Between global pandemics, UFO disclosures, space exploration, human-animal hybridization, and even artificial intelligence, our world is starting to look more and more like the science fiction movies we all grew up watching. While many films from this genre feature plots that are much more realistic than we would like, these flicks also offer us an escape from every daylife. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list together of the best science fiction films of all time!
1. Aliens (1986)
Although the original 1979 film (which is a wonderful blend of sci-fi and horror) might be the most beloved of the franchise, Aliens is actually (*Ripley’s* believe-it-or-not…) the better “sci-fi” film. It has everything! From rampaging aliens, robo-mech suits, Colonial Marines (lead by Michael Biehn’s Hicks), androids, Alien Queens, and the return of Sigourney Weaver’s talented Ellen Ripley.
Aliens, directed by Terminator creator James Cameron, is the gold standard for science fiction, telling the story of what it means to be human with a frightening intergalactic backdrop.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Okay, so Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not just the greatest action film of all time (that’s a fact), but also one of the best science-fiction flicks there is. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator) returns as The Terminator, but this time with an incredible twist. Oh, and if you think Ripley from Aliens is a bad-ass, then wait until you meet Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, who is a one-woman-army with a sole goal in mind: saving her son.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of those films you cannot miss. If you like stories about humanity, artificial intelligence, and destiny, with a lot of action in between, then this is the film for you.
3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
This film was Stephen Spielberg’s passion project, the one he wanted to make from the moment he walked on the set of Jaws. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a story about just that: contact with extra-terrestrial life. The film follows Indiana blue-collar worker Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws) as he deals with his incredible encounter with a UFO.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a sci-fi classic that’s had fans flocking to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming since the 70s and helped jump-start Hollywood’s modern obsession with extraterrestrials.
4. Snowpiercer (2014)
If you recognize this one, it’s because it was on our recent list of the best post-apocalyptic films, but we had to mention it here. Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) does it again with this incredible feature. After a failed attempt to save the world from climate change, humanity has been isolated on a train that travels the globe, forcing a divide between the upper and lower classes.
Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as Curtis Everett, a lower-class man who leads a revolution as they rebel against the elites who rule the front of the train.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A science fiction epic produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), 2001: A Space Odyssey might be the most well-known film on this list due to its cultural, historical, and aesthetical impact. As we follow Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea, Black Christmas), HAL, and the rest of the Discovery One as it heads to Jupiter after the discovery of an alien monolith, chaos slowly ensues.
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most beautiful films you’ll ever watch, paired with a heart-pounding soundtrack and striking set-pieces that really glue the film together.
6. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
While sometimes known as Star Wars – Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back is unanimously known as the greatest Star Wars film of all time, and it would be a disservice not to include it here on our list. Between Luke (Mark Hamill, The Flash) and his journey to becoming a Jedi, Han (Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark), Leia (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…), and the crew as they evade the Empire, and Darth Vader’s infamous reveal, this one has it all.
Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is a science fiction staple that has influenced pop culture and media for decades since its release. Plus, the entire battle on Hoth is incredible and worth the watch alone.
7. Looper (2012)
Speaking of Star Wars, Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) got his sci-fi start with Looper. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) as “looper” assassin Joe, Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) as single-mother Sara, and Bruce Willis (Unbreakable) as an older, future version of Joe, Looper serves as a fascinating take on a familiar sci-fi tale involving assassinations, time-travel, and superhuman abilities.
Looper is a film you have to see (regardless of how you feel about Johnson’s take on Star Wars) due to its subversion of expectation, solid character development, and the violent confrontations between the old and young Joe.
8. Metropolis (1927)
This German expressionist sci-fi drama has been heralded as one of the greatest films of all time since its release in the early 20th century, and although the production techniques may be outdated, the story is not. Metropolis features an urban dystopia, robots, hallucinations of human sacrifice to Moloch, and gothic cathedrals.
Metropolis is not without its criticism (even by H.G. Wells who thought the film was “silly”), but it still remains as one of the most influential and classic science fiction feats of the 20th century.
9. Blade Runner (1982)
What can be said about Blade Runner that hasn’t already been said? Harrison Ford knocks it out of the park as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” who tracks down and “retires” bioengineered humanoids known as “replicants.” In the spirit of not spoiling anything, let’s just say that by the time you get to the end your head will be spinning.
Blade Runner is an immaculate Ridley Scott (Alien) film that actually has seven different versions (The Final Cut is the best of all of them) and a sequel (Blade Runner 2049) that’s actually really, really good.
10. Jurassic Park (1993)
Another timeless Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park (based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name) is a film that if you haven’t seen it by now, something might be wrong with you. Between the stunning visuals of the dinosaurs themselves, the heart-swelling John Williams (Star Wars) score, and the wacky Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) performance, this one is a true classic in every sense of the word.
Jurassic Park also spun a hugely popular franchise, with a total of six films (including the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion), that puts the dinosaurs at the forefront of all the action and suspense.
