50 Sci-Fi Movies You Really Should Watch Before You Die

Blade Runner

50 sci-fi movies you really should watch before you die. You’re not a true science fiction fan unless you’ve seen at least 45 of these 50 science fiction movies…

50 sci-fi movies you really should watch before you die. You’re not a true science fiction fan unless you’ve seen at least 45 of these 50 science fiction movies…

A simple story about man’s first visit to the moon, told nearly two decades before the feat was actually achieved. Remarkably accurate in some details and delightfully silly in others, this film is an absolute joy whether you find it fascinating or funny. Produced by legendary animator George Pal and co-written by sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein.

A special police unit is able to predict crimes and arrest murderers before they strike.

While many hardcore sci-fi fans might not choose to admit it, largely because lead actor Tom Cruise is generally not a favorite of serious film buffs, this movie was very influential in terms of its visuals and concept designs. The holographic computer screens and motion-controlled computer interfaces seen throughout the movie, in addition to early allusions of augmented reality, have since been used in countless movies and even in such mundane dramas as CSI. It is said that Minority Report even had a hand in inspiring the gestural computer interfaces we use today.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, this is the grimmest, most depressing post-apocalyptic movie ever made. Set in a dying world where a few scattered survivors scavenge the few remaining crumbs of food and contemplate their end, this is a simple father-son story. As life on Earth grinds to a halt, Viggo Mortensen does everything he can to keep his son alive simply because his paternal instinct compels him to do so.

WARNING: This movie contains scenes of cannibalism and suicide, and points out the futility and fragility of human existence to the point that some viewers may lose the will to live.

In a near-future where crime and corruption lurk around every massive punk haircut, Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is brutally murdered and brought back to life in the form of cyborg bad-ass RoboCop.

It might sound cheesy but… Well, OK, it’s a cheese pizza with extra cliché, but it’s a classic sci-fi movie all the same.

George Pal’s 1960 adaptation of H.G Wells’ novel “The Time Machine” is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies and a classic of the genre. The story closely follows that of the novel (something that many ‘adaptations’ cannot claim) and is a work of pure genius by one of the genre’s greatest writers. The special effects were good enough in their day to win an Oscar. Today, the stop-motion animation seems redundant at best, but still adds charm to the movie. The acting is terrible, but that’s par for the course for such an old film.

Rod Taylor stars as an unnamed ‘time traveler’ (a term invented by H.G Wells for the purpose of his novel) who journeys far into the future. There, he finds that humanity has diverged into two distinct species; the passive Eloi and the fierce Morlocks.

The inclusion of Simon Wells’ 2002 adaptation H.G Wells’ “The Time Machine” in this list is a controversial decision, I know, but I actually think this movie is pretty good. The script takes liberties with H.G Wells’ original vision and thus differs significantly from both the novel and the 1960 adaptation, but the result is a modern, more exciting and equally thoughtful re-telling of the same classic story. The protagonist has more character and a (somewhat tiresome) back-story, the Morlocks are more frightening, we’re given more reason to care about the fate of the Eloi and the time travel special effects are given a much-needed revamp. The score is pretty good too.

A computer programmer is pulled into the software world that exists inside a computer mainframe. He must fight the Master Control Program in his attempt to escape to reality, and is helped by Ram, Tron (a security program) and Bit (a piece of binary code). The movie fused live action and computer generated imagery, a groundbreaking idea at the time.

Another classic H.G Wells novel brought to life by director George Pal… in Technicolor! The movie takes liberties with Wells’ original plot, moving the location from 1800′s England to 1950′s America and transforming the protagonist into an all-action scientist, but it’s regarded as a classic nonetheless. In fact, it’s fair to say that this version is now more famous than the original novel itself.

A lot of people complained about Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of The War of the Worlds, but I actually think this was a better movie than George Pal’s 1953 version. Yes, the story differs from both the book and Pal’s classic, but I think Spielberg managed to capture the essence of the book much more faithfully than Pal. H.G Wells’ novel was always about terror, about running away, and it made the point that humanity is not as advanced or as powerful as we like to think. This movie consists entirely of people running away from truly terrifying alien war machines. New elements have been added to keep the story fresh, but they add to, rather than detract from, Wells’ original vision. The only mistake Spielberg made was casting Tom Cruise in the leading role.

John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing (a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World and the novella Who Goes There?) is, in my opinion, not only one of the best sci-fi movies ever made but also one of the best horror movies ever made.

An Antarctic research base is infiltrated by a parasitic alien life-form with the ability to mimic any organism (or person) it consumes. It also has the ability to transform into a slimy, tentacled spider blob and go “blurgh!”. Suspense, horror, tentacles, massive beards, this movie has it all!

