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12 Best Science Fiction Movies of the 21st Century

July 28, 2019
10 min read

Science fiction movies always bring out the nerd in you. Personally speaking, it is my favorite genre. The good news for sci-fi fans is that great sci-fi filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott are still actively making movies. Having said that, it is not easy to make a good science fiction film; that’s why there are only a few of them that released this century that can be classified as really great. Here is the list of top Hollywood science fiction films of the 21st century. Which is your favorite?

12. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Of course, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is more romance than sci-fi, which is why it’s at the number 12 spot on this list. Charlie Kaufman’s mind-boggling script blends elements of science, philosophy and romance in ways you’ve never ever seen before. We often wish we could erase the poignant memories of the people we’ve loved but aren’t with us today; and yet, we are hesitant to do so because those are the memories that define us the most. I mean, what is life without love, heartbreaks, and nostalgia? This is the idea that the film tries to explore and it does it so brilliantly that it leaves you utterly devastated by the end, even though many people consider the closing shot of the film as some sort of a happy ending.

Both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey are absolutely brilliant in the lead roles and their performances define the tone of the film. In a Charlie Kaufman movie, it is difficult for any director to not get overshadowed by his genius, but Michel Gondry here brilliantly manages to showcase his distinctive style and vision as a filmmaker. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is an astonishing work that takes an unflinching look at the painful realities of love, loneliness and nostalgia.

11. Predestination (2014)

I first saw ‘Predestination’ years back, after a friend of mine recommended it to me. Though I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the plot, it did ultimately manage to surprise me. It’s short, stylish and manages to achieve what it wants to. The plot follows an agent who is asked to travel back in time in order to prevent an explosion in New York in 1975. While this may look like a template story-line for a time-travel flick, the movie actually explores quite a few interesting ideas and themes. I won’t talk about the film in detail since it’s impossible to critique it without giving out the spoilers. But I can pretty much guarantee that this film would impress most of you science geeks out there.

10. District 9 (2009)

District 9 Top 10 Sci-Fi

Call it an adventure movie, a science-fiction, or whatever you will, Neill Blomkamp’s debut film is an audaciously interesting — and entertaining — venture where he turns the concept of aliens based movies upside down. Truly original and technically brilliant, ‘District 9’ is also surprisingly touching. And that’s why it unexpectedly cracked into the Best Picture Oscar nomination list for 2009.

9. Moon (2009)

Moon Top 10 Sci-Fi

‘Moon’ is a story of an astronaut spending his last few days on the moon — before returning to earth — when something goes awry. It is a movie that slowly and mysteriously builds to a great climax leaving you plenty to ponder upon. There is something so distinctive and elegant about the film’s overall tone and feel that separates it from other space movies. It’s a shame that many cinephiles have still not seen it and that it remains a criminally underrated sci-fi piece. It is, in my opinion, as good as some of the most popular sci-fi flicks of the century, including ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Gravity’, which is saying a lot. ‘Moon’ is noted for its realism, something quite uncommon for Hollywood sci-fi movies. It is also one of those rare movies that manages to balance the emotions, whilst delving deeper into the scientific aspects. Sam Rockwell delivers a memorable performance and carries the entire film on his shoulders. He received nomination for BIFA Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film.

8. Arrival (2016)

‘Arrival’ astounds you with its concept. A concept that surprisingly no writer/filmmaker ever thought of. If ever aliens arrive on earth, chances of them engaging in a Spielbergian warfare are less. At least not before they try to communicate with us first. What’s also beautiful about ‘Arrival’ is that at its heart, it is a story of mother and the difficult choices she has to make.

7. Children of Men (2006)

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Set in dystopian future when women can no longer conceive, ‘Children of Men’ uses a science-fiction premise to deliver a taut, riveting, chase-thriller that will keep you glued to your seats from start-to-finish. Not to mention its exceptional cinematography, and Alfonso Cuaron’s — who will feature again in the list with ‘Gravity’ — assured direction. ‘Children of Men’ is thematically rich and explores several intriguing ideas. It is perhaps the most striking portrait of the future as it puts human beings in a situation wherein they reveal their darkest sides. There is raw tension throughout the film and it never lets you look away for a second. Cuaron is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile filmmakers working today. He always looks to explore different genres and themes and ‘Children’ of Men’ is, in my opinion, his finest work till date; one that truly encapsulates his vision.

6. Primer (2004)

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You thought ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar’ were challenging to understand? Well, how about this challenge of a movie? Shane Carruth’s (who will also figure again in the list at No.1) ‘Primer’, made at a budget of mere $7000, is easily one of the most dense and difficult-to-comprehend movies ever made. Not only that. It’s also the best (Read: most practical) time-travel movie ever made. Period.

