A decade may as well be an infinity in the world of movies. The amount of product that is released in that time frame is pretty voluminous when discussing cinema on the whole, so sometimes it's a good idea to narrow your focus to a smaller cosmos in the continuum. Strangely enough, we're about to embark on a journey that understands this concept extremely well, as we're about to go through a list of the ten best science fiction films of the past decade. Each film has made it onto this list for some very good, and, in some cases, reasons extremely important to the genre itself. But each film is, in its own way, a sci-fi classic in the making.
10. District 9
Some directors make such brilliant debuts that they have a hard time measuring up to, much less surpassing, those initial efforts. Director Neill Blomkamp's District 9 is definitely one of those sorts of films, as his Apartheid allegory involving an alien race that's been living among humans still stands as his best work yet. Not to pass any more judgement on Elysium and Chappie than we already have, but the unique presentation of a found footage thriller, mixed with a compelling performance by then unknown Sharlto Copley, made for intriguing viewing. However, the reason it stands out in a decade's worth of genre material is because it was able to take a socially conscious subject and, without pretension or hamfisted intent, made a viably entertaining film out of it.
Time travel is so hard to work with, considering it's a subject of such scrutinous continuity that you really need to know what you're doing to make it work. Director Rian Johnson, as per usual, knew what he was doing when he made Looper, and it shows in every frame of his third motion picture. Pitting Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis against each other in a time turning thriller, Johnson mashes film noir trappings and fast paced action to make a sci-fi film that both die-hard fans and those outside of the genre could get behind. Also, that ending still has us thinking in the years since its release.
Writer / Director Christopher Nolan has never been shy when it comes to high flying concepts, two films in his filmography stand out as sci-fi luminaries. One of them is, naturally, his ode to Kubrickian space travel, Interstellar. With the help of project consultant / theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Nolan not only launched into one of the more accurate depictions of time dilation, black holes, and space travel without faster than light travel, but also spurred Thorne to make some new discoveries on the practical side of things. To craft a sci-fi film full of wonder and emotional depth is one thing, but to help influence real-life science in the process is something spectacular.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
John F. Kennedy once said that, "victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan." Well, Edge of Tomorrow was certainly an orphan when it came to the box office expectations, but lucky for Tom Cruise and company, everyone loves an endearing orphan! Edge of Tomorrow, or Live. Die. Repeat. as some of you may have come to know it, blends a killer sense of humor and some top notch action with the sort of sci-fi premise that makes the film stand out. Perhaps the best reason for including this film in our line-up is the fact that its personality shone so bright, and it came so highly recommended, that it snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and even put itself on track for a sequel.
Some folks will tell you that Wall-E doesn't belong on this list. Well, those type of people are absolutely wrong, as the Pixar blockbuster is one of the most memorable sci-fi films to come from any corner of cinema. The fact that the film is an animated product shouldn't be considered a drawback, as the depiction of two robots in love, against the backdrop of the human species' attempts to redefine itself once more, are pure science fiction gold. Even better, the film is accessible to children and adults, which is a rare feat on this list, as most of the subjects involved are so mature that kids aren't ready for them yet. But if you want to give them a head start on getting to all of the other stuff on this list, start them out with Wall-E!
The second of three directorial debuts on this list, Moon jumpstarted the career of writer/director Duncan Jones much like District 9 did for Neill Blomkamp's career. Although, Moon is a much more claustrophobic story, as this film embraces its spartan, but effective approach to storytelling. Through an extremely limited cast of characters, Jones tells an intricately layered story that brings up some of the toughest ethical quandaries that we've seen in sci-fi history. And every fiber of this film is anchored by Sam Rockwell's equally charming and upsetting performance, as the man at the center of the film's thematic maze.
4. The Martian
Science fiction can get really fantastical when it wants to, but sometimes the greater achievement is creating a sci-fi film that stays as rooted to reality as possible. It's this sort of film that The Martian strives to be, and with its story set only a couple decades from our present day, with technology and solutions that are, for the most part, extremely plausible in their execution. Pile a wicked sense of humor, and a sense of good old hard work through global cooperation, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a feel good science experiment of a film.
3. Ex Machina
There are a couple of films on this list that have spurred debates on what course their endings took to close out the films they belong to. But Ex Machina is a unique case in that subsection of films, as it's ending could go one of two ways, and the film still manages to hold the same meaning in both. A three pronged examination on sentient machine life, and just what it might look like when humanity dances on the edge of the singularity, Ex Machina questions both humanity and its creations, and leaves us with some disturbing answers to some of science fiction's deepest questions. Also, that Oscar Issac dance scene is out of this world.
For those of you keeping score, this is that other Christopher Nolan film we alluded to back in the Interstellar entry, and as you could have guessed, Inception was the film that we'd kick ourselves for forgetting. The film truly has something for everybody, as the film has a tragic love story, action set pieces to spare, and a science fiction puzzle that crafted one of the most talked about endings of recent years. But above all of that is the fact that Inception was further proof that Nolan can not only jump genres at the drop of a hat, but he can do it without losing a step.
Good science fiction takes us to another place and time, showing us something fantastical. Slotting Arrival on this list was the easiest decision for two reasons. First, it's the most recent entry on the list, seeing as the film was released last November. So, naturally, director Denis Villeneuve's meditation on language, loss, and how something as simple as a conversation can change the future of the world is still fresh in our minds. But even past the obvious recency effect, Arrival is a powerful enough film that even five years from now, we'll still be talking about its emotionally charged message of peace through superior translation.
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CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.