5 May

95 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever

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Science fiction movies often have something to say. Not always, of course! Sometimes the story is a light excuse to show off some cool ideas in new and exciting ways. But the best the genre has to offer sticks with us long after we’ve watched the credits because something about what it showed us mattered. Whether it’s a special effects landmark or the first film to talk about something important to us as a society, science fiction allows pure imagination to blend with possibility.

Since Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Méliès’ “Trip to the Moon,” science fiction has become one of our most introspective and inclusive genres. Hiding within the realistic (or not) science and big ideas are examinations of who we are. These 95 movies are all special in some important way, a subjective collection of films that will be worth a science fiction fan’s time, either for the first time or for a rewatch to pick up something new. Let’s explore.

12 Monkeys

Bruce Willis can be an excellent actor, and “12 Monkeys” is one of his best films. His hurt confusion plays like a concerto against Brad Pitt’s fervent madness. Willis’ time traveler, James Cole, is an unwilling messiah, doing his best to prevent an apocalypse he only dimly understands, never realizing he’s meant to be the sacrificial lamb on its altar. Strange, dreamlike, and emotionally horrific, this is one of Terry Gilliam’s most accessible and meaningful films.

  • Starring: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeline Stowe
  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 131 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick made movies that never seem locked to the era in which they were filmed. Flowing from sparse to saturated as the astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) experiences the endless universe via an inexplicable first contact, “2001: A Space Odyssey” retains its fresh look. HAL 9000’s side story about the flaws of human logic depicts the other side of evolution, incarnating the fear of uncertainty we have when reaching for the unknown. One of the great landmarks of science fiction, “2001” is always worth revisiting.

  • Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Runtime: 139 min
  • Year: 1968
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

A Scanner Darkly

Top-notch rotoscope animation brings Philip K. Dick’s dreamlike drug wonderland to life. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover cop intent on finding the source of the hottest new drug sweeping America. America itself is more dystopian than ever, sliding down into the inevitable horrors of too much surveillance and dwindling freedoms in a world that seems ever closer to becoming a nightmarish truth. One of the first movies to see Robert Downey Jr. back on a career upswing.

  • Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder
  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • Year: 2006
  • Runtime: 100 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

“Buckaroo Banzai” is the closest the modern era’s gotten to pure pulp science fiction since “The Ice Pirates,” and it’s wilder in all the right ways. Every character is uniquely deranged, and John Lithgow shines as the alien Lectroid tyrant who is somehow more bizarre than the rest. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is both a polymath scientist and a rock god because that’s frickin’ rad. It’s a movie you can’t help but smile at. Just remember, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

  • Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum
  • Director: W. D. Richter
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 103 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%

Akira

“Akira” is required viewing. Exploring big ideas like humanity’s lack of humility before nature and the dissolution of our identities, it’s a film as integral to the conversation as “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Tetsuo’s life is seldom his own, and that only becomes more true as his sanity untethers in rhythm with his growing psychic abilities. It’s a pattern of escalation that doomed Tokyo once before, and the government has refused to learn from its mistakes. Yet, there is a way to survive the coming disaster, and with it is the next step in our next evolution.

  • Starring: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama 
  • Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 124 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Alien

The franchise may be hit or miss, but the original “Alien” remains a landmark blend of big science fiction and close-to-home horror. Behind the awful Xenomorph tearing its way through the space truckers of the Nostromo is a corrupt corporate world that counts those lives as financial investments to be used for greater gain. It’s the movie that made Sigourney Weaver a star, and her tangible strength and fear make it clear she’s earned her place as an action movie goddess.

  • Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Year: 1979
  • Runtime: 117 Min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Alien Nation

“Alien Nation” isn’t subtle about using its alien Newcomers to talk about such issues as immigration and racial tensions. It’s equally blatant about how it takes its procedural and psychological cues from the classic film “In the Heat of the Night.” Still, its science fiction trappings keep it fresh, and it effectively tangles with the dilemmas that arise from a drug scheme intended to upend the fragile new world the alien arrivals have created for themselves here on Earth.

  • Starring: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp
  • Director: Graham Baker
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52%

Altered States

Have you ever explored your own DNA … on weed? Dr. Edward Jessup, played by William Hurt, seeks a pharmacological experience like no other, finding his holy grail in a mushroom-herb blend used by a fictional South American tribe. His experiments take him on a wild psychedelic ride through human evolution, but it’s not one he can control. Body horror and dreamlike imagery frame a story about understanding human consciousness. “Altered States” is heady, weird, and unmissable.

  • Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban
  • Director: Ken Russell
  • Year: 1980
  • Runtime: 103 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

The Andromeda Strain

While it can’t match the brisk prose of Michael Crichton’s novel, there are still plenty of taut moments in this thriller about space dust gone wild. The Strain itself is quickly revealed as a micro-organism, a mutating threat with an unclear purpose. Sparse and geometric, the horror of being unable to defend ourselves at the atomic level remains stirring. A literary sequel, “The Andromeda Evolution,” offers a chilling theory about the Strain’s purpose and is a must-read for fans.

  • Starring: Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Year: 1971
  • Runtime: 130 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%

Annihilation

Alex Garland is a brilliant director of science fiction, and “Annihilation” seamlessly blends big ideas with eldritch horror. The film may not adapt author Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel with appropriate fidelity, but what it does do is confront the inherent horror of our existence. Questions of identity are examined with some horrifying implications. Survival in the face of annihilation is proven to be a universal idea. But through it all is that bear. Dear God, that screaming bear!

  • Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson
  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Year: 2018
  • Runtime: 115 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Arrival

Denis Villeneuve could adapt a take-out menu and it’d be a killer watch. “Arrival” adapts a Ted Chiang short story into a non-linear narrative about free will and the beauty and agony of our existence. Its aliens are as thoughtful and empathetic as they are incomprehensibly strange. In their strangeness is a palpable kindness. “Arrival” is about language as our first tool, a weapon when it’s used poorly but a key to the universe’s secrets when used well. Hug your local Heptapod.

  • Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Year: 2016
  • Runtime: 116 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Back To The Future

“Back to the Future” is an improbable gift, a charming flick about a high school kid and his best bud, a mad scientist who invents time travel and then tests it out in a mall parking lot. It’s the movie that made people remember that DMC Deloreans were a thing and that they were supremely rad. The rules of time travel are never solid, but the film keeps to its internal logic with a solid rock music beat.

  • Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 116 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Blade Runner

With an iconic Neo-noir aesthetic and big questions about what makes us human, “Blade Runner” is a former cult movie that’s since evolved into a benchmark for the science fiction genre. Little remains of Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” but the emotional ride Harrison Ford takes us on makes up for the lack of Mercerism. The sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” is equally recommended for its exploration of humanity from another point of view.

  • Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Year: 1982
  • Runtime: 122 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

The Black Hole

Disney went through a period of true weirdness in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and they should go back to it. “The Black Hole” is a wonderfully bizarre philosophical exploration of the fringes of space and the limits of human sanity. Maximillian Schell is the ultimate mad scientist, a man possessed by the mystery of the wormhole. The turn for the spiritual in the film’s final act must be seen to be believed. It’s a nightmarish trip to the fringes of Hell itself.

  • Starring: Maximillian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine
  • Director: Gary Nelson
  • Year: 1979
  • Runtime: 97 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38%

The Boys From Brazil

Cloning remains an inexact science, and “The Boys from Brazil” correctly recognizes that its scheme to remake Hitler relies on how the children are nurtured even more than precise DNA replication. Blackly funny, efficient Nazi hunter Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) is an aging mensch with hope left in his heart. Gregory Peck, usually our hero, horrifies as Dr. Josef Mengele, a real-life figure born from nightmare. Between them are the kids and the question of if people are truly born innocent, even if the circumstances of their births are unnatural.

  • Starring: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, Jeremy Black
  • Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
  • Year: 1978
  • Runtime: 123 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

Children Of Men

Bleak and unsettling, “Children of Men” is an unflinching adaptation of P.D James’ novel about dwindling humanity. The reasons for global infertility remain mysterious, implying we’ve simply become too destructive for nature to allow us to continue. Hope must be fought for, and it is. The Christlike parallels in its harrowing final act are necessary but also secular. What’s important is the search for our species’ newfound grace. The cinematography alone would make this movie special, but it’s so much more than that.

  • Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor
  • Director: Alfonso Cuaron
  • Year: 2006
  • Runtime: 109 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Chronicle

Blending superhero motifs with found footage, “Chronicle” endures on its full-throated exploration of the cycle of abuse. It’s the power fantasy of a child that’s been bullied for too long, taken to extremes. Its alien trappings aren’t explored for long. It’s standard crystal magic fare, but the brilliance of the special effects quickly lay bare the real meat here — Steve’s (Michael B. Jordan) attempt to save his friend is heroic, but it isn’t enough. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) was failed by those he needed long before, but what he does in his rage is still his terrible responsibility.

  • Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell
  • Director: Josh Trank
  • Year: 2012
  • Runtime: 84 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Cocoon

When death and aging are confronted in science fiction, the answer is usually defiance. “Cocoon” takes that defiance and makes it kind. Its human protagonists are old but not cruel, shocked to realize the gift of their rejuvenation has a terrible cost. It’s a hoary movie and not a deep, intellectual one. But it is a nice one, a gentle gift of imagination and an idea of alien life that’s both cornball and comforting. The acting uplifts a forgettable cult classic into something still worth visiting.

  • Starring: Wilford Brimley, Steve Guttenberg, Brian Dennehy
  • Director: Ron Howard
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 117 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

A Clockwork Orange

Kubrick’s near-future exploration of societal sociopathy shines due to Malcolm McDowell’s feral, vital performance. We’d like to think Alex is the worst person in the world, getting his due when he finally falls afoul of the law. But he’s just a cog that slipped out of place. His awfulness didn’t matter to society until he upset the wrong people. His story is an ugly one, although it remains alluring to behold. Alex lives in a dystopia that’s on the verge of reality. The least we can do is learn to avoid it.

  • Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Year: 1971
  • Runtime: 137 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

J. Allen Hynek developed a method of rating possible alien exposure, from Close Encounters of the  First Kind, seeing a UFO at close range, to the Third Kind, witnessing aliens directly. Spielberg licensed Hynek’s system and his expertise for his film and balanced the existential terror of learning that we are not alone in the universe with a childlike desire to know more about them. It’s a classic, not just for its effects or its acting, but for the hope it continues to bring to a genre that sometimes likes fear more than the future.

  • Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
  • Director: Stephen Spielberg
  • Year: 1977
  • Runtime: 135 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Contact

Both Stephen Hawking and the Dark Forest theory find the prospect of first contact troubling, treating the concept of alien life as a prisoner’s dilemma. The only winning move is to hide. But Carl Sagan looked to the possibility as a watershed moment in human history, a chance to unite science and faith under the umbrella of hope. “Contact” clings to that hope and takes us to the stars to find it. The cinematography is beautiful. The message is necessary.

  • Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthey McConaughey, Tom Skerritt
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Year: 1997
  • Runtime: 150 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%

Dark City

“Blade Runner” proved film-noir meshes well with science fiction. “Dark City” ups the ante by adding torch songs, smoky rooms, and a murder mystery that becomes something far stranger. Lovecraftian flourishes inspire its lich-like alien overlords — creatures that only appear human because of what they steal. Gradually pulling its protagonist into an arc not unlike “Akira,” the absurdism of “Dark City”gives way to accepting this weird world where it’s always night and the beach is never open.

  • Starring: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland
  • Director: Alex Proyas
  • Year: 1998
  • Runtime: 100 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

The Day The Earth Stood Still

In the first blockbuster science fiction film to make frightened humanity the antagonist in a first contact situation, Michael Rennie’s gentle Klaatu becomes our moral mentor. A film born under the specter of nuclear war, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” remains a stunning plea for us to eliminate our borders and come together as one world. Its effects are stunning but sparse. The film focuses more on human connection. Yet Gort, the faceless robot, continues to terrify. He is our judgment should we continue to seek self-destruction.

  • Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Year: 1951
  • Runtime: 92 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

Daybreakers

Sometimes a concept is enough to elevate an acceptable movie into something worth remembering. “Daybreakers” isn’t high art, but it does something unique. It looks at the endgame of a global vampire victory with a clinical eye, focusing on the logistical and the necessary. These bloodsuckers are brokers and bean counters, and they’re drinking themselves into resource scarcity. It turns into sweaty action sequences by the end, but the thought that went into building this world is remarkable.

  • Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill
  • Director: The Spierig Brothers
  • Year: 2009
  • Runtime: 98 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

The Dead Zone

Stephen King cheerfully admits in his writer’s notes for “Skeleton Crew” that he’s not hot stuff at writing science fiction, but “The Dead Zone” crosses into sci-fi medical mythos with great success because it’s grounded so firmly by its humble John Smith (Christopher Walken). David Cronenberg’s adaptation recognizes the horror here is all inside the mind, and he sets aside his trademark body horror for close studies of Walken’s drawn and horrified face. More horror than science fiction, it’s still recommended for its thoughtful examination of psychic phenomena.

  • Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Year: 1983
  • Runtime: 103 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Death Race 2000

Before “The Running Man” there was “Death Race 2000.” Exploitative, violent, and extremely silly, it’s the premier pulp movie outing of the ’70s. The best way to watch this dystopian racing flick is at a throwback drive-in movie event. The second best is at home with (legal) weed and some chicken nuggets. Somewhere in this movie is a statement about how resistance to evil regimes starts with small moves. It ends with the fascist Mr. President being hit by a car. I cannot recommend this glorious mess enough.

  • Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone
  • Director: Paul Bartel
  • Year: 1975
  • Runtime: 78 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%

District 9

A direct attack on the lingering effects of decades of virulent racism in South Africa, “District 9” doesn’t belabor its points. What it does do is use stunning special effects work to launch a screaming pig directly into a bunch of supremacist mercenaries. Blending body horror with a surprising amount of military science fiction, Neil Blomkamp’s premiere outing remains his best work. It never forgets its empathy. Neil, we’re still waiting for a kinder, vastly less racist Wikus (Sharlto Copley) to make it home to his wife!

  • Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James
  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • Year: 2009
  • Runtime: 111 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Donnie Darko

Time travel movies are fun but generally illogical. The best way to go about making one work is to set rules and stick to them. “Donnie Darko” has rules so firm that understanding them is necessary to comprehend the film’s larger themes. But even in miniature, Donnie’s torment is understandable. There’s a story about mental illness, sacrifice, and despair. Time loops emotionally link its characters together through multiple realities. That’s the part that matters. That’s the part that remains.

  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhall, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze
  • Director: Richard Kelly
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 113 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Dredd

Judge Dredd is the best of pulp UK comic book silliness, hiding lessons about fascism inside its weird, sprawling storylines. “Dredd” plays that silliness straight, with Karl Urban’s chin fronting a small but excellent tale about the web of power and corruption inside Mega-City One. But as hyperviolent and stoic as it looks, the movie is always winking at us. We laugh with both shock and delight at all the right, gory places. “Dredd” is a black comedy. Don’t tell the Judge.

  • Starring: Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby
  • Director: Pete Travis
  • Year: 2012
  • Runtime: 96 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Dune

I secretly love the bonkers David Lynch version, too. But even more, I love how Denis Villeneuve expertly teases out little flecks of Frank Herbert’s lore and hides them in the details of this lusciously crafted film. The Golden Path is hidden in the shadows as Paul learns about the way the future changes with every breath, leaving him shaking and confused. Oscar Isaac has a magnificent beard. I can’t wait to travel to Sietch Tabr in the sequel.

  • Starring: Timotheé Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 155 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Enemy Mine

Science fiction sometimes teaches us how to be human by exploring the outer worlds, using aliens to mask a lesson we might ignore otherwise ignore. “Enemy Mine” is the old World War II movie “Hell in the Pacific” but with an extended ending that explores the consequences of Dennis Quaid’s new empathy for his former alien foes. A bit on the nose, “Enemy Mine” is still a great popcorn movie about the value of learning about each other.

  • Starring: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Brion James
  • Director: Wolfgang Peterson
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

Escape From New York

John Carpenter’s movies seem to get better with smaller budgets. “Escape From New York” was made with a crate of guns, a case of white tape, some dirty city alleys, and a few million bucks, but it looks like a blockbuster. Kurt Russell dropkicks his child star years as Snake Plissken, the iconic mercenary who hides how much he cares behind some well-earned nihilism. The whole movie hates “The Establishment” and shows us why. Donald Pleasance is a squirrelly little president empowered by an authoritarian system. Carpenter has opinions about this, and mostly, they explode.

  • Starring: Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Year: 1981
  • Runtime: 100 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Spielberg’s thematic follow-up to “Close Encounters” expands on the childlike curiosity the galaxy inspires within us. E.T. is a weird lookin’ little dude, but his big kiddie eyes and doddering motions only frighten adults who’ve forgotten how to embrace their imaginations. The kids get what he’s throwing down, and this lost traveler is promptly adopted as one of their own. His escape is heart-wrenchingly sweet, a reminder that the love of a good family is universal.

  • Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace
  • Director: Stephen Spielberg
  • Year: 1982
  • Runtime: 115 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Event Horizon

We love to see a competent crew dealing with horror, and the best moment in “Event Horizon” shows Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) getting an eyeful of what a lost experimental vessel’s been up. He declares it is time to get the righteous hell outta there — only with better phrasing that I can’t repeat. The special effects are nightmarish, the acting is leagues better than what a cult flick like this would usually draw, and the “Black Hole” style “Welcome to Hell” plotline is “Warhammer 40k” on meth. The RT score can bite me.

  • Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan
  • Director: Paul. W. S. Anderson
  • Year: 1997
  • Runtime: 95 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%

Ex Machina

In addition to a solid story about the commodification of women and the long-term consequences of human-guided AI, “Ex Machina” has Oscar Isaac. If you’re impressed by his identity-splintering role in “Moon Knight,” you’ll find yourself constantly amazed that grimy tech-bro Nathan Bateman is still the same dude. This is not to undersell Domhnall Gleeson, whose seeming innocence hides some of the same misogynistic flaws that infest the tech industry. The only honest emotion here is Ava’s (Alicia Vikander) hate.

  • Starring: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson
  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Year: 2014
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

The Faculty

“The Faculty” is basically “The Thing” set in a suburban high school, but director Robert Rodriguez pushes his version into a standalone delight thanks to a vibrant cast and an unbridled willingness to get weird and outright subversive with the subject matter. The paranoia is amplified with a heavy dose of youthful rebellion in the face of institutionalized behavior, making the change of setting important. Drugs save the world. It’s campy but hides some genuinely thoughtful stuff.

  • Starring: Elijah Wood, Robert Patrick, Clea DuVall
  • Director: Robert Rodriguez
  • Year: 1998
  • Runtime: 102 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

The Fly

Nominally a remake of the Vincent Price classic, David Cronenberg’s body horror triumph takes a close look at scientist Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) dehumanizing experience due to an accident with a matter transmitter of his own design. Science journalist Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis) is along for the horrifying ride. As Ronnie bounces between two increasingly possessive men, we quickly begin to wonder if blending a man with a fly simply released something ugly that was always inside. Economical and gory, “The Fly” is one of Cronenberg’s best and most accessible films.

  • Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Year: 1986
  • Runtime: 95 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Forbidden Planet

Officially, “Forbidden Planet” is inspired by “The Tempest,” Shakespeare’s fantastical play about an exiled magician. Unofficially? It’s just “The Tempest” but with the coolest robot we had before R2-D2. It’s all here, a shipwreck, a love story, a monster with cruel ties to the distant world’s new master. That doesn’t make this science fiction classic any less worth our time today. It remains a special effects landmark, a reminder of Leslie Nielsen’s gifts as a dramatic actor, and the start of Robby the Robot’s long career as the hardest working prop in Hollywood.

  • Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Robby the Robot
  • Director: Fred M. Wilcox
  • Year: 1956
  • Runtime: 98 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Frankenstein

Ironically granted eternal life as one of the iconic Universal Monsters, the creature and its mad-scientist master have enjoyed many forms over the years. But what makes the Frankenstein monster’s doomed creation iconic is Boris Karloff’s rectangular face and stoic anguish. Edgy for the time, with Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) content to compare himself directly to God, and with Jack Pierce’s makeup effects that, for the time, are hauntingly realistic, the 1931 classic remains one of the best adaptations of Mary Shelley’s science fiction masterpiece.

  • Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke
  • Director: James Whale
  • Year: 1931
  • Runtime: 71 min
  • Rating: None
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Galaxy Express 999

Sprawling and strange, Rintaro’s adaptation of a portion of Leiji Matsumoto’s blockbuster space opera is daunting to puzzle through. Still, it’s beautiful to behold as we try, with flowing art that uplifts the beautiful and makes our gentle protagonist even sweeter to watch. “Galaxy Express 999” is a story about transcendence and the value of being human in a chrome future. With famous anime characters like Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldas along for the ride, it’s simply a treat to experience.

  • Starring: Masako Nozawa (Tetsuro), Masako Ikeda (Maetel), Kanta Kimotsuki
  • Director: Rintaro
  • Year: 1979
  • Runtime: 129 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: Audience score of 91%

Galaxy Quest

“Galaxy Quest” is unofficially regarded as one of the best “Star Trek” movies in the canon, including by “Star Trek” alumni like Jonathan Frakes. That’s because this sly homage understands what makes “Star Trek” special. Yes, there’s familiar drama over who’s the star of the show and how unpleasant the make-up effects are. But it gets the fandom. It gets why we, the audience, have helped make our favorite franchises the enduring classics they are. Rarely mean-spirited, “Galaxy Quest” is a love letter to every nerd who owns a pair of latex Vulcan ears.

  • Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tim Allen
  • Director: Dean Parisot
  • Year: 1999
  • Runtime: 104 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Ghost In The Shell

No offense, but there’s only one “Ghost in the Shell” movie, and that’s the original animated hit. A perfect cyberpunk blend of computer graphics and cel art, Masamune Shirow’s luscious and sometimes nigh-erotic thriller becomes a philosophical spectacle worthy of being on the shelf next to “Blade Runner.” The terrifyingly competent Major Kusanagi loses her manga pep in this adaptation but becomes a living question about the long-term effects of living a fully cybernetic life.

  • Starring: Atsuko Tanaka (Major Kusanagi), Akio Otsuka (Batou), Iemasa Kayumi (The Puppet Master)
  • Director: Mamoru Oshii
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 82 min
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Godzilla

It’s one thing to know, as pretty much everyone does these days, that the original “Gojira” was a way of coping with the terror of nuclear war. It’s another to imagine yourself in one of the first audiences to experience the original terrible kaiju god emerging from the water to judge us for our hubris in the name of science. As with Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula,” the movie is dated, but try to look at it with fresh eyes. In context, “Godzilla” remains a staggering achievement, the genesis of a whole new genre of ecological terrors.

  • Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akhiko Hirata
  • Director: Ishiro Honda
  • Year: 1954
  • Runtime: 98 min
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Heavy Metal

A classic movie doesn’t always have to be good. Sometimes it just needs to be rad — so freakin’ cool that it’s still capable of melting your face off. An anthology, with a framing story about a great evil and a bangin’ soundtrack, “Heavy Metal” adapts its stories while keeping the spirit of the American version of the subversive Métal hurlant magazine. Not all of the segments are good, but some, including “B-17,” “Harry Canyon,” and, of course, “Taarna,” have stuck with fans for decades. Come see why, and leave with Sammy Hagar’s title theme lodged in your brain for a week.

  • Starring: John Candy, Harold Ramis, Rodger Bumpass
  • Director: Gerald Potterton
  • Year: 1981
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

Inception

Prone to ascetic movies about the inner workings of our minds, Christopher Nolan crafted “Inception” as a remarkable interpretation of our subconscious selves. A heist movie that understands that information will always be more valuable than gold, its science fiction trappings are often symbolic and always a trip to watch. The subdued emotions of the film ironically give weight to how much Leonardo DiCaprio’s thieving Cobb is tormented by his subconscious. This one will still be talked about a century from now.

  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Year: 2010
  • Runtime: 148 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

Invaders From Mars

If we’re being honest, the original 1953 version is the one you should watch, but Tobe Hooper’s earnest attempt at scary sci-fi is worth revisiting if only to understand your Gen X friends and family. It’s a contender for “A Kid’s First Screwed-Up Science Fiction Movie,” with a paranoid plot that leaves its young hero without a whole lot he can do to stop an alien invasion. It’s the movie ’80s kids watched while we were home alone without a way to call our folks and with every strange noise becoming a harbinger of unknowable horror. “Invaders From Mars” was nominated for two Razzies — because the Razzies suck.

  • Starring: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Louise Fletcher
  • Director: Tobe Hooper
  • Year: 1986
  • Runtime: 98 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38%

Interstella 5555: The 5tory Of The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

French DJ duo Daft Punk turned their second studio outing, “Discovery,” into a concept album and then an animated film about individuality and the universal power of music. Both young men fell in love with space opera manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, the creator of Captain Harlock, at an early age, and they approached Matsumoto to help create the look of the film. The result is a sci-fi answer to The Who’s “Tommy.” It’s an anthem to musical freedom in the face of corporate greed.

  • Starring: The music of Daft Punk
  • Director: Kazuhisa Takenouchi
  • Year: 2003
  • Runtime: 65 min
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s films are often cool-toned and introspective, and “Interstellar” isn’t too far out of his comfort zone. Yet, there is an attempt to plunge around into his psyche for more. A desperate search for human connection across time and space ultimately saves our species. Even the robots get in on it. TARS is the nicest, funniest droid that Matthew McConaughey’s pilot, Cooper, could ask for. He’s a reminder that when humanity recreates itself, we can’t help but include our quirks.

  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Year: 2014
  • Runtime: 169 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

The line between which film is the better version, 1978 or 1956, is pretty thin. But my preference goes towards the pulpier one with the iconic final scene because it’s so solidly informed by the Cold War politics of the time. Paranoia needs rich fertilizer to effectively grow, and the alien podlings find plenty of it in this sometimes gory, always tense story about indoctrination and cultural genocide. The cast, many of whom are science fiction royalty, ground their roles in desperate survivalism.

  • Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy
  • Director: Philip Kaufman
  • Year: 1978
  • Runtime: 115 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Jurassic Park

It doesn’t matter how deeply they’ll drive the “Jurassic Park” franchise into the ground to make a buck. The original film remains an achievement, a landmark of special effects and CGI, and a diplomatic mission between filmmakers and scientists that helped change how we view dinosaurs today. Paleontology as a whole got a boost that still endures all because of a beautiful lark of a story about a group of egoists that decides cloning a bunch of extinct critters couldn’t possibly go wrong.

  • Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Year: 1993
  • Runtime: 126 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

The Last Starfighter

This movie was every kid’s fantasy, and honestly, it still is. A young man’s gamer reflexes aren’t just his ticket out of his Nowhere, USA, rural hellscape but the key to saving the galaxy. The games Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) specializes in are space shooters, and a series of arcade cabinets are designed to select potential pilots to stop the Ko-Dan Armada. A delightful ’80s curiosity, this film is directed by Nick Castle (the original Michael Myers) and stars Dan O’Herlihy(the evil old CEO from “RoboCop”) as the friendly alien, Grig.

  • Starring: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Preston
  • Director: Nick Castle
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 100 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

Logan’s Run

“Logan’s Run” may have dated aesthetics, but its themes of resource scarcity and overvalued youth remain poignant in today’s culture. The young inhabitants of the domed cities aren’t living the lives of influencers, but they are pretty and free and often thoughtless. It’s the last that keeps them from asking questions about their few rituals. The ones that do fall afoul of the little bit of law enforcement that exists. “Logan’s Run” is beautiful and sparse, and the effects remain quite good, but it’s the story that still shines.

  • Starring: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan
  • Director: Michael Anderson
  • Year: 1976
  • Runtime: 118 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Blood, Sweat & Chrome,” Kyle Buchanan’s behind-the-scenes book about the making of “Mad Max: Fury Road” will leave fans with two revelations: It’s a miracle this film exists, and it’s equally miraculous that everyone involved survived to tell the tale. Those are miracles we can be thankful for because underneath this guzzoline-fueled Corvette of a movie are dozens of thoughtful opinions. Its philosophical screams for liberty and safety come from the most primal depths. It’s one of the best movies of the century. Experience it.

  • Starring: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult,
  • Director: George Miller
  • Year: 2015
  • Runtime: 120 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

The Man Who Fell To Earth

David Bowie possessed an unearthly air for most of his career. He was intellectual, bookish, chameleonic, and master of the microphone. He could have claimed to be an alien, and we would have believed it. That makes him perfect casting in this adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel. Even more poignant, the story of this initially naive alien is actually about personal corrosion, the hollowness of celebrity, and the illusions of power. Melancholy and sometimes chaotic, like the industry that knew Bowie the best, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is Nicholas Roeg’s best film.

  • Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
  • Director: Nicholas Roeg
  • Year: 1976
  • Runtime: 118 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%

The Martian

Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s debut novel, “The Martian,” made what should be an obvious fact impossible to ignore: NASA isn’t just a place of scientific wonder. NASA is chock full of Vulcan-ear-wearing, lightsaber-noise-making, Aquaman joke-telling dorks. And one of them is stuck on Mars. These Ph.D. nerds and their often equally dorky superiors (one of whom is Sean Bean aka Boromir of “The Lord of the Rings”) are going to get him home. The story’s smartness is matched with humor, reminding us that math might get us to the stars, but our dirty mouths will keep us sane once we’re there.

  • Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Year: 2015
  • Runtime: 142 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

The Matrix

One of two movies that best encapsulates the turn of the 21st century, “The Matrix” left us questioning the authoritarian boundaries of our reality. It’s metaphorical on multiple levels. One of its central messages addresses who we are inside beyond the shape we were born with — an anthem for its directorial duo, the Wachowski sisters. Its bullet-time action and grey-green aesthetic are old hat now but remain stunning. Revisit it or embrace it for the first time. It still wants to teach us kung fu.

  • Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne
  • Director: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Year: 1999
  • Runtime: 136 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Men In Black

Support indie comic books! Created by people who have to love what they do (because indie comics result in typically crap paychecks for authors and artists) they hide some of the best and wildest stories you could discover. Borrowed from writer Lowell Cunningham‘s three-issue riff on the popular conspiracy theory, “Men In Black” is a lark with the zaniness phaser set to stun. Vincent D’Onofrio steals the movie as Edgar, an alien invader in the vein of Seth Brundle, demanding sugar in water as he stumbles, monstrously, towards his tyrannical goal.

  • Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio
  • Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
  • Year: 1997
  • Runtime: 98 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Metropolis

Behold, the beginning. While “A Trip to the Moon” was the first short film to feature sci-fi concepts, “Metropolis” is a full-length feast of stylish futurism. Seek out the 2010 “Complete Metropolis” restoration for the closest experience you can get to seeing the film as it appeared in 1927 or, controversially, try the jazzed up 1984 “remaster” with a Giorgio Moroder score. Countless cinematic tropes owe their roots to this movie. Being told you must see a movie before you die can be annoying, I get it. But “Metropolis” is our beloved genre’s singular ancestor. Respect it. Experience it at least once.

  • Starring: Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich
  • Director: Fritz Lang
  • Year: 1927
  • Runtime: 148 min, “The Complete Metropolis”
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Minority Report

You’re ahead of the game if you can create a coherent movie out of Philip K. Dick’s stunning, psychedelic worlds. The downside is that you’ll lose some nuance and the ending will be a bit more pat. These are minor critiques of “Minority Report,” a remarkable dystopian movie that understands the proper use of an IKEA aesthetic. It’s not supposed to look cheap. That’s a visual trope indicating that individuality is lost in favor of conformity. Spielberg gets it, offering up a smart and sometimes subversive thrill ride.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
  • Director: Stephen Spielberg
  • Year: 2002
  • Runtime: 144 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Moon

Sam Rockwell had already been an excellent “that guy” in films like “Galaxy Quest” and “Matchstick Men” when he was signed to director Duncan Jones’ premiere outing. “Moon” gave him a feature-length platform to show us why he deserved to be much more. As Sam, a lonely lunar miner with an AI to keep him on the edge of sanity, Rockwell takes us on an emotional journey that turns terrifying when he’s not just keeping himself company any longer. “Moon” is another NASA favorite, and it’s one of ours, too.

