The New Sci-Fi Boom: 10 Best Sci-Fi Films of The Last 5 Years

Published 1 year ago by , Updated August 9th, 2013 at 6:01 pm, This is a list post.

Introduction

Max Versus Kruger

One of the most popular genres in film history is science fiction. Over the years, audiences have been amazed as they are transported to exciting new worlds, meet alien creatures, face possible post-apocalyptic futures, or experience the thrill of adventure in space. While sci-fi movies have been entertaining the public as far back as the 1930s with Flash Gordon serials, the genre experienced a wave of popularity during the early days of the summer blockbuster. Thanks in large part to the overwhelming success of George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, studios began developing similar projects of their own in an effort to capitalize on the new trend. The ’70s and ’80s spawned a batch of influential sci-fi classics including the two Star Wars sequels, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, the Alien films, Back to the Future, and the start of the Terminator franchise. These movies aren't just considered fine examples of sci-fi genre fare, they are also listed as some of the greatest films ever made. Director Neill Blomkamp has emerged as one of the leading voices of this sci-fi generation with his Oscar-nominated feature length debut District 9and this month’s Elysium. Of course, Blomkamp is just one high-profile director to try his hand at the genre and his contemporaries have added some memorable entries to the realm of sci-fi. Here are our picks for the ten best sci-fi films of the past five years (ordered by release date). Of course the list is not all-inclusive, so once you've had a chance to read our picks, share yours in the comments.

WALL-E

WALL-E and EVE Dance in the Stars

Pixar’s 2008 film is perhaps one of their boldest efforts - as the first act is essentially a silent film. Audiences meet the titular robot and see him go about his day in several dialogue-free sequences. What could have been boring was instead highly entertaining and WALL-E went on to become a box office smash (grossing $223.8 million domestically) as well as winning the Oscar for Best Animated Film. Like most offerings from Pixar, what makes WALL-E memorable isn’t just the crisp animation, but the story and characters. The relationship between our hero and EVE is one of the standout aspects of the movie, giving audiences an emotional core to relate to - along with a captivating look at humanity's possible future. WALL-E also features important lessons about preserving our planet for everyone watching. Between lovable characters, terrific animation, and a strong meaningful message, it’s easy to see why this is considered a modern sci-fi classic.

Star Trek

Kirk and Spock Board the Enterprise

Rebooting Star Trek and recasting the iconic roles of Captain Kirk and Spock (among others) was always a risky proposition, and while some will disagree with his alternate timeline approach, director J.J. Abrams had a solid vision for the franchise. Looking to capture the sense of awe and wonder that fueled the works of Lucas and Spielberg to success, Abrams repackaged Star Trek as a modern space adventure film that was accessible not just to the “Trekkies,” but also new fans. Abrams and his team have accomplished their goal, as they have produced two hit films that have won over both critics and audiences. Star Trek and this summer’s sequel Star Trek Into Darkness combined great casting, thrilling set pieces, and solid story telling to make the brand more popular than it has ever been. Thanks to the success of the first two films, anticipation is high for Star Trek 3, which is currently targeting a 2016 release to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the franchise Star Trek.

Avatar

Avatar Jake and Ney'tiri

As the mind behind films such as The Terminator and Aliens, it made sense that James Cameron would return to the sci-fi genre at some point in his career. Always looking for new ways to revolutionize movie-making technology (see: the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day), the “king of the world” capitalized on advancements in computer generated imagery and motion-capture technology to bring Pandora, the world of his passion project Avatar, to life. While some felt that the final product was more about style over substance, there’s no denying Avatar’s place in cinematic history. Becoming the highest-grossing film of all-time (unadjusted for inflation), audiences were wowed by the jaw-dropping visuals that gave the movie an “event” feeling (a rarity for original films) as moviegoers felt they had to see it on the big screen. Despite complaints about the simplistic nature of the story, critics also adored Avatar as it secured nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Cameron is now moving on to helm three sequels, where (hopefully) he will continue to develop his creative vision and to push the boundaries of technology even further.

