In my last post I listed my picks for the best 25 fantasy films of all time… but in the process of whittling it down to those favourites, I kept remembering wonderful science fiction films that I wanted to add to the list. I resisted the temptation because it was a fantasy film list, but now I’d like to give those films their own space to shine. So here are my favourite 25 sci-fi films:
A warning: there are a few spoilers in here if you haven’t seen the films.
I see the top 5 films on this list as on par with each other, but I am putting Gattaca at number one because I think it’s a brilliant film that sometimes gets overshadowed in the mix. It’s a little older now – 1997 – but it still holds up for me as one of the best sci-fi films out there. The story is strong, the script is great, the characters are great… and the ending is nothing short of perfect!
2. The Matrix
This film set the bar for so many films that came after it. It’s a fascinating, brilliantly told story and even though I’ve seen it many times I still love it. Personally, I don’t think the sequels lived up to the first film, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. And this is still my favourite role of all time for Hugo Weaving… I don’t think anyone who’s seen it will forget the way he says “Mr Anderson”.
This film had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. It is suspenseful and visually stunning and unlike any other science fiction film I have seen. I know critics have issues with the plausibility of certain plot elements, but I’m not really fussy about that kind of thing. The most important thing for me is that it’s a well told story, and it is. I also feel like no other film has explored how inhospitable and dangerous the vacuum of space is in such a real way… nor shown how grateful a person can be to simply find themselves back on earth. And to top it all off, I’m a big Sandra Bullock fan, and she rocked in this role.
I love science fiction like this, where for the first 20-30mins you are wondering what the hell is going on, but you know it is going to be something mind-blowing and disturbing when you figure it out because things aren’t quite adding up. Source Code (further down on this list) did the same thing. These kind of films have me on the edge of my seat, and keep me thinking about them long after the credits roll. Moon does this the best of any I’ve seen, and it’s simply a brilliantly made and acted film with a great concept.
This is such a clever, suspenseful and creative story, and it’s so complex that you can easily watch it multiple times and keep getting new things out of it. The acting and cinematography were brilliant, and the final shot is set to become one of the most memorable and contentious endings in cinema history, if it isn’t already. I made up my mind about my interpretation of it the first time I saw it, then changed my mind completely on second viewing!
Another film that had me emotionally and intellectually spellbound. I know some critics had issues with the plausibility of things and with the ending, but I loved it. It explored so many grand concepts: time discrepancy, wormholes, our nature as social animals, the survival of our species… and all as they directly related to the lives of its human characters. I’ll never forget the scene on the planet with the giant waves, and the emotion of that reveal. These kind of mind-bending concepts are my favourite thing about science fiction, and this film didn’t shy away from exploring them.
7. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
For me, this is the best film of the franchise, and will always be an absolute favourite. It’s an action film that also manages to weave an emotional and suspenseful story. It toys with our understanding of morality and the line between human and machine, and does so with humour and skill. I have a soft spot for Arnie, and this is without a doubt his best role. I’ve seen this film many times, but talking about it I’m already thinking about how much I’d like to watch it again.
I can’t separate out the different films here as I love them all. I’ll never get sick of going to see new X-men films, because they never disappoint. The characters are memorable and compelling, and there’s so much angst and tension and drama between them that cool superhero action scenes end up only being one small part of what makes these films awesome. Also, Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender. What more could a girl want?
This is hands-down my favourite Pixar film. It’s sweet and funny and brilliantly animated, and for a film that has almost zero dialogue, it manages to create memorable and loveable characters who you really care about. The story is well told and it’s also such a visually impressive film. Oh and the final credits are some of the best I’ve ever seen (they animate scenes showing what happens after the humans return to earth but use different artistic styles so that it goes chronologically through the history of art).
10. Minority Report
This is a classic and one I’ve seen many times – in fact I’d wager a lot of people have seen it many times! The concept is unique and compelling, and it’s just a really well put together and suspenseful sci-fi film. Also, I always love a Fugitive-style story – nothing better than seeing a wrongly-accused man escape both the police and his enemies and beat the odds in clearing his name.
11. The Truman Show
I know this is pushing the science fiction boundary a bit, but I think it still falls into the category, and this is one of my favourite films of all time so I had to include it. Simply a well-written, well-made movie, with a brilliant performance by Jim Carrey (I think it’s his best). It’s funny and heartbreaking, and the end is just perfect – right down to the final line: “in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night.”
12. Galaxy Quest
The best science fiction comedy I know of… I love the premise, I love the way it sends up all the clichés, I love the actors. Alan Rickman is just priceless in this film. In fact, I want to stop writing this post and go off and watch it right now.
