52 great sci-fi movies to watch right now

52 great sci-fi movies to watch right now

From intergalactic missions to post-apocalyptic thrillers to superhero blockbusters, our experts have come up with a list that encapsulates everything about the weird, wonderful, and – at times – downright wacky genre. So, turn your time circuits on, engage the warp drive, and join us on an adventure through these great sci-fi movies.

By Total Film staff

(Fox/Warner Bros/Universal)
Star Trek: Wrath of Khan

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first big-screen Star Trek adventure, was an epic and existential take on the series – and one criticised for not featuring enough action. The producers took this to heart, as they hired Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time) to direct a feature film that doubles down on the thrills. Star Trek: Wrath of Khan makes for a warmer movie that still features huge amounts of drama. 

Wrath of Khan reaches into the Original Series’ history to find a villain – Khan – who's more grounded and intimidating than the vast majority of Star Trek’s other antagonists. Ruthless and ferociously intelligent, Khan’s re-emergence forces the trainee Enterprise crew to rally harder than ever before, raising the personal stakes to new highs. And really, when is Star Trek better than when it puts the crew’s humanity front and centre?

The Abyss

The Abyss makes for an exciting – at times terrifying – underwater adventure. Upon release, behind-the-scenes difficulties overshadowed the movie’s actual content and it was an initial box-office flop. Yet, look past the real-life drama, and The Abyss makes for a wonderful sci-fi movie that features James Cameron’s recognisable flourishes – tough-talking military figures, world-leading (though now slightly dated) CGI, and a hugely heartfelt story. 

The Abyss follows a crew of American roughnecks who are employed to help discover why a US submarine, near the Cayman trough, mysteriously sunk. When they find the wreckage, they discover something truly unexpected. There are a few different cuts out there, and we recommend watching the Director’s Cut. 

The Iron Giant

Adapted from Ted Hughes' story, The Iron Giant sees a colossal alien robot crash near a small town in Rockwell, Maine, in 1957. Nine-year-old Hogarth discovers the robot and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. However, when the robot becomes the target of a persistent government agent, Hogarth and beatnik Dean undertake an epic quest to save the misunderstood machine. 

The Iron Giant offers two things: the movie treats kids to an emotional, heartfelt, and exciting story about an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, adults get a poignant fable of Cold War paranoia, where understanding and kindred spirit battled fear and suspicion for decades. The Iron Giant is a layered, understated animated masterpiece.

(Warner Bros)

Almost every original animation produced by Pixar has been a groundbreaking classic. Never has that been more true than with their ninth movie, WALL-E, the story of an ordinary robot who ends up saving the human race. 

WALL-E is a bold piece of filmmaking: the opening moments are dialogue-free; the distant future sees humankind becoming blobs of meat, unable to stand on our own two feet; and Earth is a desolate junkyard devoid of life. That’s all pretty heavy for a children’s movie. Yet, amid the bleak dystopian setting is a remarkably heart-warming tale of an innocent, simple droid finding love with a futuristic companion, EVE. There have been few sci-fi movies as oddly romantic. 


No movie sums up ’80s sci-fi action cinema quite like RoboCop. Brutal, brash, bloody, and brainy to a deeply deceptive degree, RoboCop is everything great about the decade in one 102-minute salvo. Ostensibly the tale of an honest cop in a decaying future Detroit brought back to messianic, cybernetic life after his excessively gory murder, Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece is a movie with serious layers. 

A savage satire of excess (that simultaneously revels in the very same), RoboCop is as hilarious as it is heartfelt; as smart as it is filled with splatter. The 2014 remake attempted similar levels of social commentary, but without Verhoeven’s twisted sense of humour, missed the target. Watch it once, and you’ll have a good time. Watch it twice, and you’ll start to notice a whole lot more.

Mad Max

The daddy of all post-apocalyptic movies, George Miller’s 1979 Mad Max takes us on a frenetic ride through a futuristic Australian outback where society has crumbled. Biker gangs reign and Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a Force Patrol officer seeks revenge on the gang who killed his family before he retires for good. The movie truly put Miller on the map for his bold directing style, especially as most of the stunt driving was filmed illegally. Sequels, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, develop the dystopian desert world even further, while Fury Road reinvented the Mad Max formula. 

