Science fiction is a vast genre filled with franchises and individual films that can suit almost any palette. From other worldly creatures all the way to intense action-focused plots, sci-fi has it all. And the best part about it? The concepts presented to fans are entirely new ideas, allowing minds to wander and imaginations to run free.
While we’ve recently been hit with quite a few great new additions to the genre, it’s time to take a step back and look at the sci-fi films that fans are still talking about today. While it certainly takes quite a bit to create a new, unique film in such a complex genre, it takes a bit more to pioneer it, developing an entirely new story out of nothing.
With that in mind, here are the 14 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time.
14 Alien (1979)
The sci-fi horror film set aboard the spaceship Nostromo has become a franchise in its own right, sparking a grand total of three direct sequels, one prequel and two crossover films with the Predator series. There is also a second prequel film currently in the works, to be helmed by Ridley Scott, who directed the original film. The storyline follows female lead Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she and her crew are terrorized by an alien stowaway.
The original film brought home over $100 million worldwide from the box office, and Ridley Scott showed true sci-fi fanatics just what an alien encounter could look like. The film also took home an Oscar for Best Effects, and even in the growing age of technology, the original holds up fairly well.
13 Back to the Future (1985)
Almost everybody knows who Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is by now, and if you don’t, educate yourself. Back to the Future is one of the few sci-fi films that incorporates comedy and good ol' fashioned family values, and it does so successfully.
The story follows Marty as he accidentally travels back in time thirty years via Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) DeLorean-turned-time machine. However, things get complicated when Marty must make his parents fall in love again to restore the space-time continuum and ensure that he exists in the future.
The film, sparking two sequels, brought home almost $400 million worldwide, and is still well-known and loved today by audiences of all ages.
12 Blade Runner (1982)
Starring sci-fi alum Harrison Ford, Blade Runner (another Ridley Scott film) takes place in 2019 as Rick Deckard (Ford) – an ex-cop, also referred to as a "blade runner" – must terminate four so-called “replicants” (more specifically, androids that look like real humans) who have stolen a space ship and plan to return to Earth.
The film is an action-packed, sci-fi thriller that may only have brought home a little over $32 million, but that loyal fans and Ford enthusiasts have grown to love and appreciate with time. And when it comes to this genre, that’s really all you can ask for, right?
11 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
A line worker, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), is sent out to investigate a power outage, comes in contact with a U.F.O. and, after the event, is drawn to an isolated area by unexplained thoughts and an overwhelming feeling that something spectacular is going to happen.
The alien film did very well at the box office, bringing home over $300 million worldwide. The film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and would go on to become a fan favorite sci-film, gaining a very large following of devoted fans. While many critics rave about the film, some fans fail to see the genius behind it, complaining of a slow-moving plot. But for those that appreciate the film’s innovative story-telling, it’ll go down in history as one of the best.
10 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The original film is another alien story, this time following an alien, his robot and their spacecraft which lands on Earth in the aftermath of World War II. Klaatu (the alien) brings an important message along with him, one that could determine the fate of the Earth, but because of a language barrier, he must find another means to deliver it.
Though the film is very much dated, sparking the 2008 remake, the original film has a certain je ne sais quoi that science-fiction fans are loyal to. And despite the remake’s all-star cast, including Kathy Bates, Keanu Reeves and Jaden Smith, just to name a few, it fell short in comparison.
9 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The Steven Spielberg film that follows an adorable alien accidentally left behind on Earth is still touching to this day. Elliot, a ten-year-old boy lost in his own right after his parents’ separation, befriends the small alien, creating a bond that joins the two of them, for better or worse.
E.T. is an absolute classic, bringing home almost $800 million worldwide with only a $10.5 million budget. There are very few people out there that couldn’t identify the lovable alien and, though certainly dated, the film does hold up to this day, and without a doubt earns its spot as one of the best sci-fi films ever made.
8 Interstellar (2014)
The 2014 space film starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for its Achievement in Visual Effects, and rightfully so. The film, about the deteriorating Earth and the space mission that just might save them all, is a touching story that feels a little too close to home but, at the same time, is undeniably good.
