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Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’

30 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century So Far

From bombastic alien movies to contemplative dystopias about the human soul, the best sci-fi movies bring audiences to edge of their seats. The 20th century provided plenty of classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Blade Runner, but the last 20 years have given us some great movies too, and that’s what this list is going to explore. Reminisce on flicks you’ve seen or add some to your watchlist because this article is going to cover all the best sci-fi movies of the 21st century!

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Wall-E | Image: Walt Disney

What Makes a Good Sci-Fi Movie?

At the core of all good sci-fi movies is a desire to take a concept, technology or idea we humans don’t yet have the access to or implications of and say: “What kind of story can we tell with this?” Thankfully this gives the genre a near-infinite range of stories to tell as creators are only limited by their imagination. Genres like horror must scare you, a romance must end in a kiss, comedy must make you laugh. The best sci-fi movies, however, can take elements from all of them and combine them with a great idea to tell any damn story it wants!

Alicia Vikander in ‘Ex Machina’
Alicia Vikander in ‘Ex Machina’ | Image: A24/Universal Pictures

How We Pick our Movies

Some may disagree with the order of this list but know that any of the films on the list could be crowned number 1 on a different day or to a different person as art is subjective. “Why wasn’t Movie X number 1? Movie Y was so much better!” We get it, everyone has different tastes.

But we’ve found that like food or music, taste in movies can mostly depend on what mood you’re in. If you’re in the mood for action, you’re not going to watch a deep, philosophical think-piece no matter how great it is. But if you’re in a contemplative mood, great action might not suffice and that thick-piece will start looking real interesting all of the sudden.

Best Sci Movies of the 21st Century

Now with that preamble out of the way, let’s dive into the top picks. Here is a list of 30 best sci-fi movies of the 21st century so far!

Ryan Gosling in ‘Blade Runner 2049’
Ryan Gosling in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ | Image: Warner Bros.

1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner is arguably the greatest science fiction movie of all time, so the potential for 2049 to be an embarrassment was high. We here at Man of Many were certainly sceptical. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Helmed by the best sci-fi director working today (who’ll be bringing us Dune later this year), Denis Villeneuve not only made a worthy sequel to the original movie set thirty years later, an argument can be made that it’s better. 2049 is a profound, stunning, smart, masterful detective story that showcases what sci-fi and the sub-genre of cyberpunk are capable of.

Thankfully Villeneuve resisted the temptation to turn Blade Runner into a fast-paced Hollywood action franchise. Set thirty years after the original, 2049 follows a new protagonist, the android cop K, as he investigates a mystery the answers of which could plunge civilisation into chaos. Unapologetically slow-paced, philosophical and introspective, this science fiction movie doesn’t coddle you, it immerses you in its breathtaking world, its characters and their struggles. It’s everything the sequel to Blade Runner should’ve been and more than earns its spot as the best sci-fi movie of the 21st century so far!

Sub-Genres: Cyberpunk, Philosophical, Slow-paced, Detective Story
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks
Release date: 5 October 2017 (Australia)
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Box office: 260.5 million USD
Music composed by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch, Ron Bartlett, Michael Hodges

Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Avengers: Endgame’
Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ | Image: Marvel Studios

2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

The climactic finale to 21 movies over 10 years, Endgame was the most ambitious and anticipated sci-fi movie of the 21st century so far, evidenced by it now being the highest-grossing movie of all time. Marvel didn’t even need to promote anything beyond the first hour, the ending of Infinity War was enough to draw everyone back to the theatre on curiosity alone.

The promise of the MCU of an interconnected cinematic universe with dozens of characters and stories was at last fulfilled. The entire MCU cast arrives to face Thanos’ alien army in the most well-executed cheer-moment in superhero movie history followed by a battle of epic proportions to save the universe from its greatest threat.

