Science fiction may be one of the most hotly debated genres, whether it’s in film or literature. It requires a progressive and unconventional mind to craft a gripping science fiction tale, and the amount of detail it requires to form a fictional world based purely on imagination is truly staggering.
With that said, it also breeds subjective matter, encouraging fans to debate what makes for better science fiction. And for that matter, what is science fiction? Does it relate exclusively to space, to futuristic technologies, to artificial intelligence? The point is science fiction is a broad subject open to interpretation, which promotes subjectivity and subsequently debate. Is Alien the greatest science fiction movie ever made? Terminator 2? Avatar?
There are countless entries in the genre that are the subject of debate on a daily basis. That’s just the passion within the genre and it won’t quell any time soon. It’s why these kind of lists typically vary and don’t have a consensus top-five, or even best ever. With films like Ex Machina bravely breaking the mold with classic sci-fi themes, hopefully the best is yet to come and these lists will continue to be updated as we conjure up imaginary and sometimes eerily similar futures.
With that in mind, prepare to be offended as we unveil our 10 best science fiction movies ever made. Should you take umbrage with some of the entries here, drop a passionate hate letter below and don’t bottle up that anger. Better yet, post your own top 10 and let us know why.
10 Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day boasts one of the most memorable villains in film, and it’s also the epitome of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career as a hulking, intimidating beast of a man. Sarah Connor is also at her best kicking ass and cementing a perpetual role for the female heroine. It was an important film in more ways than one, and not a lot of science fiction movies can carry that accomplishment. It’s just a shame the subsequent Terminator movies were all pretty lousy, especially the newest entry. It might be time to bury this franchise indefinitely and try to remember the good times.
9 The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Yes, we’ve included the better of the two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded, to this list. If The Matrix revolutionized fight scenes, The Matrix Reloaded took it to the next level with action set pieces previously only dreamed about by hyperactive children. And that’s not meant to be an insult; the action is wonder to behold, whether it’s hundreds of Agent Smiths trying to land a punch on Neo or a motorcycle driving against traffic with an old man known as the “Key Maker” hanging on for dear life. But it’s not just about action with this sequel, as the dialogue often levels the experience with sombre, intellectual and progressive points that may well represent our society in the future.
8 Alien (1979)
Alien is a classic, if not inconsistent, series. There isn’t a bad entry in the series, but the latter films suffer a significant drop in quality compared to the first two. It all started with Alien, a chilling tale revolving around a strong female lead and her fight for survival against the shifty, slimy, deadly, mini-alien-as-a-tongue Xenomorph. What made it work on such a basic level was its tactical pacing, which progressively unravelled the central plot without revealing the Xenomorph too early. It’s a lost art these days, one that Prometheus intelligently brought back, despite some of the criticisms against it. As it turns out, Alien would be bested in just a few short years.
7 Aliens (1986)
Perfection. Aliens is truly the gold standard of films of its ilk. There are few science fiction movies worthy of dethroning this James Cameron classic, let alone any creature features in the genre. “Get away from her, you bitch!” remains a classic quote from the series in an even more memorable scene involving the exoskeleton suit. Like its predecessor, Aliens racked up tension through pacing and character development, two traits uncommonly found in modern films of its kind, unfortunately. If nothing else, these films are testament to Sigourney Weaver’s flawless portrayal of a badass heroine who simply had enough of these big-headed predators.
6 Blade Runner (1982)
When I first watched Blade Runner, I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. It wasn’t until a second and third viewing that I came to appreciate this unconventional neo-noir world full of complexity and drab environments. The film’s tone is relentlessly bleak and engaging, challenging the viewer to question the future in a time where technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. And that’s the genius of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, its relevance in the modern era is reinforced with each passing day, raising important questionings and refusing to be “lost, in time, like tears in rain.”
5 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Should Mad Max have been included in a list strictly pertaining science fiction films? We say yes. And really, you can’t argue with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, unless you hate great films. This was one of those rare moments where the sequel actually outperforms the original. And that’s no slight against Mad Max, which is a terrific film. The Road Warrior is just that good. It raised the bar for on-screen vehicular mayhem and its organized chaos is still a wonder to behold to this day. This classic boasts Mel Gibson at his finest too, cementing Mad Max as one of the most iconic characters in media.
4 District 9 (2009)
District 9 is a classic. This movie swept me off my feet and shattered my world as a relatively low-key film hitting theatres in just 2009. The direction is unique, the action fast-paced and gruesome, and the underlying message hitting key issues like xenophobia. It introduced viewers into the world of District 9 with shrewd pacing and intriguing characters. It had all the ingredients for a great film and it blasted that expectation out of the park by cementing itself among the sci-fi elite in film. That director Neill Blomkamp is attached to the new Alien films is encouraging—though still unnerving that they’d revisit that franchise.
3 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I don’t care if it’s not on Blu-ray yet, I experienced Mad Max: Fury Road in theatres and it is, for my money, worthy of a spot among the greatest sci-fi films ever made. If The Road Warrior is indeed classified as a sci-fi movie, Fury Road has to be ranked ahead. Just like The Road Warrior accomplished in its time, Fury Road raises the bar for vehicular mayhem, putting the Fast and Furious franchise to utter shame. Every character on screen is full of detail and life, breathing fresh air into the mechanics of the film. It requires multiple viewings to truly appreciate the amount of detail and skilled directing injected into this modern classic. Give us more, George Miller.
2 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Choosing the best between the three original Star Wars films seems like an impossible task, but how can you argue with the film that started it all? Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope blew audiences away with its then-revolutionary special effects and memorable cast of colourful characters. Harrison Ford began what still remains a legendary career in cinema with his portrayal of Han Solo. And really, he is Han Solo. When all is said in done, Star Wars will leave a perpetual legacy unmatched by any other in film. Toys, movies, television shows, comics, you name it… Star Wars is the complete package.
1 The Matrix (1999)
For many, The Matrix is the greatest science fiction movie ever made, and there’s certainly a valid argument there. It revolutionized fight scenes as we know them and introduced a complex storyline ripe with existentialism and technology. Like all great sci-fi films, The Matrix required the viewer's unwavering attention—missing a single minute could result in missing key information regarding the plot. It expertly melded high-octane action, philosophical ideas, and characters worth investing your emotions in and still remains one of the greatest achievements in the genre. And despite some of the criticism, the two sequels were pretty great themselves…