Science Fiction (Sci-Fi) is one of the most exciting film genres out – we just can’t get enough of time travel, aliens, spaceships and battles! It is impossible to pick out which films are the best but we have looked at the ones that we think are worth including in our own list of the best sci-fi movies ever made spanning from 1970 right up to the present day.

The very first sci-fi movies date back to 1927 when Fritz Lang released Metropolis. This was the start of a golden age of sci-fi that continues today. In 1953 people were enthralled by the movie based on the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds and this was followed by Dr. Strangelove in 1964 which took a dark comedic look at events leading up to a nuclear holocaust. Of course, no article on sci-fi movies would be complete without mentioning the most famous and influential movie of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We know that this list is just our personal preference so we take a look back to the 1970s at our own favorites from A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971, though to the 2018 movie Annihilation.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Anthony Burgess wrote the novel A Clockwork Orange in 1962, and the movie brought the dystopian message of the book to life. Released in 1971, the film starred Malcolm McDowell who played the main character, Alex. Alex’s two main loves in life were violence and classical music. His violent crimes and juvenile delinquency sees him sent to prison where the system hopes he can be ‘rehabilitated’. This is achieved by using a rather brutal form of aversion therapy. The style of filming gives a dreamy, fantasy quality to the dystopian world of the novel. The movie was banned in England because of the controversial nature of the content but it still became one of the era’s best-known films.

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The Andromeda Strain (1971)

This movie, based on the novel by Michael Crichton, tells the story of a deadly organism that falls to earth from space and the team of scientists who are racing against time to investigate and contain the extraterrestrial threat. When all the residents in Piedmont, New Mexico, die, the US Air Force are sent in to investigate matters. The film is set in an underground lab and as a result, gives the viewer a feeling of claustrophobia and increasing fear. What sets this movie apart is that is was one of the first times computerized effects were used to give as much realism to the drama as possible.

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Solaris (1972)

Solaris was remade in 2002 but the original version is still arguably the best. The action is set on a space station where the science team on board start to act strangely and a psychologist is sent to investigate. When he arrives he finds that things are not what they seem and discovers an unnerving scenario. The writing and director focused on emotion and depth in this movie making it one of the most compelling sci-fi films ever made.

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Westworld (1973)

Westworld, the movie, was released in 1973 and starred Yul Brynner as the robot gunslinger. The central idea of the plot is similar to the new TV series but focuses on the human rather than the android experience. In 1973, Westworld Park is fully populated by human looking robots who are there to fulfill the wishes of the guests. This is where the similarities with the more modern TV series ends. Unlike the modern series where viewers are invited to ponder on the nature of humanity, in the 1973 version the robots malfunction leading to a terrifying turn of events when the human guests are the prey in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

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Logan’s Run (1976)

In Logan’s Run life is a vision of hedonism – until you reach 30 when your life is immediately forfeit. Set in 2274, this film presents a vision of the future where the people live under domes and in order to ensure that there are enough resources people are only permitted to live until they reach the age of 30. The system is maintained by a computer who keeps the system running. The film was ahead of its time and although it can seem a little dated by today’s standards it remains one of the all-time classic sci-fi movies.

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Demon Seed (1977)

This 1977 movie perfectly intertwines the sci-fi and horror genres and although critical reviews were mixed it remains one of the sci-fi greats. Dr. Alex Harris, played by Fritz Weaver, is a brilliant scientist. He soon develops a supercomputer known as Proteus IV. This super-intelligent machine soon develops a will of its own and starts to seek ways of gaining a human body. While Alex tries to market the computer to industry, the computer makes its own plans to impregnate his wife.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

This is not the usual type of movie we have come to expect from Spielberg’s earlier offerings. With Close Encounters there is a sense of wonder concerning the potential arrival of aliens from other planets. With a huge production budget for its time – $20 million – the film grossed over $300 million and became one of the most well-known and loved sci-fi movies of its time. The special effects were second to none and the idea of using musical notes to communicate really connected with audiences. Richard Dreyfuss excelled in the lead role as Roy Neary whose life is forever changed after his own close encounter with a UFO.

