2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
And so we reach the top of our list (by a galactic margin), a film that scrapes the farthest edge of cinematic achievement. By 1963 and his fearsomely brilliant ‘Dr. Strangelove’, Stanley Kubrick was already the most scientific mind to ever step behind a camera. It made sense, then, that he would dive into an unprecedented four-year production process to bring sci-fi up to his exacting standards.
AI Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Initially it was a dream project for Stanley Kubrick – a near-future tale, based on Brian Aldiss’ short story, of a robot boy programmed with the ability to love. Eventually Kubrick decided the tale was a better fit for the sensibilities of his colleague Steven Spielberg, who embarked on the film as a tribute after the visionary director’s death in 1999.
After a clue to mankind's origins is discovered, explorers are sent to the darkest corner of the universe. Their different expectations take a toll on them when they find something unimaginable. Alien: Covenant (2017)- The crew of a colony ship, Covenant, receive a radio transmission from a habitable planet. However, they encounter deadly aliens while investigating the planet and try to escape.
In Earth's future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind's new home.
There’s a mashup video online that cuts together every moment when Ellen Page asks a story-clarifying question in this brain-aching near-future yarn which Christopher Nolan spun between his last two ‘Batman’ films.
Chances are, most of us won’t get the chance to go into space. Sure, Virgin Galactic will end up dropping their prices eventually, but even that’d be just a momentary skip above the atmosphere rather than a full-throttle spacewalking adventure in the company of George Clooney.
The Martian (2015)
When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney (Matt Damon), presumed dead after a fierce storm. With only a meager amount of supplies, the stranded visitor must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crew mates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.
The Prestige (2006)
Late 1800s London is the perfect setting for Christopher Nolan’s twisty tale of rival magicians. The Victorian age was an unprecedented time of scientific discovery, where the impossible was being made possible with every new invention – just like magic.
Long before ‘Snakes on a Plane’, ‘Predator’ was one of the first movies to be directly inspired by a Hollywood in-joke. The gag doing the rounds after ‘Rocky IV’ was that, having battered an earthly opponent, next time around Sly would have to fight an alien.
The Matrix (1999)
That creaky old phrase ‘millennial angst’ has been tossed around so much confetti in the last few years of the twentieth century, but, strangely, it fits ‘The Matrix’ like a black PVC glove. The ultimate expression of existential paranoia in sci-fi, the Wachowskis sisters' jet-speed cyber-action classic doesn’t just question the meaning of life, but its very existence.
The Time Machine (1960)
You can have millions of pixels at your disposal, but there’s something magically simple about time-lapse photography, which comes into its own when Rod Taylor’s Victorian scientist boards his self-designed contraption and heads straight for the future. Seasons pass and buildings rise and fall in producer-director George Pal’s perfect embrace of available-effects technology, while the curved brass and padded leather machine is a beauty.
Ex Machina (2015)
Many of the greatest science-fiction films aren’t really about technological advancements or the great unknown, but rather about how mankind interacts and utilises it. This makes the moral and ethical questions that sci-fi raises the genre’s best and most thought-provoking weapon, and one ‘Ex Machina’ uses expertly.
A sci-fi-horror hybrid with more grey matter than your average movie, 'Annihilation' has grand concepts in mind, ideas about self-destruction and rebirth. The film follows cellular biologist Lena (Portman) as she ventures into the Shimmer, an anomalous electromagnetic field that looks a bit like a jellyfish screensaver.
Director James Cameron has acknowledged that ‘Avatar’ has many influences, from the jungles of ‘Tarzan’ to the themes of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series. But, typically, Cameron went and did it bigger and better than anyone else. Having come up with the idea in his ‘Titanic’ days, he literally waited for technology to catch up, requiring seriously sophisticated motion-capture photography and effects to plunge us into planet Pandora.
Big-scale moviemaking embroidered with small human moments and done on 'Avatar's canteen budget, 'Arrival' is the kind of cerebral sci-fi moviemaking that scores its director a gig like, say, 'Blade Runner 2049' or 'Dune'.