Top 40 Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century – Rolling Stone
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The Top 40 Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century

From space-invader thrillers to interstellar-overdrive headscratchers, we’re counting down the best science fiction films since the turn of the century

Ask any science-fiction movie fanatic what their go-to films are, and you’ll get a lot of great answers back: Metropolis, Blade Runner, 2001, The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original Godzilla, The Thing etc. But let’s face it – those answers are so last century. Great sci-fi movies didn’t decide to party like it’s 1999 then call it a day; a host of thrilling, intelligent, offbeat, funny and frightening SF films have hit art houses and multiplexes since Y2K.

In 2014, we concocted a list of the Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century — a quick and dirty survey of the best the genre has had to offer since the millennium’s beginning. More than a few major science-fiction flicks, however – from franchise-expanding blockbusters to arthouse headscratchers – have dropped since then, so it was time for an overhaul and an update. We’ve now expanded our list to 40 titles, to better highlight the best and brightest SF films of our still-new–ish millennium. Some noteworthy favorites of ours just barely missed the cut (very sorry, Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer) or some major titles were dinged on quality-control issues. (Avatar may have been a gamechanging film for 3D, but “unobtainium”? Really?!?) We’re confident, however, that there’s a place in the canon for these relative latecomers.

moon

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

23

‘Moon’ (2009)

Message to anyone considering a solo three-year assignment on that hunk of grey rock that orbits our planet: watch out for space madness, it’s a doozy. Duncan Jones’ debut feature keeps you wondering whether its hero – played by an on-point Sam Rockwell – is losing a battle with what appears to be his “double” or if he, is, in fact, losing his mind. We won’t spoil the fun by spilling the beans on that question, but we will say that, even burdened with a few stock elements (unethical corporate interests? a less-than-trustworthy computer with a monotonous voice?), this sci-fi indie does a helluva lot with very, very little. DF

world's end

Laurie Sparham

22

‘The World’s End’ (2013)

They say you can never go home again … especially if the town where you grew up has been colonized by some sort of sinister, not-of-this-Earth force. A genius riff on growing up, growing apart and Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type sci-fi/horror movies, writer-director Edgar Wright juggles a host of genre elements with an impressive agility and somehow makes the most lad-cultural premise ever – dudes recreating a legendary pub crawl from their school days – into the least bro-tastic comedy ever. All that, plus a robot fight in a bathroom. What more do you need? DF

Jaeden Lieberher

Everett Collection

21

‘Midnight Special’ (2016)

Director Jeff Nichols (Loving) pays homage to Spielberg’s Seventies and Eighties classics with this
moving story of an unusual child and the father who would go to any
length to protect him.
Alton Meyer is a strange kid who has a penchant for tuning into frequencies no human ears can pick up (like, say, intelligence agency satellites) and can do
amazing things with his eyes. Naturally, this makes him a person of interest to both religious cults and government spooks. As we hit the road with our confused on-the-run hero, we realize that Midnight Special is more about our terrestrial problems than extraterrestrial invaders. It’s a powerful example of how to use adult-friendly sci-fi to illuminate the human condition as opposed to merely thrilling and distracting us. BT

the host

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

20

‘The Host’ (2006)

Giant-monster flicks have always been about ecological destruction, and this one is no different. Using a 2000 incident of formaldehyde dumping in Seoul as inspiration, this South Korean tale of a creature emerging from the Han River – who not only attacks people, but infects them with a virus – broke box office records in its native country and set a new standard for nature-run-amok parables. It’s equal parts politically sharp, brutally hilarious, incredibly suspenseful – and totally icky. CGW

Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise

Everett Collection

19

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014)

A sci-fi Groundhog Day, this vastly underrated entry boasts a videogame premise that’s appealing to both Tom Cruise’s fans and haters: What if a whole movie was devoted to killing T.C. over and over again? The diminutive action hero is at his self-mocking, amped-up best as Cage, a military P.R. exec who dies while battling vicious, spider-like aliens – only to discover that, each time, he’s beamed back to the start of that same day. Bourne Identity director Doug Liman dazzlingly stretches and twists that clever concept to its breaking point, finding seemingly infinite variations on how Cage can screw up. But MVP honors go to Emily Blunt as a hard-as-nails soldier who has to teach this lovable cad to become a proper warrior. Together, they’re like a Nick and Nora for a future age overrun by gnarly interstellar monsters. TG