Beyond space. interior area. fresh realms. Digital frontiers. synthetic intelligence. The best science-fiction films transport us to fantastical realms where unthinkable scenarios are envisioned, ultimately influencing our own technological advancements. Superior science fiction presents astounding images filled with thought-provoking concepts, exploring a wide range of topics from the human condition to humankind’s destiny. This genre encompasses a wide range of stories, from fast-paced, humorous, colorful space adventures to somber dystopian tragedies that take place in the distant past, present, or even a galaxy far, far away.
You’ve come to the correct spot if you’re looking for a list of the greatest science fiction films ever made. The Team Empire collective has banded together online to compile a list of the most recognizable sci-fi films, ranging from groundbreaking classics to contemporary masterpieces. Anyone can find something they enjoy in this list of 50 directors, ranging from Spielberg to Scott, Kubrick to Carpenter. Continue reading and good luck.
27 Little Known Science Fic Movies
1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
starred Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Ana De Armas. Although it seemed reckless to attempt a sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic science fiction film about advanced “Replicants” being sought after in a future Los Angeles, Villeneuve managed to create a film that, in a remarkable feat of cinematic ingenuity, manages to equal the original. This is partially due to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been responsible for capturing some of the most powerful science fiction visuals of the past few decades. One of the most iconic scenes is when Ryan Gosling’s Replicant blade runner K is faced with a massive pink projection of Ana de Armas’ wish-fulfilling android Joi. Otherwise, though, Villenueve delves further into the question of what it is to be human in a story that subverts the conventional ‘chosen one’ narrative while extending the original tale without undermining or contradicting it. The most remarkable achievement of 2049 is how it manages to capture the unique essence of the original while emerging as a fully realized piece of art. Well done, Villenueve.
2. Solaris (1972)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
starring Donatas Banionis and Natalya Bondarchuk, is our choice instead of Steven Soderbergh or George Clooney’s from the 1970s. which, given the director’s usually contemplative approach to science fiction, is if anything even colder and more enigmatic. But if you’re prepared to look, you can find a lot. Donatas Banionis plays psychologist Kris Kelvin, who is dispatched to a space station circling a far-off planet where all but three of the occupants have passed away. His goal is to find out why, but once he gets there, things become quite bizarre. If you’re into that kind of drama, this will stick in your head as you consider the nature of the movie’s reality and possibly your own.
3. Dune (2021)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Denis Villeneuve in the lead roles. Denis Villeneuve is no stranger to science fiction or films that seem to present insurmountable obstacles. Not convinced by us? Look into Blade Runner 2049. He tackled Frank Herbert’s expansive, multi-layered space opera Dune, and he succeeded where David Lynch failed. Though Villeneuve’s Dune soars, grounding the fantastical components and creating a vision of a vast, exotic desert continent that has become the center point of a far-future galaxy, Lynch’s work is not without its admirers. The movie deftly (and riskily) decides what is essential and discards what isn’t, dividing the massive plot into two halves to suit its purposes. Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, and a host of other celebrities are among the cast members. Thankfully, the risk paid off because the second installment isn’t due for another few years.
4. 1968’s Planet of the Apes
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and Kim Hunter, introduced audiences to the idea of a planet—spoiler alert—taken over by our hairy brethren, long before Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves arrived to investigate how the world came to be dominated by simian culture. This film, which was adapted from Pierre Boulle’s novel by Michael Wilson and, surprisingly, starred Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone, is a tad campy in spots but has some great Charlton Heston gruffness as he fights those damn dirty apes. We’ve always been frightened by the concept of another species taking over, and this film made a strong enough impression on viewers to start a franchise (of various quality). It also had one of the most unforgettable ending shocks in movie history. Now, collectively: “You crazy people!
5. The 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista The MCU has always made a point of utilizing characters who hadn’t quite found their way into the mainstream. But when Marvel revealed that a music-loving space slacker, a green assassin, a hulking warrior, a talking tree, and a raccoon (who isn’t a raccoon) would be joining the fray, eyebrows were raised even more. And with James Gunn, best known for his Troma background, horror scripts, Scooby Doo films, and odd movies like Slither? It turns out it was a fantastic decision, Gunn’s sensibility breathing comic life into the cosmic characters. The tone works perfectly, there’s an emotional gut punch at the end, and it smoothly births a franchise, with the Guardians playing a key role in both their own and other films. Sci-fi is rarely this
6. 1993’s Jurassic Park
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum By the 1990s, the idea of cloning humans or animals seemed so archaic. How about cloning dinosaurs? Steven Spielberg adapts Michael Crichton’s novel into a revolutionary, game-changing blockbuster about a prehistoric theme park gone wrong. He delivers a dino-spectacle while maintaining the story’s sci-fi credentials – man messes with nature and reaps the unpredictable consequences of chaos theory – intact. The end product is an endlessly exciting adventure film that stems from some surprisingly plausible cod-science, with Spielberg, the master creator, at the center of it all, masterfully conjuring big-screen beasts that still look and feel incredibly real.
