There Are Only 18 Near-Perfect Sci-Fi Movies According To Metacritic
There's nothing quite like a great science fiction movie, and, according to Metacritic, these are the very best of the best. Here's the question, though: how many have you seen? "You've taken your first step into a larger world." Star Wars: Perhaps you've heard of it.
The 1977 original that we now call A New Hope turned Hollywood completely upside down, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time and holding that record until it was dethroned by E.T. in 1982. The initial critical response was mixed, but the masses who spoke so loudly with their wallets have since been vindicated with near-universal acclaim in hindsight. Today, the movie holds a score of 90 on Metacritic. Star Wars represented a quantum leap forward in filmmaking technology, dazzling audiences with visual effects the likes of which they'd never seen.
But neat tricks aren't the only driving force behind director George Lucas' greatest achievement. This is a fictional world that feels so real that viewers can't help but become absorbed in it. Certainly, there's no greater example of science fiction's escapist appeal — or its versatility as a genre — than Star Wars.
The movie combines elements of war epics, classic Spaghetti Westerns, and sword-and-sorcery fantasy into a sci-fi setting that really does have something for everyone. In the future of Mad Max, an ecological disaster has left Earth bone-dry, and the survivors of the apocalypse now battle over the remaining supplies of water and oil. Between the 1979 original Mad Max and its two sequels in the 1980s, each film in the series upped the ante on grim yet stylish over-the-top action. In 2015, however, director George Miller took things to a whole new level with Mad Max: Fury Road. The fourth film in the franchise is an intense, non-stop chase movie in which hard-luck hero Max Rockatansky teams up with the devastatingly cool Imperator Furiosa. Together, they help five women escape slavery at the hands of a revolting despot.
Fury Road is a top-notch action movie with eye-popping stunts and practical effects and award-winning costume and production design. These qualities alone were enough to earn it high praise from critics upon release, of course, but Fury Road has also been held up as a feminist film, too, tackling themes and issues rarely found in action movies. "You cannot own a human being! Sooner or later, someone pushes back!" The film's combination of brains, compassion, and pure adrenaline led to the kind of major awards recognition that genre flicks rarely receive, too, as well as a near-perfect Metascore of 90. It now stands as an example of how sci-fi can educate and empower as well as entertain. Not every great science fiction film is a blockbuster hit.
Indeed, Russian director Aleksei German's 2013 adaptation of the Strugatsky rothers' novel Hard to Be a God grossed just under $1.3 million worldwide. It is an opaque and difficult watch even in the eyes of those who love it. AV Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky wrote: "If Hard to Be a God isn't the filthiest, most fetid-looking movie ever made, it's certainly in the top three." Meanwhile, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw asked in his five-star review: "What on earth does it mean?" But, if the film's Metacritic score of 90 is anything to go by, Hard to Be a God is a challenge worth accepting. The plot reads like a cautionary tale out of a classic Star Trek episode, though the novel predates the series by a few years. A team of scientists is dispatched to an Earth-like planet whose social and technological development are centuries behind our own, held back by a stubborn and violent anti-intellectualism.
The protagonists are tasked with anonymously kick-starting the culture's progress, an effort that is repeatedly met with disaster and disappointment. Do not approach Hard to Be a God expecting anything conventional. The Telegraph's Robbie Collin warns that the film "[refuses] to take any recognizably plot-like shape," but assures that an open-minded viewer will find it, quote, "exhilarating, moving, funny, beautiful, and unshakeable."
In the early 1930s, Hollywood brought to life a parade of movie monsters who remain firmly in the public consciousness even today. But one stands taller above all the rest. "Oh, no. It wasn't the airplanes. 'Twas beauty killed the beast." King Kong was the first great movie monster to be created solely for the big screen, rather than having been adapted from literature or mythology.
