‘Avatar’ To ‘Inception’: The Most Gripping Sci-Fi Movies Of All Time

Best sci-fi movies of all time avatar
Best sci-fi movies of all time avatar

Still reeling from the glorious spectacle that was Avatar: The Way of Water (aka Avatar 2)? You’re not alone — we can’t stop thinking of the movie’s amazing cinematography. Films like Avatar 2, which is from the sci-fi genre, are all about a futuristic world, space travel and everything in between. Such is the magnitude of their depiction that some of the most advanced technology and fantastical worlds in these movies seem real. It is also a genre that encompasses several others, including action, comedy, fantasy and noir. This calls for a look back on some of the best sci-fi movies of all time.

Sci-fi is about the immediacy of discovery and the immensity of ideas where time travel, aliens, robots, extraterrestrial life and delicately articulated concerns about the existence of mankind within the wide cosmic vacuum become common elements. Science-fiction films have been a mainstay of the entertainment industry, thanks to our interest in knowing what is in store for the future.

These movies not only transform and broaden our imagination but are also based on never-thought-of-before concepts and have gripping storylines that keep us hooked. Movies like Jurassic Park, Gravity, Inception, Interstellar, Avatar and Dune have grabbed people’s attention and scored at the box office over the years as well.


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Highest-grossing sci-fi films

The highest-grossing film to date is Avatar (2009) with a lifetime gross of USD 2.9 billion. It is followed by Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) at #4 and Jurassic World (2015) at #7, grossing USD 2.06 billion and USD 1.6 billion, respectively.

Other sci-fi films that made it big at the box office include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) grossing 1.05 billion and Gravity (2013) with USD 723 million.

These movies demonstrate how popular the genre remains with viewers. Science fiction has, if anything, gained more relevance as technology has grown and our lives have been more closely tied to it.


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If you loved Avatar 2, check out these best sci-fi movies of all time

1 /21

Inception (2010)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, Elliot Page as Ariadne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Ken Watanabe as Saito, Tom Hardy as Eames

Synopsis: The paradoxical duty of instilling an idea into the head of a C.E.O. is handed to a burglar, Dom, who steals corporate secrets via dream-sharing technology. However, his dark past could doom the endeavour and lead his team to failure.

(Image Credit: Stephen Vaughan – © 2010 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./IMDb)

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2 /21

Terminator (1984)

Directed by: James Cameron

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, Paul Winfield as Traxler, Lance Henriksen as Vukovich

Synopsis: The invincible cyborg-assassin known as The Terminator starts his merciless mission to kill humankind’s most significant woman — the unsuspecting Sarah Connor, after being sent back to 1984 Los Angeles from a dystopian 2029. Kyle, a courageous member of the human Resistance Army, emerges from the same post-apocalyptic future that is torn by conflict and is determined to stop the cybernetic killer from destroying the world’s final chance.

About the franchise: The Terminator includes movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019).

(Image Credit: © 1984 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc/IMDb)


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3 /21

Children of Men (2006)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: Julianne Moore as Julian, Clive Owen as Theo Faron, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke, Michael Caine as Jasper

Synopsis: The sci-fi movie is set in dystopian London of 2027 where the civilization is on the verge of extinction, as humans have been unable to reproduce for 18 years for an unknown reason. Theo, a former activist, discovers a pregnant woman and assists her to a refuge at sea.

(Image Credit: Children of Men/IMDb)

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4 /21

Stalker (1979)

Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky

Cast: Alisa Freyndlikh as Zhena Stalkera, Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy as Stalker, Anatoliy Solonitsyn as Pisatel, Nikolay Grinko as Professor

Synopsis: An area called the Zone in an unidentified nation is believed to grant people’s wishes. However, it has been sealed off by the government. Reaching this place becomes the goal for both a professor and a writer, and the man who serves as their guide, known as a stalker, has a specific connection to the Zone.

(Image Credit: Stalker/IMDb)

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Jurassic Park (1993)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill as Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, Richard Attenborough as John Hammond

Synopsis: Palaeontologists Alan and Ellie along with mathematician Ian are among a select few invited by John to tour an almost-complete island theme park populated by cloned dinosaurs. However, a power failure leads the dinosaurs out of their enclosed spaces. As they prowl the region, Alan and Ellie try to save themselves and John’s grandchildren. 