7. 2014’s Interstellar
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain After completing his Bat-trilogy, Nolan returned to his own, original work with Interstellar. While some may perceive it as just another cerebral Nolan experience, it’s much more than that. Hard science (or as hard as you can go with experimental physics, as advised by Kip Thorne) doesn’t mean hard-hearted – this is Nolan’s love letter to love itself, especially between fathers and daughters. A major component of that is Matthew McConaughey’s emotional response to the message from his grown daughter, his Joe Cooper caught up in a mission where time passes differently for him than it does on Earth.
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8. The 1987 RoboCop
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, and Dan O’Herlihy. Verhoeven brought a European aesthetic to America and opened doors with this satirical sci-fi that comes frighteningly close to reality with its vision of a corporation effectively owning a city. But it’s also the story of a cop killed in the line of duty who returns as a cybernetic officer tormented by visions of a past life his owners tried to erase from him. Though there is genuine horror in the idea of man becoming product, it never becomes po-faced; instead, there is blood and brutality, humour, and humanity, all combined with a sleek visual aesthetic that belies its 1980s roots.
9. 1927’s Metropolis
Director: Fritz LangStarring
Considered the first science fiction film, Fritz Lang’s masterwork set the standard for countless films that followed, many of which owe it a debt in terms of design aesthetics. A meditation on industrialism and the crushing disparity between classes, it was renowned for being as difficult for the extras and actors Lang hired to work on the picture as it was for the characters they played. That’s commitment, people—real flames when you’re being burned at the stake.
10. The 2015 Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson After working as a writer for other directors’ projects, Alex Garland was given the opportunity to showcase his skills with this twisted, sometimes twisted, story of A.I. and antagonism. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) believes he has won the chance of a lifetime when he gets to spend time with the mysterious, reclusive boss of the tech company he works for. However, it turns out that said boss (Oscar Isaac’s driven Nathan) actually wants him to test a new artificial intelligence, built in the shape of the stunning Ava (Alicia Vikander), and neither man gets quite what they had anticipated. Ex_Machina is a masterful examination of human inhumanity to what many believe could be the next step in evolutionary intelligence.
11. The 2012 Looper
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt After high school noir Brick and the story of the brothers who connived to disappear, Rian Johnson shocked everyone with this time-crossing assassin story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s titular “Looper” is a hired killer for the mob, killing victims sent back in time so they can disappear from 39 years in the future. However, when Joe’s next target is his own older self (closing the loop is the fate of all Loopers, who are paid well for their trouble), he gets off-balance and future Joe (played by Bruce Willis) escapes. The ensuing chase takes more turns, but Johnson handles it all expertly.
12. Moon (2009)
Director: Duncan Jones
Although it wasn’t his first film, Moon marks an ambitious feature film debut for director Duncan Jones. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, who works alone for three years on a lunar mining outpost before going insane from lack of human contact and discovering something shocking that alters his perspective on his work and identity. Jones and writer Nathan Parker craft a gripping narrative, and their production team makes the most of a tight budget to create a visceral, cramped setting. Spoiler alert: cloning is a major plot point in this film, but it’s done in a way that makes the consequences relatable to humans.
13. Third-Kind Close Encounters (1977)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Close Encounters, a timeless film about an emotional Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss), who becomes entangled in an event he can’t quite comprehend but which changes his life forever, is helmed by director Steven Spielberg and stars Teri Garr, François Truffaut, and Richard Dreyfuss. It’s hardly surprising that Spielberg’s name appears multiple times on this list (more when you consider the movies he produced); he’s been a leading light in the genre for the last 40 years. Close Encounters channels one of his earliest obsessions: alien encounters.
14. 1984’s The Terminator
Director: James Cameron
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s man-mountain presence is the threat, but Michael Biehn’s future soldier and Linda Hamilton’s harassed Sarah Connor are the heart of the story. Director James Cameron keeps the story taught and the action inventive, and there’s a pulsing score from Brad Fiedel that has long since entered our collapsive consciousness. Only slightly eclipsed by its sequel (read on for more on that), James Cameron’s breakout killer cyborg thriller announced his intention to rock the genre with a relatively — by today’s standards, at least — low budget and some real invention, even layering in a complicated rumination on time and how the future can be altered for good or ill
15. The (2016) Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve
A time-bending short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve, stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Eric Heisserer wrote the script. Together, these elements pack a powerful punch that offers both cerebral stimulation and a heartbreaking plot point: humans must figure out how to communicate with aliens who arrive in enormous ships, building on the first-contact theory that has captivated humanity for years. Time becomes flexible, making it a must-see film that you’ll want to watch more than once to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere and narrative.
