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

Published 11 months 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. what “boom”? in the 90s there was a boom. since then its getting lesser…

  2. Not a big fan of “Source Code” and I haven’t seen “Moon” but the rest of the list is spot on.

    • Moon just might be the best movie on this list. And that’s saying something because these films are ALL excellent except for maybe Avatar. Well, I actually haven’t seen Source Code either so can’t speak to that.

      • I just love the spectacle of Avatar. It was awesome on the big screen. On DVD… not so much.

        • I missed it in the theater…but I find Avatar very impressive even on DVD.

      • @Tyler, do not miss Source Code it is awesome!

        @John V you gotta check out Moon, its the same guy that did source code but out of the 2 I’d say Moon is better. I agree with Tyler that its prbly the best movie on the list, well I really love D9 and Looper so idk….

    • Source Code was better than Looper in my opinion. Looper was extremely overhyped and very disappointing.

  3. I think “Prometheus” or “John Carter” would be on my list also.

    • Agreed. Love it or hate it,but Prometheus was visually spectacular.

      • I drew a picture of a spaceship, it was really ace, can that get on the list too.

        I’m so fed up with people thinking good graphics is enough for a good film.

        • There seems to be some confusion. This is a list of FILMS. If you drew a static image that wouldn’t qualify for this list because it wouldn’t be a film, although hand drawn pictures are considered an art form in their own right. GRAPHICS is a term used to describe computer programs or video games: not films or hand-drawn images. Video games don’t qualify for this list either, FYI.

  4. All the hype surrounding Looper at the time killed that movie for me, i expected way too much.

    I agree with the rest of the list though

  5. I agree that all of these films were excellent and loved every single one of them…I even own them because I found them so appealing in theaters. That said, I would move one of them to the lowest ranking of these “best” films. “Star Trek”, while fun and certainly necessary for Paramount, is not what I would call great SF…more like great “syfy” (yes, the reference is very much intended). I’ll have to think about what film might replace it on this list…

    (again, I loved it, but…)

    • Pandorum maybe ?
      I cant think of another that might be “worthy” to be on this list.
      It certainly was a better film then i expected.

      • I really enjoyed Pandorum. Surprise film right there

        • Pandorum WAS very good

    • I never saw “Pandorum”, but I was reminded of two possibilities: “Oblivion” and “Cloud Atlas”.

  6. No “Prometheus” or “Cloud Atlas”?

    • Good suggestions. Some of the criticisms made by the detractors of Prometheus are valid, but overall I think it’s a good film that deserves a place on the list.

      • Yeah, Prometheus is one of those movies you can watch over and over again and it won’t get boring.

  7. I really liked or loved all on this list but Looper. I didn’t dislike it but it felt too jumbled and disjointed overall.

  8. I really like Oblivion and Europa Report. :)

    • You should see Moon, its got a lot in common with Oblivion. Maybe too much in common.

  9. Where’s Cloud Atlas? That was the best Science Fiction of the past five years in my opinion. I also would have included Beyond the Black Rainbow. Most of my other picks were represented here, notably Inception and District 9.

    • Never heard of ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’? Definitely putting on my ‘MUST-SEE’

      • Beyond the Black Rainbow was a divisive cult movie that came out a few years ago. It’s really slow paced and atmospheric and it’s basically a throwback to classic science fiction films like 2001, Stalker, and Altered States. I think you can still catch it on Netflix.

  10. Awesome list, loved all these films and actually have half of these on blu ray lol. Haven’t seen Source Code or Moon yet though.

    • Definitley check out Source Code. I was put off by the bad reviews and Jaky Gylenhall (sp?), but he was very good in this. I was definitley impressed by the whole movie.

      • Source Code was surprisingly good for me as well….

        • Source Code was alright but Moon was way better.

          • Nice, maybe I’ll check them both out in the coming weeks!

      • I didn’t really like Source Code.

        ** spoiler **

        I just seemed too Groundhog Day to me.

        ** /spoiler **

        More like a DVD movie to me.

  11. Nice to see Moon getting some love. Was one the people who was disappointed with Looper. The moment Bruce Willis said “I don’t want to talk about time travel”, I basically said F*ck you.

    Only one I really didn’t like though was Super 8. Sounded good on paper though.

  12. Always tough to pull out a small grouping of sci-fi and call it the TOP 10, but I am glad you got LOOPER in there. For me, besides District 9, it was one of the most surprisingly awesome sci-fi films during this period, with INCEPTION being one of my all-time favorites!

  13. What about G. Edwards 2010 indie Monsters? That movie was great, I loved that film

    • Oh man, I forgot all about Monsters. I actually enjoyed Monsters more than District 9 and thought it was better overall. Such a great movie.

  14. I was going to say “Sunshine” but didn’t realize that it had come out in 2007.

    • I was going to say the same thing. I though Sunshine was one of the best sci-fi/space movies ever. It never seems to get the appreciation that it deserves.

      • Really an amazing film. I’m sure that if this list was longer than 5 years, then Sunshine would be on there. I feel like it’s on the same level as Moon.

  15. Gonna have to go find Moon…
    Nice list – I’d forgotten that District 9 was so low budgeted and remember being impressed by the effects, thanks to the talented folks at WETA Digital. I have a feeling Elysium is gonna be on next years version of this list.

  16. I agree with the whole list except for “Looper”

    a better film to add to the list would be “Chronicle”, “Pacific Rim”, “Cloud Atlas”, “Tron Legacy”,

    i also enjoyed the superhero movies that are now more science fiction and less fantasy, and the prequel-ish film “Predators” and “Prometheus”

    However many bad Sci-fi films that have been made, i think there is a fair number of good ones.

