Best Sci-Fi Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best sci-fi movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012-2015) – Gary Ross, Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence turned Katniss Everdeen into an arrow-shooting heroine for a new generation in this adaptation of the dystopian young adult novels.

29. ‘District 9’ (2009) – Neill Blomkamp

Neill Blomkamp’s South African sci-fi followed an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth in a powerful allegory on Apartheid.

28. ‘Brazil’ (1985) – Terry Gilliam

Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam showed his directorial chops with this bizarre, face-stretching, dystopian vision of the future for Jonathan Pryce.

27. ‘Soylent Green’ (1973) – Richard Fleischer

In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by greenhouse gases, the overpopulated masses survive on a special food known as Soylent Green, rationed by a sinister corporation that’s investigated by Charlton Heston, who uncovers the sinister truth with a shocking declaration.

26. ‘Ex Machina’ (2014) – Alex Garland

Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller casts Oscar Isaac as a mad scientist who invites Domhnaal Gleeson to a remote bunker to elicit human emotions from an A.I. played by Alicia Vikander, who should have won the Oscar for this over “The Danish Girl.”

25. ‘Children of Men’ (2006) – Alfonso Cuaron

Alfonso Cuaron’s signature long takes present a dystopian future in which all women have somehow become infertile, save for one miraculously pregnant woman, who must be escorted by Clive Owen to a sanctuary at sea.

24. ‘Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan’ (1982) – Nicholas Meyer

After a lackluster initial film, Gene Roddenberry’s TV favorite finally got the film adaptation it deserved, as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk said goodbye to Leonard Nimoy’s Mister Spock with a Vulcan salute, teaching us that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

23. ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953) – Byron Haskin

After Orson Welles’ radio broadcast sent listeners into a panic, Hollywood’s first rendition was a sci-fi landmark that inspired the likes of Steven Spielberg.

22. ‘Independence Day’ (1996) – Roland Emmerich

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are sci-fi gold as the fighter pilot and computer hacker fighting back against a global alien invasion, while Bill Pullman delivers one of the most inspirational presidential speeches in the movies: “Today is our Independence Day!”

21. ‘Men in Black’ (1997) – Barry Sonnenfeld

Viewers’ memories were erased by MIB devices by the sci-fi buddy team of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, who also sang the catchy title track.

20. ‘Snowpiercer’ (2013) – Bong Joon-ho

In this South Korean gem by the director of “Parasite,” a failed climate-change experiment kills nearly all life on the planet, leaving only a few survivors on a train known as the Snowpiercer, where a class system relegates the poor folks to the rear of the train and the wealthy to the front.

19. ‘Total Recall’ (1990) – Paul Verhoeven

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone star in Philip K. Dick’s story about a man haunted by recurring nightmares about a journey to Mars, inspiring him to actually visit the Red Planet and discover the truth of implanted memories.

18. ‘Minority Report’ (2000) – Steven Spielberg

Also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, Spielberg’s sci-fi gem explores a futuristic “pre-crime” unit that arrests criminals before they commit their crimes — that is until the lead detective (Tom Cruise) is himself accused of a murder he has not yet committed.

17. ‘Her’ (2013) – Spike Jonze

What would happen if you fell in love with Siri or Alexa? Writer/director Spike Jonze poses the question in his Oscar-winning script about Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with his computer operating system Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

16. ‘La Jetee’ (1962) – Chris Marker

Chris Marker’s groundbreaking short film inspired Terry Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys” by exploring time travel in the aftermath of World War III and telling the entire story through a collection of still images.

15. ‘Inception’ (2010) – Christopher Nolan

Leo DiCaprio and Ellen Page entered dreams within dreams amid snowmobile chases and rotating hallways that left our heads spinning like a top.

14. ‘Solaris’ (1972) – Andrei Tarkovsky

Pack your patience but prepare for a mind-blowing experience. Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky explores a psychologist who’s sent to a space station orbiting the distant planet Solaris, which mysteriously causes his dead wife to reappear beside him.

13. ‘Arrival’ (2016) – Denis Villeneuve

You haven’t seen “Arrival” until you’ve seen it again, revealing mind-blowing breadcrumbs that were there all along as Amy Adams’ linguist and Jeremy Renner’s physicist try to communicate with mysterious spaceships that arrive on Earth.

12. ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) – Robert Wise

An alien arrives on Earth to warn mankind that they must live peacefully or else be destroyed as a danger to other planets. Bernard Herrmann’s score epitomizes science fiction, while the film won a special Golden Globe for “Best Film Promoting International Understanding.”

11. ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) – Don Siegel

Often imitated but never rivaled, the original “Body Snatchers” follows a small-town doctor who learns that his suburban neighbors are being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates grown in pods, leading to the final warning, “You’re next!”

10. ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968) – Franklin J. Schaffner

Rod Serling turned Pierre Boulle’s novel into one of the greatest movie twists of all time, as Charlton Heston realizes he’s not on a faraway planet run by evolved apes, but rather still on planet Earth in a post-apocalyptic future.

9. ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) – Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott laid the groundwork for all urban science fiction to follow, casting Harrison Ford as “blade runner” Rick Deckard assigned to terminate four “replicants” on Earth. The film ends with an ambiguous shot suggesting Deckard might himself be a replicant.

8. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004) – Michel Gondry

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are so heartbroken over their breakup that they employ a new sci-fi technology to erase each other from memory in Charlie Kaufman’s eternally genius script.

7. ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) – Steven Spielberg

After the abduction of Melinda Dillon’s son, UFO witness Richard Dreyfuss forms a mashed-potato mountain in the shape of Devil’s Tower and a giant spaceship communicates with Francois Truffaut’s scientist — all set to John Williams’ iconic five-note score.

6. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) – Stanley Kubrick

Malcolm McDowell is absolutely terrifying as the charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge, who rapes and pillages futuristic London to the classical compositions of Ludwig Van Beethoven before undergoing aversion therapy to rid society of all crime.

5. ‘The Matrix’ (1999) – The Wachowskis

It may be famous for its “wire-fu” action and “bullet-time” slow-motion, but at its core “The Matrix” is about Morpheus teaching Neo the sci-fi philosophy of red vs. blue pills like Plato’s “Shadows on a Cave.”

4. ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ (1982) – Steven Spielberg

“E.T. phone home” became a pop culture phenomenon. Elliott (Henry Thomas) rides a bike across the moon and his sister (Drew Barrymore) bids farewell to their alien friend with a tear-jerking goodbye in the most immortal kids movie ever made.

3. ‘Back to the Future’ (1985) – Robert Zemeckis

This time-travel crowd pleaser finds Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) sending ’80s teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Foxx) back to 1955 to make his parents (Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover) fall back in love, just in time to catch a lightning bolt in the Flux Capacitor to return to 1985.

2. ‘Star Wars’ (1977-1983) – George Lucas

The 1977 original introduced countless beloved characters — Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi — while “Empire Strikes Back” added Yoda and Lando Calrissian with the shocking revelation: “No, I am your father.”

1. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) – Stanley Kubrick

No other film has been so thematically ambitious as Kubrick charting mankind’s evolution from apes to starships, reaching different monolithic moments of enlightenment along the way — before evil AI bot HAL 9000 tries to thwart the mission.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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