Jetpacks, lazers, walking eyes — Is there any genre of film as infinitely creative as sci-fi? Since most films within the genre deal with non-existent technology, filmmakers are limited only by their imagination and because of this, we’re gifted with a wide assortment of different stories. From time-traveling robots to alien invasions and even the occasional space opera, sci-fi is the epitome of cinematic freedom. Science fiction is what happens when the real meets the almost real and in the middle of that lies boundless opportunities. This list is the definitive ranking of films that best represent both halves of the equation.
This is The 100 Greatest Sci-fi Films Of All Time.
80. Timecrimes (2007)
A man accidentally gets into a time machine and travels back in time nearly an hour. Finding his other self and making sure he gets into the machine, is the first of a series of disasters with unforeseeable consequences. Even though most make no logical sense, there are few things more entertaining than a well-executed time travel movie. If done correctly, watching a time travel film tie up all of its loops, is right up there with heist films and prison escape flicks as one of the most satisfying things ever. Like watching how all the pieces fit in Predestination or how all the different plot threads get resolved in Looper or even just hearing how time travel works at all in something like Back to the Future. Time travel is a concept we can all easily grasp but how certain films choose to depict it, is always fascinating. Timecrimes doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the rules of time travel nor does it have an overly complicated plot, but the story it tells and how it chooses to tell it will keep you guessing till the very end.
79. Dredd (2012)
Not to be confused with the 1995 abomination titled Judge Dredd, 2012s Dredd is a completely different take on the classic comic book. Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Mega-City One, the majority of the film focuses on Dredd and his apprentice partner trying to bring order to a 200 story high rise block of flats. The goal is to get to its resident drug lord Ma-Ma, who is played by a delightfully evil Lena Heady. Comparisons to action classic The Raid are well earned as the basic setup is similar. And anyone who has seen that movie knows being mentioned in the same sentence as it is a massive compliment. Karl Urban is great as the film’s star and focal point, playing the part with a quiet intensity. Its action overload that really gets the adrenaline pumping and thankfully, Karl Urban resists the temptation to remove his helmet. Unlike a certain Sylvester Stallone.
78. Videodrome (1983)
One of David Cronenberg’s most beloved films by fans as it follows James Woods as a sleazy cable TV programmer whose life begins to spiral out of control once he stumbles on a broadcast signal featuring extreme torture. The concept stemmed from Cronenberg’s childhood when he used to pick up television signals from Buffalo, New York after Canadian channels had gone off air and his childhood worry of seeing something not meant for public eyes. The surreal imagery combined with special effects master Rick Baker’s work on the film combined to create one of the strangest, entrancing sci-fi horror films way ahead of its time.
77. Westworld (1973)
Twenty-four years before writing Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton treaded similar water with another film about theme park attraction going disastrously awry. But instead of genetically modified giant lizards, it’s about an old west town where the robotic inhabits suddenly turn murderous. Well, to be more accurate, it’s just one inhabit the gunslinger known simply as The Man in Black (Yul Brynner). Acting as the progenitor to James Cameron’s Terminator, The Man in Black is a cold, emotionless killing machine who’s only doing what he was programmed to do.
You see, Westworld is a futuristic park built around one simple conceit: wouldn’t it be fun to shoot people and get away with it? It, along with its sister locations Romanworld and Medievalworld cater to one’s base desires and vices. They encourage people to indulge in their murderous impulses and to have guilt-free sexual encounters, which makes Crichton’s script all the more brilliant. Because it makes us admit that we all secretly have those desires and then it weaponizes them and uses them against us. It’s an exceptionally clever story with an all-time great villain at the center of it.
76. Independence Day (1996)
Hot take: Independence Day is the definitive 90s event movie.
Hotter take: Give me Roland Emmerich over Michael Bay any day.
