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The 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century, from ‘Nope’ to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

With themes that range from love to fear to humanity itself, the best sci-fi movies of the 21st century all share distinctly original visions.

Best Science Fiction Movies

The best science fiction movies of the 21st century.

Everett Collection

45. “The Matrix Resurrections”

"The Matrix Resurrections"

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Warner Bros/Everett Collection

Arriving almost two decades after the last Matrix sequel, “The Matrix Resurrections” lived up to its name by breathing new life into the classic sci-fi tale of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the Machine War. Directed by Lana Wachowski — this time without sister and co-creator Lilly Wachowski – the 2021 sci-fi epic returns audiences and Reeves to the Matrix for a new adventure that puts fan favorite Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, on the frontline of battle.

Although Laurence Fishburne does not return as Morpheus (outside of clips from the old movie used in the new one), he’s replaced, in a new iteration, by the just as dazzling Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Abdul Mateen is joined by fellow franchise newcomers Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Priyanka Chopra, Neil Patrick Harris, and more. Jada Pinkett Smith reprises the role of Niobe. —AF

44. “Tenet”

TENET, John David Washington, 2020. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Tenet”

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Christopher Nolan’s palindrome of a film divided critics, boggled audiences, and single-handedly challenged streaming during the COVID-19 era. What starts as an espionage film quickly turns into a sci-fi headscratcher as a CIA agent (John David Washington) learns how to manipulate time to prevent a future attack that threatens to implode the present world. Robert Pattinson stars as the handler and token time-travel explainer, while Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki are the targets for the CIA mission — for a crime that they haven’t committed yet. “Tenet” might be most memorable for explaining time travel, backwards, and then proceeding to capture what it would be like if, perhaps, you would ever need to drive backwards — and that does not mean in reverse — to save the world. —SB

43. “The Endless”

THE ENDLESS, 2017. © Well Go USA /Courtesy Everett Collection

“The Endless”

Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Indie whiz kids Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead had already impressed audiences with their captivating, inventive, and DIY-feeling features like “Resolution” (a sci-fi twist on the addiction drama) and “Spring” (a sci-fi twist on the whirlwind romance) before they went whole-hog sci-fi wild with 2017’s thrilling “The Endless” (a dramatic twist on an alien abduction drama, inverting their own obsessions with wondrous results). Playing brothers named, amusingly, “Justin” and “Aaron” the film picks up years after the duo have escaped what’s described as a “UFO death cult,” though their interpretation of the group’s motives still differ, even with its presence seemingly long behind them.

Sharing (maybe?) a universe with “Resolution,” the multi-hyphenates journey back to the group, as inspired by the arrival of a creepy video tape (classic), a trip that forces them to reconsider not just their time with the group, but their entire lives, hell, the entire universe. Time loops abound, a dark entity reveals itself, and an extra moon appears in the sky, but the film’s most exciting explorations are internal ones, as Aaron and Justin grapple with what it means to really believe in something. —KE

42. “Palm Springs”

PALM SPRINGS, from left: Cristin Milioti, Andy Samberg, 2020. © Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Palm Springs”

©Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection

A lush-toned desert wedding you have to experience over and over and over again? Well, at least there’s an open bar. Sundance breakout (and record-setter as one of the biggest buys in the festival’s history) “Palm Springs” stars Andy Samberg as Nyles, a reluctant wedding guest reliving his own breakup and nuptials from hell alone for the rest of eternity. That is, until sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti) ends up trapped in the same time continuum as him. It’s “Groundhog Day” for the Instagram era, and as Nyles and Sarah question the purpose of life through their 30something existential crisis, their loveable chemistry gives way to a full-fledged romance, one that gives both of them purpose outside of their suicidal tendencies. —SB

41. “Looper”

Looper

“Looper”

Sony Pictures Releasing/TriStar Pictures

There’s a screenwriting adage that when creating a world, the writer needs to have all the rules clearly defined while not explaining them to the audience; characters should tell us through their actions. For Rian Johnson’s somewhat complicated time-travel film, it almost feels like there too many disparate threads to be tied into a satisfying whole and the film can feel unnecessarily convoluted.

But as the film evolves and we settle into its central drama can Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s protagonist bring himself to kill his future self (Bruce Willis)? the emotional core of the film emerges. With Johnson, who was in the process of taking the reins of the “Star Wars” franchise when this list was first published, it’s clear he’s a thoughtful cinephile from which an original voice and point of view emerged. Kathleen Kennedy chose wisely. —CO

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