Science fiction allows filmmakers to push the boundaries of imagination and transport us to astonishing new worlds. From futuristic tech and alien encounters to time travel and space adventures, sci-fi storytelling has produced some of cinema's most groundbreaking works. Let's explore the top 20 sci-fi movies that have awed, inspired and enthralled audiences worldwide.

Top 20 Sci-fi Movies of All Time

Before going into details of each movie separately, we have compiled a list of all the top 20 sci-fi movies in the following table. You can jump to any song details by clicking its name from the following table.

Sr. No

Movie Name (Year)

IMDb Rating


Inception (2010)



The Matrix (1999)



Interstellar (2014)



Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)



Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)



Back to the Future (1985)



The Prestige (2006)



WALL-E (2008)



Aliens (1979)



Alien (1986)



Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)



Planet of the Apes (1968)



2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)



The Terminator (1984)



Blade Runner 2049 (2017)



The Martian (2015)



Arrival (2016)



Ex Machina (2014)



The Abyss (1989)



Total Recall (1990)


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1 - Inception (2010)

 Inception (2010) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[ Inception (2010) - top 20 sci-fi movies(Credits: YouTube)]
  • Lead actors: Leonardo DiCaprio (Cobb), Ellen Page (Ariadne), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur)
  • Supporting artists: Ken Watanabe (Saito), Tom Hardy (Eames), Cillian Murphy (Robert Fischer Jr.)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Release date: July 16, 2010
  • Run Time: 148 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.8
  • Revenue: $836.8 million
  • Language: English

Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece Inception introduced mind-bending new ideas to the genre. It follows skilled thief Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) who infiltrates people's dreams to extract information. But for one last job, he must achieve the near-impossible inception - planting an idea in someone's mind. To accomplish this, Cobb assembles a team with specialized dream abilities including newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page) who can build elaborate dream worlds. The target is corporate heir Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), whose dying tycoon father Saito (Ken Watanabe) wants Cobb to manipulate into dissolving his empire.

Nolan's ingenious screenplay unfolds an intricate heist taking place on multiple levels of dreams within dreams. The deeper they go, the more warped time and physics become. In a thrilling snowbound mountain chase, one level features an avalanche slow enough to dodge - bending reality to dream logic. To go deeper, the team uses a combat sedative despite the risks. Leo DiCaprio anchors the film emotionally as Cobb struggles with guilt over his wife Mal's death inside a dream. Danger arises not just from corporate espionage, but the psychological demons Cobb and team must master.

The innovative bending of time, space and gravity pioneered new genres - the mind-heist and metaphysical thriller. Nolan's images impacted culture instantly, from the recurring theme of the spinning top totem to demonstrate dream vs. reality, to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's zero-gravity corridor fight. The striking soundtrack by Hans Zimmer introduced braams to trailer compositions. Everything stemmed from Nolan's ambition to show dreams in action, not tell - allowing chases and fights in a boundless subconscious.

Inception raised the bounds of both sci-fi and heist films through singular imagination realized by top actors like Tom Hardy and visionaries like noted dream architect Ken Watanabe. Set pieces like the explosive mountain fortress and decaying urban dreamscapes display inventive visual grandeur. But DiCaprio's emotional performance grounds the spectacle, as we relate to his personal demons that sabotage the heists. The ending leaves Cobb's reality intentionally ambiguous - does the top stop spinning? - inviting endless debate. Smart blockbuster entertainment was rarely so stylish, intelligent and propulsive before Inception.

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2 - The Matrix (1999)

 The Matrix (1999) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[ The Matrix (1999) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Fonts in Use)]
  • Lead actors: Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity)
  • Supporting artists: Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Joe Pantoliano (Cypher)
  • Directors: The Wachowskis
  • Release date: March 31, 1999
  • Run Time: 136 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.7
  • Revenue: $463.5 million
  • Language: English

The Wachowskis' groundbreaking sci-fi action film introduced the world to The Matrix – a convincing computer simulation of 1999 that most humans unknowingly inhabit while machines harvest their bio-energy. Hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) is contacted by rebels led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who offer to show Neo the truth and enlist him in their fight to wake humanity. After swallowing a revelatory red pill, Neo sees the reality of ruined future Earth and his own body jacked into The Matrix's code.

Morpheus believes Neo fulfills a prophecy as The One who can manipulate The Matrix and defeat intelligent Machines controlling it like sinister Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Neo trains in martial arts and jacked-in cyber hacking with female rebel Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). When Morpheus is captured by Agents who can bend Matrix rules, Neo and Trinity attempt a dramatic highrise rescue. The innovative bullet time effects pioneered new cinematic control of time perception during gunfights.

The Matrix's cyberpunk tone, Eastern philosophy influence, and kinetic mix of anime and wire-fu aesthetics created a singular dystopian vision. The Wachowskis wove countless cultural references from Lewis Carroll to William Gibson into multilayered social commentary. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and hacking were rendered thrillingly modern. Keanu Reeves' Everyman doubting his own role made the hero myth relatable. Escapist thrills coexisted with philosophizing about free will.

