The 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Films

The ranking of my all-time favorites.
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Blade Runner (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator. (117 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
“ One of the most viscerally moving science fiction films ever made is also one of the most intellectually stimulating. The replicants' desire to live beyond their allotted years and to touch their creator provides one of the greatest conflicts in all of motion pictures. Harrison Ford has never been better than as the replicant-hunting Deckard. When the genre is sci-fi, this one sets the bar.

Favorite moment: I've always loved the "Voight-Kampff" test scene, which is a perfectly startling exposition to this story. ” - inelson
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
After the rebels are overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker begins Jedi training with Master Yoda. His friends accept shelter from a questionable ally as Darth Vader hunts them in a plan to capture Luke. (124 mins.)
Director: Irvin Kershner
“ It's a bit of a stretch to include the "Star Wars" films within the realm of science fiction--I would feel better including them under the "fantasy" or "adventure" heading. However, most list-makers have them here with the rest of sci-fi. The original "Star Wars" was a monumental achievement in motion picture history, but it was surpassed in almost every respect by its sequel. The already ultimate movie villain is not only more formidable this time around, he's also family.

Favorite moment: The confrontation between Luke and Vader on Bespin (still the best lightsaber battle in the entire saga), though the AT-ATs almost made it for the Battle of Hoth. ” - inelson
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest. (149 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ Kubrick's film does everything that good science fiction should do, asking big questions but keeping story and character at the center. A film that inspires, excites, baffles, and terrifies in turns. As with all of Kubrick's works, every frame of this film looks gorgeous.

Favorite moment: The face-off between HAL and Dave, culminating in the greatest computer power-down ever. ” - inelson
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader. (121 mins.)
Director: George Lucas
“ A magical motion picture, if ever there was one. There's not much that can be said about it that hasn't been celebrated by others before. Rarely has an artist so effectively drawn upon shared archetypes in order to tell a "futuristic" tale. Lucas created a film with which millions upon millions continue to identify profoundly.

Favorite moment: The Millenium Falcon appears just in time to thwart Vader and help Luke destroy the Death Star. ” - inelson
Alien (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious life-form, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun. (117 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
“ Scott is a deft storyteller, even when he's creating what on the surface appears to be just a thrills-and-chills horror film. Everything about the story--setting, character development, conflict, themes, mood--draws the viewer into this carefully crafted world and forces out disbelief. We know this crew, and we believe in the world, which makes the monster they discover and the predicament they are in all the more terrifying.

Favorite moment: Everyone loves the first scene with the face-hugger and when the xenomorph bursts out of Kane's chest, but I'm most haunted by the scene where Dallas "hunts" the alien in the ducts. ” - inelson
Planet of the Apes (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved. (112 mins.)
“ If you were to poll a broad range of people in this country, asking them to name the first science fiction film that comes to mind, the number 1 response would likely be Planet of the Apes. It has ingrained itself--for good reason--in the minds of viewers since it was released at the end of 60's. The story, the set design, the score, and the makeup are all wonderful. And as much as his performance has been lampooned, Charlton Heston brings a great performance to the lead. The overall tone and atmosphere of this film is so well-crafted, we never fail to believe in this world...our world, should we not avert disaster.

Favorite moment: How could I not pick the final reveal? Taylor riding his horse with Nova across the beach to come upon the decrepit Statue of Liberty is one of the most memorable scenes in film. ” - inelson
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen. (137 mins.)
“ It almost feels like sacrilege to leave Steven Spielberg out of the top 5 on a list of the greatest science fiction films. His creativity, his sense of wonder at the unknown, and his knack for capturing the humanity of the characters caught in these otherworldly experiences are never better than in this film. Every subsequent motion picture that has dealt with alien contact owes so much to this work. It is an epic film whose lofty subject matter never sacrifices its human heart.

Favorite moment: There are so many sublime scenes, but I've always loved the musical conversation between the alien ships and the SETI keyboard player. ” - inelson
The Matrix (1999)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. (136 mins.)
“ The Matrix came out of nowhere in the spring of 1999. It blindsided audiences--youths to the elderly--with its out-of-this-world visual effects and mind-bending story. While it might be fun and easy to enjoy this science fiction film purely as an action romp, the philosophical underpinnings are what make it truly great (but it doesn't hurt that it has some of the best action sequences of all time). Neo's journey down the rabbit hole is filled with as many literary and religious allusions as a collection of T.S. Eliot poems.