Moon

Sam Rockwell in Moon

Proof that you don’t always need major studio backing to make a great sci-fi film, Duncan Jones’ directorial debut Moon was produced for only $5 million and still managed to captivate audiences despite those limitations. Featuring a stellar performance by Sam Rockwell, the premise of Moon - a man struggles through feelings of isolation while on a mission to the moon - would make for a strong film on its own. However, a twist that occurs halfway through (we won’t spoil it here), helps elevate the film to something truly unique and fascinating. Moon was praised by critics upon its release and hailed as a return for hardcore sci-fi. Making an impression due to its heady themes and ideas, Moon was nominated for several awards across various circuits, most notably winning Jones a BAFTA.

District 9

Wikus Transformation

Once the Halo film adaptation fell through, director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson turned their attention to a sci-fi project titled District 9. Based on Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg, the filmmaker’s feature length debut tackled societal issues such as xenophobia and racial intolerance - using the apartheid as inspiration for its main storyline. Budgeted for a modest $30 million and featuring an unknown cast, District 9 snuck under the radar and went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of 2009. Grossing an impressive $115.6 million domestically, the film also received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Carried by a remarkable performance by Sharlto Copley (who easily could have received a Best Actor nod), District 9 married social commentary with sci-fi genre thrills to give audiences something fresh and exciting while announcing Blomkamp as a promising young talent.

Inception

Cobb and Arthur in Action

After the overwhelming success of his Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan was given the freedom to pick any movie he wanted. Before working on his Bat-trilogy finale, Nolan chose to work on the original sci-fi film Inception, a dream - no pun intended - project he had been brainstorming since 2002. Opening to rave reviews in the summer of 2010, Inception also became a box office smash, grossing $292.5 million in the States. Thanks to its amazing visual effects, intriguing world-building, and memorable score, the film quickly became a part of the pop culture zeitgeist and has remained a favorite amongst movie fans. Inception was an obvious choice for several technical categories at that year’s Oscars, but Nolan was also given nominations in both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for capturing the minds of moviegoers around the globe.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Caesar Plans His Escape

After the negative reception that Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes received, it seemed unlikely Fox would attempt to revive the well-known franchise (at least for a while). Yet, in 2011, they released the reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Directed by relative unknown Rupert Wyatt and arriving with extremely low expectations, not many moviegoers thought this had potential to become a hit. Anchored by an unforgettable turn by mo-cap legend Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes emerged as a sleeper hit and is widely considered to be one of the best films of that summer. Operating more as a character study than action film (save for the climactic Golden Gate fight sequence), critics and audiences were impressed by the movie’s cautionary sci-fi tale and its ability to turn the chimp Caesar (Serkis) into a well-developed, sympathetic, dynamic main character. Fox campaigned, and failed, to get their star a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, but the film did receive recognition for its visual effects work. A sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is set to hit theaters next July.

Source Code

Gyllenhaal and Monoghan in Source Code

After Moon made an impression at Sundance 2009 and gained a cult following, Duncan Jones was treated to a bigger budget ($32 million) and a larger cast for his next project, the original sci-fi film Source Code. The movie features Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens, an army pilot who relives the same eight minutes over and over again (via the “source code” device) to discover the identity of a train bomber.  Due to its premise, Source Code drew several tongue-in-cheek comparisons to the 1993 classic comedy Groundhog Day when it was released. However, while Source Code is bolstered by strong performances from Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright, it was the intriguing central plot point that hooked moviegoers. Guided by a fast-paced script that keeps the audience guessing, the film also provides audiences with one of the better “what if?” high concepts in recent memory. Under the careful direction of Jones, Source Code was able to give moviegoers both an exciting, high-stakes thrill-ride as well as food for thought to boot.

Super 8

Super 8 Parents Reunite With Their Kids

It’s no secret that J.J. Abrams is an admirer of the classic Spielberg adventures of yesteryear. Like most people of his generation, films such as Close Encounters, Goonies, and E.T defined his youth and have influenced the director’s own films. Abrams got the chance of a lifetime when he collaborated with Spielberg while working on his 2011 film Super 8, a direct homage to the films that inspired him. Using a sci-fi mystery as a backdrop for a charming coming-of-age story featuring a terrific cast of talented child actors, Abrams gave audiences a creature-feature with heart. Combining exciting action sequences, a story filled with suspense, and good old fashioned drama, Super 8 proved to be a favorite among critics and moviegoers, earning $127 million on a “low” $50 million budget.

