SF CORE Best Lists
SF ERA Best Lists
SF GENRE Best Lists
OTHER Best Lists

Top 50 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time

Best Science Fiction Movies

The advent of cinema at the end of the 19th century changed the way we saw the world. Those first images flickering across the screen were simply shots of every day life, captured by a stationary camera 57 seconds at a time. It didn't take long for this method of filmmaking to stop thrilling the audience, and many filmmakers saw film as a storytelling medium waiting to be exploited.

At almost the same time, what would become known as science fiction would have its first flowering, with works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others appearing on bookshelves and in magazines around the world. Their stories thrilled readers, and it was only natural that these would be adapted as some of the first narrative films.

Science fiction's markers, such as space travel, time machines, and far-off, never-before-seen worlds, were naturals for early filmmakers to experiment with. Georges Melies, a stage magician turned director, employed a wide variety of camera tricks and intricate set pieces, to create some of the first science fiction films, such as A Trip to the Moon.

These films played around the world, influencing a generation of silent filmmakers like Fritz Lang, whose silent masterpiece Metropolis is one of the most extravagant films ever made. With the introduction of sound in the late 1920s, science fiction films allowed effects masters to play with new techniques in audio and video trickery. The 1950s saw not only an explosion in the number of high-quality science fiction films, but also in the rise of low-budget B-movies.

These films, perfect for drive-ins or the back half of a double feature, would eventually make it to television, which introduced a generation of filmmakers to the genre. Film school-trained filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would revolutionize the film industry, defining the modern blockbuster with their effects-heavy, adventure-driven science fiction films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The introduction of computers to film led not only to incredible new graphics, but also to science fiction films that took advantage of the computer as a plot device, and even characters.

Today, science fiction movies have become the most popular genre to mass audiences, with the top-earning films of all-time nearly universally being science fiction.

This explosion has not merely produced popular films, but spectacular, ground-breaking cinematic experiences which thrill and delight audiences, and push the state-of-the-art further and further, not only technologically, but within the realms of what kinds of stories we can tell, and what kinds of characters we can relate to.

Welcome to our carefully curated list of the Top 50 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time, covering a range from past to the very present!

No film has managed to so successfully navigate two separate genres at the same time as Blade Runner. Based on a Philip K Dick novel, Blade Runner is both a science fiction masterpiece and a film noir magnum opus. With themes ranging from the illusion of memory, the questioning of identity, and basic human mortality, director Ridley Scott took a script that passed through more hands than the Hope diamond and created a legendary work of cinema. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter sent to capture four replicants: androids created to work off-world with an extremely limited lifespan. The amazing story flows back and forth between dazzling science fiction setting mired in grime and neon, and gritty future noir slickness that feels as if it's pulling viewers forward against their will. Every performance is incredibly well-measured, especially Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the android who is desperate to find a way to live just a little longer. Why it's on top of the listAn amazing script, gorgeous art direction, flawless cinematography, and the single best monologue in the history of film from Hauer make this an easy number one.
A mysterious monolith appears on the moon, and an investigation of a mysterious signal it emits to Jupiter leads the US to send the ship Discovery One to investigate, and when they get there, that's when things get really trippy… The legendary director Stanley Kubrick created so many memorable characters, from the drugged-out maniac Alex in A Clockwork Orange to Humbert Humbert in Lolita, but none had the incredible impact of the malfunctioning computer HAL. One of the most best constructed films of all time, with ground-breaking special effects and instantly recogniseable cinematography, 2001 has become the gold standard for all realistic science fiction worlds. It's hard science fiction three quarters of the way through, and when we go into a world that is an experimental sort of techno-fantasy, it becomes a masterpiece.   Why it's on the list The most thoroughly imagined version of the near-future of the late 1960s, 2001 – A Space Odyssey  is masterful in its use of visual effects, set design, music, and props. It's as realistic a science fiction film as you'll ever see. 
The Alien Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, comes to Earth to deliver a message, and brings along Gort, an all-powerful robot.  That, and a soldier's bullet, sets in motion a series of events that could change humanity forever. Robert Wise directed many of the most impressive films of the 1950s through the 1980s. In The Day The Earth Stood Still, he has taken the paranoia of the 1950s and made a powerful comment on the matter of the human tendency towards war and violence, while also making it clear that humanity has options available to them that are thrilling it they can only go beyond our base instincts. While that may sound incredibly high-minded, Wise handles it in a way that is simple, but never dull or overly simplified. While the script is clearly written, it is the high-contrast cinematography and precision editing that gives the film its distinctive tension. Why it's on the list Beautiful, intelligent, with a wonderful message, and incredible performances, it's perhaps the most 1950s of all science fiction films.
What is reality? That is the essential question at the heart of the Matrix. Neo, a hacker, is given the option of living in a false reality that is comfortable and the only thing he's ever known, or going into a dark world that he has no idea about, but where he may become a god. That conflict, between the real and the artificial, between the known and the unknown, between being powerful and being a pawn in a game you don't know you're a part of makes the Matrix one of the deepest science fiction films ever made, but it's not just the complex storytelling that makes The Matrix one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, but the way it embraced computer generated imagery, and gave the world 'Bullet-time'; an effect that has come to define the early 21st century's state-of-the-art. Why it's on the list Powerful imagery and effects that changed the way films were made, and an incredibly riveting story make The Matrix into one of the most important re-tellings of Plato's The Cave ever made.
You've seen it, you probably know Star Wars by-heart. One of the most incredible impacts on the field of science fiction, Star Wars led to so many other films, and a massive fandom has grown up around it. Star Wars is a wonderful film, full of fantastic settings and characters. It's a film that has served as the entry point to science fiction. George Lucas' legendary film was a absolute explosion in the history of film, and holds up well today.  While the effects are what everyone mentions first, it's the performances of Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing,  Carrie Fisher, and a bevy of voice actors that create the characters that have spawned huge amounts of further work. Why it's on the list Because without it, there's no need for a list of great science fiction films! It might not be the finest science fiction film ever made, but it changed everything.
