As we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it’s amazing to think how many fantastic films have graced the screen in the last ten years. Not content to do one simple Top 10 list, we here at JoBlo.com have decided to go one step further and provide our readers with several Top 10 lists spanning multiple genres, as there are far too many great films in the last decade to have only one, all-encompassing list. So, take a look at our faves below and share YOUR favorites in the comments section!
Today’s list is all about science-fiction. Whether it’s mankind’s first encounter with an alien species, a fight for survival on the Red Planet, or a sequel to one of the greatest science-fiction films of all-time, we’ve got you covered. Please note that this list is NOT in order of best to worst, rather, we’ve provided an alphabetical list of what we believe are the top ten best science fiction films of the past decade. Also, don’t be worried if some of your favorites don’t show up as we’ve determined certain movies fit better in other genres, as many films fall into many different genres. (For example, while MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is science fiction, it just felt more at home in the action category.) So, let’s stop beating around the screaming mutant nightmare bear and get to it!
Director Alex Garland’s 2018 contemplative sci-fi mystery stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac. Based on a series of novels by writer Jeff Vandermeer, the film had the odd distinction of being released theatrically in the US and Canada but on Netflix in other countries a few weeks later. The story follows an expedition of scientists led by cellular biologist Lena (Portman) into The Shimmer, an ever-expanding anomalous zone caused by the crash landing of a strange meteor. The film was critically well received but a commercial failure, being unable to even recoup its modest $55 million budget.
Nevertheless, ANNIHILATION proved to be a tour de force of acting and visual thrills. The science-fiction equivalent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Garland’s film is as terrifying as it is insightful. Whether it’s a horrifying silver doppelganger or a haunting female scream from a mutant bear, ANNIHILATION is a film you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s also a stark and thoughtful examination of regret and what it means to be human.
The first of two Denis Villeneuve films on this list, ARRIVAL became both a critical and box office success in 2016. It received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story Of Your Life,” Villeneuve, who’d wanted to make a science fiction film for ages, went through hundreds of possible titles before finally settling on ARRIVAL. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer had been pitching the film for years and almost gave up until Villeneuve took a chance on the script. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, the film chronicles mankind’s first encounter with an alien species known as heptapods. Adams plays linguist Louise Banks in one her best film roles to date.
Like all great science fiction, the story is so much more than humanity’s first contact with an alien race. It’s a two-hour elegy about language, coping with grief, and human beings’ desperate need to be heard and more importantly, understood. Amy Adams gives the performance of her career as linguist Louise Banks. It also asks the question, if we know those closest to us will one day die, is the joy we experience while they are alive worth the eventual pain? Arguably director Denis Villeneuve’s finest work, and touting breathtaking cinematography from Bradford Young, ARRIVAL is a film that will be dissected and discussed for years to come.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
Ridley Scott’s landmark 1982 film BLADE RUNNER is regarded as not only one of the best science fiction movies ever, but one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema. In subsequent years, several BLADE RUNNER novels and comicbooks would hit the shelves, however the possibility of a sequel didn’t emerge until March 2011. Originally Christopher Nolan was attached to direct and later Ridley Scott himself. However, Scott eventually decided to only produce putting Denis Villeneuve at the helm. The film saw the return of original BLADE RUNNER screenwriter Hampton Fancher who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Green. Rather than following Harrison Ford’s character, BLADE RUNNER 2049 instead centers around Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, a blade runner who himself is also a replicant. As Agent K uncovers a vast conspiracy that extends back three decades, he’s inexorably led back to Rick Deckard, a blade runner who disappeared over thirty years ago. Much like its predecessor, BLADE RUNNER 2049 was a financial flop with audiences, garnering only $260.5 million worldwide against a $185 million budget.
Fans were understandably weary of a sequel to the classic, however director Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 film delivered on every single level. Masterfully shot by Roger Deakins (who finally won an Oscar for cinematography after being nominated thirteen previous times), impeccably scored by Hans Zimmer, and brilliantly directed by Villeneuve, BLADE RUNNER 2049 expands on the world Philip K. Dick created and Ridley Scott perfected. Ryan Gosling’s understated performance as Agent K carries the film. The sequel pairs a heart-breaking story of self-discovery and what it means to be human with spectacular visuals. Equally captivating and contemplative, BLADE RUNNER 2049 was the sequel audiences deserved and needed.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)
Although actor Tom Cruise has been firmly ensconced in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise over the last decade, you can’t overlook his 2014 sci-fi actioner EDGE OF TOMORROW. Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, the Doug Liman directed film is part mind bending time travel story, part alien invasion, part Halo mashup. Cast against type, Cruise plays the cowardly Major William Gage who’s stuck in a time loop where he’s forced to live out the same day over and over while remembering all his past experiences. Billed as a major tentpole film when it dropped on June 5, 2014 in the US, the film holds a 90% Certified Fresh approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the set design, humor, and fresh premise. Unfortunately, the film was only a moderate hit, raking in just under $380 million worldwide, although a sequel is currently in the works.
