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

5. Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, Arrival is based on the 1998 short story, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Arrival premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was well received both critically and commercially.

It grossed over $200 million against a budget of $47 million and was nominated for multiple awards. It received eight nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. Arrival was selected by the American Film Institute as one of the ten best films of 2016.

Whereas some sci-fi films may boast great visuals but lesser stories, Arrival has both in abundance. The thought-provoking and intelligent plot is bolstered by a brilliant lead performance from Amy Adams, whose softly spoken and understated performance gives the audience someone that they are highly invested in. And of course, excellent direction from Villeneuve means that Arrival more than deserves its place on this list.

Trivia: Director Villeneuve and writer Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual alien language, and the inky circular language was designed by artist Martine Bertrand.


4. Snowpiercer (2013)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho and co-written by Bong and Kelly Masterson, Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. Bong said that the project took four years to develop.

The film was Bong’s English language directorial debut, and around eighty percent of the film was shot in English. Snowpiercer is the most expensive Korean production of all time. It was made with a budget of $40 million, and earnt $87 million at the box office. Snowpiercer opened to universal acclaim – its success inspiring a television series of the same name to be ordered by Tomorrow Studios.

Snowpiercer stands out as a great sci-fi thriller just from its setting alone. Being set on a racing train that circumnavigates the icy wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world, makes it highly original and different to other films in the genre. Add in the brilliant production design, and Snowpiercer feels like a must see for fans of the genre.

Trivia: The train on set was more than five hundred metres long.


3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

A sequel to the 1982 film Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. It is set thirty years after the original, and sees Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos reprise their roles from the original film.

Blade Runner 2049 was released to a slew of positive reviews, but performed disappointingly at the box office, grossing $259 million worldwide against a budget of $185 million. The film received five nominations at the 90th Academy Awards and won for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

It is no surprise that Roger Deakins won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for this film, as Blade Runner 2049’s greatest strength is definitely its outstanding cinematography. Along with the sleek visuals and colour palette, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that looks astounding.

There was a danger that a sequel to the well-loved 1982 film would be a disappointment, and although Blade Runner 2049 may not have performed as well as expected as the box office, it is a film that should definitely be thought of when thinking of some of the best sci-fi thriller films of the twenty-first century.

Trivia: In order to portray the blind character of Niander Wallace, Jared Leto fitted himself with opaque contact lenses which completely obscured his vision.


2. Children of Men (2006)

Based on P.D James’ 1992 novel of the same name, the Children of Men screenplay was credited to five writers – Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby and Alfonso Cuaron who also directed the film. Children of Men had its premiere at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival.

Despite a limited release and poor box office earnings, $70 million against a $76 million budget, Children of Men received critical acclaim and was nominated for various awards, including being nominated for three Academy Awards.

One of the biggest strengths of Children of Men is the chillingly effective way that it feels so real – is this the future that mankind is heading for? With the film being set in the not so distant future, Children of Men feels not so much a dystopian fantasy but more of a warning. And with its excellent production design and cinematography, the film is both gripping and convincing.

Trivia: The car attack scene was a nightmare for director Cuaron to film because there were so many elements to get right. The take that the audience sees in the film was the last chance and the last take, due to location restrictions, and Cuaron actually yelled CUT in the middle of it when a splash of blood hit the camera lens. However, nobody heard him and so they kept shooting. And that was the take that ended up in the film.


1. Ex Machina (2014)

When writer and director Alex Garland was eleven, he owned a computer that he sometimes felt had a mind of its own. This thought was the first foundations of an idea that would later become Ex Machina. The film was Garland’s directorial debut and was released to critical acclaim. It won Best Visual Effects at the 88th Academy Awards, as well as a number of other awards. And it grossed $36 million against a budget of $15 million.

Ex Machina is an impressive film regardless but its smaller budget when compared to most sci-fi thrillers, makes it all the more impressive. Garland makes fantastic use of his location, in a predominantly one location film and makes the setting feel both futuristic and claustrophobic. The story is intelligent and though-provoking, and when paired with the overall look of the film, Ex Machina is a highly engaging and captivating film.

Trivia: The film was shot as live action, and all effects were added in post-production.