Favorite moment: Neo uses the mini gun to mow down the agents, jumps to save Morpheus, and holds onto the tether to save Trinity from a fiery helicopter crash--pure adrenaline cinema at its best. ” - inelson
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home world. (115 mins.)
“ One of the most beloved films of all time, this classic piece of storytelling was further proof that anything Spielberg touches turns to gold. As with Close Encounters, E.T. was able to take unbelievable and fantastic events, and filter them flawlessly through the perspective of the central characters. Henry Thomas' Elliott is a wonderful young protagonist, swept up into an interstellar event. The device of his total connection with E.T. is a brilliant one that helps to further humanize the alien visitor and provide one of the most unique conflicts in science fiction.

Favorite moment: When the flowers re-bloom and E.T.'s chest begins to glow red to alert Elliott and his family that their alien friend has returned to life is one of the most magical moments in cinema. ” - inelson
Metropolis (1927)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. (153 mins.)
Director: Fritz Lang
“ It's difficult to place an iconic silent film like Metropolis on a list like this. For one thing, it is the very first full-length science fiction film, and it set a precedent for so many other directors that would follow (Elysium, anyone?). Also, it's seen quite a resurgence in popularity since its recent restorations. But Fritz Lang's dark vision of a dystopian future, with its clear societal allegories, stands as one of the most important pieces of science fiction ever created. The world that Lang created is breathtaking and haunting.

Favorite moment: Freder's first encounter with the working class stands out to me in this film, as the design of the machinery and the juxtaposition of the two different worlds of Metropolis is so perfectly executed. ” - inelson
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
In future Britain, Alex DeLarge, a charismatic and psycopath delinquent, who likes to practice crimes and ultra-violence with his gang, is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem - but not all goes according to plan. (136 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ Criticized by critics and audiences alike for its numerous depictions of extreme violence, A Clockwork Orange is certainly not easy viewing. But this film's portrayal of a future of moral decay and the government's attempts to combat it stands as one of the great masterworks of science fiction. Malcolm McDowell's performance is unnerving and thought-provoking, and Stanley Kubrick's direction is as meticulous and cogent as any director's on this list. It's a bloody and despicable picture of a future society, but every frame demands one's attention.

Favorite moment: Alex's re-education--with eyes pried open to look at a movie screen of violent films while his favorite music by Beethoven is played--is the most memorable of many memorable scenes. ” - inelson
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her ten year old son, John Connor, from a more advanced cyborg. (137 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
“ James Cameron took the genre of badass sci-fi to a whole new level with the creation of The Terminator. We had the Max Mad movies, but The Terminator introduced a unique (now endlessly parroted) picture of the future where humanity is doomed to struggle for survival against their own mechanical creations. Terminator 2 took everything successful and heart-pounding about the first film and improved upon it in every way. Arnold's T-800 might be the greatest anti-hero in science fiction, and Robert Patrick's T-1000 might be the most awe-inspiring villain. Amazing special effects, solid writing, great score, and those cool, almost intangible touches from Cameron make this one of the biggest sci-fi films ever.

Favorite moment: I think the most indelible scene has to be the chase with the semi carrying the liquid nitrogen, which culminates in one of the best one-liners and one of the best single shots of a pistol in cinema. ” - inelson
Brazil (1985)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A bureaucrat in a retro-future world tries to correct an administrative error and himself becomes an enemy of the state. (132 mins.)
Director: Terry Gilliam
“ This is probably Terry Gilliam's finest film, and it certainly deserves a place among the best science fiction films of all time. The dystopian future that Gilliam creates is both darkly funny and terrifying, as only great satire can manage. This film has a quirky vibrancy that has seldom been matched on screen. And the design and texture of this world sets it apart from other sci-fi films of its kind: it has directly inspired such talented directors as Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and the Coen brothers. The amazing ensemble cast doesn't hurt things, either.

Favorite moment: Sam's final "escape" at the end of the film was a brilliant ending to this film; thankfully, Gilliam's version was the one finally adopted by the studio. ” - inelson
District 9 (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology. (112 mins.)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
“ Probably one of the most original and emotionally wrenching science fiction films of the last two decades, District 9's greatest strengths lie in its utterly convincing special effects, the wonderful performance by Sharlto Copely in the lead, and a moving, politically-charged story. I don't know if there's a more disturbing scene in science fiction than when Copely's Wikus is forced to use the alien weapons against the "prawns" and against his will. With further viewings, this film might rise higher on this list.