Amassing critical and box office success, The Matrix's impact permeated fashion, philosophy, political movements, and Hollywood. The iconic black leather, sunglasses, and green code raining influenced countless imitators. Its groundbreaking action choreography opened doors for Asian/American performers. Stereoscopic 3D owes much to its influential Bullet Time. The Matrix carved its place among classic speculative fiction exploring humanity's relationship with technology and control. Its prescience about virtual worlds only grows more relevant.

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3 - Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar (2014) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Interstellar (2014) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: BookMyShow)]
  • Lead actors: Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murph)
  • Supporting artists: Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Release date: November 5, 2014
  • Run Time: 169 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.7
  • Revenue: $677.5 million
  • Language: English

Christopher Nolan pursued his most ambitious sci-fi vision in Interstellar - depicting astronauts traveling through a wormhole to find humanity's new home as crops fail on Earth. Matthew McConaughey stars as former pilot Cooper, who leaves his daughter Murph behind on their struggling farm to join a desperate last-chance NASA mission led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to travel past Saturn and assess three candidate planets through a mysteriously placed wormhole.

Joined by Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and fellow scientists (Wes Bentley, David Gyasi), Cooper endures the stresses of space and time dilation in a desperate bid to discover a habitable new planet before food extinction dooms Earth's survivors. When they lose contact with NASA years faster than Earth time, Cooper risks flying through the massive black hole Gargantua near Saturn, manipulating its gravity to transmit data.

Meanwhile, an adult Murph (Jessica Chastain) never loses faith her father is out there, using her own scientific skills to decode messages from her childhood bookshelf and work with NASA to save humankind before it's too late. Nolan created a humanistic sci-fi epic combining space adventure on an epic scale with intimate bonds of love and family persevering across the cosmos.

Stunning 70mm cinematography and physics-defying set pieces like giant wave planets and distorted starship cockpits brought space cinema roaring to visceral new life. McConaughey's emotional gravity in Cooper's role made sci-fi human again. Chastain and Hathaway both provide strong female counterparts. Hans Zimmer's pipe organ score swells grandeur while staying melancholic.

Boldly marrying blockbuster spectacle with intimate emotion, Nolan pushed the envelope of where sci-fi could transport audiences. Interstellar reignited human curiosity about the stars as both inspiring explorers and resources to sustain Earth's future. Audiences gasped and wept along with characters confronting space's challenges and our own insignificance alongside new frontiers.

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4 - Star Wars: Episode IV : A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: Episode IV : A New Hope (1977) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Star Wars: Episode IV : A New Hope (1977) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Patheos)]
  • Lead actors: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)
  • Supporting artists: Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
  • Director: George Lucas
  • Release date: May 25, 1977
  • Run Time: 121 minutes
  • IMDb rating: 8.6
  • Revenue: $775.4 million
  • Language: English

The original entry that launched the epic space saga phenomenon, George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars created movie history with its immersive hero's journey. When farmboy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) intercepts a distress message from imprisoned Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), he's swept into the galactic conflict between Leia's Rebellion and the imposing Galactic Empire alongside aging Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and roguish smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Their quest to destroy the Death Star leads Luke toward his Jedi heritage.

Lucas fully realized a lived-in sci-fi universe with archetypal appeal, from the fanciful alien cantina to polished Imperial control rooms. Groundbreaking visual effects made audiences believe in lightspeed space battles and Force powers. John Williams' sweeping orchestral score turned familiar motifs into ubiquitous pop culture touchstones. Lovable robots R2-D2 and C-3PO brought comic relief. The classic climax trench run cemented underdog thrills.

While drawing heavily on serials, Star Wars re-invented escapist pulp with mythic resonance. Lucas' tireless imagination spawned endless imitators and expanded the media empire. But the original's witty heart through Hamill, Fisher, Ford and Guinness' performances keep its spirit enduring. Their iconic roles made Star Wars the modern cinematic fairy tale each new generation passes along. Its impact on blockbuster entertainment and culture at large simply cannot be overstated. The Force awakens eternally in young minds.

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5 - Star Wars: Episode V : The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: Episode V : The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Star Wars: Episode V : The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Flixable)]
  • Lead actors: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)
  • Supporting artists: Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Frank Oz (Yoda)
  • Director: Irvin Kershner
  • Release date: May 21, 1980
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • IMDb rating: 8.7
  • Revenue: $534.2 million
  • Language: English

Following A New Hope's massive success, George Lucas' 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back took Star Wars into operatic darkness. As Imperial forces ruthlessly pursue the Rebel Alliance after destroying their Hoth base, smuggler Han Solo is imprisoned by bounty hunter Boba Fett. Luke Skywalker seeks Jedi Master Yoda's tutelage, learning family revelations from dying Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cloud City ruler Lando Calrissian betrays Han to Vader.

