Open Question: What are Our New Sci-Fi Classics?


Earlier today I wrote an article that featured 10 classic sci-fi movies that nearly everyone can agree are truly iconic. There’s Star Wars, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Terminator, Alien, and so on.

But writing that got me thinking about what our modern day sci-fi classics are (within the last two decades or so). I can’t name more than a handful myself. I think that Star Trek makes the cut, but certainly none of the new Star Wars trilogy does. I would say The Prestige, though it’s not sci-fi in the traditional sense, and Sunshine, though only a handful of people have seen it. The same goes for Gattaca. I think we can all agree The Matrix should be on there. Transformers? Ehhh. I would vote yes on Independence Day, no on Armageddon.

None of the new Alien or Terminator sequels qualify. I would nominate Contact but everyone else but me hates that movie. Not Starship Troopers, and not Battlestar Galactica because it’s a TV show. And not Serenity because really, it’s still a TV show. Cloverfield? Maybe. I Am Legend? No. I think Minority Report is almost there, but not A.I. or I, Robot. Do any of the superhero movies count? If so, what makes the list? Spiderman? The Dark Knight? And isn’t Dark Knight just a crime drama with costumes?

So where does that leave us? Without a doubt James Cameron’s Avatar will eventually make the currently very short list. But what else am I missing? Is modern day sci-fi really that bleak?

Even the ones I said do qualify, I have to admit that barely any of them feel like true classics the way the actual classics indisputably do. Maybe we’re just not far enough away from them yet, but I want to hear your own suggestions in the comments.

  • joe

    I avoided I,Robot for years thinking it was some crappy watered down will smith family movie. Not to long ago i gave it a try due to nothing else being on, turned out to be one of the best movies i have seen in a long time.

  • Val

    I absolutely love Contact, and for the most part I find that a lot of people just haven’t seen it, or at least haven’t seen it since it first came out. Great, fascinating movie. Thanks for giving it props!

  • Madison


    Contact is brilliant. Don’t worry about what other people think of it. What, you wanted the “alien” to be green-skinned with 10 tentacles? Please.

    It’s funny, because I was considering writing a similarly-themed article essentially asking, “What the hell happened to the sci fi film?”

    I’d put Total Recall on the list. Sure, it’s an Arnie action flick, but it’s a pretty memorable sci-fi movie based on a Philip K. Dick story. I think that should count.

  • aaron

    nice job recognizing “contact”- awesome movie, well acted (accept maybe mconaghy) and a rare movie that makes you think. also, gattaca is awesome. i would definately say better then all of them is “12 monkeys”- brad pitts best perfomance.

  • darthatheos

    1. Equilibrium
    2. Pitch Black
    3. The Fifth Element
    4. Ghost In The Shell
    5. ID4
    6. Men In Black
    7. Renaissance
    8. The Matrix
    9. Solara
    10.Reign of Fire.

  • paul

    12 Monkeys should make the list for sure. Dark City was pretty awesome but probably falls into the “not enough people have seen it” category. A couple more that could make the cut depending on how liberally you define sci-fi would be Children of Men and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

  • Josh

    In no order, here are my top ten or so (not sure how many I will actually put down. lol)

    1. Pitch Black
    2. Sunshine. Sunshine. Sunshine. Did I mention Sunshine?
    3. Independence Day
    4. A.I. (It gets a lot of crap but I think it was a turning point in modern sci fi films)
    5. The Matrix -trilogy-. (Can’t include just one here. Yes, the sequels didn’t match the first one and the third was pretty shitty but they were all Sci Fi classics)
    6. Contact (I agree it gets a lot of crap but… it was a damned good film imo)
    7. Equilibrium
    8. The Fifth Element for sure
    9. Children Of Men (How the hell has not a single person mentioned this one yet?)

    I got 9 down. I’m sure I could think of another one or two if I gave it more time. I will say, however, that I think District 9 and Avatar will end up as instant sci fi classics.

  • Muppet Baby

    I think Serenity should make the list. For many people, it WAS just a movie with no knowledge of Firefly (sadly). Plus, it was amazing.

  • Joe

    Josh, good call on Children of men. I will also throw frequency out there.

  • Molly

    I’d go with (in no particular order) Men in Black, ID4, Contact, Gattaca, The Matrix, Equilibrium, Children of Men, Sunshine, Twelve Monkeys….and Wall-E (it’s brilliant, and I’m pretty sure it should count-I can’t believe no one else mentioned it!)

  • John

    One of my favorites is Immortals, should also be on the list I think. A bit strange first time watching, with blending of (obvious) CGI actors and real actors, but a great story!