Visually striking science fiction has been in existence since the films of George Melies. Director Fritz Lang may have been the most important figure in defining what was seen as the aesthetic of science fiction coming out of the silent era. The sweeping art deco buildings, futuristic costumes, and advanced make-up techniques employed make it one of the most influential films ever made. The story combines themes of love, loss, redemption, and socialist work ideologies to create a modern tale that feels as relevant today as it did when it was new. Metropolis has been re-discovered several times over the last 90 years, with various edits of the film being released. It's also been a favorite for composers and musicians to base works around in recent years, often designed to be played during screenings of the silent masterpiece itself. Many filmmakers have attempted to re-capture the magic of the film, both in live action and animated forms. Why is it on the list Few films have had as much effect on the development of science fiction, both filmed and written, as Lang's masterpiece.
Star Trek inspired many of the science fiction writers of the late 20th century, and it was Forbidden Planet that inspired Star Trek. A gloriously full-color space opera retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, we're presented with the amazing planet of Altair IV, where Commander John J. Adams leads his team to discover the fate of the last team sent to the planet. Meeting the only surviving member of the original team, Dr. Morbius, his daughter Altaira, and their robot servant, the team begins to discover the secret of the planet, and why the rest of the team was lost. The gorgeous EastmanColor and CInemaScope shooting, tied with the incredibly strange early electronic score, gave Forbidden Planet a feeling of being far ahead of its time. Disney even lent an animation team to assist in the production of one of the most terrifying creatures of the 1950s – the Monster from the Id! Why it's on the list The influence on a generation of filmsmakers, and the amazingly powerful script all make this a film that deserves a high spot on any list.
Christopher Nolan knows what he's doing. In Interstellar, he's taken his love of complex storytelling, and brought it to the vast arena of space-time. The Earth has suffered terrible from humanities hubris, and now a team must ensure the survival of the human race. Two plans are established, and now it's all about seeing what can happen, and who survives the attempts to implement them. The really impressive thing about Interstellar is the way the actors are in several different movies at the same time. Anne Hathaway, at her most impressive, is in a straight-ahead science fiction film, rushing to save mankind.  Jessica Chastain, in perhaps her best genre role, is in an emotional science fiction film that touches on elements of the supernatural. Matthew McConaughey is in a straight-up Philip K. Dick story. They all mesh, somehow, to produce a film that looks at all the angles of what it will take to save human kind after Earth, and more importantly, how we'll finally manage to get there. Add to that the typical Nolan look and the amazing score, and you'll see why this all works. Why it's on the list: A very smart, twisting, and sprawling film
There are few films that impart a sense of spirituality like Close Encounters does. The story of humanity's first contact with aliens, and the individuals who become obsessed with the messages the extra-terrestrials send tackles issues of what else is out there in the universe, and how we can have troubles dealing with their existence. The most powerful moments in Close Encounters are watching a thoroughly obsessed Richard Dreyfuss deal with getting the images in his head out to where he can see them, often at the expense of the relationship with his family. The famed mashed potatoes scene is the perfect illustration of this. The way Spielberg gives us not only the mothership, but the aliens themselves, is both spectacular and humane. We're presented with what might be the greatest threat to humanity ever and they are presented as gentle, or at least benevolent, and our response is… well, that's the heart of the film. The way it is shot, with effects being far more limited than in Spielberg's work in the 1980s, is what makes this a stand-out. Everything that shows up on-screen is important, and when we are given a special effect, it feels like something beyond our realm, and that makes it powerful. Why it's on the list No doubt one of the most powerful film experiences a fan can have, Close Encounters will revive even the most cynical of hearts.
Arguably the smartest science fiction comedy of all-time, Buckaroo Banzai is actually an exploration of themes common in pulp fiction. Doctor Banzai, not only the world's greatest brain surgeon, but also a theoretical physicist, and rock 'n roll impresario, has managed to drive through a mountain, but also brought back something with him. Peter Weller as Banzai is probably the most over-the-top character in the history of cinema, but he's also exploring what it means to be gifted and interacting with two worlds – one that we live in and one that's above all of us. The silliness of the story might make you overlook the true quality of the script, which brings elements of  golden age science fiction, like the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast and Doc Savage, and brings them into the slightly skewed world of the 1980s. The fast and fun story, and getting to watch John Lithgowe playing a whacky, largely-mad scientist, makes this one of the most entertaining science fiction films ever made. Why it's on the list  It's a beautiful snapshot of 1980s scifi, and just a super-fun watch!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a lot of fun, but none of the other films are nearly as science fictional, or as much fun, as Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on one of the lesser-known Marvel titles, The Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of StarLord as he kinda stumbles into bringing together a band of miscreants, bounty hunters, walking trees, and talking raccoons. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. The music here is awesome, 1970s and early 80s rock, and the effects are spectacular. There's no denying that the team that made it put a lot of effort into every single frame, and they managed to pull of something that is so rare; they made a film where even the downbeats are fun, and everything feels important and touching. You've got a walking tree who can only say one thing, and somehow, they managed to make us feel for him! The film is a comedy, and an adventure, and a caper film, and a save-the-world movie, all in equal measure, and the result is so smart. Why it's on the list: Two words – Talking raccoon.
