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Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie Cliches

VO: Dan Paradis
Script Written by Matt Wende. Prepare to make the jump to light speed, again, and again. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie Cliches. For this list, we’re looking at cliches, tropes, gimmicks, plot points, narrative devices, MacGuffins, or anything else you can name that is frequently used throughout movies in the science fiction genre. Special thanks to our users Josh3000, Moses Delira, pietka33 and nunnaza for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Prepare to make the jump to light speed, again, and again. Welcome to, and today, we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie Clichés.

For this list, we’re looking at clichés, tropes, gimmicks, plot points, narrative devices, MacGuffins, or anything else you can name that is frequently used throughout movies in the science fiction genre. For the record, we’re not badmouthing any of these, as their presence has created some truly compelling works of science fiction. Instead, we’re ranking them based on their abundant presence and their role in science fiction stories.

#10: Homogenous Alien Species / Planets

You guys know better than most that science fiction universes can be pretty big, so sometimes a little simplifying is required. In an effort to do this, alien species are often painted with broad strokes, where every member of a particular race has similar personalities, clothes (or lack thereof), attitudes, etc. The same can be said of other planets, which are often represented with one defining characteristic. One’s a giant desert, another’s nothing but swamp, and another constantly looks like the South Pole. Is Hoth cold this time of year? It’s a giant ice cube, what do you think?

#9: Aliens Understand English and Vice Versa Without Any Translation

You said it, Chewie! It seems that everyone in the galaxy has conveniently taken the time to learn English, or at least facilitate others speaking it. Sure, a lot of movies use the whole “universal translator” thing to get around this, but shouldn’t every alien speaking look like a badly dubbed kung-fu movie in that case? As far as we’re concerned though, a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way, as we like knowing what characters are saying to each other.

#8: Time Manipulation

When you hit #8 on this list, you’re gonna see some serious s**t! Where would sci-fi be without the ability to travel to another era, speed up time, or change the future? What’s great about this cliché is that although it gets frequent use, we’re still seeing new stories come out of it. Whether it’s time traveling robotic assassins, astronauts getting to close to a black hole, or souped up DeLoreans, we say keep ‘em coming.

#7: Post-Apocalypse

What will the world be like in the near future? Well, it might not be there… Wiping out the world as we know it provides a blank canvas for sci-fi filmmakers to apply their special effects-heavy brushes. Random virus, nuclear holocaust, rise of the machines, aliens? Who cares?! We love ‘em all! There are literally endless amounts of stories to come out of our world ending, and they never seem to get old.

#6: Dystopia

Yes, it’s different from a post-apocalypse. In a dystopia, the world hasn’t (necessarily) been wiped out, it’s just kind of grim. This also includes societies that seem perfect, but actually hide dark secrets. Life is hard for the people of the future who have to struggle to find food, fight off replicants in a grimy L.A.,
or prevent murders before they happen in D.C. Sucks for them, but it makes the movies featuring such settings so much better. If a hero can survive there, they can survive anywhere.

#5: Thinly Veiled Political Messages / Morals

We’re all for allegories in film, even if it means occasionally getting beaten over the head with a giant metaphor. Seriously though, sci-fi loves making its art reflective of the world we live in today. Tackling a variety of subjects from calls for humans to make peace not war to a commentary on drone warfare, sometimes it even goes far enough to say that humans are to blame for everything. If you’re ever feeling thirsty for a moral kick in the ass, science fiction has got you covered.

#4: Alien Invasions

Aliens play no small part in science fiction, but never is their presence more evident or so driving to the plot than when they invade our home planet. Violent visits from our intergalactic friends-slash-foes have been vital to science fiction since the genre’s early days. It’s happened a thousand different ways. Sometimes they steal our bodies and invade our governments, and sometimes they just blow the s**t out of us. Either way, we’d be lost without them.

#3: Artificial Intelligence

Never is sci-fi more potently important as a genre than when it makes us question our own consciousness by asking questions like “What does it mean to be alive?” It accomplishes this by portraying computers and robots that become capable of thought. It’s true, we could have limited ourselves to just Evil Robots for this entry, but that would ignore the many different aspects of artificial intelligence across a massive spectrum of films: we’ve been afraid of them, we’ve laugh

#2: Techno Babble

Let’s face it, people: It’s called science “fiction” for a reason. We can’t count how many times we’ve heard our favorite characters talking about dilithium crystals, or flux capacitors, or AI cores, or Hyperspace Drive etc. This is often done to show how fancy some future technology is, or to explain why what is impossible in reality is possible in the movie. Whether the mystical technology is real or not, we don’t care, because the movies would not be possible without it. Whatever it is.

Before we unevil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.


All Aliens are Humanoid

Being Hunted / Pursued by an Overpowered Enemy

Loud Space Battles

Ultra Pristine Futures

Artificial Realities

#1: Human Existence Is Threatened

Before we can worry about anything else, we have to worry about the very survival of the human race. This is a theme that has dominated a huge array of science fiction, mostly because the human race could be threatened by anything from aliens to a mysterious virus to evil killer robots. The genre allows for this idea to be realized in a marvelous fashion, and has become nearly synonymous with the genre of science fiction, which is why it’s at the top of our list.

Do you agree with our list? What sci-fi movie clichés did we miss? For more intergalactic Top 10s, subscribe to

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