  • Korky

    12 Monkeys, Total Recall, The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Children of Men, and The Iron Giant are all great films, but the whole hyper-futuristic space alien bonanzas have been all but outmoded. People prefer gritty, realistic films these days so the meaning of sci-fi has been changed.

  • grandmort

    10 Modern Day Classic Sci-Fi Movies (in alphabetical order):

    1. 12 Monkeys (a very, very good film, one of Gilliam’s best)
    2. A.I. (except a few bad moments, a truly great film with a superb, often misunderstood ending)
    3. Children of Men (a masterpiece)
    4. Contact (definitely, what a beautiful, intelligent movie)
    5. Dark City (a good movie approaching greatness)
    6. Gattaca (what a good little film)
    7. Ghost In The Shell (deep and beautiful)
    8. The Matrix (mind blowing)
    9. Sunshine (a failed masterpiece)
    10. Wall-E (brilliant, especially in its first half)

    It looks like we all pretty much agree on most of them here…
    So, yes, the last 20 years saw some pretty good Sci-Fi after all.

  • Taker

    Children of Men is my favorite sci fi movie.
    Dark city is a classic.
    Has anyone heard of a movie called Primer?
    eXistenZ wouldnt be considered a classic but is pretty good.
    The fifth element if not said already.
    Dont know if its sci fi or if even if people like it but A Scanner Darkly? Not groundbreaking but it was different.

  • Shoosh

    Does “Primer” qualify?

  • Taker

    Well iit is time travely and so is donnie darko. Would donnie darko be considered Sci fi?

  • Jameson

    Looking at the other comments on this list gave me some good memories. I was thinking of movies that I would actually want to see again. When they come out on a new format, do you run out and get it? I did with Star Wars….

    My list would include (in the order that they came to mine):
    fifth element
    donnie darko
    matrix 1 (if you try to include the other 2, you should probably watch them again to remember how terrible they are)
    12 monkeys
    predator 1 (I liked 2, but most people hate it)
    star trek 2009

    I love the will smith sci fi movies, but in 20 years Im not going to be running out to get a copy of them on whatever crazy medium the porn industry endorses next. But, if they are showing on my tv/computer/phone/toilet combo device (otherwise known as my Bruce Willis Surrogate), I would probably sit down to watch them. Other honorable mentions would be Dark City (awesome, but more of a cult following), Children of Men. Children of Men was awesome, but do we count dystopian movies as sci-fi? (is Beyond Thunder Dome sci-fi, V for Vendetta?).

    What about Babylon A.D.?
    Not really…its disqualified for unnecessary baldness.

  • Jay

    I think The Island is worth mentioning, not because it was good, but because it had a lot of potential to be a great sci fi film (damn you Michael Bay).

    I don’t think Strange Days has been mentioned yet. I thought it was great.

    I loved Predator 2 and I actually prefer over Predator 1.

  • Loki

    What about Event Horizon? I don’t think anyone’s mentioned that yet… I thought that was a great film; and scared the shit out of me…


    Children of Men
    Serenity (definitely qualifies)
    12 Monkeys
    Signs (don’t think anyone mentioned that either…)
    Independence day
    JJ’s Star Trek

    I think all these, (besides maybe Sunshine and Serenity, which are just fucking awesome Sci-fi films) have definitely had an effect on pop culture and the future of the sci-fi film making…

  • Jameson

    I’de add Event Horizon to my list. Signs had great build up, but then failed to deliver in the ending. M Night hasn’t made a good movie since Unbreakable. The Island was alright, but I don’t think it qualifies as a ‘classic.’ I think we (including myself) are diluting the idea of classic. There have been some notable good, and great movies, but that doesn’t make them classics. Thinking about the classics from the generation before us, there are only maybe 8. We shouldn’t include every sci fi movie we liked. Maybe the test of a classic is the test of time, and we just have to wait.

  • Dan

    Primer for sure. Probably the best Sci-Fi movie I’ve seen since 2001: Space Odyssey.

  • fig

    Everyone is forgetting
    The Mist
    Jacobs Ladder
    to name a few

  • Gir

    District 9. Event Horizon. Sunshine. Donnie Darko. 5th Element. Equilibrium. The Chronicles of Riddick. and so much more!!!

  • hhayes

    How is Serenity not number one? it is the best anything ever and to say otherwise is blasphemy

  • Jman

    District 9 of course!!

  • jonas5000

    1. Gattaca
    2. Minority Report
    3. Moon
    4. ID4
    5. AvP
    6. A.I.
    7. I, Robot
    8. Solaris
    9. Contact
    10. The Fifth Element

  • NCH

    Hunter Prey?