Secret Agent Lemmy Caution of the FBI is as hard-boiled as they come.  The central figure in a number of British novels, he became an important figure in French cinema in the 1950s. French New Wave master Jean-Luc  Goddard took Caution out of the traditional dark Noir world in which he typically plied his trade and brought him to a dystopian future run by a computer, the Alpha-60. The Alpha-60 has outlawed all art and other emotional endeavours, and its in this world that Lemmy Caution has to bring down the Alpha-60, and with it, Alphaville. The heady psychedelic story and mad computer, certainly influenced Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the darker-than-darkest night setting of Alphaville can be seen in the sets of everything from Blade Runner to Dark City, The Matrix to Serenity. Eddie Constantine had played Lemmy Caution several times before, and would continue to play him until the early 1990s, and manages to bring the gruff intensity he would give him detective films to this scifi mindbender. Why it's on the list Goddard's deft handling of science fiction is poetic, strange, and very, very French.
Perhaps the least-seen film on the list, Brother from Another Planet is a rare bird indeed. It's a quiet film of an alien who has escaped slavery by coming to Earth, trying to outrun other aliens determined to bring him back. Unlike many other treatments of the kind, it's not so much a film about an alien coming and disrupting our world, but an alien trying to hide who spends his time observing and trying to melt into it. Joe Morton gives an amazing performance. Without dialogue, he manages to give the film an emotional weight that is rarely seen from science fiction film, and his reactions with his face and body are unparalleled. Director John Sayles, in his only deep dive into science fiction, brings his trademark restraint with his direction, while giving us the ability to connect with a character who only gives us snippets, allowing us to fill in the gaps. That's the sign of a director who has utter faith in his audience. Why is it on the listThe performance from Morton alone makes it worthwhile, but the strength of editing and cinematography only makes this an even better cinematic experience.
Iconic. It's a word that gets tossed around a lot, but the images found in Terminator 2 are 100% iconic. Arnold Schwartzenegger's return as the Terminator on the side of good this go-round is easily his best performance, but he's surrounded by a story that is complex. It's more than an action film, and  even when it slips into somewhat heavier material that he can handle (like trying to express his take on experiencing mortality), Arnold never once fails to give it his all. The visual effects are dazzling, with wide-scale use of morphing. That technique would define what audiences would expect from big-budget features throughout the 1990s. Director James Cameron plays his role perfectly, giving the viewer everything they need to attach to the film, as well as presenting actors with the chance to work within a framework that allows them to show off their skills. Why it's on the list  Effects are phenomenal for the time, and you really will never be able to appreciate Arnold unless y ou see how he plays this role so perfectly.
The late 1990s produced some of the most thoughtful science fiction. Dark City begins as an amnesia story, but as it unfolds, we discover that the world itself is stranger than we ever could have imagined, and that our stand-in throughout the story, John Murdoch, is the cog that makes everything fit… or maybe not. The script by Alex Proyas is super-smart, forcing the viewer to attempt to make the world of the film fit into the world they understand. Rufus Sewell as Murdoch gives the kind of performance that you can not ignore, but he's also not completely over-whelming. Kiefer Sutherland, and especially Richard O'Brien (Riff-Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) provide a creepiness to the proceedings that is undeniably tense and more than a bit terrifying. Why is it on the listA film questioning the state of our reality in the face of a greater possibility with a potential god-like character a full year before we got The Matrix!
Feminist science fiction rose up in the 1970s, but no other vision of that future compares with the mastery of Mad Max – Fury Road. It's an escape picture, a rumination on how woman can rise up, and perhaps most importantly, about how women can find their power not only away, but also in the heart of their pain. This entry into the Mad Max series is a gritty, adrenaline-soaked race, and one that could serve as a textbook for directors who want to understand how costumes and props that are instantly recogniseable in one context can become foreign and powerful when placed in another. It also takes images from throughout the history of film and throws them back at us, making us consider what they mean in a dystopian future. The Mad Max films have always been about how people will fight against the elements and the worst in themselves and others to survive; Mad Max – Fury Road is about what it means to take charge of the world in which you are bound. Why it's on the list   No other film better expresses what it means to experience a future darker than the one we experience today.  
The first decade of the 21st Century could be called the decade when Computer Animation finally broke all the way through. WALL*E is one of the most adorable, most thought-provoking, and ultimately, scariest films of the decade. WALL*E is a trash collector robot, and the last one on Earth. He's all robot, but for some reason, he's found himself sentience, and a love of classic Hollywood. He's discovered love for another robot who has come to the abandoned Earth to see what's happening. That's the start of a wonderfully big adventure. The animation is typically PIXAR, beautiful and slick and smart, and the sound design tells the story by itself, giving the feeling of past and present melting together. The use of live actors and file footage combined make it so very distinctive. The themes of love at all costs, and the power of human sloth, greed, and discovery, are all-encompassing, and turn WALL*E  into a piece that speaks so strongly about the reality of being a human; a realization that is only possible when viewed through the story of a love-sick robot.  Why it's on the list: The PIXAR team is so strong, and WALL*E might be their best film.
There are few science fiction films as flawlessly stylish as Gattaca. A young man, born naturally of loving parents wants nothing more than to go into space. The problem is he was born into a world where all children are genetically programmed. The story centers around how he can pass himself off as a 'regular' designed person instead of as the freak naturally-born man he really is.Ethan Hawke is one of the really great science fiction actors, able to play both action adventure hero and living, breathing human soul. Uma Thurman is great here, and the smaller roles played by folks ranging from legends like Ernest Bourgnine and Blair Underwood, to vollyball player Gabriel Reece, make this one of the most actorly films of the 1990s. But what you walk away from once you've finished Gattaca is the styling art direction and the vision of a future that seems to have walked out of an early 2000s fashion magazine.Why it's on the list  Any film that so clearly looks ahead with an eye towards not only the science, but the social detail has to be included!
