Best of the Decade: Sci-Fi

This is a series called “Best of the Decade.” It’s a list including 10 movies that I found to be the best in a specific genre from 2010-2019.

Whether films were part of established franchises or simply stand alone features, this past decade was pretty darn good for sci-fi. Here are some of my favorites from the past 10 years.

Source Code (2011)

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While I find “Source Code” to be in the top tier of sci-fi movies made in the last decade, it’s become woefully forgotten and under-watched. It is a fantastic sci-fi/action picture, though, with intriguing and thought-provoking concepts of time travel and human experimentation.

The movie is really well benefited by a strong lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and an awesome supporting cast including Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright. While the movie may not have the same budget or impact on pop culture as others on this list, it still left a mark.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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The recent “Star Trek” trilogy took a dive with “Into Darkness” but returned to form with “Beyond” in 2016. The third film offers great character development for Kirk, with plenty of the captain’s pathos on display thanks to Chris Pine’s solid performance.

The feature also gives solid insight into other characters as well as fun side adventures for Scotty, Bones and Spock. The picture delivers on action, too, with some really thrilling and fun moments featuring the crew as underdogs.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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Here’s another example of a series returning to form. A decade after “Star Wars” had left theaters with the conclusion of the poorly received prequel trilogy, Director J.J. Abrams gave new life to the franchise with a fantastic film that put the adventure back into the series.

Since its release, the film has come under scrutiny for its similarities to the original movie of the franchise. However, while the framework is similar, many of the other aspects felt fresh, there was a sweet balance of old and new here. Along with solid direction from J.J. Abrams and company, “The Force Awakens” also benefited from its new, likable characters.

The Martian (2015)

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This movie kind of walks the border of science fiction, but still, our technology isn’t quite here yet, so it fits. The film features a stacked, all star cast with Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, along with fantastic direction from Ridley Scott, who was really on his game here.

What really gives the movie its thrust is the consistent problem solving that Damon’s character does. Each new challenge must be tackled by science and ingenuity, and the portrayal of the character working through these problems is endearing and interesting to watch.

Arrival (2016)

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This is one of two movies by Director Denis Villeneuve on this list, with the other being “Blade Runner 2049.” What’s true about both is that they’re very intelligent, character driven sci-fi pictures.

“Arrival” is a movie with a very large scale, as it contemplates how humanity would react to a aliens who don’t appear to be doing much of anything. At the same time, though, the picture is also deeply personal, as it centers very much on the life of its main character, played wonderfully by Amy Adams.

The slow-burn approach is wonderful in that it allows the audience time to really think, and the cast is well rounded by Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.

Her (2013)

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By sci-fi standards, “Her” might be the best movie from the past decade that explored technology’s impact on the human condition. The film does such impressive work in portraying a realistic look at how humanity would interact with a fully functional artificial intelligence.

While it’s set in the future, and explores themes about A.I. in decades to come, the picture also had commentary about humanity’s inter-connectivity today by way of technology.

The Shape of Water (2017)

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Winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture, “The Shape of Water” is a highly decorated addition to this list. The accolades were well deserved, because this is a fantastic film and part of what makes it work was the sci-fi elements

Director Guillermo del Toro managed to create a heartfelt, intriguing romantic drama, and do so in the form of what looked like a 50s grade B-movie, with a science facility right out of the atomic age. Great characters, a well made story and on point technical aspects made this one to remember, but just as important was the classic sci-fi charm.

Ex Machina (2015)

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Talk about an impressive directorial debut. This was Director Alex Garland’s first feature film, which he also wrote, and it’s amazing. Featuring stunning performances from Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac and British Academy nominee Domhnall Gleeson, “Ex Machina” is a suspenseful, mind-bending sci-fi picture.

The movie can keep one guessing with twists and turns, while offering an interesting view of humanity’s connection to artificial intelligence.

Ad Astra (2019) 

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“Ad Astra” works on two levels. First, it’s an epic, sprawling space adventure with beautiful visuals, intense action set pieces and moments that dig into humanity’s want for exploration.

While the film is large in scope, though, it’s also deeply personal, thoroughly exploring its main character. The film does this through moments of narration, almost giving the movie a noir feel. “Ad Astra” also benefits from a superb cast, including its lead in Brad Pitt.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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“Blade Runner 2049” is a perfect slow burn, where an audience can get hooked in as they watch the main character do his detective work and unravel a mystery. The film includes a fantastic twist, but more importantly, it keeps an audience engaged through a rather emotional journey for the main character and an overall exploration of humanity and artificial intelligence.

This is true with Jared Leto’s villain character and his motives, the background with Harrison Ford’s character and also the relationship between Ryan Gosling’s character and his AI girlfriend played by Ana de Armas. These aspects are benefited by phenomenal acting.

The movie also features a breathtaking future look, and rightfully earned Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography. The latter was won by industry legend Roger Deakins, which was especially well deserved.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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