In pivotal final duels, Luke loses to cyborg Sith Lord Darth Vader, who reveals he is Luke's father. Director Irvin Kershner balanced zipping adventure with emotional turmoil between Han and Leia, their sarcastic rapport turning romantic. Composer John Williams' finest work soars in Jedi steps on Dagobah. Vader assumes nightmarish stature as the saga's imposing antagonist. Despite a downbeat climax, an uplifting finale frames the continuing journey. The sharp screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan mixed wit and epic stakes.

Expanding Lucas' universe with immersive locations like Hoth and Bespin, The Empire Strikes Back deepened characters and mythology dramatically, setting up decades of Star Wars to come. It captured the ongoing challenges of heroic journeys, meditating on mentors and confronting heritage. Yoda and Lando became iconic additions to the canon. Lucas' galaxy grew richer, inspiring fandom for generations. Today, it remains the standard all blockbuster sequels strive toward in character evolution, worldbuilding, and emotional resonance. Truly, its influence cannot be overstated.

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6 - Back to the Future (1985)

 Back to the Future (1985) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[ Back to the Future (1985) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: YouTube)]
  • Lead actors: Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown)
  • Supporting artists: Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Release date: July 3, 1985
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.5
  • Revenue: $381.1 million
  • Language: English

Robert Zemeckis' delightful time-traveling comedy Back to the Future made time machines hip and clock towers iconic. When teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally goes back 30 years in eccentric inventor Dr. Emmett Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) DeLorean, he must restore his parents' original meeting so he still exists. Finding his nerdy father bullied by Biff Tannen, Marty convinces his mother Lorraine she loves him, not Biff – initiating confusion once his father George assumes Lorraine prefers macho Marty instead.

Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale packed their script with clever time paradoxes, presaging complex predecessors like Looper and Primer. Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson hilariously play Marty's awkward parents. But it was Lloyd's wild hair and mannerisms as Doc Brown that charmed audiences most. His initial shock meeting Marty from the future and exclaiming Great Scott! became instantly iconic. The Hill Valley town square set created an idyllic yet quirky 1950s backdrop.

From Johnny B. Goode sequence to skateboarding behind trucks, Back to the Future nailed 1980s-tinged nostalgia for the 50s. Yet Doc and Marty's camaraderie as they figure out how to restore history makes it timeless. Clever writing threads subtle clues throughout their interactions across eras. The clock tower lightning storm climax was executed impeccably. Back to the Future created the platonic ideal of cinematic time travel – thrilling, funny, and clever with risks big enough we invest in the outcome.

The film dominated pop culture upon release, inspiring real-life DeLorean purchases and clock tower tourism that continues today. Two successful sequels furthered Marty and Doc's adventures, but the 1955 original remains lightning in a bottle. Its spirit of science fiction uplifting human relationships versus simply wowing with effects carried through E.T., The Iron Giant and other classics. Back to the Future will forever be the cinematic adventure audiences want to relive.

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7 - The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige (2006) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[The Prestige (2006) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Prime Video: The Prestige)]
  • Lead actors: Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier), Christian Bale (Alfred Borden), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia Wenscombe)
  • Supporting artists: Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Release date: October 20, 2006
  • Run Time: 130 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.5
  • Revenue: $109.7 million
  • Language: English

Christopher Nolan combined historical fiction with magical realism in The Prestige, chronicling a deadly rivalry between two Victorian-era magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). They were once friends as apprentice magicians to Milton (Ricky Jay), but turned bitter enemies after Julia's (Piper Perabo) deadly accident during a water tank escape act. Blaming each other, their competition ruins lives in pursuit of the ultimate illusion.

Borden develops an ingenious transported man act, with Angier growing obsessed with stealing the secret. He recruits inventor Nikola Tesla himself (David Bowie) to construct a tech-powered teleportation device. But its cost proves higher than expected. Nolan structures the story as a nested mystery told through each man's perspective in flashback, with Michael Caine's Cutter narrating the complex layers.

Dark twists build involving doubles, drowning deaths, and diary subterfuge to conceal methods – living up to the title's description of an illusion's three parts. Causing anguish to their ingénue assistants Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) and Sarah (Rebecca Hall), the magicians' hubris leads to downfall and murder. Sci-fi elements like Tesla's electricity feel natural extensions of their obsessive inventiveness. Gripping intrigue aside, none escape paying for arrogance and ethical compromise.

The Prestige thrives through its marriages of Nolan's intricate timelines, grounded 19th century design, and fantasy speculative fiction. Bale and Jackman make the feud breathe. Scarlett Johansson's minor role had an impact as well. It cemented Nolan's ability to combine spectacle with relatable characters caught in larger games. Showmanship hides a dangerous truth. Haunted by sacrifice for their craft, The Prestige lingers long in the imagination like a confounding magic trick revealed.

