My Ten Favorite Science Fiction Movies of the Last Ten Years
These would make a kick-ass movie marathon.
There have always been science-fiction movies.
Over the years, technology has improved nearly everything in these movies, from special effects to costuming. I mean, just look at the difference between the 1902 short A Trip to the Moon and what we will see nearly a century later in Dune. Still, I think the most important things to consider in these movies, and frankly, all popular entertainment are the characters and the story. Do they tell a good story?
The last decade has seen plenty of good science-fiction and science-fantasy movies. However, I did not have a problem picking my favorites. In my list below, I didn’t include any of the Star Wars films as I’d consider them science-fantasy. I also didn’t include any superhero movies because I think of them as a separate category from science fiction.
If, for some reason, you have not seen any of the films below, I would encourage you to do so. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and quite likely incredibly entertained. I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours, give or take, losing ourselves in a good adventure.
10. Arrival (2016)
Based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by one of my favorite short story writers Ted Chiang, Arrival takes complicated science fiction and human ideas and presents them in a unique narrative. Denis Villeneuve’s strength is compellingly telling a story. He takes a typical science fiction trope of the first contact with aliens and tells a different story. One that is heavier and more thought-provoking.
There’s not been as good a first contact movie since Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
9. “Interstellar” (2013)
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, as with many of his later films, are considered ambitious and impenetrable. Some love his style, while others find them overly complicated, confusing, and maybe even boring. The movie sits at an intersection of time, space, and love. It is messy but a marvel of visual effects and acting.
It is far superior to his latest movie, Tenet.
8. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
I was never much of a fan of the Mad Max movies. Post-apocalyptic futures hold little appeal. However, George Miller’s Max Max: Fury Road is a roller coaster ride that keeps going with so many exciting moments. It is one of the best flat-out action movies of the last decade. The road scenes are a rush of adrenalin, but the film still slows down enough to give us glimpses of the world-building. It is a weird, over-flowing with testosterone summer blockbuster that, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, would venture into parody. The cinematography, editing, costume design, visuals, and the performances of the cast, particularly Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, are better than you might think this kind of movie would invoke.
While I’m not generally a fan of prequels, Furiosa will undoubtedly be amazing when it comes out in the next few years.
7. “Ex Machina” (2015)
Writer/Directors are almost always going to present their work in the best possible way. Writer Alex Garland made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, and it is one of the best independent films of the last decade. The story about sentient AI is less about visual effects and a lot more about human effects. At pretty much every point, the movie is visually engaging, and the three leads are mesmerizing, especially Alicia Vikander. Plus, it definitely has one of the best dance scenes ever committed to film. I love that you know throughout that something is off, but as an audience, you can’t quite tell where the story might go. Is it about the creation of sentient life or how men treat women as objects? Maybe both.
The HBO Westworld series took a lot of inspiration from this film.
6. “Her” (2013)
Spike Jonze’s heartfelt and intimate Her is more than a small indie film love story, it’s a mash-up of science fiction and romantic drama. Joaquin Phoenix gives arguably his best performance as a lonely introvert upset with an impending divorce who upgrades his computer system with an AI voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The growing connection to our devices with Alexa and Siri built-in is extrapolated into a logical science-fictional future. Another writer/director who has full command of his vision, Jonze, is great at reflecting today’s obsession with technology and showing how frail the human heart is at the same time. Watching the film, there’s no doubt Jonze winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was no fluke.
Scarlett Johansson’s voice work is so good; it is a shame she wasn’t nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar.
5. “Edge Of Tomorrow” (2014)
There have been many videogame movies, but not one that takes the tropes of videogames and turns it into a movie. Doug Liman’s poorly-named Edge Of Tomorrow does just that with its Groundhog Day meets alien invasion storyline. Tom Cruise playing a smarmy, marketing douchebag is right in his wheelhouse, but Emily Blunt is the real star of the picture. Her persona fills the entire screen and surpasses Cruise’s screen presence. Of course, we get several action pieces and alien war scenes that made me think of the better ones in Starship Troopers.
I look forward to the sequel that probably will never get made.
4. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Speaking of sequels that I thought would never see the light of day, Blade Runner 2049 is exceedingly better than it has any right to be. Not only is this Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to Arrival, but it’s a sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time. The original Blade Runner introduced me to film noir and the late great Syd Mead’s conceptual designs. Here we have a future vision of a future vision but still focused on artificial life and what it means to be human. This is the third movie in my top ten with AI at the center, which speaks of the interestingness of the topic and the topic’s ability to tell human stories. Blade Runner 2049 sheds light on the evolution of artificial intelligence and asks smart questions about the reality of emotions, love, and more.
As with the original, the world-building, visual elements, and soulful acting are in abundance. It deserves a greater appreciation for its ambition filmmaking.
3. “The Martian” (2015)
I’m not sure how the Andy Weir novel entered my sphere of interest, but I devoured it and then couldn’t wait for the movie. The Martian took the joy of Weir’s prose and transformed it for the movie into a dynamic, smart, and charming tour de force for Matt Damon. All the credit goes to director Ridley Scott and scriptwriter Drew Goddard. One of my absolute favorite bits is the Project Elrond joke, where I was one of only a smattering of moviegoers who got the joke and guffawed at the moment. While Damon is obviously the star, the entire cast is star-studded, including Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, and Donald Glover.
There aren’t many movies when I stumble upon them as I’m searching for something to watch on TV that I always stop, but this is one of them.
2. “Gravity” (2013)
The science-fiction elements of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity are more grounded in reality than probably any of the movies before. Aside from the orbital mechanics being totally off but needed to be bent to make the film work, everything is based on today’s reality. If you think Mad Max: Fury Road is a roller coaster (and it is), Gravity is a fighter jet doing rolls, loops, dives, and climbs with alarm bells going off constantly. Most movies have three parts: Opening, Conflict, and Resolution. Gravity runs 90 minutes, and the first five would be considered the Opening, and the last two would be the Resolution. The rest of the movie is Conflict, and boy is it over and over and over and over again. Starting with the famous uncut sequence at the beginning, and Sandra Bullock as a stand-in for the audience, the movie never lets up.
Visually stunning with a non-stop narrative, Gravity is the only movie I wish I had seen in IMAX.
1. “Inception” (2010)
Simply the best movie Christopher Nolan has made, Inception is at once a blockbuster movie making nearly a billion dollars at the box office and an intellectual thriller that rewards an audience that is paying complete attention. Of course, with ridiculous special effects from a spinning corridor fight to a Paris street folded in on itself, the movie has all the trappings of good science-fiction. There is little doubt Nolan is cribbing some James Bond highjinks here, but it’s more than a jet-setting caper film. The world-building is complete even if its a tad difficult to follow at first viewing. The cast is top notch from Leonardo DiCaprio on down. It’s probably the best troop of actors Nolan has ever worked with including Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen (now Elliot) Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. Hans Zimmer’s iconic score is on par with John Williams and his music for the original Star Wars. As an example of the best of early 21st century cinema, it features several thrilling scenes, good character moments, and many memorable images.
Last Christmas, my daughter bought me a replica top from the movie and it sits proudly on my desk.
Now you’re ready for one kick-ass movie marathon weekend!