Why is it Danish films are so dark? Even the comedies. Even the  hot summer blockbuster science fiction films. That's what The Substitute is, and it's also one of the most interesting takes on the classic 'Stranger Comes to Town' story. The substitute, played by the magnetic Paprika Steen, who comes to town is put in charge of an elementary school class. The big class trip turns into something sinister, and the kids have to lead the battle! What is better than watching kids fighting evil? This is a summer blockbuster, with stars like Ulrich Thomsen, who you might remember from the Bond film The World is Not Enough, and Steen, two of Denmark's biggest stars, and special effects that are the equal to any Hollywood blockbuster. The way the film plays out, with deep family drama mingling with scifi effects and some creepy comedy action, makes it a film that moves between tones so fluidly, but more importantly, does all of them so very well. When the film is over, it's a fully satisfying experience, and so much fun! Why it's on the list: Any list of great films NEEDS a Danish movie!
Ah, steampunk. While it didn't have a name for more than 30 years after 20,000 Leagues was released in 1954, you can trace so much of the steampunk aesthetic to this gloriously beautiful Walt Disney production based on the Jules Verne novel. Kirk Douglas is one of the real science fiction hero prototypes. His strong-jawed countenance was a major inspiration for heroes throughout the 50s and beyond. In 20,000 Leagues, he plays Ned Land, a sailor who ends up on Capt. Nemo's nuclear submarine The Nautilus, for an adventure. James Mason, as Nemo, gives a performance that helped define the kind of mad scientist/driven captain anti-hero, that would inhabit science fiction films for decades to come! Even Peter Lorre, famous for his villainous portrayals, in one of his few color performances, makes you believe that he might be the hero type after all. Though, no matter how good everyone is in their roles, the thing you'll walk away from 20,000 Leagues with is the images of the Nautilus and the incredible under-water cinematography. Why it's on the list It's gorgeous, it's fun, and most of all, it is an inspiration for art directors even sixty years after its release!
French filmmaker Luc Besson is best-known for his international break-out hit La Femme Nikita, but his most visually striking film has to be The Fifth Element. Taking the classic "Find the Missing Magic Object!" trope, he crafts a story that just runs and runs and runs, never pausing for a second. While it's an absolute blast to watch, it's a visual delight like few films before or since. Jean-Paul Gaultier, the legendary avant garde designer, really deserves a lot of credit for giving The Fifth Element a distinct look that defined a bold new future. He took dabs of the past, like traditional airline stewardess dresses, and his own way-out visions, and came up with a striking vision not only of what people would be wearing, but how they would see themselves through their outfits. Bruce Willis and Milla Jovavich have undeniable chemistry, and Chris Tucker gives an over-the-top performance that actually becomes somewhat more subdued in our post-reality TV world. Why it's on the list A smart movie playing with an old idea, and one of the prettiest films you'll ever see!
The original Monkeys take over the world picture, Planet of the Apes is too often remembered for the final scene, and though it's one of the best finishes in the history of film, the entire flick is wonderful. Charlton Heston is the quintessential tough leader of a space mission, and Roddy McDowell, even under all the Ape make-up, is decidedly human as the Chimpanzee Cornelius. The make-up and art direction here are incredible, winning an Oscar for the film for the unbelievably time-consiuming process of making up the hundreds of apes every day. The camera work is powerfully stylistic, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith might be the most forward-looking piece of cinematic music of the 1960s. Coming at the tail end of the 60s, Planet of the Apes tackles real issues of the day, such as racism, class stratification, and misuse of science, while still being an exciting adventure into a world that is so foreign. Why it's on the list Spawning several sequels, re-makes, and a television series, Planet of the Apes is probably only behind Star Wars and Star Trek for franchise impact.
The top-grossing film when it was released, it's a bit light on originality, but man is there a level of visual interest you will seldom find. The story of Pandora, the Na'vi, and the lengths humans will go to for conquest isn't the deepest you'll ever see, but the way director James Cameron uses amazing 3D cinematography, an enchanting score, and the kind sweeping action that always marks a Cameron film, it more than makes up for it. The special effects are what folks tend to talk about, but when you've got a cast including Zoe Saldana, Wes Studi, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez, you really are putting out the star power!  Maybe the best part of Avatar is the lengths Cameron went to get his vision made. There were several technologies invented to allow particular camera movements in the CGI, and even a new form of greenscreen shooting. The Na'vi language was not merely a throwaway faked language, but a fully created language with syntax, vocabulary, and grammar. This is a film that was constructed, and thrilled audiences all the way to the bank! Why it's on the list: A really fun movie, and one that will take your breath away more than once.
All the fury of the all-female remake of the 1985 classic Ghostbusters melted away the second the team shows up on-screen. Not actually a remake, Kirsten Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and especially Kate McKinnon, play characters every bit as memorable as the ones played by Ackroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson. The story of an other-worldly invasion is similar to the earlier films, only approached with fresh eyes, stronger effects, and a better-rounded cast of misfits. It's a buddy cop movie, only with ghosts as the criminals, but it's also a conspiracy flick, and a mystery, all rolled up into a neat little package! Probably no character in recent memory hit it out of the park as well as McKinnon's performance as Holtzmann. She gives a joyously quirky performance that combines elements of a half-century of nutty professors and whacky sciencers. Wiig and McCarthy may be this generation's version of Hope & Crosby, and when you conbine them with a story that is so much fun, you get a wonderful film.Why it's on the listRe-boots are nothing new, and rarely do they stand up as well as Ghostbusters does to their originals.
Corporations  are taking over, man! That was the fear in the 1970s, and it's still with us today. Rollerball takes that fear and twists it just enough to make what should be a simple story of the rise of a near-messianic sports star, Johnathan, and the corporations that are attempting to hold him down and restore order. Violent, dark, and message-driven, every single moment of Rollerball is like playing the murderous game it portrays. Frenetic shooting of the game scenes, coupled with exceptional performances from James Caan and John Houseman, Rollerball is, perhaps, the essential 1970s heavy science fiction work. It says a lot about the world we live in, all without ever showing it to us. Why it's on the list Well-made, well-acted, and influential on how  movies would be shot over the decades that followed, Rollerball is far more impressive today.
