The best science fiction movies of all time

Darth Vader

Science fiction, the genre that boldly goes where no genre has gone before. Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but mangled Captain Kirk quotes aside, there is something a little special about the sci-fi genre.

Firstly science fiction enjoys near-universal popularity; even if people tell you they don’t like science fiction, it’s such a broad genre. Trying to say you don’t like it is like saying you don’t like clothes. You might not like every single outfit, but there’s a pair of pants out there somewhere you do like. Secondly, science fiction is basically the granddaddy of all speculative fiction; from horror to superheroes, they all owe a debt to this genre.

All this can make picking a science fiction film trickier than the Kobayashi Maru, but that’s where we come in. We’ve scoured galaxies far, far away, from round the moons of Nibia and Perdition’s Flames, as well as ruined space hulks to bring you a list of the best science fiction movies around. So grab your communicator, stick on your space helmet, and don’t forget your phaser, we’re going in…

What are the best science fiction movies of all time?

  • Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Jurassic Park
  • Robocop
  • Ex Machina
  • The Matrix
  • Blade Runner
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Wars (Original Trilogy)
  • Alien

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Kirk and Spock in The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek helped define science fiction for so many writers, filmmakers, and the general public that it was always going to earn a place on this list. The only question was which movie would we choose? Well, as far as this writer’s concerned, it was a shortlist of one, The Wrath of Khan. As Spock would say, it’d be illogical to choose any other film in the series because this one’s the best.

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After the lacklustre response to the cerebral and ponderous first movie, director Nicholas Meyer did his damndest to give the people what they wanted. A daring adventure in space that evoked the spirit of the original TV series. Featuring, exciting story, thrilling battle scenes, deft character work, and an incredible score, Wrath of Khan is the high watermark all Star Trek movies aspire to.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2

While the worst sequels are shallow rehashes of the first film Terminator 2 is an upgrade on its predecessor in almost every way. Judgment Day features some of the sci-fi genre’s most exciting action scenes – the chase in the aqueduct being a personal favourite, Arnie in the role that basically defined his career, and one of cinema’s most iconic bad guys, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick).

Not only that, the film helped to advance the use of computer-generated imagery in movies, which considering how integral that’s become to the genre, more than earns it a place on our list.

Jurassic Park (1993)

the T-Rex in Jurassic Park

Stephen Spielberg’s blockbuster about the de-extinction of the dinosaurs just missed out on our best movies ever list, so it’s only right we recognise it here. Technically, Jurassic Park is a prehistoric sensation featuring some of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring visuals ever seen on the big screen.

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Honestly, though the film’s technical achievements are just one part of its (dino) DNA, everything about this movie is superb, from its brilliant cast, gorgeous and frightening cinematography, and John William’s iconic score. It’s no wonder this film is recognised as one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.

Robocop (1987)

RoboCop

Extremely violent and even more clever, RoboCop is a gory satire that skewers American corporate culture while also examining what it means to be human. The movie manages to pull off being both incredibly cynical and wildly funny simultaneously, with director Paul Verhoeven pushing the violence to farcical levels, rightly recognising that the more excessive the gore, the funnier the film would be.

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All this blood and brutality serves a purpose, though. RoboCop is literally and figuratively about losing your humanity. Whether it be losing your arms and legs to cybernetic implants or your soul to faceless megacorps. RoboCop takes aim at corporations and doesn’t miss.

Ex Machina (2014)

Alicia Vikander in Ex_Machina

A real thinker of a movie, Ex Machina is as sleek and streamlined as the robots at the centre of its plot. Telling the story of a programmer who’s invited to administer the Turing test to an intelligent android by his boss, it’s a compelling film that blends a psychological thriller with science fiction.

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Ex Machina might not be the most bombastic of movies on this list. Still, its memorable and existentially terrifying ending ensure it stays with the audience long after they’ve left the theatre.

The Matrix (1999)

A cyberpunk masterpiece, wrapped in black leather and wearing cool sunglasses. Drawing influence from anime and martial arts movies, The Matrix is an iconic piece of science-fiction that introduced western audiences to “bullet time”.

With fantastically choreographed fight scenes, deep themes about identity, and some unforgettable set pieces, The Matrix is an astonishing work of fiction. Although the less said about the sequels, the better…

Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s first entry on the list, but not his last, Blade Runner is a neo-noir triumph that, despite a lukewarm initial reception, has been recognised as one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time, oh and we’re talking about the Final Cut, not the theatrical cut.

A deliberate, well-paced meditation on what it means to be human, Blade Runner is a remarkable work of science fiction. It also features one of Harrison Ford’s definitive roles (alongside Indy and Han Solo), which definitely earns it some brownie points.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

A mind-bending reflection on human evolution, the dangers of AI, and existentialism, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film pushed the boundaries of what people thought the genre could achieve, eschewing a traditional narrative for something far more ambitious. Space Odyssey divided critics at the time of release, but it’s gone on to be recognised as one of the greatest films of all time and still provokes conversation to this day.

Star Wars (Original Trilogy) (1977-1983)

We’ve only gone and done it again. First, we put the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy on our best fantasy movie list, now we’ve put the entire Star Wars trilogy on the science fiction list. What are we like? Well, we’re greedier than Jabba the Hutt, and to be honest, while Empire’s probably our favourite of the Original Trilogy, there’s only a Wookie hair between each of them.

There’s something to love about all these films; A New Hope captures the spirit of adventure better than any of them; Empire’s got the moody atmosphere and cracking twist; while Jedi’s got the cathartic release of seeing Vader redeemed and the Empire defeated. Each of them features amazing world-building, dazzling special effects, and likeable characters. When it comes to science fiction, you can’t get better than Star Wars.

Alien (1979)

the xenomorph in Alien

Except you can because while we love Star Wars, there’s one science fiction film that’s clearly the best, Alien. Reductively but appropriately described as a slasher set in space, Alien is a bonafide masterpiece that introduced the world to one of the most enduring creatures in science fiction history, the Xenomorph.

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There’s something for everyone in Alien it’s as thrilling as anything Hitchcock ever made, gorier than anything Lucio Fulci could come up with (okay, maybe not, but we’re poetic), all wrapped up in the baubles and tinsel of the most convincing” hard” science fiction films.

While we could wax lyrical about Jerry Goldsmith’s intense score, Ridley Scott’s immaculate direction, or Sigourney Weaver’s iconic performance, the film’s real secret weapon is cinematographer Derek Vanlint. It’s Vanlint’s haunting use of shadow and light that brings the Nostromo to life and makes the strange alien stalking the ship a believable threat and not just a basketball player in a rubber suit.

That’s it for science fiction, hopefully, we’ve found something new for you to watch, but if not check out our list of the best animated movies.

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Tom Percival

Editor

Updated: Jun 17, 2021


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