13. The Fifth Element
A long-time favourite of mine. It’s quirky and a bit flamboyant but also suspenseful and funny. The performances also really stand out – Milla Jovovich, Bruce Willis, Chris Tucker, Gary Oldman. Ruby Rod is not a character I will easily forget… and the romance in this one was particularly good.
14. Source Code
This is not one I see mentioned a lot and I don’t understand why because I loved it. It’s really suspenseful and keeps you guessing from the opening scene, but it’s also morally and emotionally confronting. I found it very entertaining and thought-provoking, and well worth watching.
15. The Manchurian Candidate
A top-notch psychological thriller. I’ve seen the original 1962 film and enjoyed it too, but the 2004 version with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep is my favourite. Mostly I just love watching Meryl Streep being totally and completely and psychopathically evil.
16. Guardians of the Galaxy
This one surprised me. I saw the trailer and decided it looked like a terrible gimmicky kid’s film that I didn’t want to see. Then I started hearing good reviews and figured I’d give it a shot. Of course, like many, I ended up loving it. Loved the story, loved the characters, loved the soundtrack, loved the jokes. The scene at the beginning where he breaks into a dance on the alien planet would have to be one of my favourite scenes of all time, simply because of how unexpected and amusing and well-shot it is.
17. Iron Man
One of my favourite superhero movies, second only to the X-men films. Aside from the fact Iron Man is an incredibly cool superhero (those suits are amazing), and the fact that the special effects and action scenes are awesome, it’s also just a really great story and a great character. Tony Stark manages to be arrogant and sleazy but ultimately good natured, and I think those contrasting traits, along with his sarcastic manner and witty remarks, makes him one of the most likeable and relatable superheroes out there.
18. Jurassic Park
How could this not make the list? Such a great film. I’m going to pretend the sequels don’t exist and imagine this one original, perfect film in a vacuum. It had a compelling story as well as suspenseful dinosaur escape sequences… whereas the others were pretty much just people running away from dinosaurs and occasionally getting eaten by them. I sincerely hope the new one they’re bringing out soon – Jurassic World – is different and at least comes somewhere close to the original… but I will maintain my imaginary vacuum if it does not!
19. District 9
I did not think I would enjoy this film during the first few minutes – the slightly mockumentary style and repulsive main character really threw me. But once I got into it it turned out to be a touching, complex and entertaining film and I loved it. Many films portray awful characters that turn out to be good in the end, but for me this one painted the most compelling, realistic and non-sugar-coated version of that I have seen. Wikus is not a particularly loveable or exceptional character, but he’s a very human one, and his struggle and transformation were compelling to watch.
20. Planet of the Apes
This is another one where I’m going to have to include several films from the series – both the original 1968 film, and the recent additions (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) – because they were all great. And yes, I’m going to pretend the 2001 Tim Burton adaptation doesn’t exist.
22. Independence Day
Yes, I know this one is cheesy… but it’s a classic and comes with fond memories for me. I think it’s still one of the best humans-save-the-planet-from-aliens films out there, and entertaining in all its hyper-patriotic glory. It’s funny and it’s epic and there are scenes from it I’ll never forget (e.g. dragging the alien through the desert, the welcoming crowd on top of the building). And Will Smith really gave it the sarcasm and humour it needed.
23. Star Trek Into Darkness
I’m loving these Star Trek reboots – they’re giving the classic franchise all the verve and special effects modern technology has to offer, and managing to live up to the originals with well-told stories and great characters. The actors also do a great job – having Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Pine together in the one film pretty much had me sold before I’d even stepped in the cinema. If they keep this up, I’ll certainly be lining up to see future ones.
24. I, Robot
Seems when it comes to science fiction I’m a big Will Smith fan – I Am Legend and Men in Black fell just short of making this list. He and Tom Cruise tend to pick good sci-fi films to star in and this one is no exception. Aside from the Terminator movies, it’s my favourite “intelligent robots unexpectedly attack us” story.
I’ve heard people criticise Avatar, saying it’s basically Pocahontas with a lot of fancy special effects. Well, Disney’s rendition of Pocahontas was rubbish, so I’m glad a film has taken the story and done something great with it! It was visually stunning and creative and had a compelling romance, and the fact that it was an inter-species romance made it all the more interesting (I love the scene where she sees his human body for the first time). Yes, some of the characters are caricatures (e.g. the evil general) but it was such an entertaining film that I didn’t care.
So those are my favourites! There are plenty more awesome science fiction movies out there, and more seem to be coming out every year (I notice many of the ones I picked have come out in the last 5 years), so I’m sure this list will be in constant flux… but that’s how it currently stands. If you feel I’ve missed any, feel free to add them in the comments!