  • Starring: Sam Rockwell, Benedict Wong, Dominique McElligott
  • Director: Duncan Jones
  • Year: 2009
  • Runtime: 97 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of Wind

 With its elegiac themes, its beautiful but merciless environments, and hoarse, begging plea for humanity to learn from its war-ruined past, “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” belongs on the shelf next to “Dune.” A doomed hero’s journey complete with a prophecy, it shows us the scars of an old world that burned with fear and rage. The land remembers, and it continues to judge the often cruel humans that remain. But Nausicaa’s adventure relies on her unshakable core beliefs: There is always hope, and we can still create a peaceful world.

  • Starring: Sumi Shimamoto (Nausicaa), Goro Naya (Lord Yupa), Yoji Matsuda (Asbel)
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 117 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Oblivion

Another excellent use of the bland white IKEA aesthetic, “Oblivion” jars us out of our expectations when Tom Cruise’s Jack Harper finds patches of thriving Earth. It’s the first of dozens of clues that reveal what Jack’s experiencing isn’t the whole truth. “Moon” delivers many of its reveals in better ways, but “Oblivion” isn’t about all of the same themes — it’s about breaking a cycle of futility in more up-front ways than its reserved cousin. Say what you will about Cruise, but he always brings his best.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman
  • Director: Joseph Kosinski
  • Year: 2013
  • Runtime: 125 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%

Pacific Rim

If “Godzilla” is a story about the horror and awe of nature’s judgment upon our species, “Pacific Rim” is about enduring our challenges and finding a way to thrive. These kaiju are still metaphors for ecological destruction and resource scarcity, but director Guillermo Del Toro allows us the catharsis of seeing them punched right in the got-dang face. This is not that deep of a movie. “Pacific Rim” is not a movie where critical consensus matters. It is a movie about a giant robot picking up a cargo ship and Babe Ruthing an interdimensional horror across the ocean. And that, my friends, is apex awesome.

  • Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi
  • Director: Guillermo Del Toro
  • Year: 2013
  • Runtime: 131 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

Paprika

There is no winning argument over whether “Inception” is an homage, a rip-off, or something else in comparison to Satoshi Kon‘s final movie, “Paprika.” Hijacked dream experiences and iconic sequences heighten the sense that there’s something weird about the link between these two movies, but “Paprika” takes us through its world with less guidance. It’s academic. Experience both, and you’ll take something new from every viewing. Duality, dreams, and our fragile grasp of reality are the core concepts we need to fix on while centering ourselves in this sometimes abstract, always stunning experience.

  • Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori
  • Director: Satoshi Kon
  • Year: 2006
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Pi

The closest comparison to what’s going on in “Pi” is Umberto Eco’s sly attack on conspiracists, “Foucault’s Pendulum.” But Aronofsky’s film isn’t cynical, it’s desperate. Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) wants to matter, but his best language is math. His isolation doesn’t lead directly to faith. It leads first to greed. Only after does the possibility that Max has found the numerical name of God enter the equation. But knowledge isn’t the easy path to peace. Innocence is. Max realizes his mistake in one of the most horrifying happy endings ever. “Pi” is a thin-budget thriller par excellence. Pop a couple of ibuprofen and settle in.

  • Starring: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Samia Shoaib
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Year: 1998
  • Runtime: 85 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Pitch Black

Pulp science fiction has a hard road whenever it meets the critics. Vin Diesel’s over-the-top ruffian, Richard B. Riddick, is up there with Snake Plissken and Han “I Shot First” Solo, but his trim and gory premier outing gets knocked for not doing or saying much that’s new. That’s fair, but “Pitch Black” remains a great throwback to meathead science fiction. It’s not here to build brave new worlds or say something deep about human nature. It’s a movie about scumbags and scumbags who pretend to be decent people. And it has Keith David as a single anchor of morality. Buddy, that’s all we need.

  • Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David
  • Director: David Twohy
  • Year: 2000
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%

Possessor

A spectacular and horrifying movie about the ultimate in identity theft, Brandon Cronenberg’s first film doesn’t flinch away from its consequences. The trouble starts before assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is assigned to hijack her blue-collar counterpart, Colin (Christopher Abbott). Colin steals identity info, too. He just uses smart home devices so his bosses can sell more product. And both of them have good reason to want Colin’s boss, CEO John Parse (Sean Bean), dead. The problem is that Tasya is becoming too humane to pull the trigger. She’s about to have the worst mid-year job review ever.

  • Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean
  • Director: Brandon Cronenberg
  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 102 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Predator

“The Northman” may be our new winner for the manliest movie of all time, but “Predator” remains in the top five. That’s not sweat on the team’s faces as the Yautja hunts them down, that’s raw testosterone. Sure, they might die horribly, but heaven forfend any one of these hard-living Spec Ops Spooks looks less beefy than their peers — except for Shane Black as their radio guy. But honestly, that’s perfectly ironic after his iffy attempt to revive the franchise.

  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
  • Director: John McTiernan
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 107 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Primer

Here’s our link to Unreality Magazine’s useful infographic outlining and explaining the multiple timelines that happen in “Primer.” You’re going to need it. Watch the movie once, then refer to the graph during your rewatch because you will rewatch it in a desperate attempt to figure out what the hell just happened. The gist? Greed is bad. Greed mixed with time travel will probably destroy reality. We think. In any case, as time travel movies go, this one is the best. And it will kill your brain. Good luck.

  • Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Carrie Crawford
  • Director: Shane Carruth
  • Year: 2004
  • Runtime: 78 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Real Steel

An adaptation of a Richard Matheson story, “Real Steel” is a scrappy little movie that ascends to something pretty special. Hard luck dads and their plucky kids are a dynamic I usually approach with a flamethrower, but add in the grimy near-future setting and a nuanced approach to complicated family dynamics, and suddenly, I’m rooting for Charlie’s (Hugh Jackman) high-strung son Max (Dakota Goyo) and his dumpster robot. Behind their story is an underworld of gambling debts and capitalistic entitlement. It’s a throwback to ’80s kids’ sci-fi, but with a sharper edge.

  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lily, Dakota Goyo
  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Year: 2011
  • Runtime: 127 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

RoboCop

One of the smartest dumb movies to have ever danced with being rated X for violence, “RoboCop” toys with its metaphors of saintly resurrection and good vs. evil by way of Peter Weller’s Officer Murphy being shot up like a “Call of Duty” training bot. With a corporate takeover looming over the city of Detroit, the line between the streetsmart scumbags and the board of directors is nonexistent. However, “RoboCop” isn’t propaganda about “good police.” It’s about individualism and morality. Then, Robocop shoots a criminal in the crotch. It’s great.

  • Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith
  • Director: Paul Verhoeven
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 102 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

The Running Man

As an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, this fun shoot-up is missing about 95% of its source material’s nuance. Admittedly, It wasn’t exactly an incisive story to begin with, but there was something larger in King’s terse prose about corporate profits vs. human life. Broadly, that theme remains and is distilled into a rebellion plot that the new, cop-aligned Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) falls into after he’s scapegoated for a civilian massacre. But it is fun. The one-liners are cheesy perfection, Mick Fleetwood is running the resistance, and an actual opera singer is trying to kill the runners.

  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yaphet Kotto, María Conchita Alonso
  • Director: Paul Michael Glaser
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 101 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

Scanners

David Cronenberg’s body horror, “Scanners,” starts inside the mind as a science fiction-themed thriller about breeding a new era of psychic spies and warriors. It’s the source of the grossest .gif everyone’s seen, with a guy’s head exploding into hamburger from a psychic assault. Cheap and streamlined, it’d be easy to laugh at everyone intently bowing their heads at each other while vocalizing. However, there’s too much intensity and gore to allow comedy to take hold, and there’s a thoughtfulness that lingers. “Scanners” is an early Cronenberg classic and one of his most accessible.

  • Starring: Michael Ironside, Jennifer Neill, Patrick McGoohan
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Year: 1981
  • Runtime: 102 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

Screamers

“Screamers” is a thematically sound adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, “Second Variety,” and it’s better than the Rotten Tomatoes score will suggest. It’s far from perfect. It’s under budget for its aims and sluggish in a few wrong spots, but there’s something earnest about its corporate civil war. Its robotic evolutions effectively bring home the story’s core theme. In effect, Dick predicted the main flaw of adaptive AI: It can only adapt in the ways its flawed makers teach. What we create is bound by our morality.

  • Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis,
  • Director: Christian Duguay
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 105 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%

Silent Running

Worth it just for Huey, Dewey, and Louie, the robot forerunners of R2-D2 and countless other cute droids, “Silent Running” weaponizes its mournful view of our future with Joan Baez tunes guaranteed to make the hardiest shed a tear. Ecologically devastated, Earth subsidizes (barely) a handful of greenhouses in space. but an order to give up on the dream of reforestation sets off one of the botanists. He sets about on a mission of ecological terrorism. The film is nearly bogged down by its melodramatic tone but instead turns haunting due to Bruce Dern’s devoted performance.

  • Starring: Bruce Dern, Ron Rifkin, Cliff Potts
  • Director: Douglas Trumbull
  • Year: 1972
  • Runtime: 89 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

Solaris

Stanislaw Lem went to his grave unhappy with the adaptations of his stories. That’s understandable. The oddities that enter with all translations, whether to other languages or to film, muddy his intent. Yet Andrei Tarkovsky created something special with “Solaris,” a languid movie about communication and the need to begin our search for life on other worlds by first understanding ourselves. Languid is not a strong enough term. Steady your patience and let the story unfold at its own pace. The beauty of it all is a good enough salve.

  • Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Juri Jarvet
  • Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Year: 1972
  • Runtime: 169 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Spaceballs

The key to making a good parody is an understanding of the source material. Arguably, Mel Brooks isn’t at his best with that in “Spaceballs,” but what he does get are the same cinematic roots “Star Wars” borrowed from and a pointed understanding of the movie business. “Moichandising!” yodels Brooks’ wise exile Yogurt, skewering the billions of dollars of merch that is the rock our Jedi Temple is built on. Yet, there’s affection running through the movie, too, and a sense of fun that understands why we love what we do. We are playing with our dolls, and we’re proud of it.

  • Starring: John Candy, Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis
  • Director: Mel Brooks
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 92 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%

Stalker

If “Solaris” is too turgid for you, “Stalker” is gonna be a rough ride. But again, take the movie on its terms. Let its drawling pace lure you into seeing the Zone as it truly is — beautiful and wild and strange. The Zone is also dangerous, and the movie is so committed to showing the interplay of the ecological world and its devastated structures that filming in tainted locations may have taken a fatal toll. Stalker is not about nuclear war. It’s about spiritual evolution.

  • Starring: Alexander Kaidenovsky, Alisa Freindlich, Anatoly Solonitsyn
  • Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Year: 1979
  • Runtime: 163 min
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Starman

John Carpenter’s gentlest movie is a twist on the first contact narrative. Claiming to be invited by our first timid steps into space, Jeff Bridges’ alien finds us frightening enough to immediately send off a warning to avoid this world. He’s not wrong. The Cold War is winding down, but human paranoia remains at an all-time high. The film’s hopeful narrative stays small. In the end, this gentle visitor has changed only one life, but that can be enough to eventually change a world.

  • Starring: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 115 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The tonal shift “Star Trek” undergoes on its first silver screen mission is some high octane whiplash. It upset critics looking for more of the tight-paced fun the original series offered. To be fair, “Star Trek” lumbers purposefully, drawing inspiration from new sci-fi contenders like “2001” and Tarkovsky’s filmed prose. Still, there was always a thoughtfulness inside of Kirk’s (William Shatner) brave new missions. Remastered in 2022, its stunning special effects draw us back. It’s not one of the best “Star Trek” movies. It’s a magnificent science fiction landmark.

  • Starring: William Shatner, Persis Khambatta, Leonard Nimoy
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Year: 1979
  • Runtime: 132 min
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

While this entry is also a stand-in for the larger franchise, let’s go back to 1977 and take a moment to feel what it was like for science fiction fans to take a bite of something that was going to shape their futures and their children’s futures. It’s a Death Star-sized impact crater — the year in which everything changed. A simple hero’s journey with elements borrowed from everything from Akira Kurosawa films to old-timey Westerns, Star Wars was a showcase for George Lucas’ imagination and was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford
  • Director: George Lucas
  • Year: 1977
  • Runtime: 121 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Strange Days

Ignore the Y2K trappings and focus on the dual stories. One retells the trauma of the 1992 LA riots, highlighting a legacy of racism and police brutality that still endures. The other is an exploration of a futuristic technology that our protagonist uses to lock himself into his past. Where the stories collide is a flashpoint that could change the world — or at least one dude’s broken life. The SQUID full-sensory VR experience isn’t here yet, but we’re trying. Maybe that’s not so wise.

  • Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis
  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 145 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

Sunshine

“Sunshine” is a weirder exploration of theology than “Mother!” with a finale that borrows a bit from the equally weirdly religious “The Stand.” There’s something eldritch in the way Mark Strong’s intense Pinbacker regards the sun’s unspoken motivations, and he interprets its waning gifts as losing our patriarch’s favor. The third act stumbles into generic conflict resolution by way of two characters scrabbling at each other, but the visuals and theme still make this a far better-than-average cinematic experience.

