The future, robots, artificial intelligence, space travel or diving into the abyss – science fiction is all about a human facing the unknown. It’s one of the most diverse, versatile genres in cinematography. Still, all those movies have something in common. In any good sci-fi, you’ll find some complicated moral dilemmas and paradoxes to think about. And no matter what it is – a drama, a thriller or a comedy – in most cases, science fiction looks incredibly beautiful.
Since it’s impossible to choose the one and only perfect movie, let us present you with our list of top sci-fi movies.
Director: Andrey Tarkovsky
Stars: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet
One of the best sci-fi movies of all time, this iconic thriller by the famous soviet director is based on an eponymous novel by Stanislaw Lem. A group of scientists on a spaceship far away from Earth is trying to understand the nature of mysterious Planet Solaris. At some point, it seems that they all started losing their minds. A psychologist is sent to that station to see what’s happening there and decide whether it’s worth continuing the scrutiny. Once he arrives there, he realizes that weird things are happening not only in the scientists’ minds but right in front of his eyes.
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Filmed more than four decades ago, Alien remains one of the greatest movies about extraterrestrials ever made. The plot is quite simple: on the way back to Earth a commercial space tug receives a distress call from an unknown planet. In accordance with the instructions, the crew has to find the signal source and investigate it. Their visit to the mysterious planet doesn’t pass without a trace. Using one of the crew, a weird and very aggressive creature xenomorph sneaks onto the spaceship. Now all these innocent people are locked in with the horrifying alien.
Get ready, jumpscares are the least frightening part of Alien. Its disturbing claustrophobic atmosphere does much more to the viewers. The creepiest locations of the movie (the unknown planet and a derelict spacecraft) and, of course, the xenomorph itself were designed by a Swiss artist H.R. Giger.
Fun fact: The slime that covers xenomorph’s body is all regular lube.
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young
Another cult science fiction movie by Ridley Scott. It’s inspired by the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip k. Dick.
Filmed in 1982, the movie pictures the year 2019 as a dark and unpleasant time. In that dystopian future, blade runners are hunters who track down replicants (high-class androids) and kill them. One of those blade runners, Rick Deckard, is tasked to find four replicants who have escaped from a space colony to Earth. He needs to find out what their intentions are, and then, of course, kill them. But it’s not the plot that makes Blade Runner a cult movie. It’s neon-noir aesthetics, philosophical vibe and mysteriousness that defined how the cybernetic future in cinema will look like for many years to come.
Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starts: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
A sequel worth waiting for more than 30 years. The continuation of the cyberpunk story about the future of people and replicants turned out to be a beautifully deep movie. The plot takes a new twist: a young detective-replicant needs to find Rick Deckard, who may know something that could help to save the world.
Blade Runner 2049 has every chance to become new classics. The movie is great not necessarily for its fight scenes, but for stunning cinematography, meditative atmosphere and clean, taut story.
Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario
Astronaut Sam Bell has been working on the dark side of the Moon for almost three years already. Except for the intelligent robot GERTY, there’s no one to talk to at the station. Sam’s here all alone, and three years last far too long in isolation. The astronaut can’t wait to go back to his wife and little daughter. When there are only a couple of weeks left till the end of his contract, an accident happens. Fortunately, the next employee to work on the station comes right in time to save Sam. But that new astronaut is someone whom Sam least expected to see.
There’s much more meaning rather than action in the movie. First of all, for the moral dilemmas that humanity is going to face with the development of robotics and technology in general. Do we really need to make robots so human-like, endowing them with an independent mind, emotions, and feelings? And if we do, do we have the right to treat them as soulless machines? Will we ever be able to replace the human resource with robots harmlessly for everyone?
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The Fifth Element
Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman
Science fiction classic by Luc Besson also happens to be a very simple and cute love story. So if you’re looking for a movie to watch together with someone who’s more into romcoms, The Fifth Element will be just perfect. A former elite commando Major Korben Dallas is barely making ends meet by driving a cab. He’s having stupid fights over phone with his bitchy mother and waiting for a perfect woman to come to his life. Instead, he gets a super important task from his ex-colleagues and an alien that looks like a pretty red-haired girl. And, as it happens in Bruce Willis movies quite often, the fate of mankind now depends on him.
There are too many things to adore about this movie: beautiful and strong Mila Jovovich, gorgeous Ruby Rhos by Chris Tucker, colorful pictures of 23rd century, alien creatures of all kinds and the best musical number Hollywood has ever created.
Fun fact: Costumes for The Fifth Element were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
The cutest postapocalyptic movie ever made by humans. The Earth is so polluted that people are living on huge spaceships, and the only residents left on our home planet are waste-collecting droids. One of them is a rusty old-style robot Wall-E. He’s keeping a cockroach as a pet and taking care of a real plant – probably, the last one on Earth – that he’s accidentally found under piles of garbage. Wall-E doesn’t know yet that he’s destined to do much more than he is programmed to – travel into space, fight the evil and even fall in love.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Director: Garth Jennings
Stars: Martin Freeman, Yasiin Bey, Sam Rockwell
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not just a movie, it’s a rollercoaster of absurdist logic and weird but insanely funny jokes! We bet you haven’t seen a comedy as holistic as this one.