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Stalker (1979)

This art movie was filmed during the Soviet era by Andrei Tarkovsky and, although it leans more towards science philosophy, still warrants inclusion on the list. The film follows The Stalker – a guide who takes 2 other men into a wasteland known as The Zone. The Zone is said to contain a room that can grant their innermost desires. The film is long – almost 3 hours – and is filmed entirely in Russian.

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Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott’s Alien is the stuff of nightmares. When the crew of the Nostromo answers a distress call what they find is Alien – one of the universe’s most deadly and indestructible creatures. The sense of building terror and claustrophobia is almost palpable in this movie which inspired a long-running and successful franchise. One of the main ways that Scott maintained the tension was to never show the Alien in its entirety, leaving viewers to wonder at its full horror.

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Altered States (1980)

Altered States is based on the real-life experiments of John C.Reilly who extensively studied the effects of combining sensory deprivation with psychedelic drugs. This movie seamlessly blends horror and sci-fi with the frenzied delirium that pervades the entire experience and the growing sense of doom that viewers experience as the movie progresses towards its climax. The protagonist, Edward Jessop, is a psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with altered states of consciousness. Jessop eventually takes a mind-altering drug and his experiences as he takes more and more of the substance is what eventually leads to the dramatic and unexpected conclusion.

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Scanners (1981)

This movie is all about individuals with special abilities – telekinesis and telepathy – who are trying to take over the world. One of their most dangerous, and arguably most effective, skills is being able to make people’s heads explode. This is a classic movie of its time and a great linking of horror and sci-fi. The exploding head scene is a seminal moment in sci-fi special effects and also had a huge influence on gore movies in the coming years.

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Blade Runner (1982)

This movie was always going to be a cult film with its stunning visuals and oppressive film-noir feel. The movie is set in 2019, Los Angeles, and starts Harrison Ford as Ryan Deckard. Deckard is one of the Blade Runners – a type of detective who is engaged to track down bio-engineered humans known as replicants. A test – the Voight-Kampff test – has been developed in order to help the Blade Runners detect the replicants and Deckard’s mission is to track down 4 illegal replicants who have come to Earth, perform the test and ‘retire’ them.

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The Thing (1982)

Despite getting poor critical reviews this movie was a hit with viewers and certainly stands up to second, third and subsequent viewing. Based on the book by John Carter and set in Antarctica, the movie stars Kurt Russell. The action centers around a group of scientists who are located in a research station. It soon appears that they have disturbed an alien life-form with the ability to shape shift and the growing sense of isolation and paranoia ramps up to the action-packed climax.

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET is not only a classic in the sci-fi genre but is also a great movie about friendship that overcomes challenges and boundaries. ET is an alien who gets left behind and ends up becoming friends with a 10-year-old human boy. Spielberg’s focus is firmly on childhood experience, the formation of friendships and a deeper emotional connection with the audience.

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Tron (1982)

Tron was essentially an action movie with amazing special effects. In fact, Tron was the Matrix of the 1980s with the sort of technical expertise that was rarely seen back then. Jeff Bridges stars as Kevin Flynn a software programmer who ends up trapped inside the software. Tron is set in a futuristic, computer landscape with amazing examples of animation and is a film about the human condition as much as anything else. The film still stands up to scrutiny even today.

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The Terminator (1984)

The violence and rapid pacing is not the only thing that sets this movie apart from the rest. In the future – 2029 – the world is run by machines who send a cyborg in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger back to 1984 in order to kill the mother of the future resistance leader. The script is cheesy in places but it has become a cult classic and an icon of modern pop culture.

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Back to the Future (1985)

This is a fun movie that never took itself too seriously and also spawned a couple of sequels. The original movie starred Michael J Fox who, in a DeLorean car takes a trip back to when his mother and father were in High School. The later movies were less successful but that said the movie’s place in the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame is well earned.

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Robocop (1987)

In Robocop police officer Murphy is violently murdered by a gang and is then reincarnated in cyborg form by a huge corporation. Robocop is now the new weapon against crime, but the real message of the movie is the role that capitalism and multinational corporations play and the power they hold. It is easy to identify with this movie and its vision of the future which unfolds as society starts to crumble.

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Akira (1988)

Akira is an anime movie set in Neo-Tokyo, a dystopian society which is run by gangs, terrorists and religious fanatics. The movie brought anime to the west and cemented the genre’s popularity. It remains a popular and ambitious favorite of anime and sci-fi fans alike. The movie tells the story of Tetsuo and a child escapee from a government lab. Tetsuo, a biker gang member and his best friend Kaneda rescue the child who has developed amazing psychic powers.

