Best Sci-fi Movies Of All Time

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12. District 9 (2009)

Aliens arrive on Earth only to be corralled into a giant shantytown ghetto, overseen and exploited by sniveling clipboard jockeys like Sharlto Copley’s Wickus. It’s impossible to miss the metaphor about apartheid in this feature debut from South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp (Chappie), but it’s as effective as it is blatant. Blomkamp gleefully visualizes a literal conversion of Wickus from human toady to alien sympathizer, and he can’t be bothered with a soft approach. This social commentary is dressed up as one of the most goopy, tech-heavy pieces of sci-fi pulp to ever splatter a movie screen.

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11. Moon (2009)

The attention-getting debut from Warcraft director Duncan Jones is basically a one-man show for star Sam Rockwell, who plays the lone operator of a moon-based mining outpost. Nearing the end of his three-year shift, the guy starts to have problems. Not just the loneliness and stunning boredom you'd expect from solo life on the moon; more like big fractures in his life, which reveal far more troubling facts about his existence. The brilliant Rockwell is aided by the voice of Kevin Spacey as the outpost's AI helper, and by a minimal but effective score from Clint Mansell. Facing death alone on a cold rock in space shouldn't be this appealing.

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10. Inception (2010)

Shut down the talk of Christopher Nolan doing James Bond -- he’s already riffed on the globe-trotting adventures of 007 with this big-ticket, sci-fi concept about dream manipulation. As Dom Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio leads a crew in corporate espionage, and a high-wattage supporting cast follows him through an intricate series of mental puzzles rendered as warped architecture and zero-gravity setpieces. While the many-layered story threatens to spin off into its own conceptual space, Nolan’s personal hold on the material, which shines through in Dom’s obsession with his late wife, and an uncertainty about the line between dream and reality, maintains level ground.

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9. The Martian (2015)

Try not to focus on the fact that, 20 years into the current millennium, a committed US space program feels like outrageous fiction. Bask instead in the upbeat and optimistic tone of Ridley Scott’s late-career addition to his impressive genre resume. Scott knows just how to position Matt Damon as a jovial and ultra-competent everyman in order to suggest that a well-trained astronaut might survive weeks marooned on a hostile planet. Utterly effective, even effervescent, The Martian is that rare sci-fi outing able to do double-duty as a family holiday film.

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8. Starship Troopers (1997)

What if the beautiful people of Beverly Hills, 90210 lived in a future fascist society which recruited them to fight giant bugs in space? Paul Verhoeven's film version of Robert Heinlein's novel turns the book's genuine militarism on its head for a satirical take on pop culture, and gung-ho military service and sacrifice. Verhoeven is at the top of his game as he creates legitimately valorous heroes in splatter-filled battles, and turns Neil Patrick Harris into a madly creepy, Nazi-like intelligence officer. Wait, which side of this battle is the right one again?

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7. Jurassic Park (1993)

Sure, recreating dinosaurs from old DNA probably isn't a good idea, but who could resist? Since the earliest days of science fiction, mankind's aspiration to godhood has been a prime concern. Once we can build things, what stops us from creating life? Genetic tinkering was in its infancy when Michael Crichton conceived Jurassic Park; CG effects were in their early days when Steven Spielberg harnessed both story and computers for a jaw-dropping event film. The wonder of the park's dinos remains intact, and so does the potency of its warnings, delivered so perfectly by big personalities like Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm.

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6. The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron's first major film as director is a lean, brutal vision of machines run amok, dressed up with the complications of time travel. Cameron probably would have had a great story without the bizarre charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the heavy-metal insanity of Stan Winston's robot effects, but with all those elements in place, The Terminator is a "lightning in a bottle" moment that demonstrated just what Cameron could do.

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5. The Matrix (1999)

Movies about technology pushing mankind to new places often do the same in the special effects department. The "bullet time" effect in The Matrix was one of 1999's most-copied concepts. (Never mind that it was created with old-fashioned, 35mm still cameras.) The Wachowskis synthesized comic books, hardcore sci-fi, and religious concepts to create this pitch-black portrait of a society so deeply in thrall to technology that it had, in effect, become tech for the machinery.

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4. RoboCop (1987)

Great science-fiction novels often have an air of irony; as great as new technology might seem to be, we're all pretty much screwed thanks to the unchangeable aspects of human nature. Paul Verhoeven tapped right into that spirit with RoboCop, awash with bleak comedy and gooey ultra-violence. The film combines vicious parody of the corporate world with glimmers of hope for a safer future under the watchful eye of technology. With Peter Weller adding soul to the film's robotic enforcer, and some of the most memorably vulgar lines in all of filmed sci-fi, RoboCop blows holes in pretenders.

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3. Star Wars (1977)

Sure, it's basically a Western in space, but no other Western rewrote the entire landscape of the movie business as Star Wars did. The influence George Lucas and his space opera had over movies as a whole is due not only to his independent spirit and controlling business sense, but his love of classic stories and ability to spot a killer character design a mile off. Those first years developing Star Wars were a time of creative and financial roadblocks more than resounding success, and Lucas poured all his energy into a scrappy space movie, especially as represented by its roguish hero Han Solo.

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2. Alien (1979)

With a bunch of blue-collar stiffs just trying to get home, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie is, like many of the best sci-fi films, basically another genre kitted out with science-fiction elements. But what elements they are: that dingy ship, which suggests the future isn't so bright for regular slobs like the crew of the Nostromo, and the vicious killing machine found on a cold, dead planet. That alien, complete with a grossly sexual life-cycle and particularly violent tendencies, is one of the greatest creations in any film, a horrifying representation of all the things we simply have to fight, even when the battle seems futile.

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1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A work of boundless inventiveness and imagination, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film aims at nothing less than depicting the process of human evolution. Crafted in an era of crude special effects, the movie looks incredible, even now, with artificial images of spaceflight compelling enough to convince conspiracy theorists that Kubrick helped fake the moon-landing footage. With a big-picture view of human existence that sees little practical difference between a bone cudgel and a space station, 2001 envisions our biggest evolutionary leap as one that leaves technology behind to enter a realm of pure consciousness. Enjoy the grand and bitter irony of our greatest science-fiction film being one that imagines we eventually won't need technology at all.