16 Essential Science Fiction Films Every Filmmaker Should Study

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If I could pick only one favorite movie genre to bring with me to a deserted planet, it would be science fiction.

From the classic space opera to nasty aliens and futuristic movies about mankind, sci-fi movies have always spoken to me.

Below, I’ve curated some of the best sci-fi movies that every filmmaker or screenwriter should study.

If you’ve seen all of these, you might be able to take on the hardcore FilmDaft sci-fi quiz for true fans of the genre.

1. Interstellar (2014)

“Newton’s third law. You gotta leave something behind.”

Cooper
  • Genre: science fiction epic
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Screenwriters: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain

Why you should watch it:

Interstellar is worth studying for its ambitious exploration of complex scientific concepts, particularly its accurate portrayal of black holes and time dilation.

The film’s stunning visuals, especially the depiction of space travel and distant planets, make it a visually captivating piece of cinema.

Additionally, the emotional depth of the characters and their exploration of themes such as love, sacrifice, and human survival in the face of extinction provide rich material for analysis.

2. Arrival (2016)

“Despite knowing the journey, and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every morning of it.”

Louise Banks
  • Genre: science fiction drama
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer
  • Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Why you should watch it:

Arrival stands out for its unique take on communication and language, offering a fresh perspective on how humans might interact with extraterrestrial beings.

The film’s nonlinear storytelling structure adds complexity, deepening the viewer’s engagement with the narrative.

The film’s thought-provoking themes of unity, understanding, and the nature of time make it a compelling piece for study.

Also, the music by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson is beautiful and worth studying by composers and others interested in film scores.

3. District 9 (2009)

“Hello, little guy! It’s the sweetie man coming!”

Wikus van der Merwe
  • Genre: science fiction action
  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • Screenwriters: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James

Why you should watch it:

District 9 is worth studying for its allegorical exploration of apartheid and xenophobia through the lens of science fiction.

The film’s gritty and realistic visual style, achieved through a combination of documentary-style footage and traditional narrative filmmaking, sets it apart from typical sci-fi fare.

District 9’s social commentary and examination of the human condition make it a rich text for analysis.

Learn more about allegory in film.

4. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda
  • Genre: space opera
  • Director: Irvin Kershner
  • Screenwriters: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Why you should watch it:

“The Empire Strikes Back” is worth studying due to its groundbreaking special effects and innovative use of practical effects.

The film set new standards for visual effects in the industry, with its iconic scenes such as the Battle of Hoth and the lightsaber duels.

You can learn from the meticulous attention to detail in creating a believable and immersive sci-fi world, blending practical effects seamlessly with visual effects to enhance storytelling.

For screenwriters, the character arcs of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia are well-crafted.

Also, the film explores themes such as redemption, loyalty, and the struggle between good and evil, providing valuable lessons in character-driven storytelling.

You might like The Smuggler Speaks: 18 Classic Han Solo Star Wars Lines.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.”

Hal 9000
  • Genre: science fiction epic
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Screenwriters: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

Why you should watch it:

2001: A Space Odyssey is a landmark in science fiction cinema, known for its groundbreaking special effects, minimalist storytelling, and philosophical themes.

The film’s meticulous attention to detail and realistic portrayal of space travel set a new standard for the genre.

2001’s enigmatic narrative and open-ended conclusion have sparked endless debate and analysis, making it a rich text for scholarly study.

6. The Matrix (1999)

“I know Kung Fu!”

Neo
  • Genre: science fiction action
  • Directors: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Screenwriters: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

Why you should watch it:

The Matrix is worth studying for its use of allegory and innovative visual effects, including the iconic bullet time sequence, revolutionizing action filmmaking.

The film’s exploration of reality, simulation, and the nature of consciousness raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of existence.

The Matrix’s blend of Eastern philosophy, cyberpunk aesthetics, and action-packed sequences make it a compelling subject for analysis.

7. Alien (1979)

“You are my lucky star…”

Ellen Ripley
  • Genre: science fiction horror
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Screenwriter: Dan O’Bannon
  • Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright

Why you should watch it:

Alien is a classic sci-fi horror film worth studying for its tense atmosphere, strong female protagonist, and groundbreaking creature design.

The film’s claustrophobic set design and slow-building tension create a sense of unease that permeates the entire narrative.

Alien’s themes of survival and the unknown make it a compelling text for analysis.

8. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

“Pain reminds you that the joy you felt was real.”

Niander Wallace
  • Genre: science fiction neo-noir
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Screenwriters: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Why you should watch it:

Blade Runner 2049 is a world-building and visual storytelling masterclass with breathtaking cinematography (by Roger Deakins) and meticulously crafted production design.

The film’s exploration of identity, memory, and the nature of humanity adds depth and complexity to its narrative.

Blade Runner 2049’s seamless blend of neo-noir aesthetics and philosophical themes makes it a standout sci-fi film for study.

