The first sci-fi film ever made was ‘La Voyage Dans la Lune’ in 1902. Obviously, a lot of has changed in the world of filmmaking since then. One thing that completely revolutionized in how sci-fi stories are told has to be invention of special effects. In fact, VFX became the building block on which the empire of science fiction now stands. As the interest of the viewers increased, the filmmakers started getting bolder and grander in their approach of scientific ideas and the making of these films.
One of the finest moments of sci-fi and even entire filmmaking, for that matter, came with Stanley Kubrick’s iconic, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. This was a year before man landed on the Moon. So, yes, movies have always been ahead of the curve from actual science when it comes to imagination. With the likes of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Ridley Scott entering this arena, the bar was raised considerably; and with every decade, new filmmakers try to at least touch it, if not surpass it entirely. The 2010s have seen the rise of directors like Denis Villeneuve, Alex Garland and Rian Johnson, to name a few, keeping up with the legacy of the genre, and as a result, delivering some of the best films of this past decade. Here we present to the list of the best sci-fi movies the 2010s.
22. Frequencies (2013)
Set in an alternate universe, ‘Frequencies’ paints the picture of a world where people emit certain “frequencies”. The ones with higher frequencies have a better chance at life. These people are more detached from their feelings and are said to be unable to feel love, which further drives them towards success. The people of low frequencies, and hence called “low borns”, have a greater susceptibility to strong emotions, which means they can have love but not as much success. This difference also means that high and low frequency people can’t mix up. It is in this world that Zak, a low born, falls in love with Marie, a high born. Meanwhile, the government has been keeping a secret from the people and it might be the key to break the frequency cycle.
21. Annihilation (2018)
Another emerging name in the crop of sci-fi directors is that of Alex Garland. After penning bestselling novels like ‘The Beach’, he turned his attention towards writing scripts for movies like ‘28 Days Later’, ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’. He graduated to the director’s chair with ‘Ex Machina’, another sci-fi gem that features on this list, and continued his venture with the adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘Annihilation’. The film follows a group of female scientists who enter a quarantined zone that has been taken over by an alien entity. It stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac. You can watch the movie here.
20. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
If it wasn’t for its connection to the ‘Cloverfield’ universe, this movie could just have been a psychological thriller. In fact, it was written as a standalone but was then integrated into J. J Abrams’ alien-monster universe by adding some references to the first film. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ begins with an accident. After surviving a car crash, a woman wakes up in a basement, tied with a chain to the floor. A middle-aged man informs her that the world outside has been destroyed by a virus in the air. He convinces her that he has saved her life, but she is suspicious of his true motivations.
19. Upgrade (2018)
Logan Marshall-Green might not have been able to crack into superstardom yet, but he has proved his acting skills with the movies that often feature on the list of underrated gems. ‘The Invitation’ is one of them, coupled with the sci-fi drama, ‘Upgrade’. Directed by Leigh Whannell, who has previously worked as a writer in movies like ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’, it follows the story of a man who is paralysed after four men attack him and kill his wife. He receives a chance to exact justice and get his life back by receiving a chip implant that allows him to regain control of his body. Obviously, there is much more to the program than just its healing abilities.
18. Ad Astra (2019)
After making a biographical drama about an adventurous man whose whereabouts are still a mystery, James Gray returned with a sci-fi film that follows the venture of a man into deep space to find out the whereabouts of his father who had disappeared a long time ago. Another factor that drives the story is an impending threat that can destroy life as we know it in the solar system. Focusing on a father-son dynamic, it uses stunning visuals to lure in the audience. The movie stars Brad Pitt in the lead role, supported by the cast of actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga.
17. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Acclaimed director, Denis Villeneuve’s last couple of projects have displayed his interest in science-fiction and proved how adept he is at bringing out the essence of a story while serving it in fantastic packaging. Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ is a popular movie in the sci-fi circle and this one picks up where he left it all those years ago. Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos reprise their roles while the likes of Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and Jared Leto join the cast. It is set 30 years after the events of the first film and follows a blade runner on a mission, failure of which could bring the social structure of their world tumbling down.
16. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
A list of science fiction movies without a film about time loops would be incomplete. In fact, time is one of the most popular subjects amongst the filmmakers who find that the lesser we know about it, the greater grounds we have to explore. Going further in this list, you will see what an important part Time plays, and not just in the form of loops, in science fiction. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is just about that. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, it is set in a world where humans are engaged in a losing war from an alien species. A man with no experience in combat is thrown in the most active regions of it, and after an encounter that claims his life, he discovers the ability to go back in time.