On a technical level, Endgame is peak blockbuster filmmaking. Despite a 3-hour runtime, the pacing is perfect and the movie never feels its length. Despite a gigantic cast, it never feels bloated. Until the final hour, the movie has the guts to have basically no action, it relies solely on its characters and their journeys to grip the audience, a ballsy move for a Hollywood blockbuster.

Sub-Genres: Superheroes, Epic Action, Ensemble Cast, Time-travel, Heist
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner
Release date: 24 April 2019 (Australia)
Box office: 2.798 billion USD
Budget: 356 million USD (2019)
Film series: The Avengers

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in ‘Arrival’
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in ‘Arrival’ | Image: Paramount Pictures

3. Arrival (2016)

Based on the brilliant short story from science-geek and all-round amazing writer Ted Chiang, Arrival is without a doubt the smartest and most heartbreaking alien movie of the last few years. When mysterious aliens park their strange vessels above various countries on Earth, expert linguist Louise Banks is recruited to decipher their language and learn their motives. What follows is a captivating tale about expanding your perspectives, daring to trust the ‘other’ and whether it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

Like The Martian and Inception before it, Denis Villeneuve delivers big ideas to the audience in a captivating way while never upsetting the pacing of the movie. It is impossible not to finish Arrival a slightly smarter, introspective and more empathetic person than when you went in. If you watch one movie about first-contact with aliens in your lifetime, it has to be Arrival.

Sub-Genres: Alien Contact, Emotional, Intellectual
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Initial release: 11 November 2016 (Russia)
Screenplay: Ted Chiang, Eric Heisserer

Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey in ‘Children of Men’
Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey in ‘Children of Men’ | Image: Universal Pictures

4. Children of Men (2006)

Before Logan and The Last of Us, there was Children of Men. When it comes to stories about a broken man in a broken world finding redemption by shepherding civilisation’s last hope to safety; this movie set the gold standard. Set in a nightmarish 2027 (my god we’re getting close aren’t we), humanity has become infertile with no baby having been born in 18 years. Civilisation is slowly but surely descending into extinction with economic collapse, dictatorship, crime and global depression arising from that simple but devastating problem.

Enter Theo, a depressed former activist and the protagonist of the story. Recruited by his ex-wife to transport a mysterious young woman to a group of scientists, the protagonist discovers she’s pregnant and the last hope of humanity. Children of Men is a triumph, a bleak but also hopeful masterpiece of cinema that we could all do well to rewatch in this dumpster fire that is 2020.

Sub-Genres: Dystopian, Action-Thriller, Man-on-the-Run, Dark but Hopeful
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Release date: 19 October 2006 (Australia)
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gary Tarn

Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Benedict Wong in ‘Avengers: Infinity War'
Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Benedict Wong in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ | Image: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney

5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that had to juggle a cast of over 30 main characters, live up to 10 years of buildup over 18 movies, had to introduce the biggest, baddest villain in superhero history and needed to accomplish it all while still being coherent, emotional, funny, well-written and thrilling. Avengers: Infinity War, against all odds, not only met those astronomical expectations but also exceeded them. The movie was not only thrilling, hilarious and action-packed, it was also emotional, smart and tragic.

Not since Darth Vader or Ledger’s Joker has a movie villain exploded into the cultural zeitgeist like genocidal warlord; Thanos. Arguably the protagonist of the movie, Thanos sported the most screen-time and had the biggest character arc. Audiences loved and were captivated by the purple menace because in a warped way he deserved to win. Forty years from now, Infinity War will be seen as our generation’s Empire Strikes Back, mark our words.

Sub-Genres: Superheroes, Epic Action, Ensemble Cast, Space-Adventure
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch
Initial release: 23 April 2018 (Los Angeles)
Box office: 2.048 billion USD
Budget: 316 million USD (2018)
Film series: The Avengers

Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy in ‘Inception’
Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy in ‘Inception’ | Image: Warner Bros.

