1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)-You just can’t beat the classics. I had a hard time deciding between this and Back to the Future Part 2, and both are incredibly great films that have both served deep cultural impacts, but Empire Strikes Back just has a tad bit more oomph. Sure, this entry also includes New Hope and Return of the Jedi (and in a lesser extent Revenge of the Sith), but this film proved to us what a bounty hunter really is, how cool Billy Dee Williams can be, and what it means to be a nerfherter. When I tell this film I love it, it simply tells me it knows.
2. Back to the Future Part II (1987)-It was a tough time picking between this film and the first part of the series, but there’s something about how the stakes slowly ramp up in this second act in the trilogy, and how Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd seem so much more comfortable in their parts that makes me love this film that much more. This film has a real sense of adventure, taking us to 3 separate time periods like no other film could, and introduced the staple of science fiction films, the hover board.
3. District 9 (2009)-This is one film that to this day, almost a year after I first saw it, I can’t stop thinking about. Maybe it’s the deep-seated message buried under an incredible 2 hours of brilliant (and first time) filmmaking, maybe it’s the film’s haunting African-chant score, maybe it’s Sharlto Copley’s outstanding performance, maybe it’s just how great this film looks for being made for almost nothing, but whatever it is, I’m certainly glad District 9 exists as the science fiction masterpiece it is.
4. The Prestige (2006)-There was some debate in my mind as to whether or not this is a science fiction film, and although a good 2/3rds of this film only dips in and out of a sci-fi aire, it’s the final resolution and the revealed structure of the film that Christopher Nolan gracefully reveals in the final minutes, leaving his audience breathless, that makes this film just like a magic trick, and a great piece of science fiction.
5. Star Trek (2009)-Possibly the most fun of the science fiction films on the list, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek definitely delves into the matters of science fiction-giant monsters, time travel, spaceships, heck, it’s Star Trek, and yet the cast and crew have so much fun bringing it to life. The fights all look great, the actors are top notch, and the film is even one of the best looking I’ve seen in a while. It’s science fiction, but for a younger crowd.
6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1990)-The perfection of the Terminator series came in 1990 whenever James Cameron turned the idea of the first Terminator on its head by making that film’s antagonist a protagonist of sorts, and even a hero. Films today look upon this masterpiece for inspiration, and there’s so much to learn from some unbelievable action shots, some great irreverent humor tossed into the moments of darkest despair, and an ending that’s been burned into our brains forever.
7. Moon (2009)-Sam Rockwell really impressed me in this summer’s Iron Man 2, and I was really happy to finally get to check out his starring role in last year’s Moon. The film delves deep into the ideas of science fiction, and to tell you the truth I can’t delve in too deep into the film’s story to risk spoiling the major notion of the film. However it is worth saying Moon is definitely an emotional, yet exciting and nailbiting adventure to take.
8. I Am Legend (2007)-This movie catches a lot of flack from people, thanks in part to its ending. (Spoilers ahead) However, the real reason this film succeeds the way it does to me is thanks to the incredible display of range by Will Smith in the film, watching his character slowly fall to pieces and crumble within the film while this science fictiony apocalypse slowly unfold around him. Towards the end of an admittedly weak third act, sacrificing his life really was the most poetic and emotionally hard-hitting end to the film.
9. War of the Worlds (2005)-No other film on this list affects me the way this film affects me. Steven Spielburg shot big for the adaptation of War of the Worlds in 2005, and in my view, it payed off. All the while this really horrific alien catastrophe is going on, you get the sense that you’re really there, that you really feel this sense of paranoia all the characters are feeling, and if you can withstand it through the whole film, you’ll ride with the characters all the way through this film that brilliantly creates emotion and fear.
10. Transformers (2007)-Sometimes science fiction is smart and quiet, other times science fiction is loud and dumb. Transformers falls into that latter category, and unlike it’s quite simply idiotic sequel, this film succeeds in being fun and at the same time tell an effective story. You’re interested in where these characters are going, you’re enthralled by the gorgeous action, but at the same time you don’t have to be treated like an idiot by Michael Bay.