15. The Martian (2015)
With the Earth struggling to keep up with our destructive nature, do you ever wonder where else we have to go in the whole universe? What other planets can we move to, and how in the god’s name will we survive there, because we haven’t yet found any place even remotely similar to Earth! What does it take to survive on a planet where you have next to nothing to go on with? Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir and directed by Ridley Scott, ‘The Martian’ shows us a man’s resourcefulness in an alien planet. It stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after his crew mistakenly leaves him behind.
14. Source Code (2011)
Starring the versatile Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Source Code’ is another movie that uses time loop, though a fainter version of it, to tell a thrilling story that ultimately poses the questions grounded deep in human character. He plays the role of Captain Colter Stevens, who is sent into a simulation to find a bomb on a train, and to catch the man who put it there. He only has an eight-minute window, and every time he fails, the bomb goes off and the clock is set eight minutes back. The film is directed by Duncan Jones, who previously gained a reputation in sci-fi after making ‘Moon’.
13. Snowpiercer (2013)
Our Earth is facing a climate crisis right now that will soon take a catastrophic turn. Once we reach that point of no return, there is no saving us. If we don’t take responsibility now, we might as well accept our doom and surrender to oblivion. ‘Snowpiercer’ builds on the context of a similar premise. With the world facing the rising threat of global warming, the scientists come up with a way to counter it. However, it backfires; the temperature is reduced drastically and the Earth is thrown into another ice age. The only remnants of humanity can be found in a perpetually running train that circumnavigates the Earth. This is where we see the dynamics of the new society rise and shatter. You can watch the movie here.
12. Predestination (2014)
If you haven’t seen ‘Predestination’, then you should know that every line following this one is a spoiler. This is one of those films that you should go in with an empty slate. You read one word about it, you catch a spoiling synopsis from some site, and the movie might as well be ruined for you. It stars Ethan Hawke as the agent of a secret organisation that sends him back in time to catch a man who will be responsible for a massive bomb blast in New York City. Before finding that person, the agent has to meet a woman and help her confront her destiny. You can watch the movie here.
11. Hard to Be a God (2013)
Evolution has kept humanity alive. And it is not just the physical evolution that we are talking about here. We passed that hurdle a long time ago; we changed and adapted and have the world under our toes now. It is the intellectual growth that has sustained us for a very long time. We have always been curious souls, and keep inventing one thing after another, keep digging deep to discover further. But what if all that stopped. What if, there came an oppressive regime that banned any and all scholarly pursuits. Where would we be then? In his final film, Alexei German ponders upon this possibility. After a group of scientists discover an alien planet that is almost like Earth, they witness a society that never moved beyond the Middle Ages.
10. Looper (2012)
Does ‘Looper’ have flaws? Of course. It is a movie about time travel. Had we even theoretically perfected the idea; we would have been in a different world. So, if you have complaints, you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Moving on. Directed by Rian Johnson, it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of a man who works as a looper. This means, he is paid to kill the people who are sent back in time (one way to commit a perfect murder), and eventually has to kill the future version of himself to complete the loop. He thinks that he is prepared for it, but when his future self (Bruce Willis) fights back, he starts a chain of events that can have disastrous effects.
9. Coherence (2013)
Do you often wonder about alternate realities? If there are parallel worlds, then what kind of a person is your counterpart and what life is that person living? Would you want to know whether they are happier and more successful than you? And, in that case, would you want to swap places with them? ‘Coherence’ tackles this question through a bizarre series of events that happen with a group of friends. At a dinner party, eight friends come together after a long time. A comet passes through that night and creates a split in reality, where the friends discover their doppelgangers from a parallel world. A fight for survival ensues when they feel threatened by each other’s existence. You can watch the movie Prime Video, Hulu, Vudu.
8. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
In his directorial debut, Boots Riley gives us a story that brings out the absurdness of the world we live in. In the form of its protagonist, he hands us a mirror and asks us to take a good, hard look at who we think we are and what we actually are. The science part of this film is not as prominent as the social themes, but it still forms a significant plot device of the story. In fact, it becomes a clear-cut metaphor for what the director wants to say. Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Steven Yeun, this dark comedy follows a telemarketer who witnesses exponential growth in his career after discovering his secret talent. Just when he thinks he couldn’t have been doing better, the CEO of his company makes him an offer that pays too much to refuse. You can watch ‘Sorry to Bother You’ here.
