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So, what exactly is science fiction? When “sci-fi themes” pervades so many of the greatest movies, thought-provoking genre notions have been flattened into so much franchise fodder, it’s not the easiest topic to ask.
We’ve drawn a line in the sand — even if it’s the dunes of Arrakis — in identifying the 5 best sci-fi movies of the twenty-first century.
There will be no fantasy-centric superhero films on this list, nor will the space-based fantasy franchises “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”; an action, horror, or cartoon film must be solidly anchored in sci-fi beginnings to make it onto this list.
At the heart of all successful science fiction films is a desire to ask, “What sort of tale can we tell with this?” with a notion, technology, or idea that we humans don’t yet have access to or understand the consequences of.
Thankfully, this provides the genre with an almost limitless number of stories to tell, as authors are only restricted by their imagination.
Horror films must make you jump, romance films must conclude with a kiss, and comedies must make you laugh. The best science fiction films, on the other hand, may blend parts from all of them with a brilliant idea to tell whatever dang tale they want!
Director James Ward Byrkit demonstrated that the sci-fi genre has no bounds with just one room and $50,000.
The plot revolves around eight friends who are gathered for a dinner party when a comet swooshes overhead, kills the electricity and opens a gateway for the dinner attendees to pass into alternate universes, which take the appearance of nearby houses that match the one they are in (low-budget problem-solving 101).
Byrkit keeps the laws of his world simple: they don’t get in the way of our enjoyment of the drama, which does a fantastic job of posing existential dilemmas to the characters that you can’t help but think about.
The term “sci-fi rom-com” isn’t used often enough. “Safety Not Guaranteed” stars Jack Johnson and Aubrey Plaza as two journalists sent to investigate a strange classified ad seeking a partner to travel through time with.
Mark Duplass is the scientist who is credited with inventing the ostensibly time-traveling technology. Despite its heady concept, the Sundance award-winning film is grounded by a quest to uncover former loves while avoiding government inquisitions over time-bending practices.
In addition, “Safety Not Guaranteed” ushered in a new trend of indie filmmakers scoring tentpoles based on the buzz generated by their micro-budget films.
Three years later, director Colin Trevorrow would be in charge of the “Jurassic World” sequel, which would be based solely on this ambitious film. The critically acclaimed picture also featured Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, and the late Lynn Shelton.
3. Source Code
The astonishingly crisp and snappily paced “Source Code” mixes science-fiction themes into a thriller that feels more of the moment than futuristic, reimagining “Groundhog Day” as a high-tech, high-stakes mystery.
Captain Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is an Army pilot who continues having his awareness transferred back in time, reliving the last eight minutes of a Chicago-bound commuter’s life before his train explodes.
Stevens’ superiors have ordered him to find the bomber, but there’s a lot more to it than he’s allowed to know at first. Director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley cleverly keep the audience focused on a protagonist who isn’t always sure what’s going on, allowing us to figure it out alongside him.
They also establish a complete civilization around that train, which serves as a kind of heaven for the hero, despite the fact that he is aware that he lives in a world where such moments of serenity are fleeting.
Mike Judge’s sci-fi satire seemed doomed from the time 20th Century Fox dropped it at the last minute, ensuring that the film would be a box office disaster.
Despite this, the movie has managed to make its way into American pop culture only because of its depressingly correct predictions.
“Idiocracy” depicts a future America in which everything has been dumbed down by a mixture of anti-intellectualism, bland commercial entertainment, and the phenomena of brilliant people not having children.
As a result, we have a stupid populace incapable of even getting through the day, let alone managing itself. This results in a lot of humorous moments, but the picture is becoming less of a comedy and more of an intelligent dystopian sci-fi with each passing year.
While the film’s prediction that America would devolve into a kakistocracy may have looked overly pessimistic in 2006, the film’s major shortcoming now appears to be that it does not go far enough.
During the COVID-19 era, Christopher Nolan’s palindrome of a film divided reviewers, perplexed audiences, and single-handedly challenged streaming.
As a CIA operative (John David Washington) learns how to alter time to thwart a future attack that threatens to disintegrate the present world, what begins as an espionage picture swiftly develops into a sci-fi head-scratcher.
Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki play the CIA’s targets for a crime they haven’t committed yet. Robert Pattinson plays the handler and token time-travel explainer, while Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki play the CIA’s targets for a crime they haven’t committed yet.
“Tenet” is arguably best remembered for explaining time travel backward and then capturing what it would be like if you ever needed to drive backward — and that does not mean backward in reverse — to rescue the world.