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The 20 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Last 20 Years

The 20 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Last 20 Years

Cloverfield


Bolstered by a viral campaign that managed to ensnare audience attention without giving too much away (the film had a codename for goodness’ sakes – one that stuck so well that it became the film’s actual name), Matt Reeves’ found-footage feature arrived in theaters with the kind of hype that’s hard to duplicate these days. That the film’s story is relatively straightforward (it’s essentially a monster movie puffed up with lots of shaky-cam and a huge scope) is mostly immaterial, because the film makes up for a been-there, done-that idea with technical wizardry and a cheeky sense of humor about itself (also, thank you, TJ Miller). A breakneck pace and a handful of stunning shots only add to its appeal, and for a film made almost a decade ago, “Cloverfield” doesn’t feel so dated as to distract. Who would have suspected that something that seemed to so viciously hinge on viral appeal could actually endure? — KE

Inception


“Inception” might be Christopher Nolan’s most refined film to date, coming just as the filmmaker found yet another way to bend and break our understanding of reality. Rather than play with time, as Nolan did in the equally classic “Memento,” reality itself gets manipulated in the dreamscapes that Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his band of thieves use to steal corporate secrets. Its definition as a science fiction film comes with the out-there, barely explained methodologies powering the narrative — there’s enough information given to make things feel relatively plausible, and if you don’t poke too hard at the actual technology enabling these journeys into the dream world, the imagination and wonder that result are still jaw-dropping. People showed up in droves for “Inception” (disproving the idea that audiences won’t show up for non-franchise blockbusters) and they walked out of the theater still feeling out what, exactly, it all means. We might still be trying to figure out this film’s mysteries — proving its lasting impact.  — Liz Shannon Miller

Attack the Block


“Attack the Block” felt fresh when it hit theaters in 2011, especially as an alien invasion story where the protagonists seemed integral to the story, not merely interchangeable pieces or pure merchandise ploys. As the leader of the group trying to rescue his neighborhood, John Boyega laid an early claim to stardom, never letting the momentum of the action dampen his charisma. On the other side of this sci-fi battle for South London real estate, the invaders are a nifty piece of creature design. Like rabies-fueled gorilla dogs with rows of Day-Glo kitchen knives for teeth, there’s real terror when those things come whipping around the corner by the handful. (They also make for great 8-bit GIFs.) The film also came at the right time, on the heels of director Joe Cornish’s involvement with “The Adventures of Tintin” and a prime early word-of-mouth success story of the VOD age. After five years, we’re ready for Cornish’s return to the director’s chair whenever he is. – SG

Looper

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“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it, then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” Older Joe’s dismissal of the very device that makes “Looper” one of the aughts’ best science fiction films is also why it became so compelling. Understanding time travel isn’t as important to Rian Johnson’s mind-bending marvel as understanding the characters’ motivations for each and every choice they make. When sent back in time to close his own loop, so to speak, Young Joe faces decisions with consequences he may not have the wisdom to recognize, and tracking how those choices are made in real-time makes “Looper” as addictive as it is fascinating. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt may not look like a young Bruce Willis, it’s a testament to the script (and performances) that audiences willingly went along with Older and Younger Joe before “Looper” even got going. — BT

About Time


Richard Curtis’ masterwork in humanity is romance without cynicism. Wisdom without arrogance. Love without shame. Moreover, it treats time travel in a fashion before unrecognized and all the more pertinent to a present without it. Merely stating, “Time is our most valuable resource,” is hardly helpful in our uncontrollably fast-moving lives, but Curtis and his delightful cast find a way to show you why and how to make it work for you — whether you’ve got a dark space to flee to or not. I’ve said this before in regard to what stands as a truly magical monument to hope, but if we all could abide by the ideals of “About Time,” the world would be a better place. How many films can claim the same? — BT

Up next: What happens when humans aren’t the stars anymore?

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