Christopher Nolan’s film brought home almost $800 million worldwide, and audiences raved about the visual effects, urging fellow moviegoers to see the film in theaters. When a sci-fi film is given such hype, it’s impossible to ignore it. While many complain that space films are overdone, this one brought refreshing new material and an undeniable emotional element.
7 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
To avoid an argument about original vs. remake, I’ll begin by saying both the 1956 and the 1978 films are well done. But sometimes, you just can’t beat the original. The story follows a small-town doctor (Kevin McCarthy) as he begins to realize that the other inhabitants of the town are being replaced by emotionless, extra-terrestrial substitutes.
The film is a cross-over between horror and sci-fi, as is so often done, but it stands out exceptionally well, relying more on suspense than anything else. The film, now just under sixty years old, is still capable of leaving audiences with chills. And that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
6 Jurassic Park (1993)
The beginning of a sci-fi franchise that’s still around today, Jurassic Park showed viewers the answer to a question everyone’s contemplated at least once in their lifetime: what would Earth be like if the dinosaurs were still around? The seemingly thrilling idea of a theme park featuring Jurassic creatures quickly takes a wrong turn as the human characters find out just how unrealistic this dream is.
The original film sparked two sequels in 1997 and 2001, then disappeared again until it was awakened by the Chris Pratt sequel released last year. Jurassic World, which brought home over $1.5 billion at the box office, revealed fans’ dedication to the franchise, and without the original Steven Spielberg film, this wouldn’t be a possibility.
5 The Matrix (1999)
Though Keanu Reeves is largely ridiculed in Hollywood, his role as Neo in The Matrix will go down in sci-fi infamy, bringing the film right along with it. The film is about a computer programmer and hacker that’s trying to determine what’s real, a threat to the artificial reality in which he resides.
The film grossed almost $500 million and was the beginning of a franchise that would include two direct sequels (both of which were released in 2003), anime, video games and comic books. The original film won four Oscars, including Best Visual Effects, which is sci-fi gold.
4 Solaris (1972)
Solaris follows psychologist, Dr. Kris Kelvin, a troubled man reeling over the loss of his wife, as he’s recruited to investigate a missing security team aboard a space station orbiting a strange planet and confronted with alien occurrences.
The film is mysterious, suspenseful and haunting, in many ways. It grips audiences from the get-go, holding their attention all the way through. In 2002, there was a remake starring George Clooney, though, like most remakes, it just couldn’t hold a candle to the original. Still, to have a storyline so gripping that, years later, filmmakers can’t way to reimagine it with updated special effects is something worth mentioning.
3 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
In this gripping, action-packed sequel, the cyborg better known as The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that failed to kill Sarah Connor in the first film is back… sort of. Ten years later, the new cyborg, absolutely identical to the original, has returned, but his mission is now to protect Connor’s son from a newer, even more advanced, highly dangerous cyborg.
And for a sequel, the film did surprisingly well. It brought home four Oscars, including two for Best Effects, and brought home just over $500 million worldwide. Of The Terminator films, this one is arguably the best due to the amount of substance, the action sequences and the fantastic battle between good and evil.
2 The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The difficulty in picking the best Star Wars films is that, for true fans, the choice is nearly impossible. However, most, if not all, fans will agree that the original trilogy holds the greatest of the films, and though there are plenty arguments for Return of the Jedi (1983) and A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back is our pick for the best film in the franchise, if not because it holds one of the most iconic lines in movie history: “Luke, I am your father.”
Though new advances in special effects have improved more recent Star Wars films, there’s a nostalgic appreciation for the trilogy that really pioneered the industry. And The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best films to exemplify that success; from Luke’s training with Yoda to one of the most intense father-son battles the film industry has ever seen, this is one of the best in every sense of the word.
1 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Last, but certainly not least, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an impressive science fiction film due to the intricate, amazing visuals that accompany a relatively undramatic script. Still, the visual elements alone are enough to place this film on a pedestal and invite others to dare to achieve the same standards. And, no surprise here, the film won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Stanley Kubrick notoriously reveals the dark side of human nature in his films, and this one is no different. It’s largely a story of evolution, a battle between humankind and computers and, most importantly, a journey that will reveal a victor, one way or another.
Miss one of your favorite sci-fi flicks? Let us know in the comments below!
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