Remember when summer movies were the highlight of the year and didn’t require Caped characters to be majestic? When it comes to the vintage big-budget blockbusters of the 90s, this intergalactic tale of violent aliens invading Earth is about as epic as it gets. Throw in peak Will Smith, everyone’s favorite stylish nerd, and maybe the greatest Presidential speech Hollywood ever conjured, and you’ve got yourself a vibrantly explosive roller-coaster ride unlike any other. One hundred percent original, one hundred percent fun, and undeniably self-aware. The slick one-liners, the evergreen message of recycling, the utter massiveness, that stacked cast, and the pure Jerry Bruckheimer-ness of it all … damn, Independence Day delivered the goods and then some.
75. The Fifth Element (1997)
Luc Besson’s film feels like an assault on the sci-fi sense with every sci-fi cliche smacking you in the face from the “chosen one”, the impending extinction threat of everything from something sinister, flying cars, megacities, Bruce Willis’ blonde hair, Avant-garde clothing, blue opera singers, awful future authority, multi passes and everything else under the sci-fi sun. But it all somehow works the craziest drunk, high on cocaine Picasso painting.
The Fifth Element is a goofy space opera that is fun and action-packed while being regarded as one of the best and worst sci-fi films of all time. Gary Oldman’s Zorg and Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo who is the embodiment of the perfect being (and for good reason) to save the day steal the show along with Besson’s ridiculous universe he created.
74. Sunshine (2007)
This genre likes to up the stakes and usually has a pessimistic view of our planet’s future. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is no different as we follow an international crew on a desperate expedition to try and reignite the sun, it has one of the best ensembles in the genre in recent years (Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong), and then surrounds them with arguably the most stunning, eye-searing imagery that Boyle’s ever produced. Combine this with Alex Garland’s incredible writing and a haunting soundtrack and you have a gorgeous film where you are able to peel back layers with subsequent rewatches.
73. Snowpiercer (2013)
From writer-director Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer takes place in a dystopian future aboard the eponymous train that travels around the globe with the Earth’s last remaining inhabitants, some of whom look for revolution from the class-divided cars. For his English-language debut, Bong decided to throw everything against the wall and somehow, everything stuck. It’s a dystopian movie that doesn’t ripoff any other that came before, it’s a comic book movie that improves upon the source material, it’s an action movie with a brain and a social commentary that, while not subtle in the slightest, is never overbearing. There are about a gazillion films about the 99% fighting back against the evil 1% but this is the only one that does it with hatchets.
72. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel’s biggest gamble since Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge risk that paid off in spades. No other studio on planet Earth would’ve bankrolled this project. The property was as obscure as it gets, the director was coming off of two near bombs nobody saw, the lead was a nobody and the entire thing was set in space – which meant the budget was going to be huge. The only two things they had to sell anyone on, were Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel and they were cast as a raccoon and a tree. If this was a flop, the MCU would’ve recovered but their gambling days would’ve been over. In order for them (and possibly Sony and DC) to branch out to the more fringe areas of the comics, this film had to be a success. A lot was riding on it and against all odds, Gunn delivered. And then some.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a rollicking space romp whose greatest achievement is its ability to mix heart with humor. Besides a couple of story elements that would eventually pay off in subsequent MCU entries, the film is focused more on fun than plot. It never weighs itself down in convoluted mythologies or space opera melodrama. It’s just a quintet of lovable a-holes who have to band together to defeat a baddie. That’s all it is but because the cast is so strong and the writing is so good, that’s enough.
71. War of the Worlds (1953)
H.G. Wells’ seminal sci-fi classic was first infamously adapted into a radio broadcast helmed by Orson Welles that resulted in (somewhat overblown) mass hysteria and then much later into an epic action film from Spielberg in 2005. There have been many other adaptations over the years but those two are probably the best known, so it’s funny that the third most well known, falls in the middle of the two in the release timeline and also, in quality. Since it was released almost 70 years ago, the film has unfortunately aged (you can definitely see the strings on the Blu-ray) but outside of some dodgy effects and some bland acting (Gene Barry is no Tom Cruise. Hell, he’s not even on Orson Welles’ level and all he did was read the book aloud), the film still holds up. The Technicolor is still as gorgeous today as it was then, the design of the Martians is still creepy as all get out and the alien destruction is still impressive. It may be a 50’s B movie but it’s one of the best.
What are some of your favorite sci-fi films? Maybe they’ll show up later on in the list!