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The 15 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2021

Time-loops, clones, a King Shark, and a big green knight are just some of the things you’ll find on our annual spotlight on the year’s speculative fiction films.
Best Scifi Fantasy Movies
By  · Published on January 5th, 2022

10. The Tomorrow War

Yvonne Strahovski in The Tomorrow War
Amazon Studios

Chris Pratt might be the worst of the Hollywood Chrises right now, but he’s still a serviceable prop as far as lead actors go. Usually, he has the good fortune to be overshadowed by at least one scene-stealing supporting player. In the very entertaining The Tomorrow War, that’s Sam Richardson (who is so great in everything that I almost even included Werewolves Within, despite not loving that movie) as an overly chatty scientist who joins Pratt and many others into the future to fight aliens and save the human race.

The premise of The Tomorrow War doesn’t sound on paper like it’d work as well as it does. To its advantage, Zach Dean’s script isn’t too complicated or overdone in exposition, plus the plot comes together so well in the third act that you’ll be kicking yourself if you haven’t predicted it ahead of time. Yes, sometimes it’s okay for a sci-fi story to be simple and to go as you expect it to. That is: as it should play out. Even more to its advantage, I believe, is that director Chris McKay, who comes from animation (his previous movie was The LEGO Batman Movie), knows how to execute busy fantastical action better than most helmers of this sort of fare these days.

 9. Lamb


Fun fact: Lamb director Valdimar Jóhannsson is also a special effects technician, and in that capacity, he worked on The Tomorrow War. This, his feature debut as a director and writer (collaborating on the script with Sjón), is a very different animal. There’s almost nothing you’d describe as “action” here, and there’s very little dialogue as well. The twist ending is a little ridiculous, even for a movie about what Lamb is about (I assume there are still many people who ought to go in cold and not even watch the trailer, which reveals too much). But it’s impossible to ignore just how adorable it is while also marveling at how dark and deranged it is.

8. Little Fish

Little Fish

Oh no, not another movie involving a pandemic. On the one hand, movies about wildly fictional pandemics seem in poor taste in the context of our real pandemic (even if like this one they’re made pre-COVID-19 and based on a decade-old story). On the other hand, we might as well face the fact that pandemic stories are a relatable way of addressing other things in the world right now. The virus going around in Little Fish is actually fairly familiar as it’s basically a widespread form of Alzheimer’s. So, you get all the heartbreak of a pandemic apocalypse movie combined with the heartbreak of an Alzheimer’s drama within the core of a heartbreaking love story.

Again, I credit the lead actors (Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell) with making the movie work as well as it does. Cooke, in particular, further proves that she’s one of the most under-appreciated and thankless performances of her generation. Also, as straightforward as the story and its direction are, the subject matter and the romance aspect raise the same sort of themes as you’ll find in the flashier films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Christopher Nolan’s Memento. But it’s far more devastating.

7. Finch


Who asked for the Cast Away remake with robots and a dog in place of Wilson the volleyball? Finch stars Tom Hanks in a nearly solo showcase, save for Caleb Landry Jones doing motion-capture work as a companion droid. It’s kind of like last year’s George Clooney sci-fi film, The Midnight Sky, in that it follows an old man, played by one of today’s top actors, trekking cross country following a near-extinction-level event. This time, that disaster is a destroyed ozone layer that’s raised the threat of sun exposure severely.  A sneaky way of doing a climate change apocalypse without it being about man-made climate change.

Ultimately, Finch isn’t that concerned with the state of the world — the solar dilemma just sets up some extra obstacles. Nor is it a problem that the titular Hanks character is such a genius that he can science the sh*t out of anything to survive so well. This is a dramatic buddy road movie focused on character and on low, personal stakes. Jones’ performance is yet another case that mo-cap work should be considered for major awards. Though even another little robot performed through special effects earns our empathy as well, and so does the dog. Essentially, director Miguel Spachnik (Game of Thrones) deserves a lot of credit for the movie’s success.

6. Stowaway


Here’s a sci-fi movie that’s all about a setup dilemma and how characters deal with that dilemma under extreme pressure. Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick, and Daniel Dae Kim play astronauts on a mission to Mars, and everything seems perfectly planned for a successful trip. That is until an engineer (Shamier Anderson) who’d been working on the ship is discovered aboard, unconscious. From there, it’s a “what would you do?” situation, and of course, all the actors are given conflicting beliefs regarding how to answer. Should the guy be kept alive? Should he be a casualty of the unfortunate circumstance?

This isn’t your typical stowaway story since spaceships are much different than sea vessels in terms of their accommodations. There is a lot of science involved in this science-fiction story, and while it seems like a smarter redo of SpaceCamp, I don’t care if any of the details about space travel or biology or physics, etc. are accurate. Again, the character drama and the people performing the genuine moralistic responses to their problems overcome the nature of the plot devices and environmental hurdles at play. That’s helpful to remember if you have little comprehension of what’s going on in the climax. Because I didn’t, but I was still on the edge of my seat.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.