Movies & TV / Columns

Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies Of The 21st Century

September 2, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Guardians of the Galaxy Team Image Credit: Marvel Studios

When I decided to do this after hearing my buddies at The Countdown Podcast do the same category, this was one of those lists that I went into thinking “Well, this will be really hard to do”, and it was! But it shortly became hard for a much different reason than I initially expected.

See, I typically don’t think of myself as a sci-fi fan. To me, “Science Fiction” means “Star Wars“, and that’s not a franchise I have much care for. So I kind of lump the entirety of “sci-fi” into a mental category I call “space pew pews”, and thereby I write it off almost entirely.

But any real science fiction fan knows there is more to it than that. So when I started doing my research on this list, I saw use how varied the category was! And how many movies from it I truly enjoy.

So what DID end up becoming the problem? Well, a lot of what the world apparently considers “science fiction”, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around falling into that genre.

Movies I truly love that came up under my research that did NOT make the approaching list here include Inception, The Host, Snowpiercer, and Eternal Sunshine. And while I can see how any/all of those could be considered as sci-fi, they were fringe sci-fi for me, at best. It’s all weirdly subjective. Maybe especially Inception. But oh well.

Anyway, I went into this trying to stick with movies I actively consider more science fiction. And that gave me…

10. Happy Death Day 2 U

This is a strange one, as this is DEFINITELY fringe sci-fi, AND I have it lower rated, stars-out-of-five-wise, than those movies I listed above. So what gives?

Well, I really do like this movie as a quality sequel to another flick that I LOVE. Like… “Five Star, In My Top 25 All-Time Favorites” level love. And I do like that they added a science fiction element to a story that was not really sci-fi initially. Here, we are given a time travel machine explanation for Tree’s woes from both this flick and the one before it.

Add in a heart-touching story about Tree being forced to decide between her mother’s life and the one she herself had been living? I’ll throw this in at number ten as a sympathy entry.

9. Psycho Goreman

I probably scored this a bit low when I watched it the first time because I imagine the people that made it were WAY too proud of themselves for their F-budget effects and silliness, but you know what I mostly recall? Hilarious one-liners (“Well, this TV won’t stop bleeding”), solid acting from the main cast, and just a ton of absolute fun. I think my initial score was too negative for whatever reason.

There’s also a serious lack of straight humor on this list! So we need something that isn’t afraid to be a bit zany. So Psycho Goreman, you’re in!

8. Nope

Jordan Peele’s third outing gave us an alien-based horror tale of two siblings and a few others who get tangled up in their plot to prove that an alien is stalking their ranch, thereby becoming rich and famous..

Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya shine in this flick (Palmer in particular). And while it may be the third best of Peele’s efforts, that says more about Us and Get Out than it does this movie, which is an absolute blast. The reveal is interesting after we all thought the trailer gave too much away, and the effects and the plot are terrific.

That Gordie subplot, too, man. Wow.

7. Prey

Who saw that in the 2020’s, we would get easily the second best Predator movie? If not the first best? Not me! This prequel sees a Predator land in Colonial America and terrorize both a tribe of Native Americans and also some of the colonizers living nearby.

Naru’s development across the movie as she slowly gains her competence as a hunter is incredibly well-told. She starts out with a big heart but not a lot of ability, and by her final confrontation with the alien monster, she is able to put together everything she has learned to keep herself alive.

Amber Midthunder is a star, and her character arc should be taught in screenwriting classes.

6. Arrival

After skipping out on Dune and hearing how great it supposedly was, I went into a little Denis Villenueve stretch to catch up on his older work in preparation to watch Dune 1 and Dune 2 when the latter comes out next year.

Arrival was a revelation. The plot is great! It focuses on the part of alien movies that actual alien movies always hand-wave away: how would we talk to them?! This movie is all about that, but it’s ACTUALLY all about trauma and the life choices we make… and would make if we had the information to know what lies ahead of us.

I was profoundly affected by this after I watched it. It’s just so powerful and well-done.

5. Edge Of Tomorrow

I don’t know that I have seen a Groundhog Day plotted movie or story that I haven’t loved. Not to say worse ones aren’t out there, but I guess I have avoided them.

Just like with how much I enjoy the original Happy Death Day, Edge of Tomorrow is another fantastic story about a character stuck in a time loop. Tom Cruise suffers a LOT more deaths than Jessica Rothe does, though.

All told, we get a movie with a really enjoyable science fiction conceit, some top-shelf level action, and really solid chemistry between Cruise and Emily Blunt. Very good stuff!

4. Jason X

I don’t want any crap for this. My love for Friday The 13th is extremely well known. And I love this entry in particular.

It’s Jason in space, and this movie and the folks behind the camera KNOW how absurd that is. This movie is a lot more meta than people give it credit for, even if Meta Horror wasn’t a brand new concept in 2001.

I love the humor here, and the fact that it simultaneously doesn’t give a crap about anything, but is also a well-crafted satire of what it is.

3. Signs

I was torn a lot between where to put Signs and my #2 entry on this list, and I flipped them back and forth more than once. I think Signs is a better movie, but I enjoy the next film more. So it’s a dilemma. And they are both very good AND very entertaining.

For me, damn The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, THIS is M. Night’s best movie. When I rewatched this recently, I was floored by how much better it was than I remembered it. I didn’t care any more about the supposed flaws in the supposed aliens’ plans. I was much more enthralled by the brilliantly acted story of a man losing and refinding his faith in a world going mad around him. I’m not religious at all, but I do oddly appreciate such stories.

Add to that the creepiness, the odd humor inserted in parts, and the wild tension of the third act, and you’ve got a marvelous sci-fi tale.

2. Serenity

Here’s how I know personally that Serenity is a very good movie: I saw it before I saw a single episode of Firefly, and I STILL loved it. Serenity actually works just fine without having been a fan of the show it spawned from, though obviously it’s even more rewarding if you ARE a fan. But without it, it still introduces all of the characters early on, has superb action and humor, and a powerful story.

It was a great ending to what I’d eventually see was a spectacular show. It didn’t answer EVERY question the show set up, but it hit the biggest and most necessary ones. Some of which you never even knew you were asking.

1. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 1

Without a self-imposed limitation, I’d have topped this list, #1 through #3, with all three Guardian movies, but that seemed so bland. You can go ahead and consider this entry here a de facto vote for the entire franchise.

The MCU decided midway through Phase Two to try their hand at science fiction using a cast of unknown and unloved characters, and oh wow… all they managed to do was invigorate their entire franchise with arguably the greatest trilogy of movies of all time and a roster that became incredibly integral to the whole of the universe.

What isn’t to love here? James Gunn is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, and his ability to blend genres and moods in single films is almost unparalleled.

My supposed lack of love for this genre doesn’t seem to have hindered me too much here! But let’s hear from you next: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF THIS CENTURY? Let us know in the comments!

Until next time… take care!