(Kennedy Miller)
Under the Skin

A cold, washed-out Glasgow is an unusual location for a cerebral sci-fi flick. But this is Jonathan Glazer's point: weird stuff can happen anywhere, so why not there? Scarlett Johansson stars as a perplexed extraterrestrial disguised as a perplexed young woman, who ambles around the Glaswegian streets luring men into her Transit van.

This is a haunting exercise in painting a mood. Don't go in expecting a dense plot or a clearly-outlined goal. This is a surreal, twisted, low-key flick that will gnaw at your brain long after finishing. It also birthed the Scarlett Johansson falling down meme and features the most bizarre response to carrot cake ever.


This top-tier zombie comedy envisions a post-apocalyptic future in which Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) lives by a strict set of rules to get by, a list that includes the likes of "Don’t be a hero". After he meets the hilarious stetson-wearing Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) he’s forced to team up and share his rules and he comes to find some family in all the chaos. Zombieland is riotous fun and the ultimate comedy to watch with friends thanks to Bill Murray’s cameo and the epic final act in an abandoned amusement park.

(Sony Pictures)

In a totalitarian society, a shaven-headed guide known as Stalker (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) escorts a writer and a scientist to the forbidden region of “The Zone”, where all one's wishes can allegedly be granted. 

Made and set amid some of the most austere and industrially polluted Russian landscapes ever committed to celluloid, Andrei Tarkovsky's epic inquiry into freedom and faith presents an arduous journey for the spectator, but conjures up its own mystical universe with majestic conviction. Stalker has, since release, become a classic of the genre – and one worth seeking out immediately. 

Guardians of the Galaxy

James Gunn’s silly and irreverent take on the superhero genre barely counts as a superhero movie at all – but a science fiction space adventure. There’s no super-strong lead; no laser-eyes villain; just a rag-tag team of goofy friends saving the universe.

From the opening scene right up until the final moments, writer-director James Gunn's love for the material is on brazen display, every frame oozing with soul. Plus, there's the throwback soundtrack and just enough fan service to make this a must-watch.

(Disney/Marvel Studios)
Blade Runner 2049

There’s no beating perfection. But hey, with a big enough budget and cajones, why not give it a try and see where you end up? Director Denis Villeneuve reworks the world established by Ridley Scott's 1982 original, twists it to better reflect modern quandaries – hello, bountiful misogyny! – and makes it beautiful. A visual stunner with a longing heart to match, who knew we’d get a Blade Runner sequel as daring as its predecessor? 

This time, we follow Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner for the LAPD tasked with retiring “rogue” replicants, as he finds himself facing a conspiracy that threatens everything the world knows about bioengineered humans. During his stints, he lurks into the more treacherous parts of humanity… so naturally, Jared Leto’s there.

(Warner Bros.)
Star Wars

Star Wars, later given the title A New Hope, introduced us to that famous galaxy far, far away, filled with lovable creatures and witty characters. A timeless tale of good versus evil, this movie inspired a generation of fans and filmmakers alike. While the effects blew everyone away (and still hold up reasonably well), it was the cohesiveness of the world that really impressed. 

Whereas most sci-fi of the time was more magical, A New Hope featured a dirty, lived-in universe, which somehow feels so real. Lucas weaves the hero’s journey into the intergalactic universe, making for a compelling watch that remains entirely beloved today. Yes, there have been countless sequels, TV shows, comics, and video games set in the Star Wars universe, but none of them can quite compare to the original.


Following a failed climate-change experiment, the last of earth’s survivors live aboard a train travelling endlessly around the globe. Tackling the climate crisis in his English-language debut, director Bong Joon-ho adapts the french graphic novel chronicling the class divides of second Ice Age survivors. Occupants are neatly compartmentalized with the poor at the back of the train, and the rich at the far more luxurious front. As dictatorship and hierarchy onboard become more and more intense, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) stages a revolt inciting a carriage-by-carriage coup. Snowpiercer is a fierce social commentary that gains momentum as it moves further along the train in a steam-punk style post-apocalyptic parable. 

