What are the best science fiction movies ever made? Science fiction, the genre that boldly goes where no genre has gone before.
OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but mangled Star Trek captain quotes aside, there is something a little special about the world of sci-fi series. Firstly, sci-fi 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 movies to superhero action movies, they all owe a debt to this genre.
All this can make picking a science fiction movie trickier than the Kobayashi Maru, but that’s where we come in. We’ve scoured galaxies far, far away, from around 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.
28. WALL-E (2008)
WALL-E’s opening sequence, the greatest first act to any Disney or Pixar movie, is ultimate science fiction. With inflections of dystopian disaster, WALL-E sets the stage for an Earth where the global ecosystem has collapsed, and small robots roam the landscape clearing all the over-spilled waste.
It then ascends up into space, where humans become the supporting cast. This only acts as a backdrop, though, to an avalanche of emotions. The growing romance between WALL-E and EVE is magic, especially when sound tracked by Put on Your Sunday Clothes.
27. District 9 (2007)
While science fiction movies tend to focus on future depictions in far away galaxies, sometimes alternate-timeline dystopian stories with real historical roots hit closer to home. District 9 is a South African movie directed by Neill Blomkamp which showcases themes of segregation, systemic oppression and the events of the Apartheid era through the lens of aliens stranded on earth.
Filmed as a found footage thriller, the movie is set in an alternate 1982, where instead of the racial oppression and segregation enforced during the Apartheid we see the government use the same cruel methods of discrimination against millions of refugees aliens – named Prawns. The movie is emotional, doesn’t shy away from its hard themes, and shows us how vital compassion is at the end of the day.
From its writing to the candid depiction of Johannesburg and townships, District 9 is a movie that you can’t miss.
26. Stalker (1979)
There’s nothing easy about Andrei Tarkovsky’s quest through a barren landscape known as the Zone. The drawn out, existential poem is led by an unnamed Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), who brings two others towards the ‘Room’, a site believed to have supernatural qualities.
Strange artifacts litter the Zone, begging our curiosity. But Tarkovsky’s picture leaves us to ponder that history while focusing on deeper ideas of humanity and theology. Plenty to think about, during and after.
25. They Live (1988)
When it comes to genre flicks, John Carpenter movies stand above the rest of the pack – particularly his earlier work. Based on the 1963 short story ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ by Ray Nelson, They Live is a film which follows the unemployed Nada who comes to LA in search of work.
However, after picking up a set of sunglasses that shows him who’s an alien and who isn’t, Nada’s life becomes side-tracked with mass conspiracies regarding the rich and powerful of America.
This science fiction movie goes beyond your typical ‘aliens walk among us’ kind of story. The flick is packed with overt social commentary on mass media and the commercialisation of politics and pop culture. The themes are powerful and eerily still ring true today.
24. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Oh no, someone got some Marvel Cinematic Universe in our list of the best science fiction movies. Well, don’t worry. This is just two great flavours coming together to create something pretty awesome, and Marvel movies don’t come much more awesome than Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Colourful in every sense of the word and hilariously irreverent, Guardians Of The Galaxy was a breath of fresh air when it was released back in 2014, revitalising Marvel’s doddering Phase 2 and setting the tone for the MCU movies to come.
23. Avatar (2012)
Avatar is one of highest grossing movies of all time — and for a good reason. Just like Jake Sully, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the N’avi and Pandora before you know it. Using innovative motion-capture technology and VFX, James Cameron crafted a world that wasn’t just visually stunning, but rich with history, culture, and character. It also acts as a stark critique of colonisation and climate change, with its message only getting more and more relevant as time passes.
22. Event Horizon (1997)
Haunted house in space is a spectacularly under-utilised premise. A rescue mission, Lauren Fishbourne, Sam Neill, and JAson Isaacs among its crew, arrives at the titular spacecraft to investigate why it vanished for seven years.
On board is an experimental new form of engine that caused something to happen. That something still lingers in the air, creating visions and other incidents that suggest the ship is better off deserted. Before he was all about the Resident Evil movies, Paul WS Anderson demonstrated that in space, sometimes you don’t want to hear the screams.
21. Donnie Darko (2001)
We could probably put Donnie Darko on a whole number of different genre lists (and we probably will, to be honest). The 2000s movie blends horror, thrills, surrealism, romance, comedy, and good old-fashioned mystery into one crazy bundle. At the heart of it all, though, is the notion of time travel and that’s science fiction at its finest.
20. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Any movie adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel is going to be challenging, and A Scanner Darkly is no exception. Out of all the movies inspired by the legendary author, this is the one that sticks closest to the source material for better and worse.
But mostly better. With gorgeous roto-scope animation and a genuinely magnificent cast, A Scanner Darkly takes the drug-addled paranoia found in the pages of novel, translating that feeling perfectly to the big screen. Keanu Reeves is perfect here, as a muted, struggling detective investigating himself, and this dark vision of the future clearly suits him.
19. Children of Men (2006)
In our relatively comfy real world, we’re edging ever closer to the year 2027, which is the setting for Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful dystopian sci-fi movie Children of Men. Here’s hoping we’re safe from it. One of the best movies based on books ever made, it’s set in a world in which humans have been infertile for decades and societal collapse is fully in force.
Clive Owen plays a cynical man who is tasked with helping to provide safe passage for a refugee woman who, remarkably, is pregnant. There are potent themes aplenty, shocking moments of violence, and a handful of single-take action sequences which laid the table for the popularity of that trick in the last few decades.
18. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
If you’re looking to be moved by expressive visuals, music so wonderfully hazy it’s like taking a dip in the world’s most soothing sensory deprivation tank, and empathetic philosophical ponderings, this is the sequel for you.
Denis Villeneuve shows up on this list multiple times, as he should, because he’s a master of the sci-fi genre, tieing its wide-eyed gaze with humanity’s most profound questions about meaning.
17. Dune (2021)
We were told that adapting Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune was an impossible task that had defeated some of the most talented filmmakers alive. Well, Denis Villeneuve didn’t listen to the naysayers and managed to make one of the most exciting, ambitious, and grandiose movies we’ve ever seen.
16. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
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 an 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 (and that all since have failed to reach).
15. The Thing (1982)
Man is the warmest place to hide. Few science fiction movies are as terrifying as The Thing, John Carpenter’s most technically impressive and atmospheric film.
Set in an Antarctic base that’s being attacked by a shape-shifting parasite from another world The Thing is a truly horrifying flick that had the misfortune of opening on the same weekend as the far cuddlier ET.
A critical and commercial bomb The Thing found a new audience when it hit home entertainment. With its tense atmosphere, incredible practical effects, and twisted visuals, this body horror movie rightly earned its place as a cult hit.
14. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
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).
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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.
13. Jurassic Park (1993)
Steven 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.
12. Robocop (1987)
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.
11. Interstellar (2014)
Interstellar is essentially Christopher Nolan’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. With trippy visual effects and a frightening portrayal of the grand scope of Space to boot, Interstellar stands out as not only one of the more memorable Christopher Nolan movies, but a solid instalment in space-exploration storytelling.
The haunting score from Hans Zimmer also elevates the science of the film and presents an artistic twist on how time and space are conveyed on-screen. And as impressive and as grandiose as the visuals might be, the emotional core of Interstellar will still always be the driving force of this particular sci-fi.
10. Inception (2010)
We can’t talk about sci-fi without including another Christopher Nolan movie on our list, and while Interstellar is a beautiful film, Inception was his first real step into the genre and marked a significant step up in terms of ambition, too.
With every new film, Christopher Nolan is competing with himself, and cinema is the real winner every time. Inception is a mind-bending exploration of the subconscious realm; it’s sci-fi at its most exciting and fresh, and it still stands as one of the most provocative pictures of the modern era.
9. Ex Machina (2014)
A real thinker of a movie, Ex Machina is as sleek and streamlined as the robots at the centre of its (clearly Philip K. Dick-inspired) 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 movie with science fiction.
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Ex Machina might not be the most bombastic of movies on this list. Still, the A24 movie‘s memorable and existentially terrifying ending ensures it stays with the audience long after they’ve left the theatre.
8. Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
After its sweep at the Academy Awards, Everything Everywhere All At Once is the buzziest 2022 movie around — but it’s well-deserving of all its hype and definitely deserves its place on this list as an instant science fiction classic.
The multiverse isn’t exactly a new concept in sci-fi, but what makes Everything Everywhere so unique is its deeply entertaining twist on the genre, and the phenomenal, nuanced performances of leads like Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan. The film is an explosion of colour, dizzying costume designs, sophisticated VFX, and pure absurdity with sausage fingers and Racacoonie.
But underpinning this sci-fi tale is a deeply affecting and profound exploration on existentialism, generational trauma, love, and the importance of kindness.
7. 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”.
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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…
6. 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.
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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.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
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.
4. Alien (1979)
Reductively but appropriately described as a slasher set in space, Alien is a bona fide masterpiece that introduced the world to one of the most enduring creatures in science fiction history: the Xenomorph. 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 – OK, maybe not, but we’re poetic – all wrapped up in the baubles and tinsel of the most convincing “hard” science fiction films.
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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.
3. Metropolis (1927)
One of the first feature-length sci-fi movies, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is an eyesore. In the vast cities of the future, the rich live atop thousand-storey buildings, while the common workers toil away down below. Alas, the divide is interrupted when the child of one of the masters witnesses poor working conditions first-hand, leading to an uprising.
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Part of the German expressionist movement in the 1920s, Metropolis is a glorious example of the kind of visual effects work and sheer filmmaking craft being developed at the time. Every scene and shot offers something to examine, and the famous Machine Man is the kind of humanoid nightmare David Cronenberg would be pleased with.
2. 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, and now we’ve put the entire Star Wars trilogy on the science fiction list. What are we like? Well, we’re greedier than Star Wars villain 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.
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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 Darth Vader redeemed and the Galactic Empire defeated. Each of them features amazing world-building, dazzling special effects, and likeable characters. When it comes to science fiction, you rarely get better than Star Wars.
Arrival is the second Denis Villeneuve movie on this list, and the director has quickly established himself as the premiere sci-fi filmmaker. Arrival is a rare cinematic achievement that is both awe-inspiring in its visual and emotional scales.
The movie has a striking pre-disaster movie premise, but it’s in its examination of linguistics that it truly shines, and its emphasis that aliens have rarely felt more alien. This is science fiction at its very best: thoughtful, engaging, and hauntingly beautiful.
If you can’t get enough out-of-this-world action, check out our Star Wars movie ranking. We’ve also got an MCU movie ranking to whet your whistle if that’s not your thing. We also have a guide breaking down the best new movies 2023 has to offer.