6. Inception (2010)

A thrilling, mind-bending and emotional heist into the subconscious of the human mind; Inception is arguably Nolan’s masterpiece. Dream thief protagonist Dom Cobb must assemble his team and dive into progressively more dangerous layers of the dream-world to implant an idea in his target’s head while confronting his greatest personal failure. It strikes the perfect blend between spectacle and theme; dazzling audiences with gripping visuals and stunts while captivating them with one of the most tragic backstories in recent cinematic history.

The movie’s genius is not only in how it makes you question the nature of reality but in how it uses Cobb’s deeply human struggles to make you care about those high concept ideas. The exposition is well-delivered, the acting is superb, the pacing is tight, the score is iconic and the direction is masterful. Inception is Nolan at his absolute best.

Sub-Genres: Action, Heist, Mind-Bending
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe
Release date: 22 July 2010 (Australia)
Featured song: Non, je ne regrette rien
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan

Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno in ‘Ex Machina’
Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno in ‘Ex Machina’ | Image: A24/Universal Pictures

7. Ex Machina (2014)

This A24 sci-fi film is among the most engaging stories about artificial intelligence in years. It follows programmer Caleb as he’s invited by his tech genius boss Nathan to test whether his latest creation; the female android Ava, can imitate real human consciousness. All three main performances are excellent and the direction is top-notch too, making Ex Machina a modern-day Frankenstein story about man’s ambition to play god going too far.

Sub-Genres: Artificial Intelligence, Psychological Thriller, Small-Scale
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Release date: 7 May 2015 (Australia)
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Budget: 15 million USD

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ | Image: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney

8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

GotG is the ultimate MCU success-story. Marvel took a big risk making a wacky cosmic adventure about unknown d-list superheroes but with James Gunn’s direction it paid off in spades. GotG is the most enjoyable, entertaining, alien movie in years. Boasting real heart, visual splendour, goofy comedy and fun action; this band of misfits and unlikely heroes captured millions of hearts worldwide. Sure it has a forgettable villain (which the sequel would take steps to rectify), but the focus is firmly on the Guardians and their growing team dynamic.

Sub-Genres: Superheroes, Comedy, Space-Adventure, Wacky
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper
Release date: 31 July 2014 (Australia)
Featured song: Come and Get Your Love
Box office: 772.8 million USD
Screenplay: James Gunn, Dan Abnett, Nicole Perlman, Andy Lanning

Wall-E and Eve
Wall-E | Image: Walt Disney

9. Wall-E (2008)

Perhaps the most emotional, well-told and culturally relevant movie Pixar has ever made; Wall-E is nothing short of a masterpiece. An outrageously cute trash-compactor robot is left behind to clean up an abandoned, garbage-infested Earth. After finding love with the advanced robot probe Eve, he follows her to a giant starship where humanity has grown lazy, fat and dumb off of a wasteful lifestyle. The movie tackles themes of environmental catastrophe, obesity and consumerism but somehow manages to be heartfelt, hilarious, charming and uplifting at the same time.

Sub-Genres: Animation, Romance, Political Allegory, For Kids but Accessible to Adults
Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
Initial release: 21 June 2008 (Los Angeles)
Featured song: Down to Earth
Box office: 533.3 million USD

Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’
Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’ | Image: 20th Century Studios

10. The Martian (2015)

A hilarious, charming, feel-good story about badass scientists making science cool and using it to unite humanity and save the day. Ridley Scott is firing on all cylinders with this one, bringing great direction, visuals, dialogue and fun to this crowd-pleasing movie. The movie miraculously manages to make its heavy exposition and science-jargon entertaining as all hell.

Sub-Genres: Uplifting, Comedy, Scientific Realism, Ensemble Cast
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean
Release date: 30 September 2015 (Australia)
Box office: 630.2 million USD
Featured song: Starman

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ | Image: Focus Features

11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine is about two opposite souls who fall in love, unaware that they had previously been in a relationship and erased each other from their memories. Utilising a non-linear narrative; the movie’s script, performances, drama and execution are so good that even if romantic dramas aren’t your usual thing, you’d be wise to make an exception for Eternal Sunshine. There is no better flick than this for indoor date night gents, get on it.