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow, or Live Die Repeat, or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (is anyone entirely sure?) is an alien-fighting Groundhog Day. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a soldier battling in an alien-infested post-apocalyptic wasteland. Cage’s day resets each time he dies and he goes back to training with Special Forces Agent Rita (Emily Blunt) – but he’s desperate for a way out of the cycle. In this mind-bending time adventure, every encounter gets the pair one step closer to defeating the enemy as they attempt to take the fight straight to the aliens. Whilst it might not always make sense, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

(Warner Bros.)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider, his Uncle Ben dies, and… zzz. Sorry, nodded off there for a moment. We all know Spidey’s origin story. That’s why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opts to bypass that retelling and dive into something new. The socially-awkward New York teen Miles Morales is the lead, and this is his story – one of diversity, acceptance, and compassion, that fuels one of the best Marvel movies made that’s not in the MCU. 

It’s hard to find fault Spider-Verse – one of the best superhero movies of all time. Considering how well we know this character, it's miraculous that Spider-Verse makes the Spidey universe feel utterly original. It’s a blast, it feels fresh, the soundtrack is dynamite, and it’s visually stunning.

The Book of Eli

Taking a leaf out of the Mad Max book, The Book of Eli depicts a world full of bad people with no hope left for humanity. Thirty years after a nuclear bomb disaster, Eli (Denzel Washington) travels across the remains of America to deliver a book. He soon faces a classic post-apocalyptic wannabe dictator in the form of Carnegie (Gary Oldman) when Eli stumbles upon his town. The Book of Eli may be heavy-handed with its religious metaphors, but it has a striking sense of style thanks to its old-school Western influences, and features some underrated performances from its fantastic cast. 

(Warner Bros.)

Conclusive proof that blockbusters can respect their audience's intelligence while also thrilling with spectacular set-pieces, Inception is a truly remarkable achievement. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an 'extractor' who normally steals sensitive ideas from his targets' minds, but must now plant an idea in the head of his latest mark. 

As the narrative operated on several levels simultaneously, so did the filmmaking, layering metaphysical ideas with startling visuals and a grippingly propulsive narrative. Inception is a film not afraid to dream much, much bigger. However, if you’ve ever been worried about being trapped in a dream inside a dream, this may raise those fears tenfold.

(Warner Bros)

A self-confessed comic book fan, director M. Night Shyamalan, master of the twist, decided not to adapt an already established superhero story and instead created something entirely original. 

Unbreakable makes for a remarkably subtle character study compared to some of the bigger-budget superhero flicks, telling the tale of security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who has to come to grips with his abilities, all while dealing with the shady Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). There's no spandex; no moral ranting about responsibility, just a look at what having superpowers may actually look like.

12 Monkeys

What would the authorities do with a man claiming to be a time-traveller? Lock him up in an asylum, of course. This is the unfortunate scenario put forth in 12 Monkeys and faced by James Cole (Bruce Willis), a survivor from a post-apocalyptic future wherein a hideous virus has ravaged the face of the planet.

Terry Gilliam’s dystopian future may be terrifying, but electric performances from both Willis and a young Brad Pitt – playing an unstable activist – makes this a thrilling watch. Gilliam certainly has a knack for exquisite put together sci-fi.

Ex Machina

Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend a week with his firm's CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Given the chance to pick his boss’s brain and perhaps score points excites Caleb, who doesn’t realise the entire set-up wasn’t a lottery – he was specifically chosen to take part in an experiment, wherein he administers the Turing test to evaluate a robot's consciousness. As it turns out, Ava (Alicia Vikander) the robot has other plans. 

Movies concerning robots imbued with artificial intelligence tend to make a case for their 'souls' being equally as important as ours, and all that they need is love and understanding. Alex Garland's directorial debut dallies with robotic sentience, therefore tussling with a similar topic, except Ava ain't no Bicentennial Man or Iron Giant. This is the darker side of AI, a world where Skynet could very easily exist…

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

With Mad Max 2, director George Miller orchestrated even more insane stunts – including a near-fatal accident involving a motorcycle crashing into a car – thanks to a bigger budget. Like the other Mad Max movies, Road Warrior sees Max Rockatansky traversing a desert wasteland when he finds himself moved to defend a group of settlers against a violent gang. Expect just as much exhilarating and energetic action as the first mind-blowing entry, but this time with more deadly boomerangs. After all, this is post-apocalypse Australia.

