The 10 Best Sci-fi Thrillers of The 21st Century

Children of Men 2006

When it comes to films, the sci-fi genre is as infinite as space. And as in any other genre, sci-fi can be divided into many subgenres. One of those subgenres is thriller, and there are numerous films that can be classed as sci-fi thrillers. But when it comes to a sci-fi thriller, what is it about a film that raises it above others in its subgenre?

Obviously all films are subjective, and audiences may differ on their opinion on what makes a great film. But in general a great sci-fi thriller looks to have amazing visuals, a suspenseful and thrilling story, and a concept or ideas with a strong basis in science fiction that capture the audiences’ imagination.

The following films are examples of great sci-fi thrillers, and in particular great sci-fi thrillers from the twenty-first century.


10. Gravity (2013)


Gravity was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his son Jonas. Gravity opened the 70th Venice International Film Festival before having its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. Gravity went on to win numerous awards and is considered one of the best films of 2013. At the 86th Academy Awards, Gravity was nominated for ten awards. It won seven awards, including Best Director for Cuaron. Gravity grossed just over $723 million against a budget of $100 million.

Boasting amazing special effects, Gravity is not just a film but a cinematic experience. The shimmering blues and greens of Earth are set against the black vastness of Space, and throughout the film Cuaron’s visuals pull you in and keep you engaged. The gripping tension and edge of your seat action means that Gravity plays as both a thrilling and awe-inspiring sci-fi film.

Trivia: Every part of the film, except the ending, was filmed on a green screen.


9. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is based on a screenplay adapted from the 2004 Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The film, which was directed by Doug Liman, was originally called All You Need is Kill. However, Warner Bros. changed the title to Edge of Tomorrow, citing that using the word ‘kill’ in the title had too many negative connotations. Liman wanted to name the film Live, Die, Repeat, but Warner Bros. decided to use that as the tagline instead. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $370 million against a $178 million budget.

Tom Cruise has become known as an action star, and in Edge of Tomorrow he is at his best. The time loop element gives Edge of Tomorrow (excuse the following pun) an edge in a jam-packed genre and makes for an engaging and thrilling ride of a film. Edge of Tomorrow is also massively entertaining and a breath of fresh air in the sci-fi thriller genre.

Trivia: Although the film managed to turn a profit worldwide, it was considered a box office failure in the U.S. Because of this, the marketing strategy was changed for the DVD release. The film’s tagline was emphasised heavily with Edge of Tomorrow in much smaller letters underneath. As a result of this packaging, it gives the illusion that the film’s title is Live, Die, Repeat, which has led to many people believing that that is the real title.


8. Chronicle (2012)


Directed by Josh Trank and based on a story by Trank and writer Max Landis, Chronicle is a found footage film. The film premiered at the Gerardmer Film Festival and grossed over $126 million against a budget of $12 million. Chronicle was nominated for Best science fiction film at the 39th Saturn Awards.

Found footage has almost become a genre in itself and some may argue a slightly tired genre, but Chronicle’s use of found footage feels really original and unique. The premise is simple, but incredibly effective and the three central performances are excellent. Chronicle keeps the audience guessing, you may think that you know what is going to happen but a stunning finale blows all expectations out of the water. On a list of the best sci-fi thrillers of the twenty-first century, Chronicle may seem somewhat of an underdog. But Chronicle is a worthwhile addition to the sci-fi thriller genre and certainly worthy of recognition.

Trivia: The film has no original score, and only uses sources such as radios and iPods to generate music.


7. Inception (2010)

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception was first presented to Warner Bros. in 2002 by Nolan who envisioned making a horror film about dream stealers. It was met with approval from the studio; however it was not yet written and was only a treatment.

Nolan decided to go away and work on the script, which ultimately took eight years. Inception was well received both critically and commercially. It grossed over $820 million at the worldwide box office and won numerous accolades, including four Academy Awards.

With physics defying visuals that are breathtakingly brilliant, and a story that is imaginative and complex, Inception is one of Nolan’s best films. The film’s use of unique visuals, such as the folding architecture, has seen Inception become iconic as a sci-fi film. And as such, Inception is definitely one of the best sci-fi thrillers of the twenty-first century.

Trivia: Television broadcasts of the film in Japan include text in the upper left hand corner of the screen to remind viewers which level of a dream that the scene is taking place in.


6. Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002)

Loosely based on the 1956 short story The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen. Minority Report was both a critical and commercial success. It earnt over $358 million against a budget of $142 million and was one the 2002’s best reviewed films. It was also nominated for various awards, including an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

With both a stunning premise and big action sequences, Minority Report is a visceral, adrenaline packed and high concept sci-fi thriller. The combination of thrills, suspense and action make it one of Spielberg’s most visually pleasing and entertaining films. And unlike a lot of other films in the genre, you will be left thinking over the ideas played out long after the credits have rolled.

Trivia: When John Anderton visits the jail, the confirmation sound of the retina scanner is the sound that Apple now uses as the charging sound.