Space harlot Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is sent to retrieve scientist Dr. Duran Duran from the planet Tau Ceti. There she meets a blind, half-naked angel, two evil vampire children, and a dominatrix, among others. She must also face the torture of Dr. Duran Duran’s ‘pain organ’.

The film walks the line between science fiction and fantasy, and plays out like a strange dream sequence with elements of horror, humor and eroticism in equal measure.

The original 1968 Planet of the Apes is a classic sci-fi movie that refuses to go away. The make-up is brilliant, the story is enthralling, the dialogue is thoughtful and the overacting is extreme. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake doesn’t hold a candle to Maurice Evans’ performance as Dr Zaius alone.

Based on the novel by French writer Pierre Boulle, astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) crash lands onto a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are hunted and used for scientific experimentation. Escaping from Ape City, Taylor learns the planet is, in fact, a future Earth. The fact that man evolved from ape has been kept secret by the orangutan Minister of Science, Dr Zaius, who believes that man is dangerous and destructive, and that apes are superior.

The first of four sequels to the 1968 Planet of the Apes. A second astronaut arrives in Ape City looking for Taylor. Dr Zaius becomes convinced that there must be a civilization of intelligent humans living across the Forbidden Zone, and the apes march to war.

The fourth in the series and a prequel to the original. In the year 1999, apes have become slaves to humans. The talking ape, Ceasar (played by Roddy McDowall), leads a violent uprising against his human oppressors, starting the rise of ape civilization and the downfall of humanity.

In its day, this was described as the most violent movie ever made, and it’s easy to see why. Apes shooting humans, humans shooting apes… with automatic weapons and flame throwers.

A modern zombie movie set in England, directed by acclaimed British director Danny Boyle of Trainspottingand Slumdog Millionaire fame.

The movie that spawned one of the longest running science fiction shows of all time. An ancient alien device found in Egypt allows the US Air Force to travel to another world, where they discover the alien origins of the pyramids.

Stargate isn’t the best movie ever made – it might not even be as good as the TV series – but it is the beginning of the most successful science fiction franchise since Star Trek.

When they made the first Star Trek movie, they got so much wrong. They tried to make it more like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and they tried to make it all about the special effects. But nobody watched Star Trek for the special effects; they watched it for the plot-lines, the badly written dialogue and the melodrama. When they made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they got so much right. There was melodrama by the bucket-load, the plot was great, and the drama and suspense dials were turned right up to 11.

Darker and more dramatic than other Star Trek movies, The Undiscovered Country was Trek’s attempt to create something with a more epic feel and a larger sense of scale than it had previously offered, fitting into the now expanding universe of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the upcoming Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of the franchise. The result is one of the best movies to feature the ‘Original Series’ Star Trek cast.

The story revolves around the strained relations between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire, and ends with the signing of the Khitomer accords, which brought peace to the Alpha Quadrant for several decades.

While two of the movies made by the original Star Trek cast make it on to our list, only one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies is worthy of the honor. It’s not thatGenerations, Insurrection or Nemesis were bad movies, they just weren’t particularly memorable, stirring, iconic or unique enough to be considered great sci-fi movies. Star Trek: First Contact, however, was better than all the original movies combined.

Star Trek: First Contact is the one with the Borg (to the lay person, that’s the communist cyborgs from outer space). The crew of the sexy new Enterprise-E, along with their pet Klingon, Worf, travel back in time to stop the Borg from sabotaging humanity’s first encounter with the Vulcans and assimilating Earth. Captain Picard reveals a dark side to his character, Geordie gets to meet his childhood hero (the drunken Zefram Cochrane), Worf gets to say “assimilate this” before blowing up some Borg, and Data gets his end away. Most importantly, Shatner wasn’t able to crowbar his way into this movie, allowing the franchise to finally escape the clichés of the past.

A dark and dramatic science fiction horror movie from 1997. The Event Horizon was an experimental spaceship that used a new type of interstellar drive. On its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon disappeared, sucked into a black hole only to reappear seven years later. When the salvage vessel Lewis and Clark is dispatched to investigate the sudden reappearance, they discover that the ship has brought something back from whatever strange realm it has visited… something evil.

Yeh, it’s essentially a sci-fi movie about a ghost ship, but it does it very well. It’s actually pretty scary, and the visual effects are still pretty impressive.