Tom Cruise’s performance in EDGE OF TOMORROW is only surpassed by a masterful turn from Emily Blunt who plays combat legend Sergeant Rita Vrataski. Although you could draw comparisons between EDGE OF TOMORROW and video games like Halo and Titanfall, the movie never comes off derivative or boring. I could talk about the movie’s solid examination of gender roles or the film’s theme of learning from your mistakes, but why bother? Bottom line is that EDGE OF TOMORROW is just a super cool, stylish, action packed, GROUNDHOG DAY-esque thrill ride that boasts amazing visuals and possesses a ton of heart.
Director Christopher Nolan has delivered audiences an eclectic range of films over the last twenty years, everything from mystery thrillers like INSOMNIA to big budget comicbook fare like THE DARK KNIGHT. And indeed his 2014 film INTERSTELLAR is no different. Originally conceived by producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, INTERSTELLAR began development in June 2006 with Steven Spielberg originally attached to direct. Although the film started at Paramount, the company eventually co-financed the film with Warner Bros. Led by Matthew McConaughey as Coop, the film chronicles mankind’s attempt to find a new home after climate change has ravaged the Earth. Nolan was so focused on scientific accuracy he visited both NASA and Space X. The film sold over 22 million tickets domestically and set, at the time, an IMAX opening record with $20.5 million in the first weekend.
Coming hot off of his Oscar win, the McConaissance was in full force as the actor delivered a performance arguably better than his Academy Award winning role in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. INTERSTELLAR also sports an all-star supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Timothee Chalamet, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, and Nolan regular Michael Caine. It’s a movie that’s vast in scope yet never feels cold. Indeed, there’s a heart and an emotional resonance to INTERSTELLAR that can’t be overlooked. I dare you to watch the scene where Coop watches videos of his children from Earth and not get choked up. Visually captivating, the film is also a remarkable commentary on the enduring power of love and self-sacrifice. It boasts yet another incredible, otherworldly score from composer Hans Zimmer and contains some of Hoyte van Hoytema’s best cinematography work this side of DUNKIRK.
Before Rian Johnson’s divisive STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, the director of BRICK treated audiences to one of the better science-fiction movies involving time travel…well…ever. Set in a future where organized crime uses time travel to dispose of bodies, the film reteams Johnson with his BRICK star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a “looper” who kills targets sent back through time and disposes of their bodies. When Joe’s older self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time for the younger Joe to kill however, he must confront the consequences and morality of his past deeds. Of note were the heavy prosthetics employed by Johnson and applied by makeup wizard Kazuhiro Tsuji to make Gordon-Levitt appear like a younger Bruce Willis. The film (whose modest budget was only $30 million) was a box office success nabbing over $175 million worldwide and earning a B+ Cinemascore.
A time travel film as well as a crime thriller, Gordon-Levitt and Willis are stunning in LOOPER with their café scene being one of the best in recent memory. Paul Dano also provides a small but poignant performance as Seth, one of Joe’s coworkers and an essential catalyst to the film’s overall plot. Director Rian Johnson wanted LOOPER to focus less on the intricacies of time travel and more on how the characters deal with the situations time travel brings about. The film accomplishes precisely what Johnson set out to do. Aside from an adrenaline inducing adventure, LOOPER also manages to be a reflective look at fate, free will, and consequence.
THE MARTIAN (2015)
Andy Weir’s 2011 seminal novel opens with the lines, “I’m pretty much f*cked. That’s my considered opinion. F*cked.” Thus, begins the journey of marooned astronaut Mark Watney. Four years after publication, the great Ridley Scott brought Weir’s work to the silver screen with 2015’s THE MARTIAN. Starring Matt Damon in the lead role, THE MARTIAN follows Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III crew who is left on Mars by mistake after a vicious sandstorm. After the disastrous films EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS and THE COUNSELOR, THE MARTIAN proved a true return to form for Scott, raking in over $600 million worldwide, Scott’s highest total to date. Ironically, Scott was not the film’s initial director, the film’s screenwriter Drew Goddard was. THE MARTIAN also won numerous accolades including (inexplicably) the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Damon.