And sure, inventing a really big ape may not have been the wildest leap of the imagination, but the story of the 1933 movie, as well as the technology invented to execute it, has held the attention of cinephiles for the better part of a century. Effects supervisor Willis O'Brien brought King Kong's titular character and his dinosaur foes to life by employing practically every special effects trick that had been invented: stop motion, matte paintings, rear-screen projection, miniatures, and giant puppets. And he combined them with live-action photography in a more seamless manner than had ever been seen before. King Kong was met with instant critical and commercial success, and despite a string of sequels, remakes, and reboots, the 1933 original still reigns supreme with its Metascore of 90. Viewer beware, though, that King Kong was very much made in 1933. In the decades since, some scholars and critics have come to see the film as a racist allegory, and while the film's co-directors denied any such intent, it's certainly not difficult to read it that way.
Originally released as a trilogy of shorts, It's Such a Beautiful Day is a mixed-media film built around pen-and-paper stick figure animations that, despite their simple forms, are remarkably expressive and sympathetic. The film tells the story of Bill, a man coping with a brain disease that is gradually destroying his memory and eroding his grip on reality. The story is told in a stream-of-consciousness style that takes the audience closely into Bill's thoughts as he examines his life, his family history, and the nature of existence. Remarkably, this animated film is the product of a single creator, Don Hertzfeldt, from its hand-drawn character performances to its narration and sound effects.
It's Such a Beautiful Day is also a brutally dark comedy, one so dark that it's actually hard to call it a comedy at all. Indeed, Vulture's Bilge Ebiri calls it one of the saddest films he's ever seen, but nevertheless ranks it among the best films of the 2010s. In a 2020 retrospective, Ebiri wrote: "Hertzfeldt's attention to the fleeting glories of existence makes you feel one with the universe." But along with being profound, It's Such a Beautiful Day is also a deeply intimate film that makes you empathize with its crudely drawn protagonist on a level you might not think possible. It holds a score of 90 on Metacritic, where it is also ranked as the 20th greatest animated film of all time. In Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film Solaris, a psychologist is sent to investigate a space station whose entire crew has suffered some sort of emotional breakdown.
While initially dismissing their reports of bizarre visions as mere hallucinations, the psychologist soon finds himself face to face with his late wife. What is she, really? Has the strange ocean planet below somehow reunited them, or is she some sort of illusion? And even if she isn't real, can't they still be in love? Solaris draws easy comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, another slow, deliberate, and visually stunning art film set in space. But, as Roger Ebert wrote in a retrospective review: " is outward, charting man's next step in the universe, while [Solaris] is inward, asking about the nature and reality of the human personality."
The film has an intriguing sci-fi conceit in its titular sentient planet, which attempts to communicate to the humans above using their own memories. But as in most great speculative fiction, the otherworldly element is just a device through which to explore character, and by extension, the audience. Solaris premiered at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury and was nominated for the Palme d'Or.
An American remake was produced in 2002, directed by Steven Soderbergh, but is not as highly regarded, with a Metascore of 65 to the Tarkovsky version's 90. In Steven Spielberg's 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, electrician Roy Neary becomes obsessed with the search for extraterrestrial life after having a run-in with a low-flying UFO. Neary discovers that he and a number of other UFO witnesses have been sharing strange visions, leading them on a daring quest for the truth. "Have you recently had a close encounter?" "[French]" "A close encounter with something very unusual?" While not a marathon of effects-heavy set pieces like Star Wars, which was released that same year, Close Encounters nevertheless features one of the most arresting finales in sci-fi history. Above all, this is an adventure story — one that's light on action but heavy on suspense, intrigue, and wonder, keeping the story grounded in the point of view of everyday people.
In a contemporary review of the movie, Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote: "Spielberg seems to be whispering, 'This is going to scare you, but don't be afraid.' Spielberg puts on an enchanting magic show, springing one sensuous and sentimental highlight after another." Authentic performances, groundbreaking effects, and a gorgeous John Williams score have made Close Encounters an enduring favorite among critics, and it now boasts a Metascore of 90. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for cinematography and sound effects editing. In 1980, after seeing Spielberg's revised Special Edition of the film, Roger Ebert called it, quote, "one of the great moviegoing experiences."