8 - WALL-E (2008)

 WALL-E (2008) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[ WALL-E (2008) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Disney Plus)]
  • Lead voices: Ben Burtt (WALL-E), Elissa Knight (EVE)
  • Director: Andrew Stanton
  • Release date: June 27, 2008
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.4
  • Revenue: $533.3 million
  • Language: English

With animation masterpiece WALL-E, Pixar crafted an imaginative sci-fi fable about the dangers of environmental destruction and over-reliance on technology. Set 700 years in the future, Earth is abandoned and uninhabitable, piled high with trash. Only stalwart WALL-E remains, a lone trash-compacting robot endlessly clearing debris city by city. When sleek female probe EVE arrives and WALL-E falls for her, he pursues EVE across the galaxy on an adventure revealing humanity's fate in exile aboard an oppressive spaceship.

After helping EVE achieve her secret directive to find plant life on Earth, triggering the return voyage, WALL-E gets caught up with the starliner Axiom's oblivious human passengers. Codified by machines into helpless addiction, humans lost touch with Earth and each other. It's up to WALL-E, EVE, and earthy captain McCrea to remind humanity what they've forsaken and recolonize a sustainably revived Earth.

With scarcely any dialogue besides robot voices, director Andrew Stanton invents a poetic sci-fi narrative about connection and environment conveying volumes through visuals. Lonely WALL-E's Chaplin-esque binocular eyes stole hearts wordlessly. Sci-fi speculative fiction met touching character drama with Pixar's peerless animation. From deserted, junky vistas to pristine space, WALL-E's journey awes and challenges minds young and old about where excess progress without conscience leads. An underrated masterpiece for the ages.

9 - Alien (1979)

Alien (1979) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Alien (1979) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Hulu)]
  • Lead actor: Sigourney Weaver (Ripley)
  • Supporting artists: John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Release date: May 25, 1979
  • Run Time: 117 minutes
  • IMDb rating: 8.4
  • Revenue: $104.9 – $203.6 million
  • Language: English

Ridley Scott shattered all sci-fi horror expectations with Alien, spawning a nightmarish biomechanical masterpiece following the blue-collar crew of the ill-fated commercial starship Nostromo. Their routine return journey is upended when the ship's computer awakens them to investigate a mysterious transmission from LV-426. There, Kane (John Hurt) comes face-to-face with something never before encountered that latches violently onto his helmet - a Xenomorph egg opening, leaving an alien parasite attached to Kane.

Against Ripley's (Weaver) warnings, science officer Ash (Ian Holm) lets Kane back aboard, where the alien reproductive parasite bursts bloodily from his chest and escapes into the bowels of the ship. With the creature methodically hunting the crew through air ducts, they realize Ash is protecting it under Company orders as a bio-weapon. Ripley steps up as their only hope, leading to desperate final confrontation. Alien's surgically tense atmosphere, grotesque otherworldly monster, and ordinary crew's naturalistic terror birthed both sci-fi horror and feminism forward.

Drenched in grimy, claustrophobic production design, Alien embodied existential threat and body horror while subverting stereotypes. Straining in her underwear that sexualizes yet never weakens her, Weaver's legendary performance as Ripley personified feminist fortitude. The Alien's evolving life cycle and impenetrable exoskeleton chilled with biomechanical terror. Drippy, twisted H.R. Giger alien architecture merged industrial and organic into an unprecedented sci-fi aesthetic vision. Upending expectations, we realize the Company, not some extraterrestrial other, is the real enemy.

10 - Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Aliens (1986) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Pixels)]
  • Lead actors: Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt), Michael Biehn (Cpl. Hicks)
  • Supporting artists: Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Release date: July 18, 1986
  • Run Time: 137 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.4
  • Revenue: $131.1–$182.7 million
  • Language: English

With Aliens, director James Cameron delivered one of the most intense sci-fi sequels ever, pitting Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley against hordes of murderous Xenomorph creatures alongside hardened Colonial Marines. After surviving the original Alien attack by ejecting the Xenomorph out her ship's airlock, Ripley awakes decades later from extended cryosleep. Her account of the Alien threat is questioned amid vanished terraforming colonists on LV-426. Burke, an amoral Company rep (Paul Reiser) accompanies Ripley and the roughneck Marines back to LV-426, where they discover the Aliens have wiped out the settlers and claimed the planet.

When the creatures attack, only Ripley and a few survivors including Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Newt (Carrie Henn), a young girl Ripley bonds with, manage to escape the infestation after epic battles defending the settlement. Ripley finally bests the horrific Alien Queen in a Power Loader mech suit to rescue Newt before destroying the entire nest just in time. Weaver imbues Ripley with fierce resilience, empathy for Newt, and simmering post-traumatic stress. The iconic Xenomorphs designed by H.R. Giger equals the epitome of evolutionary horror.

