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Our Editors' Favorite Sci-Fi Movies

January 2 is (unofficially) Science Fiction Day, in honor of sci-fi author Isaac Asimov's birthday. Here are our editors' favorite sci-fi films.

By The Editors December 30, 2021


The Fifth Element

I have lots of favorite sci-fi films (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Children of Men, Arrival), but if I want frothy fun I still choose The Fifth Element. Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas) is a hyper-cool, cynical space cab driver in the 23rd century and Milla Jojovich (Leeloo) is a gorgeous supreme being, who was sent down to save Earth and serendipitously falls from the sky into his taxi. What ensues is a visually sumptuous romp—the outlandish costumes and sets alone are worth the two hours of film—as Willis accompanies Jojovich, an orange-haired nymph dressed only in well-place straps who keeps saying, “big bada boom,” to a lavish space resort to battle evil forces. The plot is crazy and fast-moving and is powered along by villain Gary Oldham (Zorg) who is working for the dark force Ultimate Evil, annoying radio host Chris Tucker (Ruby Rhod) and Ian Holm (Father Vito Cornelius), who knows why Leeloo is humanity’s only hope. The movie won’t change your life, but it’s a refreshing comedic break from dystopian futures in most sci-fi. —Susan Burns, editor-in-chief


I kind of hesitate to call it my favorite sci-fi movie, but one that definitely left a lasting impression on me was Ridley Scott’s 1979 original Alien, with Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Veronica Cartwright. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean...there’s a certain stomach-churning scene, maybe 35 minutes in, where Hurt’s character has a most distressing interaction with a small but gruesome creature that escapes to grow up and become a really big alien. Definitely a shocker. Alien is as much horror movie as sci-fi, I guess, but that’s often the case, isn’t it? —Kay Kipling, executive editor

Children of Men

One science fiction film that haunts me is Children of Men, the 2006 Alfonso Cuarón movie that depicts a world struck by an unexplained plague of infertility. As the hero, played by Clive Owen, is drafted into an underground movement working to rescue and protect the first woman to become pregnant in 18 years, he moves through a militaristic, apocalypse-minded dystopia in which immigrants and refugees are rounded up and brutalized and violence becomes a casual, random and everyday occurrence. Like in all of the best science fiction, the movie's warped universe makes us ponder our own. —Cooper Levey-Baker, senior editor/food editor

Guardians of the Galaxy

One of the more unique offerings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my comic book illustrator husband initially urged me to watch this–and I promptly fell in love with it. It features a motley cast of misfits including a talking tree, a raccoon, three people from other planets, and Chris Pratt, who winds up leading them all on an intergalactic chase to prevent an evil overlord from getting his hands on a powerful gem (which Marvel fans know becomes part of the greater MCU story). Directed by James Gunn—whose previous work includes writing and directing the new Suicide Squad, writing the remake of Dawn of the Dead and directing the critically acclaimed horror-comedy Slither—it's not your typical superhero romp, and it's also funny and full of heart. Pro tip: don't miss the scene immediately after the closing credits, which may be the cutest thing you'll ever see. —Megan McDonald, digital editor

Ex Machina

As artificial intelligence becomes more and more sophisticated and part of our everyday lives, storylines like Ex Machina's seem all too realistic. To me, they're cautionary tales, and I can't help but expect scenarios like this to one day unfold in the news and in our lives. Am I paranoid? Maybe. But mostly I'm wildly entertained by this film. A programmer wins a contest to participate in an experiment. He travels to a far-away compound in the mountains to test the synthetic intelligence of a beautiful android named Ava. He’s tasked with interacting with her over the course of a week to test her humanity and consciousness. Little does he know, the creator has fashioned her to suit the programmers’ physical preferences, and he falls in love. But soon both her creator and the programmer see her initial childlike qualities grow into something more devious. She indeed passes the test and is “human enough”—Ava just wants her freedom. —Kim Doleatto, associate editor

The Back to the Future Trilogy

This classic series, featuring main Marty McFly and Doc Brown, is always a favorite for me. The pair travel back in time to meet McFly's father in the 1950s and into the future to meet their future selves and other characters, including the main villain, high school bully Biff Tannen. The hoverboard, flux capacitor, plutonium and other "high-tech" gadgets remind us what movie makers thought the future would look like in a fantasy universe. —Allison Forsyth, associate editor

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