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15 Best Sci-Fi Thriller Movies of All Time

December 24, 2017
12 min read

God’s greatest gift to humanity is its imagination. Without it, the world would be a rather dull and unappealing place. For filmmakers, imagination is key in many aspects. Envisioning scenes, chalking out story-lines, and creating memorable characters are all possible for a filmmaker to create only and only if he has an imagination that knows no bounds. Science fiction movies have seen a resurgence over the past decade, owing to filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott. Here we present to you the list of top sci-fi thriller movies ever made. You can also watch some of these sci-fi thriller movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.

15. Triangle (2009)

It is pretty difficult to write plot summaries for films like ‘Triangle’. Vague, confusing, and at times blatantly baffling, ‘Triangle’ ticks all the boxes for a mind-twisting sci-fi thriller. A single mom Jess joins her group of friends on a sailing expedition. Midsea, the boat fails and they seek help. A large ship passes by, seemingly normal, and the group unsuspiciously comes aboard. The ship strangely seems deserted, setting off alarm bells within the group, with Jess noticing the presence of another person on it. ‘Triangle’ essentially presents a time loop. Despite the best efforts of the characters, subverted by time and compelled by love, the loop doesn’t seemingly end. A brilliantly thought out film, ‘Triangle’ reigns supreme with impeccable pacing and superlative performances.

14. Minority Report (2002)

In a utopian future, avante-garde technology has made it possible for law enforcement authorities to prognosticate crimes like a rigor and apprehend perpetrators even before the crime is committed. Using three vessels for the same, Detective Joh Anderton sees a vision of him being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. When the actual events happen, he abducts one of the vessels and proves out to prove his innocence. Everything works in ‘Minority Reports’ favor. The plot is clever; the performances are sublime, led by a charismatic Tom Cruise, and the director is Steven Spielberg. What else do you really need?

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13. District 9 (2009)

‘District 9’ is set in the conflict-ridden town of Johannesburg. Still plagued by racism and disgusted by apartheid, the town is host to a seemingly harmless species of aliens, whom they call “prawns” owing to their physical resemblance to the sea animal. The city is divided into humans and prawns, with none of the respective members allowed in the other’s territory. Wilkus Van de Merwe is a government officer, who takes a team and goes for a regulatory visit to their area, under the impending threat of a revolution. With tensions high, Wilkus gets infected, and the process of his metamorphosis into one of the prawns begins. Little does the government know that an engineer prawn has concealed his spaceship underneath the ground and is preparing to escape. Without boasting big names and having affluent production houses behind it, ‘District 9’ emerges triumphant as a provocative and eventful sci-fi thriller.

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12. Looper (2012)

Joe is a paragon looper whose job profile facilitates the process of killing perpetrators sent to him by willing contractors from the future. Any mobster who runs free ultimately meets his own demise, with the looper also earning discredits for him. With business as usual, one fateful day Joe is faced by future Joe, whom he must kill. Unable to do so, the latter runs, with a purpose to kill a child with superpowers, whom he says has grown to be ‘Rainmaker’, a mercenary who kills loopers. Present Joe reaches the said child first and takes a pledge to protect him and his mother. ‘Looper’ presents filmmaking at its finest using allegoric symbols of despair and the miasma of poverty to remind us of the destructive path humanity has embarked on. The film’s clever script is its strengths, with its star-studded cast of Joseph Lewitt, Willis, and Blunt doing a fine job in their roles. Rian Johnson’s stark and downbeat tone fits perfectly and makes ‘Looper’ a must watch.

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11. Source Code (2011)

A man wakes up disconcerted in a train with his friend. Moments later the train explodes. But instead of killing him, he wakes up a different man in a strange place unknown to him. Capt. Colter Stevens, as he is then told by his operator Goodwin, has been assigned the task of finding the person responsible for blasting the train he was in. His reality though is different, as the chain of events he keeps reliving is just a made up stimulation, while the real world has already suffered the blast. Through source code, he has eleven minutes each time he goes to solve the mystery. The thing about Hollywood films is its length, something which ‘Source Code’ takes full advantage of. Without delving deeper into character backgrounds and narrative logistics, the film employs a direct approach which eventually proves to be effective. Riding on its intriguing plot and a magnetic performance from its charming star, ‘Source Code’ is a winner.

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10. Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko doesn’t get along too well with his family, his teachers and his classmates; but he does manage to find a sympathetic friend in Gretchen, who agrees to date him. He consults a compassionate psychiatrist, who unlocks hidden secrets through hypnosis. His other companion, though, may not be a true ally. Frank – a large bunny which only Donnie can see is a more sinister version of the psychiatrist. When an engine falls off a plane and destroys his bedroom, Donnie is not there. Both the event and Donnie’s escape, seem to have been caused by supernatural events. Donnie’s mental illness, if such it is, may never allow him to find out for sure. Probably the best thing about this movie, though, is its incredible emotional range. It manages to inspire hope, love, dread, laughter, and tears at different points throughout the movie without making you feel the least bit like there is a contradiction between those states. The scenes with Frank (especially the one that takes place in the therapist’s office against the backdrop of a conversation about the end of the world) are quite frankly some of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a movie, as they literally made my skin crawl.