Sub-Genres: Romantic Drama, Non-linear Narrative
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo
Release date: 15 April 2004 (Australia)
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman

Tom Hardy in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Tom Hardy in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ | Image: Warner Bros.

12. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Has there ever been a franchise reboot as entertaining, thrilling, well-told and gripping as Fury Road? Every aspect of this movie showcases George Miller’s command over visual storytelling from its perfect direction, score, visuals, practical effects, stunt work, acting and worldbuilding. Tom Hardy simply owns the role of a tortured Max and he acts as our window into this bleak but captivating desert hellscape. Even so, it’s Charlize Theron’s rogue general Furiosa who steals the show, she teams up with Max to escape the cultish warlord Immortal Joe in an action-packed feast for the eyes. ‘Show don’t tell’ is the rule of every well-told story, and Fury Road shows everything it needs to in order to bring you into its narrative.

Sub-Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Action, Car Chases
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Holt, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Release date: 14 May 2015 (Australia)
Film series: Mad Max
Box office: 375.2 million USD

John Hurt, Jamie Bell, and Chris Evans in ’Snowpiercer’
John Hurt, Jamie Bell, and Chris Evans in ’Snowpiercer’ | Image: CJ Entertainment

13. Snowpiercer (2013)

The world is locked in a new ice age and the remnants of humanity survive aboard a constantly moving train. The poor are made to work at the back end while the elite enjoys the apocalypse at the lavish front. Chris Evans gives a great performance as one of the inhabitants at the lower end who leads his comrades in a glorious revolution against the upper class. Okay, this movie is straight-up amazing. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho is clearly one of the smartest, talented and most creative directors working today and this film, in particular, proves that post-apocalyptic stories work best with a killer premise, great characters and smart political allegory. Everyone should see Snowpiercer at least once, it’s cinematic excellence and one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.

Sub-Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Political Allegory, Action
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer
Initial release: 29 July 2013 (Times Square Mall)
Box office: 86.8 million USD
Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson

Sam Rockwell in ‘Moon’
Sam Rockwell in ‘Moon’ | Image: Sony Pictures

14. Moon (2009)

In the near future, Sam Rockwell plays the lone operator of a mining facility on the moon who experiences a personal crisis as his three-year stint nears its end. We can’t say much more about the plot or even its themes without ruining this great film. Moon is the directorial debut of Duncan Jones and by far his best work. Sam Rockwell absolutely carries this film as its lonely lead and Jones’ direction brings you to the moon with him.

Sub-Genres: Drama, Realism, Small-Scale, Philosophical
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario
Initial release: 8 October 2009

Tom Cruise in ’Minority Report’
Tom Cruise in ’Minority Report’ | Image: 20th Century Studios

15. Minority Report (2002)

Based on the 1956 short story by Phillip K. Dick, Spielberg’s Minority Report is set in a dystopian vision of Washington in 2054 where psychics can predict crimes before they happen, allowing law enforcement agencies to pre-emptively arrest future criminals. Tom Cruise plays the head of this agency and is sent on the run after being accused of a crime he hasn’t committed yet. This movie is what almost every science-fiction blockbuster should strive to be; a thrilling, action-packed ride of spectacle that also manages to be surprisingly smart.

Sub-Genres: Action, Futuristic, Thriller, Mystery, Dystopia
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow
Release date: 20 June 2002 (Australia)
Story by: Philip K. Dick
Box office: 358.4 million USD
Screenplay: Jon Cohen, Scott Frank

Cillian Murphy in ’28 Days Later’
Cillian Murphy in ’28 Days Later’ | Image: 20th Century Studios

16. 28 Days Later (2002)

Arguably the best zombie movie ever made, 28 Days Later sees its main character wake up in a deserted London after a highly contagious virus has brought society to its knees. Oh boy has this one aged well. The film’s atmosphere, direction, soundtrack, screenplay and acting are all top-notch and its timely political allegory is even more relevant today than it was back in 2002. The film also popularised running zombies in horror cinema, giving the zombie genre a much-needed shot of life.

