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

10. Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia Sci Fi

Lars von Trier often hurts to watch. His films punish us. Whether you’re the kind of person that feeds on his inimitable expressions of abysmal depression (don’t ask me why I was born this way) or the kind that would rather lose a limb makes a big difference. Melancholia might be the only film on this list that should give you pause. It’s not too violent or grotesque or vulgar, but it can certainly be too much in other ways, chiefly in its adherence to its namesake: melancholy. The premise is thus: a wedding night on the eve of Earth’s extinction. The all-star cast — Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, and Udo Kier — along with the unforgettable slow-motion sequences are bound to draw intrigued viewers. But make sure you’re in a healthy place with your friends and family before you immerse yourself, because the depression it transfuses can be personally and communally crippling regardless of how beautiful the frames. (Luke Hicks)

9. Her (2013)


Between writing Her and co-writing the Jackass spinoff Bad Grandpa, Spike Jonze had an interesting chapter in his film career this decade. Oddly, both of those movies were out in 2013 and we haven’t gotten a feature out of him since. Maybe it’s just too difficult to come up with something to follow Her, the one of the two he also directed. It’s a personal work, seemingly inspired by his divorce from Sofia Coppola 10 years prior and possibly a response to her 2003 drama Lost in Translation. And it’s a remarkably visionary film about a romance of the future. The idea of a guy falling in love with his female-voiced AI — modeled after the Siris and Alexas etc. of modern smart tech — is not necessarily that clever on paper. But as depicted through the production design and the ingenious costumes and the performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, the latter giving so much depth with just her voice, Her offers a believable world that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, yet it’s also both. That’s fair if indeed this is the decade’s most apt prophecy for what our near-future will be like, for better or worse. (Christopher Campbell)

8. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge Of Tomorrow Sci Fi

Tom Cruise has had quite a decade, mostly a success thanks to three Mission: Impossible films but also including a number of underrated and financially disappointing others starting with Knight & Day and including his back-to-back sci-fi efforts, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow — the latter also known as its tagline-turned-title, Live, Die, Repeat. Based on the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel All You Need is Kill, Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow is one of too many Groundhog Day style movies this decade about a character stuck in a span of time. Surprisingly, a lot of them, such as Happy Death Day and its sequel and the series Russian Doll and also this movie, do great things with the familiar concept. Edge of Tomorrow leans into the way the structure feels like a video game and as such (and maybe in spite of that), it’s one of the funniest and most exciting sci-fi action movies thanks in part to Cruise’s charm plus great writing from the team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth with revision by Christopher McQuarrie. Unsurprisingly, it’s highly re-watchable. (Christopher Campbell)

7. Arrival (2016)

Arrival Sci Fi

One of two Denis Villeneuve films on our list, Arrival showcases the director’s unparalleled talent across genres and subgenres alike in that it’s nothing like the other, Blade Runner 2049. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker star in a heady take on the aliens-come-to-Earth premise that undergirds sci-fi classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, District 9, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Outlined in mind-bending non-linear development, focused on the complexity of communication across borders (much less within them), and open to whatever potentially wonderful or terrible realities might arise as a result of the alien species’ landing, the story veers drastically from the other iterations. It’s the kind of film you’ll want to start from the beginning as soon as it ends, tears streaming down your face, mind racing with reinterpretations. (Luke Hicks)

6. Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Sci Fi

This movie would be high on this list for its score alone. Hans Zimmer may have given us more iconic music in Inception (particularly with that one noise that changed movie trailers for a while) but he delivered one of his best (arguably his very best) for another Christopher Nolan sci-fi feature. Interstellar can be heavy handed and predictable and strange and overly meme-able but it sure is grand and immerse and mesmerizing and mindbending and definitely beautiful in both its visuals and its soundtrack. I especially appreciate the way it employs documentary footage and real science and plausibly fantastical production design in its space odyssey. Nolan has never made movies with characters I particularly care about. He’s not the warmest of filmmakers. But if ever I felt something and was moved during one of his movies in addition to marveling at the spectacle clockwork of it all, this is it. (Christopher Campbell)

5. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

What We Do In The Shadows Sci Fi

Vampires have long been more ridiculous than they are scary, but never have they been as funny as they are in Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement‘s mockumentary about a houseful of the immortal undead bloodsuckers. The filmmakers also star as two of the vampire housemates, along with Jonny Brugh and Ben Fransham. Each is a different type, from Clement’s Vladislav, who reminds of Gary Oldman’s Dracula from the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola adaptation, to Fransham’s Nosferatu-inspired Petyr. I haven’t laughed harder and more consistently this decade, but this isn’t the comedy list; What We Do in the Shadows is here because it deals in fantastical characters and does an amazing job lampooning the mythology of not just vampires but also werewolves, zombies, and witches. Even after so much has been mined from the material over centuries, the gang here not only created this feature out of an earlier short film but have since also spawned multiple series and possibly another movie. Hopefully the franchise lives forever (Christopher Campbell)

4. The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster Sci Fi

Over the decade, writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has emerged as the king of pitch-black comedy, forging laughs out of the most absurdly alluring realities he creates. His crowning achievement is The Lobster, a double-edged sword of dystopian exploration on the topic of romantic relationships and their societal function. Cut into two clear parts that maintain gorgeous cinematography across distinctive moods, The Lobster is a downright masterstroke. Olivia Colman puts on an entire concert in the background of a uniformly adult prom, John C. Reilly masturbates his way into toaster torture, Lea Seydoux militantly heads an insurgent faction, Ben Whishaw teaches his nose to bleed, Rachel Weisz thinks tennis balls are kiwis, and Colin Farrell tries to embrace pure apathy — what more do you want? (Luke Hicks)

3. Under the Skin (2013)

Under The Skin Sci Fi

So little can be said about Jonathan Glazer’s gooey, eerie film about an unflinching alien presence without giving away what is a deliberately slow and unraveling mystery. As the title suggests, it’s bound to unnerve you, if not set you ablaze in bewilderment with its overwhelming tones and textures. Scarlett Johansson gives a perfectly muted performance that’s complemented by the sleek, minimal production design and dark, reflective cinematography. The overlaid image of her translucent body on a wintery forest is only one of countless stills that belong in an all-time preservation hall of sorts, courtesy of director of photography Daniel Landin. Under the Skin inhales strange, icy sci-fi and exhales seductive horror while holding in its lungs concepts and experiences that can feel as imperceptibly foreign as they do illuminating of an esoteric reality. If you can glide through the next couple of months after viewing without the final act weighing on your understanding of our engendered social structures, you either weren’t paying attention or you weren’t born with a heart. Or maybe it’s just a little too avant-garde for some. (Luke Hicks)

2. Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation Sci Fi

The highest-ranked Alex Garland film on our list, Annihilation has a profoundly affecting mystic energy that snakes its way into your psyche and stays there. The sci-fi mindfuck is set around the gleaming allure of an alien substance (not creature) coined The Shimmer. Where it’s from, what it’s made of, how it functions, what’s inside, and whether one can return unphased or not is a mystery. Besides fashioning an object of sheer transfixing, crystalline entertainment, Garland concocted one of Hollywood’s few great female ensemble films of the decade (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriquez, and Tuva Novotny) that doesn’t hinge on gendered clichés or indulge self-congratulation. Annihilation is confident and intelligent enough to employ a diverse team of women while simultaneously exploring untamed fascinations with what it means to be, evolution, self-filtered vision, ecological ethics, the metaphysical realm, marriage and so much more. It’s wild how associated Annihilation is with previously written stories (Stalker, Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name) yet how little it resembles any of them. It just goes to show how peerless Garland truly is in the realm of science fiction. (Luke Hicks)

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max Fury Road Sci Fi

Whatdyaknow, it’s the movie of the decade, period. Not only is Mad Max: Fury Road the best feature to come out of the 2010s but it’s also the best example of what cinema was in the 2010s, even though it’s so exemplary that nothing has actually come close to its level of greatness. From its mindblowing stunt work and its phenomenal production design to its trendiness as a late-come sequel/reboot (which is not beholden to anything that either concept typically requires) and its feminist themes anticipating #MeToo and #TimesUp, not to mention its unfortunate prescience regarding world politics to come, it’s extraordinary and too spot on. Mad Max: Fury Road also re-established writer-director George Miller as a master of action cinema 30 years since his last Mad Max installment, rightfully earning him a Best Director nomination from the Academy, which rarely recognizes that genre for that category. And it reminded us that John Seale is one of the industry’s most underrated cinematographers — there’s a reason why we post Fury Road stills so much on One Perfect Shot. Epic and gorgeous and spectacular and important and emotional and insane, this is quite a movie. It’s no wonder that little has come from it as far as promised sequels and further work from Miller. It’s not easy to make something this momentous and earthshattering even once. (Christopher Campbell)

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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.