Top 10 Popular Science Fiction Movies of all Time

By Carri Wilbanks AFKI Original Published: May 30, 2014, 2:48 pm

From its rocky start as a list of B movies with niche audiences, the science fiction film genre took off and become a source of blockbusters earning mega millions of dollars for movie makers. Improved special effects have played a part, but many science fiction movies also use imagination and speculation to shed light on political or social issues, or timeless facets of the human condition. Others use the future as a backdrop to excitement or humor. All have their fans, and for some those fans number in the millions. Here are the top 10 popular science fiction movies of all time.


1. Men in Black

This 1997 film by Barry Sonnenfeld is an action comedy about a secret government organization that polices a population of aliens living undercover on Earth. It follows the misadventures of the organization’s newest agent as he and his partner track down an alien monster and stop a galactic war. The film satirizes conspiracy theories about government agencies and extraterrestrials on Earth, as well as the science fiction genre itself, with its wacky portrayal of aliens, over-the-top advanced technology, and goofy special effects. At the same time the movie addresses relatable themes and problems — the men in black are, at heart, glorified immigration police seeking more fulfilling lives.


This 2008 animated film by Pixar is about an adorable little robot in a post-apocalyptic wasteland who gets caught up in a quest to find true love and saves the human race in the process. While very few of the film’s characters are human and its protagonist knows no more than three words, the cast is nonetheless highly relatable and sympathetic as they take on familiar and epic challenges (and even our trash) with childlike curiosity and exaggerated body language. The film became an instant success and a heartwarming, delightful classic.

3. Independence Day

This 1996 film by Ronald Emmerich is an action-disaster film about an advanced alien military force that invades Earth and attempts to wipe out the human race. The movie features themes of human survival, endurance, ingenuity, and determination in the face of impossible odds. It also features iconic and instantly-recognizable special effects scenes of major monuments being obliterated by aliens. “Independence Day” was not the first film to pit a rag-tag human resistance against an unstoppable alien invasion. With the modern resurgence of that theme in other movies and TV shows it won’t be the last either.  Nevertheless, its dramatic presentation has made it the poster child, inspiration, and yardstick for the entire alien invasion sub-genre.

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

This 1991 sequel to the original “Terminator” is by far the best-known movie of the action-packed series. It pits the original “Terminator” robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger against a second, more advanced robotic killing machine, with the child destined to save humanity from extinction in the future caught in the crossfire. The film used breakthrough special effects and thrilling action sequences to become the most memorable part of the expansive “Terminator” franchise. It was Schwarzenegger’s best-known role. It left a mark on popular culture — other films and TV shows repeatedly reference and parody it.

5. Back to the Future

This 1985 film by Robert Zemeckis is a comedy about misadventures in time travel. It tells the story of a teenage boy accidentally sent back in time in a modified sports car who must undo the disasters his arrival causes, including the breakup of his parents as a high school couple. This first movie of the “Back to the Future” franchise is the best known and most beloved of the zany trilogy. It manages to successfully blend mad science, slapstick comedy, romance, and satire in a movie that left generations of watchers ready for the sequels.

6. Alien

This 1979 film by Ridley Scott is the quintessential extraterrestrial horror film. It is the story of a single, monstrous alien that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. One lone woman lives to tell the tale. While stories of alien monsters were hardly new when the movie was made and persist in science fiction films today, there’s no denying the power of this movie’s presentation. While it enjoys excellent special effects, they are kept in the background, with the story focused on a grimy, dystopian future where believable human characters are hunted down by an unseen, incomprehensible assailant. It spawned a long train of sequels and an even longer list of imitations, but it has never yet been equaled.

7. Avatar

This 2009 film by James Cameron is an epic action film about a resistance group fighting off an interstellar invasion. Only in this film, the resistance is a tribe of peaceful aliens and the invader is a greedy corporate army from Earth. The film’s theme of fighting to protect a fragile environment from the ravages of human greed is timeless, but the special effects are breathtakingly 21st Century. The film imaginatively portrays not only an interstellar invasion force but also a vibrant alien world teaming with incredible creatures, and the ensuing war between them.

8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

This 1989 film by Steven Spielberg takes an optimistic look at first contact between humanity and alien life. It is the story of a friendly alien with bizarre powers who is taken in by a human family when it becomes stranded on Earth. The story is told mostly from the perspective of a boy who shares a special bond with the alien and becomes its rescuer and protector throughout the movie. This makes “E.T.” an excellent family film with strong themes of loyalty, love, and friendship, as well as a timeless classic that has spawned many pop-culture references.

9. The Matrix

This 1999 film by the Wachowski brothers is an action film and the first of a series known for its over-the-top action sequences and intense story lines. It begins in the modern day, but rapidly reveals that what we take for reality is not real, pitting the protagonists in an all-out war against the virtual and physical agents of a machine race determined to keep humanity enslaved in an illusion. The film’s style and special-effects sequences have influenced a generation of action movies and its intriguing premise has captured the imagination of millions of fans…that is, unless the premise is true and none of this is real…

10. The Original Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes: IV, V, and VI)

While this trilogy, first produced by George Lucas in 1977, is technically three movies instead of one, it is difficult for any fan to decide which is best. All are certain to appear at the top of any listing of the most popular movies of all time. The epic story of good and evil, heroes and rogues, princesses and villains has been an inspiration to generations. Together the three films tell the story of a farm boy who takes up the mantle of a futuristic knight and fulfills his destiny to defeat a galactic empire. While the trilogy is best known for its story, it is also rife with special effects that were groundbreaking in their day and continue to hold their own almost 40 years later. The movies are also notable for spawning a wide fan base. A second trilogy was made, and a sequel trilogy is planned. Whether or not these other “Star Wars” trilogies are accepted by fans with the same zest as the original, they serve to further inflate the popularity of the original three movies.

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