Science fiction might not have been the most successful or lucrative genre of the past decade but it still brought us some of the best cinematic experiences of the past ten years all the same. From time travel to space exploration, humanity’s growing relationship with technology, and everything in between, science fiction films of the 2010s explored some of the deepest and most complex stories and concepts in all of film. Today as I continue my look at the best films of the past decade I decided to explore my personal favorite films from that epitomized the peak of imagination and entertainment from within this mind bending and mystifying genre. These are my picks for the Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of the 2010s.
For this list I went with films released from 2010 through 2019 that were mostly dependent on science fiction concepts for their story and not just movies that featured minor sci-fi elements. As such, movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” (an action movie) and “Sorry to Bother You” (a black comedy) are not included on this list today as they are more appropriate for other genres despite having sci-fi elements. Also any comic book movies were not included because I already did a list of my favorite comic book adaptations from the last decade which you can read by clicking here.
Finally as with every one of my best-of-the-decade lists the goal here is to explore what I personally believe were the best movies of the last ten years from my perspective so I tried to pick movies I would have likely awarded five stars or a high ranking four star grade. With that in mind quite a few popular films like “Jurassic World”, “Bumblebee”, “Chronicle” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” did not make the list but were included on my short list. So consider them honorable mentions worth checking out.
What are your favorite sci-fi films of the last ten years? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
20. “Source Code”
Directed by Duncan Jones, who also led one of the best sci-fi films of the 2000s with “Moon”, “Source Code” is a fantastic blend of action and sci-fi elements that finds a soldier unwillingly involved in an experimental project that sees him repeat the same eight minutes over and over again in order to discover the source of a bomb on an ill-fated train. Jake Gyllenhaal takes center stage in a tightly crafted pulse-pounding experience packed with intrigue and a great mystery that never looses sight of the humanity of its characters. On top of it all “Source Code” is less bothered with reinventing its “live, die, repeat” trope working more to prove why this kind of narrative device is still so intriguing and effective.
19. “The World’s End”
The final film in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy “The World’s End” is to sci-fi what “Hot Fuzz” was to action and “Shaun of the Dead” was to horror. A comedy that at once parodies and embraces the clichés of its chosen genre, “The World’s End” begins with a group of friends revisiting a bar crawl they were unable to complete in their younger years. They soon discover that their old stomping ground now plays host to alien robots meant to replace humanity in a mission to bring peace and harmony to the planet. Like many great sci-fi films “The World’s End” tackles great relatable themes like what it means to be human and the idea of free will while mixing in plenty of action, effective comedy and the genuine heart that helped make the Cornetto Trilogy one of the very best.
18. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
The first of two “Star Wars” films on this list, “Rogue One” was a highlight of the franchise’s Disney offerings in the second half of the decade serving as the first film in the “Star Wars Story” series meant to explore side stories and character origins as standalone features. In this case the narrative follows the mission to capture the Death Star plans that Darth Vader sought in the very beginning of “A New Hope”. Emotionally impactful and possessing genuine stakes that feel exciting in spite of us already knowing the outcome “Rogue One” takes chances while still feeling solidly grounded within the “Star Wars” mythos. Whereas “Solo” proved why these standalone films don’t always work, “Rouge One” proved the potential these individual stories have to capture the franchise’s signature magic.
Talk about a mindbender. “Coherence” is a small film but one definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. Featuring a raw filming style with many ad-libbed moments to add to its chaotic nature, “Coherence” explores a group of friends who, on the night a comet bypasses Earth, become stuck in a series of alternate realities where different versions of each person exist all at the same time. Chaos ensues as everyone begins to question which reality they are in and which version of their friends they are interacting with. Despite its complicated story “Coherence” lives up to its name by being surprisingly easy to follow while creatively complicated at the same time. With this bizarre hidden gem director and writer James Ward Byrkit proved that it doesn’t take big budgets and superstars to create a great sci-fi piece.
16. “War for the Planet of the Apes”
The rebooted “Planet of the Apes” series was one of the most pleasant surprises of the decade turning out three amazing films. However, while many call “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” the highlight of the trilogy, for me the most memorable is the third movie “War for the Planet of the Apes”. Continuing the franchise’s effective social commentary complimented by awesome action and visual effects, especially the even more polished motion capture performance of Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a captivating and emotionally resonant experience with a fitting and heartbreaking conclusion to Caesar’s story ark. This film lived up to all the expectations set by the prior installments and provided a near perfect conclusion to one of the decade’s best series, at least for now.
