The 50 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of the Decade

We’ve ranked the very best of speculative fiction films from the 2010s.
Decade Rewind Scifi
By  · Published on November 26th, 2019

30. Thelma (2017)


You may have noticed at this point that there aren’t a lot of mainstream superhero movies on this list, no matter the studio or the comic book publisher origins. Sure, there are some really good ones; they just didn’t make the cut. We’re typically more interested in the indie and foreign films about seemingly everyday folks who acquire or turn out to have special abilities. Anything from intentionally superhero-like fare such as Chronicle to lighter supernatural dramas such as Fast Color. Neither of those made the decade’s best, either, but Joachim Trier‘s Thelma does because it’s a darker and more mysterious take on the idea of genetically caused powers. The title character, a girl from a very religious background who starts college in Oslo, accidentally vanishes the student she’s crushing on. And that’s not actually the first or last terrible thing that happens due to her telekinesis before she figures out how to control her powers. Imagine if anything in the MCU went so bleak. Martin Scorsese probably digs this kind of superhero movie. (Christopher Campbell)

29. A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place Sci Fi

The concept here — aliens with very good hearing attack anything that makes a peep — seems so simple for a sci-fi horror movie. The tension of trying to stay unheard while hiding from any threat has been a staple of especially scary movies from the dawn of narrative cinema. Co-writer/director John Krasinski, who also stars in the movie alongside wife Emily Blunt, could have had an effective movie here no matter what he did, but he chose to make A Quiet Place as much of a visually driven silent film as possible. There’s a solution to get the small cast in dialogue a few times but the movie manages to go a long time without any talking and even till the end keeps exposition to a bare minimum. Where did the creatures come from? What are they doing here? Who knows? It’s a bold move to skip the beginning and also the ending that we’d see in an easier conventional version of this premise. And we can expect the planned sequel to keep the ambiguity of the first movie intact, thankfully. (Christopher Campbell)

28. A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story Sci Fi

What begins as a devastating tale of acute grief transforms into a cosmic play on the nature of time, death, sorrow, and space through the lens of an unflinchingly still ghost demarcated by a simple white sheet (not the racist kind). David Lowery’s second film with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck is eons from the first (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) in scope but maintains the tone of lovelorn loss whispered through essential truths and eventually takes it to new heights. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio combined with the rounded corners makes for a unique aesthetic style, and the 92-minute runtime makes for a terribly attractive last-minute viewing in any occasion. If you’re the type who despises uncertainty, you might find yourself frustrated, but you’ll be glad you watched Mara eat an entire pie in a single take (her first ever experience eating pie, mind you). (Luke Hicks)

27. Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Petes Dragon Sci Fi

I swear it wasn’t planned or expected for two David Lowery movies to sit back-to-back on this list. They’re so different that it’s easy to forget they’re by the same director. While A Ghost Story came after as a secret small project, Pete’s Dragon was his most high-profile and long-anticipated effort yet. Here he remakes a somewhat beloved 1977 Disney feature about a boy and his sometimes invisible dragon. The original is a broad musical mix of live-action with a cartoon title character. Lowery’s reimagining, which he co-wrote with regular collaborator Toby Halbrooks, is based slighty more in realism if only because the dragon, Elliot, is now computer-generated to seem more live-action. But also due to the naturalistic feel of the movie. The filmmakers’ indie sensibilities made for a quaint, folksy, feel-good-without-pandering fantasy that’s both a throwback and a modern improvement. With some outstanding child actor performances. (Christopher Campbell)

26. Ad Astra (2019)

Brad Astra

James Gray’s sci-fi beauty gave us a sad Brad (Pitt) looking for dad that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The bracingly cool imagery of the star-shimmering cosmos is interplayed with Gray and legendary cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema’s breathtaking use of light, shadow, and color, which makes for an experience that’s utterly jaw-dropping in cinematography alone. But Gray doesn’t settle with aesthetics. Ad Astra is a philosophically complex deep dive into the interior of a man, where questions about life, love, and existence linger in the atmosphere. Is life worth living if your soul is clogged by professional tunnel vision and determinism? Is life worth living without loved ones? Or, more broadly, without people at all? To answer the questions that besiege him, Pitt must journey into the unknown in several senses. (Luke Hicks)