Masterful direction from Ridley Scott brings Weir’s world to life. While full of hard science, the movie never comes off pedantic but rather as an uplifting story of survival that demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit. Matt Damon owns this role, exemplifying Mark Watney’s sarcasm, ingenuity, and ultimate humanity. A 21st century Robinson Crusoe, Watney is a character you constantly root for despite the various setbacks he experiences. The film also sports one of the great ensemble casts in recent memory with Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Davis all delivering memorable performances.
I don’t think anyone expected a thought provoking and cerebral science-fiction film from the directors of DAYBREAKERS but that’s exactly what audiences got in 2015 with PREDESTINATION. A time travel tale that possesses a distinctly noirish tone, the movie is also extremely intimate. Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke plays Agent Doe, an officer with the Temporal Agency tasked with apprehending and preventing time traveling criminals from pulling off nefarious deeds. His final case revolves around the Fizzle Bomber, a mysterious Ted Kaczynski-esque villain obsessed with carrying out a NYC attack. The film was released without much fanfare in January 2015, typically a dumping ground for less regarded features. However, critics loved the film calling it an “entrancingly strange time-travel saga.”
PREDESTINATION I believe marks the first time in cinema history that a time travel device comes in the form of a suitcase. Aside from being a phenomenal time travel mystery movie, it’s also a candid look at the concept of fate and transgender identity. It’s also a true coming out party for actress Sara Snook (HBO’s Succession) who delivers a dual tour de force performance as characters Jane and John. The best part of PREDESTINATION however is the ending. It’s essentially the science fiction equivalent of THE USUAL SUSPECTS and a total mind-f*ck. PREDESTINATION is a hidden gems that deserves a spot on this list.
Although director Bong Joon-ho is one of the most acclaimed directors working today (his latest film PARASITE is already generating a ton of awards buzz), the Korean visionary’s first English speaking film didn’t come about until 2013’s SNOWPIERCER. The Chris Evans led sci-fi film is set in a not too distant future where an attempt to counteract global warming goes disastrously wrong, resulting in another ice age. The few survivors are aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that circumnavigates the globe on a yearly basis. Broken into very specific class divisions, Evans’ character Curtis decides to lead a revolution and take control of the train and its conductor Wilford (Ed Harris). Shot entirely on 35mm with a 1:85:1 aspect ratio, Joon-ho originally wanted to shoot the film entirely in his native Korea, but space issues forced the director to shoot on set in the Czech Republic. With a budget of $42 million it was the highest budget with Korean investors of all-time. Harvey Weinstein also notoriously caused a delay in the US premiere of the film when he demanded opening and closing monologues, something Joon-ho refused to do. His stubbornness paid off and the film was released in its intended form in the United States.
SNOWPIERCER is a bleak but enthralling look at a dystopian future that brilliantly examines class structure and seems bereft of hope until the final closing scenes. Known mostly for his role as Captain America, Evans delivers a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance that showcases his incredible talent. Additionally, SNOWPIERCER is an excellent examination of both the evil and good humanity is capable of. Plus, it offers some really gross protein cubes, superb cinematography from Hong Kyung-pyo, a haunting score courtesy of Marco Beltrami, and a dynamite performance from Tilda Swinton sporting an outlandish getup worthy of Cher.
A worthy successor to Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP, UPGRADE was one of those movies that came out of nowhere to land on many a critic’s top ten lists in 2018. A sleeper hit; the film made more than five times its modest $3 million budget. Directed by Leigh Whannel, known mostly for his writing duties on the SAW franchise, UPGRADE marked only the second time Whannel helmed a picture. Produced by Blumhouse and written by Whannel, UPGRADE stars Logan Marshall-Green as Grey Trace, a Luddite who abhors technology. After he suffers a devastating injury and a personal loss, he receives an A.I. implant that allows him to walk again. However, Grey soon discovers the A.I. has other plans besides Grey’s recovery.
A commentary on man’s relationship with technology that also serves as a body horror flick, the film blurs the lines between man and machine. Shot in Whannel’s native city of Melbourne, Australia the movie boasts several memorable fight scenes and possesses a distinct red color palette that highlights some stunning cinematography work from Stefan Duscio. The ending of the film is also one of the all-time showstoppers and will leave you floored.
Look out for the rest of our BEST OF THE DECADE pieces for Comedy, Action, Drama, Superhero, Horror and Animation all this month!