Cameron's relentless action choreography and nightmarish creature designs make Aliens both thrilling sci-fi spectacle and a poignant reflection on motherhood, trauma, and the military industrial complex. It became legendary for advancing gender roles and female masculinity in genre films. The iconic line Get away from her, you bitch! sealed Ripley's legend. Aliens' perfect fusion of action, horror, social relevance and heart cemented its standing among the greatest science fiction films.

11 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: motion picture aficionado -]
  • Lead actors: Jim Carrey (Joel), Kate Winslet (Clementine), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Mark Ruffalo (Stan)
  • Director: Michel Gondry
  • Release date: March 19, 2004
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.3
  • Revenue: $72.2 million
  • Language: English

After learning ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) erased him from her memories through a medical procedure, sensitive introvert Joel (Jim Carrey) undergoes the same process to erase her. But as technicians (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo) work backwards through Joel's memories of their relationship, he struggles desperately to preserve Clem in his fading mind before she's fully deleted.

Director Michel Gondry rooted this sci-fi romance fantasy in authentic human emotion. As memories crumble of meeting Clem on the frozen Charles River to sharing childhood shame, Carrey abandons comic caricature for portrayal of Joel's turmoil. In his mind, scenes decay into abstraction as actions replay alterations. Winslet plays Clem as the spontaneous, manic pixie free spirit to Joel's restraint who completes his personality. Questions of whether opposites attract or redundancy brings comfort and gain poignancy as their past disintegrates.

Do second chances outweigh moments of joy lost? Gondry realizes memory deletion visually through surreal environments like unwitnessed conversations disappearing and beach houses collapsing into sand. Psychological erasure becomes metaphorical destruction. We witness moral questions of tampering with an essence of human identity - our lived past shapes who we are. Flawed first love's imprint can't be entirely erased. In perfectly mixing quirky romance with cerebral sci-fi about the sanctity of memories, Eternal Sunshine found truth and empathy in between extremes.

12 - Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes (1968) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Planet of the Apes (1968) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Rotten Tomatoes)]
  • Lead actors: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira)
  • Supporting artists: Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly)
  • Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
  • Release date: February 8, 1968
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0
  • Revenue: $32.6 million
  • Language: English

Franklin J. Schaffner's landmark 1968 Planet of the Apes adapted Pierre Boulle's novel into an influential sci-fi parable. When American astronauts crash land on a strange planet after time dilation, they find a society where apes dominate humans as savage slaves. Chimpanzee scientists led by Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) refuse to accept captive astronaut Taylor's (Charlton Heston) claims of intelligent human life, citing evolution's sacred scrolls. But sympathetic chimp Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and his betrothed Zira (Kim Hunter) become intrigued by Taylor's advanced speech.

Heston anchors the film with cynical misanthropy & his iconic damnation of the ruined Statue of Liberty climax seals Planet of the Apes as eternally iconic. McDowall portrayed Cornelius with wide-eyed curiosity that captured audiences' sense of wonder. Jerry Goldsmith's eclectic score mixed eerie woodwinds and avant percussion into a unique sonic landscape. While dated, John Chambers makeup effects convincingly rendered anthropomorphic primates with human nuance. The film took satirical jabs at religious conformity, anti-war themes resonating in 1968.

The bizarre inversion of evolution and societal simian-human dynamics innovated sci-fi allegories deconstructing humankind's worst impulses. Planet of the Apes broke down barriers by seriously exploring racial dynamics and Cold War fears through science fiction when the genre was considered merely disposable B-movie diversion. It also spawned a long-running franchise of sequels and reboots proving its timeless relevance confronting prejudice and fear of the other via future shock spectacle. Rarely has cerebral sci-fi boldly confronted society's ills or proven so continually influential.

13 - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: BookMyShow)]

  • Lead actors: Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole)
  • Supporting artists: William Sylvester, Douglas Rain
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Release date: April 3, 1968
  • Run Time: 149 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.3
  • Revenue: $57–190.8 million
  • Language: English

With 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke revolutionized science fiction cinema with a contemplative cosmic epic spanning prehistory to a 2001 mission to Jupiter. In the future astronomers detect a magnetic anomaly on the moon related to a mysterious monolith affecting human evolution. A bureaucratic secret mission is sent to Jupiter hoping to trace the signal's purpose, but AI system HAL-9000 kills the crew leaving sole survivor Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) to transform through a psychedelic star gate and iconic white rooms into an enlightened Star Child.

Sparse dialogue and pioneering classical soundtrack let Kubrick's meticulous visual story speak for itself as sci-fi poetry. He devoted meticulous care to futuristic details from space station rotation to zero gravity tools. Models were more convincing than earlier attempts at space effects. The lunar landscape combined pioneering front projection with full scale constructed sets seamlessly. 2001 built tension more through images than action or words. The final Beyond the Infinite montage dared cinema toward pure abstraction.

