13 of the Best Science Fiction Films of the Past Decade
The science-fiction genre has a special place in our hearts, weaving itself into our culture and occasionally our research labs. There are probably times when you have watched a great technology packed science-fiction film, only to later fantasize about what the future may bring.
Great science fiction is imaginative and could be argued to be the most important genre in this ever-increasing, technology-driven world. But, besides showing off cool technology or a great fight scene, a good science fiction film serves a more important purpose.
The role of science fiction
As Yuval Noah Harari, author of the best-selling books Sapiens and Homo Deus once stated, “Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre. It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.”
When you think of the science fiction genre's role in engineering, the relationship is fascinating. Science fiction impacts the technology we create, and technology influences the technology featured on the big screen. There is a researcher right now, working on ways to recreate technology found in some of the most prominent films in the last 50 years. While the emerging technology we create, or that is on the verge of development, can show up in our favorite science fiction film. Yet, it goes deeper than that.
Most people would argue that great science fiction films are about people or humanity and their relationship with technology. Some of the most potent films to come out in the last decade have explored this idea deeply, even commenting on our near future.
As stated by Isaac Asimov, “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.”
You might be someone who loves the classics but one could argue that the science fiction genre has produced some of the most thought-provoking films in the last decade. Today that is what we are going to explore. Here are some of the best science fiction films of the past decade. Luckily, you can check out all of these films right now.
1. Her: Directed by Spike Jonze
The Plot: A sensitive and soulful man earns a living by writing personal letters for other people. Left heartbroken after his marriage ends, Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, becomes fascinated with a new operating system that reportedly develops into an intuitive and unique entity in its own right. He initiates the program and meets "Samantha" played by Scarlett Johansson, whose bright voice reveals a sensitive, playful personality. Though "friends" initially, the relationship soon deepens into love.
There is something beautiful but darkly familiar with this film. Perhaps it's the fact that the film takes place in the immediate feature and even sometimes parallels our present. Yet, on the surface, the film itself is not too dark, sharing the same DNA of any melancholic indie film.
The film effortlessly tackles human connection in an increasingly alienating digital age. It subtly tackles love, and what it means to love without hitting you over the head. If you have not seen it, expect to get a little teary-eyed.
2. Annihilation: Directed by Alex Garland
The Plot: Lena, a biologist, and former soldier join a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X -- a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscapes and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity.
So, this film is wild from start to finish, bordering on something that is almost like a really bad psychedelic trip. If you watch the trailer, you expect some action-packed thriller, but in reality, that is not what you get when you watch a film. It stands on its own and though it might sound a bit pretentious, it is an art piece created to challenge the viewer.
Also, the film is packed with great horrifying moments, massive philosophical questions, and major themes like; what if the Earth—that is, the planet itself—got cancer? You just have to watch it. However, the film will keep you on your toes from start to finish and will have you thinking long after it's done.
3. Arrival: Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Plot: Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.
Arrival is meditative but never dull. Even more so, this film has one of the best soundtracks of the past decade, serving as an equally important plot device to keep the story moving forward. The film's overall premise is the power of language and how learning a new language can change your perspective, allowing you to see things through that cultural lens.
Now imagine what would happen if you start learning the language of aliens who can perceive the past and future at the same time? Exactly. Things get weird but in the best way. The film explores linguistic theory, humanity, and the interwovenness of love and pain.
4. Interstellar: Directed by Christopher Nolan
Plot: In Earth's future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand, a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind's new home.
Christopher Nolan is a master filmmaker. His ability to tell a story and play with an audience’s expectations makes him one of the best filmmakers of our generation. Now Interstellar is a tricky film to put on this list as it was a bit polarizing.
Not only is it very long, but there are some very heavy scientific concepts in this film that deterred some audience members of the film from enjoying it. Yet this also made the film very cool. The film is stunning and Hans Zimmer’s composition ensured that film pulled on all the heartstrings. The film tackles multi-dimensions, love, and human extinction. The visual effects of this film will keep you coming back for more.
5. Edge of Tomorrow: Directed by Doug Liman
Plot: When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Maj. William Cage, an officer who has never seen combat, is assigned to a suicide mission. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself thrown into a time loop, in which he relives the same brutal fight -- and his death -- over and over again. However, Cage's fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade ever closer to defeating the aliens.
You probably have faced a ridiculous game boss before, especially if you have ever played the Souls series. And, every time you lose, your position resets in the game, you learn from your previous mistakes, and go on to fight the boss, repeating the process until you win. This is the basic premise of Edge of Tomorrow and boy does it deliver.
The film is fun, action-packed, and is unexpected, carrying you on a wild ride that will have you coming back for more. All the performances in this film are great, and the ability to come back after one is killed is never a stupid gimmick. Just watch it.
6. District 9: Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Plot: Thirty years ago, aliens arrive on Earth -- not to conquer or give aid, but -- to find refuge from their dying planet. Separated from humans in a South African area called District 9, the aliens are managed by Multi-National United, which is unconcerned with the aliens' welfare but will do anything to master their advanced technology. When a company field agent contracts a mysterious virus that begins to alter his DNA, there is only one place he can hide: District 9.