I’m not a Disney fan, and ever since they teamed up with (bought) Pixar, I’ve become increasingly less of a Pixar fan too. These two companies have a habit of churning out unimaginative movies with familiar plots, familiar characters and familiar jokes, and selling them to the easily impressed public as something new and exciting. Once in a while however, this drab movie making machine does manage to output something worthwhile (I guess the laws of probability say that at least one in a hundred movies Disney makes will be good), and when it does, the world goes nuts for it. Wall-E was one such movie. It’s the only good movie Disney have made since The Lion King, and it’s going to be pretty difficult for them to top.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, it’s probably because you don’t have kids. But if you think Wall-E was made to entertain kids alone, you’re sadly mistaken. This is an utterly charming movie with bags of character, humor, emotion and a surprising amount of intelligence.

Before Wall-E there was E.T, not a cute robot but a cute alien with a similarly shaped head and a limited vocabulary.

Like other family science fiction movies from the 80′s, E.T can be dark and depressing at times but is also touching and uplifting. By modern standards, the story is a little slow but Spielberg’s direction manages to add enough excitement and tension to make up for that. Twenty years on, E.T remains a favorite with sci-fi fans of several generations and serves as a reminder that the genre is about more than space-battles and robots.

A 90′s classic. Yes, films from the 90′s can be considered classic too; it wasn’t that bad a decade.

Starship Troopers is a big bag of fun. It’s cheesy, funny, gory, action-packed and completely over the top. The special effects also hold-up pretty well, even after all these years. Based on the book by Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers does have something interesting to say about the politics of the future and the reality of war, but the serious side of the novel has been downplayed in favor of a grizzly sense of humor. If you’re looking for realism and serious character development, look somewhere else. If you’re looking for a movie where soldiers splatter giant bugs with huge guns, Starship Troopers is for you.

In space no one can hear you scream, no one can hear your cat hiss, and no one can find the giant alien monster that’s hiding on your spaceship.

The sequel to the 1979 blockbuster Alien does what all good sequels do; it takes the same basic premise, a similar but not identical setting, makes the monster bigger and adds some army guys. The great things about army guys is that they tend to come in large numbers (meaning we get twice as much alien fodder), carry cool equipment (meaning more explosions), and are easy to stereotype (meaning less dialogue is needed to establish their characters, and we can get right to the killing). They also have a tenancy to be arrogant, which adds irony to their inglorious deaths.

Lets skip past the dull third Alien movie and get to the controversial fourth movie in the franchise.

Some people don’t like Alien Resurrection. I can’t imagine why. Some elements are a little clichéd, and the movie can be a little silly at times, but with defective clones of Sigourney Weaver being burned to death, and with a writing credit for fan-favorite Joss Whedon, it still deserves a place on this list.

A man wakes up to discover that he is the only person left on Earth (or New Zealand at least). Everybody else has gone missing. After searching around a bit and investigating the cause of the disappearance, he starts go crazy and have a really fun time. Later, he discovers that he’s not the last person left on Earth (or New Zealand at least). He meets up with a girl (who he falls in love with) and another guy, and they all go crazy together. Then something strange and sciencey starts to happen, and they realize that the world will end if they don’t do something sciencey to stop it.

It sounds boring, but it’s actually a very good movie.

When people wake up to find themselves alone in a city, they usually end up running away from zombies or something equally clichéd. This movie actually takes the time to explore what crippling loneliness and boredom does to a person. There are no aliens, no zombies, just a lot of character development.

Ask anybody what the best science fiction films are and Blade Runner is certain to appear somewhere near the top of the list. I actually think it’s a little overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film, and Riddley Scott certainly did a good job on the direction, but it’s probably not as good as most people make it out to be.

I really enjoyed the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on which the movie is based, but Blade Runner just seems like a crude charcoal rubbing of a man in a trench coat in comparison. It’s a little lifeless and slow, in my opinion, and it doesn’t really go anywhere. The book didn’t go anywhere either, but that made the end kinda depressingly poignant, whereas Blade Runner just seemed unfinished and meaningless. That’s what happens when you remove both the protagonist’s motivation and the end of the story.

Nevertheless, Blade Runner is just one of those films you have to watch if you’re going to call yourself a sci-fi fan or, indeed, a human being.

The first one. The first installment of one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time.

If you’ve never seen this movie, you should feel deeply ashamed. I’m serious. You don’t belong on this planet.

The second one. This is the one in which Biff steals a sports almanac from the future, and Marty must travel back in time to the first movie in order to save the present. Confused? Don’t worry, the third one’s much better.

Is that kid playing the arcade game in the diner Elijah Wood? It is? You learn something new every day.

