Science fiction is quite simply one of the most popular genres of film that we have. The creation of far away places and futuristic technology seems to be exactly what the medium of film was designed to create. Science fiction on film has been around for as long as there have been movies. But which ones are the best? Figuring that out is a nearly impossible task. But, we’re going to do it anyway.
All the movie minds here at CinemaBlend got together and made suggestions of potential films that could go on that list. From there we picked 30 of them. From there we argued about which ones were being left off. Then we changed the list around and argued some more. We think we have something that works pretty well, though ask us tomorrow and we may have a different answer. For the moment, here are the 35 best science fiction movies ever, ranked.
Annihilation is a movie that was generally reviewed well, and it’s also a movie that a lot of people have very strong feelings about. However, the fact that everybody feels strongly about it shows how well the movie did its job. On its surface Annihilation is absolutely a science fiction story with a mysterious alien presence and strange creatures, but there’s a lot more going on inside Annihilation. It’s also an emotional journey about change, grief, and loss.
There’s a lot to love about Robocop, and, to be clear, we’re talking about the original version from 1987. If you’re into hyper-violent action movies, it has that. If you just like science fiction movies with cyborgs, you’re covered. However, one thing that elevates Robocop from simply being a fun movie to becoming a great one is the satire. The film actually has something important to say about modern society, something that might be even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s. It’s a smart film that just so happens to have people turned into a red mist via high caliber machine guns.
33. The Fifth Element
Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is one of those films that took a while to become a go to science fiction movie. It did solid box office business but was far from a huge hit when first released. However, through home video and streaming services more and more people have come across the film and it seems to have become a film with little negative reaction. Bruce Willis plays a cab driver who gets pulled into a fight for galactic survival by a beautiful woman played by Milla Jovovich. The premise is simple but thanks to delightfully fun characters like Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod and a musical number that nobody will ever forget, this one will survive the test of time.
32. Blade Runner 2049
The sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner took decades to produce, and much like the movie that came before it, Blade Runner 2049 largely failed to ignite audiences, but make no mistake, this movie is, also much like the original, an absolutely amazing piece of filmmaking. It’s beautiful, both in cinematography and tone. Ryan Gosling’s performance is excellent. It’s a fitting follow-up to a classic.
In the 1980s the computer became a device that the average family could afford, as such, there was an explosion in ownership, yet, in many ways, people really didn’t understand them. This aspect of science fiction made real was the premise of Tron, a film that wondered what was really happening inside the machine. While the film may feel a little dated by current standards, you simply can’t underestimate what the movie brought to the screen upon its release. The computer effects that created the digital world had simply never been seen before. It was a leap forward in technology that dozens of films would be influenced by.
30. The Abyss
While most science fiction movies take place among the stars, some of them can work within the confines of our own planet. The Abyss finds alien life residing at the bottom of the ocean, showing that James Cameron has been wondering what’s going on in our waters since long before Titanic. The claustrophobia of the environment is palpable, making the movie an exciting ride all the way through. In addition, it brought computer generated characters to the next level thanks to groundbreaking work from Industrial Light & Magic. A little surprising, considering the film opened to disappointing box office numbers. If you haven’t seen this one, fix that soon.
While director Christopher Nolan did a lot of good to bring credibility to the comic book genre with his Dark Knight trilogy, it was a film he made in between those movies that was truly revolutionary. In many ways, the set-up was that of a simple heist. However, the trick was that the information our team needed to steal was inside somebody’s head. The story creates technology that allows them to enter the dreams of unsuspecting victims. Inception has many of the hallmarks of the best science fiction. It creates a fictional world with specific rules that the story must abide by, making the situation feel more real than it could ever be. This, combined with some stunning visuals set pieces, captured practically rather than digitally, makes Inception a worthy recent entry to this list.
28. Ex Machina
The concept of artificial intelligence has been covered in countless science fiction movies over the years. However, it has never been done as well as it was in Ex Machina. Alicia Vikander plays Ava, an artificial life form that may, or may not, be capable of true consciousness and emotion. Can humans truly relate to a machine the way we relate to each other? And if we can, what exactly does that mean about our concepts of what it means to be alive? Ex Machina is the all too rare dramatic science fiction movie. It has no ray guns or explosions. It’s ultimately about people, even if one of the people isn’t entirely real.
27. Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise is almost always an actor who’s good for making a fun time at the movies. However, the criminally underrated Edge of Tomorrow is so much more than that. The story follows Cruise’s character, a military officer who has never seen combat before but is now forced to the front lines, as he accidentally gets exposed to alien technology and discovers that the reason the aliens are winning the war is because they have the ability to travel back and repeat time and learn from their mistakes. Once he gains the same ability we get to see him use it to learn how to fight and try to win. Also, you get to watch Tom Cruise get blown up, a lot.
26. Back to the Future
And, while we’re discussing time travel, let’s talk about what is probably the most popular time travel movie ever made. Even more rare than the science fiction drama is the science fiction comedy, yet, Back to the Future does it perfectly. It’s true that the science fiction mechanic of the film exists only to give a reason to have 1980s Marty McFly experience the world of 1955, yet, the movie deals with many of your standard time travel tropes including accidentally changing the past to negate the future, the bootstrap paradox, not to mention the possibility of accidentally becoming your own father, which is funny, and also gross.
25. The Martian
When a science fiction movie gets nominated for an Oscar, you know it’s something special. The Martian is the most recent movie on this list and while it might be a little soon, in the end, it was just too good to ignore. While the movie is Cast Away in space, it’s also so much more. This movie just has everything that hardcore science fiction fans love, space travel, alien worlds, and enough scientific fact built in to make the story plausible. Add in the fact that the film is legitimately funny and you’ve got a movie that is already one of the best ever made in the genre.
24. 12 Monkeys
Terry Gilliam has directed some gloriously fantastic science fiction, including a couple of films that came very close to making this list. However, his best science fiction movie has got to be 12 Monkeys. The story of a man sent back in time to prevent the spread of a plague would seem straightforward, but straight forward is something that never happens when Terry Gilliam is involved. A movie that earned Brad Pitt his first Oscar nomination and also contains one of the best performances by Bruce Willis simply can’t be left off this list.
23. The Day The Earth Stood Still
The question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe is a consistent theme in science fiction films. The answering of that question was the subject of one of the great classics of the genre, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Today the words “Klaatu barada nikto” still survive in pop culture, which shows just what an impact the movie had. One wonders how many people even know that this is where the phrase comes from. So often when we do meet aliens in movies they are hostile invaders, but even back in 1951 a movie wondered if it was possible that we were the aggressive ones.
Most of the movies on this list are big and popular films that you’re likely familiar with, even if you haven’t seen them. Snowpiercer was something of an unknown quantity upon its release. Over time, however, it has acquired a significant fanbase. Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut sees Chris Evans as a passenger on a train in a future world that has been taken over by ice. Only those on a constantly moving train survive and quality of life is dictated by your position on the train. Those in the back start a revolt that takes them forward on the massive train. Whether you’re looking for great action sequences or an examination of society you’ll get both with Snowpiercer.
21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There are so many ways one could describe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a science fiction drama, it’s a romantic comedy, it’s just a general mind-fuck of a movie. Eternal Sunshine is all these things and more. Charlie Kaufman is known for writing some of the more offbeat stories in recent memory but this one may very well be his masterpiece. By the time this one came out we knew that Jim Carrey wasn’t just a comedian and we already knew how great Kate Winslet was, but we saw entirely different sides of both actors here. The story follows two ex-lovers as they decide to get the memories of each other erased entirely from their heads. The movie is utterly bizarre but that doesn’t stop it from being an emotional journey.
20. Dune (2021)
Ever since David Lynch tried, and unfortunately failed, to adapt Dune for the screen, the Frank Herbert novel was widely considered impossible to turn into a movie. Denis Villeneuve has found at least half of the solution, as 2021’s Dune is an absolutely excellently produced film, and it has a shelf full of Oscars to prove it. If there’s any knock against the film, it’s that it only tells half the actual story, so we’re still waiting for Dune 2.