John Carpenter is one of the best directors of genre films alive today. This is his finest work that is purely science fictional. The world has fallen and MAnhattan is a prison colony, and Snake Plissken is given a 24 hour window to find the kidnapped President of the United States. The film is the essence of gritty science fiction that would start with Rollerball and run through to Blade Runner. Carpenter's script is not only dark, and more than a bit heavy, but it also a deep dive into the idea of New York as the metaphor for the unescapable island. The cast is amazing, from Kurt Russell as the tough-as-nails Snake, to wrestling legend Ox Baker as Slag who gets to play modern day gladiator.  Carpenter takes the New York of 1981 and translates it into a dystopia of recogniseable landmarks. That alone says everything Carpenter meant to give us – New York can be hell, but you ain't seen nothing yet!Why is it on the listOne of the few attempts to make a science fiction New York that somehow seems more subdued than the real thing!
The Japanese kaiju film goes back to their pre-WWII film industry, but it wasn't until 1954 that it really came to the rest of the world. While the American version with Raymond Burr is best known in the English-speaking world, the original Japanese film is incredibly powerful, moving, and more than a little critical of the atomic age. Several ships are destroyed near Odo Island, where there just so happens to be a tradition of a massive monster; a massive monster who has been awakened by underwater nuclear testing. The destruction of Godzilla on Japan is brought about by the atom bomb, much as it had been in WWII, and now Japan is fighting back against it and they manage to beat back the invasion using their own megaweapon. In a way, Godzilla was Japan winning it's own WWII. The film includes moving moments, and while it's obviously a man in a rubber suit, the monster feels so much more dangerous than the CGI versions that have popped up in the decades since. Many sequels, imitations, and re-makes have come out of Godzilla, though the original is the most effective by far. Why it's on the list Powerful moments, and the origin of modern Kaiju film make this a no-brainer.
What was then called Japanamation in the US, now known worldwide as Anime, exploded onto the mainstream with Akira. It was the first feature length anime to gain a massive following outside of Japan, while becoming important to the growing animation industry in Japan. Based on an early 1980s comic, the story brings together post-apocalyptic setting with psychic motorcycle gangs, elements or fantasy, and a general sense of wonder. The most famous of the 1980s blossoming of science fiction animes, the stylish design of everything from the sprawling megalopolis of Neo-Tokyo to the motorcycles of the gangs has influenced not only Japanese animators, but also American, and especially French animation, ever since. The story is a great adventure, and while it delves deeply into violence, it never feels heavy-handed or oppressive. When you watch Akira for the first time, it'll strike you just how much it feels like a film made far more recently. From the setting to the way the audience is presented a story that forces them to synthesize many different concepts that don't pop up in lesser films, to the fashion sense, it all feels very much of the now. Why it's on the listEasily the best science fiction anime ever made.
Sam Rockwell. That's basically the entire movie. Sam Rockwell, an actor who may be the best genre performer in the world today. He's so funny, so active, so able to slip from high-highs to low-lows, all without losing either focus or intensity. In Moon, he's one guy, stuck on the moon, and there are clones. He's got to get the world to see what's really going on, and he's not entirely all together. There are big questions in this one, like what makes a person the person they say they are, and what rights do we give to government and business to our lives. There are also little things, like how does a person in space deal with being in space. These are neat little touches, but then you get Rockwell playing his role so well, drawing you in a bit slowly, then making you take the adventure with him. That is what a good genre actor has to be able to do, make an unreal situation into something you feel like you're a part of. In Moon, Rockwell not only manages to do that, he also manages to bring some deep human emotion to the film, and that moves it into a higher orbit. Why it's on the list: Director Duncan Jones is a boss, and Sam Rockwell.
In the decade that gave us more quotable films than any other, Ghostbusters might be the most quotable. Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd at the peak of their abilities playing off one another, as well as castmates Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, gives us nothing but gems of dialogue. The effects, some of the finest pre-CGI ghost effects ever attempted, hold up with today's audiences. Often overlooked, the brilliant William Atherton as the governmental heavy trying to shut the Ghostbusters down, makes the most not only of his performance, but gives plenty of runway for the 'busters to land their zingers on. This is a film that runs from downbeat deadpan, to zany physical humor, to intellectual banter, to sexiness, all in the context of a film that's best looked at as a "Four Against the World" style western structure. In a way, it's the last blockbuster effects comedy before CGI changed them forever, and it's also one of the best. Ghostbusters brought about a fun sequel, a very nice re-boot, and two cartoon series, but it's the original that still gets quoted again and again. Why it's on the list Because when I ask "Who you gonna call?" you know the answer.
When you think of Rocky Horror, you think of shouting back at the screen and throwing toast ("To absent friends…") but beyond all of that, at the heart of the experience, is an incredibly smart homage/parody to the Golden Ages of science fiction, horror, burlesque, and queer culture. Brad and Janet find themselves stuck in a house where a strange gathering is happening. There lives Dr. Frank-n-Furter, the sweet transvestite from the planet Transexual in the Transylvania galaxy. There's a whole lot more to it, but that's the basics. The high camp of the songs and setting are balanced by some incredible talent, and even some genuinely touching moments, such as Tim Curry's masterful performance of I'm Going Home. The staging is pretty simple at times, but the actors carve paths through and hit every note perfectly.  Throughout, there are bits and pieces of Hammer Horror, Universal Monsters, and Pop Art-laced surrealism. A strange, and wonderful musical, that is incredibly rewarding to those of us who watched a lot of Creature Features as kids. Why it's on the list Four generations of high schoolers have fallen in love with it, and when have they ever been wrong?
