Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Past Decade (2005-2015)

In celebration of the Film Junk Podcast’s 10 Year Anniversary, we decided to count down the best horror, comedy and sci-fi movies of the past decade. For more info, listen to the full discussion on Episode #530.

10. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
Dir. James Gunn

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I didn’t consider any traditional superhero movies for my list, but Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like it was a necessary inclusion mainly because it dusted off the space opera genre and updated it for modern audiences. These days we get a lot of dreary dystopian futures but not nearly enough swashbuckling space adventure, interplanetary intrigue or colourful alien civilizations. Guardians does it all with a self-aware smirk.


9. SUNSHINE (2007)
Dir. Danny Boyle

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Danny Boyle’s deliberately paced tale about the crew of a ship sent to revive a dying sun provides plenty of opportunity for unique visuals while exploring our powerlessness in the face of the unknown and the level of sacrifice required to ensure the survival of the species. The late swerve into slasher territory continues to be contentious among some viewers, but it remains as tense as it is beautifully ambiguous.

8. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)
Dir. Rupert Wyatt

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This big budget reboot of a respected sci-fi movie franchise could have been a disaster but wound up being one of the most thoughtful summer blockbusters in recent memory. It imagines an origin for the intelligent apes that feels believable while underscoring an updated message about humanity’s mistreatment of the planet and its fellow inhabitants. The groundbreaking special effects certainly don’t hurt either.

7. NEVER LET ME GO (2010)
Dir. Mark Romanek

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Although it’s not very obvious on the surface that this is a science-fiction film, there is nevertheless a major twist that qualifies it for this list. Emotionally devastating, Never Let Me Go is a movie that touches on many classic sci-fi themes including what it means to be human, what gives our lives meaning, and how we come to terms with our own mortality.

6. DISTRICT 9 (2009)
Dir. Neill Blomkamp

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Neill Blomkamp has become a major voice in sci-fi over the past decade and although his last two films have delivered mixed results, his directorial debut remains a near masterpiece. Using the second-class aliens as an obvious parallel to apartheid, the movie also combines elements of body horror, documentary-style realism, savvy CG effects and humour to tear down colonialism.

5. SNOWPIERCER (2014)
Dir. Bong Joon-Ho

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This sci-fi thriller is based on a French graphic novel where a new ice age has frozen everything on the planet and the only surviving humans live on a giant train that circles the globe using a perpetual motion engine. It’s a strange and unique concept that explores issues like class division and government control while simultaneously delivering some stunning action sequences. The film’s subversive climax is sure to spark discussion afterward.

4. UNDER THE SKIN (2014)
Dir. Jonathan Glazer

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Great science-fiction films push boundaries and challenge viewers and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin does exactly that. It presents an otherworldly view of our planet through the eyes of an alien who is stalking unsuspecting victims. The unsettling visuals and haunting score help ensure that this movie will stay with you long after the credits roll.

3. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron

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Although Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is remembered for its remarkable long-takes and visceral action sequences, the detailed production design and world-building are the that make it such an impressive work of science-fiction. The vision of London in this movie is one of the most convincing dystopian futures ever put to film, which makes it both relatable and terrifying.

2. INCEPTION (2010)
Dir. Christopher Nolan

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A brilliant concept with even more brilliant execution to back it up. Nolan uses the mind as a surreal backdrop for a heist movie while probing themes of guilt, grief and the subjective nature of reality. Somehow he manages to juggle multiple layers of plot, exposition and character development in perfect combination, pulling us along without ever dumbing things down. There’s also the fact that as an audio-visual experience, it is simply breathtaking.

1. HER (2013)
Dir. Spike Jonze

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No other movie in recent memory has said so much about our relationship with technology with so few special effects. Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who essentially falls in love with his iPhone, which sound goofy on the surface but the emotional journey he takes us on is very real. What is also interesting is that it’s not an anti-technology piece, but something much more pragmatic and imaginative.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

  • Interstellar
  • Prometheus
  • Gravity
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Robot & Frank
  • Ex Machina
  • Upstream Color
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Timecrimes
  • Avatar
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • The One I Love
  • The Fountain
  • A Scanner Darkly

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  • Reed Farrington

    I was disappointed by “Her.” I thought it was a wasted opportunity. I thought the dialogue was banal, and unromantic. The visuals were ugly.