Read More: Movies Like Inception

5. Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar

Replete with some of the best images you would have ever seen on-screen, ‘Interstellar’ is visually breathtaking and technologically awe-inspiring. It’s flawed; but it’s beautiful. And it is also what Nolan ultimately wants it to be: A token of love from a father to his daughter. I once read somewhere that Nolan doesn’t write characters, he writes archetypes. And ‘Interstellar’ is perhaps the best example of that. There is something so universal about the story and emotions here that you just can’t help but love it for its honesty and the personal touch given by Nolan. There are scenes that are extremely cheesy but there are also moments that are inspiring, like the scene in which Matthew McConaughey’s character leaves his daughter and sets off for his epic mission.

Now coming to the performances, they are truly remarkable. Both McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, despite issues with their characters, manage to shine with their performances. Jessica Chastain, however, does not have much to do and the inconsistencies in her character affect her performance. (Read full review here)

4. Gravity (2013)

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You don’t watch ‘Gravity’, you experience it. In one shattering calamity after the other, film rarely gives you space and time to breathe a sigh of relief, and even if it does, you are grabbed by another even more precariously poised situation the next moment. It’s tense and it’s relentless, but even within all the chaos, the visuals and the images would never fail to induce gasps and a sense of wonderment. Alfonso Cuaron, with ‘Gravity’, changed the way we will look at space based films.

Most people fail to look beyond the surface of what this film offers. And that is understandable, because if you look at the story, the film may not seem particularly original or innovative: a couple of astronauts stranded in space and are struggling to survive. But the movie uses this seemingly simplistic story to create an incredibly profound, visceral experience that explores the mental struggles one needs to battle in order to survive in the most difficult conditions. Sandra Bullock delivers a simple, honest, and understated performance and she manages to drive the film forward without hitting a single wrong note. (Read full review here)

3. Her (2013)

Easily, one of the most imaginative movies ever made, ‘Her’ has been so masterfully crafted that it deserves to be seen for Spike Jonze’s astounding futuristic vision alone. The true worth of ‘Her’ will be realized when the idea (falling in love with an Artificial Intelligence) that it is based upon gets ultimately realized, and whenever that happens in future, I am sure people are going to look back at ‘Her’ and at Spike Jonze in disbelieved awe on foreseeing the future with such disarming precision.

Apart from the sci-fi elements, what’s most striking about ‘Her’ is the way in which it portrays the frailties of human relationships. The longing for happiness in us often leads us to ruin our own lives and hurting people we love but it is this longing that, strangely, in many ways, what keeps us going. And this idea is explored beautifully in the film. ‘Theodore’, I feel, is actually incapable of loving something ‘real’. And it’s that frustration and insecurity that eventually destroys his relationship with Samantha. ‘Her’ is not just a sci-fi romantic film, it’s a deeply poignant love letter to the human condition. (Read full review here)

2. Inception (2010)

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s exquisitely made mind-bender is a movie that will be brought to discussion over dinner tables for years, possibly decades to come. Accompanied by beautiful visuals, incredible score, and a highly original idea, ‘Inception’ is as innovative and cerebral movie-making can get. And that famous climax still has many heads spinning. ‘Inception’ is, in many ways, one of Nolan’s most ambitious works. And that’s saying a lot because we all know how incredibly innovative he is. Sure, the writing, like most of his other works, is flawed; the characters at times feel like mere instruments used to drive the plot ahead. But there’s something about the overall approach and the emotional intensity of it that makes for an extremely engaging experience. It still isn’t his finest work, but it’s a film that set new standards for the sci-fi genre and there’s no denying the fact that sci-fi filmmaking has never been the same ever since ‘Inception’.

1. Upstream Color (2013)

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Words like multi-talented and adroit seem insignificantly tiny in front of him. How do you describe Shane Carruth? Maybe super-human. A one-time software engineer, he served as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, music composer, casting director, production designer and sound designer on the film. And did I say he also plays the male lead in the film? With Upstream Color, Shane Carruth has made a film so surreally complex, both narratively and thematically, that Christopher Nolan’s movies will seem fairly straightforward in contrast. Lyrical, mystifying and at the same time deeply philosophical, ‘Upstream Color’ is as much a technical wizardry as it is a meditative and contemplative piece of art.

What impressed me the most about this film is the way in which it presents complex scientific ideas and challenging its viewers with absolutely no exposition at all of any sorts. Whilst some critics dismissed ‘Primer’ as a showy flick, ‘Upstream Color’ is a slap on the face of those who believed Carruth couldn’t come up with something that explored raw human emotions. It is arguably one of the most complex movies ever made. Needless to say, it’s a film that demands repeated viewings, and every single time you manage to come up with wildly interesting theories and interpretations. ‘Upstream Color’ is, without a doubt, one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made and one of the best films of this decade. (Read full review here)

Read More: Movies Like Primer

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