Tom Hardy strapped to the front of a vehicle in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Warner Bros.

The 2010s was a fantastic decade for sci-fi, as it gave fans and critics numerous modern classics that redefined and pushed the boundaries of the genre. The diverse selection of science fiction movies from that era underscores the boundless creativity and innovation that went into creating these films, with each one inviting viewers to explore the unknown through groundbreaking storytelling and artistic execution.

From mind-bending depictions of the cosmos as seen in Interstellar to chilling examinations of AI like Ex Machina, the top sci-fi movies from the 2010s are often counted among the greatest from the genre overall. With stunning visuals, compelling performances, and an array of thought-provoking stories that reflect the best aspects of science fiction today, these films will undoubtedly continue to enjoy their enduring legacies as contemporary masterpieces.

10. Gravity (2013)

Sandra Bullock operates a spaceship in Gravity.
Warner Bros.

Gravity is an ambitious sci-fi thriller that’s centered on Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as they complete a routine spacewalk. However, their mission takes a disastrous turn when debris from a satellite strike destroys their shuttle, leaving them stranded in orbit. With dwindling oxygen and limited resources, Stone and Kowalski must find a way to survive and make their way back to Earth against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity quickly received praise for its groundbreaking visuals and immersive 3D cinematography (the majority of the film’s effects were painstakingly crafted for more than three years by British company Framestore). The result is a stunning movie, which, while lacking in substance, was still a marvel to watch on the big screen. The characters’ dizzying journey home intensifies quickly, with the striking backdrop of the emptiness of space enough to keep anyone glued to the screen from start to finish.

9. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise in "Edge of Tomorrow."
Warner Bros.

Live, die, repeat. This is what Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) has to do when he’s thrown into a battle against an alien invasion in Edge of Tomorrow. Once a public relations officer with zero combat experience, Cage turns into a seasoned veteran after he discovers that he can reset the day every time he dies. He soon teams with the bold soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who once had the same ability, to devise a desperate plan to defeat the extraterrestrial threat.

Director Doug Liman’s blockbuster is an exhilarating alien invasion and Groundhog Day-style time travel movie that’s a crowdpleaser through and through. It showcases Cruise in his element, with his persistent and increasingly brave protagonist being easy to root for with each new loop. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but also doesn’t pretend to be anything else, making it an ideal pick for anyone in the mood for some fun action sequences and huge explosions.

8. Snowpiercer (2013)

Jamie Bell, Chris Evans, and other cast members standing in Snowpiercer (2013)
CJ Entertainment

Before director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite became an international sensation, the South Korean filmmaker had already created another movie chock-full of social and political commentary: Snowpiercer. The postapocalyptic sci-fi film is set on a perpetually moving train that houses humanity’s last survivors following a failed attempt to counteract global warming that plunged the world into a new ice age. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), one of the train’s lower-class passengers, leads a rebellion to seize control of the train’s engine.

Much like he would later do in Parasite, the director employs design to highlight class division. In Snowpiercer, this is seen in how the train is divided by social status, with its lower-class passengers living in squalor at the rear while the elite enjoy luxury at the front. This clever message is delivered as a heart-pounding cinematic experience, with Evans flawlessly playing the role of an imperfect leader who’s about to uncover some uncomfortable truths about society and survival.

7. Ex Machina (2015)

An android touches a face on the wall in Ex Machina.
A24

When low-level programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a weeklong visit to the secluded mountain retreat of his company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), he thinks he’s won the jackpot. It gets seemingly better when he arrives and Nathan informs him that he’s been selected to participate in a pioneering experiment involving AI. He’s soon introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a highly advanced humanoid robot with whom Caleb forms a complicated relationship. As he learns more about Ava, he begins to suspect that something’s not quite right about the experiment.

An Oscar award-winning sci-fi movie, director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is even more unsettling to revisit today given recent advancements in AI. The discussions and debates surrounding identity and ethics rage on, with Ex Machina being a reflection of some of the deepest fears and concerns about AI. Winner of the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the 2014 movie is also just eerily beautiful, from its unnerving, yet elegant sets to Alicia Vikander’s one-of-a-kind character design.

6. Her (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in Her, on Netflix
Warner Bros.

Director Spike Jonze’s Her is a hauntingly emotional sci-fi romance movie that follows the lonely and introverted writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who develops an unusual relationship with an AI operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Set in a near-future Los Angeles, the film depicts Theodore’s experiences as he develops genuine feelings for Samantha, which soon leads to some unusual issues.

Her sets itself apart from the high-concept and complex sci-fi films of its era by offering a grounded and realistic story that’s even more relevant today. With people now forming relationships with AI, Theodore’s situation isn’t too far off from reality. The protagonist’s emotional journey is a necessary watch for anyone looking for a low-stakes sci-fi romance. Her is also just delightful to look at, with its soft colors and overall warmth complementing its intimate story.

5. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Officer K looking up at a neon-colored hologram in Blade Runner 2049.
Warner Bros.

The ambitious follow-up to one of the best cyberpunk movies ever made, Blade Runner 2049 underscored director Denis Villeneuve‘s increasing dominance of the sci-fi genre. Set in a dystopian future where bioengineered beings known as replicants
exist alongside humans, the film follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner tasked with hunting down and “retiring” rogue replicants. During his investigation, however, he uncovers a long-buried secret that could disrupt the delicate balance between humans and replicants.

The 2017 sci-fi movie proved to be a worthy successor to 1982’s Blade Runner by bringing the gripping universe to modern audiences and telling a compelling story in the process. As with any Villeneuve movie, Blade Runner 2049 is gorgeous in so many ways, with meticulous attention poured into creating its neon-drenched streets, foggy landscapes, and brutalist buildings. Officer K’s arc, which later joins with that of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the first film, serves not just as an effective expansion of the original story, but also as a successful showcase of the sequel’s distinct identity.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as Max and Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Warner Bros.

Set in the unforgiving Wasteland where water and petrol are scarce necessities, Mad Max: Fury Road tells the story of a lone wanderer haunted by his past named Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), who finds himself held prisoner by the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). He soon forges an uneasy alliance with a fierce warrior named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who’s determined to liberate a group of captive women, even if it means contending with Joe’s War Boys and the harsh desert.

Director George Miller seamlessly combines explosive action and postapocalyptic sci-fi in the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise. With high-octane car chases featuring dieselpunk-inspired vehicles like the War Rig alongside two bold main characters worth getting invested in, Fury Road delivers an exhilarating adventure unlike any other. It would spark renewed interest in the film series and would go on to spawn follow-up projects, including a prequel, the upcoming Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

3. Interstellar (2014)

Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in his astronaut suit looking to the distance in Interstellar.
Paramount Pictures

Christopher Nolan’s impressive filmography includes a few mind-bending sci-fi movies that would be hailed as modern masterpieces, one of which is 2014’s Interstellar. The epic sci-fi film takes place in the not-too-distant future where the Earth is being rendered uninhabitable by a global crop blight. Here, former NASA pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret mission to save the planet. He ends up leading a team of researchers on a daring mission through a newly discovered wormhole near Saturn to find a new home for humanity.

Interstellar portrays an epic trip through space on a monumental scale and withcutting-edge visuals. The film is a culmination of years of hard work and research, with Nolan ensuring a level of scientific accuracy every step of the way, at least until the more fantastical and shocking conclusion. While it presents an intergalactic adventure, at its core, Interstellar tells a stirring personal story between a courageous father and the daughter he leaves behind.

2. Arrival (2016)

Amy Adams in Arrival.
Paramount Pictures

Amy Adams stars as linguistics professor Louise Banks in Arrival, who is suddenly recruited by the military to decipher the language of mysterious extraterrestrial visitors who have arrived on Earth in massive, monolithic spacecraft. Louise works with a team including physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to establish a means of communication with the beings. With tensions mounting between uncertain and anxious global leaders, Louise must race against the clock and find answers before the fragile peaceful agreement among politicians is broken.

Arrival greatly benefits from Denis Villeneuve’s masterful direction, as he infuses the film with his trademark visual style and charged atmosphere. It’s a film that calls for at least one other viewing, as its cleverly hidden twist reframesLouise’s entire story. The 2016 movie also received significant acclaim for its particular focus on depicting communication with extraterrestrial intelligence with care, as a team of linguists and computer scientists put together the mesmerizing alien language seen and heard in Arrival.

1. Inception (2010)

Leonardo DiCaprio watches a top spins in Inception.
Warner Bros.

Inception is director Christopher Nolan’s legendary, mind-boggling sci-fi thriller that introduced the concept of “a dream within a dream.” It primarily follows Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled thief who specializes in the art of “extraction,” or stealing secrets from deep within the minds of his targets. When he’s given the chance to redeem himself by completing the impossible task of implanting an idea instead of taking information, Cobb assembles a team of specialists. As they go deeper into their target’s subconscious layers, they realize just how dangerous their mission might be.

A box office hit that also won four Oscars, Inception is now considered a classic that helped push the limits of the sci-fi genre. The riveting heist film has it all, from flawlessly choreographed action sequences and massive and innovative set pieces to incredible visuals, a philosophical and dramatic narrative, and an iconic score from Hans Zimmer to top it all off. Its high-concept premise was a risk that paid off thanks to a flawless execution by a filmmaker at the top of his game.

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