    The only science-fiction films I can think of that I’ve enjoyed this past decade are Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Book of Eli. (I haven’t seen Under the Skin and some of your honourable mentions.)

  • Jameson

    I think Book of Eli is criminally underrated. It’s an extremely well choreographed sci-fi western.

  • eliantigiorgi

    No Prometheus? This list absolutely shows that sean is a joke and can’t be taken seriously.

  • Pedro the Yorkshireman

    Sean, I think you have to clarify the Mad Max Fury Road placing; if it remains as an honorable mention it gives the impression that it’s not as good as those on the top 10, but it seems the reason you don’t have it in the top 10 is because you think its mainly an action film? If you were to categorise it as a Sci fi film, where would it be in the top 10?

  • ReelJunkie

    I still don’t understand how Mad Max: Fury Road qualifies as a sci-fi film. It’s a post-apocalyptic action film through and through.

  • Pedro the Yorkshireman

    Yes I agree. It wouldn’t be on my list. But including it in the honorable mentions is worse than stating it as not Sci fi and leaving it out. Come on Frank and Jay, I know you agree with us!

  • ReelJunkie

    I echo what you said in your other comment.

  • Sean

    I’ll try to explain my reasoning here, although it might make things even more confusing. I actually think Mad Max: Fury Road qualifies as a sci-fi film (and technically, so does any other post-apocalyptic movie), I just don’t think that’s what makes it great. My list is not “great films that also happen to have sci-fi elements in them”, my list is “great sci-fi films”. The criteria is different.

    I ranked the movies based mainly on their ideas, thoughtfulness and imagination and to a lesser extent the spectacle. Fury Road is not so much a movie about ideas as it is pure action and thrills. The details of the sci-fi world in which it takes place was already established in previous films in the franchise. But if I was to list which of these are the best films overall, Fury Road would probably be top 5, maybe top 3.

    It’s the same reason I can have Prometheus as an honourable mention even though I don’t think it is a great movie overall. I do think it is a solid sci-fi movie based on what it does within that particular genre.

    Does that make sense to anyone other than me?

  • Pedro the Yorkshireman

    Hi Sean, thanks for the reply – it is appreciated. Yes, that makes much more sense than before. Its good to hear it would have been top 3 if it was more hard sci fi (I think that’s what you mean?)
    And yes I agree with Prometheus – it was all over the place. So was Interstellar, but at least that had a few interesting ideas (and some boring shit that went on forever about love saving the world!)
    By the way, Mad max is 6/5 all the way – I think the ideas are brilliant; condensed, vital storytelling strustured around a few iconic elements: blood, oil and motherhood.

  • Sean

    What I meant is that if I took all of the movies on this list and judged them based on everything as opposed to just sci-fi specific criteria, Mad Max: Fury Road would potentially be top 3.

  • Reed Farrington

    Since when did post-apocalyptic action films not be considered as sci-fi unless one considers the reason for the apocalypse as being fantasy?

  • Reed Farrington

    I suppose your reasoning is sound, Sean, but it’s kind of convoluted. I thought you were a mainstream reviewer, but you’re as radical as Armond White. (This is a compliment.)

  • ReelJunkie

    But how much does Fury Road really deal with the cause of the apocalypse? From the very first shot the movie is immersed in nothing but action. Whatever elements of sci-fi there is comes way down the list of things that makes the movie what it is. So I think it’s quite the stretch to classify the film as sci-fi.

  • Reed Farrington

    Fury Road continues a franchise which established the apocalypse in previous films. I don’t understand how you and Sean can make a point about the movie not dealing with sci-fi themes. Fury Road deals with the effects of an apocalypse on society. This is social sci-fi. Fury Road shows how water is used as a resource to placate its citizens. This is environmental sci-fi. Sci-fi has always dealt with spectacle and action as well. Fury Road is not all action as reviewers tend to exaggerate.