Sub-Genres: Horror, Pandemics, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombies
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson
Release date: 4 September 2003 (Australia)
Film series: 28 Days Later
Featured song: In the House – In a Heartbeat
Budget: 5 million GBP

Sharlto Copley in ‘District 9’
Sharlto Copley in ‘District 9’ | Image: Sony Pictures

17. District 9 (2009)

A near-masterpiece of action sci-fi that uses a story about segregated alien refugees in South Africa to explore the legacy of apartheid. District 9 is an alien movie masterclass in worldbuilding, showing the alien refugee camps as a full society and it gives said aliens the same nuance and depth afforded to the human characters. Along with the great directing, themes, performances, visuals and story, this movie has some surprisingly awesome mech suite action too. The prawn aliens in the movie can stand in for any marginalised human group past or present and when you watch the film with that in mind, you see how necessary and relevant District 9’s message really is.

Sub-Genres: Action, Political Allegory, Gritty, Aliens
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James
Release date: 13 August 2009 (Australia)
Budget: 30 million USD
Producers: Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham

Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in ‘Annihilation’
Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in ‘Annihilation’ | Image: Paramount Pictures

18. Annihilation (2018)

A beautiful and terrifying journey into a quarantine zone infested with an alien presence and damn if it ain’t amazing. The movie takes Natalie Portman’s scientist/veteran and her team into the heart of darkness and brings to life the personal demons of each of them. The acting, arresting visuals, haunting score, thought-provoking story and themes about grief and self-destruction make it a true sci-fi gem. It doesn’t explain everything or give a totally clear ending, the movie’s ‘Shimmer’ is truly alien and thus we shouldn’t get all the answers.

Sub-Genres: Horror, Aliens, Marriage, Drama
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Initial release: 13 February 2018 (Regency Village Theatre)
Box office: 43.1 million USD
Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Music composed by: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury

Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’ | Image: Warner Bros.

19. Her (2013)

This movie not making the top ten might annoy some of you but make no mistake, it’s really damn good, easily a 9/10. For those out of the know, Her is a part-comedic, part-tragic romance story about a lonely man (played by Joaquin Pheonix) entering into a relationship with his AI home assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It’s two hours of Pheonix’s character working through tough issues with a futuristic Siri and it mostly takes that premise to its fullest potential.

Sub-Genres: Romance, Artificial Intelligence, Near-Future
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Release date: 16 January 2014 (Australia)
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in ’Edge Of Tomorrow’
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in ’Edge Of Tomorrow’ | Image: Warner Bros.

20. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Against everyone’s expectations, this movie totally rocked. Tom Cruise stars as a mid-level pencil-pusher in the military thrust into service against an alien menace. The Groundhog Day-style premise is that each time he dies in the Normandy-esque charge across the beach, he wakes up a day earlier just a bit more badass than the last time. Teaming up with the forever-awesome Emily Blunt as a previous veteran of the time-loop, he must master the movie’s badass mech-suit and turn himself into a one-man army over thousands of repeat deaths.

Sub-Genres: Action, Time-Travel, Alien Invasion, War
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Release date: 5 June 2014 (Australia)
Adapted from: All You Need Is Kill
Box office: 370.5 million USD
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth

Alexandra Masangkay in ‘The Platform’
Alexandra Masangkay in ‘The Platform’ | Image: Netflix

21. The Platform (2020)

This Spanish movie on Netflix is worth watching based on its genius premise alone. In a dystopian tower-prison, everyone’s food is lowered on a platform from the top floor to the bottom. While there’s enough food for everyone, the top floors take as much food as they want while those on the lower levels get by on leftovers or starve. One of the best new sci-fi movies on Netflix, The Platform is a brutal tale of inequality, privilege and class struggle and definitely not for the faint of heart. It goes to some dark and violent places but somehow that makes the moments of humour, wit and hope shine bright.

