If there was ever a time where sci-fi was seen as something only for geeks, that time has long gone. You could debate the exact point at which it changed — when Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” had audiences dropping acid for a better trip, when the blockbuster success of “Star Wars” changed film forever, when comic book movies dominated screens, when CGI made it possible to do almost anything, when even nerdy old “Star Trek” got a sleek, hip makeover — but there’s no doubt that the genre is firmly within the mainstream.
Indeed, looking at the blockbuster season ahead, there’s all kinds of science-fiction adventures to come, with this week bringing the second space adventure in three weeks, with Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant,” which follows “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2” into theaters, where it’s currently doing gangbusters. And three of the all-time top-five worldwide grossers are hard sci-fi movies: “Avatar,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Jurassic World.”
Scott’s return once again to the sci-fi franchise he helped create has had us thinking about the genre’s place in history, so we decided to take our most comprehensive look at the genre ever, and pick out what, in our view, are the 100 greatest sci-fi movies of all time.
It’s a genre almost as old as cinema, so it was understandably difficult to pin down, even with a few ground rules (most notably that we sort of consider superhero films their own thing — here’s our list of the best ever). But we’ve found a list that we’re pretty happy with in the end, though we’re sure it’ll inspire plenty of debate. Take a look below, let us know what your own favorites are in the comments, and for more sci-fi fun, take a look at our list of the best of the 21st century so far.
100. “Sunshine” (2007)
Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s space thriller didn’t quite reinvent the genre in the way that their “28 Days Later” did for horror, with a third act that at once becomes too conventional and too abstract. But the story of a mission to save humanity by reigniting the sun nevertheless has enough heady ideas, stunning visuals and fine performances to make it a classic, albeit a flawed one.
99. “Barbarella” (1968)
Possibly the most style-over-substance film ever made, Roger Vadim’s Swinging Sixties Sexploitation Sci-Fi starring his then-wife Jane Fonda as the French comics hero of the title is a glorious thing to look at, a campy visual delight that’s proved deeply influential, even if no one involved, audience or filmmakers, cares for a second about the story it tells.
98. “Quatermass & The Pit” (1967)
Heroic scientist Bernard Quatermass was a sort of buttoned-down, grounded proto-Doctor Who, constantly battling alien invasions on behalf of Britain, and his finest hour came in his third Hammer Films outing, a remake of a TV serial of the same name. Revolving around the discovery of a long-buried alien craft in the London Underground, it’s smart, gripping sci-fi that’s much more terrifying than you might think.
97. “Rollerball” (1975)
Forget John McTiernan’s hopeless remake, Norman Jewison’s 1975 is the definitive future-sport movie. Set, presciently, in a corporate-run dystopian future of 2018 where a bloody roller-derby style game is the most popular form of entertainment, it blends brutal gladiatorial battles with conspiracy thriller with a pleasing muscularity and a 70s sci-fi aesthetic that remains a pleasure to watch today in a way that, say, “Logan’s Run” doesn’t.
96. “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” (2014)
After Tim Burton made a terrible hash of it, the recent reboot/prequelization of the “Planet Of The Apes” proved surprisingly successful in shifting the emphasis away from the people, and onto Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar. At least until the trilogy-closer this summer, Matt Reeves’ ‘Dawn Of The…’ is the best entry so far, an atypically intelligent and ideas-driven blockbuster with the best CGI characters ever created.
95. “The Clone Returns Home” (2008)
Kanji Nakajima’s underseen slow-cinema sci/fi mash-up follows a young astronaut Kohei (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) who dies while on a mission and who is then cloned per the unusual life-insurance policy insisted upon by his employers. It’s deliberately confounding and diffuse, with the strands of reality, memory, dream and near-death hallucination all unraveling in DP Hideho Urata‘s exquisitely still, dwarfing landscapes, but its Tarkovskian calmness also gives it uncanny sustain.
94. “Donnie Darko” (2001)
Melding John Hughes, David Lynch and Albert Einstein into an 80s set of a troubled teen (Jake Gyllenhaal, in a star-making role) who receives visits from a sinister rabbit who may be trying to convince him to travel through time, Richard Kelly’s genre-bending debut remains rich, funny, swooningly romantic and deeply original stuff full of great performances, although you should stick with the original version over the inferior Director’s Cut.
93. “Contact” (1997)
Robert Zemeckis’ follow-up to “Forrest Gump” has its flaws, but it’s a pleasingly ambitious and emotionally-driven tale of science and faith that’s leaps and bounds better than his Oscar-winning smash. Following a scientist (a great Jodie Foster performance) who seems to have made first contact with an alien civilization, it missteps occasionally (Matthew McConaughey’s sexy priest, for one), but has aged remarkably well in the last two decades.
92. Ex Machina (2015)
A wire-taut, ever-shifting three-hander about a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who’s invited down to the remote Alaskan hideaway of his genius boss (Oscar Isaac), only to discover he’s there to administer the Turing Test to an AI (Alicia Vikander), Alex Garland’s accomplished directorial debut is a tricksy film: ultimately less a near-fi tale of the singularity, and more a “Bluebeard” type parable about the way men treat women, it’s one of the most assured sci-fis of recent years.
91. “Fantastic Voyage” (1966)
The premise of “Fantastic Voyage” is an irresistible one: a crew who are shrunk down to microscopic size in order to enter the body and destroy a blood clot inside the brain of the scientist who created the technology. And even if it’s not terribly sophisticated today in many ways, Richard Fleischer’s colorful approach and inventive effects make it a thoroughly pleasing watch, however many times it’s subsequently been ripped off.