This film packs a punch being both surprising and unexpected. If you saw the marketing for this film, you had very different expectations about this film when you went on to watch it. The South African centered film uses the persecution of peaceful aliens to draw parallels to the horrific apartheid and it does it in a very engaging way. The social conscious project is not pretentious at all, but rather a heartfelt film about humanity.
7. Ex Machina: Directed by Alex Garland
Plot: Programmer Caleb Smith, who works for the dominant search engine company Blue Book, wins an office contest for a one-week visit to the luxurious, isolated home of the CEO, Nathan Bateman. Nathan lives alone apart from a servant named Kyoko, who according to Nathan does not speak English. Nathan reveals to Caleb that he has built a female humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence. After asking Caleb if he is familiar with the Turing test, Nathan tells Caleb that he wants him to judge whether Ava is genuinely capable of thought and consciousness, despite knowing she is artificial.
This is another one of our favorites as the film has a simple plot but a very clever plot that is engaging from start to finish. It is basically a Turing test gone wrong. Ex Machina gives us insight into humanity and its creations, while we dance carelessly on the edge of singularity. There are many common science fiction tropes in the film that will make this film feel a bit familiar, while the cinematography will up things to a whole new level. Oh and the dancing scene in this film is both eerie and hilarious.
8. Looper: Directed by Rian Johnson
Plot: In a future society, time-travel exists, but it's only available to those with the means to pay for it on the black market. When the mob wants to eliminate someone, it sends the target into the past, where a hitman known as a looper lies in wait to finish the job. Joe is one such hired gun, and he does his job well -- until the day his bosses decide to "close the loop" and send Joe's future self back in time to be killed.
Time travel in a film can be very messy. Looper is one of the very few films to get it right. The film almost feels like a classic noir film set in the future, but do not worry about the pacing. It will keep you on your toes as two assassins compete with each other. Not to mention, the ending of this film will have you thinking for a while.
9. Inception: Directed by Christopher Nolan
Plot: Dom Cobb is a thief with the rare ability to enter people's dreams and steal their secrets from their subconscious. His skill has made him a hot commodity in the world of corporate espionage but has also cost him everything he loves. Cobb gets a chance at redemption when he is offered a seemingly impossible task: Plant an idea in someone's mind. If he succeeds, it will be the perfect crime, but a dangerous enemy anticipates Cobb's every move.
You might have expected this film to be on the list. This massive almost surprise blockbuster hit sparked debates about the nature of reality vs dreams, and specifically if Cobb is still in a dream at the end of the film. Inception was a cultural phenomenon as the Nolan film per usual is intense, complex, imaginative, and very entertaining. Though the first act was a little exposition-heavy, it did its job of setting up the entire film. Even more so, the film has great reachability, is packed with action, and Leonardo DiCaprio delivers. You probably have watched it already but watch it again.
10. Ad Astra: Directed by James Gray
Plot: Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son -- a fearless astronaut -- must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge near Saturn that threatens the stability of the universe.
Dubbed the “anti Interstellar,” you are either going to love this film or think of it as passable. In short, this film center’s around the idea of human connection in a world where humans have already begun to colonize different areas of space. The cinematography is fantastic and that opening scene will definitely have your heart racing; you might even shed a few tears watching the film. Just be sure to taper your expectations before watching this film.
11. The Martian: Directed by Ridley Scott
Plot: When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney, presumed dead after a fierce storm. With only a meager amount of supplies, the stranded visitor must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crewmates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.
The scientific community was rooting for this film. The Martian made waves for its commitment to the relatively accurate science used throughout the film. Matt Damon makes this film fantastic and will have you rooting for him from beginning to end. Even more so, the Martian is a great insight into the big red planet, Mars.
12. Avengers Endgame: Directed by Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Plot: Adrift in space with no food or water, Tony Stark sends a message to Pepper Potts as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers -- Thor, Black Widow, Captain America, and Bruce Banner -- must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos -- the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe.
This might be our most polarizing entry but hear us out. You might love Marvel films or you might hate them. However, you have to respect them for taking the time to build up to this epic conclusion of the Infinity Saga. Even if you do not like 90% of the Marvel films you have to enjoy Avengers Endgame or Avengers Infinity War for what it accomplished. If someone told you that all your favorite flagship Marvel characters would appear on the big screen to take down Thanos, you would have rolled your eyes in disbelief. Avengers Endgame beautifully ties this past chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe together with a great paced and emotionally rewarding film.
13. Moon: Directed by Duncan Jones
Plot: Astronaut Sam Bell's three-year shift at a lunar mine is finally coming to an end, and he's looking forward to his reunion with his wife and young daughter. Suddenly, Sam's health takes a drastic turn for the worse. He suffers painful headaches and hallucinations and almost has a fatal accident. He meets what appears to be a younger version of himself, possibly a clone. With time running out, Sam must solve the mystery before the company crew arrives.
Another beautiful and meditative film in space, Moon will grab hold of you and not let go. Its effective storytelling will have you in the feels. The intricate and layered story is told with only a few characters while in the abyss of space. Not much can be said about the film without giving too much away. Just watch it.
Do you have a favorite science fiction film? Let us know in the comments. For more science fiction recommendations, be sure to stop by here.
Principal director of Civil and Commercial Space Systems at Draper Pete Paceley told us that August is 'looking pretty good' for Artemis I mission.