The Best Sci-Fi Movies Everyone Should Watch Once


Aliens, astronauts, time travel—you name it, there’s a dazzling sci-fi film about it. That makes compiling a list of the best sci-fi nearly impossible. It’s hard to know where to start, and where to stop.

To understand where sci-fi films came from, you need to head back to the dawn of the cinema age. Right at the beginning, Metropolis, released in 1927, used groundbreaking visuals to create a reference point for all future urban dystopias—it’s no fluke, for example, that the aesthetic of Blade Runner bears more than a passing resemblance to Fritz Lang’s prophetic urban hellscape.

Then along came War of the Worlds (1953), a gripping tale of alien invasion adapted from H. G. Wells’ classic novel. In 1964, Dr. Strangelove did more than most films before or since to ossify the fear of a nuclear holocaust. Then, in 1968, perhaps the most influential sci-fi film of them all: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Say no more.

Below is WIRED’s ever-evolving selection of the sci-fi movies everyone should watch, from the obscure to the hugely influential. Like what you see? You may also enjoy our guides to the best sci-fi books of all time and the best space movies.

2001: A Space Odyssey

If you only ever watch one science fiction movie in your lifetime, make sure it’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. While it’s hard to summarize the film in just a few sentences, it’s probably best described as a meditation on the evolution of humankind—and a striking one at that, with its vast scope and magnificent cinematography. It’s also rather prescient: While it famously goes back to the dawn of man, the bulk of 2001’s action follows a group of men aboard a spaceship who are aided in their mission, then essentially held hostage, by HAL 9000—a piece of AI technology that seems to have surpassed the flesh-and-blood astronauts relying on it in being “human.” The movie’s pace is famously glacial, but its innovative storytelling and revolutionary filmmaking techniques make it unlike almost anything else in cinema history. It’s easy to trace the roots of virtually any sci-fi movie released after 1968 back to Kubrick’s genre masterpiece.
Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back

It’s rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, and even rarer when it surpasses it. But, with all due respect to George Lucas and A New Hope, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back is one of those singular cinematic follow-ups that manages to outshine the original film from which it was born. Set just a few years after the original Star Wars, the movie sees Darth Vader desperately trying to locate the Rebel Alliance, which—under the captainship of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)—has set up camp on the remote ice planet of Hoth, which eventually comes under attack by the Imperial forces. While Leia manages to escape with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has traveled to Dagobah in order to seek the help of Jedi Master Yoda in the funny-talking puppet’s first franchise appearance. While A New Hope was a family affair, The Empire Strikes Back is decidedly darker in tone, and it is the movie in which we learn some essential pieces of Star Wars intel, including the link between Luke and Leia and their true parentage.
Escape From New York

Science fiction and dystopia go together like John Carpenter and synth scores. Fortunately, Escape From New York has all four. Set in the then super-futuristic year of 1997, Carpenter’s vision of America is essentially one giant war zone with the island of Manhattan serving as a maximum security prison. Unfortunately for the president of the United States (Donald Pleasence), that’s exactly where Air Force One crash lands following a hijacking. In order to save the POTUS, who is being held hostage by the Duke (Isaac Hayes)—one of the country’s most notorious crime bosses—the government must enlist the help of yet another badass, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a decorated soldier turned criminal who could end up being America’s last great hope. Like so many of Carpenter’s other works, there’s a certain kind of campiness to the entire thing—which is part of what makes it such an endearing classic.

Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune is one of the most influential sci-fi novels ever penned, and it has inspired some of the most iconic sci-fi movies ever made. But attempts to adapt Herbert’s book have been infamously troubled, as evidenced by Jodorowsky’s Dune, a 2013 documentary about avant-garde moviemaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to film Herbert’s text. While David Lynch did manage to adapt the novel, it was largely considered a bomb upon its release in 1984—though it has since developed a dedicated cult following, and Lynch has recently expressed interest in reworking his adaptation. The third time proved to be a charm, however, when Denis Villeneuve—the mind behind sci-fi gems Enemy, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049—applied his now signature novelistic approach and was able to succeed where others have failed. Villeneuve tells the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a young man who is destined to greatness, but who must survive a trek through the most dangerous planet in the universe in order to fulfill his fate. Dune is a gorgeously shot epic that is as smart as it is stunning, and there is already a sequel on the way.
A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel, is a classic dystopian story. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a teenage delinquent with a penchant for classical music and inflicting pain on innocent people. When his crimes catch up with him, he’s sent to prison in the hopes that he can be cured of his taste for so-called “ultra-violence” with an experimental aversion therapy. The movie, which was shot with extreme wide-angle lenses to create the dreamy, fantastical quality that pervades the film, went on to become one of the era’s most controversial films. When it was said to have inspired copycat crimes in England, Kubrick himself asked that it be pulled from British cinemas, which inspired other countries to ban the movie outright—in some cases for decades. Yet none of the controversy soured its critical acclaim; A Clockwork Orange racked up nearly a dozen Oscar and BAFTA nominations.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, based on Stanisław Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name, tells the story of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist who is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris in order to better understand and evaluate the seemingly strange behavior of its resident scientists. Upon his arrival, Kelvin learns that Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan), one of the stationed scientists and a longtime friend, has killed himself and left behind a cryptic video in which he attempts to explain the bizarre goings-on. But Kelvin is not prepared for the unnerving world he finds—nor the unexpected people he meets. Tarkovsky set out to marry the psychological depth you’d typically find in a drama with the hypnotic visuals of a traditional sci-fi flick, creating a story that was as emotionally absorbing as it was aesthetically engrossing. A 2002 remake of Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, didn’t quite reach the same landmark status as Tarkovsky’s cerebral original. BBC film reviewer Nev Pierce called the latter effort “one of the finest science fiction films since 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Two years after inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws, Steven Spielberg teamed up again with Richard Dreyfuss to make the ultimate alien movie. Roy Neary (Dreyfuss) is a loving husband and dad whose shocking run-in with a UFO one night turns into a full-blown obsession. Much like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), Close Encounters of the Third Kind upends the horror-based “alien invasion” plotlines and shifts the focus to the practical implications of discovering extraterrestrial life—like how to say hello. Whereas Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is full of naive wonder and whimsy, Close Encounters is much darker about the prospect of visitors from another planet, as seen in the slow pacing, the specter of “sunburn,” Neary’s crumbling relationship with his family, and the mystery of Claude Lacombe’s (François Truffaut) program. The effects are stunning for a film released in 1977 and the musical notes used to communicate with the UFOs are a stroke of genius from John Williams. Nearly 40 years later, it’s still one of the most intelligent first-contact films ever made.

Sci-fi pioneer Ridley Scott’s Alien follows the crew of a commercial space ship—led by the kickass Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)—who are sent to investigate Ripley’s claims of a race of alien beings that overtook her previous ship, the Nostromo. It doesn’t take long for the team to encounter their first pair of murderous alien life-forms, the infamous face-huggers, and witness the trail of death and destruction they leave in their wake. The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere was inspired by classic sci-fi stories, but it struggled to secure financing until Star Wars showed that audiences were thirsting for spectacularly made sci-fi. One of the film’s stand-out techniques was to never show the full horror of the eponymous Alien (with a capital A), the Xenomorph XX121. It’s a brilliant and terrifying way to build suspense that’s been endlessly copied and riffed on ever since, and it has allowed the Xenomorph XX121 to live on in the film’s many sequels and prequels, as well as various literature and video game spin-offs.