  • Brittany Gresang

    It makes sense, Sean.

  • ReelJunkie

    Like I said, whatever elements of sci-fi there is comes way down the list of things that makes the movie what it is. Many movies can have various elements of different genres but that doesn’t necessary make them films of those genres. The overarching setup of Fury Road coincides fully with that of an action movie. Sure there are vague sci-fi themes carried over from previous films in the franchise but to me that’s not enough to earn it place is a Top Sci-Fi film of Last 10 Years list. Again, it would be a big stretch.

  • Reed Farrington

    If you’re going to slot Fury Road in the Action genre, then I think Guardians of the Galaxy should be slotted as Action as well. Actually, I don’t even think it’s a Sci-Fi film, but IMDb lists it as one of the genres it belongs to. It should be Fantasy like Star Wars is on IMDb. To assess the main genre a film belongs to gets convoluted.

  • ReelJunkie

    I think it’s not that difficult to pin down the main genre for most films. For instance, I’d put Guardians as science fantasy (it rips off Star Wars in so many ways). It gets convoluted when you start looking into the other genre elements within a film.

  • Reed Farrington

    At least we agree that Guardians doesn’t belong on a Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Past Decade list. :-)

  • Sean

    Jay brought up the science-fiction vs. science-fantasy argument on the podcast. While I am willing to entertain the debate, I think that it’s ultimately pretty nitpicky. Generally speaking anything that involves spaceships and interplanetary travel can and should fall under sci-fi. Star Wars maybe is an exception because it takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but Guardians is definitely set in the known universe.

    I did say that on the podcast that Guardians is the one choice on my list that is more about spectacle and thrills as opposed to ideas, but it’s still very imaginative and a throwback to a kind of sci-fi that we don’t see very often anymore.

  • Mark Stillwell

    You seem to have missed Moon of the list!

  • Reed Farrington

    Guardians and Hitchhiker’s belong mainly in the comedy genre if we’re going to start lumping movies into specific genres based on “main” genre.

  • Reed Farrington

    Star Wars is considered fantasy because its spaceships fly in space as if they were in an atmosphere. And the Force is akin to magic.

  • Sean

    Most of these movies are also dramas. Does that mean they can’t be considered sci-fi? I think arguing over this stuff is part of the fun but you have to draw the line somewhere.

  • Reed Farrington

    I guess it’s however you and ReelJunkie decide is the “main” element. :-)

  • But isn’t usually the point of sci-fi to tell stories, that might be fantastical or unlikely, but ultimately plausible and realistic? And Guardians of the Galaxy is not realistic or plausible.

    And saying that anything involving spaceships should fall into the sci-fi genre is to simple. Is a film with interplanetary travel, but where the ships are propelled with magic, really science fiction? I’ve read a comic where some characters travel between planets on a ship made from a sentient tree created with the use of a magic spell. Does that have anything to do with science?

  • Sean

    But we don’t know that the ships are propelled with magic in Guardians… they don’t get into the details of how they work. This is the difference between hard SF and soft SF, both of which are still considered sci-fi. Either way, I agree that it is a borderline selection, which is partially why it was at #10.

    With regards to your initial statement, Rod Serling, science-fiction is “the improbable made possible” and science-fantasy is “the impossible made probable.”

  • The statement about ships being propelled with magic was more a response to your claim that anything involving spaceships should be considered sci-fi.

    In GotG it is the things about the Infinity Gem and Ronan that pushes it away from sci-fi, for me. But I can agree on it being borderline. It was mostly the space statement that bugged me.

  • Sean

    Fair enough, perhaps that was too broad an assumption to make.

  • Reed Farrington

    I just realized that you don’t even have Star Trek (2009) as an honourable mention. I guess having the transporter makes Star Trek a science-fantasy for you. :-)