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Twelve Monkeys (1995)

In this post-apocalyptic film noir directed by Terry Gilliam, a deadly virus released in 1996 has wiped out most of humanity. The movie is set in 2035 where the last survivors live in underground cities. In one of these cities, a group of scientists develops a method by which they can send convict Bruce Willis back in time to stop the initial release of the virus by the group known as the 12 Monkeys. When the time travel goes wrong and Willis arrives in the wrong time he is sent to a mental institution where he meets fellow patient Brad Pitt. Willis must convince the psychiatrists that he is telling the truth and there follows the unfolding of a complex and paradoxical story that never fails to enthrall.

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Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

First Contact was aimed at bringing in a whole new generation of Star Trek fans while still pleasing the long term audience. The big-budget movie looked at how and when the first leap into the stars took place by following the story of Zefram Cochran. The world of the Enterprise was brought to life and audiences finally got some insight into one of the complex species of the Star Trek universe: the Borg.

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Fifth Element (1997)

Directed by Luc Besson audiences for this movie tend to fall into one of two camps: you either love it or hate it. The plot follows Bruce Willis as a taxi driver who becomes embroiled in an adventure when a strange woman, played by Milla Jovovich, falls into his flying cab. The Fifth Element came under severe criticism when it was released both for the story-line and the quality of the special effects. However, it is well known now as a cult sci-fi classic.

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Gattaca (1997)

Gattaca was not the greatest success at the box office but it has certainly hit a cord when it comes to genetic engineering and its role in a dystopian future. This is a thinking person’s thriller, building on and inspiring debates on the value and ethics of eugenics and how far that should inform a person’s role and position in the world.

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Contact (1997)

Contact is the story of two scientists who are finally able to make contact with alien lifeforms. The book, written by Carl Sagan, forms the basis of the screenplay in which Dr. Ellie Arroway, a scientist based in Puerto Rico, receives a signal from a far off star system. She starts to try to decipher it, along with other international competitors, in order to be the person who gets to make the first contact.

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Men in Black (1997)

Men in Black proves that great sci-fi can be amusing and fun and not just serious or thought-provoking. Men in Black stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the mysterious Men of the title who work in a secret organization. Its role is to supervise the lives of extraterrestrials that are secretly living on earth. They manage to keep all the humans in the dark by ‘neuralysing’ them – wiping their memories. There are a number of sequels to this movie but many say this is still the best.

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The Matrix (1999)

Directed by the Wachowskis, when The Matrix was released in 1999 it brought a whole new vision of a dystopian future. It seems that human beings were actually trapped within some kind of virtual simulated world, effectively used as batteries for an unseen artificial intelligence. The hacker Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, believes that the world he lives in is false and is soon recruited to a group committed to bringing the end to The Matrix and free humanity. The special effects and story-line have made this movie into a world-renowned example of the genre, with the action scenes and the digital raining code becoming iconic parts of popular culture.

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Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report deals with a future where technology can predict crimes before they happen. These premonitions – delivered by a form of mutated human – is then used to arrest people before they have a chance to commit the crime. However, when the prediction comes that Tom Cruise’s character, Chief Anderton, will commit murder in 36 hours time he decides to go on the run. Minority Report takes current scientific and technical knowledge and runs with it to bring about a story which takes us to the edge of what is possible, and then pushes us over.

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Primer (2004)

Primer is a low-budget movie with no reliance on but this in no way dulls the intensity of the movie. The movie looks at some pretty complex topics like quantum physics, and because it uses all the real scientific terms it can be a little heavy going. However, this adds to the realism of the movie, particularly when twinned with some of the down-to-earth and mundane locations. The lead protagonists, Aaron and Abe, discover the secret of time travel in their garage completely accidentally and then go on to refine their discovery. The result is this enduring cult sci-fi classic.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

When Clementine and Joel meet and fall in love they suddenly realize that this has happened before. This movie starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey moves away from the usual sci-fi focus of dystopia and rogue technology to look at the relationship between the two protagonists. Once they make their discovery, the film looks into the past and how the situation came about, the technology at the company Lacuna that erases memories, the people who work at the company, and how the couple must then make a difficult decision about what to do next. This movies benefits hugely from great performances from the lead actors and has attracted a huge cult following.

