Science fiction often has a wide spectrum for what can be considered a sci-fi movie. There are several different types of sci-fi movies, but many are based in a future with technological advancements, change elements of reality, and often give a warning about what the future could hold.
Sci-fi books and movies both tend to ask the “What if?” question and revolve around elements like time travel, alternate dimensions, and telepathy. In a literary aspect, sci-fi had its Golden Age from 1938 to 1946. There were many authors that contributed to the sci-fi genre including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and John W. Campbell.
Just like any other genre, many authors have had their work adapted to TV shows or even feature-length films. Many films have Science Fiction elements but often confused with the Fantasy genre. Star Wars, for example, is often called a sci-fi series, but those movies are actually in the fantasy genre.
Science fiction movies have had a long run at the box office from earlier movies like Georges Méliès 1902 Le Voyage dans la Lune translated to A Trip to the Moon, which is often considered the very first sci-fi movie ever made. While there are dozens of sci-fi movies that come out each year, not all of them are considered good films. Likewise, some of the greatest sci-fi movies flopped at the box office, but are regarded as excellent examples of science fiction.
With that said, here are the 15 Sci-Fi Moves That Became Massive Hits (And 15 That Completely Flopped).
30 Massive Hit: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick was no doubt a game-changing filmmaker. He directed several critically acclaimed movies such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. That being said, 2001: A Space Odyssey was actually the only film of his that won an Academy Award.
Not only did his sci-fi adventure win an Oscar for special effects, but it also did quite well at the box office.
The movie only cost around $12 million to make, but 2001: A Space Odyssey earned a domestic total gross of $56,715,371, which is quite a hefty profit.
29 Flopped: Blade Runner
Blade Runner came out back in 1982 from director Ridley Scott. The movie starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard and is often thought to be one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.
That being said, Blade Runner pretty much flopped at the box office. The movie had a budget of $28 million, yet the film’s domestic total gross only got to around $27.5 million. It’s crazy to think that a movie that is regarded as highly as Blade Runner flopped at the box office, but it’s true.
28 Massive Hit: Alien
Director Ridley Scott has made several incredible movies during his career, but one film is a stunning example of both a horror and sci-fi film: Alien. The film was released in 1979 and was made with a budget of $11 million. The movie was a huge success for Fox, and Scott managed to pull in a whopping $78,944,891 for the domestic total gross.
There were many sequels in the series, including two that were directed by Scott himself. That being said, the only sequel to truly give Scott competition was James Cameron’s Aliens.
27 Flopped: Children of Men
Children of Men was a sci-fi thriller that starred Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Caine. Alfonso Cuarón directed the movie, which was about a society in 2027 where women became infertile.
The film has gotten incredible reviews since it’s release, yet it didn’t turn a profit.
The production’s budget came in at $76 million, but the movie only made a domestic total gross around $35.5 million. Even when compared to the worldwide gross, which was $69,959,751, the movie still didn’t come out in the positive.
26 Massive Hit: The Matrix
When people talk about incredible science fiction movies, the Wachowski sibilings’ The Matrix often comes to mind. The film is one of the many popular movies in Keanu Reeves' acting career and revolves around Neo, a computer hacker who learns that the reality he’s living in is a lie.
The movie won four Oscars and earned a ton of money. The film was made with the budget of $63 million and earned $171,479,930 domestically, and $292,037,453 at the foreign box offices. Not only did the first film do well, but it also received two sequels.
25 Flopped: Battlefield Earth
Some people’s favorite John Travolta movies are films like Pulp Fiction or maybe even Face/Off with Nicholas Cage, but not very many people will admit that they liked Battlefield Earth.
The movie takes place in 3000 A.D. and centers around a war between humans and an alien race called Psychlos. The film was ripped apart by fans and critics and completely flopped at the box office. The movie's budget was $73 million, yet Battlefield Earth only got $21,471,685 domestic total gross. Yikes. At least Travolta’s career was able to bounce back.
24 Massive Hit: Ex Machina
Ex Machina tells the story of a programmer who finds himself involved with an experiment pertaining to a humanoid A.I.
The movie, which was directed by Alex Garland, did quite well with audiences and won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.
The film also gave Alicia Vikander more recognition as an actress, but it made a lot of money as well. The movie's budget was around $15 million and earned $25,442,958 at the domestic box office. Ex Machina went on to earn another $11,426,456 at foreign box offices.
23 Flopped: Howard The Duck
The character Howard the Duck may have appeared in the massive hit that was Guardians of the Galaxy, but he actually got his own movie in 1986. Don’t remember? That’s okay because most people don’t.
The movie was made with a $37 million budget, but it only earned $16,295,774. Not only did the film make very little money, but it was also panned by critics. The movie was so bad that Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins couldn’t even save it. The film did a bit better at foreign box offices and barely broke even.
