Powered in equal parts by possibility and imagination, history’s best science fiction is both deeper and broader than first meets the eye. To look beyond the alien invasions and laser battles is often to discover a number of insights into the human condition. At the root of even the most entertaining examples are important questions about mankind’s place in the universe and our future as a species. That’s not to mention sci-fi’s seamless ability to span both infinite geographic locations (including virtual ones) and a host of peripheral genres.
Despite its conceptual reach, however, classic sci-fi has arguably covered similar narrative terrain since the dawn of its inception. From the silent era masterpiece “Metropolis” (1927) through “Frankenstein” (1931), “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), to “The Martian” (2015) and beyond, our fascination with robots, aliens, monsters, and space travel has remained relatively consistent. (Another kind of travel has also been a common theme: These are the 23 best sci-fi movies about time travel.)
Nevertheless, Hollywood’s vision of these concepts has evolved over the years. That’s especially true in the modern era, which turns yesterday’s wildest fantasies into today’s most uncanny realities. With the advancement of certain technologies, the genre is quickly becoming more “science” than “fiction.” It might prompt one to wonder just how prescient these movies have been over the course of decades. (Don’t look for prescience, however, in the worst sci-fi movies ever made.)
Click here to see the best sci-fi film the year you were born
To determine the best sci-fi movie every year since 1931, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. All ratings were weighted equally. Only movies with at least 10,000 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes were considered in most cases, though for years in which no sci-fi films reached that number, the threshold was lowered.. Superhero films based on Marvel Comics or DC Comics were not included. Data was collected October 2021. Cast information comes from IMDb.
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