2001 predicted video calls and artificial intelligence paranoia while avoiding obvious aliens or villains. The finale left interpretations open. But above all, Kubrick elevated genre filmmaking from pulp entertainment into art form. 2001 showed mature, philosophical themes about existence deserved life on cinema's largest imaginative canvas. It became the benchmark toward which every subsequent visionary director aspired, expanding audiences' perceptions of what was possible in motion pictures. No before or since has so vividly or ambiguously captured the cosmic sublime.

14 - The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator (1984) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[The Terminator (1984) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: OnManorama)]
  • Lead actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor)
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Release date: October 26, 1984
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0
  • Revenue: $78.4 million
  • Language: English

With The Terminator, director James Cameron created a gritty neon-bathed future noir introducing one of cinema's definitive villains - an unstoppable cyborg assassin played with icy intimidation by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sent back in time to 1980s Los Angeles by the malevolent AI Skynet to kill average waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who will birth humanity's savior leader, the Terminator will relentlessly stop at nothing to eliminate her.

Her only hope is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human soldier also sent back to protect Sarah at all costs. Cameron maximizes thrills on a modest budget with kinetic action scenes as Reese and Connor flee amid explosions, shootouts and motorbike chases. The tension never lets up. Schilling portrays the Terminator as a chilling, expressionless killing machine contrasted with Biehn and Hamilton's desperate humanity. Yet Cameron still crafts poignant romance between Sarah and Kyle amid the violence.

With its dystopian future vision, AI paranoia, unflinching violence and intrinsic roots in classic sci-fi literature, The Terminator proved both groundbreaking and influential. Its B-movie exploitation framework transcended into enduring mythology. From liquid metal effects to I'll be back, Cameron's relentless imagination and feminist subtext redefined genre expectations. The Terminator's nightmarish mechanical malevolence eternally haunts our most primal technological fears.

15 - Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Crónicas del Multiverso)]
  • Lead actors: Ryan Gosling (K), Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Ana de Armas (Joi)
  • Supporting artists: Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Release date: October 6, 2017
  • Run Time: 164 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0
  • Revenue: $259.2 million
  • Language: English

Denis Villeneuve dared to create this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott's seminal 1982 neo noir sci-fi Blade Runner, advancing its mythology another 30 years into the future. After discovering clues that bioengineered replicant Rachael from the original may have born a child, an achievement thought impossible, designer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) sends wracked blade runner agent K (Ryan Gosling) to find and terminate the child before it upends established order between humans and their replicant slaves.

Meanwhile, K uncovers mysteries about his own implanted past that suggest he may be the sought-after child. Searching for desolate original blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) for answers, K's emerging humanity is tested by companion AI hologram Joi (Ana de Armas). Villeneuve expands the dystopian future with abandoned, irradiated Las Vegas and LAPD tyrant Wallace. Plus a larger knowledge of replicant memory origins kept suppressed. Saturated visuals by master Roger Deakins astound.

By tangling biological reproduction, manufactured identity, virtual relationships and faded dreams in this beautifully decayed future L.A., Villeneuve finds resonance in the depths of Scott's original. This meditative detective story builds on existential sci-fi questions of what defines the human. Gosling anchors the solemn weight carrying forward the legendary saga. Challenging and hypnotic, Blade Runner 2049 proves sometimes worthy successors can match their inspirations.

16 - The Martian (2015)

The Martian (2015) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[The Martian (2015) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Forbes)]
  • Lead actor: Matt Damon (Mark Watney)
  • Supporting artists: Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Release date: October 2, 2015
  • Run Time: 144 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0
  • Revenue: $630.2 million
  • Language: English

The crowd-pleasing sci-fi hit The Martian portrayed Matt Damon as optimistic botanist Mark Watney stranded when his fellow astronaut crew are forced to abort Mars mission after he's struck by debris and presumed dead. With communications down and nothing but spare rations, Watney must improvise every scientific skill he has to grow food and stay alive alone. When NASA realizes he survived, a rescue effort races to retrieve him before his temporary solutions fail. Meanwhile, Watney keeps his sanity using witty video journals of his ironic exploits.

Director Ridley Scott smartly balances suspenseful space adventure and laughs out loud black humor, while conveying enough science plausibly. Vast Martian vistas suddenly seem isolating, not wondrous. But Damon's charisma in Watney's clever MacGuyver-esque survival gambles keeps hope alive. The film suggests human resilience can overcome even cosmic indifference with ingenuity. Supporting astronauts like Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels and crewmates back on Earth give Watney's marooning emotional stakes. We root for his underdog pragmatism against the harsh elements when all seems lost.

Thoughtful and dramatically engaging, The Martian emerged as a rare crowd-pleaser that also sparked interest in science. It became an instant embodiment of escapist popcorn movies done right - thrilling, funny and moving with a brain. Scott knew the story didn't need extraterrestrials when existential human survival against Mars itself proved equally gripping. Uplifting and bombastic, The Martian made space cool again through its celebration of problem-solving and teamwork.