22 Massive Hit: District 9
District 9 was released in 2009 and was Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut. He had made short films prior to 2009, but District 9 was no doubt the biggest movie of his career at the time.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and was about a race of aliens who were forced to live in slums on Earth. The movie did well with critics and with a $30 million budget, made $115,646,235 at the domestic box office. The film starred Sharlto Copley and was produced by Peter Jackson.
21 Flopped: Treasure Planet
Most Disney movies tend to do quite well with audiences and with critics. They also tend to make a ton of money; however, Treasure Planet didn't achieve either.
The animated feature was made with a $140 million budget, but only made around $38 million at domestic box offices resulting in a $100 million loss for Disney.
Thankfully, the film earned a bit more at foreign box offices which made up 65.2% of the movie's profit, but Treasure Planet still lost Disney over $30 million. The company has no doubt made that back though since the film was released in 2002.
20 Massive Hit: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg has created many Oscar-winning films, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. Another one of his immensely popular movies is called E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which won four Academy Awards.
Upon the film’s release, it was praised by critics and started making a ton of money. E.T.’s budget was only $10.5 million, but it earned $359,197,037 at the domestic box office alone. Spielberg knows what he is doing and is even still directing to this day.
19 Flopped: Dune
Frank Herbert released his science fiction novel titled Dune in 1965. Nearly 20 years later, David Lynch would make a movie which was based on Herbert’s book. Even though the movie was based on the book, the story was very different, which could be one of the reasons why this film did so poorly at the box office.
The movie got a domestic total gross of $30,925,690, but the movie;s budget was $40 million. Dune may have been nominated for an Oscar, but it still lost around $10 million.
18 Massive Hit: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Arnold Schwarzenegger has had many iconic roles in his career, but none are quite like the Terminator. Schwarzenegger stars as a T-800 Model 101 who was sent from the future to eliminate Sarah Connor before she gave birth. The first movie was made with a budget of $6.4 million, while Terminator 2: Judgement Day got a $102 million budget.
Even though the sequel cost more to make, it earned a lot more money than the original.
Combining the domestic total gross and the foreign box office totals, Terminator 2: Judgement Day earned a whopping $520,881,154.
17 Flopped: Land Of The Lost
Comedies sometimes have a tough time turning a profit, but not very many loose as much money as Land of the Lost did back in 2009. Land of the Lost was a comedy sci-fi movie that was a remake of a TV series from the ‘70s. The original show earned fair reviews, but Will Ferrell’s flick was panned by critics.
The movie was made on a $100 million budget, but it only made about half of that domestically. The film did even worse in other countries earning $19,339,184.
16 Massive Hit: Arrival
Just because a movie wins an Oscar or two, doesn’t mean that they will be a hit at the box office initially. That being said, Arrival managed to snag the Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound Editing, get excellent reviews, and turn a profit.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival was made with a budget of $47 million. The movie earned $100,546,139 domestically and $102,842,047 at foreign box offices. Denis Villeneuve has had an incredible run as a filmmaker and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
15 Flopped: John Carter
Disney has a wide range of movies, which happen to include sci-fi films. John Carter was released in 2012 starring Taylor Kitsch. The movie was based on the book A Princess of Mars, which was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1917. The book was part of his Barsoom series, which Disney was planning on making a trilogy out of before John Carter failed.
The movie had a budget of around $250 million, but it only had a domestic total gross of $73,078,100.
The only thing that saved the film was its success in other countries which earned the film 74.3% of its earnings.
14 Massive Hit: WALL•E
Another Disney Pixar movie that did quite well at the box office and with critics was the 2008 film WALL•E. WALL•E was made with a $180 million budget, but it received a domestic total gross of $223,808,164. The movie did even better at foreign box offices, earning a total of $309,473,269.
The science fiction movie is based in a world where humans are living in spaceships while robots stay behind and clean up Earth. The film not only had a good message about the planet, but was incredibly entertaining for young and old viewers.
13 Flopped: Escape From L.A.
Director John Carpenter has had an incredible career in the horror genre. The director has also made amazing sci-fi movies like The Thing in 1982, but other science fiction adventures of his were not as well received.
Escape from L.A. was a sequel to his 1981 film Escape from New York, only it didn’t do nearly as well as the first movie. The film had an estimated budget of $50 million, but the movie only pulled in $25,477,365. This movie may have been a flop for Carpenter, but he also introduced moviegoers to one of the most iconic faces in horror: Michael Myers.
12 Massive Hit: Jurassic Park
One of Steven Spielberg’s most famous movies is the 1993 Jurassic Park. Since the film’s release in the ‘90s, four sequels have been released. Chris Pratt stars in the newest movies that are titled Jurassic World, which have also made a ton of money.
That being said, the Jurassic World films wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park movie.
The first movie was made with $63 million and pulled in a massive $357,067,947 domestic total gross. The movie made a ton more overseas - $626,700,000 - and to this day, people still talk about the 1993 Jurassic Park.
11 Flopped: The Avengers
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become very successful, and profitable, with their Avengers movies, Warner Bros. was unable to do so with their 1998 movie of the same name. This Avengers movie has nothing to do with the MCU, but is rather a reboot of the ‘60s show called The Avengers. While the TV show was successful, the movie was not.