Leave it to David Cronenberg to create one of the most iconic visuals of the ’80s. This science-horror film is about a group of people known as renegade scanners—individuals with telekinetic and telepathic abilities—who want to take over the world. Crucially, they possess the ability to make other people’s heads explode—a talent that a group of scanners decide to use to their favor, though possibly to your detriment. Scanners’ iconic exploding head scene set the bar for VFX at the time, with a serious bent on other gore films; it’s not a scene for the queasy, and it’s an image you’re unlikely to ever forget.
Blade Runner

Ridley Scott proved once again why he’s a master of the sci-fi genre with this classic flick, which is set in the then futuristic landscape of Los Angeles, 2019. That’s where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) works as one of the film’s eponymous blade runners—an individual tasked with tracking down and killing so-called replicants, or unnatural, bioengineered beings. He is sent on a mission to find four who are on Earth illegally, and to administer the Voigt-Kampff test, a test that is supposed to distinguish replicants from humans. For all its forward-looking style, Blade Runner drew inspiration for its aesthetic from classic Edward Hopper paintings and the skyline in Hong Kong to create a technology-infused film noir look. Various iterations of the film have been released over the years, including a Director’s Cut, which did away with the voice-over that Scott and Ford both detested (and is Scott’s preferred version).
The Thing

Antarctica. John Carpenter. Kurt Russell. The Thing marked the first film in Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy. (It was followed by 1987’s Prince of Darkness and 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness.) It’s one of those sci-fi horror classics that flopped at the box office and was savaged by critics upon its initial release, but it has inspired many reassessments over the years, as it’s so densely packed that it gets better with each viewing. A team of scientists (including Kurt Russell) are quarantined at Outpost 31, a remote and icy research station, where the tension ramps up as the film progresses. Each begins to slowly descend into paranoia and madness while they attempt to take down the ancient, shape-shifting (and delightfully gross) alien they’ve disturbed.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. is the kind of movie that made Steven Spielberg a household name: It’s a sweet, sappy take on friendship, where one of the pals in question just happens to be an oddly shaped alien from who-knows-where, without a hint of any of the heavy-handedness of its contemporaries. The basic plot is simple enough: An alien, E.T., is left behind on Earth, where he’s befriended by a 10-year-old boy (Henry Thomas) and his siblings; shenanigans ensue. Where E.T. most stands out from other films with a similar conceit is in how Spielberg chose to focus on the heady experience of childhood and forming emotional bonds, as opposed to creating a special effects blockbuster.


Tron walked so The Matrix could run. In the 1980s, a time when special effects were often more miss than hit, the movie offered a dazzling display of technical wizardry. In the simplest terms, it’s an action-adventure film about a computer programmer and video game developer (Jeff Bridges) who becomes trapped inside a mainframe computer full of wild software. But it’s also about so much more: Tron is an elegy about what it means to be human—though any message is heavily disguised by its stylish, computeristic wonderscape. This film was a landmark moment in computer animation, but it also solidified ideas and themes that still fascinate sci-fi fans and auteurs to this day.
The Terminator

What a difference a casting decision can make. The studio really wanted O.J. Simpson for the lead role in The Terminator, while James Cameron only met with Arnold Schwarzenegger with the intention of having a (purposefully) terrible interaction and declaring him impossible. Instead, the two got on. While Schwarzenegger was initially being considered for the role of Kyle Reese, Cameron demanded that he be cast as the eponymous cyborg assassin who is sent from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill a woman (Linda Hamilton) whose son could be the savior in a postapocalyptic future. The movie arguably launched Cameron’s and Schwarzenegger’s careers as an action director and actor, respectively. The movie’s relentless, violent pace evened out what could have been a cheesy script in the wrong hands, and went on to become a vital piece of pop culture that’s still bearing fruit today.

Terry Gilliam’s Oscar-nominated Brazil is a grandly realized masterpiece of absurdist, dystopian science fiction. It follows Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who we first meet as a man resigned to life as a cog in a totalitarian society clogged by dysfunctional bureaucracy, where people end up in body bags for crimes they didn’t commit. But he soon becomes infatuated with a political activist and turns into her unwitting accomplice, erratically rebelling against the state. It sounds strange to say, but watching the increasingly disordered world unravel around him alongside his mental state is a true pleasure. As are the fantastical, and very often terrifying, dream sequences that slice through what passes for the day-to-day reality.

Back to the Future

Sure, it’s a comedy. And a family film. But while Back to the Future may be lacking in the cinematic seriousness of many of its sci-fi contemporaries, it nonetheless managed to perfectly capture the spirit of the age. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is your typical ’80s teen who just so happens to have access to a time machine, thanks to his unexplained friendship with mad scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Through a series of unfortunate events, Marty is sent back to 1955, where he befriends the teenage versions of his dad and mom—whose advances he is forced to fend off. But by interfering in his own family history, Marty is unwittingly rewriting, and possibly erasing, his own future. Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989, took a somewhat less successful leap forward to a fanciful 2015, while the final installment in the trilogy, released in 1990, added a Western spin. All told, however, the franchise’s self-lacing shoes, DeLoreans, and hoverboards have all rightfully earned Back to the Future a place in sci-fi cinema history.

Though the ’80s are often associated with neon-colored everything, popped collars, and Members Only jackets, even a quick glance at some of the decade’s most popular films reveals a deep sense of disillusionment. Though the premise of Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop might seem laughable—a police officer (Peter Weller) is murdered by a gang, then brought back to life by a mega corporation to patrol the streets as a half-cyborg called RoboCop—it turned out to be one of the era’s most subversive sci-fi flicks. While it’s got plenty of action scenes and lots of violence, it ultimately becomes an examination of capitalism and the power of corporations that still feels familiar today.

Akira is credited for popularizing anime in the West, and this 1988 feature film, which is a condensed version of a long-running manga comic, remains one of the most ambitious animated features ever made. It’s set in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo, several decades after a massive event destroyed the old city, with gangs, terrorists, and religious fanatics vying for control of a corrupt and decaying society. When Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang, comes into contact with an escaped child from a government lab, he begins to develop incredible psychic powers, which he abuses and struggles to control. His best friend, Kaneda, seeks to rescue him but quickly realizes that more drastic action is necessary, as they’re both engulfed in events beyond their comprehension.

The Fifth Element

Director Luc Besson came up with the idea for this polarizing movie when he was 16 years old; it was filmed and released 20 years later. Set 200 years in the future, the wildly inventive film follows a taxi driver (Bruce Willis) who becomes responsible for the fate of the Earth when a mysterious woman named Leeloo falls into his cab. Together, they embark on a quest to find four stones which can maintain peace on Earth. People weren’t sure what to make of Besson’s brash, in-your-face film when it was first released. The Fifth Element was alternately panned and lauded for its special effects, outlandish story line, and futuristic costume designs by haute couture designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. In the quarter-century since, many moviegoers have caught up to Besson’s vision, and it has gained the notoriety of a cult classic.

The Matrix

Prior to the groundbreaking 1999 release of The Matrix, there was almost an unspoken rule that while commercial science fiction films could be stylish (like Blade Runner), they should be focused on bringing sci-fi elements to an otherwise human story. With The Matrix, the Wachowskis turned that notion on its head by depicting a dystopian future, where all of humanity has been trapped in a simulated reality and is being used as an energy source for AI creatures. When a hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) becomes aware of the falseness of the world he lives in, he begins a quest to uncover the truth. Several of the film’s stylistic inventions—such as the digital rain of the code that composes the Matrix—are iconic parts of contemporary culture. Given the film’s immense popularity, it was obvious that many sequels would follow. And while they may have slightly diluted the impact of the first film, The Matrix still stands alone in the way it mixes impeccable direction with mind-bending action sequences and a story line that actually makes you think. It also brought the Wachowskis to the forefront of the action movie scene, and it’s been a better place ever since.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Much of contemporary sci-fi cinema tends to dwell on the more frightening aspects of technology and its consequences on a large scale. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, director Michael Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman wanted to focus on the relationship between Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey), strangers who meet on a train to Montauk, New York, and fall helplessly in love. Eventually, they realize that they had met and fallen in love before. The rest of the film charts how this happened—from the memory-erasing firm Lacuna technologies, and the relationships between the employees there to the difficult decision that they must then make. Shot in a beautifully dreamy and ethereal style, and anchored by an uncharacteristically heartfelt performance from Carrey, Eternal Sunshine has gone on to achieve a cult following and widespread acclaim, both as a sci-fi film and a romantic comedy.
Children of Men