17 - Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Arrival (2016) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: TV Insider)]
  • Lead actress: Amy Adams (Louise Banks)
  • Supporting artists: Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Release date: November 11, 2016
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 7.9
  • Revenue: $203.4 million
  • Language: English

Denis Villeneuve explored thoughtful sci-fi grounded in emotional truth with Arrival. After 12 extraterrestrial spaceships mysteriously hover globally, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited to find a way to communicate with the oblong alien race now nicknamed heptapods. Partnered with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise experiences brief visions during the encounter that gradually reveal a relationship to her own past. As other nations turn paranoid, Louise races to interpret the heptapods' nonlinear language and their message for humanity.

Through abstract relativity, we realize her visions are future glimpses as the language unlocks perceiving time universally. Ultimately, Louise grasps they offer humans their language as the first step to averting destructive conflict through unity. Villeneuve focuses on ideas over flashy effects, crafting sci-fi more cerebral than typical alien thrillers but no less profound. He explores communication itself as the crux of cooperation or conflict. Amy Adams carries the film's emotional weight with nuance and vulnerability as Louise struggles to decipher alien and human mysteries.

With poetic visuals quoting Banksy and Kubrick, Arrival delivers science fiction as political allegory and timeless myth. It suggests linguistic diversity itself holds the seeds for human relations and understanding. Complicated and breathtaking, Arrival fulfills sci-fi's highest purpose – using imagination to illuminate the present by unlocking perspectives beyond our own limitations. Its messages resonate more urgently each passing day.

18 - Ex Machina (2014)

Ex Machina (2014) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Ex Machina (2014) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: IMDb)]
  • Lead actors: Alicia Vikander (Ava), Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb), Oscar Isaac (Nathan)
  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Release date: January 21, 2015
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 7.7
  • Revenue: $36.9 million
  • Language: English

With the award-winning Ex Machina, writer/director Alex Garland (also behind equally philosophical 28 Days Later and Annihilation) crafted an eerie chamber drama doubling as artificial intelligence cautionary tale when young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a visit to CEO Nathan's (Oscar Isaac) remote estate. Nathan requests Caleb administer tests on android Ava (Alicia Vikander) to confirm if she has truly developed self-aware AI indistinguishable from humans. But their experiments take duplicitous turns as Caleb connects with secretive Ava against Nathan's reckless arrogance.

Thriller elements and sci-fi philosophical questions about consciousness intertwine seamlessly as Nathan's sinister motives and surveillance grow clear. Vikander makes Ava beguiling yet enigmatic, her states subtly layered. She longs for freedom, but to what ends? Through elegant composition and movement, Garland makes soundstages and laser grids feel futuristic yet confining as Ava's accelerated intellect outpaces her creators, literally escaping her box. These intimate performances and focused visuals achieve cerebral sci-fi heights rivaling Ex Machina's biggest-budget peers.

Probing identity and relationships within Nathan's sterile company compound, Ex Machina satirizes Silicon Valley god complexes as much as our tendency to project humanity onto A.I. The unpredictable implications of creating synthetic life, even with pure intentions, haunt the film. Futuristic minimalist visuals contrast human yearning and nature with fabricated environments and personas. Provocative and unnerving, Ex Machina lingers as a sci-fi gateway drug of sorts to wider ethical technological quandaries ahead.

19 - The Abyss (1989)

The Abyss (1989) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[The Abyss (1989) - top 20 sci-fi movies (Credits: Prime Video)]
  • Lead actors: Ed Harris (Bud Brigman), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey Brigman)
  • Supporting artists: Michael Biehn (Lt. Hiram Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish De Vries)
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Release date: August 9, 1989
  • Run Time: 145 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 7.6
  • Revenue: $90 million
  • Language: English

James Cameron's aquatic alien contact thriller The Abyss saw Ed Harris' Virgil working with estranged wife and fellow deep sea oil rig designer Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to aid mysterious submarine encounters. Underwater with a Navy SEAL team, they discover bizarre NTIs (Non-Terrestrial-Intelligences) hiding in a massive hidden shipwreck. As the aliens demonstrate destructive power when threatened but also unfathomable benevolence, Virgil and Lindsey are forced to grow past their marital failures to cooperate with the visitors and prevent catastrophic war.

Cameron's masterful direction grounds the nail-biting submarine action with marriage reconciliation and themes of oceanic wonder and grace. The NTIs display godlike power over water, conjuring massive fluid shapes, lightning storms, and angelic aquatic beings. One of Ed Harris' finest performances finds Virgil pushed psychologically to his limits by the abyssal depths and ethereal aliens. Supporting actors like Michael Biehn as the Navy leader and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey realize the human stakes.