On its surface, Arrival stars Amy Adams as a linguist whose expertise is enlisted when alien life makes first contact with earth. However, as with all great science fiction, there’s a great deal more going on. A very well constructed story, and the third science fiction movie directed by Denis Villeneuve on this list, Arrival is an emotional character exploration with a satisfying, if potentially heartbreaking, conclusion.
18. The Terminator
No list of science fiction films could possibly be complete without the movie that created one of the biggest action heroes of all-time. The Terminator introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger as an unstoppable killing machine and for a guy that looked like he did, audiences bought it. While the movie doesn’t have the flashy special effects of future sequels, that’s part of why this movie still stands up. It’s a desperate fight against an unstoppable force; it’s not supposed to be pretty. While most of the movies that followed never held up, the reason they even tried is because the original was so good.
One of the best science fiction films ever made deals with elements of artificial intelligence, love between artificial beings, and the destruction of human habitat. Also, it’s an animated Pixar movie. Pixar has a near perfect record when it comes to creating good movies, however, Wall-E may be in a class by itself. It’s a film so good that the movie doesn’t even require dialogue for half its runtime. It is by far the best animated science fiction movie ever made and Wall-E will be one of our favorite sci-fi characters forever. Wall-E and Eve have one of the great cinematic romances of all time.
16. Jurassic Park
While actors performing against non-existent characters on a green screen is fairly commonplace now, such things were mostly unheard of prior to the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. What’s more, while many digital effects in other films from the era don’t really hold up today, the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park do. That, combined with one of John Williams’ best scores makes for a movie that’s entertaining and exciting every time you see it. Also, it has dinosaurs in it and they eat people. You really can’t go wrong with that.
Following up Ridley Scott’s Alien could not have been an easy task even if James Cameron acted like it was the easiest thing in the world. The director made at least one brilliant decision, however. Rather than try to recreate the pulse-pounding terror of the original film, he traded some of that tension in for space marine action. Aliens and Alien are two very different movies and people will argue over which is the better one. We had to make a call one way or the other and so we’re putting the sequel here, but it is, without doubt, one of the great sci-fi action films. Fans of the original need not worry. We’ll get there.
14. Planet of the Apes
Who could have possibly dreamed that all these years later a movie about a planet run by apes would still be so popular? And yet, here we are. While the original may be best known for its famous twist ending as opposed to anything else, its influence on popular culture simply can’t be overlooked. It received sequels, adaptations, spoofs, and more recently a new series of movies that have been as good as anything the series has ever produced. None of that happens without Charlton Heston and the “damn dirty apes” which earns it a spot on this list.
13. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
You can’t really talk about science fiction without including Star Trek in the conversation. For a series that’s gone on as long as it has, the movie side has seen its ups and downs, but the best of them still has to be the second film in the franchise: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. If you were a hardcore Star Trek fan then this film was a godsend as it brought back one of the great villains from the original series. However, you didn’t need to be steeped in lore to enjoy Ricardo Montalban’s over the top evil performance. The movie’s so good the reboot film series wanted to do their own take on it, but really, there’s no way to improve on perfection.
12. Everything Everywhere All At Once
The word masterpiece is one that should not be used lightly when discussing film, but it got used frequently by critics discussing Everything Everywhere All At Once. Michelle Yeoh is always great on screen but she is in a class all by herself in this multiverse story that sees Yeoh jumping between her various realities and trying to save everything. It’s the newest film on this list, but we’re confident this one will stand the test of time.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
While the original Terminator is a classic, it was the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, that took the franchise to the next level. This time Arnold got to be the hero as he was sent back in time to protect John Conner from the next generation of Terminator. James Cameron has always been one to latch on to the newest technology in filmmaking and for Terminator 2 it was digital morphing effects that allowed the T-1000 to transform in front of our eyes. Add to that the fact that the film was rated-R, during a time period where the PG-13 rating was beginning to establish movie dominance and fans got exactly the sequel they wanted, bigger and better.
10. The Thing
You know that you’ve made a seminal work of science fiction when your movie is so good, people forget it’s a remake. John Carpenter’s The Thing technically follows 1951’s The Thing From Another World and while that movie is still pretty good, it doesn’t hold a candle to the masterclass in science fiction and horror that Carpenter’s film was. The movie is still debated today as the ending of The Thing is left open to interpretation. Was The Thing destroyed, or is one of the final survivors actually a monster in disguise?
9. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about the Star Wars trilogy. It quite simply changed the way Hollywood works. While some, including George Lucas himself, aren’t necessarily thrilled by that fact, it’s the world we live in now. The Empire Strikes Back was the film that proved that the pop culture circus that surrounded the first film was no accident. In many ways, the sequel is even superior to the original. With one of the greatest twists in the history of film included, The Empire Strikes Back will never be forgotten.
So often in science fiction, the aliens are the bad guys that need to be defeated. However, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial doesn’t just create a sympathetic alien that needs to be protected, it puts that protection in the hands of kids, making the movie something that entire families can enjoy. As such, it becomes one of those films that people make sure is seen by future generations. It’s a heartwarming story that can hit you in the feels whether it’s the first time you’ve seen it or the 50th.
Made in 1927, when movies were still without sound, Metropolis is still one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made. Its visuals and effects were ahead of their time, fitting for a movie that portrayed a world that was highly advanced in technology, if not in humanity. It’s difficult to argue that without Metropolis we may have never had any of the other films on this list. If you’ve never seen the film it is worth it to take the time and find it, if only to see the precursor to so many other genre classics.
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Hey look, it’s Steven Spielberg again! The accomplished director has numerous great films on his filmography but when it comes to the science fiction genre, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is clearly his magnum opus. The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe is a topic in several films on this list, but while most films are about the answer, Close Encounters is a film about the question. It’s about humanity’s fascination with the idea of aliens and the lengths to which some will go to find a connection with the rest of the galaxy. It’s a beautiful film and clearly one of the top ten in all of science fiction.
5. The Matrix
The best movies are the ones that turn out to be great when you had no idea what to expect. The Matrix surprised pretty much everybody when it was released in 1999. Its cutting edge use of “bullet time” cameras and “wire-fu” martial arts combined with a cyberpunk aesthetic was quite simply a combination that nobody had seen before. Add a solid story with a healthy dose of philosophical discussion on the nature of reality and the result is so popular that the universe is still being mined for stories to this day. Perhaps none of The Matrix sequels have measured up, but that just shows how great the original truly was.
4. Blade Runner
The fact that Blade Runner saw a sequel 25 years after the original debuted is all it takes to show how this film has survived over the years. Ridley Scott’s story about a future where androids are virtually indistinguishable from humans live amongst us captured the imagination. Perhaps one of the reasons the film has been so popular is that it has so many versions to choose from. No fewer than seven different cuts have been released over the years. The fact that so much work has been done following the initial release not only shows that fans are still interested but it also helps to show how involved the film’s story truly is, that it can be looked at from so many different perspectives.
3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
While The Empire Strikes Back is viewed by many to be the high point of the Star Wars franchise, you simply can’t underestimate just how important a film the original movie is. It not only launched the biggest property in the history of pop culture, but it changed the way movies were made and the way science fiction was viewed by the masses. No longer was it simply the purview of little kids watching Flash Gordon serials. Science fiction was now serious business. Everybody tried to do their own Star Wars after the original became the highest grossing film of all time. They all failed to match its brilliance.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” With that simple phrase, we were introduced to some of the most terrifying alien creatures that have ever been created. Luckily, we were also introduced to one of the most badass heroes that science fiction, or any genre, has ever seen. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley broke the mold when it came to genre heroines and she’s still one of the greatest ever created. Alien was as good a science fiction film as it was a horror movie and the two are inextricably intertwined with each other. It is absolutely one of the best science fiction movies ever made.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Every movie on this list is a great one, but all of them owe something to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie really has everything you could possibly want. It’s got impressive outer space scenes. It’s got drama that borders on horror thanks to a slightly deranged computer. Then it’s got completely off-the-wall imagery and symbolism from Stanley Kubrick that still has people talking and asking questions to this day. After all these years we still can’t stop thinking about 2001, which is why it’s still the best science fiction movie ever made.
There have been some great science fiction movies over the last 100 years of cinema. And there are great science fiction movies yet to come. While these are the best of the best right now, this list will never be entirely finished, as there will always be new movies worthy of consideration.