Four-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón’s knack for elevating dystopian drama to high art has never been more evident than in Children of Men. Set in 2027, after two decades of global human infertility, the UK is one of the few remaining stable nations, so it is inundated by asylum seekers and refugees from other nations who are then summarily rounded up and executed by the British Army. Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist, is kidnapped by an immigrant rights group led by his estranged wife (Julianne Moore). He is offered money if he can help get Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young refugee and the first pregnant woman in almost two decades, across the border safely. As they embark on a perilous journey, they encounter difficulties every step of the way, from subterfuge to murder plots. Cuarón drew inspiration from a variety of works—literature, Michelangelo sculptures, and photographs of real battlefields—to create a profoundly moving cinematic experience.
A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater’s visually stunning adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1977 novel of the same name utilizes an animation technique known as “’interpolated rotoscoping,” where animators painstakingly trace over filmed footage frame by frame. It gives the story—which takes place in a version of America where 20 percent of the population is hooked on the powerful Substance D—a trippy, hallucinogenic feel. The movie features Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder in varying states of paranoia, and it follows an undercover operative (played by Keanu Reeves) working for a government that’s using invasive, high-tech surveillance to get a handle on the war on drugs.

Director Matt Reeves (The Batman) uses found footage to great effect in Cloverfield, which tells the story of an alien invasion in New York City, using clips that look as though they were filmed on a camcorder. The stakes get higher as a group of friends and (so far) survivors plan to destroy Manhattan in order to flush out the monster, told entirely through grainy camera recordings. Found footage is a staple of horror, rather than sci-fi, but Cloverfield melds the two together for a thrilling and terrifying ride. Subsequent sequels and spin-offs weren’t as well received.

This beautiful, moving film from Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) starts with an unusual experience: An astronaut (Sam Rockwell) goes through a personal crisis at the end of a three-year stint mining helium on the moon. As he struggles with what lies ahead of him when he returns home, he begins to hallucinate. The desolation of the film, as well as the emotional story at its heart, stops Moon from sliding into a weird, syrupy sci-fi film. The clever cinematography, use of models rather than VFX, and an excellent performance from Rockwell all ensure that Moon appeals to both film buffs and sci-fi fanatics.
District 9

Set in 1982 in Johannesburg, South Africa, an alien spaceship appears and a population of insect-like aliens are found aboard, before being banished to District 9 by the government. Three decades later, the district has become reviled by the locals, and increasing unrest leads the government to believe that the aliens should be moved. In the process of doing so, three escape, setting off another chain of events. The visual effects of the film, which was directed by Neill Blomkamp and inspired by apartheid in his home country, were designed to evoke a kind of insect-like alien, but one that viewers would sympathize with as the film went on.

Before he directed 2010’s Monsters, and way before he directed Godzilla (2014) or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Gareth Edwards was a little-known visual artist. But this ingenious indie flick led him to land those later big-budget blockbusters. Shot on a shoestring budget with a bare-bones script, Monsters follows two travelers (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, who married the same year as its release) seeking to escape a forbidden zone taken over by mysterious alien kaiju. The two companions travel widely, interacting with locals who scrape by in the shadow of the no-go area, and Edwards deftly combines visual effects and the real world to create hints of the unseen threat, creating a sense of curiosity and dread throughout.