Sub-Genres: Horror, Social Commentary, Political Allegory, Foreign Cinema
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Starring: Ivan Massague, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale Coka
Initial release: 21 February 2020 (Taiwan)
Spanish: El Hoyo
Language: Spanish

‘Dawn of the Planet of The Apes’
‘Dawn of the Planet of The Apes’ | Image: 20th Century Studios

22. Dawn of the Planet of The Apes (2014)

Despite being part of a reboot trilogy, which history teaches us are rarely good, Dawn miraculously rises above to be the second-best movie in the entire franchise, beaten out only by the original film. The sci-fi movie is a powerful and epic Shakespearean drama boasting an Oscar-worthy mocap performance from Andy Serkis as Caeser, who struggles to lead his tribe of apes to peace with the humans. The visual effects, story, direction, score, acting, action, emotion and depth are phenomenal and Dawn showcases what an amazing blockbuster is capable of.

Sub-Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Epic Drama, Action, Tragedy
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Release date: 10 July 2014 (Australia)
Film series: Planet of the Apes reboot series
Box office: 710.6 million USD
Budget: 170 million USD

Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung in ‘The Host’
Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung in ‘The Host’ | Image: Showbox/Magnolia Pictures

23. The Host (2006)

We’re not referring to that dumpster-fire based on a book from the Twilight author, no, this South-Korean monster movie made by future Parasite and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho is actually amazing. You wouldn’t expect a low-budget movie about a monster kidnapping the main character’s daughter to be politically charged, funny, smart, scary and crowd-pleasing in equal measure. Nonetheless, the movie knocks it out of the park.

Sub-Genres: Monsters, Social Satire, Political, Foreign Cinema
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona
Release date: 8 March 2007 (Australia)
Film series: The Host
Languages: Korean, English

Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, and Adam Baldwin in’Serenity’
Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, and Adam Baldwin in’Serenity’ | Image: Universal Pictures

24. Serenity (2005)

No, not that 2019 disaster, we’re talking about the movie-length follow-up of the fantastic but short-lived space-western series Firefly. The show (helmed by The Avengers director Joss Whedon) was cancelled after one season despite strong reception from both fans and critics. Needless to say, they didn’t take kindly to seeing the story of the Serenity crew cut short. It’s a good continuation of the short-lived series that benefits from not needing to spend an hour establishing its characters, it just gets straight into the action. After binging the show you’d be wise to check out this movie.

Sub-Genres: Space-Western, TV Tie-In, Epic Space-Opera, Drama
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Initial release: 2019 (Hungary)
Screenplay: Steven Knight
Box office: 14.4 million USD
Budget: 25 million USD

Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Simon Pegg in ‘The World’s End’
Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Simon Pegg in ‘The World’s End’ | Image: Focus Features

25. The World’s End (2013)

Edgar Wright is one magnificent bastard! What he’s done here is give us an outrageously good comedy about old friends surviving an alien invasion in their old home town, HOW? This movie is hilarious, heartfelt, well-acted and brilliantly written. We need more sci-fi comedies like this. If you’re in the mood for a good time, get a six-pack with the boys and chuck this romp on, you won’t be disappointed!

Sub-Genres: Comedy, Aliens, Mid-Life Crisis
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Nick Frost
Release date: 1 August 2013 (Australia)
Featured song: Loaded
Box office: 46.1 million USD
Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in ‘The Prestige’
Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in ‘The Prestige’ | Image: Warner Bros.

