From the post-apocalyptic to the not-so-distant future, here are the ten best sci-fi movies of the decade (so far)!
Sci-fi is one of the most interesting and innovative genres because it poses a specific challenge. How do you show tomorrow while commenting on today? At least, that’s what good sci-fi tries to do. Look at Alien and its sexual politics or Children of Men and its now eerily commentary on xenophobia. Though they’re both formally wildly different, they both challenge certain pitfalls of our society by adding or subtracting an element — adding the Alien and subtracting children.
However, in my opinion, we’ve tapped into a new potential for the genre. We have the ability to go places where we never thought we could go before — the tesseract in Interstellar or the wasteland in Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s why I thought it’d be the perfect time to countdown the best sci-fi movies of the decade. For this list, I decided to mainly look at the sci-fi elements of the movie and how they affect into the narrative as a whole. So, just because it’s a great action movie, doesn’t mean it’s one of the best sci-fi movies. The other parameter I looked at was how its vision of tomorrow supported its commentary of today. Whether that’s thematically or technically. Here are the best sci-fi movies of the decade (so far)!
Honorable Mentions: Edge of Tomorrow, Prometheus, Monsters, Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Her (2013)
The relationship between man and artificial intelligence has always been a point of interest in sci-fi. And while 2001: A Space Odyssey pretty much reached the pinnacle of the discussion of the subject, Spike Jones revived it with his humanist take on AI. What if AI existed? And what if we fell in love with it? Jones’ vision of the future almost feels too close for comfort. Her is as much a tender love story as it is a meditation on the not so distant future. It’s the delicate balance act of those two genres that make it one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade.
Ex Machina (2015)
While Her studies artificial intelligence from the perspective of the heart, Ex Machina tackles it from the brain. If man plays god, what does its creation think of itself? Of its creator? Those are the questions at the center of Ex Machina. At a high-level perspective, it’s a modern take on Shelley’s Frankenstein However, this time, the monster is more machine. The movie keeps its card close to its chest unfolding like a three-person play. However, digging deeper proves fruitful because the themes don’t just stop at man versus machine. It’s subtle in almost every way. That’s what makes it so brilliant.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Creating a follow-up to a film as technically dazzling and thematically rich as Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner seemed like a fool’s errand. That is until Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) stepped into the director’s chair. What makes the film one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade is it continued to explore the themes of humanity, while also delving into new directions, most interestingly involving Ryan Gosling‘s K. Though it has a nearly 3-hour running time, it’s endlessly engrossing as its mysterious plot reveals itself. What differentiates it from the original, though, is it has a strong emotional center that catches you off guard and brings warmth to an otherwise cold world.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
When thinking about the top spot on this list, I really had to consider my guidelines. While I think the insane post-apocalyptic steampunk future that is Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best movies of all time, I think its sci-fi elements are overshadowed by George Miller’s incredible action scenes and unforgettable filmmaking. That’s not to take away from the world that Miller created. It’s one of the greatest practices of world-building since Star Wars first blasted onto our screens. His incredible attention to detail in all departments brought the world to life and immersed us from the first epic beats of Junkie XL’s iconic score. And though the world included souped up oil tankers and radiation infected war boys, it still felt like a future familiar to us. Whether it’s the fact that the cars all used scraps you might find in a post-apocalyptic future or because thematically it’s actually more relevant than ever, Mad Max: Fury Road is just one of those movies you give yourself into.
Just when you though Inception was going to be Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi magnum opus, along comes Interstellar. Upon first viewing, it may seem like it buckles under the weight of its ambition. However, when you take a close look the brilliance of its plot reveals itself. The world is falling apart. So, as always, we look to the stars. It’s a simple enough premise. However, the concepts that Nolan explores are not only complex — they’re astrophysics, after all — but accurate. It’s an epic in every sense of the word. It’s a space adventure with keen sense of its characters, their motivations, and an idea of what it would be like to be put into their position. “It’s as grand as it is introspective and as grounded as it is existential,” as I said in my review. Nolan doesn’t water down the science like Gravity does. Instead, he embraces it. It’s something shockingly rare in the genre today. Interstellar is something we’ve never seen before and presented in a way that fully takes advantage of everything filmmaking has to offer. However, it doesn’t forget that we exist. That at the center of great sci-fi is humans.
Jodie Foster’s character in Contact is a woman who knew she were good enough to do the job, but gender politics said she wasn’t. On the other side of the spectrum, Amy Adams’ linguist character in Arrival is a woman who feels in over her head, but is given the power she needs to succeed. It’s a subtle contrast for two movies that have a lot in common. But what pushes Arrival into the pantheon of great sci-fi movies is its scale juxtaposed against its own sentimentality. It’s an alien invasion drama that we’ve never seen before. Still, one of its most groundbreaking elements are the humanist ones. When faced with a common enemy, will we corporate with each other or close off? Is language what bonds us together or tear us apart? At the surface, those are the questions. But then, when you go deeper, they become even more existential. I won’t spoil those for you. Arrival is a movie that begs to be discovered — emotionally, scientifically, cinematically. And still, it never fully reveals itself all at once. Its mystery is its greatest asset. And Denis Villeneuve guards it with everything he’s got. That’s what makes it the best sci-fi movie of the decade.