Favorite moment: There's something undeniably satisfying when David James' Colonel Venter gets torn limb from limb after he faces off against Wikus, who has taken over the mech armor--some great cinematography in that scene. ” - inelson
Inception (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
A thief, who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology, is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (148 mins.)
“ With Inception, Christopher Nolan created a fabulously inventive science fiction premise, taking this genre out of the realm of aliens or dystopian futures and into a realm that is truly boundless: the human mind. The plot devices he employs are ingenious and exhilarating, showing audiences things they've never seen before. It doesn't hurt when Wally Pfister is delivering such beautiful shots and Hans Zimmer is scoring a masterpiece. Oh, and the cast is one of the best ensembles in science fiction, with DiCaprio and Cotillard absolutely shining.

Favorite moment: The first dream within a dream is so well executed, with music, camera, and action working in perfect harmony to provide some of the best cinematic thrills in recent memory. ” - inelson
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An alien lands and tells the people of Earth that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets. (92 mins.)
Director: Robert Wise
“ Robert Wise's science fiction classic is both startling and inspirational, with one of the greatest protagonists in this genre in Klaatu and one of the most formidable figures in the robot Gort. At its time, it stood as a great achievement in special effects and its unique documentary-style storytelling. This film--with its messages of unity and peace--had a profound impact on audiences across the small feat for a sci-fi flick.

Favorite moment: That first appearance of Klaatu's flying saucer, and the emergence of the latter, along with the giant Gort, remains one of the most epic scenes in science fiction. ” - inelson
Children of Men (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
In 2027, in a chaotic world in which women have become somehow infertile, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea. (109 mins.)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
“ Alfonso Cuaron solidified his position as one of the greatest contemporary directors with Children of Men, a work of science fiction that succeeds as a political thriller, a religious allegory, and a heart-thumping action film. Clive Owen offers a powerful, nuanced performance, and it might be the best he's ever given. Beyond the well-crafted design of the future world of the film, the cinematography makes it absolutely exceptional, with some of the most incredible single-shot action sequences in any movie.

Favorite moment: The single-shot scene in which Clive Owen's Theo escapes from the Fishes, runs through the street, and through a building filled with gunfire stands as an epic achievement of cinematography and a genuinely thrilling cinematic experience. ” - inelson
The Road Warrior (1981)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits. (95 mins.)
Director: George Miller
“ Is there any character in science fiction more badass than Mad Max? The answer is 'No.' George Miller crafted one of the best post-apocalyptic action flicks with the first Mad Max, but the second film upped the ante in every respect.There are better chases, better villains, better destruction, and a better overall story arc. This is science fiction as its most macho, and it still stands up against today's best action films. It's also masterfully and absorbingly shot. Mel Gibson seems like he was born to play this role, a man trying to make right (or at least avenge) all the wrongs he can in a wasteland of a future.

Favorite moment: The head-on collision of Max's vehicle with that of Humungus and Wez is so well set-up and executed that you'd have to be dead not to feel exhilarated by it. ” - inelson
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with. (108 mins.)
Director: Michel Gondry
“ Charlie Kaufman writes one of the greatest screenplays in modern cinema, as Michel Gondry helms the "least sci-fi" sci-fi film on this list. This is a hauntingly bittersweet story about the lengths we could go to in order to forget, which succeeds on so many levels: as a romance, dramatic comedy, tragedy, exercise in surrealism, and cautionary tale. Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey have never been better than they are here. For all its avant garde texture, this film has tremendous heart.

Favorite moment: There's something that profoundly resonates with me in the scene where Joel as a child is spurred on by the other children to smash the bird with the hammer. ” - inelson
The Thing (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A research facility in Antarctica comes across an alien force that can become anything it touches with 100% accuracy. The members must now find out who's human and who's not before it's too late. (109 mins.)
Director: John Carpenter
“ Arguably John Carpenter's greatest film, The Thing is a masterwork of science fiction horror. As with directors like Spielberg and Ridley Scott, Carpenter understands that amazing and disturbing events mean nothing if the audience doesn't care about the characters involved in them. Kurt Russell is a fantastic protagonist, and the conflict is one of the great ones in science fiction: MacReady--and the audience--have no idea who harbors the gruesome alien entity. Every scene is filled to the brim with tension, and the ending really delivers.