Looper

Young Joe Takes Aim

Time travel has long been a favorite staple of sci-fi films, but due to its complicated and fickle nature (and the fact that there’s no real way to get it “right”), it’s one of the toughest elements to nail. Rian Johnson’s Looper humorously acknowledged this in one brief on-the-nose line of dialogue (in the diner) and instead focused on giving moviegoers a fresh story as opposed to explaining the finer details of how everything worked. Using the always intriguing “if you could talk to your future self, what would you say?” concept as a jumping off point, Looper provided moviegoers with one of the more exciting and interesting offerings of 2012. Touching on aspects such as changing the past and fixing our personal mistakes, Looper, like most of the films on our list, mixed action with thought-provoking material to challenge viewers intellectually. This film was a critical favorite and there are those who consider Johnson’s absence from the Best Original Screenplay nominees to be a notable snub.

Conclusion

Elysium Max Exoskeleton

While superheroes have become the latest hot trend in Hollywood, sci-fi has - over the last half decade at least - cemented its place as one of the cornerstones of the industry. Giving filmmakers the ability to test the limits of their imaginations and audiences a gateway to exciting new worlds, it's clear that sci-fi will remain a staple of the industry. It remains to be seen if the new batch of sci-fi hits will be remembered as fondly as the classics that topped the box office and gained awards recognition in the 1970s and 1980s, but filmmakers are already hard at work on some exciting possibilities. There are several upcoming movies on the horizon that should continue the genre's prominence in the box office (and with any luck, critics). In the next few years, moviegoers will be treated to a plethora of exciting new projects including Edge of Tomorrow, Tomorrowland, Interstellar, and of course, Star Wars: Episode 7, among others. Again, our list is not all-inclusive, so be sure to share your own picks in the comments. ____ Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90     
TAGS: avatar, district 9, inception, looper, moon, rise of the planet of the apes, source code, star trek, super 8, wall-e

181 Comments

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  1. I’m just happy to see a lack of superhero movies on this list. Kind of made my day.

  2. Well, I finally got to see “Pandorum”…I was not impressed. It was, I suppose, entertaining enough for a lazy Saturday afternoon. I definitely do not consider it to be one the ten best SF films of the last 5 years…not even one of the better ones.

    To each, his own…

  3. swap out Avatar with Attack the Block or Dredd. Avatar, while beautiful, had little or no substance.

    • I consider Dredd more of a 3rd person shooter video game than a Science Fiction movie.

  4. Without sounding messed up..no movie remake should have been on this list especially considering that they are usually horrible. Planet of the Apes ruined an otherwise great series of original movies. Star Trek i don’t even want to talk about because it will start a war. Even the Day the Earth Stood Still remake was horrible.

  5. I fell asleep during Super 8…lol.

    Pandorum was one of my favorite sci fi movies of the last 5 years, still so many unanswered questions…to bad we wont get a sequel or even a prequel.

    Monsters was a good sci fi movie…it would have made my list.

    Children of Men, knowing, Iam legend and last but not least…Another Earth; which i thought was brilliant but got so little attention.

  6. The only good thing about looper was that one chick’s ass.. thats it, not the retarded time travel plot or the irrelevant telekinetik kid

  7. AVATAR & INCEPTION …hands down !

  8. Terrible list. Must be 10 best sci-fi movies of the decade for someone that doesn’t like science-fiction and barely understands and appreciates cinema. Thumbs down.

    • Yet you provide nothing to make your opinion credible. Just another troll who likes to troll because he’s a troll.

      • I totally agree with you haha

  9. Prometheus should have been number 1 on the list, and know I’m not trolling. The hate for that movie is just an example of how much idiots there are in the world. The main complaint is that there is stuff that is unreal or doesn’t make sense to them, it’s a frickin movie!! I know what they did, and were trying to do, and I respect it and enjoyed it, I hope they continue to make a sequel. It is the only modern movie that uses ancient alien theory in it. Better than a movie about some non intelligent ferocious ugly animal thing that has no eyes and has acid inside of its body that can melt through metal, but not its own skin, like that makes anymore sense than Prometheus.

    • It’s really annoying to hear people championing Prometheus all the time and insulting people who didn’t like it.

      People don’t like Prometheus for one very fundamental reason above all else. It was advertised as a prequel to Alien. It wasn’t, it was a prequel to a possible prequel to Alien. It raised more questions then it answered and had more plot holes then a slab of Swiss cheese.

      Had Prometheus stuck to the original script rather then letting Damon “I can’t write a 3rd Act” Lindelof touch it, It probably would have gotten a different response.