(Kennedy Miller Productions)
Children of Men

Set in a near-future where humanity has become completely infertile, Clive Owen plays a grizzled civil servant who gets kidnapped by his estranged wife (Julianne Moore) and charged with rescuing the last pregnant woman in Britain. 

Alfonso Cuarón directs a sombre, dystopian sci-fi that dazzles with its visual flair, including an awe-inspiring one shot as Owen’s character runs through the desolate streets of Bexhill-on-Sea. Children of Men really is a parable of things to come.

(Universal Studios)
Dawn of the Dead

George A. Romero is one of the kings of horror, and his second entry in his enduring zombie saga is arguably his best. In Dawn of the Dead, four survivors of an apocalypse are stranded in a mall surrounded by the undead. Acting as both a thrilling zombie showdown and perceptive social commentary, the movie looks to use the sub-genre to challenge society’s intense and ever-growing consumer culture. Dawn of the Dead was a huge influence on every post-apocalyptic and zombie movie that came after, and its impact on genre cinema as a whole is immeasurable.

(United Artists)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

While X-Men Apocalypse may feature a character who, yes, brings about the literal apocalypse, it's X-Men: Days of Future Past that truly takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The remaining mutants must send Wolverine back in time to warn the world of what will happen if Bolivar Trask's Sentinels are allowed to roam the world. By uniting both the old and new X-Men cast, Days of Future Past makes for a particularly thrilling watch.


Remember when Hollywood made big-budget, epic sci-fi movies aimed almost exclusively at adults? Denis Villeneuve does. Arrival blends the arresting spectacle of alien contact with the intelligent, distinctly personal story of a linguist recruited to find a way to communicate. 

Favouring affecting, emotional drama and the discussion of big questions over lasers and explosions, Arrival’s maturity and sophistication – highlighted by some fantastic lead performances, namely Amy Adams (robbed of an Oscar nomination) – made it one of the best movies of 2016. 

The Host

The Host follows a Seoul family as a monster emerges from the Han River and goes on a killing rampage. In a genre-bending plot that jumps seamlessly between sheer horror and black comedy, director Bong Joon Ho once again tells a story that’s much bigger than its characters. The Host is a post-apocalyptic nightmare that takes capitalism and unwanted Western influence head-on, as American scientists meddle with chemicals they shouldn’t and the government is apathetic and unhelpful. Bong’s enduring political message is prevalent in all of his work, but particularly so in the monsters of The Host.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future remains the quintessential time-travel movie. The movie’s twisting, looping, self-aware causality is a fantastic feat of writing, pacing, and wit. But the high-concept is only part of what makes Back to the Future a classic. 

Where other sci-fi movies will hinge everything on an intergalactic conquest or saving entire worlds, Back to the Future’s stakes never get bigger than Marty protecting his family. And with so much iconography crammed into its runtime, it’s hard not to have Robert Zemeckis’ movie on a list of great sci-fi movies.

(Universal Pictures)

Low budget, high concept – The Terminator borrows from oodles of genres to tell a love story set in a world of machines. James Cameron’s 1984 flick cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the eponymous character, a cyborg sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) the mother of future resistance leader, John. The resistance sends her a protector in the form of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who will do anything to keep her safe. 

The Terminator, of course, put James Cameron on the map, proving his skills at world-building, character development, and genre were exceedingly good. While its sequel had the bigger budget, it’s impressive to witness the ingenuity of the production, giving us a tightly-plotted thriller with some of the best ‘80s set pieces.

The Matrix

Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? Or are we stuck in a simulation and being harvested for electrical energy by an alien race who have taken over earth, and only The One can save us all? 

The Wachowski sisters’ groundbreaking The Matrix bundles philosophical questions of identity, purpose, and reality into an action masterpiece. The visual effects – including a serious amount of wire-fu and slow-motion bullet-time – stands up remarkably today, despite being over 20 years old. 