About the franchise: Other movies in the Jurassic Park franchise include Jurassic World (2015), The Lost world: Jurassic Park (1997), Jurassic Park III (2001), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) and Jurassic World Dominion (2022). They follow a similar storyline as the first film.

(Image Credit: Jurassic Park (1993)/IMDb)

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6 /21

12 Monkeys (1995)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Cast: Bruce Willis as James Cole, Madeleine Stowe as Kathryn Railly, Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines, Jon Seda as Jose

Synopsis: In order to learn more about the man-made virus that killed the majority of the world’s population, criminal and state prisoner James from the year 2035 is sent back in time to the 1990s. As James investigates the mystery, he begins to hear voices, gets disoriented and questions his own sanity.

(Image Credit: 12 Monkey/ IMDb)

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7 /21

Arrival (2016)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams as Louise Banks, Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern

Synopsis: When enormous spacecrafts touch down at 12 different locations around the world, linguistics professor Louise is in charge of an exclusive group of investigators. As the world teeters on the brink of conflict, Louise and her crew are in a race against time to figure out how to get in touch with the extraterrestrial visitors. However, she takes a risk that could endanger her life and possibly the survival of all humanity.

(Image Credit: Jan Thijs – © 2016 Paramount Pictures/IMDb)

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8 /21

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary, François Truffaut as Claude Lacombe, Teri Garr as Ronnie Neary, Melinda Dillon as Jillian Guiler, Bob Balaban as David Laughlin, J. Patrick McNamara as Project Leader, Roberts Blossom as Farmer

Synopsis: The film follows a group of people who try to contact aliens. Things take a wrong turn when Roy witnesses an unidentified flying object, which happens to be a UFO, but refuses to accept it. He sets on a pursuit of the truth behind UFOs.

(Image Credit: Close Encounter of the Third Kind/IMDb)

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9 /21

Looper (2012)

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, Emily Blunt as Sara, Paul Dano as Seth, Bruce Willis as Old Joe, Tracie Thoms as Beatrix

Synopsis: Set in 2044, the film resolves around time travel being a luxury rather than a common occurrence which has a cost associated with it. Joe works as a hired gunman who is employed by the mob, which sends men from the future into the past to be killed. But things take a different turn when an older Joe is sent to the past to be assassinated by his younger self.

(Image Credit: Alan Markfield – © 2011 – Looper, LLC/IMDb)

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed by: Michel Gondry

Cast: Jim Carrey as Joel Barish, Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski, Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Mierzwiak, Gerry Robert Byrne as Train Conductor

Synopsis: When their love falters, a couple has a medical procedure done to permanently remove each other from their memory. Joel goes to great lengths, including undergoing a complex medical treatment, to repay the love of his life in the same coin.

(Image Credit: Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind/IMDb)

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11 /21

Interstellar (2014)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, Jessica Chastain as Murph, Anne Hathaway as Brand, John Lithgow as Donald

Synopsis: Future calamities, famines and droughts have plagued Earth. Interstellar travel is the sole means of ensuring the existence of humanity, which Professor Brand has been working on. He sends a former NASA pilot Cooper with a group of astronauts to explore new planets that could support human life through a recently found wormhole in the outer limits of our solar system.

(Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation/IMDb)

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12 /21

Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón 

Cast: Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, George Clooney as Matt Kowalski

Synopsis: Along with seasoned astronaut Kowalski, the sci-fi film follows Dr. Stone, who is travelling to space for the first time. The latter is entrusted with repairing and updating Hubble’s hardware on her maiden space voyage. However, neither Kowalski nor Dr. Stone was aware of the danger they would be in after an accident leaves them trapped in space. Will they survive and make it back to Earth?

(Image Credit: Warner Bros. Picture – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc/ IMDb)

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The Martian (2015)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon as Mark Watney, Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis, Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders

Synopsis: After his crew mistakenly believes he is dead, an astronaut is left stranded on Mars and has to use his expertise to find a way to contact Earth to be rescued. While his crewmates plan a risky, if not impossible, rescue attempt, NASA and a group of international scientists labour diligently to bring ‘the Martian’ home. The world unites as these tales of extraordinary bravery are told to hope for Mark’s safe return.