The Avengers had a $60 million budget with a domestic total gross of $23,384,939. Even with star power like Sean Connery, Uma Thurman, and Ralph Fiennes, The Avengers couldn’t be saved.
10 Massive Hit: Back To The Future
Back to the Future was a massive hit for a few reasons. First of all, the movie had a great director in the form of Robert Zemeckis, with Steven Spielberg acting as executive producer.
The movie also had an incredible cast with stars like Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson. Back to the Future was made with $19 million but pulled in a domestic total gross of $210,609,762. The two sequels also had a big success at the box office, but neither of them could match the first film’s earnings.
9 Flopped: Supernova
The movie Supernova was released in 2000 and focused on the search and rescue of a medical spaceship. The film had big stars like James Spader and Angela Bassett, but even their acting abilities couldn’t save the movie.
Supernova opened to awful reviews and had an even worse box office run.
The movie had an estimated budget of $90 million, yet Supernova only earned a domestic total gross of $14,230,455. The film did way worse in other countries, however, only earning $597,626 overseas. Needless to say, most people have probably forgotten about this movie by now.
8 Massive Hit: Interstellar
Christopher Nolan has become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. He has directed films like The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and most recently, Dunkirk. While not all of his movies have won Oscars, Interstellar won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects and was nominated for four others.
The film had a production budget of around $165 million with a domestic total gross of $188,020,017. While Paramount had already turned a profit in the United States, the movie earned another $489,443,796 in other countries, which resulted in a massive box office run.
7 Flopped: RoboCop 3
The RoboCop franchise was started in 1987 when Orion released the first movie. RoboCop is often considered a great sci-fi flick; however, the sequels are not as widely praised.
The first two movies made a profit, but the fans apparently had enough of RoboCop by the time the third film came out. RoboCop 3 was made with a $22 million budget but only managed to bring in $10,696,210. The first movie was nominated for two Oscars and made a profit. RoboCop 2 didn’t do great with critics but still turned a profit. RoboCop 3 managed to not only fail with critics, but also flop at the box office.
6 Massive Hit: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The first Planet of the Apes movie was released in 1968 and starred Charlton Heston. The film was well received upon release and actually got four sequels, two TV shows, a remake in 2001, and a reboot in 2011 which spawned an entire trilogy.
The first movie in the new trilogy was titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes and showed the beginnings of the rebel leader Caesar, played by Andy Serkis.
The film did well with audiences bringing in a worldwide total of $481,801,049 on a $93 million budget.
5 Flopped: Stealth
Stealth came out in 2005 and focused on three pilots who had to prevent the next World War by taking down an artificial intelligence program. Rob Cohen was in charge of directing, while the cast consisted of Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, and Josh Lucas.
Not only did critics hate the film, but the movie lost a lot of money for Sony and Columbia. The film had a production budget of $135 million, yet the movie only made $32,116,746 domestically. Stealth gained a bit more money overseas, but even with the $44,816,126 from foreign box offices, Stealth was still a big flop.
4 Massive Hit: Looper
Director Rian Johnson may have divided fans with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but he won over audiences with his sci-fi flick Looper.
Not only did they manage to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt actually look like a young Bruce Willis, but they told an incredible story that involved time travel. The film received mostly positive reviews and also brought in a good chunk of change. The production budget for Looper was $30 million, which was doubled at the domestic box office. Looper earned $66,486,205 domestically and another $110,020,614 at foreign box offices.
3 Flopped: My Favorite Martian
Some filmmakers are able to successfully reboot an old TV show into a movie; however, director Donald Petrie was not able to do that. Petrie is known for movies like How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days and Miss Congeniality, but he was not able to successfully reboot the ‘60s comedy My Favorite Martian.
Disney tried to reboot the series with Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Daniels, but it flopped at the box office.
The movie was made with a $65 million budget, yet only made $36,850,101 domestically.
2 Massive Hit: Avatar
James Cameron is one filmmaker who knows how to make a ton of money through cinema. The director made movies like Titanic, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and, in 2009, he released Avatar.
The film often gets criticized for having a similar story to Disney’s Pocahontas, but it still made a huge amount of cash regardless of what people thought of the movie. Avatar had a $237 million budget and earned a worldwide total of $2,787,965,087. Cameron is also one of the few filmmakers who has crossed the $2 million mark more than once.
1 Flopped: The Adventures of Pluto Nash
When Warner Bros. distributed The Adventures of Pluto Nash in the early 2000s, there is no way they could have known how bad the movie was going to do. The film stars Eddie Murphy, who is a lunar nightclub owner who has to stop the mafia from taking it over. The plot sounds ridiculous, but the actual movie was even worse.
The film did horribly with critics and was considered a box office bomb. With an estimated budget of $100 million, The Adventures of Pluto Nash only earned $7,103,973, resulting in a $92,896,027 loss.
Are there any other sci-fi movies that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments!