Cameron Kinsella

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

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!

What Makes a Good Sci-Fi Movie?

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.

How We Pick our Movies

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!

Best Sci Movies of the 21st Century

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.

1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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.

2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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.

3. Arrival (2016)

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.

4. Children of Men (2006)

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.

5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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.

6. Inception (2010)

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.

7. Ex Machina (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.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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.

9. Wall-E (2008)

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.

10. The Martian (2015)

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.

11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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.

12. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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.

13. Snowpiercer (2013)

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.

14. Moon (2009)

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.

15. Minority Report (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.

16. 28 Days Later (2002)

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.

17. District 9 (2009)

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.

18. Annihilation (2018)

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.

19. Her (2013)

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.

20. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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.

21. The Platform (2020)

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.

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

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.

23. The Host (2006)

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.

24. Serenity (2005)

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!

25. The World’s End (2013)

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…

26. The Prestige (2006)

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.

27. Interstellar (2014)

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.

28. Color Out of Space (2020)

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?

29. Looper (2012)

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.

30. Donnie Darko (2001)

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