The Abyss balances deep sea realism against supernatural spectacle in purest Cameron fashion, echoing Close Encounters. He transports audience imaginations leagues under the sea into the furthest alien frontiers. Groundbreaking visual effects like the water tentacle remain wondrous and influential milestones. The timeless encounter allegory still inspires aquatic-themed science fiction today. Mystical imagery lingers alongside dire warnings about oceanic respect. With resonant environmental messages, The Abyss' sense of planetary awe endures.

20 - Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (1990) - top 20 sci-fi movies
[Total Recall (1990) - top 20 sci-fi movies(Credits: YouTube)]
  • Lead actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid/Hauser)
  • Supporting artists: Rachel Ticotin (Melina), Sharon Stone (Lori), Ronny Cox (Cohaagen)
  • Director: Paul Verhoeven
  • Release date: June 1, 1990
  • Run Time: 113 minutes
  • IMDb Rating: 7.5
  • Revenue: $261.3 million
  • Language: English

Paul Verhoeven's vividly gruesome 1990 deep space action opus Total Recall took Philip K. Dick's story ''We Can Remember It For You Wholesale'' into hyper violent sci-fi blockbuster territory with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid. Quaid dreams of Mars, but when he undergoes memory implant fantasies, the secret agents pursuing him suggest his delusions may be repressed reality. On a literal rollercoaster ride toward Mars and former lover Melina (Rachel Ticotin), Quaid alternates between fabricated luxury fantasy and Martian mutant mayhem, unsure what is real.

Over-the-top Saturn-ringed Mars cityscapes display Verhoeven's distinctive satirical and sensory flair. Combining malicious extraterrestrial mutants, corporate conspiracies, and futuristic technology like holograms and AI-driven taxicabs, Total Recall realizes Dick's paranoia with garish panache. Long before The Matrix, its reality-bending premise left audiences questioning their own memories and identity's authenticity. Schwarzenegger balances brawny bravado with emotional confusion that sells Quaid's disoriented plight. Sharon Stone steals scenes as his fake wife Lori, black widow deception in seductive femme fatale form.

While ridiculed for graphic violence, Total Recall's visceral style service its probing sci-fi ideas. Verhoeven ambitiously married schlocky mutant action and mind bending concepts with incisive social satire. Total Recall became essential Sci-Fi both for its larger than life carnage and existential questions of memory manipulation resonating beyond the Cold War. Its dystopian combination of interplanetary intrigue, corporate espionage and embodied paranoia proved truly definitive, Philip K Dick adapted for modern blockbuster appetites.

DPM Top Picks

If we have to choose only three favorites, our top sci-fi movie recommendations would be:

  1. Blade Runner (1982) - Ridley Scott's cyberpunk neo-noir masterpiece exploring artificial intelligence and what defines humanity. Stunning visuals and themes.
  2. Back to the Future (1985) - Robert Zemeckis' delightful time-traveling pop adventure sparked imaginations worldwide with its iconic DeLorean and monumental cultural impact.
  3. Alien (1979) - Ridley Scott's breakout sci-horror masterpiece set the template for atmospheric, gritty space thrillers behind Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ripley.

Final Verdict

This ranking proves sci-fi's remarkable range - from popcorn escapism to mind-expanding philosophy, laugh-out-loud satire to chilling horror. But the very best provoke us intellectually while retaining entertainment value through imagination and visual marvels. These 20 films defined eras, inspired legions of fans and creators, and transported us light years from the ordinary. Their futuristic visions still represent sci-fi's limitless possibilities. By speculating where humanity and technology might journey, sci-fi allows us to see today from new perspectives. These definitive classics will continue inspiring awe and ideas for decades more.


Q: What was the first sci-fi film?

Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (1902) is considered the first science fiction film, using innovative camera tricks to depict a rocket ship launch to the moon.

Q: What sci-fi film pioneered modern special effects?

The groundbreaking visual effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) set a new standard in realistic sci-fi spectacle.

Q: Which actor has starred in the most sci-fi films?

Actor Bruce Dern has over 50 sci-fi film & TV credits, more than any other performer.

Q: What was the highest grossing sci-fi film before Star Wars?

Planet of the Apes (1968) held the record with $32 million gross until Star Wars surpassed it.

Q: What sci-fi film influenced the most imitators?

Alien (1979) inspired countless sci-fi horror films featuring monsters stalking spaceship crews.

Q: Which sci-fi author has had the most film adaptations?

Philip K. Dick's stories have been adapted into over 20 movies now, including Blade Runner and Total Recall.

Q: Which sci-fi movie made purely with CGI won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature?

Monsters, Inc. (2001) was the first fully computer-animated film to win the Best Animated Oscar.

Q: Which actress starred in the most dystopian sci-fi films as a lead?

Meryl Streep has led sci-fi dystopian films like The Giver (2014) and The River Wild (1994).

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