The third one. This is the western one. It has the time traveling train, that scene with the hover-board running alongside the train, and the train falling into a canyon. It’s awesome!

When a saucer-load of alien refugees arrives on Earth, they are bundled into a camp near Johannesburg, South Africa. Over time, the camp becomes a slum, and the government hires a private security company to relocate the refugees to a new, more secure facility.

District 9 seems to have divided sci-fi fans; some love and some think it’s kinda annoying. I actually agree that it is annoying, and the camera work does make me a little nauseous, but I also think it’s a great film. It does everything that a movie should do. It’s sad, it’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s charming, it’s disgusting and a little bizarre. It’s also quite poignant, if a little obvious and contrived.

I especially like the way that this movie starts out looking like it’s trying to do something new and hip, before the plot transforms it into a simple, ordinary, clichéd science fiction story. It’s like stuffing a worming tablet inside a pilchard and forcing it down your cat’s throat; making sure the general public take their annual sci-fi story medicine before slipping back into CGI explosions and kung fu transformers. Underneath the shaky camera madness, it really feels like a short story written by some kid back in the 90′s, and I find that rather charming.

A futuristic theme park uses androids to recreate the Old West. When the robots go haywire, a gripping 70′s chase movie ensues, with creepy robo-cowboy Yul Brynner following the protagonist through Westworld and neighboring Roman World and Medieval World.

Equilibrium is essentially a cross between George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, only with a few kung fu moves thrown in to entertain the proles. Set in the futuristic city-state of Libria, the movie tells the story of Cleric John Preston, whose job it is to destroy dangerous artifacts such as the Mona Lisa, poetry books and adorable puppies. Emotions are outlawed in Libria, and anything that might upset the delicate Vulcan balance must be immediately destroyed. But when the protagonist accidentally reads some moving poetry, he suddenly realizes the error of his ways. This sets him on a course that will eventually see him overthrow Big Brother himself, except that Big Brother is called Father in this movie.

I’ll always maintain that superhero fiction is not science fiction, it belongs in the realm of fantasy, or perhaps in a genre of its own. Unbreakable, however, attempts to make superheros real in the same way that countless cheesy vampire movies have attempted to explain vampirism as a genetic disorder. It does this in a rather touching and disturbing way, through a troubled child’s belief in his depressed father. As part of a midlife crisis, Bruce Willis reluctantly transforms himself into a new kind of crime fighter; the kind that cries a lot and is constantly afraid. Of course, it all comes back to the same tired old superhero/supervillain clichés in the end, but if you pretend like you’re surprised by this, it’s actually a very good film.

Ok, so the first Terminator movie was fairly good, and you probably should watch it before the sequel, but it’s Terminator 2 that really ticks all the boxes as a sci-fi action movie. Both films are all about action, running away, creepy bad guys and “oh no, the world will end if we don’t stop Skynet”, but it’s the second film that really gets the formula right. If you’ve never seen a guy with metal hands poke somebody’s eye out with his pointy finger, watch this movie.

There had to be one Japanese film on this list, so it might as well be Ghost in the Shell (or “Mobile Armored Riot Police” as the original Japanese title translates). Released in 1995, this movie has been hailed as a classic and as one of the most influential Japanese animations of all time, and it has earned itself a huge cult following in countries the world over. Of course, Akira was released first and was probably more influential, but that’s a silly film and I can think of no good reason to recommend it to modern audiences. (Sorry, Akira fans, but it’s time to move on.)

I could say that if you’ve seen one Japanese cyberpunk animation, you’ve seen them all. But it would be more accurate to say that if you’ve seen Ghost in the Shell, every cyberpunk movie since 1995 will seem like a poor imitation. That’s because most of them are. What’s the movie about? Well, to be honest, it’s not Shakespeare and it can essentially be summed up thusly: imagine if RoboCop were a hot Japanese girl, cared whether or not robots had souls, and could make himself invisible. ‘Nuff said.

This is another of those love it or hate it sci-fi movies. Personally, I hate it. I can’t think of a single good thing to say about this movie, but its popularity and the fact that it was made in the 80′s mean that I’m obliged to include it in the list.

Whether you love it or hate it, you’re not a real sci-fi fan unless you have an opinion on Dune. Unfortunately, that means you need to watch it in order to decide, making it one of the movies you really have to watch before you die.

I probably don’t need to say anything about this movie. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re probably some kind of bizarre alien crustacean, or that goat that got eaten by the T-Rex. Is this the best movie ever made? Quite possibly. It’s certainly the favorite movie of at least a quarter of the people on the planet. (I like how lots of people out there say they don’t like science fiction, but then it turns out that their favorite movies are all science fiction.)