11. The Terminator (1984)
We couldn’t include T2 without also talking about the original James Cameron classic. The Terminator is a sci-fi film – much like Alien – that includes a horror twist. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the Terminator, a cold-blooded killing machine sent from the future to kill waitress Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance who will defeat the evil A.I. Skynet. While it’s very 80s, it still manages to hold your attention and shock you when you least expect it.
The Terminator is a sci-fi masterpiece that perfectly sets up the Terminator world for Terminator 2, so make sure to watch this one first before checking out Judgment Day!
12. Children of Men (2006)
From Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) comes this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller taking place in the year 2027, after two decades of infertility which has crippled human society. Clive Owen (Inside Man) and Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski) fight to help a pregnant woman (the first in 18 years) get to the Human Project ship Tomorrow.
Children of Men deals with themes of hope and faith, with various religious references, critiques, and iconography to reinforce them subconsciously. Owen has ever been better while Sir Michael Caine steals every scene he’s in. A modern classic.
13. Logan’s Run (1976)
Imagine living in a world where everyone is young, there are enough resources, and there isn’t a care in the world. Unfortunately, that’s only half of the truth in the world of Logan’s Run, where people are killed when they reach 30 to maintain “balance.” Here we follow Logan 5 (Michael York, Austin Powers) as he tries to evades the same fate he used to enforce onto others.
Logan’s Run carefully examines the dangers of hedonism, making it one of the more interesting science fiction/post-apocalyptic takes on humanity and our relationship to possible utopias, or in this case dystopias.
14. The Matrix (1999)
Whether you decide to take the red pill or the blue pill, the Wachowski’s (Speed Racer) take you on an incredible thrill ride through the known and unknown in the first (and best) film in The Matrix trilogy. We follow Neo (Keanu Reeves, John Wick) as he discovers that the world around him is a lie, only to be pursued by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings).
The Matrix has some of the best action sequences on the list, with various slow-motion “bullet time” shots contained throughout.
15. Planet of the Apes (1968)
With probably one of the best twist endings in all of cinema, Planet of the Apes is an incredible sci-fi epic that takes our heroes, lead by Charleton Heston (The Ten Commandments) himself, to a strange world where evolution has not been kind to humanity. Here, they live as slaves under the rule of humanoid apes.
Planet of the Apes is the original classic, and while there are various sequels, remakes, and a reboot series, the 1968 feature still rules supreme as one of the best science fiction films of all time.
16. Robocop (1987)
Detroit has always been portrayed as a crime-ridden city in all sorts of media, from film to television to comic books, and RoboCop is no different (you know, except that it takes place in the future). Here, we follow cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, Star Trek Into Darkness) as he’s murdered by a gang of criminals, only to be revived as a cyborg by Omni Consumer Products. As RoboCop, he searches mercilessly for his killers.
RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier (who co-wrote the horrible 2014 remake) and directed by Paul Verhoeven, who would later collaborate on their satirical sci-fi film Starship Troopers, which also deserves a mention.
17. Primer (2004)
This cult film is an independent psychological sci-fi about the accidental discovery of time travel, and if that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will. It follows two engineers, Abe (David Sullivan, The Wilds) and Aaron (Shane Carruth, who also wrote and directed the film), as they spend their free time in Aaron’s garage working on their own projects until they eventually discover time travel.
Primer is an intricate and intimate film that has been praised by fans, critics, and filmmakers (including Steven Soderbergh) alike.
18. The Thing (1982)
Having already made it on our monster movie list from a while back, there’s not much more we can say about The Thing without spoiling it, other than it’s one of the best films from auteur John Carpenter (They Live). Kurt Russell (Tombstone) stars as MacReady, a chopper pilot in Antarctica who, along with their crew, comes across a parasite that slowly works its way through camp.
The Thing is flashy, exciting, and ultimately a dark tale that makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation, and who you would trust…
19. Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones (Source Code) directorial debut starring the beloved Sam Rockwell (Richard Jewell) and the infamous Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Moon is about Sam Bell (Rockwell) as he experiences a personal crisis as he finishes up his three-year contract mining for helium-3 on the moon. He does so with his robotic companion GERTY (Spacey) who is with him along the way.
Moon is one of the most unique ideas in recent science fiction efforts. It’s an idea that was explored in another film with Tom Cruise a few years later (Oblivion), yet Rockwell’s masterful performance is what steals the show and keeps Moon on top.
20. Independence Day (1996)
A classic blockbuster film through-and-through, Independence Day is one of those movies that just works. Between Will Smith (Men in Black) and Jeff Goldblum’s charm to President Whitmore’s (played masterfully by Bill Pullman, SpaceBalls) famous “we will not go quietly into the night“ speech, this one has it all, tugging on each and every heart-string it can before the end credits. Didn’t expect that from a Roland Emmerich (2012) film, huh?
Independence Day might be the best alien invasion movie there is as the world comes together to face a threat that is bigger than all of us. Just don’t go watching the sequel expecting it to be the same. It’s horrible.