15. “Edge of Tomorrow”
Also known as “Live Die Repeat”, “Edge of Tomorrow” from director Doug Liman brings together the talents of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in a no-holds-barred action/sci-fi experience involving aliens and the time travel “déjà vu” trope. Based on a Japanese novel, “Edge of Tomorrow” takes place on an Earth that is at war with invading aliens called Mimics that have the ability to reset the day to guarantee their victory. When an incident leads Cruise’s character to absorb the aliens’ ability to relive the same day he teams with Blunt’s character, who previously utilized the skill, to turn the aliens’ biggest advantage against them. Smartly directed and making fun use of the time loop concept, “Edge of Tomorrow” is an excellent sci-fi blockbuster that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
14. “Ad Astra”
An overlooked gem of 2019 and the newest movie on this list, “Ad Astra” is one of several great slow-burn and philosophical sci-fi features that made the genre so awesome over the last ten years. Starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut who embarks on a mission to find his father in the outer reaches of space before an experiment destroys Earth, “Ad Astra” makes great use of patient storytelling and spectacular visuals to tell an insightful tale exploring the bond of father and son and asking important questions regarding humanity’s obsession with the unknown. While its majesty is watered down by the existence of superior philosophical sci-fi features that came before it, “Ad Astra” is still a beautifully realized space exploration film in its own right.
13. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Time to piss off the fanboys! Rian Johnson had a great decade in the 2010s especially in science fiction. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will no doubt be a controversial pick for my countdown because it was probably one of the most divisive films of the last ten years. The second entry in the “Star Wars” sequel series was reviled by fans, but for me it’s easily the best of the trilogy. While the also excellent “The Force Awakens” depended heavily on rehashing “A New Hope” and “The Rise of Skywalker” was an mess of forced fan service, “The Last Jedi” feels like the most ambitious movie of the three pushing the boundaries of the franchise both visually and thematically. While it’s far from perfect “The Last Jedi” is the one film of the sequel series that effectively prioritized creativity over pandering.
Sticking with Rian Johnson, “Looper” was one of the best films of 2012 and another movie from the decade that leaned on time travel as a main plot element. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a convincing younger version of Bruce Willis as they both portray a man named Joe who works as a “looper” killing off targets sent back in time from the future. Looper’s end their careers by killing their older selves, but when Joe’s older self escapes it leads to a conflict between the two Joes over the fate of a young boy destined to become a powerful crime lord. It’s an entertaining idea that presents questions about destiny and whether or not the future can be re-written. While not every question is answered, Johnson’s directing and writing helps create one of the most engaging time travel concepts in recent years.
“Upgrade” falls under so many different categories that simply calling it a sci-fi film is an understatement. It’s also an action thriller and a body horror film in addition to being a standout modern entry in the cyberpunk subgenre. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell this simplistic, small budget feature follows a technophobe who, after being paralyzed in an attack, agrees to utilize an experimental AI that allows him to walk but can also take control of his body when commanded allowing him the opportunity to hunt the criminal underground for the men who attacked him. Sporting creative camerawork and a character-centric story that challenges the viewer to contemplate the ethical dilemmas that come with technology, “Upgrade” was underappreciated due to a lack of promotion but is an enjoyable multi-layered sci-fi feature worth checking out.
10. “The Martian”
Ridley Scott is a directing legend, but his 2010s filmography was hit or miss. While his “Alien” prequels “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant” were divisive at best his most impressive contribution to the genre over the last ten years was “The Martian”. An adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, “The Martian” stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who is unintentionally left behind on Mars after a storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet. As a result, he must survive long enough for a rescue mission to reach him essentially giving us what many have called “’Cast Away’ in space”. “The Martian” offers up an engaging mix of comedy and suspense and an insightful look at humanity’s drive for both survival and exploration. While the movie does take a lot from the source material, I also recommend you take time to read the actual book as well. Both are worthwhile investments of your time.
9. “Ex Machina”
Obviously, technology and artificial intelligence is a huge part of science fiction and throughout the 2010s we saw numerous films explore the deteriorating barrier between intelligence and programming. “Ex Machina” is one of the finest such films. Director Alex Garland brings to life a story about a programmer named Caleb who is hired to administer the Turing Test to a humanoid robot named Ava. As Caleb and Ava bond the lines between human and machine become blurred. Ava alone is a great character thanks to Alicia Vikander’s spectacular breakout performance that keeps you guessing about her motives and capabilities from the very start. “Ex Machina” is an inspired and well-conceived film that challenges the meaning of intelligent life and, in my opinion, sports one of the best endings of any movie in the genre from the decade.
Alfonso Cuarón had one of the most impressive decades for any film director even though he only led two movies, “Roma” and this movie “Gravity” both of which earned him the Best Director awards at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. “Gravity” helped Cuarón further stake his claim as one of the greats of modern fantasy and sci-fi through the exploration of a lone astronaut’s attempt to survive in space after her shuttle is struck by space debris. With spectacular special effects and one of the best performances by any actress over the last ten years from Sandra Bullock, “Gravity” turns a genuinely unsettling premise into a story with real emotional weight that lingers long after the credits. It was also heavily praised for its mostly accurate depictions of the science of space and used the equipment actually employed by real life astronauts making it a rare treat for space lovers everywhere to behold.