A boy is abducted by an alien spaceship and returned home eight years later, his parents having thought he was dead. He later realizes that the spaceship’s memory banks have been downloaded into his brain, and the ship’s autopilot needs his help to get home.

Flight of the Navigator feels dark and cruel at times, but is also very fun. It conveys a strange sense of being isolated and feeling out of place, as the main character is thrown into a different time and then locked up and interrogated by the military, and this is both creepy and compelling. It almost feels as though the adults in this movie are aliens, and he’s not sure who he can trust. Of course, he also gets to take control of an alien spaceship, which has to be every boy’s fantasy.

This is that sci-fi movie where the guy builds a mountain in his front room and his family think he’s crazy. Of course he’s crazy; any sane person would have built the mountain in his back yard. But it turns out he’s not crazy at all, it’s just the alien signal being beamed into his head for some reason. The other memorable moment is when scientists communicate with the alien ship using an organ. I could never figure out if that was really clever or really dumb, but it seemed to work.

Close Encounters is a big film, and there’s rather a lot going on here. It’s just as creepy and intriguing now as it was back in 77, and there’s little wonder that it’s remembered as one of the classics of conventional science fiction.

Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on an alien hunter who’d prefer to remain anonymous because he has a face like a mutated vagina.

This is the movie that spawned the popular catchphrases “if it bleeds, we can kill it”, ”get to the chopper!”, “you’re one ugly motherfucker” and “what is this fucking tie business?”

All three of the original Star Wars movies deserve to be named as movies to watch before you die simply because of their incredible popularity. This is the most successful movie trilogy of all time, and it has grafted itself onto modern popular culture like no other. If you don’t like these movies, you are in the minority. If you’ve never seen them, you’re a freak.

OK, so the new Star Wars trilogy (episodes 1 to 3) is nowhere as good as the old Star Wars trilogy. Nobody is going to disagree with that. But these are still good sci-fi movies, and every sci-fi fan should see them. The Phantom Menace probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list, and we can never forgive George Lucas for the atrocity that is Jar Jar Binks. But the three films do come as something of a package, and skipping ahead would be like opening your presents before Christmas morning.

This is one of those films that keeps on being pulled out of the bag every Christmas and every Easter, and it remains a favorite of most sci-fi fans. But, with a remake of this classic expected to be released very soon, it’s days may be numbered.

Logan’s Run is based on William F. Nolan’s novel of the same name, but differs significantly from the book. It won an Academy Award for special effects, and it won an incredible six Saturn Awards, including Best Science Fiction Film.

I know, the story is pretty basic and it’s essentially a remake of Pocahontas, FernGully, Princess Mononoke and other animated tales. I know, the hippy thing with the tree of life was kinda silly. I know, the six-legged horses looked stupid, but Avatar is still a very good movie, and it’s something that people are likely to still be talking about several years from now. The visuals were great, the score was great, and a lot of the acting was pretty good too. It was mostly CGI eye candy, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of eye candy if it makes you feel good, and that blue alien cat lady made me feel good, and a little confused. Also scared and aroused.

I once stumbled into a forum in which some unimaginative Christians were discussing whether Avatar was promoting a pagan philosophy and whether it was safe to let their kids watch it. Apparently a lot of closed-minded American Christians got worked up about whether Eywa and God could exist in the same universe. I thought it was absolutely hilarious that they’d chosen to criticize that aspect of the film, rather than the fact that the Na’Vi can MIND-MELD WITH ANIMALS USING ONLY THEIR HAIR. Now I know that Avatar has annoyed and confused a lot of petty evangelical types, I like this movie even more.

There are a lot of great sci-fi movies that didn’t quite make this list, Omega Man and Mars Attacks, for example, but there are three that I really should mention.

Firstly, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). This is one of the classics, and something that any serious sci-fi fan should probably watch, but it’s an incredibly boring film and the 2009 remake was so bad that it even damaged the credibility of the original.

The second is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This is obviously a very important movie; it changed the way that science fiction looked and felt for decades, and its influence can still be felt to this day. But as a movie it’s pretty dull and it doesn’t offer a great deal in the way of entertainment. Parts of the movie are as strange and confusing as being beaten on the head with Salvador Dali’s left leg while watching the intro to Doctor Who, the rest is just plain boring.

The third honorable mention is Explorers (1985). This is a really good kids film about a group of friends who build their own spaceship out of junk. It’s almost as good as Flight of the Navigator, but the aliens at the end of the movie are far too annoying, so it fell just short of being included in this list.