The 50 best sci-fi movies of the 21st century, from ‘Nope’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

The 50 best sci-fi movies of the 21st century, from ‘Nope’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

so what is science fiction? It’s not the easiest of questions to answer when “sci-fi elements” permeate so many of the biggest blockbusters: thought-provoking genre concepts flattened into one-size-fits-all franchise fodder that lends “feel” to countless titles and occasionally, even look alike.

Yes, science fiction has deep roots and explores mankind’s deep-seated fear of itself and the intimidating possibility of worlds unknown. But the last two decades have seen a metaphorical rush into sci-fi storytelling that has turned what was once a niche subgenre into an oversaturated film market. On the one hand, this has spawned an onslaught of sci-fi titles that aren’t always up to date. But on the other hand, it has spawned some of the best sci-fi movies ever made. Masterpieces like Everything Everywhere All at Once and Nope both came out this year and top our list at number five and eight respectively.

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Put simply, to identify the top 50 sci-fi movies of the 21st century you have to draw a line in the sand—even if that’s the sands of Arrakis. A few rules have been set for this.

No fantasy-centric superhero movies will appear here, and neither will the space-based fantasy franchises Star Wars and Star Trek. For an action, horror, or animation film to make this list, it has to be firmly rooted in sci-fi origins and make remarkable use of the tropes and themes within. Next (just for the record), these movies are considered some of the very best of the century on IndieWire but didn’t qualify for this list: “Gravity,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Holy Motors,” and “Battle Royale.” “.

Without further ado, here are the 50 best sci-fi 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

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

Hulu/Everett Collection

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

When pregnant Marisol (Martha Higareda) tries to cross the Mexican-US border a second time, her harrowing story of survival as an undocumented immigrant is transformed into a colorful Stepford Wives fantasy. But this so-called American Dream cannot last, and Marisol soon becomes desperate to escape the land she once wanted to call home.

One of IndieWire’s best horror movies to watch July 4th, Culture Shock not only boasts an imaginative plot (with a twist) but uses that brilliant setting to deliver sharp, standout points about human rights make. —AF

49. “Coherence”


With a room and $50,000, director James Ward Byrkit showed that there is no limit to what is possible in the sci-fi genre. The story is a filmmaker’s lesson in how to activate offscreen space and build secrets into the unseen. The story follows eight friends who have gathered for a dinner party when a comet sweeps overhead, cutting off the power and opening a portal for the dinner guests to enter other realities. which take the form of nearby houses that reflect the house they are in (Low Budget Problem Solving 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 asking the characters existential questions you can’t help but ponder for yourself. —CO

48. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

“Safety Not Guaranteed” – Photo credit: FilmDistrict/Courtesy of Everett Collection

FilmDistrict/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Sci-fi rom-com is an underused term. Safety Not Guaranteed is a silent take on both genres, in which Jack Johnson and Aubrey Plaza play two journalists tasked with investigating a strange classified ad in search of a partner to travel back in time with. Mark Duplass is the scientist who invented the supposed time travel device. The quest to uncover past loves while dodging government investigations into the time-wasting tactics underpins Sundance’s award-winning film, despite its heady premise. And “Safety Not Guaranteed” also started the trend for indie filmmakers to score with their buzz from their micro-budget indies. Three years later, director Colin Trevorrow helmed the Jurassic World sequel based solely on that ambitious feature film. Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin and the late Lynn Shelton also starred in the critically acclaimed film. —SB

47. “Source Code”

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

Summit Entertainment/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Impressively tight and fast-paced, Source Code reimagines Groundhog Day as a high-tech, high-stakes mystery, incorporating sci-fi elements into a thriller that feels more contemporary than futuristic. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, an Army pilot whose consciousness is repeatedly thrown back in time, where he relives the last eight minutes in the life of a Chicago commuter before his train explodes. Stevens was ordered 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 skillfully lock their audience on a protagonist who doesn’t always know what’s going on, so we have to figure it out with him. They also create a whole small society around this train, which becomes a kind of sanctuary for the hero, despite knowing that he lives in a world where these moments of peace cannot last. —NM

46. ​​“Idiocracy”

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

© 20thCentFox/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Mike Judge’s sci-fi satire seemed cursed from the moment 20th Century Fox abandoned it at the last minute, making the film an inevitable box office bomb. But despite all of that, the film took off and carved its way into American pop culture solely because of its depressingly accurate predictions. “Idiocracy” envisions a futuristic America where everything is dumbed down by a combination of anti-intellectualism, boring commercial entertainment, and the phenomenon of intelligent people who simply don’t have children. The result is an idiot populace utterly unable to get through the day, let alone govern itself. This leads to many funny moments, but with each passing year the film feels less like a comedy and more like intelligent dystopian sci-fi. While the film’s prediction of America turning into a kakistocracy might have seemed too bleak in 2006, it now seems like the film’s biggest mistake didn’t go far enough. —CZ

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