The 50 best science fiction movies of the 21st century, from ‘No’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

The 50 best science fiction movies of the 21st century, from ‘No’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

The 50 best science fiction movies of the 21st century, from ‘No’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

So is science fiction? That’s not the easiest question to answer when “science fiction elements” permeate so many of the biggest hits: thought-provoking genre concepts flattened into a one-size-fits-all franchise fodder that makes countless titles “feel” and, sometimes, even look the same.

Yes, science fiction is rooted in deep origins, examining humanity’s ingrained fear of itself and the intimidating possibility of unknown worlds. But the past two decades have seen a metaphorical rush to science fiction storytelling that has left the once-niche subgenre an over-saturated film market. On the one hand, this has produced an onslaught of sci-fi (ish) titles that aren’t always up to par. But on the other, it pushed some of the best science fiction movies ever made. Masterpieces like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Nope” both arrived this year and are at the top of our list at number five and number eight respectively.

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In a nutshell: In determining the 50 best science fiction films of the 21st century, you have to draw a line in the sand, even if that is the sand of Arrakis. To this end, some rules have been established.

No fantasy-focused superhero movies will appear here, and the same goes for those “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” space fantasy franchises. For an action, horror, or animated film to make this list, it must be firmly rooted in the origins of science fiction and make considerable use of the tropes and themes it contains. Also (just to get it out of the way): these films are regarded by IndieWire as some of the best of the century, but they didn’t qualify for this list: “Gravity”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”, “Holy Motors”, and “Battle Royale”.

Without further ado, here are the 50 best science fiction movies of the 21st century.

Samantha Bergeson, Christian Blauvelt, David Ehrlich, Ryan Lattanzio, Noel Murray, Zack Sharf, Graham Winfrey and Christian Zilko also contributed to this list.

50. “Into the Dark: Culture Shock”

“Into the Dark: Culture Shock” – Credit: Hulu / Everett Collection

Hulu / Everett Collection

Hidden in Hulu’s horror anthology “Into the Dark” (a collection of holiday-themed films of varying quality), director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s sci-fi gem of 2019 combines familiar futuristic concepts with thoroughly modern political commentary.

When pregnant Marisol (Martha Higareda) attempts to cross the border between Mexico and the United States for the second time, her heartbreaking story of undocumented immigrant survival turns into a colorful “Stepford Wives” fantasy. But that so-called American dream can’t last, and soon Marisol finds herself desperate to escape the country she once planned to call home.

Ranked among IndieWire’s Best Horror Movies to Watch on July 4th, “Culture Shock” not only boasts an imaginative storyline (with a twist), but uses that brilliant structure to highlight hot spots and human rights highlights. – AF

49. “Consistency”


With one room and $ 50,000, director James Ward Byrkit proved that there are no limits to what is possible in the sci-fi genre. A directing lesson in activating the space off-screen and building the mystery into the invisible, the story centers on eight friends gathered for a dinner when a comet whizzes overhead, kills electricity, and opens a portal to allow dinner guests to pass into other realities, which take the form of neighboring homes that mirror the one they are in (low-budget troubleshooting 101).

Byrkit keeps the rules of his world digestible – they don’t interfere with our involvement in the drama, which does a great job of presenting characters with existential questions you can’t help but reflect on for yourself. —CO

48. “Security not guaranteed”

“Security Not Guaranteed” – Credit: FilmDistrict / courtesy Everett Collection

FilmDistrict / courtesy Everett Collection

Sci-fi rom-com is not a phrase used often enough. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a quiet version of both genres, as Jack Johnson and Aubrey Plaza play two reporters tasked with investigating a curious classified ad looking for a partner to go back in time with. Mark Duplass is the scientist who invented the alleged time travel device. On a quest to uncover past loves, while dodging government inquisitions into time-bending tactics, he founds the Sundance award-winning film despite its heady premise. And “Safety Not Guaranteed” also announced the tendency for indie directors to score pain points on the buzz of their micro-budget indies. Three years later, director Colin Trevorrow would direct the sequel to “Jurassic World” based only on this ambitious film. Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, and Lynn Shelton also starred in the critically acclaimed film. – SB

47. “Source code”

“Source Code” – Credit: Summit Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection

Summit Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection

Reimagining “Groundhog Day” as a high-tech, high-stakes mystery, extraordinarily tense and lively “Source Code” integrates elements of science fiction into a thriller that feels more current than futuristic. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, an Army pilot who continues to see his consciousness sent back in time, where he relives the last eight minutes of a Chicago-bound commuter’s life before his train explodes. Stevens was told by his superiors to track down the bomber; but of course there is more to it than he is initially allowed to understand. Director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley cleverly keep their audience tied to a protagonist who doesn’t always know what’s going on, so let’s find out with him. They also create a whole small company on that train, which becomes a kind of refuge for the hero, even though he knows he lives in a world where those moments of peace cannot last. – NM

46. ​​”Idiocracy”

“Idiocracy” – Credit: © 20thCentFox / Courtesy Everett Collection

© 20thCentFox / courtesy Everett Collection

Mike Judge’s sci-fi satire seemed cursed from the moment 20th Century Fox dropped it at the last minute, making the film an inevitable box office bomb. But despite all of this, the film persisted and made its way into American pop culture solely on the basis of its depressingly accurate predictions. “Idiocracy” imagines a futuristic America where everything is silenced by a combination of anti-intellectualism, bland commercial entertainment, and the phenomenon of intelligent people who simply have no children. The result is an idiotic population that is completely incapable of coping with the day, let alone self-governing. This leads to a lot of funny moments, but with each passing year the film feels less like a comedy and more like a clever dystopian science fiction. While the film’s prediction that America would turn into a cachistocracy may have seemed too depressing in 2006, it now appears that the film’s biggest flaw isn’t going far enough. —CZ

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