Tom Lombardo’s Evolving List
of All-Time Best Science Fiction Movies



Before beginning to read science fiction, my life-long love for the genre began in the movies. Growing up in the 1950s, I was fortunate to see Forbidden Planet, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and many other early classic films when they first were released. As a young boy, I was mesmerized by these films. They captured me right at the core of my psyche, and at six or seven years old, I actually wrote a science fiction story inspired by watching The War of the Worlds.

Like everything else in the universe, science fiction films have evolved since I was first held spellbound by visions of outer space and time travel, sitting as a kid in the Alhambra Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut. I have followed its cinematic evolution through the decades, perhaps being compulsively addicted to watching (and frequently re-watching) every new film that caught my eye. (I have watched the first Star Wars: A New Hope at least fifteen times.) Along the way I also discovered science fiction films produced prior to my birth, including such early classics as Metropolis and Things to Come. I think many would agree that Metropolis (1927) is still one of the very best science fiction films ever created.

Of course, a lot of science fiction movies are junk. The last couple of years I have been repeatedly disappointed by numerous super special effects extravaganzas that are equally lame, infantile, and shallow cinematic productions. Characterization is over-powered by visualization. Perhaps this says something about our culture. Yet, over the years, some films stand out among the clutter, films that stimulate the intellect and visual imagination, presents compelling characters, move the heart, and create a sense of wonder. Over the last four or five years, there have been some very good science fiction movies that I have placed relatively high on my list, such as Cloud Atlas, Ender's Game, Ex Machina, and Gravity.

A comment I have frequently made about science movies in comparison to science fiction novels is that the films generally do not come close to the quality of the books. It would be a great thing if some of the really imaginative and intelligent science fiction novels were turned into movies—of course only under the direction of someone of the caliber of a James Cameron or a Stanley Kubrick—to compensate for all the schlock that is put up on the screen. I am waiting for Hyperion, or A Canticle for Leibowitz, or A Fire Upon the Deep to come to life on the big screen, but until the movie business decides to expand its mental horizons, I will have to content myself with the intermittent good efforts realized in science fiction films to date.

Since I believe that “science fiction is the evolutionary mythology of the future,” and since science fiction films have become so immensely popular in the last few decades, saturating and shaping our collective consciousness (and probably our collective unconscious as well), it is definitely worth the time and energy to thoughtfully consider which movies are the best produced in this genre. Of course, a variety of such lists already exists, but none of these, to my knowledge, have been compiled and published on the Web by a futurist or a philosopher, so here is my shot at it.

The criteria I used to rate science fiction movies, which roughly parallels the criteria I used in ranking science fiction novels (See my Evolving List of Best Science Fiction Novels), are:

  • Scope and originality of imagination (creativity)
  • Depth and originality of story and plot
  • Viewer engagement
  • Scientific/technological/philosophical intelligence
  • Emotional and personal impact
  • Visual richness of settings and scenes - jolt to the senses
  • Characters (development, interest, uniqueness)
  • Overall memorability

I have not included movies in this list that are clearly fantasy or fantastical adventure, or purely monster or horror. Hence, The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit trilogies are not on the list, though I thought most of the movies in this dual-trilogy were excellent. I also thought both the original King Kong (1933) and the last version (2005) were great movies but not science fiction. (The 1976 version was awful.) I have, however, included Frankenstein, Thor, X-Men, and most of the Batman and Avengers movies on the list since there are strong science fiction elements within these films.

Ranked lists are attempts to quantify and simplify the oscillating and vacillating, the indeterminately rich, and the multi-perspectival manifestations of reality. I wavered over the first seven films considerably, never quite being sure of the exact order in which to place them. I looked at other people’s lists and compared them with my own judgments. I re-watched a number of films on the list, to refresh my memory and perhaps bring some further enlightenment. I continue to re-watch the classics. Perhaps tomorrow I might change my mind on the ordering of the list. But, the list has realized some degree of clarity and stability in my mind, and there is a difference between quality and junk, so, as of the beginning of November, 2017, here is my ranked list of the best science fiction movies ever made. New movies (of the last two years) added to the list since my last listing (July, 2015) are in bold.