The filmed version of Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune is one that divides critics and viewers alike. Some say it's unwatchable, and others drool over the visuals, the complex story, and the dream-like Lynchian touches he imparts. The key to this film is simple: don't expect everything to be put out in front of you. In every scene, there is a man behind a curtain. The story of a powerful intergalactic empire which runs on the mysterious spice melange is the perfect tool for Lynch to work his magic, with heavy symbolism, deep ruminations, and character thoughts becoming manifest via strange conversations and stilted, exchanged looks. The costuming is unparalleled with influences ranging from 17th Century Spanish royalty to 19th century Welsh coalmining garb. The story is twisty, and there are off-screen shennanigans, but it all adds up to something byzantine and marvelous. The special effects are definitely of the time, but the computer-generated shields in the big knife fight make it all worth while. Why it's on the list A wonderful example of how you can fiddle with source material and produce something remarkable... plus it's got Sting in a loincloth.  
Alien is a horror film in a science fiction setting. It's also just as powerful today as it was when it was released. Ridley Scott gets the aspect of horror that is mood, and better than nearly any other director, how to present a vision of the future that is both distinct fro the present, but also not what we think it will look like. Here, the story of a commercial spaceship that comes across a signal. From there, we encounter a conspiracy, and of course, an alien. Alien is a trapped-in-a-haunted house story in space, and it is so effective at setting the tone of impending terror that it's difficult to realize that it's a science fiction film that is really about the expendability of human life in the eyes of corporate greed. While the alien chest-buster is the most famous image from the film, it's far from the most impressive visual. While HR Giger's design for the alien is the most widely known (and imitated) piece of art, artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss deserve credit for creating the images of the Nostromo, what was easily the most realistic spaceship ever to appear on film. Why it's on the list Alien is one of the finest examples of filmed science fiction horror, and the basis for a massively success franchise.
The second of the Star Wars films, many claim it's the best of 'em. It's a story that requires a viewer to be familiar with the original, which is only OK as EVERYONE has seen Star Wars. The story of the Empire working to crush the Rebels, and getting an upperhand on 'em, is so well-told, but it also reveals a whole new level of effects, both tradition practical special effects like miniatures and matte paintings, to early CGI work that manages to blend in (almost) seamlessly. The rollicking story of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars is changed to show that he is maturing, but not yet mature. Princess Leia is no longer the snotty regal (think about it, the planet she was Priness of was blown up!) but a fully-formed military strategist. Han Solo is still the smuggler with a heart of gold, and when we meet Lando Calrisian, played with incredible flair by Billy Dee Williams, we understand how Han is not a unique phenomena. Empire does present Star Wars best visual settings. Cloud City, Degobah, and Hoth are amazingly well-conceived, and the travels between them are absolutely breath-taking. Why it's on the list The downer episode of the beloved franchise, it's also just plain good viewing.
Robert A. Heinlein is one of the most important voices in the history of science fiction. In Destination Moon, you can see his fingerprints over the entire film, from the plot to the broad characters. RAH took a pass at the screenplay, and served as the technical advisor, so you can see where all that came from, but the Grand Old Man isn't the only legend of the Golden Age of Science Fiction present. In fact, I'd argue that astronomical artist Chesley Bonestal's matte work and design for the lunar surface is just as significant, and Walter Lantz's brief Woody Woodpecker cartoon that explains the methods and dangers of space-flight come very close to equaling Heinlein's markings. The film is noted for being meticulously researched, striving for accuracy in every possible front. There are things that today we know are patently ridiculous, but without 50 years of space travel under their belt, they did OK. The feeling of the film is one of science at a tipping point, and while the acting is far from naturalistic, and some of the characters are down-right flat, the entire film does give off the fresh scent of 1950s American optimism. Why it's on the list A fun film that really represents what 1950s scifi was all about.
Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David have a fight. It goes on a LONG time. That's all anyone seems to remember from They Live, a late 1980s science fiction film, but especially with recent political moves, it's an incredibly intelligent and prescient film. John Nada, played by Piper, discovers a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see the world as it really is... full of aliens. When he tries to get his buddy Frank (David) to wear the glasses and see the real world, well, that's where the fight begins, and the film really begins, as it starts a process that leads to a classic little guy vs. Big World story. The story is really about the messages hidden in everything around us, both the kinds we recognise as advertisements, and those that are hidden in television, art, packaging. Roddy's performance as John Nada is phenomenal, proving he was more than just a wrestler, and the script takes a wonderful short story by the legendary Ray Nelson and turns it into the best critique of 1980s American culture ever filmed. Why it's on the list Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David are both great in this over-looked gem... and they fight!
In a sense, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is Moby Dick if the whale REALLY wanted to fight back. It is a revenge tale, and it has what has to be the most downer ending of any film in any series ever. It is breathtakingly beautifully shot, and the music is the best of all the Star Trek films, and while you can fault Ricardo Montalban's performance for occasionally being over-the-top even by Star Trek standards. He presents what is essentially the greatest villain Kirk & Co. have ever encountered. And then there's the Genesis effect. Designed by the Computer Graphics group of Lucasfilm, it is a sixty second effect that represented the most advanced computer generated sequence ever seen in a feature film. The group that developed the segment spun-off of Lucas and found themselves a new company – Pixar. It was also not only technological advance presented: computer company Evans & Sutherland created realistic computer graphics displays that were used in the film, making them far more realistic than those used in most science fiction films. Why it's on the list Technically brilliant, and incredibly powerful, it features the best acting of all the Star Trek films.