25. Attack the Block (2011)

Attack The Block Sword
Optimum Releasing

Joe Cornish‘s creature feature directorial debut would be an important movie just for breaking out and establishing John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker as two of the most significant players in sci-fi this decade. As well as introducing Cornish himself as a genre filmmaker who wonderfully remixes old-school ’80s kid-movie elements for thoroughly entertaining contemporary originals. I wish The Kid Who Would Be King was also on this list, but just like with Midnight Special and Pete’s Dragon, Cornish’s less-explicit reworking of past influences that avoid easy nostalgia just don’t register with the masses the way they should. This one is very simple in a different way, following a bunch of teens as they deal with an invasion of terrifying space apes. Atop that barebones concept, writer-director Cornish can drop additional ideas here and there through dialogue, such as what-if conspiracy theories, but otherwise Attack the Block plays it straightforward and universally thrilling. (Christopher Campbell)

24. Hard to Be a God (2013)

Hard To Be A God Sci Fi

Few films will strike you with an irresistible desire to bathe as decidedly as Hard to Be a God. There’s so much mud, muck, grime, dirt, and sludge in Aleksey German’s dystopian epic, an adaptation of the Strugatskiy Brothers 1964 novel of the same name. It’s downright disgusting, but not in the same sense a B-grade gorefest or torture horror film might be. It’s disgusting in its reflection of holistic depravity. Hard to Be a God takes place on another planet, where scientists have been sent to help another species of humans evolve socially, politically, and technologically, as they’re situated in the Middle Ages of their own existence. It’s equal parts absorbing and repulsive, and nothing short of a magnum opus for its director, who passed the same year it was released. It’s movies like Hard to Be a God that make the difficulty of pitching a 3-hour Russian arthouse gem very frustrating. (Luke Hicks)

23. Looper (2012)

Looper Sci Fi

Time-travel movies have become something of a throwaway this decade. The sci-fi concept has become too common and is often utilized for comedic gimmicks, whether it’s for the whole plot (Hot Tub Time Machine, Men in Black 3) or just a significant plot point (Deadpool 2, Avengers: Endgame). There are more and more indie time-travel movies (Safety Not Guaranteed), including Oscar-nominated short films (Time Freak) and their feature-length adaptations, as well as overly complex dramas (Predestination). But as we get further down this list, the few great time-travel movies will shine for their intelligence and cleverness. Rian Johnson‘s Looper is definitely a standout for beginning as a crime film involving time travel then temporarily becoming a buddy film pairing young and old versions of the same guy and finally turning into an action movie about protecting a superpowered kid. There’s so much going on in this movie but Johnson never loses focus. As a storyteller, he’s a master orchestrator of plot. And around that plot are unique ideas and unexpected turns. Throw in Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing an incredible take on Bruce Willis and Willis himself offering the best work he’s done in years and you’ve got a new classic. (Christopher Campbell)

22. The Brand New Testament (2015)

Brand New Testament Sci Fi

I wasn’t sure if The Brand New Testament belongs on this list, because it’s something of a religious fable and maybe not technically sci-fi or fantasy. If this fits, then shouldn’t Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!? Well, that’s moreso a surreal take on Biblical beats while this comedy takes place in a real world as it looks at what happens when God’s daughter sneaks down to Earth and causes trouble with the idea of predestination yet also reestablishes religion as a positive influence rather than a sadist’s machination of rules and turmoil. Also, there’s the oft-wondered premise of what if God or Jesus appeared today, how would they be treated? For the former, not well, apparently, and understandably under these circumstances. Belgian writer/director Jaco Van Dormael might have shown up on this list twice had we accepted his brilliant 2009 sci-fi film Mr. Nobody, which didn’t release in the US until well into the 2010s. But The Brand New Testament is plenty to appreciate, especially when it romantically pairs Catherine Denueve with a gorilla. (Christopher Campbell)

21. Gravity (2013)


Alfonso Cuar‪ón’s tight, ethereal space drama, is a tense thrill that hurtles viewers from the vast terror of complete spatial emptiness to the familiar gravity of Earth through the trajectory of two astronauts played by Hollywood’s smokiest stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. One might’ve wondered what the writer and director of Children of Men could’ve possibly put together that didn’t merely live in that film’s shadow, but Cuar‪ón was clearly in control from the get to. With Gravity, he proved himself an artist capable of tackling nearly any genre with captivating visuals and profundity to match. Not to mention, it seemed to send most of its viewers into a state of shock in fear of what it might mean to be gravity-less in more than one way. As we’ve come to learn, one doesn’t simply walk out of a Cuar‪ón film and go about their daily life with dry eyes and a calm heart. There’s too much to consider. [It should be noted that Gravity‘s qualification as sci-fi has been argued against, even by Cuar‪ón and on this site, but over time we’ve come to consider it such.] (Luke Hicks)

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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.