9. Independence Day (1996)

“Welcome to Earth.”

Captain Steven Hiller
  • Genre: science fiction disaster
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Screenwriters: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
  • Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum

Why you should watch it:

Independence Day is a quintessential sci-fi blockbuster worth studying for its epic scale, thrilling action sequences, and patriotic themes.

The film’s cutting-edge visual effects, including the iconic destruction of iconic landmarks, set a new standard for disaster movies.

Independence Day’s exploration of humanity’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds and the importance of global cooperation make it a noteworthy film for analysis.

Make sure to check the top 10 quotes from Independence Day.

10. Back to the Future (1985)

“This is heavy.”

Marty
  • Genre: science fiction
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriters: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
  • Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson

Why you should watch it:

Back to the Future is a beloved sci-fi comedy worth studying for its clever script, charismatic performances, and iconic time travel premise.

The film’s blend of humor, adventure, and heartwarming moments make it a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences of all ages.

Back to the Future’s exploration of fate, family, and the consequences of our actions provide ample material for analysis.

11. Planet of the Apes (1968)

“The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your kind made a wasteland of it, ages ago.”

Zaius
  • Genre: science fiction
  • Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
  • Screenwriters: Michael Wilson and Rod Sterling
  • Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans

Why you should watch it:

Planet of the Apes is worth studying for screenwriters due to its social commentary, twist ending, and innovative premise.

The film explores complex themes such as prejudice, social hierarchy, and the consequences of unchecked scientific advancement.

The twist ending, revealing the planet’s true nature, serves as a masterclass in creating impactful plot twists that challenge audience expectations.

12. Metropolis (1927)

“The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart.”

Maria
  • Genre: expressionist science fiction
  • Director: Fritz Lang
  • Screenwriters: Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou
  • Starring: Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich

Why you should watch it:

Metropolis is a pioneering sci-fi film worth studying for its groundbreaking visual effects at the time, ambitious scope, and social commentary.

The film’s stunning art deco production design and futuristic cityscapes set a new standard for cinematic world-building.

Metropolis’s exploration of class struggle, technology, and the dehumanizing effects of industrialization make it a seminal work in the science fiction genre.

13. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

“Play the five tones.”

Project Leader
  • Genre: science fiction
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Steven Spielberg
  • Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, François Truffaut

Why you should watch it:

Director Steven Spielberg expertly builds tension and mystery throughout the narrative, leading to a powerful and emotional climax.

The film’s innovative use of special effects, including iconic alien spaceship designs and mesmerizing light displays, set a new standard in visual storytelling for the science fiction genre.

Also, the use of diegetic musical notes as a way to communicate with extraterrestrials is a fresh idea.

If you’re into UFOs (aka UAPs), you should check this one out: How Accurate Is Close Encounters Of The Third Kind?

14. Ex Machina (2015)

“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”

Ava
  • Genre: science fiction thriller
  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Screenwriter: Alex Garland
  • Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Why you should watch it:

Ex Machina is a character-driven sci-fi film that explores the ethics of artificial intelligence and human relationships.

Filmmakers can study its intimate setting and minimalist production design to create a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere.

The film’s focus on dialogue and character dynamics makes it a valuable study for filmmakers interested in crafting compelling interpersonal relationships in their sci-fi films.

15. Her (2013)

“I’m yours and I’m not yours.”

Samantha
  • Genre: science fiction, romantic drama
  • Director: Spike Jonze
  • Screenwriter: Spike Jonze
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

Why you should watch it:

Her is a futuristic love story that examines the nature of relationships in a technologically advanced society.

Filmmakers can study its production design and use of color to create a warm and inviting vision of the future.

The film’s exploration of loneliness, intimacy, and artificial intelligence offers valuable insights into character development and thematic depth.

16. Solaris (1972)

“You mean more to me than any scientific truth.”

Kris Kelvin
  • Genre: science fiction
  • Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Screenwriters: Andrei Tarkovsky and Fridrikh Gorenshtein
  • Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Juri Jarvet

Why you should watch it:

Solaris is a meditative sci-fi film that explores the nature of consciousness and memory.

Filmmakers can study its slow pacing, dreamlike atmosphere, and philosophical themes to understand how to engage audiences emotionally and intellectually.

The film’s exploration of grief, guilt, and the mysteries of the cosmos makes it a valuable study for filmmakers interested in pushing the boundaries of traditional sci-fi storytelling.

Closing Thoughts

Studying sci-fi movies is worthwhile as they offer a unique lens to explore complex societal issues, scientific advancements, and philosophical questions.

These films push boundaries, spark creativity, and challenge our understanding of the world, making them a valuable source for critical analysis and reflection.

Maybe it’s because good sci-fi movies ask fundamental questions about humankind: where do we come from, where are we going, and are we alone in the universe?

Speaking of the latter, check out the best UFO/UAP documentaries to watch (before the invasion).

Author

    by
  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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