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Children of Men (2006)

In 2027 humankind is starting to decline due to a hike in infertility rates. The UK, one of the world’s most stable nations, faces a constant stream of people trying to enter the country resulting in many executions by the country’s armed forces. Theo Faron – played by Clive Owen – is captured by an immigrant rights group and paid to help a young woman cross the border. Although it seems that a plague is responsible for the infertility rates there is never any real explanation of how, when or why this happened. The plot focuses on Theo and his attempts to get the woman, Kee, into the UK, overcoming various difficulties along the way. The dystopian world created by the director Alfonso Cuarón creates a compelling experience for the viewer.

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A Scanner Darkly (2006)

The filming techniques used in this movie, an adaptation of the novel by Phillip K Dick, provides the viewer with a strange almost psychedelic trip through the film. In America around 20% of the people are hooked on Substance D and the movie’s protagonists live in a world of paranoia caused by the drugs. Keanu Reeves stars as the undercover government operative who is trying to get on top of the war against Substance D through implementing draconian and high tech surveillance systems.

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Sunshine (2007)

It is 2056 and, as predicted, the Sun is starting to burn out causing the final death throes of the planet. A crew of 8 set off on a spacecraft named Icarus II to try to restart the sun and prevent armageddon. Once the crew gets closer to the Sun they find the previous spacecraft Icarus I and look to use it to increase the success of their mission. The result is a movie that is intense and claustrophobic, yet maintains a level of excitement for the viewer, making it a great addition to this list.

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Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield uses the ‘found footage’ technique to tell the story of an alien invasion that takes place in New York City. The movie, produced by JJ Abrams, is made up of film clips showing the events as they unfold. Although this technique has been successfully used in horror movies, this creates a thrilling and somewhat panicky view from the ground as plans are implemented to destroy Manhattan in order to kill the monster. There have been spin-off movies but the original remains the best and most loved.

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Wall-E (2008)

This animated movie looks at the threat of environmental damage and loss. Wall-E is a robot who comes to Earth to try to clean up all the garbage. When another robot, EVE, arrives the two meet and fall in love.

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Moon (2009)

In the future helium mining takes place on the moon and the movie follows the experience of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who has been isolated on the Moon for some time. With disruptions in communications, Sam has to rely on the on-board computer for company. The film follows him as he ends his tour and starts to hallucinate. This is a cinematographic feast for the eyes but without an over-reliance on VFX or models and has created an enduring and fascinating film that pleases both film buffs and sci-fi fans alike.

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District 9 (2009)

District 9 is an area of Johannesburg, South Africa, where the population of an alien spaceship is forced to live. The movie draws parallels with the apartheid regime in the country, with the insect-like aliens isolated from the rest of the city. The increasing unrest within the area leads to a Government decree that the alien population must be moved. During this time 3 of the aliens escape with far-reaching consequences. The special effects team’s inspirational efforts when creating the alien meant that over time the viewer began to empathize with the audience another dimension to the story.

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Inception (2010)

Inception is several movies in one as the viewer is taken on a journey of dreams within dreams. The screenplay, cinematography and acting make this a classic example of time as a key part of the sci-fi writer’s toolkit. The movie will take you on a mind-bending journey and still leave you guessing. Once you have watched this there will be no doubt that this movie has a firm place in the sci-fi Hall of Fame. Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and Marion Cotillard.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

No one can forget the iconic ending of the original movie but this 2011 version of the origin story appeals to the more sophisticated tastes of the modern audience. This is the start of a new series of the Planet of the Apes franchise and this first outing shows how a potential cure for Alzheimer’s has unexpected results when tested on lab chimpanzees. Eventually, it all goes wrong with super-intelligent chimp Caesar leading the apes in rebellion. The CGI and make-up lend to much more realism than the original and is a great addition to the series.

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Looper (2012)

In this movie, a Looper is a contract killer who sends their victims back through time where the victim then finds their past self and closes the loop. These loopers are used by criminal gangs to wipe out their enemies and it all works well until one rogue Looper faces his future self who has come back to kill him. Fans love Looper because of its complexity and high action levels, however, you may need to see it a few times to get your brain around the complexity of the central idea.