    • Liked Looper but great adds with Tron Legacy, Pacific Rim (probably one of my top 5 favs of all time) and Chronicle!

  17. Just got back from Elysium. Got to add that one.

  18. Well, I passionately disliked Inception. If there was an over-hyped film, that was it. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Moon, either. it was fine, but nothing earth (or moon) shattering.

    I enjoyed Looper. A “best film of…” nominee? Well, I enjoyed it. Maybe not that much.

    Most definitely Prometheus and Cloud Atlas should be on the list.

  19. I didn’t like Super 8 at all.

    Plodded on for hours seemingly with not much going on and the payoff at the end was one big disappointment.

    • Man i thought i was the only one, i went to the midnight and hated it

    • I didn’t actively dislike it. I thought it tried a little too hard to recapture the ET vibe, and it was one of those that just instantly faded into the ether when I was done watching it. I didn’t take anything away from it, it didn’t make me think, it REALLY did not wow me.

      Really surprised to see it on this list.

    • Yes! Seriously, the only two good parts in the movie were the train wreck, and the little shirt film the kid made that they showed in the end credits.

    • Damn, didn’t think so many people would dislike this movie. Personally, I absolutely loved it.

      • Super 8 is my favorite movie of all time

  20. I guess I’m in the minority regarding Looper.
    It was my favorite of 2012 and I’ve watched it at least 5 times now…
    But hey, that’s fine. It wouldn’t be much fun commenting and debating if we all agreed. ;)

    • Nope, you’ve got company. Looper was awesome!

      • yeah, i feel like im in the minority for not liking it. But hey, to each his own. I can see why people liked it, but the time travel just seemed to make the story more complicated than it needed to be. I liked “Cowboys and Aliens” and a lot of people didnt.

  21. District 9 ranks as one of my best films of all time…I loved it that much. I might add Chronicle and Cloverfield for their originality.

  22. Does Dredd count as SciFi?

    I didn’t like Super 8 that much.

    You know I can’t think of a sci-fi film in the last 5 years that has really blown me away. Wall-E actually comes the closest.

    Is Cloud Atlas that good?

    • Ooooo..DREDD! Totally spaced that one off….loved it.

    • Cloud Atlas was an experiment in film that (in my humble opinion) has to be appropriated for what it was trying to do, as oppose to how we felt with the end product. It is a passion project for the film makers and passion projects always divide audience. I think it is a bold and sturdy take on the Sci-Fi genre, even though at times it felt a little long winded as a film.

      Its worth watching once, like “Drive” or “Tree of Life” (2 films i didnt like btw) it is an experience to watch unlike any other film

      • Cloud Atlas gains from repeated viewings, so I would disagree that it’s only “worth watching once”.
        It is brilliant, and its brilliance only becomes clearer with repeated viewings. There are massive amounts of symbolic imagery to take in and assimilate, as well as minute detail that enhances the greater storyline.

        It is one of the great under-appreciated masterpieces of recent cinema.

  23. Sorry, Prometheus deserves to be on this list.

  24. Super 8 and Source Code were pretty boring actually – for me anyways.
    Haven’t seen Moon yet.

    I still count many comic book movies as sci-fi since, well, they ARE sci-fi movies lol, so I’d replace the 3 above mentioned films with The Avengers, Iron Man and Man Of Steel.

    • if you found Super 8 and Source Code “boring”, you will probably die watching Moon.

      I found it ok, but overall thought it was tedious. It isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, by far. But it definitely does not rank among the top.

    • Moon is great, but you’ll probably find it boring. Also, I really, REALLY don’t think anyone classifies superhero movies as science fiction. they are among their own genre.

      • They are comic book movies, but as far as the genre goes, there isn’t a genre called “comic book”. If you go to sites like IMDb, or RT, or go to a rental site, you’ll find cbms under genres like action, sci-fi, etc.
        They have science fiction elements, so it stands to reason they’re sci-fi.

        For example, when looking at The Avengers, I’d classify it as an action/adventure sci-fi film, but when I look at TDK, I’d classify it as an action crime thriller.

  25. Good list for the most part. I have not seen Looper or Source Code.

    However, I would not have put Star Trek or especially Super 8 on the list. (Common denominator significant? Maybe.) I was not impressed by Super 8, and Star Trek while gorgeous, well-cast and fun, does not really deserve any awards as a sci-fi film.

    I cannot think of many other sci-fi films from the past five years, but I personally prefer Prometheus (imperfections aside, interesting and beautiful), Tron Legacy, even Apollo 18 was enjoyable as darkly-kitschy sci-fi. Also, Another Earth if it could be considered sci-fi.

  26. Love to see both duncan jones films. On the list and ive enjoyed every film on the list.

  27. all of them were good examples, and I really can’t think of anything better, but I think Oblivion should’ve been on here. And also, I never really classified the Planet of the Apes franchise as sci-fi, for me it’s always fallen under fantasy more, even though it involves evolution, time travel, space and “aliens” (the original), it just really seems more fantasy to me. And I really didn’t like Looper, it took a great premise (and had a decent ending) but it turned into Terminator 1 without robots and put in an exorcist kid. Thought the whole second half was misguided and sometimes just plain stupid. I love Rian Johnson, but that movie infuriated me.

    • OH and some guy above mentioned Prometheus? Hell to the yes, where is that on the list?

  28. Love this list! Great movies! I was hoping to see one I hadn’t seen so I could promptly download it :P Except I feel like Avatar gets a little worse each time you watch it.

    • I liked it better the first time it was made….Pocahontas was a pretty good Disney movie when I was a kid.

  29. Forgot about Oblivion… good movie.
    Looper out Oblivion in!

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