HG Wells is pretty much responsible for the rise of 20th Century British science fiction. His works are among the most widely-read in the history of the genre, and many writers still reference his stories today. The story The Shape of Things to Come was adapted into the film Things to Comes, and it's less a story than it is a rumination on the path of human progress over a hundred years, detailing war, peace, invention and innovation. It's the kind of film that was designed to make viewers in 1936 ooh-and-ah over the future that was just down the road. And the film was as well-designed as a Rolls-Royce touring car. The art direction is incredibly detailed, and it takes cues from things like Metropolis and makes it a bit more real. Wells himself oversaw the production of the film and under director William Cameron Menzies, they came up with a breath-taking future history. If you can, watch the colorized version, because the colorization was over-seen by Ray Harryhausen and is how they would have made it… if they'd had the money! Why it's on the list The kind of film that makes you think long and hard about how we got where we are, and the missed opportunities along the way.
Many claim that Joss Whedon's Firefly is the greatest science fiction television show of all-time. Cancelled even before a full season aired, a massive fanbase was clamoring for a feature film, and in 2005, they got their wish with Serenity. Taking the Western-in-Space aesthetic of the series, and the entire original cast, Whedon creates a story that is equal parts The Searchers, Star Wars, and The Stand. The crew battles the Operative, trying to save one of their own, and in doing so, must engage the dangerous Reavers, a hacker called Mr. Universe, and the Alliance, the major government of the 'verse. The film is equal parts heart-breaking and triumphant, though as is true of any Whedon property, all victories are laced with foreboding, all love tinged with loss. The true genius in Serenity has to be Nathan Fillion as Mal Reynolds, who somehow has to play the wise master Obi-Wan and the scallywag Han Solo at the same time, and brilliantly pulls it off. Why it's on the listA masterfully-paced action flick with smart characters and hard-hitting dialogue.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the way movies are enjoyed, and The Avengers is a masterpiece of a comic movie. Featuring the team-up for all the previous MCU faces, plus the Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and the incredibly locked-in performance of Scarlett Johansen as Black Widow, makes this an actor's film that also happens to be an action-adventure masterpiece. Director Joss Whedon manages to pull together a trio of fascinating stories, while allowing our superhuman heroes to seem almost, well… human. The story of an attack on Earth from beyond is pretty typical science fiction fare, but it's handled with a grace, and more than a good chunk of humour. Watching Loki as portrayed by the electric Tom Hiddleston, is a thing of delight, as he goes over-the-top, then comes back around and makes you realize he was underplaying it the whole time! As a villain, he's just about perfect, and when The Hulk gives him what-for, it is one of the most satisfying moments in recent cinematic history. Why it's on the list: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a big part of why we're in a science fiction film explosion, and The Avengers is the best of 'em!
Are we our memories? If you go messing with those memories, are you still the same person? If you're lost to the memory of the one you love, did they ever love you? These are big questions, and a director lesser than the great Michel Gondry may well have bungled them, but in his hands, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind manages to become one of the finest film explorations of what it means to have loved, lost, and then to maybe never have loved at all. Lacuna Inc. offers memory erasure services, and Joel's ex-girlfriend, the manic pixie dreamgirl Clementine, has decided to get their relationship erased. Joel goes in for the procedure himself, but ends up regretting his choice, and then things get weird. The entire film begins to examine Joel and Clem's relationship, as well as how it fits into the rest of Joel's life. There's a wonderful set of cinematographic choices that give the entire film the feeling of a slowly fading Polaroid, but at the same time, makes Joel and Clem indelible in your memory. Why it's on the list: One of the all-time greatest art house science fiction films.
The first of the trilogy, and easily the best. It's an amazing snapshot of two things – the mid-1980s, and what people in the mid-1980s thought the 1950s were like. That alone makes Back to the Future worth watching, but more importantly, it provides the rare time-travel picture that doesn't either overly rely on the time-travel concept as a crutch or make the characters too much in love with their surrounding. In fact, Michael J. Fox's turn as Marty McFly, the fish-out-of-water, is just about dead-on perfect as the guy who knows at least some of the future and plays with it. Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown is the real joy of this picture. A whacky sciencer, and an absolute blast to watch as he tries to combat Marty's desire to give him glimpses into his own future. Crispin Glover as Marty's dad is quirky and played with full commitment, while Lea Thompson's performance as Marty's Mom is equal parts sweet, sexy, and smart. Overall, it's a film that certainly deserves the place it received on the National Film Registry. Why it's on the list An impressively smart 1980s sci-fi comedy that set box office records.
Adapting short fiction has yielded some of the finest science fiction films of all-time, like They Live! and Charly. Arrivial is based on a short story by the amazing Ted Chiang, and deals with a Louise's life as a mother… and the fact that aliens have made first contact. The story deals with a linguist's attempt to establish two-way communication with the aliens, and then with how she deals with her relationship with Ian, a physicist also working on the alien scenario. This is a human film, about how humans deal with human emotions in a setting that is starting to turn a bit unhuman. The way the relationship between the aliens (who are brilliantly rendered via CGI) and Louise evolves is so smart, and it's not long into the film when you realize that this is all going to end up aplaying out as humanity's most basic urges against our own sense of morality, and mortality. Amy Adams is fantasic as Louise, and Jeremy Renner proves why he's one of the best actors for big time movies today. The music, in particular, is powerful and moves the entire production forward. Why it's on the list: A beautifully made adaptation of a beautiful story.
Not the first superhero film, but really the first superhero blockbuster. Richard Donner took Superman and turned him into a real-life human being in a way that even the comics had never managed. Casting Christopher Reeve in the role of the Man of Steel, we experience an entirely new sort of superhero, one not only carrying a sense of hope, but one who lives among us in a real and natural way. Yes, Superman is an alien, but here, he's an alien who has managed to find out what humanity is and decides to play by their rules. The most impressive thing about Superman has to be the elements of cinematography and music, and how the two play-off of each other. The Theme to Superman is one of John Williams' most iconic works, and when we encounter it as Superman soars through the skies of Metropolis, the visuals and the audio combine to create an effect that is among the most moving in film history, and nothing screams romance as much as Supes carrying Margot Kidder's Lois Lane through the clouds in a scene that would influence fantasy and science fiction films for two generations to follow. Why it's on the list You've got to have Superman. You've got to!
