As time continually goes on, it often gets more and more difficult to come up with fresh, creative, and unique concepts for films. While that’s true in pretty much every genre, it is especially the case with science fiction. These are typically stories told in fantastical or futuristic worlds, so they need big ideas.
Despite how tough it might be, the 2010s ended up producing a handful of tremendous sci-fi flicks. Not counting any in the superhero genre, the movie-loving users at Letterboxd have reviewed the sci-fi films of the decade and it’s a great way to gauge which are the best.
10 Melancholia (2011) – 3.78
Stream On Amazon Prime, Hulu, The Roku Channel, Tubi, Kanopy, & Vudu
Director Lars von Trier is known for being a filmmaker who puts out projects that are visually interesting and intellectually engaging. One of his greatest works ever is Melancholia, which focuses on the relationship between two sisters just as a new planet is on a collision course with Earth.
The sci-fi aspect is certainly intriguing, though it’s that bond between siblings that really shines. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her lead performance in this stellar movie. This is actually the middle entry in von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy” after Antichrist and before Nymphomaniac.
9 Hard To Be A God (2013) – 3.79
Stream On Kanopy
Like Melancholia, this 2013 film is both a sci-fi movie and an art film. Based on a 1964 novel of the same name, Hard to be a God takes place in Arkanar, a city on a planet with a society that resembles the Middle Ages.
The Russian film follows a group of scientists sent to Arkanar to help localize civilization there, though they are not allowed to violently intervene or kill anyone. Interestingly, the movie received mixed reviews among Russian media but got a much better response once it was released for critics elsewhere.
8 JUNK HEAD (2017) – 3.80
Not Available To Stream
The case of the release date for JUNK HEAD is a pretty unique one. If you look at most places for the film, you’ll find that it is a 2021 movie but that’s not totally true. It appeared at the Fantasia International Film Festival in 2021 but actually first arrived as a short film in 2013 and then the feature iteration debuted in 2017.
Directed by Takehide Hori, the stop-motion animation film is set in a future where humans have lost the ability to reproduce. Clones were built to help but things have remained difficult. Guillermo Del Toro gave the film a strong review and the animation style was heavily praised by those who saw it.
7 Shin Godzilla (2016) – 3.80
Rent On Apple TV
Over the years, there have seemingly been countless movies centering on the iconic Godzilla. Most recently, the character was the star of several feature films in the United States, including 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong where he battled another legendary monster.
However, the best recent take on the character was likely Shin Godzilla, which was released in Japan and is the 31st installment. In a lot of ways, the plot isn’t anything new but a lot of the acclaim went towards the special effects and how the absurd aspects of the story were leaned into.
6 Ex Machina (2015) – 3.98
Stream On Showtime, Kanopy, & Hoopla
Alex Garland has quickly become one of the most sought-after names in filmmaking and it really all started with Ex Machina. Garland wrote and directed this film that ended up nominated for a handful of Oscars including Best Original Screenplay.
At the ceremony, Ex Machina won Best Visual Effects despite only being made for about $15 million. The story centers on a programmer who is invited to his eccentric CEO’s home to run some tests on an artificial intelligence humanoid robot. Along with the effects and writing, this was praised for the performances of the cast, especially Alicia Vikander.
5 Her (2013) – 4.05
Stream On Kanopy
Not all sci-fi movies have to focus on alternate planets, aliens, time travel, or anything of that magnitude. Spike Jonze’s Her is a perfect example of a small-scale sci-fi flick that actually is more grounded in romance than anything else.
The film tells the story of a lonely man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence operating system known as Samantha. The performance of Joaquin Phoenix was heavily praised, as was the voice acting work of Scarlett Johansson, while Her also racked up five nominations at the Academy Awards in 2014.
4 Arrival (2016) – 4.07
Stream On Hulu & Paramount+
A handful of names stood out as the ones to truly break out among the ranks of great filmmakers throughout the 2010s and Denis Villeneuve is right near the top of that list. After first rising to prominence with the intense Prisoners in 2013, he has seemed to shift his focus towards the sci-fi genre.
In 2016, he released Arrival which takes a different route than expected on the concept of an alien invasion. Instead of featuring battles or big action, the story is about a linguist who works to try and communicate with the species to find out what they want. Arrival scored eight Oscar nominations and was universally praised.
3 Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – 4.09
Stream On HBO Max & Max Go
Following the success of Arrival, it made sense for Denis Villeneuve to take on an even bigger project which was Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the Harrison Ford-led classic from the ’80s. Although the movie ended up flopping commercially, it was a critical darling.
Ryan Gosling took over the role of the protagonist and is joined by a tremendous supporting cast including Ana de Armas and Dave Bautista. Another film with multiple Oscar nods, this took home the trophies for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography and likely played a role in Villeneuve being named director of Dune.
2 Interstellar (2014) – 4.17
Stream On Paramount+ & FXNow
While he certainly became a household name before the 2010s, Christopher Nolan found a way to make the decade his own. He released two modern classics in the genre, including Interstellar, which is a sometimes confusing but highly emotional film.
Set in a dystopian future, the plot follows a group of humans who travel through a wormhole in their attempts to find a new planet for mankind to live on. It’s next to impossible to watch this movie without tearing up at a few specific scenes and things are boosted by great acting, a grand-scale setup, and Nolan’s trademark tropes.
1 Inception (2010) – 4.17
Stream On HBO Max
Right at the start of the decade, Christopher Nolan did something that’s very difficult to pull off. He managed to release a totally original film that was a blockbuster and became a staple of pop culture going forward, with everyone knowing what the idea of Inception is.
With Nolan’s mind and a star-studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Elliot Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, just to name a few, it’s no wonder this was a success. The film follows a group of thieves who enter into the dreams of a subject to implant a thought into their mind. It had eight Oscar nominations and won four.
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