Many of the highest-scoring sci-fi films on Metacritic like to show their audiences something grand and awe-inspiring, but Spike Jonze's 2013 drama Her focuses on something much smaller: your cellphone. Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely man who falls in love with Samantha, the self-aware operating system on his phone and computer. The film takes a realistic and down-to-earth approach to its premise, fleshing out the romance before gradually broadening its scope to examine the grander implications of bringing a thinking, feeling artificial intelligence into the world.
Her wrings a lot of humor and pathos out of its bizarre yet relatable premise, raising questions not only about our culture's increasing dependence on technology, but also on how we relate to each other as human beings. What do we, or should we, look for in love? How much of love is about the other person, and how much is selfish? What happens when one partner needs the other more? And all of these questions are centered around an awkward introvert and the shiny rectangle he carries in his pocket, brought to life by terrific, committed performances by Phoenix and his co-star, Scarlet Johannsson. On top of awarding it a Metascore of 90, Metacritic found that Her topped 22 different lists of critics' favorite films of 2013. Her was also nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and brought home the prestigious Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Few sci-fi films hold such a treasured place in the hearts of '80s kids as Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Released in the spring of 1982, E.T. was a massive success, drawing in families in such droves that it supplanted Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time. Like Spielberg's other sci-fi films, E.T. features moments of eerie suspense and exciting adventure, but it also has something going for it that most genre blockbusters don't: It's adorable. "E.T. home phone…" E.T.
tells the story of Elliot Taylor, played by 10-year-old Henry Thomas, and a benign alien visitor represented by an advanced animatronic and performed by a variety of puppeteers and costumed actors. Made long before CGI became the norm, E.T. is so emotive and charismatic that it takes no time to forget that he's just a special effect.
And when his time on Earth takes a toll on E.T.'s health, you'll likely find yourself genuinely concerned, even anguished with worry over his well-being. Don't worry — everyone else felt the same way. E.T. was a hit with critics upon its release, and continues to tug on their heartstrings today.
In 2012, Christy Lemire of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: "How old is too old to sob like a little girl at E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Not 40, apparently." The film holds a Metascore of 91. Hailing from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul , Memoria is perhaps one of the most enigmatic sci-fi films of all time. It debuted in July 2021 at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Jury Prize, one of the event's highest honors — but its theatrical release has been extremely limited.
Still, those critics who have seen it have heaped praise aplenty upon the film, winning it a Metascore of 91. Polygon's Robert Daniels warns that the movie is a little metaphor-heavy, but nevertheless writes: "Memoria is a sensory explosion, and its dense, immersive shrapnel isn’t easily removable." Memoria is the story of Jessica, a Scottish woman living in Colombia, who is haunted by a thunderous recurring sound that only she can hear — but this isn't so much a mystery as it is a character study and existential meditation. All in all, Memoria may not be every sci-fi enthusiast's cup of tea, of course, but it's a must-see for fans of art house cinema… that is, if it's ever playing near you. Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein has been described as the first true work of science fiction, a tale of science gone wrong with a strong moral and emotional core.
You likely know the story well — Dr. Frankenstein attempts to conquer death by constructing a new man from the bodies of the dead and reanimating his tissue via advanced chemistry. "It's alive, it's alive, oh, it's alive! It's alive, it's alive!" His Creature does indeed come to life, but is shunned by society for his imposing figure and his unnatural origins, leading to a tragic and violent ending.
Nothing has boosted the cultural impact of Shelley's tale so much as director James Whale's 1931 film adaptation, which redefined the story and characters of Frankenstein into the iconic tale most familiar to the public today. Boris Karloff's performance as the shambling, wordless Creature, as well as his iconic appearance by makeup artist Jack Pierce, are now inseparable from the character. Later film adaptations featuring an eloquent, intelligent Creature now just feel wrong, despite being more accurate to the source material. Karloff even went on to reprise the role in three sequels. Frankenstein's impact on Hollywood was felt instantly. In his review for The New York Times, Mordaunt Hall called the film, quote, "far and away the most effective thing of its kind."