Based on a series of novels by Douglas Adams, the movie tells us the story of an earthman Arthur Dent. The character has to travel the galaxy, as his home planet Earth has been destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace motorway. Doesn’t sound funny? Well, watch it and see that even the end of the world can be hilarious.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
It’s hard to think of someone more suitable for a role in a dreary sci-fi movie than young David Bowie, isn’t it? His character is an alien visitor that arrives on Earth to find water that is vital for saving his home planet. To fulfill his mission, he’ll have to remain there for many years, communicate with humans and eventually become successful in this strange world.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a sad surreal movie that is less about sci-fi and more about the weirdness of our civilization, paradoxes of our culture and human weaknesses.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
This extremely successful movie by Christopher Nolan is about humans traveling beyond this galaxy. Their mission is to find a better place for mankind than exhausted Earth. Great actors, an exciting plot and beautiful cinematography are not the only things you should watch Interstellar for. It’s inspired not only by other sci-fi classics but by science itself. Many astrophysicists and futurists said that the film looks quite realistic. The famous American theoretical physicist and popularizer of science Michio Kaku even told in his interview to CBS News that Interstellar “could set the gold standard for science fiction movies for years to come”.
Back to the Future
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
These probably most well-known movies about time travel tell us about the adventures of 17-year-old high school student Marty McFly and his friend Doc Brown, an eccentric (or mad?) scientist who invented the time machine. Going back and forth in time, visiting parallel realities they’ve created and trying to fix their own deeds, Marty and Doc are having a really great time. Here’s a challenge: try watching all three movies without a single tear of nostalgia.
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johanson
A beautiful and sad movie raises the thrilling topic of Artificial Intelligence’s possibilities. Lonely writer Theodore falls in love with a smart and completely humanized, but still disembodied virtual assistant. In this odd and touching future love tale, it’s possible to find a soulmate in something that doesn’t have a soul (which doesn’t sound that futuristic for us, does it?). And even if AI has its own artificial feelings, will that be enough for a human?
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Another story of a human falling in love with a robot is a completely different yet equally beautiful movie Ex Machina. This time, the AI has a body. Ava is an advanced humanoid with an angel face whose emotional intelligence is almost as developed as humans’. In his first directing effort, the writer Alex Garland is inventing new sci-fi aesthetics and touches on unresolved contradictions, that many of us prefer not to think about when it comes to robots.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
The only stars of this heart-pounding but still life-affirming drama are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The story follows two astronauts that survived after an accident and are left completely alone in the endless blackness of space without any hope for salvation from their colleagues from Earth. Gravity is not just a picturesque movie but a deep story full of metaphors. To convince you, let us just say that this drama was rated highly by critics: it has received several awards as well as compliments from James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino.
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
The famous sci-fi incarnation of the Pocahontas story was made in 2009 by James Cameron. On a distant beautiful planet of Pandora, humans have discovered a valuable mineral that can lead the Earth out of the energy crisis. And while a small part of the miners’ team is trying to bond with native humanoid creatures of Na’vi, the others are greedily destroying the land and threatening the existence of the local tribes.
Cameron is talking of confrontation between barbarism and sympathy, greed and humanity, consumerism and ethics. As long as these issues are relevant to us, this kind of movies won’t get old.
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thomson
Two years ago, the futuristic drama starring Natalie Portman was released on Netflix so it might be one of the movies you’ve missed. The plot of Annihilation is quite simple: the biologist Lina signs up for a dangerous expedition to a mysterious zone to get a chance to save her husband. “The Shimmer” is an anomalous zone that emerged after a meteor landed in a lighthouse, and the laws of nature don’t apply here. The best part of Annihilation is not a twisted plot or metaphorical narrative, it’s all about its incredibly beautiful, terrifying and sometimes even repulsive visuals.
Director: Tarsem Singh
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio
Another thriller worth watching solely for its visual pleasure is The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez. The story follows a psychiatrist entering the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to find out where he hid his latest kidnap victim that might still be alive. Get ready to dive into a breathtaking and disturbing world of a sick mind that’s filled with references to modern art and classic cinema!
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Sumi Shimamoto, Mahito Tsujimura, Hisako Kyôda
One of the incredible worlds created by the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is the underrated Nausicaa from the Valley of the Winds. Miyazaki manages to make everything look absolutely stunning – even if it’s the most unpleasant future of our planet after an environmental disaster. Even in that world full of dangerous creatures, the worst of the evils are still greed, fear and people’s bad attitude to the Earth and to each other.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of this movie to the whole genre of science fiction. However, as in the case with many other cult films, watching Space Odyssey is not quite easy. It’s rather a meditative representation of technology, a bizarre sci-fi operetta than an action movie with unexpected plot twists. Don’t wait for explosions and fights, just enjoy the film that once defined the face of the sci-fi genre for decades to come.
