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ScreenCrush’s 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Past 25 Years: ‘Eternal Sunshine,’ ‘Children of Men’ and More

ScreenCrush's 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Past 25 Years: 'Eternal Sunshine,' 'Children of Men' and More

ScreenCrush has picked the 25 best sci-fi movies of the past 25 years, and their number one could easily double as the best romance of the past 25 years. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” nabbed the top spot over more traditional picks like “Children of Men” or “Primer.” The two-part list is here and here, but these films made the top ten:

1. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Michel Gondry)
2. “Her” (Spike Jonze)
3. “Jurassic Park” (Steven Spielberg)
4. “Children of Men” (Alfonso Cuaron)
5. “The Matrix” (The Wachowskis)
6. “Looper” (Rian Johnson)
7. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (James Cameron)
8. “Edge of Tomorrow” (Doug Liman)
9. “Inception” (Christopher Nolan)
10. “Contact” (Robert Zemeckis)

Here’s what Kate Erbland had to say about their number one pick:

Science fiction is consistently at its best and most engaging when the “fictional” edge melts away and everything suddenly feels blindly, brightly real. Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece takes an understandable (and fully human) problem—How do you heal a broken heart?—and solves it with the kind of imaginative (and imaginary) solution that doesn’t feel so wild that we can’t speculate about the probability that it will someday exist in our world. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ merges Gondry’s signature whimsy with co-screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s relentless curiosity about the inner-workings of the human mind to near-perfect effect. Science fiction has long explored what it means to be human, but “Eternal Sunshine” zeros in on that idea, asking what it means to be a human in love, in pain, and in confusion; in some ways, what it means to be the most human, without ever feeling cloying or ringing false.

Kaufman and Gondry’s film wasn’t the only sci-fi love story on the list. “WALL-E” landed at number 13, while Kaufman’s former collaborator Spike Jonze came in at number 2. Here’s Britt Hayes on “Her.”

“Her” isn’t just poignant commentary on our relationship with technology—it’s a remarkable exploration on the nature of all relationships, and the urge to define ourselves through the existence of someone else. Jonze, Phoenix, and Johansson collaborate to deliver a beautiful monument to the human condition and our pursuit of love and happiness. Relationships are a gamble; everyone is constantly growing and changing, and we hope that as we change minute by minute, hour by hour, that we won’t grow and change away from each other. Just as Johansson’s Samantha begins to evolve beyond Theodore (and her own technological limitations), so do most intimate relationships, for better for worse. “Her” hits on something so specific and so intensely relatable that it feels like one of Theodore’s personal letters, tailored to your individual experience, as if this film knows you better than anyone else, living or digital. 

Steven Spielberg ended up with more films on the list than any other director with three (Alfonso Cuaron has two). “Jurassic Park” ranked the highest at number 3, while “Minority Report” was at number 17. But Spielberg’s best recent film and (*ahem*) the best science-fiction film of the past 25 years is at number 21. Here’s Erbland on “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.”

The tension between humans and robots—between the “real” and the “fake,” the creator and the created—is just the sort of kinda/sorta real-world issue that works best on the big screen. It’s entertainment! And it is scary! And it’s … the future? Steven Spielberg’s 2001 drama imagines a world where robots have been invented to serve all our flesh-and-blood needs. The mechas that populate Spielberg’s brave (and flooded and just kind of awful) new world are capable of so much (though they don’t realize it, and we don’t let them), but we’re principally preoccupied with young David, who just wants to be a real boy. This reimagining of the Pinocchio mythos translates seamlessly to Spielberg’s cold and distant tale, and Haley Joel Osment’s portrayal of the little mecha that could is gut-wrenching to the point of being actually painful. Spielberg shows that a “fake” boy can inspire real emotion from even the most hardened of audiences.

ScreenCrush critic Matt Singer is probably the internet’s foremost authority on Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his write-up of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” doesn’t disappoint:

Think about this for a second. This is a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man with the thickest Austrian accent on the planet, playing a killbot from the future who learns how to be human and use “hip” ’90s slang. (“Hasta la vista, baby.”) By all rights, this should have been an embarrassment, a pathetic kid-friendly cash-in sequel to a grim sci-fi thriller about time-travel paradoxes and inescapable destinies. But somehow director James Cameron made “Terminator 2’s” lighter tone and humanistic message work without feeling like a sellout, and while some of its finer details look dated (“Hasta la vista, baby.”), most of it holds up surprisingly well almost 25 years later, including a blend of practical stunts (like the high-speed truck and helicopter chase that looks like it should have killed everyone involved) and cutting-edge digital effects (like the liquid metal T-1000 in all his shape-shifting glory) that has arguably never been topped to this day. But let’s not overlook Schwarznegger himself, who’s great in an impossible role: the badass comic relief with a robo-heart of gold. Somehow, he makes this death machine’s emotional journey convincing. And when he says “I know now why you cry” to Edward Furlong’s John Connor at the end of the film, every viewer knows exactly what he means. 

Finally, ScreenCrush picked a number of films from the past five years for the list, putting “Looper,” “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Inception” in the top ten. Just outside the top ten, however, was a film that tried even harder to keep viewers off-balance. Here’s Jacob Hall on “Snowpiercer”:

Audiences who demand logic and realism from their films may take issue with Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer,” which gleefully throws any semblance of reality out the window in its opening minutes. This is not a science-fiction film interested in predicting a plausible future; instead, it wants to use the malleable landscape of genre fiction to delve into big ideas. Set entirely aboard an advanced train that continuously shepherds the last remnants of humanity through a second (man-made) Ice Age, “Snowpiercer” tracks the revolution that brews in the squalid rear cars, where the poorly-fed lower classes plot to battle their way to the engine and seize control. It doesn’t make literal sense, but the resulting blend of satire and wild visuals is worth suspending disbelief. Each car, each battle between the downbeat lower classes and the fascist forces of the front brings a new surprise. Some are violent, some are hilarious. All of them are totally unexpected. At the center of it all, Chris Evans proves himself to be so much more than Captain America, embodying a hero whose dark past is so audacious you may have to rewind his big monologue to make sure you heard everything correctly. “Snowpiercer” rules. 

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