Favorite moment: The blood test that MacReady conducts with the hot copper wire might be the most engrossing edge-of-your-seat moment from any film on this list. ” - inelson
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet. (129 mins.)
Director: Terry Gilliam
“ Terry Gilliam has a gift for depicting worlds that feel immediate and yet fanciful. Twelve Monkeys is a great example of this. It's is a film where the director feels more mainstream than ever, but he retains all of the quirkiness we've come to love and expect. The mood is perfectly dark and paranoid, as we're never quite sure who to trust when it comes to trying to "save" the future. Bruce Willis has never been better, and Brad Pitt, of course, plays one of the most interesting characters of his career. Like Brazil, this has one of the most powerful endings in science fiction.

Favorite moment: I've always loved the moment when Bruce Willis' character is riding in the car with Madeline Stowe's and discovers (or rediscovers) contemporary music on the radio--great scene. ” - inelson
Avatar (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. (162 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
“ James Cameron doesn't make small motion pictures, and Avatar might be the most ambitious science fiction film ever undertaken. There are so many things to praise about this movie, from the gorgeous design of the worlds, to the amazing utilization of 3-D technology, to the sweeping (if, at times, derivative) story that it tells. As the first two Terminator movies and Aliens--a movie that easily could have made this list--showed us, Cameron has this knack for taking a plot and filling it with some of the coolest things you've ever seen on screen. Every shot is alive with meticulously placed color, movement, and sound.

Favorite moment: Jake's taming of Toruk and subsequent rallying of the Na'vi is the moment where I knew I was fully invested in this story and these characters. ” - inelson
Moon (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems. (97 mins.)
Director: Duncan Jones
“ Moon plays out like a classic science fiction film: it's driven by character and by a meticulously crafted tone. Sam Rockwell gives a brilliant performance as the lunar mining technician Sam Bell--his ability to carry the entire film certainly should have earned him an Academy Award nomination. This is one of those great sci-fi films that asks big questions, forcing the viewer to see the world differently and lingering in the mind long after the credits roll. Duncan Jones asserted his place as one of film's top storytellers with this one.

Favorite moment: The utter disillusionment that Sam feels when he first meets himself is transferred to the audience perfectly in one of the great head-scratching moments of sci-fi. ” - inelson
Gattaca (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel. (106 mins.)
Director: Andrew Niccol
“ With Gattaca, Andrew Niccol gave us a science fiction film more realistic than just about any that had come before (and perhaps since). The story of state-imposed eugenics and the effects that it has on Ethan Hawke's protagonist is a compelling one, and all the more plausible as years go by. The themes of identity and self-determination reverberate throughout, and they certainly resonate with audiences. This is perhaps the most underrated film on this list, but the art direction alone is enough to justify a spot. Add to this a beautiful score and great performances from the ensemble cast--it has one of the best parts that Jude Law has ever played--and one can see why this is a film well-deserving of this spot.

Favorite moment: I've always loved the scene when the inspector comes calling, and Jude Law's Jerome has to will himself up the stairs without the use of his legs. ” - inelson
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
With the assistance of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using the life-generating Genesis Device as the ultimate weapon. (113 mins.)
Director: Nicholas Meyer
“ It just wouldn't be right to have a collection of the best science fiction films and not have a single entry from the Star Trek universe. But this isn't a charity vote. On the contrary, The Wrath of Khan is able to stand on its own merits, with strong writing, great effects, and wonderful design. It also boasts one of the best sci-fi villains in Ricardo Montalban's Khan. Shatner and the rest of the Enterprise cast have probably never been more on their collective game than in this one, culminating, of course, in the gut-wrenching exchange between Kirk and Spock at the end. Into Darkness was great and was filled with many nods to this film, but this is the one that speeds beyond the rest of the voyages of the starship Enterprise.

Favorite moment: Everybody loves Shatner's 'KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!' and I'm in that group; but what I love most about this film is that moment where the elation of the Enterprise's crew at having defeated Khan and escaped the Genesis blast gives way to the somber realization that Spock has sacrificed himself to allow for this. ” - inelson