Inception plays out like a James Bond film inside a heist film inside a Christopher Nolan film, with all the layers of complexity and intrigue that implies. It takes a near-perfect screenplay and executes each of its dreamworlds with precision, flair, and humor. Nolan’s cinematic experiments with time are always interesting (see also Interstellar and Dunkirk), but Inception still feels like the most complete entry in this trickster’s obsession with time as a storytelling tool. With Hans Zimmer on soundtrack duty and stellar acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Elliot Page, and Marion Cotillard, there’s plenty here to elevate an already mind-bending story (which is best left for you to discover yourself).+

Looper’s central conceit can be a little tricky to wrap your head around: Contract killers, known as loopers, are used by gangs and criminal syndicates to send the people they kill back through time. Their final victims will be themselves, ergo, closing the loop. One breakaway looper, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), starts to run into problems when his future self (Bruce Willis) arrives to kill him in the hopes of stopping a mystical figure ruining the whole process. Looper’s blend of action and complex plot have made it a fan favorite, though you may need a few repeat viewings to fully understand it.

A tightly woven, claustrophobic film set on a train barreling toward the end of humanity can sound more like horror than sci-fi, but Snowpiercer is a different and exciting take on the genre. An attempt at climate engineering gone wrong has created a new Earth, and a train carrying the only people alive is wrecked by a mutiny. In the hands of less capable actors or screenwriters, it could have become just another action film with an ambitious story line. But in three-time Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho’s case, the use of mise-en-scène, as well as gorgeous, immersive cinematography, makes the viewer fully aware of the action, which is all the more chilling through Snowpiercer’s twists and turns.


In this romantic take on sci-fi, directed by Spike Jonze, Theodore, a depressed writer, leads a lonely life in a futuristic version of Los Angeles. He upgrades an operating system, which leads to the introduction of a virtual assistant with AI capabilities who calls herself Samantha. As Theodore tries to move on from his impending divorce, he finds that Samantha’s influence on his life stretches past the purely practical. Rather than delving into sci-fi tropes about a lonely man and his operating system, the film’s nuanced and sweet exploration of intimacy and technology brought a new dimension to how we think about virtual assistants.
Under the Skin

Under the Skin is a cerebral, hypnotic story about an alien who has disguised itself as a black-wig-wearing Scarlett Johansson—a femme fatale drifting along the outskirts of Glasgow, seducing men in order to use them and consume them for sustenance. Mica Levi’s mesmerizing score vibrates beneath a near-silent film with vivid cinematography, which makes Under the Skin a literally skin-crawling experience. To say much more would spoil it for you, but suffice it say this is one of the most terrifying sci-fi films in recent memory. While Under the Skin bombed at the box office, it has received nearly unanimous critical praise and even managed to rank 61st on BBC Culture’s list of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.
Ex Machina

Though it would be easy to point to the 1980s as the apex of the sci-fi film movement, the new millennium has shown us that there are still plenty of original stories to be told within the genre. With its stellar acting, pitch-perfect directing, and prescient storyline, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina just might be the movie we most need right now. When a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to the home of a tech mogul (Oscar Isaac), he believes he’ll be aiding in the development of a brilliant and beautiful humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). But as Ava reveals more about herself, it becomes clear that she—not the humans—is in control. Ex Machina could easily have strayed into standard sci-fi territory, but its fusion of an elegant aesthetic with clever storytelling makes it a more nuanced, human film.

Christopher Nolan’s space epic about a mission to find a new world is sometimes unfairly dismissed as an example of a film with more spectacle than substance. Sure, its story hooks are more emotional than philosophical, and you could drive a bus through the gaping paradox of its time- and gravity-bending ending, but it’s a rare event in sci-fi: a successful blockbuster. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain all excel in their lead roles, and the depiction of Earth in the final throes of a global ecological collapse has lasting impact. The brilliant set pieces, including a realistic depiction of a black hole, and a haunting soundtrack by Hans Zimmer add to the film’s sense of scale and drama.
Mad Max: Fury Road

