able to come up with such a deep story with almost no outside resources. And no, by “outside resources,” we don’t mean other dimensions.
#18: “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” (2015)
No matter how it ended up, the sequel trilogy began with great promise. New franchise heroes Rey, Poe, and Finn were enjoyable inclusions. And Kylo Ren showed wider audiences how talented an actor Adam Driver is. But it wasn’t all new stuff. We loved returning to the galaxy far, far away a decade after the release of “Revenge of the Sith.” It felt like greeting an old friend, with J. J. Abrams’s direction bringing technical improvements and a story reminiscent of “A New Hope.” “Star Wars” is supposed to be fun and “The Force Awakens” had that in spades.
#17: “Primer” (2004)
Another sci-fi gem with a low budget, 2004’s “Primer” follows two friends that accidentally invent time travel. But it’s far from flashy, instead presenting the phenomenon through a more grounded, realistic approach. While trying to figure out its time travel and the many versions of its characters will make your head spin, “Primer” is also a captivating cautionary tale. As the two friends begin to use their discovery for their own financial gain, their bodies and friendship begin to fail. Since its release at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, the film has deservedly earned a passionate cult following.
#16: “Minority Report” (2002)
In a beautiful blend of sci-fi and crime noir, Steven Spielberg brings Philip K. Dick’s short story to life in tremendous fashion. Set in a future where police can foresee future crimes, the program’s commanding officer has to go on the run when he’s the next suspect. Tom Cruise’s John Anderton is an emotionally engrossing protagonist, searching for answers as he tries to outrun advanced technology. “Minority Report” isn’t the first sci-fi film to navigate the theme of free will. But it masterfully explores it in between riveting action sequences. It’s some of Spielberg’s best work.
#15: “Moon” (2009)
Over the past decade or so, Sam Rockwell has risen to be an exceptional leading man. And we like to think his incredible work in “Moon” is where it started. Astronaut Sam Bell runs a one-man facility on the moon to mine helium-3 as an alternate fuel source. With only an AI to keep him company, Sam prepares for the end of his contract when he can return to his wife and daughter. Things take a turn when he discovers another version of himself, and the two Sams work together to uncover the truth. Without giving everything away, “Moon” is a spectacular work of art that explores loneliness and what it means to be human.
#14: “Donnie Darko” (2001)
A definitive cult classic, Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko” is an enigma that’s been pulling viewers in for over two decades now. After a man in a bunny suit named Frank saves him from being crushed by a jet engine, young Donnie Darko learns that the world will end in less than a month. The movie’s unapologetically bizarre premise is further heightened by odd characters. Donnie’s drive to understand what’s happening to him echoes our own, though he also deals with the ups and downs of being a teenager. Dissecting the plot and ambiguous ending with others has made it one of the century’s most enduring sci-fi films.
#13: “Gravity” (2013)
Following a collision of space debris against the Space Shuttle “Explorer,” two astronauts must reach the International Space Station and make it back to Earth to survive. While “Gravity” is light on story, it’s a visual marvel with almost 100% of its runtime including visual effects. Despite this, everything feels real and absolutely visceral. Its ninety-one minutes will have you on the edge of your seat and gasping for breath. Sandra Bullock rightfully earned her second Oscar nom for playing Dr. Ryan Stone, a character we root and cheer for. Among the movie’s other nine nominations, it won for Best Visual Effects and earned Alfonso Cuarón a Best Director award.
#12: “Looper” (2012)
Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. Thus begins Rian Johnson’s brilliant sci-fi crime thriller. Loopers kill and dispose of people sent back by criminal organizations, even if the person is themselves. When one fails to get rid of his future self, he has to figure out how to catch him before the other loopers hunt him down for failing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt give stellar performances. The film’s slick plot oozes cool and its visual effects, though sparse, offer bombastic action sequences.
#11: “Snowpiercer” (2013)
Before Bong Joon-ho made history with “Parasite,” he directed a phenomenal adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” In the near future, the Earth has entered a hostile new Ice Age due to a botched attempt to solve global warming. The remains of humanity live in a massive, always-running train. While the poor live in the back cars, the wealthy live a life of luxury towards the front. The film chronicles a revolution as the masses rise up against their oppressors. Equal parts thrilling and heartbreaking, we watch as the protagonists risk everything for justice. With a cast that includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt, there’s plenty to love about “Snowpiercer.”
#10: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)
While Matt Reeves also closed out the trilogy fantastically, we have to give the spot to the middle entry. Following the outbreak of the Simian Flu, most of humanity has perished while Caesar and his apes have grown hyper-intelligent. This sequel reaches the same visual heights as the first with Caesar once again flawlessly motion-captured by Andy Serkis. Not only that, but the story soars as the apes clash with the surviving humans. Terrific set pieces bring the action to the forefront. And everything combines to make it a standout entry in this long-running franchise.
#9: “District 9” (2009)
Sci-fi often holds a mirror up to the disturbing real world. And “District 9” is a scathing rebuke of xenophobia and apartheid. Following the arrival of insect-like aliens in South Africa, the government forces them into slums. One bureaucrat’s life is turned upside down when he comes into contact with strange, alien liquid that begins to mutate him. Afraid and disowned by his own organization, he’s left to team up with one of the aliens. Although certain elements are fantastical, “District 9’s” partial found footage approach and use of unknown actors makes it feel realistic. It earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Visual Effects.