      • Actually, people don’t like Prometheus because people are stupid and impatient in this McDonald’s society of ours.

        Every unanswered question has a purpose, and the plot holes are placed intentionally. Once you understand that, this movie becomes a masterpiece.

        • “Once you understand that, this movie becomes a an instant B-film on the same level as ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ and ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’”

          FTFY

          • Kids kids behave…

    • Cannot respect a list that leaves out Prometheus, Moon and apes only others worthy of the list. Inception and avatar and district 9 ? yawn

    • People hate Prometheus because it’s a Hack N’ Slash movie not Science Fiction. IT HAS NO PLOT other than find the Engineer and then he starts hacking at people the moment he gets up.

  10. A lot of great movies left out. Prometheus may not have been perfect but it was 10x better than Source Code which shouldn’t even be on the list.

  11. Wall-E, Looper, Star Trek & District 9 were all good. Super 8 was garbage, Source Code was interesting until it became too repetitive about halfway through. Moon, personally I found too boring to even bother to finish. Inception is really a stretch as a Sci-Fi movie, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, seriously, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering the rest of the list is batting at less then 50%. Then Avatar… ugh, where to even start, but at least it looks pretty and is more “Sci-Fi” then Inception.

    • It is indeed unfortunate that the authors do not provide a definition of SF. Depending on that, we could have tested Inception against their standards.
      But: At the core of the movie is a scientific concept on which the whole story is founded. Therefore, undoubtly SF in my view. You cannot take away the SF element and keep on telling that story sensibly.

  12. i cant believe what movies are on this list. the only two that were good out of all of them where inception and district 9. every other movie on this list was absolutely terrible and lacked even a decent script.

    • Cannot respect a list that leaves out Prometheus, Moon and apes only others worthy of the list. Inception and avatar and district 9 ? yawn

  13. So many bad ones on this list. Dredd and Riddick should definitely be on here. Enders Game looks promising too. Pacific Rim was a let down, but still better than a lot of flicks here imo.

  14. No mention of Kubrick’s 2001 odysee in space, Tarkovsky’s original “Solaris”, Blade Runner or even Moon as influental movies? You quite focus on the special effect, horror and militaristic ladden there.

    • And you fail to focus on the fact that this is SCI-FI FILMS OF THE LAST 5 YEARS. Only Moon qualifies, my friend.

  15. A Scanner Darkly easily beats most of the films in this list (Avatar!, wtf?) and is true science fiction.

  16. Geez, it must be the dark age of SF, if these are really the best SF movies of the last 5 years. Half of these were barely watchable.
    Avatar should never be mentioned again, ever. Terrible movie.
    I also keep holding out hope that someone invents a way to budge us into a different timeline – one without JJ Abrams’ Star Trek invlovement.
    No love for Source Code, Super 8 or Planet of the Apes, either.
    Moving on, Moon looks intriguing but I never made it all the way through. It does warrant an entry on this list though.
    District 9, Wall-E and Looper are definitely keepers. With Inception, it all comes down to one’s definition of SF. It is one of the best movies on this list in any case.

    Given the weak competition on this list any of the following would be an improvement:
    Attack the Block
    EVA
    Elysium (Why is that not on the list, anyway? The header photo is from that movie.)
    Prometheus (flawed but intriguing)
    Lockout

    Then there are the group of movies that may or may not be SF:
    Never let me go
    Adjustment Bureau (is prob more of a fantasy movie as there is never any real attempt to explain the “science”)
    Hunger Games (as much SF as Inception)

    I have not seen many others and so cannot judge movies like Oblivion, World’s End, Gravity (is it really fiction?), After Earth and Snowpiercer (but am very excited about that last one!)