26. The Prestige (2006)

Batman and Wolverine develop a heated rivalry as they take up stage-magic in the 1890s. This Nolan period-piece gives its audience a constant barrage of twists and turns as if the movie itself was a well-done magic trick. Some of those twists might break your suspension of disbelief, but if not, they’ll certainly keep you engaged in the story. How exactly can a flick about stage-magicians a century ago be considered one of the best sci-fi movies of the 21st century? Well, you’ll have to check it out for yourself…

Sub-Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Drama, Period-Piece
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christain Bale, Michael Caine, David Bowie
Release date: 16 November 2006 (Australia)
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in ‘Interstellar’
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in ‘Interstellar’ | Image: Warner Bros./Paramount Pictures

27. Interstellar (2014)

This movie’s rank is gonna cause a fuss, but hear us out. This movie has so much going for it, it’s visually spectacular, perfectly scored, thematically ambitious, wonderfully acted, and it uses high-concept ideas to tell a relatable human story about parenthood. While it’s a solid film, unfortunately, it falls just short of greatness.

Sub-Genres: Parenthood, Save-the-World, Philosophy, Space-Travel, Drama
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon
Release date: 6 November 2014 (Australia)
Featured song: S.T.A.Y.
Box office: 696.3 million USD

Madeleine Arthur and Nicolas Cage in ‘Color Out of Space’
Madeleine Arthur and Nicolas Cage in ‘Color Out of Space’ | Image: RLJE Films

28. Color Out of Space (2020)

When an asteroid crashes down on a remote alpaca farm bearing a strange alien colour, a families’ sanity begins to unravel as the colour infects the world around it. It has a great, out-of-this-galaxy performance from Cage, an unknowable alien threat and an absolutely bonkers climax. It’s scary and awe-inspiring in all the ways a Lovecraft story should be. Check it out guys, this new sci-fi movie deserves more love.

Sub-Genres: Horror, Family Drama, Aliens
Director: Richard Stanley
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur
Initial release: 13 February 2020 (Russia)
Adapted from: The Colour Out of Space
Box office: 1 million USD
Screenplay: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Noah Segan in ‘Looper’
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Noah Segan in ‘Looper’ | Image: Alan Markfield

29. Looper (2012)

In a dystopian future where hitmen (called loopers) are hired to kill targets sent back in time from the further future and dispose of them in their time, Joeseph Gordon-Levitt plays one such looper and must hunt down Bruce Willis, playing an older version of himself. Trippy. Good premise, good action, good themes, what more could you ask for?

Sub-Genres: Action, Crime, Dystopia, Time-Travel
Rian Johnson
Starring: Joeseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano
Release date: 27 September 2012 (Australia)
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Box office: 176.5 million USD
Budget: 30 million USD

James Duval, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jena Malone in ‘Donnie Darko’
James Duval, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jena Malone in ‘Donnie Darko’ | Image: Newmarket Films

30. Donnie Darko (2001)

An extremely troubled teenage Jake Gyllenhaal deals with angst, visions of an apocalyptic future, boring adults who just don’t get it and a ghost-like entity in a creepy rabbit costume. It’s good, trust us. While the tone can be a little uneven and you could be forgiven for calling it pretentious, it does touch on some interesting ideas and has the guts not to go a conventional route. It straddles the tight-rope between being deep and dumb but having developed a respectable cult following over the years we can confidently say it’s worthy of praise.

Sub-Genres: Teen Drama, Time-Travel, Thriller
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone
Initial release: 19 January 2001 (USA)
Featured song: Mad World
Film series: Darko collection
Screenplay: Richard Kelly

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General FAQ

What are some of the best sci-fi movies of the 20th century?

Try out 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Terminator, Alien, Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Thing, E.T, Back to the Future or Akira. All amazing movies!

Is Cobb still dreaming in Inception?

Maybe, whatever makes the story more satisfying to you. Nolan said that the point of the ending wasn't whether Cobb was dreaming or not, it was that he believed he was back with his family and didn't care. The movie asks if reality is subjective and if the dream is bliss, why would you even want to wake up?

Is Deckard a replicant in Blade Runner?

Ridley Scott says yes, Harrison Ford says no and 2049 director Denis Villeneuve keeps it ambiguous. Like the ending of Inception, it's kept deliberately vague to fit the movies' message. If Blade Runner argues that its androids are more human than the stories' actual humans, should it really matter if Deckard is a replicant so long as he feels legitimate human emotions?