Director: Steven Lisderger
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
The cyberpunk adventure film by Disney is not just a cute old-fashioned sci-fi for kids. Tron was way ahead of its time in terms of visual effects. In fact, it represents a landmark work in the history of computer animation. However, it is worth watching not only in tribute to the discoveries in CGI. A bit naive and simple, Tron did in the 80-s what Matrix did in the 90-s exploring the concept of people existing in an artificially created reality.
Directors: The Wachowski Brothers
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
By the way, let’s not forget Matrix. It’s been twenty-five years since its release, and now we can say that this spectacular dystopia has succeeded far more than an average decent blockbuster would. The film has firmly seeped into our vocabulary (just remember how many times you’ve noticed a “glitch in the Matrix”), received dozens of different interpretations, and defined the face of many subsequent movies. The story of Neo who’s stuck in the Matrix is incredibly influential for modern pop culture. Definitely a must-watch for everyone.
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
It’s unlikely that you’ve never heard of the cyborg that was sent from the future to execute Sarah Connor, whose unborn son is destined to beat robots. The iconic Terminator is an incredible and fun action scientific fiction movie in which the former governor of California played his biggest role. It’s always great to re-watch, especially since now that we know how the story ends, we can pay attention not only to the intense storyline but also to the great sci-fi aesthetics.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Stars: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
In 1995, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt starred in one of the best movies by Terry Gilliam. In the future, where most of the population has died from an incurable virus, the rest of mankind lives underground. Traveling to the surface is extremely dangerous, and only convicts are sent there for some research. If they complete their tasks successfully, they earn parole. Someone has to fix that world and bring things back to normal. Sounds like a mission for Bruce Willis, doesn’t it?
Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
In the year 2045, people can escape the harsh reality in the OASIS, a VR world where you can do basically anything and be anyone, the only limit is your imagination. The greatest thing about Steven Spielberg’s latest film is not its advanced CGI or the nice and kind story touching any millennial’s heart. In this movie, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of easter eggs. Seriously, it’s a whole amusement park filled with references to the most popular movies, cartoons and video games of the past decades, and you’d definitely want to check it out!
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Another great sci-fi by James Cameron is an old (but gold) movie about mysteries and dangers of the underwater world. It’s a beautiful drama about a man’s encounter with the unknown. The film won the Academy Award for Visual Effects back in 1990. No wonder why: the effects still look cool even today. However, right after its release, The Abyss was not met quite warmly by the audience. As it often happens with iconic movies, people started appreciating it much later.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
The latest Mad Max movie, in which the character comes back after 30 years of silence, became one of the wildest and most impressive post-apocalyptic films of the 21st century. Mad Max: Fury Road turned out to be surprisingly feminist and relevant to our times for an action-adventure about a former Main Force Patron officer in the far away future. It’s likely to be interesting not only for sci-fi enthusiasts but also for those who’re seeking strong female characters.
I Am Mother
Director: Grant Sputore
Stars: Rose Byrne, Maddie Lenton, Luke Hawker
Mowgli’s story told in the language of science fiction would be I Am Mother by George Miller. The plot follows a child raised by a machine. Neither the girl nor the android educator have names: they call each other Mother and Daughter. The names are not really needed as they’ve never seen other people, there’s no one left on Earth except for them. Or so they thought until a stranger knocks on the door. This is an excellent sci-fi thriller recalling the main ethical dilemmas that scientists and futurists often face.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Arrival starts with a sudden appearance of gigantic unknown flying objects in different parts of the world. Aliens, if there are any, are not taking any actions: the spaceships are simply floating in the air, which only raises the anxiety level. This quiet and gloomy non-action film keeps the viewers in suspense from the beginning to the very end credits without any big fighting scenes. And that seems to be the best part of it.
Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
In the near future, Major Mira Killian is a perfect fighter. Saved from a terrible crash, she is a cyber-enhanced soldier confronting the world’s most dangerous criminals. The movie shows us stunning sci-fi aesthetics, but awesome visuals are not the only reason to watch this movie for. Ghost in the Shell explores how boundaries between different nationalities, beliefs, and genders are going to gradually disappear. Moreover, it seems that over time, it will be hard to define the difference between a man and a machine. A human’s mind placed in a perfect robotic body is the reality of this amazing and strange world.
Director: Andrew Niccol
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
One of the few good sci-fi movies that talk about the admissibility of genetic engineering. In the not-too-distant and quite relatable future, people who are planning to become parents can visit a doctor who will select the most successful combination of genes for their child to inherit their physical and mental perfection. People born this way become privileged. They are known as Valids and are eligible for the best jobs. Those who are born in the “old-fashioned” way are In-Valids, they’re not perfect enough to claim the highest positions.
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