  17. Oh dear, while a couple of your choices are very good, come on AVATAR?

  18. Whilst I appreciate that all of the comments here are totally valid to the individual tastes of the author, I would like to say that I was trying to use the list to see if I had missed any great SI FI moves created in the last 5 years so I could order them on my Film site. Not sure that this helped a great deal to achieve this. However I must say that Another Earth keeps cropping up which I thought whilst watchable was so slow I struggled to finish it. I think they tried to be clever with a concept, make it a bit arty and forgot that a move is to provide entertainment (Sorry for the fans but hay if you liked it no problem, I guess I just need a bit more depth and speed) Still made it to the end ok as I love SI FI though. Other films see my review bellow
    Source Code – Ok liked the concept glad I watched it but not a rave, liked the end well enough though.
    Hunger Games – Yes its SI FI and its ok, but my daughter liked it better than me but still worth a watch.
    Inception – I loved this and yes it’s SI FI unless you can actually do it in real life. I guess I just liked the concept more than the story though.
    Prometheus – Good well worth a watch but a little weak on the story. I am not sure that its as clever as some seem to suggest, but I think they tried to make it so with maybe 50% success and failure. (Also note it most certainly is not the first or only move to suggest the origin of alien species responsible for the creation of life on earth).
    Attack the Block – Did not like this at all but made it to the end (Just) its SI FI I suppose but more of a monster film with drug dealers. Main problem with this I didn’t care about any one in it and it had no real plot which left you thinking yeh maybe.
    Looper – Ok watchable and I liked it but why would you bother to do all that just to kill someone? So no did not leave me thinking wow but rather yeh right O like who would bother
    Just in Time – I loved this just for the concept of spending your life but the film plot could have been better and it’s a bit goody two shoes with the charity
    Avatar – Ok but more aimed at kids, had good effects, weak plot and not enough back history for my tastes but worth a watch I guess.
    Wall-E – obviously aimed at kids but I loved it which is rare for me. My kids were not as keen as me though. This is not a serious SI FI film but what the hell I would watch it again.
    Star Trek – I can’t be objective about cuz I love the franchise and would watch anything with that at the front. But if I were to be honest I was a little disappointed in the first new one from a plot line and the obvious attempt to put Spock the original in. The second one I thought was ok but mainly because it’s a twist on the original film. (Anyway I can’t stand to slate them anymore, just because its Startrek but must say neither of them match any of the series for shear thought provocation and entertainment.
    Apes (Planet of) I enjoyed quite a bit and liked it better than the originals, but its not actually got anything much to do with that set of films and should be viewed in its own right or you will be disappointed.
    In general I think most of them are worth a watch or are essential (Except Attack the Block) I just wish I never saw it. Obviously just my opinion and sorry if you liked this, but so what get over it.

  19. This is a great list, except for the omission of Prometheus. I can’t understand why people focused on the few negative points of this movie so much, seeing as the rest of it was so immensely impressive. The mind boggles!
    Ridley Scott truly is the master of sci-fi movies and that’s all there is to say on that-full stop
    I’m a big fan of Duncan Jones and Neill Blomkamp, a couple of guys who have the chops to provide us with high grade sci-fi movies for years to come. You can count Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuaron, and Guillermo del Toro on that list too. Is this a golden era of sci-fi directors? Yes it is!!

  20. Looper left the viewer believing that Bruce Willi’s character was nothing more than a selfish individual and the rest of the film collapses due to this.

    Super 8 was pretty self indulgent and relied too much on digital effects. The appearance of the alien also removes the sense of mystery and kills the film.

    District 9 had the right look but it trivialized Race.

    Star Trek was about revenge and that isn’t what Gene Rodenberry’s concept was ever about. The film also relied too much on spectacle.

    Wall-E was a pleasant surprise and very strong point is made as the film unravels. Excellent surprise indeed.

    Prometheus like the other films relied too much on digital effects and the acting was weak. The concept of a White Alien Race was also disturbing. It suggests Earth evolved from superior White giants.

    Planet of the Apes? strong story but digital effects of the protagonist ape are flawed. The ape lacked proper physical body movements and volume. A problem common with many of todays digital representation of living beings.

  21. Sci-Films I’ve Enjoyed From the 2009-2013:

    Star Trek (2009)
    Moon (2009)
    Visioneers (2009)
    Monsters (2010)
    Time Traveler: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2010, Live Action Version)
    Super 8 (2011) – Not sure why there is so much hate on this forum for this film, it received 82/75 from Rotten Tomatoes
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
    Source Code (2011)
    Paul (2011)
    Love (2011)
    Dredd (2012)
    Looper (2012)
    Men in Black 3 (2012)
    Robot & Frank (2012)
    History of Future Folk (2012)
    Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
    Hunger Games (2012)
    Oblivion (2013)
    World’s End (2013)
    Elysium (2013)

    • Totally forgot Inception (2010) and Megamind (2010). Also, I think Visioneers actually came out in 2008, so it should not be on my list.