Exactly 30 years elapsed between Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Fury Road, the most recent offering in the series, and it was most definitely worth the wait. Though it riffs off the original series, which first kicked off in 1979, Fury Road takes contemporary anxieties—scant resources, climate change, the general apocalypse—and translates them into a dense, overwhelming thriller, with magnificent special effects and a visionary bent. In George Miller’s postapocalyptic film, gasoline and water have become scarce commodities, and a group of people fleeing a cult leader have to team up to fight for their survival. With an ensemble cast led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max (Tom Hardy), the film’s take on the near dystopian future leans more toward action and thriller, but it trades on a very real fear—that of our natural resources running out—which places it squarely in sci-fi territory. The film’s dystopian aesthetic and feminist overtones also form part of its unique appeal

Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” serves as the inspiration for this unexpectedly moving film about language and discovery in which humanity struggles to make sense of—and communicate with—strange, alien visitors arriving on Earth. At the center of the film is linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose attempts to connect with the aliens bring back unsettling visions of her daughter Hannah, who tragically passed away at the age of 12. The premise of the film—first contact, unfamiliar aliens, existential threat—is tried and tested, especially in the sci-fi genre, but in the hands of modern day master Denis Villeneuve, it turns into a meditation on communication, uncertainty, and love.WATCH ON AMAZON PRIME 🇺🇸
Blade Runner 2049

More than 30 years after Ridley Scott’s original—and groundbreaking—Blade Runner hit cinemas, its sequel starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard took in $259 million at box offices around the world. Deckard, a former blade runner who has vanished for three decades, is tracked down by K (Gosling), a Nexus-9 replicant, as he seeks to save the world from impending chaos. The movie won Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography Oscars, picked up awards for Best Cinematography and Best Special Visual Effects at the BAFTAs, and also served as further proof that Denis Villeneuve might just be the most innovative sci-fi director working today.

After a very brief and limited theatrical run, Alex Garland’s bio-futurist film Annihilation went straight to Netflix, where it received rave reviews for its complexity. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a scientist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) disappeared and then returned with little memory of what happened before. She finds out he was sent to investigate the Shimmer, a kind of iridescent force field with mysterious origins and effects on the people who enter it. As she journeys into it, alongside a group of other scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny), she finds human-shaped plants and weird animal hybrids alongside other unnatural phenomena. Even though the film’s premise seems initially simple, its philosophical bent and stellar performances create an immersive story that is pushed along by an unusual and killer soundscape.
High Life

Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last survivors on a mission to the outer reaches of the solar system, but they’re hurtling toward a black hole. This sounds like a standard sc-fi action movie, but it’s actually a high-art masterpiece. Or, as The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described it: “an Old Testament parable catapulted forward into the 23rd century, a primal scene in a pressurized cabin of sci-fi pessimism, suppressed horror and denied panic.” It doesn’t hurt that the movie was directed by experimental French auteur Claire Denis, who has been breaking the rules of conventional narrative storytelling for more than three decades now, and continues that trend here. What we’re left with is a wholly original, and at times claustrophobic and uncomfortable, meditation on the universe and our place in it.
The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth was an unexpectedly colossal hit in its native China, where it earned almost $700 million (£550 million) domestically, which prompted Netflix to snap up the rights to stream the sci-fi sensation internationally. The film sees a group of astronauts, sometime far into the future, attempting to guide the Earth away from the sun, which is expanding into a red giant. The problem? Jupiter is also in the way. While the Earth is being steered by 10,000 fire-blowing engines that have been strapped to the surface, the humans still living on the planet must find a way to survive the ever changing environmental conditions.

A woman (Mélanie Laurent) wakes up in a cryonics cell after a few weeks in suspended animation. She doesn’t remember her name, age, or anything about her past except for a few disturbing flashbacks that keep running through her head. The one thing she does know—thanks to a persistent, and annoying, AI—is that she will run out of oxygen in just over an hour. Can she escape the coffin-shaped chamber she’s trapped in quickly enough? Oxygen is as claustrophobic a thriller as it gets, and manages to find that rare sweet spot of being simultaneously static and deeply unnerving. Despite a ludicrously far-fetched ending, the actors’ strong performances and Alexandre Aja’s tight direction help the film overcome its somewhat disappointing resolution.

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Adeline Darrow
By Adeline Darrow


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