  • Starring: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Year: 2007
  • Runtime: 107 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

The Terminator

The attempt to create a stable time loop is laudable, although James Cameron’s methodology will allow Skynet to try again and again and yet, unpleasantly, again to end the meddling of resistance leader John Connor. We’ve already gone over the futility of time-travel movie logic. The results of this meaty action movie built on a titanium science fiction structure retain their strength. There’s still something terrifying about the way Arnold Schwarzenegger marches after his target, colder than Darth Vader and far more relentless than Rick Deckard.

  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

They Live

John Carpenter’s searing indictment of the ’80s wave of capitalist prosperity that left countless blue-collar joes on the skids retains its insight today. That’s tragic. We should not have to watch this movie with grim familiarity and a cathartic empathy with how our unnamed protagonist gives it right back to our greedy alien — and human — overlords, but we do. This movie is an absolute banger with one of the best (and longest) street brawls ever put to film.

  • Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 93 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

The Thing

“The Thing” is up there with “Alien” for how well its effects hold up. The titular creature has retained its uncanny horror. With a variety of excellent performances, Wilford Brimley is a standout, as he goes increasingly unhinged in the face of the remote Antarctic station’s doom. Honestly, you’ll probably have a different favorite side character on every rewatch. There’s meaning here. “The Thing” is a nihilistic look at our social fears. It leaves us with a paranoid itch and the sense that the world could change around us. We could be changed against our will, and we might never know.

  • Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Year: 1982
  • Runtime: 108 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

THX 1138

George Lucas is an ideas guy, and his ideas are spectacular. With a tight budget and a fearless editor, he can produce a dream. George edited “THX 1138” by himself, creating some empty and often liminal weirdness that serves the overall tone but drags a story that needs sleeker handling. Nonetheless, the film has all the bones of a masterpiece. It’s a big idea movie about a dystopian world intent on ensuring the loss of the self. “THX 1138” is filled with haunting setpieces, including a god machine that houses a lizard, a fading glimpse of the sunset, and the shivering mind lock.

  • Starring: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance, Maggie McOmie
  • Director: George Lucas
  • Year: 1971
  • Runtime: 88 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Total Recall

Paul Verhoeven isn’t the guy to appreciate the subtler elements of Philip K. Dick’s storytelling. On the other hand, maybe he was the right guy to leave out the bit in which Earth’s going to get invaded by mice-like aliens once their chosen human advocate dies. “Total Recall” may not remember it for us wholesale, but its vision of a Mars already looted by greedy corporate interests is still in the spirit of Dick’s work. The effects work is again top-notch, giving Arnold plenty to play with while being manly as all hell.

  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
  • Director: Paul Verhoeven
  • Year: 1990
  • Runtime: 109 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

The Transformers: The Movie

No disrespect to Michael Bay (okay, maybe a tiny bit), but the soul of “The Transformers” still lies in its original era. Kids who grew up in the 1980s in love with the first wave of cool transforming robots got knocked back on their heels when everyone from Optimus Prime to Starscream got killed off in what was possibly one of their first theatre experiences. Strangely adult, emotional, and with terrific animation that’s been since remastered, the original movie still has the touch. It has the poweeeerrrr… YEAH!

  • Starring: Peter Cullen, Orson Welles, Frank Welker
  • Director: Nelson Shin
  • Year: 1986
  • Runtime: 86 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%

Tron

Greetings, programs! With a smidgen of new CGI techniques and a lot of clever rotoscope animation, “Tron” was a special effects achievement that got us all feeling a little emotional about what life could be like inside our computers. Affable, smart, and capable of growing up, Jeff Bridges is still the right “go-with-the-flow” guy to deal with digital life. Effectively continuing the original story with cheesy delight, its sequel, “Tron Legacy,” deserves a bonus recommendation.

  • Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
  • Director: Steven Lisberger
  • Year: 1982
  • Runtime: 96 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

Vanilla Sky

“Abre los ojos” is the better film for many, but “Vanilla Sky” uplifts its dreamy nightmares with painterly cinematography. Cameron Crowe’s gift for softening annoyingly hip cityscapes with relatable people helps the audience empathize with Tom Cruise’s drifting sense of who he is. Not a critical darling, its central storyline requires excessive analysis. We do not realize that we’re falling into the same trap as Kurt Russell’s psychologist. Open your eyes. Experience what you have on your terms right now. That’s all there is.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Kurt Russell
  • Director: Cameron Crowe
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 134 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%

Videodrome

Philosopher Marshall McLuhan insisted, “The medium is the message.” So David Cronenberg tautologically uses his film and films within the film to convey McLuhan’s explanations about the medium and its message. The actual medium “Videodrome” is describing, with its ability to sway our minds with transformative imagery, is the internet. All of this heady stuff thrives behind a story about a skeevy TV producer looking for the ultimate high. He gets it and so much more when he finds out he’s not the one in control of his medium. Secretive officials are, and they know to weaponize it.

  • Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Year: 1983
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

V For Vendetta

“V for Vendetta” is about a lot of things, but it is mostly about the need to fight against tyranny at all costs. Its imagery has become iconic. The Guy Fawkes mask is a symbol of  V’s vendetta, standing for all of the subversives and the minorities who go unwanted by powerful elites. V gets Karl Popper‘s paradoxical tolerance, and V is going to ensure their idea of freedom from tyranny outlives V’s current physical form. Viva V! Ad victoriam!

  • Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt
  • Director: James McTeigue
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 132 min
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

War Of The Worlds

Science fiction’s impact is often keyed to a particular era, making some films difficult to separate from their times. A remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was fatally weakened by removing its Cold War roots. However, Steven Spielberg correctly saw a modern metaphor in H.G. Wells’ classic invasion story, switching out its British colonialist metaphor for our post 9/11 anxiety. Though the visual effects are excellent at conveying those fears, it’s the sound effects that make this adaptation work. The roaring, animalistic sounds of the tripods are terrifying, scattering us before their destructive might.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 116 min
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Westworld

The bones of this old theme park are still good enough to build on, and the HBO series started out with an excellent continuation of the original theme. However, “Westworld” is better regarded as the angrier ancestor of “Jurassic Park,” also written by Michael Crichton. Corporate greed and a disinterest in the technical mysteries of how their bottled world actually works make room for chaos to enter the system. Yul Brynner’s iconic man in black, effectively his “Magnificent Seven” character reborn, is also the forefather to the T-600 that will later stalk Sarah Connor.

  • Starring: Yul Brynner, James Brolin, Richard Benjamin
  • Director: Michael Crichton
  • Year: 1973
  • Runtime: 88 min
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Read this next: 20 Movies About Time Travel Ranked Worst To Best

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Source: Slash Film

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