Nearly a century later, critics still consider Frankenstein one of the pinnacles of both sci-fi and horror, and it stands tall today with a Metascore of 91. Werckmeister Harmonies is a Hungarian art film from directors Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, in which the arrival of a bizarre traveling circus prompts a small town to descend into madness and despair. The circus is led by a shadowy figure called The Prince, whose face is never shown but whose words propel the townsfolk towards an unnerving and inevitable revolution. The story is told from the perspective of a benign and thoughtful young man who, along with his two elderly uncles, becomes the target of the town's new regime.
Werckmeister Harmonies is 145 minutes long and contains only 38 cuts; apparently, if there weren't physical limitations on how much film his camera could store at a time, Tarr claims he would have made each take even longer. These unbroken shots embed the audience deeply into the setting and force them to mingle with the characters, even following them around as they walk silently through the town for minutes at a time. Roger Ebert wrote of this style of filmmaking: "Béla Tarr's style seems to be an attempt to regard his characters with great intensity and respect, to observe them without jostling them, to follow unobtrusively as they move through their worlds, which look so ordinary and are so awesome, like ours." While seen by relatively few filmgoers, Werckmeister Harmonies is adored by critics.
In his review, Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times called it, quote, "mysterious, poetic and allusive [...] Flowing like a torturous dream." Critical consensus has awarded this film a Metascore of 92. Science fiction can often be aspirational, showing audiences a future they'd like to live in and even suggesting ways they might get there. It can also serve the exact opposite purpose, however — warning the public of the dangers of their current path and appealing to them to change course before it's too late. Threads, a documentary-style film produced for the BBC in 1984, is an unflinching, unblinking portrayal of nuclear war designed for one purpose: to terrify its audience into action. According to a 2009 interview with The Scotsman, director Mick Jackson claimed he felt that the threat of nuclear annihilation was so enormous that people lacked the vocabulary to even comprehend it.
With Threads, he hoped to turn his extensive research into something visceral and brutal that would help its audience put words and images to their fear. The story extends far beyond the events of a nuclear bombing itself into the months and years that follow, depicting suffering on an unimaginable scale. Even decades later, Threads makes for one of the most disturbing movie experiences of all time.
In 2012, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw wrote: "The only film I have been really and truly scared and indeed horrified by [...] is Mick Jackson’s post-nuclear apocalypse movie Threads." This visceral look at an alternate past — and a potential future — scores a 92 rating on Metacritic. In the 1950s, alien invasion stories were all the rage in Hollywood, and for obvious reason, too. It was the nuclear age, a time when the wonders of outer space felt closer than ever — as did the threat of conquest by those devious Soviets. Extraterrestrials on film became a way to personify this cultural anxiety or to criticize it.
Depending on who you ask, the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers does both… or neither. "Can't you see, they're after you! They're after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone! They're here already!" Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a thriller following two suburbanites who discover that their neighbors are being secretly replaced, one by one, with identical copies of alien origin bent on world conquest. The tension grows as they begin to question whether there's anyone left in town who are still who they appear to be. Jack Finney, the author of the novel on which the film is based, claimed that there was no political purpose behind his story at all, but the film is nonetheless soaked in the paranoia of its day. Time Out's 2014 retrospective review explains: "From fascism to communism to capitalist conformity [...] this is the perfect distillation of uncanny existential terror."
Critics thought little of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, but, generations later, it has risen to a Metascore of 92. WALL-E is a visually stunning computer-animated film with a heart of gold and something truly worthwhile to say. The brainchild of director Andrew Stanton and the celebrated Pixar animation studio, WALL-E's titular character is one of Earth's last "living" inhabitants, and has one programmed purpose — to crush garbage into compact, stackable cubes. After years in isolation, however, he grows beyond his programming, dreaming of romance and adventure.
