Without question, science fiction is the film genre that allows you to time travel to the future. Visionary filmmakers have created entire worlds, dystopias, and even the ending of our civilization. This absolute freedom has proved them right to be the designers of fantasies that were only possible in our imaginations. Nobody has the right answer, and that’s the beauty of it. They’re just approaches, both optimistic and pessimistic plans of what tomorrow will be.
However, science fiction has also been responsible for twisting our present (and on some occasions, our past) in ways that make us question our own reality. Filmmakers have convinced us to distrust technology in times when it’s become an essential part of our lives. Yes, sometimes it’s simply too toxic for our well-being.
It’s fiction, and like that, it should remain. Sci-fi films show us something that hasn’t happened, and in most cases, it won’t. This doesn’t mean they’re less important. They have become windows through which we can evidence imaginary worlds that only exist in our dreams, for now. Since cinema was accomplished as a storytelling medium, sci-fi has advanced so much it has become unstoppable.
Time passes, but not for the films on the list that follows. These are examples of timeless sci-fi films that will be as relevant in the future as they are today.
10 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
In 1968, one of Hollywood’s most important film directors made a science fiction film that would change the genre’s landscape forever. 2001: A Space Odyssey provided audiences with an elegant sci-fi piece that they couldn’t solve on a first viewing. In fact, some are still trying to come up with a definite meaning.
This beautiful, and at the same time, terrifying, cosmic horror film tells the story of civilization from the moment it discovers violence and power, to our very surrender against technology and alien intelligence. Given that it doesn’t necessarily stick to a specific time period, we can’t help but see 2001 as a pristine and gloomy evolution guide.
9 Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Insterstellar, tells the story of humankind trying to save itself by experimenting survival in outer space. A wormhole seems to be the only destination for an astronaut who decides to leave everything behind to come up with a solution for the survival of his species.
Luckily, he learns something about love and time along the way. Nolan’s film is curiously optimistic, as much as it is very scary. The way time moves in the film is realistic, but it gives everyone the creeps when astronauts come back to their ship after spending a few hours on a planet. As it turns out, the one left behind in the spaceship has been alone for decades.
8 Dune (2021)
Denis Villeneuve was responsible for bringing Frank Herbert’s novel to the big screen. Dune had been deemed impossible to make by most, and Lynch’s version, as cool as it looks, just lacks the serious tone that Villeneuve was able to accomplish with his vision of the sci-fi adventure. It doesn’t only look great. Dune is an interesting science fiction and fantasy tale that goes deep into themes that the genre doesn’t often portray. The production design and cinematography are responsible for the film being imprinted on your mind forever.
The film tells the story of an intergalactic battle against “houses” for well-being and balance, as one villainous guy tries to get his hands on a planet that has the most valuable substance in the universe. Luckily, a young warrior will be his nemesis.
7 Minority Report (2002)
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller is among the best of its genre. There’s no question about it. Minority Report is a fascinating journey into a futuristic society where detectives can bend the rules of time and see crimes before they take place, enabling them to catch the criminals before. Sure, the ethical question is there, and the film sort of answers it. But mainly, this is a Tom Cruise action vehicle that never stops. It features impressive cinematography and a performance by Samantha Morton that’s easily the best of her career.
6 Avatar (2009)
James Cameron’s fantasy and sci-fi adventure film looks great and probably still will in years to come. Avatar is the beginning of everything that will follow, but at the heart of it, there’s an essential depiction of humans vs. opposites that feels timelessly relevant.
It tells the story of corporations landing on another planet to exploit it for financial reasons. However, there’s an alien civilization that won’t back down easily and will defend their land to the death. Yes, it’s a take on colonization that’s not very subtle, but why should it be? We need to speak about this and man’s drive to conquer, and films like Avatar present a great opportunity to use fiction as a great backdrop for that conversation.
5 Inception (2010)
Nolan’s Inception is a mind-bending film with a concept that, fortunately, isn’t stronger than the main plot. It tells the story of a group of specialist that have technology to enter dreams, and manipulate subjects from the insides of their minds. Of course, someone arrives with a golden opportunity, and they accept the proposal without thinking of the consequences.
Oh yeah, and that ending? We should stop discussing that and just let everyone interpret the totem any way they want. After all, we just spent more than two hours believing in a film about dream navigation and idea manipulation on a subconscious level. If Cobb is still dreaming, does that make the film less effective?
4 The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowskis truly changed the sci-fi landscape in the late ’90s with their action thriller The Matrix. The film dared to jump beyond explanations and simply told the story of our reality being a vessel for machines breeding us as chicken feed. We are just batteries. The humans that have been released survive as refugees in large spaceships in a world where there’s no sun. Fortunately, they’re allowed to navigate to the virtual reality world known as the Matrix to fight rogue programs, and recruit more humans and open their eyes and minds.
Weirdly, people question films like The Matrix, and yes, it’s not logical because it’s not supposed to be. Bullet-time is just not a real thing. Neo and his partners had the abilities of demigods bending rules in their favor. So, logic? Not this time.
3 Wall-E (2008)
The animated film Wall-E presents a twist that feels too important to forget. In the future, Earth is a wasteland that consists of landfill after landfill. A sentient robot is enamored of anything human, but feels too alone, as he’s only in charge of collecting trash and disposing it. When a more advanced droid lands, Wall-E falls in love and follows Eve to where humans now live. Yes, in this future, we are obese parasites that only eat and watch TV.
The endearing film is Pixar’s boldest take on sci-fi culture, but it doesn’t lack the emotional drive of a great script. For grownups, this is often recognized as the best Pixar film.
2 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 isn’t better or more important than Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film. It’s just that it feels different, and more relevant time-wise. It still takes place in the future, where androids and humans are co-habitants of a wasteland. K, a replicant Blade Runner, becomes much too curious about his work and his past and decides to rebel against his leaders.
With Roger Deakins behind the lens, you know you will get a film that will look great. Only Deakins really went all the way and depicted a cold version of a future that feels arousing but lethal. This is one of the most underrated science fiction films of all time.
1 12 Monkeys (1995)
In the future, humankind is suffering from the effects of a virus that devastated Earth. James Cole is a prisoner who decides to accept the challenge of going back in time and prevent the virus from being spread. But a slight mistake causes him to be delivered a few years before the events.
12 Monkeys is a Terry Gilliam joint that has all of this visual style framing a great script. The film was critically praised back in 1995, and remains a sci-fi classic among fans because of how it portrays a sick and unforgiving version of the future.