#8: “Ex Machina” (2014)
Alex Garland is a genius sci-fi writer, though his directorial debut is his crowning achievement. After winning a work contest, programmer Caleb gets to spend a week with his CEO testing his latest invention: an android named Ava with artificial intelligence. As the week progresses, Caleb finds himself torn between the enigmatic Nathan and Ava, who warns him not to trust her creator. The philosophical tale features fascinating conversations that will leave you discussing it for days. But there’s also a palpable feeling of unease throughout, particularly personified by Oscar Isaac’s Nathan. Completely grounded yet unbelievably thrilling, “Ex Machina” will show you both the heights and depths of innovation.
#7: “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)
“Blade Runner” is a phenomenal sci-fi film that doesn’t need a sequel…” is what we said before Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece. While it was a box office failure, this follow-up proved a worthy companion piece to Ridley Scott’s original. Upon finding evidence of a replicant-born child, blade runner and replicant K is ordered to track the child down and kill them to avoid a war. While Ryan Gosling’s K understandably shows a lack of emotion, his introspective journey takes him through a cavalcade of interesting characters, including the return of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Additionally, it is an absolutely gorgeous film that finally earned cinematographer Roger Deakins his first Oscar.
#6: “Her” (2013)
“Her” is very different from “Ex Machina,” but follows some similar themes. It tells the story of the lonely Theodore, a man who falls in love with Samantha, his artificially intelligent assistant. Emotionally distraught from his upcoming divorce, Theodore connects with Samantha on a new and unique level. At times sorrowful and at others heartwarming, the film is an engrossing look at the evolution of modern relationships. And it’s uplifted by Joaquin Phoenix’s beautiful portrayal of Theodore and Scarlett Johansson’s intoxicating voice-over as Samantha. It may not be as high concept as most other sci-fi films, but it is just as captivating.
#5: “Inception” (2010)
Christopher Nolan has given us multiple sci-fi juggernauts this century. Just look at “Interstellar.” But his absolute best is the action-packed tale of dream implantation. Following a botched job, extractor Dom Cobb is offered the chance to return home to his children. All he has to do is something that no one has ever successfully pulled off: plant an idea in a target’s subconscious. What follows is a thrilling heist through several levels of dreams, an incredible concept made better by supreme camerawork. The cast is wonderful, the effects are mind-bending, and Nolan’s direction once again proves he’s an entirely original blockbuster filmmaker.
#4: “Arrival” (2016)
Before “Blade Runner 2049,” Denis Villeneuve delivered this beautifully tragic sci-fi film. Amy Adams plays linguist Louise Banks, who’s contacted by the US government when alien spacecrafts arrive on Earth. It’s Banks’s job to decipher their language and figure out if they come in peace or are out for war. The aliens are more like an inciting incident, with the film exploring existentialism and philosophy through humanity’s encounters with them. However, the movie also highlights how unimaginative loss and a mother’s love can be exquisitely intertwined. We won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, it’s mind-blowing.
#3: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
Like “Her,” the sci-fi elements of “Eternal Sunshine” are understated, with the film instead navigating technology’s impact on us. Upon learning his girlfriend has erased him from her memory, Joel Barish signs up for the same procedure. He and the audience then relive their relationship in reverse. Unfortunately for Joel, he changes his mind midway through. It’s a haunting reminder of how hard it can be to let go of someone you’ve loved. And though its unique cinematography gives it an otherworldly appearance, it’s a movie most of us can relate to. It’s also some of the best work Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have ever put out, which is saying a lot.
#2: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Although it’d been thirty years since “Beyond Thunderdome,” George Miller showed there was plenty of life left in the “Mad Max” franchise. In fact, more life than there’d ever been. The post-apocalyptic film follows Max as he reluctantly aids a group of runaways, enslaved wives of the warlord Immortan Joe. Led by Furiosa, played by an impossibly good Charlize Theron, the group flees across the wasteland. With Joe in pursuit, the entire film is one explosive chase sequence after another. The effects and stunt work have us frequently picking our jaws off the floor. We weren’t the only ones impressed, as “Fury Road” earned a plethora of awards.
Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
“Under the Skin” (2013)
Scarlett Johansson Plays a Seductive Alien in This Minimalist Film
A Thrilling Conclusion to the Beloved “Firefly” TV Series
“Attack the Block” (2011)
A Pre-“Star Wars” John Boyega Stars in a Delightfully Dark Alien Invasion Flick
“The Martian” (2015)
A Lighthearted Tale of Survival on Mars
A Terrific Ensemble Tries to Reignite the Dying Sun
#1: “Children of Men” (2006)
In the not-too-distant future, mass infertility has pushed humanity to a point of near extinction. Many governments have fallen, with the UK becoming a police state due to rampant immigration. “Children of Men” is an incredibly bleak movie. But it’s also one of hope, redemption, and love. Upon meeting the first pregnant woman in decades, pessimist Theo must get her to safety. Performances from Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Clare-Hope Ashitey are absolutely stunning. The film’s unflinching cinematography puts you in each tense situation, leaving you breathless. It isn’t a movie that’ll leave your mind soon. And it’s one of the best this century, let alone in the sci-fi genre.