  1. Bladerunner (1982)
  2. Brazil (1985)
  3. Metropolis (1927)
  4. Forbidden Planet (1956)
  5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  6. 2001 (1968)
  7. Watchmen (2009)
  8. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
  9. Matrix (1999)
  10. Avatar (2009)
  11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)
  12. Star Wars - A New Hope (1977)
  13. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  14. Cloud Atlas (2012)
  15. Dark City (1998)
  16. War of the Worlds (Original) (1953)
  17. Contact (1997)
  18. First Contact (Star Trek) (1996)
  19. Star Wars - Return of the Jedi (1983)
  20. Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  21. Slaughter House Five (1972)
  22. Aliens (1986)
  23. Ender’s Game (2013)
  24. The Time Machine (Original) (1960)
  25. Tron (Original) (1982)
  26. Alien (1979)
  27. Gattaca (1997)
  28. Minority Report (2002)
  29. Back to the Future (1985)
  30. Light Years (1988)
  31. Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  32. Ex Machina (2015)
  33. Ghost in the Shell (2017)
  34. Arrival (2016)
  35. Wonder Woman (2017)
  36. Gravity (2013)
  37. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  38. Bladerunner 2049 (2017)
  39. Things to Come (1936)
  40. When Worlds Collide (1951)
  41. Planet of the Apes (1968)
  42. Men in Black (1997)
  43. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
  44. Frankenstein (1931)
  45. Dune (1984)
  46. Batman (1989)
  47. Frequency (2000)
  48. Enemy Mine (1985)
  49. Them! (1954)
  50. Starman (1984)
  51. Jurassic Park (1993)
  52. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
  53. The Thing from Another World (1951)
  54. The Cell (2000)
  55. The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original) (1951)
  56. The Fifth Element (1997)
  57. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  58. Godzilla (Godzilla, Kind of the Monsters!) (Original) (1954/1956)
  59. The Europa Report (2013)
  60. Armageddon (1998)
  61. Total Recall (Original) (1990)
  62. Thor (2011)
  63. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
  64. Starship Troopers (1997)
  65. Batman Returns (1992)
  66. Soylent Green (1973)
  67. The Illustrated Man (1969)
  68. The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  69. Five Million Years to Earth (1967)
  70. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
  71. Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home (1986)
  72. Bicentennial Man (1999)
  73. Charly (1968)
  74. The Abyss (1989)
  75. Independence Day (1996)
  76. Alien Resurrection (1997)
  77. RoboCop (1987)
  78. Sleeper (1973)
  79. Star Trek (2009)
  80. Iron Man (2008)
  81. Superman (1978)
  82. Limitless (2011)
  83. Stargate (1994)
  84. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
  85. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  86. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
  87. Altered States (1980)
  88. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  89. The Fly (1986)
  90. Interstellar (2014)
  91. Deep Impact (1998)
  92. John Carter of Mars (2012)
  93. Matrix Reloaded/Matrix Revolutions (2003)
  94. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
  95. Prometheus (2012)
  96. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  97. The Martian (2015)
  98. Aelita (1924)
  99. Somewhere in Time (1980)
  100. Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  101. Oblivion (2013)
  102. Brainstorm (1983)
  103. Phenomenon (1996)
  104. On the Beach (1959)
  105. Wizards (1977)
  106. The Dark Knight (2008)
  107. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
  108. Woman in the Moon (1929)
  109. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  110. The Machine (2013)
  111. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  112. The Terminator (1984)
  113. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
  114. Alien 3 (1992)
  115. Super 8 (2011)
  116. Source Code (2011)
  117. Looper (2012)
  118. Predator (1987)
  119. Predator 2 (1990)
  120. Children of Men (2006)
  121. Batman Begins (2005)
  122. Rollerball (1975)
  123. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
  124. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
  125. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2004)
  126. District 9 (2009)
  127. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
  128. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Original) (1956)
  129. Inception (2010)
  130. Day of the Triffids (1962)
  131. THX-1138 (1971)
  132. Solaris (Original) (1972)
  133. The Thing (1982)
  134. I, Robot (2004)
  135. Ant-Man (2015)
  136. Chappie (2015)
  137. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
  138. Star Wars - Attack of the Clones (2002)
  139. Star Wars - The Phantom Menace (1999)
  140. X-Men (2000)
  141. Invaders from Mars (Original) (1953)
  142. The Avengers (2012)
  143. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
  144. Frankenstein (1994)
  145. Total Recall (2012)
  146. Powder (1995)
  147. Source Code (2011)
  148. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
  149. The World’s End (2013)
  150. Earth versus the Flying Saucers (1956)
  151. Lost World (Original) (1925)
  152. Fantastic Voyage (1966)
  153. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
  154. Escape from New York (1981)
  155. Mission to Mars (2000)
  156. Millennium (1989)
  157. Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
  158. Automata (2014)
  159. Jupiter Ascending (2015)
  160. Men in Black 3 (2012)
  161. X-Men: First Class (2011)
  162. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  163. Godzilla (2008)
  164. Godzilla (2014)
  165. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  166. Cloverfield (2008)
  167. Elysium (2013)
  168. Jurassic World (2015)
  169. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
  170. War of the Worlds (2005)
  171. Logan’s Run (1976)
  172. Cocoon (1985)
  173. Species (1995)
  174. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  175. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  176. Terminator Genisys (2015)
  177. Cherry 2000 (1987)
  178. Mysterious Island (1961)
  179. Passengers (2016)
  180. Captain American: Civil War (2016)
  181. First Men in the Moon (1964)
  182. Pacific Rim (2013)
  183. Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
  184. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
  185. Man of Steel (2013)
  186. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  187. The Wolverine (2013)
  188. Suicide Squad (2016)
  189. Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  190. Batman Forever (1995)
  191. Superman II (1980)
  192. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
  193. Her (2013)
  194. Life (2017)
  195. The Time Machine (2002)
  196. The Angry Red Planet (1959)
  197. Alien Covenant (2017)
  198. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
  199. Batman and Robin (1997)