16. First Light (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who has always been fascinated by the architecture of the human mind, externalized the human subconscious into physical environments for a blockbuster heist film reminiscent of James Bond. Inception takes place across multiple levels of malleable reality, imagining the possibility of dream-tech that allows Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb and his team to infiltrate sleeping marks and extract information from their unconscious minds – until he’s given the altogether harder job of implanting an idea into his next target. Nolan employs dizzying setpieces and narrative convolutions, subverts physics, and orchestrates collapsing realities, creating a psychological sci-fi spectacular that is sure to thrill audiences.
17. 1982’s The Thing
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith DavidChilling and chilly in equal measure, the classic shape-shifting alien tale was finally met with special effects that could convey the true horror of its intergalactic entity in John Carpenter’s remake. Based on John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella Who Goes There, adapted into 1951 B-movie The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s take wrings all the paranoid potential from a set-up which means nobody can be trusted – with the titular ‘Thing’ picking off the researchers at an Antarctic research base and imitating them to cause maximum confusion. Even worse, the Thing also transforms into all kinds of horrifying mutant creatures – most infamously, a severed head crawling along on spider legs. Rob Bottin’s creatures effects are legendary, Kurt Russell grounds it all as level-headed leader RJ MacReady, and its final stand-off is one of the great movie endings. Funny to think it arrived in the same summer as a much more amiable extra-terrestrial.
18. The 1982 film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Dee Wallace, is the complete opposite of The Thing. It is a parable about lonely children and outsiders that tackles the emotional fallout of divorce. Suburban American youngster Elliott becomes best pal to an intergalactic being accidentally left behind on Earth by his family. While there’s the looming threat of nefarious government authorities and the eventual need for E.T. to go home (after phoning first), it’s foregrounded by childhood joy as Elliot and his siblings get up to mischief with their botanical buddy. Its soaring imagery of Elliot and E.T. flying in front of the moon on his bike is one of the most unmistakable cinematography
19. 1986’s Aliens
Director: James Cameron;
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn; It can’t be easy to take over a film series that has been started by a film as seminal as Alien, but Cameron makes it look easy. Aliens expands and deepens the universe of the human vs. Xenomorph conflict and finds brand new ways to make the creatures terrifying; body horror and war combine with ease – this is yet another intergalactic Vietnam allegory – and the idea of the beasts as a hive is a metaphor ripe with possibility, one that Cameron channels easily; building on the promise of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, it upends her experience by leaving her marooned with a group of marines on a colony world plagued by the slavering beasts. The tension is razor-wire sharp and Cameron never forgets to make the creatures frightening.
20. The 1985 film Back to the Future
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson Time travel and the ripple effects of someone altering the past are concepts that are extremely difficult to pull off. However, few movies are as masterfully constructed as the original Back to the Future. Sure, some will point out plot holes, but there aren’t many to find. Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale created a story that’s so satisfying to watch, even though parts of it had to be reshot after Eric Stoltz’s original stardom didn’t work out. Michael J. Fox rode the role to movie star status, supported by a great ensemble, and gave the film the core it needed to work like a well-wound watch. Crucially, it established the most widely accepted model of fictional time-travel, even though later time-twistin.
21. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Arnold Schwarzenegger After establishing a clever time-loop scenario in the first Terminator film, James Cameron ramped things up for this sequel. Introducing a new liquid-metal android foe, reprogramming Arnie as the good guy, and devising a new plan to disrupt the future and halt the impending nuclear ‘judgment day’. The end result is one of the best sequels ever, offering incredible action, a thrilling change from Sarah Connor as a hardened hero, and a formidable villain in Robert Patrick’s shape-shifting T-1000. Beyond the spectacle, there are more ideas at play, particularly in the area of machine learning, as Schwarzenegger’s amiable T-800 develops a bond with Edward Furlong’s young John Connor and starts to evolve through
22. 1977’s Star Wars
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher Yes, it’s more space opera than hard sci-fi, but where would the genre be without Star Wars, that iconic moment when the Star Destroyer looms over the camera for what seems like infinity? Bursting with iconic aliens, hyper-space travel, and galactic overlords, George Lucas transplanted the classic hero’s journey narrative—Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is the simple farm boy who finds out he has a much bigger destiny in life—into a wildly imaginative galaxy far, far away, with laser-swords and mystical religions, space princesses and endearing rogues. From its amazing model work to its cosmic dogfights, to the look of the opening crawl as it drifts off into the stars,
23. 2001: A Trip Through Space (1968)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain Talk about scope: Kubrick’s monolithic work of science fiction may not have much in the way of a tangible linear plot, but it covers a lot: the beginning of humanity, the space race, the arrival of artificial intelligence, greater space exploration, and a journey into the cosmic unknown. It’s a dizzying piece of work, realized with technical bravado by Kubrick, open to endless interpretation and with just enough narrative to remain irresistibly watchable. From its enormous rotating sets to its use of Strauss’s The Blue Danube to its amazing climactic light show, 2001 is an audio-visual marvel—while its explorations of human evolution and where it might go next have already proven prophetic. An incredible piece of work, deeply inf
24. 1999’s The Matrix
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence FishburneAt the dawn of the Internet age, the Wachowskis gave Hollywood science fiction a major upgrade. Drawing from cyberpunk anime, philosophy, and religion, the sisters cooked up an era-defining tale that spoke to generational malaise, the rise of technology, and a pre-millennial society ready to break out of its long-held programming. Keanu Reeves is hacker Neo, who comes to learn that the world isn’t real – he and the rest of humanity are living in a computer simulation called the Matrix, while being harvested as fuel for sentient machines. But in learning about this unreality, he also comes to know how to break it – bending the laws of physics, seeing through the code, and uploading kung-fu moves directly into his brain. It’s one of the coolest films ever made, deeply stylish and incredibly visionary (particularly the invention of bullet-time and the static camera rig that made it possible). Plus, it has a whole new layer of meaning in its reassessment as a piece of blockbuster queer cinema, a story exploring the idea that internal and external realities may be different, coming from a pair of Trans creators. In a word: woah.
25. Alien (1979)
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John HurtIt’s fitting that, of all things, Ridley Scott’s Alien feels in many ways unknowable, filled with elements that feel genuinely, well, alien. As the Nostromo touches down on the ravaged surface of LV-426 and discovers a mysterious hall filled with extra-terrestrial eggs, it’s clear the human crew is well out of their depth – and once their quarantine measures are broken, all hell breaks loose. There’s a warning in there somewhere. From the dark, dank corridors of its space-freighter ship, to the unmistakable nightmare imagery of H.R. Giger, to the arrival of Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ripley, the original Alien remains a landmark piece of science-fiction, let alone its innovations in horror. If it’s essentially a slasher in space, it’s full of reproductive ideas and phallic imagery, all penetration and impregnation and blood-spewing birth. Some science fiction makes us dream of the stars. Alien warns us of the sheer violent chaos awaiting us in the vast reaches of outer space.
26. 1982’s Blade Runner
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean YoungWhat sci-fi film can best Ridley Scott’s genre classic Alien? His other genre classic, the unbeatable Blade Runner – an initially misunderstood masterpiece that, over multiple decades and several recuts, stands as the pinnacle of cinematic science fiction. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner conjures a bleak vision of a then-future 2019 Los Angeles – an imperious flame-belching hellscape in which Harrison Ford’s ‘blade runner’ cop Rick Deckard is tasked with tracking down a group of human-engineered Replicants who have escaped back to Earth from a working colony. As he ‘retires’ them one by one, he comes to question his own humanity, both literal and metaphorical. With its ruminations on what it means to be human, Blade Runner is ideas-driven sci-fi all the way. But it’s a visual feast too, its interpretation of a futuristic urban landscape – with giant video screens, glowing neon lights and bustling city streets – still jaw-dropping to behold. Coupled with a haunting Vangelis synth score, and Rutger Hauer’s arresting turn as Replicant leader Roy Batty (whose “time to die” speech is a total spine-tingler), it’s nigh-on untouchable.
27. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Director: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law; A.I.’s creation story saw it become a tantalizing collaboration between two cinematic greats. Stanley Kubrick had long wanted to adapt Brian Aldiss’ short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long. After years of frustrating development and Kubrick’s death, Spielberg finally got his wish to finally bring the film to screens. Kubrick had never thought a child could honestly play artificial boy David, but Spielberg had a secret weapon in Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense, who went from dead people to bot people. If the Pinocchio-influenced story of a robo-kid searching for real human connection sounds none more Spielbergian, it’s a lot colder and harsher film than his usual fare.
The imaginative worlds, cutting-edge visuals, and inventive storytelling of sci-fi fantasy films captivate audiences and leave us in awe of the universe’s potential. These films tackle significant themes and reflect the essence of the human experience, stimulating creativity, inspiring innovation, and highlighting the power of imagination. From modern hits like Inception to classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, each film discussed in this article offers a unique and thought-provoking cinematic experience that keeps us thinking long after the credits roll.