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Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer is a unique take on the idea of humanity’s end. The remaining people alive on Earth travel constantly on a train – the Snowpiecer and all is going well until there is a mutiny on board. The combination of brilliant writing, epic cinematography and a great cast immerse the viewer in the action and the plots twists and turns make this a must-see movie.

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Her (2013)

Director Spike Jonze brings a romantic twist to the genre with this movie about a depressed and lonely writer, Theodore, who lives in the Los Angeles of the future. Theodore decides to upgrade his computer operating system and introduces an AI assistant called Samantha. In his personal life, Theodore is facing an upcoming divorce and slowly he realizes that his feelings for Samantha are becoming more than functional. The movie looks at the deeper issues of what makes intimacy and how the use of technology has affected our view of the virtual assistants we use.

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Gravity (2013)

Despite the fact that Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for a movie about the nature of human resilience, Gravity ended up as a key sci-fi movie for fans everywhere. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as two scientists who have become stranded in space and who then have to overcome several challenges in order to return to Earth. A sense of eerie isolation pervades the movies which uses amazing effects and cinematography to transport the viewer into the vastness of space. Gravity’s story-line, alongside the visual feast it provides, has made it a sci-fi masterpiece.

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Ex Machina (2014)

Nathan is the CEO of a company and the boss of Caleb, who wins the chance to visit him at his luxurious remote home. Once he arrives, Caleb discovers that part of the week involves conducting a Turing Test on a female robot. The robot, Ava, has a female face but is fully robotic and as the test starts it soon becomes clear to Caleb that she is much more intelligent that Nathan thinks. Ex Machina avoids turning into a standard ‘intelligent robot’ sci-fi movie, instead it delves into the nature of humanity and how our development of AI may call this into question.

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The Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

When an alien race – the Mimics – arrive in Germany the human population is completely unprepared for the invasion that follows. An inexperienced major is put in charge of turning the tide in favor of humanity and is quickly killed. Cage, played by Tom Cruise, then goes on to relive the last day of his life multiple times. Finding no one believes him, he decides to use the opportunity to help destroy the Mimics. The use of great effects, action, violence and great plot makes this a memorable movie.

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Interstellar (2014)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, this space movie about a mission to find a new world as the Earth finally succumbs to ecological disaster is a cinematic spectacle. Although there are some huge plot holes, particularly the events leading to the ending, the story hooks you in on an emotional level. The lead roles are taken by Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain who give their all to make this movie impactful for the audience. With a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, great effects and cinematography this movie has all the scale and drama you need for an epic space saga.

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The Martian (2015)

The premise of a man stranded alone on Mars could have lead to a really dull movie but The Martian, with Matt Damon in the lead role, carries it off with aplomb and delivers a movie full of believable science and characters. NASA played a key role in the development of the movie, including giving advice on technical aspects of the script and this certainly shows in the finished product.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Part of the Mad Max franchise that originated in the 1970s, Fury Road adds more fuel to the usual modern-day fears of a world where resources are scarce and the world is filled with predatory gangs fighting for survival. This movie centers on a group of individuals who are fleeing a cult in a world where both water and fuel are scarce. Charlize Theron leads the action in this sci-fi thriller giving it a strong feminist feel. This coupled with a very real fear of a loss of vital resources and great performances from the cast make the movie a great addition to the Mad Max world.

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Arrival (2016)

Denis Villeneuve directed what could be described as ‘the thinking person’s sci-fi’ when he worked his magic on this movie. When strange aliens arrive it is up to linguist Louise Banks to try to unravel their language and open the channels of communication. The film touches on multiple themes including threats from alien cultures, uncertainty, miscommunication and, ultimately, the triumph of understanding and love.

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Annihilation (2018)

Starring Natalie Portman, this movie was released on Netflix and has since received both critical and audience acclaim. Portman’s character Lena is relieved when her scientist husband returns to her after having disappeared, however, he is changed and has little memory of what happened. Lena eventually finds out that he had entered a force-field, called The Shimmer. When she enters it herself with other scientists she finds that the area has had a strange effect on the landscape and people within it including strange plants, animals and other phenomena. The film raises certain philosophical questions and the performance of the cast fully emerges the audience from the start of the movie to the final credits.

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