7. Gravity (2013)
If there is one place where you have the possibility to be gripped by strong claustrophobia despite being in an endlessly open expanse, it is Space. It is here where the fear of letting go takes a tangible form, a lump in your throat, threatening to choke to you to death if your anxiety doesn’t do that first. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, ‘Gravity’ shows the audience how lucky they are to have a ground below their feet. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, it follows an astronaut who is stranded in space after high-speed debris collides with her space shuttle. With no communication to base and barely anything to hold on to, she tries to reach another shuttle and get back to Earth. You can watch the film here.
6. Ex Machina (2014)
If you are not convinced of the talent that Alicia Vikander is, then I am sure you haven’t yet seen ‘Ex Machina’. In her breakout role, she slips under the skin of artificial intelligence called Ava. The movie begins with a programmer, named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), winning a lottery to visit the secluded facility of the genius, named Nathan (Oscar Issac), whose company he works in. He discovers that it is more than just a “meet your favourite celebrity” visit. He is asked to take part in a program that will test Ava’s consciousness and determine how close she is to humanity. A psychological game ensues as Caleb begins to wonder if Nathan is a bad guy, playing some sadistic game. You can watch the movie here.
5. Her (2013)
Love is a highly inclusive emotion. You can’t limit it to just people loving other people. Sometimes, the love of a human with their dog, or any other pet, is stronger than the feelings they have for anyone else. People savour the things given to them by their loved ones and, sometimes, hold on to them better than they hold on to people. The point is, wherever there is a sentiment, wherever a person thinks they get emotional support from, they will lean on that for love. To rigidly define love with the exclusivity of human connection is not right, and this is what ‘Her’ focuses on. Directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix, it follows the story of a man who falls in love with an AI virtual assistant. You can watch the film here.
4. Interstellar (2014)
Whether or not ‘Interstellar’ is scientifically accurate is a discussion that people have indulged in ever since its release. Despite the heavy use of science, perhaps even the heaviest in this list, it is, at its core, a movie about a father’s love for his daughter. With Hans Zimmer’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Cornfield Chase’ piece playing in the background, Christopher Nolan’s movie takes the audience on the ride of a lifetime. The stunning visuals of a supermassive black hole, an alien planet, and Time contained in a 3-D space, among other things, are just the tip of the iceberg. It might not be Nolan’s best film, but it certainly is the one that a lot of people find close to their hearts (including me!). You can watch the movie here.
3. Inception (2010)
A dream within a dream, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is the film that continues to be the subject of “one of the most confusing movie endings” discussion. Nolan starts simple, as he always does- with a man wanting to reunite with his family. The final destination is pretty clear and perhaps one of the easiest motivations for any character. But the journey that the protagonist and, with him, the audience has to take is nothing short of a confounding experience. It is so fast-paced, builds the web of its world with such swiftness, that the viewers are busied with keeping up with it. And by the time they reach the end and think that they can finally catch their breath, it ends on a note that makes them go back to the beginning and start all over again. It creates a loop of its own.
2. Arrival (2016)
Denis Villeneuve has proved his mettle as one of the best in business by delivering some great movies in a wide range of genres. ‘Prisoners’, ‘Enemy’ and ‘Sicario’ are some of his best-known works, but his most-successful venture came in the form of ‘Arrival’. Starring Amy Adams, it follows the story of a linguist who is called to help the US Army to break the language barrier with the aliens who have recently landed on Earth. The film banks on human emotions and uses Time as a language to tell a fascinating tale. It stands apart from other movies that use Time as a plot device by giving a fresh twist to it, a manner in which it has never been portrayed before.
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1. Upstream Color (2013)
When I say ‘Upstream Color’ is not for everyone, I mean that it might not even be for the people who “like” to watch sci-fi movies. It has a pretty basic concept, but the execution of it is what makes it one of the best in the genre. It might seem absurd to some, and there will be a great number of people who won’t get what the gist is all about. But for the ones who will get to the bottom of it, the ones who will understand its essence, it is a beautiful thing, haunting at times because it goes deep in its exploration of humanity and our connection with nature. Written and directed by Shane Carruth, who also stars in it, the film follows the story of a man and a woman who fall in love, only to later realise that someone else might have a hold on their strings.
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