(Warner Bros)
Escape from New York

In John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, 1997 Manhattan has been transformed into a maximum security prison, and our criminal/ex-soldier antihero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent on a mission to rescue the president. Yes, it’s as cheesy as it sounds. One of the most iconic B-movies of all time, Escape from New York’s an action flick dripping with cool and great hair that more than deserves its cult status.

(Embassy Pictures)

Most aliens who fall to Earth seem to have one thing on their mind: world domination. Think  War of the Worlds and Independence Day – those evil outer-world beings who just want to control mankind. Well, Steven Spielberg’s classic’s slightly different. Not only does E.T. come in peace, he just wants to get back home. 

Having dealt with alien visitation on a planetary scale in the brilliant Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg instead focuses on a single family and their extra-terrestrial house guest. E.T. remains a perfect slice of storytelling, and if you still have a dry eye come the closing credits, you’re officially heartless. 

A Boy and his Dog

This oddball black comedy tells the tale of Vic (Don Johnson), a young teen and Blood, his telepathic dog. Yes, you read that right. The pair traverse a post-nuclear war wasteland in 2021, and illiterate Vic relies on Blood to scout for women whilst Vic scouts for food. A Boy and his Dog is an absurdist comedy where nothing is as it seems, and it’s worth seeing for the provocative comedy and bizarrely entertaining chemistry between our two protagonists.

(LQ/Jaf Productions)
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi does a rare thing for a trilogy closer: it picks up all the loose story strands and offers a properly satisfying conclusion to everything that came before. There's a lot that happens: peace is brought to the galaxy (for now), the Emperor is defeated (for now), Han and Leia get together (for now), and there's a huge battle over Endor that's still mindblowing today. 

The way the film jumps between the fight between father and son, to the ground war of Stormtroopers against the Ewoks, to the space dogfights led by Ackbar and Lando, all without feeling confusing – that's masterful editing. And admit it, you loved the Ewoks and their yub-nub song. We all do.

10 Cloverfield Lane

In this loose sequel to Matt Reeves Cloverfield, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with two strangers who claim an alien invasion is happening above ground. With career-standout performances from Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., and John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense roller-coaster ride where you’re never quite sure what is the truth. A tremendous finale will leave this movie in your mind a long time after the credits roll.

Thor: Ragnarok

After Kenneth Brannagh's Shakespearean origin story and Alan Taylor's po-faced sequel, Thor was begging for a fresh start. Thank goodness, then, for Taika Waititi, director of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, who turned the character around, re-imagining the God of Thunder as an arrogant, comedic mess. 

Thor: Ragnarok may not be the most important MCU movie, story-wise, but the movie makes for the funniest Marvel outing to date. Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Jeff Goldblum are all clearly having a blast playing off the fast and loose script. Also featuring dazzlingly outlandish visuals, thanks to some impressive set design and fantastical uses of CGI, Ragnarok makes for a comic book-induced fever dream.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The standout movie of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy. Once again, Andy Serkis delivers a masterful motion-capture performance as Caesar. The movie is full of exhilarating battles with emotional weight, as over a decade of devastation has yet to put an end to the war between man and ape. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is both the perfect summer blockbuster and a memorable social commentary.

(20th Century Studios)

Terry Gilliam’s slapstick homage to George Orwell’s 1984 sticks two fingers to The Man over and over, all while telling one of the wackiest stories ever committed to celluloid. 

Jonathan Price plays Sam Lowry, a miserable worker at the Ministry of Education desperate to break free from the shackles of a totalitarian regime. Daydreaming of rescuing the same woman over and over, he tries to locate a terrorist – and encounters his fictional woman. Brazil’s surreal, dreary dystopian setting is as much a character as anyone in the movie. And, just in case you forgot, Robert De Niro shows up for one of his more low-key, somewhat baffling roles. A true classic. 

(20th century fox)

Aliens is the textbook example of how to make a perfect sequel. Where Alien was an incredible piece of horror filmmaking, Aliens takes the premise of terrifying extraterrestrial life and makes an excellent action flick that’s bombastic and thoughtful. 

Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley returns – and if there was an Oscar for best performance over the course of multiple movies, the actress would surely be a shoe-in. It’s incredible to think James Cameron put together the script while working on another exquisite sci-fi masterpiece: The Terminator.

