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The 50 Best Sci-Fi Films of the 21st Century Thus Far

Written by on July 19, 2016 

40. Cloud Atlas (Lilly and Lana Wachowski)

Cloud Atlas

Even a cursory glance at the book’s description will offer a good indication of how difficult a task it would be to adapt David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas. Consisting of six nested stories that unfurl across a span of thousands of years with a top-notch ensemble cast each playing several different roles, it’s a story blending mystery, comedy, sci-fi, and action filmmaking into one towering tale. Directed by Tom TykwerLana Wachowski, and Lilly Wachowski, it’s a project that sounds as if it should be the basis for a Jowdorowsky’s Dune-like documentary about a failure to attain funding. Thankfully, Cloud Atlas was made into a rip-roaring adventure story of the highest caliber, keeping us thrilled and engaged with each plot strand, no matter how bizarre. Tykwer and the Wachowskis may be painting with broad strokes, but they’re immaculately placed, enveloping their audience in the sweeping scope of this grand tale. – Tony H.

39. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)

The Worlds End

A long awaited pub-crawl slowly morphs into a fight against a robot-imposed Armageddon as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost re-team with Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright for the conclusion to their beloved Cornetto Trilogy. The protagonists, adult males who attempt to recreate a nostalgic high-point from their adolescence, are all quietly miserable with their adult lives. Their fearless leader, Gary King (Pegg, who collaborated on the screenplay with Wright) is the least happy because in the passing years, he realized that his unfortunate life peaked while he was intoxicated in his teens. Gary has spent the last two decades re-telling the story of that fateful night, transforming it into the stuff of legends. However, until the violent hand of cosmic fate steps in, Gary King is merely a legend in his own mind. – Tony H.

38. Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe)

vanilla_sky_header

An ambitious remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre Los Ojos and certainly Cameron Crowe’s strangest film, Vanilla Sky was released at a time when Tom Cruise was so popular that he could open a romance film about a murder in a chemically-induced dream-world and people would show up. The star leans into his good looks and charm here like never before, offering a performance that’s surprisingly self-aware. – Dan M.

37. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

ex_machina_2

Between Siri and Cortana and Watson, the idea of artificial intelligence in our daily lives has gone from a creepy possibility to a banal and often frustrating reality. Likewise, humanoid robots are slowly becoming an accepted reality in all manner of fields. Ex Machina does the seemingly impossible by taking both of these well-trod ideas and extrapolating from their slowly evolving reality-based counterparts and making it terrifying again. It does this by asking a simple yet deeply unsettling question: what if you spend all of this time and energy just to create something that hates you? The answer gives us insights into how humanity influences its technological advancements, both for good and for ill. The worst part of what we make won’t be something we can’t predict, it will be the pieces of ourselves we give it. – Brian R.

36. The Man From Earth (Richard Schenkman)

The Man From Earth

Produced on a budget of $200,000, The Man From Earth quietly premiered at San Diego Comic-Con Film Festival in July 2007, where it went on to have a minuscule theatrical release a few months later. Soon after, an illegal copy of the film hit the internet, where it went on to explode, becoming a cult hit around the world. Scripted by the late Jerome Bixby before he passed in 1998, the small-scale film follows John Oldman (David Lee Smith), a university professor saying goodbye to his friends during a farewell party. They gather together and what follows is a fascinating discussion revealing that Oldman is a Cro-Magnon that has been alive for 14,000 years. If at its very core, the foundation of science-fiction is imaginative storytelling, The Man From Earth may be the genre’s purest example. – Jordan R.

35. Lucy (Luc Besson)

Lucy

He may have found financial success with his screenwriting involvement in franchises like Taken and Transporter, but Luc Besson had hit a directorial rut. Enter Lucy, an unapologetically insane thrill ride that no summer blockbuster could quite match back in 2014. While some squandered their time with assertions over the lack of scientific accuracy, many of us enjoyed the director’s take on a superhero film — easily surpassing anything in Marvel’s output in the process — with a dash of The Tree of Life thrown in. Add a worldwide gross of nearly half a billion dollars, and it looks like I wasn’t alone in my unadulterated enjoyment. – Jordan R.

34. The Host (Bong Joon-ho)

The Host

Before he took on class warfare with his dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho may have singlehandedly reinvigorated interest in the monster movie with The Host. The 2006 film successfully melds human drama with rampant destruction in its depiction of a dysfunctional family forced to contend with a blood-thirsty monster inhabiting Seoul’s Han River. Though time has not been kind to the CGI beast, it’s worth overlooking this less convincing aspect in order to enjoy Bong’s expertly constructed, dazzlingly kinetic action set pieces. – Amanda W.

33. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams)

Star Trek

I don’t think I would necessarily dislike it, or what it represents in the realm of science fiction, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to delve into Star Trek. And that’s an important disclaimer, because for many viewers such as myself, J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek was one of the few times that the series really managed to spread beyond the cult fanbase into a full-fledged blockbuster, and capture the imaginations of a wider audience. It’s completely understandable why that riled some long-time fans, but it also makes sense why Disney saw this and immediately pegged Abrams for Episode VII. It’s simply a damn fun movie, with great action, humor, special effects, and thrills (how’s that for a commercial soundbyte?). At the end of the day, even the biggest Star Trek fans have to admit that entries like Nemesis weren’t exactly keeping the series afloat at the box office or with the long-time fans, and the Star Trek reboot managed to slickly reinvigorate the series as a whole and bring new fans aboard. – John U.

32. Mr. Nobody (Jaco Van Dormael)

Mr. Nobody

Why do we remember the past, and not the future? This is a question posed by director Jaco Van Dormael in his wildly ambitious existentialist journey, one of many that he isn’t afraid to face head-on. Mr. Nobody starts with an exhilaratingly disorienting and unforgettable opening sequence before shaping into a profound exploration of choices and regrets, forcing viewers to consider the path walked upon, and the one parallel, or forgotten that could have just as easily been taken. Stripping away its missteps, and taking it for all its ambitiously bold ideas and approach, it is hard to understate the simple beauty and tragedy of the film. It is peculiar, funny, sexy, and full of life. Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Nobody is like the human memory itself: a sometimes flawed, beautifully idyllic, and inevitably heartbreaking summation of our experience as human beings. – Mike M.

31. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)

Attack the Block

A hybrid, rated R mix of The Sandlot and Tremors, this British sci-fi horror comedy by newcomer Joe Cornish was a mild success that should have led to bigger and better things for the creatives involved as well as the actors. By now you’ve likely heard of John Boyega, but Cornish remains criminally unheralded for his work that has plenty of charm and fun, but isn’t afraid of getting violent and dangerous. The creature effects are also a huge reason why this adventure works and are perfectly nightmarish and cool at the same time, a crucial element combined with the thumping soundtrack. – Bill G.

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