(Image Credit: Aidan Monaghan – © TM &2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/IMDb)

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14 /21

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton, Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi, Ryan Gosling as ‘K’

Synopsis: A neo-noir film that centres on LAPD Officer K, a blade runner who unearths a secret with the potential to wreak major havoc. This hidden secret prompts him to find Rick, a former Blade Runner after thirty years of him being missing.

About the franchise: Blade Runner is an American neo-noir science fiction franchise and include other films and series like Blade Runner (1982), Blade Runner: Black Lotus (2021- ), 2036: Nexus Dawn (2017) and 2048: Nowhere to Run (2017).

(Image Credit: Photo by Stephen Vaughan – © 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC./IMDb)

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15 /21

Avatar (2009)

Directed by: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine, Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacón, Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri, Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch

Synopsis: When sent to Pandora on a special mission, a paraplegic Marine is forced to choose between carrying out his orders and defending the world he considers to be his own. He develops feelings for one of the Na’vi women, Neytiri, while serving as a Avatar, a human mind housed in an alien body. Jake struggles with whether he should obey his superiors’ directives or defend Pandora and its native population.

(Image Credit: © 2007 Twentieth Century Fox/IMDb)

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Under the Skin (2013)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Cast: Scarlett Johansson as The Female, Jeremy McWilliams as The Bad Man, Lynsey Taylor Mackay as The Dead Woman

Synopsis: A young woman who prowls the streets of Scotland in pursuit of human prey is actually an alien inhabiting a human body. She lures her abandoned and lonely men into an ethereal realm where they are undressed and eaten.

(Image Credit: Under the Skin/IMDb)

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A.I: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Haley Joel Osment as David, Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, Frances O’Connor as Monica Swinton, Sam Robards as Henry Swinton, Jake Thomas as Martin Swinton

Synopsis: A robotics company creates David, a highly advanced robotic boy who begins to show actual emotions, especially for Monica, his human mother. He was given to Monica as a replacement for her own kid, who is still in cryo-stasis after being diagnosed with an incurable illness. The story follows David as he tries to become her ‘real’ son.

(Image Credit: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence/IMDb)

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Alan Tudyk as K-2SO, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe

Synopsis: With the discovery of a brand-new superweapon, the Death Star, everything appears doomed for the Rebellion against the Empire. The Rebel Alliance is forced to go on a desperate quest to steal the Death Star’s blueprints. Now its success will determine the fate of the entire cosmos.

About the franchise: A huge film and television series franchise, Star Wars has produced several works. George Lucas, who was the director of several of the Star Wars movies, created the universe. The ‘Skywalker saga,’ the anthology films, and at least six more Star Wars series, including three excellent animated shows, are a must watch.

(Image Credit: Rogue One: A Star War Story/IMDb)


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Annihilation (2018)

Directed by: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman as Lena, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress, Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek, Benedict Wong as Lomax

Synopsis: After biologist and former soldier Lena’s spouse goes missing in Area X, she joins a mission that takes her into the region across the American coastline to find out what happened to him there. Upon entering Area X, Lena and the expedition crew find mutated creatures and landscapes that are dangerous and beautiful at the same time.

(Image Credit: Peter Mountain – © 2018 Paramount Pictures/IMDb)

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20 /21

Dune (2021)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides, Zendaya as Chani, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides and Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho

Synopsis: A great sci-fi film, it follows the story of a mythical and profoundly moving protagonist Paul who protects his family and his people’s future by visiting the most hazardous planet in the cosmos.

About the film: To sci-fi fans’ delight, a sequel to this movie is expected to premiere in 2023 with mostly the same primary cast.

(Image Credit: Dune/IMDb)

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The Adam Project (2022)

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam, Walker Scobell as Young Adam, Mark Ruffalo as Louis Reed, Jennifer Garner as Ellie Reed, Catherine Keener as Maya Sorian

Synopsis: A grown-up Adam is a time traveller and fighter pilot who doesn’t realise the danger he will face when he takes a time jet to return to 2018 from a dystopian 2050 to save his wife. However, he accidentally crash-lands in 2022 and meets his 12-year-old self with whom he teams up to start a new expedition.

(Image Credit: The Adam Project/IMDb)

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