Shaun of the Dead

Equal parts parody and homage, Edgar Wright’s first entry in the unofficial cornetto trilogy is the most fun you can have when the apocalypse hits. Our eponymous protagonist is dealing with a break-up when a zombie outbreak takes over the town, and in very British fashion, his solution is to gather his mates, head to the pub, and wait for it to all blow over. With loving references to Night of the Living Dead and the Evil Dead trilogy sprinkled throughout, Shaun of the Dead tackles the aftermath of an apocalyptic-outbreak with an infectious sense of fun. It’s also the film where Wright truly found his visual voice, paving the way for his recognisable whip-cuts and expert comedic timing.


No, not the Sylvester Stallone one from the '90s, but the gritty, tough-as-nails 2012 adaptation starring Karl Urban. In Dredd, the eponymous lawman brings about justice in the post-apocalyptic landscape of a collapsing Mega-City One. The film, adapted from the classic Judge Dredd comics, paints a terrifying picture of a future where police have the power to play judge, jury, and executioner. Drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) poses a deadly threat and Dredd seeks to put an end to her empire in this fittingly violent thrill-ride of an adaptation.

Jurassic Park

Messing with dinosaur DNA and hiring incompetent IT staff was never going to end well, but at least it makes for a cracking movie. Steven Spielberg's original trek back to the time of dinosaurs is one that has been beloved by fans for decades since and has spawned many, many sequels, though none compare to the original. 

Thanks to a mix of large, intricate puppets and CGI dinosaurs unlike anything the world had seen before back in 1993, the special effects feel like they haven't aged at all. What’s even more remarkable is that Spielberg made the blockbuster – at one time, the highest-grossing movie ever released – at the same time as the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, also released 1993. Quite a phenomenal year. 

Terminator 2

Terminator 2 remains a masterclass in making things bigger and more mainstream without losing the infectious hook of the original story. An unashamed blockbuster, T2 nonetheless maintains all the thick, weighty atmosphere that made the first Terminator so compelling, while delivering some of the slickest action direction around. 

And, of course, turning the first movie’s villain into the protector of John Connor is a stroke of genius – all praise James Cameron! Nothing the Terminator franchise has done since has come close.


Very loosely based on Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name, Annihilation is a gloriously trippy jaunt into a world previously hinted at in Garland’s Ex Machina. With less emphasis on a traditional plot, this movie requires you to go into it with the willingness to soak up the mood, feeling, and gorgeous visuals. 

Part body-horror, part survivalist thriller, this stands out for its stellar all-female leading cast, who bring a feminine edge to the traditionally male sci-fi genre. Combine that with the daring, weirder aspects of the story, and you’ll find your hairs standing up on the back of your neck several times throughout. Do not miss this. 

Blade Runner

While both Blade Runner movies are stunning, atmospheric works of deep intelligence and profound emotional impact, the original remains the unmoved classic. Blade Runner (a regular presence on all best sci-fi movies lists) uses its high concept – a man trying to work out whether other “people” are actually robots known as replicants – to deliver a deeply moving tale that asks questions of humanity in a nihilistic, synthetic, commodified universe. 

While, at its core, Blade Runner is a detective story, the layers go so much deeper. While Harrison Ford’s performance anchors us in Ridley Scott’s world, it’s Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty who steals every scene. 

(Warner Bros.)
Black Panther

The first superhero movie to ever receive an Oscar Best Picture nomination, Black Panther makes for a politically astute blockbuster that marks a significant step forward for diversity in Hollywood. However, even when you isolate the movie from its historical importance, Black Panther's a thrilling ensemble action flick that oozes with director Ryan Coogler's flair. 

Featuring an impressive cast roster and an incredibly realised Afro-futurist setting, Black Panther features warmth and humanity. Plus, Marvel finally has a villain worthy of your attention in Michael B Jordan's Killmonger, whose raw energy is never put to waste. Sadly star Chadwick Boseman passed away August 2020.

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
The Road

Probably the saddest entry on this list, The Road – based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel and directed by John Hillcoat – is an equally harrowing and tender experience. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee play a father and his young son, travelling across a charred America following an extinction-level event. We follow as the pair work to stay alive and avoid roaming gangs as they search the coast for warmth. It’s slow, sombre, and completely absorbing.