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9. 12 Monkeys (1995)

In a dystopian future, a virus has wiped out humanity, with the remaining survivors hiding underground. James Cole, a convicted felon, volunteers for a mission to find out the cause of the virus, and possibly prevent it, by traveling back in time. Treatment is far from favorable as he is dumped into a mental asylum on arrival. He befriends Jeffrey Goines, a fellow inmate, and takes a keen interest in Dr. Kathryn Railly. Through some contacts, he hatches a plan to find out the root cause. Without being over complicated, ’12 Monkeys’ successfully webs an intricate plot that’s paced to perfection. Great writing and even better acting by Pitt and Willis make the experience worthwhile and set it apart from the usual sci-fi movie.

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8. Children of Men (2006)

Many years down the lane, human dignity withers away as savagery stars taking control. The species faces extinction, having failed to reproduce any new babies. A rogue group abducts a government official to help them ensure the safety of the first pregnant woman the world has seen in years and possibly save humanity. Braving evil forces and other groups trying to take advantage, Theon and his comrades successfully save the woman. Characterized by the stunning use of hand-held cameras to relay tension and create an atmospheric narrative, Alfonso Cuaron emerges a mature and refined director with this amazing movie. The use of long shots is well handled and brings back memories of a lost art almost. Terse, imaginative, and inherently soulful, this beautiful story of survival and life is a celebrated treasure.

7. Ex-Machina (2015)

Caleb wins a contest to perform the Turing test on an AI system in a place that sits secluded amidst the aesthetic and pleasant hills and mountains. The place, which is the home of CEO Nathan Bateman, thrills Caleb, who immediately starts with the tests. A sudden breakdown, which is then revealed to have been caused intentionally by Ava, the AI, reveals mal-intentions of Nathan, urging Ava to ask Caleb for help. The two start hatching plans through these sudden breakdowns, unaware of Nathan’s master plan. Staying true to its artistic core, ‘Ex Machina’ is masterful in conception and precise in its execution. The three leads and the special effects are the lifelines of the film.

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6. The Terminator (1984)

A cyborg assassin, innocuously named Terminator, is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose son will one day become a savior against machines in a post-apocalyptic future. Kyle Reese, a soldier from the future, is sent back in time with the Terminator to protect Connor and save the life of her child. Almost identical in its plot to ‘Looper’, the film showed how much ahead it was of its time. James Cameron’s brainchild enjoys a cult status today and rests as one of the best sci-fi franchise ever created.

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5. Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

The film also takes into account its sequel, which is equally brilliant and imaginative in hindsight. Probably the best sci-fi movie of the year, ‘Blade Runner:2049’ is a more than necessary sequel, and in my impoverished opinion, eclipses its fantastic predecessor. Starring Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a new hire of the LAPD, and the returning star of the first installment Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, the film’s orgasmic special effects, and action scenes are a treat to watch. Helmed by one of my very favorite Dennis Villeneuve, the film is an artistic masterpiece which you can watch as many times as you please.

4. Inception (2010)

I really don’t think so I need to say anything about a film that has an IMDb rating of 8.8 Thank god for Christopher Nolan!

3. Alien (1979)

A traveling space crew receives signals from an alien encampment. With skeptic steps and veiled excitement, the crew embarks on discovering life beyond earth. Little do they know that a vicious and vengeful Alien entity awaits their arrival. At the time it was made, ‘Alien’s special effects are mind-blowing. And as Sheldon Cooper rightly says, once a mind is pre-blown, it can’t be re-blown. So I’ll spare you the details and let you watch yourself! Stunningly gorgeous and provocatively enthralling, ‘Alien’ is a forgotten magnum opus of one of the finest brains in filmmaking.

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2. The Matrix (1999)

The opening shots of a film present the very idea that it entails. FIlmmakers, good ones at least, use it to devastating effect and further it with an embellished narrative. The Wachowskis do something similar with ‘The Matrix’, the greatest sci-fi action thriller film ever made. Thomas is a secretive and transient computer programmer. Efficient and skilled at his job, he doesn’t let them go to waste and starts hacking into systems by night as Neo. He gradually believes in the existence of the real reality, which lies beyond computer screens and into something of a codified fabric. Fate stumbles him upon Morpheus, the alpha-hacker whose terrorists tag is just a stepping stone for Neo. He opens his eyes to something which might even be a reality in our times.

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1. 2001: Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus tops the list. Kubrick’s name certainly ranks at the very top of directors, and a lot of the credit goes to this film. Sometime in the distant past, someone or something nudged evolution by placing a monolith on Earth (presumably elsewhere throughout the universe as well). Evolution then enabled humankind to reach the moon’s surface, where yet another monolith is found, one that signals the monolith placers that humankind has evolved that far. Now a race begins between computers (HAL) and human (Bowman) to reach the monolith placers. The winner will achieve the next step in evolution, whatever that may be.

Through the use of large miniatures and realistic lighting, Kubrick created some of the best special effects ever put on celluloid. This aspect alone almost single-handedly created the chilling void of the space atmosphere which is also attributed to the music and realistic sound effects. I can’t think of another film where you can’t hear anything in space like it is in reality. Not only is the absence of sound effects in space realistic, it is used cleverly as a tool to establish mood, and it works flawlessly.isAside from the magnificent display of ingenious special effects, there are other factors that play a part in establishing the feel of the film. The music played, all classical, complement what the eyes are seeing and make you feel the significance of man’s journey through his evolution from ape to space traveler.

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