7. “Under the Skin”
Appropriately titled, “Under the Skin” is an slow-burn sci-fi feature that says a lot while saying very little. Starring Scarlett Johansson as an otherworldly being who takes the form of a seductive human woman, this truly is a feature destined to get “under your skin” either with its underlying themes or due to its at-times tedious exploration of the creature’s journey through the world of humans. “Under the Skin” is an enigmatic experience not for the feint of heart or those looking for a more cut-and-dry kind of film. Using visuals and a neat hidden camera approach “Under the Skin” gives viewers a fantastic “fly on the wall” perspective as they try to decipher what this alien wants, what the dark world she utilizes is, and why she loses sight of her unknown mission the longer she’s in human form. We get very few answers and that’s why the film is so fascinating.
Christopher Nolan had an awesome decade exploring several different genres of film, but sci-fi saw him contribute two of the decades best including 2014’s “Interstellar”. Taking place in a dystopian future where Earth is slowly becoming a dry wasteland, Matthew McConaughey plays an astronaut who joins a team’s space exploration to find a new planet for the human race. This leads “Interstellar” to explore heavy sci-fi territory with ideas like wormholes and the relationship between time and space both in play. Critics and scientists have praised this film for its accurate depiction of these scientific concepts, yet despite being heavily focused on these elements “Interstellar” remains grounded in exploring the emotional core of humanity. It all adds up to one of the best space exploration movies of all time.
Another film from Christopher Nolan, part fantasy sci-fi epic and part heist film, “Inception” sees a group of dream thieves enter a target’s mind in order to perform the seemingly impossible task of inception, implanting an idea and making it stick. It’s an engrossing premise that kicked off the 2010s in style thanks in no small part to its fun cast and Nolan’s dependence on practical effects, including the now famous spinning room. The effects and visual style were so grand that it earned four Academy Awards for its sound work, cinematography and visuals while the themes and concepts have made it a certified modern classic. Everything adds up to a stunning cinematic masterpiece that keep’s people coming back to explore the intricacies and imagination and see what new details they might catch that they missed before.
4. “Blade Runner 2049”
The decade saw its fair share of long overdue sequels and franchise reboots including “Blade Runner 2049”, the followup to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. Directed by Denis Villeneuve who firmly established himself as a genre mainstay during the decade, this sequel released 35 years after the original follows an agent named K who investigates a mystery that threatens to upend everything the world has known about replicants. The story is actually much more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea anyway. Featuring amazing set pieces and camerawork that helped it earn Oscars for its cinematography and visual effects, “Blade Runner 2049” is a near perfect sequel that builds on its predecessor without ever trying to fully replicate it. It’s both original and nostalgic which helped make it one of my top three favorite movies of 2017.
Speaking of Denis Villeneuve, he has two films in my top five, this time with “Arrival” an adaptation of a short story from the 90s that takes the idea of a close encounter and uses it as an allegory for the intricacies of communication. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as a linguist and physicist respectively who team up to interpret the language of a visiting alien species. Delving deep into the complexities of visual and verbal communication and the risks of misinterpretations, “Arrival” provides an important lesson for the world at large to understand wrapped in a terrific sci-fi aesthetic. It leans less on action and suspense and depends more on providing a thought-provoking narrative that leaves a lasting impression which is why it earns a spot this high on the list.
Director Alex Garland appears in the top ten once again with by far one of my favorite films of the last decade “Annihilation”. Adapted from a pretty complicated book of the same name, “Annihilation” is a great mix of horror, action and sci-fi tackling thought provoking themes of human existentialism and the impact of grief on the human psyche. Its ideas are so complicated and thought provoking that Paramount was afraid audiences would shun the film and released it on Netflix in foreign markets resulting in a box office bomb, but those who have seen the film and respect great sci-fi know why this movie is criminally underappreciated. Its visual style, memorable performances, incredibly detailed CGI and open-ended symbolism all come together to create one of the most fascinating cinematic experiences of the last decade.
My favorite sci-fi film of the decade is also the most grounded in our potential reality. Spike Jonze’s “Her” explores one of the most relevant aspects of our society today, our obsession with technology and how that has altered the human experience. “Her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as a soft-spoken man who forms a romantic relationship with the AI in his phone named Samantha, played by Scarlet Johansson, who both give memorable career-high performances despite never actually being physically together on screen. “Her” encapsulates how our dependence on technology has made it more and more difficult to cultivate real human connection but also questions what it means to be in love. There’s so much that this movie tries to project, and it does it all so brilliantly. I’d personally call it one of the most relatable and emotionally impactful films I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of any better reason to put it atop this list.