(Dimension Films)
28 Days Later

A staple feature of many "best zombie movies" lists, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later never actually refers to any of it’s infected as zombies. Instead of focussing on the monsters, the director spends a good chunk of the film encompassing the viewer in an eerie, empty London. The atmosphere is heavy as protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to a ghost town following an outbreak of the "rage virus". 28 Days Later and its home-made, gritty look make it a standout of the genre. It’s chilling to watch as Jim wanders an abandoned city unbeknownst to what happened to everyone around him, and it only becomes bleaker and bleaker as he meets the infected and the military on his search for answers.

(Searchlight Pictures)

This 1988 classic is the perfect entry-point for anyone interested in anime. 31 years after World War 3, in a futuristic Neo-Tokyo metropolis, a secret military project threatens to endanger the city once more. When the government turns injured biker-gang member Tetsuo (Nozamu Sasaki) into a violent telepath, history looks to repeat itself. It’s a completely hand-animated cyberpunk epic worthy of its reputation as a landmark piece of animation.

(Bandai Co.)
The Thing

John Carpenter’s ultimate creature feature. The title might be hokey, but The Thing remains one of the most gloriously splattery and tense horrors of all time. A group of Americans – including Kurt Russell’s R.J MacReady – are stationed at an Antarctic research facility and take on an alien thing that infects blood.

There’s intense paranoia as the party begins to fall apart as the infection spreads, but it’s the very real, oh-so-touchable nature of the nasties at work here that’s so disturbing. The practical effects – the responsibility of a young Rob Bottin and uncredited Stan Winston – are the true stars as arms are eaten by chests, decapitated heads sprout legs, and bodies are elongated and stretched. The macabre vision of these murderous monsters at work is never anything less than true nightmare fuel.

(Universal Pictures)
Avengers: Endgame

After Thanos wipes out half of all living things and retreats to his farmhouse sanctuary, humanity is left to pick up the pieces. The MCU made history with a decade-spanning story arc and, in Avengers: Endgame, they tie it all up effortlessly. The movie pulls together a fitting farewell to earth’s mightiest heroes and paves the path for something new. The Russo brothers tackle real human issues with galactic proportions as they delve deep into PTSD, anxiety, and survivor’s guilt making the heroes both fallible and accessible. All great movies use fantasy to examine reality, and the MCU is no different – Endgame is heartbreaking but hopeful, and a worthy entry on this list.

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Mad Max: Fury Road

One of the greatest action movies in recent years, Mad Max: Fury Road is non-stop adrenaline from start to end. Starring Tom Hardy’s Max alongside Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, the famed trilogy’s original creator George Miller brings back his post-apocalyptic nightmare with new technologies and even riskier vehicle stunts. Fury Road takes you racing through a scorched wasteland with amped-up warboys, fire-breathing guitars, and some of the most insane stunts seen on screen. It’s a staggering technical achievement made all the more energetic thanks to Margaret Sixel’s genius editing and Junkie XL’s intense score. Theron’s Imperator Furisoa becomes a fearsome protagonist in her bid to rescue Immortan Joe’s ‘wives’ from captivity. The women grafiti the wall with “We are not things” in a refreshing feminist war cry that finds its place beautifully amidst the frenetic action.

(Warner Bros.)
2001: A Space Odyssey

Released a full year before Neil Armstrong took one small step for mankind, 2001: A Space Odyssey took one giant leap for cinema. Stanley Kubrick’s seminal epic – an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s short story the Sentinel – breaks down the barriers between lofty, cerebral sci-fi and more accessible mainstream fare. Simplifying the story is no easy task. On a basic level, the majority of 2001 centres on a team travelling through space, only for their robotic command centre to turn evil. Yet, around that, we also see the birth of mankind and our own evolution into something greater. One of the most iconic and influential sci-fi movies of all time, 2001 still feels incredibly modern today, thanks to its incredible cinematography and practical effects. 

(Warner Bros)

From time travel to outer space; gene splicing to rogue androids – check out these great sci-fi movies