WALL-E gets his wish when he discovers a living plant among the ruins of our spoiled planet and falls in love with EVE, the advanced probe tasked with returning the plant to humanity's new home in space. Throughout their journey, the film dazzles with beautiful animation and production design and comments on modern consumerism and reliance on technology, all the while remaining a romantic comedy at heart. WALL-E drew instant critical acclaim upon its release. New York Magazine's David Edelstein wrote: "The new Pixar picture WALL-E is one for the ages, a masterpiece to be savored before or after the end of the world."
It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning Best Animated Feature, and with a Metascore of 95, ranks in Metacritic's top 10 animated features of all time. Director James Whale's Frankenstein shocked new life into both horror and science fiction in 1931, but it's his sequel, 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein, that stands as his true masterpiece; it now holds a Metascore of 95, besting the original by four points. In Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein's mentor Dr. Pretorius coerces him into harvesting more dead bodies with which to create a mate for the lonely Creature. "She's alive!" Meanwhile, the Creature wanders the countryside searching for meaning or companionship, only to have it stolen from him at every opportunity by closed-minded citizens.
The Bride of Frankenstein builds on the horror of the first film while also adding a charming sense of self-awareness and humor. Whale mines both scares and laughs from the Creature's misadventures, and Dr. Pretorius is camp incarnate. The film is also full of moments and images that have since become so iconic that some may assume they originated in the previous film, such as the Creature's grunts and broken speech or his friendly encounter with the blind hermit.
The Bride herself, with her statically charged hairdo, is one of the most famous figures of the genre despite appearing only briefly in the film. Initially praised as merely "a first-rate horror film," The Bride of Frankenstein is now regarded as a true classic of the genre. People want movies to take them places, and that goes doubly for sci-fi movies. The 2013 movie Gravity takes its viewers to the deadly and beautiful reaches of Earth's orbit — and then holds them there, relentlessly, for about 90 minutes. The film stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut whose spacewalk is interrupted
when a sudden barrage of orbital debris destroys her shuttle. Alone in the vacuum of space, Dr. Stone must find a way to rendezvous with another craft before her air runs out or the debris field comes back around. Director Alfonso Cuarón's took great pains to keep the audience totally immersed in the events of the film. The story plays out in just about real-time, and with as few cuts as possible.
In particular, Gravity begins with a 13-minute continuous take that sets the tone for the entire film, in which the camera floats through space and rarely leaves Ryan's side. The technological challenges of creating Gravity meant it took over four years to complete, and the final product stands up as one of the greatest examples of what IMAX 3D can bring to a film. Much of what you see in the movie is computer-generated, but Bullock's performance is very real, and it even earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
The film would go on to win seven Oscars, including Best Director for Cuarón, and maintains an astronomical Metascore of 96. With a Metascore of 98, Metacritic's highest-scoring science fiction film dates all the way back to 1927, during the first golden age of cinema. The brainchild of German director Fritz Lang and novelist Thea von Harbou, Metropolis is the story of a conflict between the suffering workers and the pampered ruling class of a massive futuristic city. Much of the story centers around Freder, the son of the city's "master" who joins with the workers when he learns of their plight.
The star of the show, however, is Brigitte Helm in the dual role of Maria, the kind-hearted leader of the workers, and the Maschinenmensch, the wicked robot created in her image to incite a war between the factions. Metropolis wasn't exactly a critical smash when it was first released, though. New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall wrote: "It is a technical marvel with feet of clay, a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of its story." But later generations were kinder to the film, fixating on its revolutionary special effects and unique production design.
Scarcity also contributed to the legacy of Metropolis, as only abbreviated cuts were available for most of the 20th century. Its 2003 restoration was celebrated by modern film critics, however, leading to its near-perfect Metascore. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Looper videos about your favorite movies are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the bell so you don't miss a single one.