Disney has tried to make science fiction for decades, and rarely do they manage to make something anywhere near as fun as Kurt Russell's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. The story is pretty much the beginning of every Silver Age super hero – Dexter Riley is in the computer lab, there's a lightning storm, he's given all the knowledge of the computer. Oh yeah, and the computer had been used by the mob. Simple, silly, and fun, right? The movie was meant for a teen audience, but even nearly 50 years later, it holds up. Russell has so much charm as Dexter, and the band is misfits he hangs out with are a lot of fun. The film's villain, Arno, is played with a somewhat muted glee by Cesar Romero. He doesn't dive headlong into it like he did with The Joker on Batman, but he's a legitimate heavy who makes the most of every second he's on the screen. Why it's on the list Probably the most realistic of the films that considered the way computers were seen in the late 1960s, coupled with Disney's sometimes weird love for science fiction stories, makes this a must-see!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe started with a bang named Robert Downey, Jr.. When he was cast as Tony Stark in Iron Man, a lot of folks wondered what the plan was, especially since he wasn't too many years removed from his legal problems. Casting Downey in the role was just about the best decision a producer has ever made, as he gave Stark a swagger that made the film into something special. The film also did something that won over fans – it gave them the traditions without becoming fan service. First generation Iron Man appears, but with a justification that not only makes sense, but feels absolutely right. The film is full of great performances, and the effects are amazing. The music is really good, but more than anything, it's just a lot of fun. Between Downey's brilliant tightrope-walk between funny and serious, Paul Bettany's voice-work as JARVIS, and Pepper Potts as interpreted by Gwenyth Paltrow, the performances are all excellent. Jeff Bridges as the villain is just about perfect for a bad guy who doesn't look like a villain! Why it's on the list: Iron Man established the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and left a lofty mark for all the movies to live up to.
Steven Spielberg was in the middle of re-defining what a science fiction film could do. It was the rare piece of cinematic scifi that managed to give both the sense of wonder and the gentle reality of friendship and love. E.T. does manage that by telling the story of an alien who lands and befriends a young boy named Elliot. There are those who consider E.T. to be the beginning of a slide into scifi sentimentality, and while they certainly have a point, the fact is it is a film that takes a sentimental story and brings awe and wonder along with it. It moves so well, and the effects were top-notch, and when you look at what Spielberg managed to get from child performers like Drew Berrymore and Henry Thomas, you can see there's a lot of quality going on beyond the sweetness of what you might be ale to boil down to a 'Boy-and-his-dog' story. And, like many Spielberg productions, it's the little things - the Alien hiding among the stuffed animals in the closet, the bike ride with the kids silhouetted in the moon. Well, the little things plus John Williams' stirring score. Why it's on the list One of the most beloved scifi films for Gen-Xers. 
Philip K. Dick. He's a trip, man. He's probably most heady of all the science fiction authors of the 1960s, and adaptations of his work tend to give a thoughtful look at the possible worlds around us. A Scanner Darkly may be the one that rides closest to the line that Dick walked in his day, and it's a remarkable piece of science fiction. The story of a street drug, the quest to combat it, and how reality is dilated when users try to climb their way out. The film is one of the most visually striking animations of all-time. It uses a rotoscoping technique in which animators color over existing footage. The effect is at once flattened like a Nagle painting of the 1980s, as well as flowing like the music video for Take On Me. That flowing combination allows the mystical quality of Substance D to come across to the audience. Even with the animation, the performances here are so strong, especially Robert Downey, Jr. and Winona Ryder. Even Keanu Reeves, who can be a bit one-note, gives a strong performance, all in this surreal atmosphere. Why it's on the list: it's a marvelously thoughtful film.
Kurt Vonnegut is one of the most important of all 20th century authors. His satires are almost all science fiction, and while many have tried to adapt his work, only George  Roy Hill has managed to make a film that feels like the visions that Vonnegut threw at his adoring audience. The story boils down to a simple statement (the one that opens the novel) – Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. The film examines how it happened, and what it means to Pilgrim, and his time in the company of aliens, and of the firebombing of Dresden, and his own life in Illium, New York. The entire film pops in and out of timestreams, making us consider how pieces that do not fit chronologically come together. This application of non-linear narrative makes the film a thoughtful piece, but it never confuses the viewer. Billy Pilgrim is our lynchpin, tying us to the story thread and allowing us to make it through, come to an understanding as to what we've been through. Why it's on the listOne of the most authentic adaptations of a science fiction classic. Vonnegut even said so!
When many folks think of Transformers: The Movie (the 1986 film, not the 2007 abomination and the even-worse follow-ons) it's because it was the last film made by the legendary Orson Welles. That's a shame, because the animated film is an absolute pleasure to watch. The story of the 2005 war between the Autobots and Decepticons and the immergence of Unicrom a planet that eats planets. The battle against Unicrom is so exciting, and the pacing of the story is breath-taking. No Michael Bay film can approach the breathless attack of this pointedly intelligent animation. The non-Disney animation of the mid-1980s was nothing like you'd find even a decade later, but the storytelling here is incredibly layered and intelligent, and the voice acting top-notch, with big name stars like Eric Idle (of Monty Python), Judd Nelson (of The Breakfast Club), Robert Stack (of Unsolved Mysteries) and Welles. The way the film works is part-western, part-samurai drama, and part good ol' fashioned Buck Rogers stuff! Why it's on the list The animation is clean, the voice-acting is great, and the story a lot of fun. If there's a non-Disney American animated science fiction film that you need to see, this is the one!