The decade is coming to a close, which means we’ll be getting lists on top of lists on top of lists, but why should we complain about that? That just means that critics will metaphorically throw countless film recommendations at eager movie lovers. Not every recommendation will enthuse every reader, but that just gives commenters something to debate about, so maybe it’s best to look on the bright side.
This list is one of several that will discuss the best movies of the decade. This particular list will focus on the greatest science fiction films to come around between 2010 and 2019. Aside from release year, the criteria is relatively lax. As a result, there should be a little something for everybody here.
Of course, there’s a solid chance that a reader’s favorite won’t be included, but keep in mind that this decade was filled to the brim with modern sci-fi classics. We’ve narrowed it down to twenty, which means that possible fan favorites could have barely missed the cut. Before the pitchforks come out, be aware that the decision-making process was tough. It was painful to cut things like Coherence, Upstream Color, and Predestination, but it had to be done.
Dredd’s path to success is well-documented. Following a less-than-stellar theatrical release, this 2012 reboot eventually found its sea legs when it became a cult classic. Its status as a box office flop is unfortunate, but its ability to bounce back in the face of adversity overshadows any and all negativity. This underdog story is important to this particular article because it helps show the amount of well-deserved love people have for a movie that initially fell flat on its face.
Word-of-mouth wouldn’t have spread so rapidly if Dredd didn’t deserve the acclaim. This is a stellar movie that easily erases the horrible memory of the embarrassing Sylvester Stallone adaptation. Although the overwhelming levels of camp have been removed, this latest take on the source material more than makes up for that with stylish action and enough grit to make Tarantino blush. For fans of the genre, it’s an essential viewing experience.
We should have known we were in for something special when Upgrade was labelled a “cyberpunk action body horror” film. Seriously, if that isn’t a recipe for success, what is? Jokes aside, this genre-blending work of art is a trashy slice of grindhouse fun that continuously ups the ante until its blood-soaked finale.
It’s especially refreshing to see a movie that completely ignores the recent obsession with hard sci-fi. Directors have become so concerned with creating the most scientifically accurate movie, and who can blame them? Those movies do incredible well when it comes to awards season, but Upgrade doesn’t seem to care about awards. It wants to entertain, and it does a marvelous job.
Gravity is one of the best reviewed movies of the decade, but your enjoyment mostly depends on your ability to appreciate the stellar technical achievements in light of a simplistic narrative. Like Avatar, Cuarón’s reliance on special effects led many viewers to believe that the end product was hollow. It’s universally considered a technical masterpiece, but that unfortunately doesn’t make it a storytelling masterpiece.
To some degree, these complaints are warranted. Gravity’s story is not going to blow anyone’s mind, but that’s not the intention. This is a simple survival story pieced together with breathtaking visuals and earth-shattering sound design. The actual plot isn’t as ambitious as it could be, but Cuarón’s ambitions lie elsewhere.
He takes a run-of-the-mill premise and elevates it by presenting it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The visual effects are still a sight to behold today, and while new viewers likely won’t be able to catch it on the big screen where it belongs, there’s still a lot to appreciate. It’s just important to understand what kind of experience you’re going into beforehand.
17. Edge of Tomorrow
Following a few duds in his directorial career, Doug Liman came back with a bang. Edge of Tomorrow is the sci-fi Groundhog Day we didn’t know we needed. With skilled direction and a likable cast, it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of effort put into this project.
To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of appreciation following the North American release, but international audiences helped Edge of Tomorrow succeed at the box office and become the hit it needed to be. It needed to be a hit because it basically had “sequel” written all over it. With a confirmed sequel on the horizon, it’s time to pray for something that approaches the same quality. We’re hoping to include Live Die Repeat and Repeat on the next list in ten years.
16. The Endless
At this point, Taste of Cinema has talked about The Endless ad nauseam. As a result, frequent readers may have heard it all before, but everyone else needs to understand what makes this indie darling so special.
Basically, The Endless is a pseudo-sequel to an independent horror film titled Resolution. Though not a direct sequel, this film builds upon everything created in its predecessor, and that’s why it shines so brightly. Co-directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson clearly know a thing or two about worldbuilding. They didn’t need a massive budget to tell their story. In fact, the pair of filmmakers make the most out of what appears to be a shoestring budget.
It’s astounding that the worldbuilding is only one small piece of the puzzle. The Endless isn’t defined by this one aspect; it’s just enhanced by it. In reality, there are innumerable examples of filmmaking brilliance on display. This is clearly the product of two talented filmmakers. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.
15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Prior to the release of Rise of the Plenty of the Apes, there was a collective shrug whenever a new movie in the series was announced. The older sequels soured the experience, and then Tim Burton’s remake came along and scared just about everyone away from the massive franchise. Then, miraculously, some no-name director came in and repaired all the damage. This reboot helped kickstart a trilogy that took his ideas and improved upon them.
A lot of praise was directed at Wyatt’s rebooted Planet of the Apes, but the sequel really set things in motion. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a rare breed of blockbuster filmmaking that challenges viewers expectations while simultaneously keeping them glued to their seats until the very end. Defying expectations is one thing, but blowing people away is another. Matt Reeves delivered an unforgettable sequel that was more than capable of blowing people away.
Although Nolan’s diehard fans may disagree, Interstellar is not quite this century’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is, however, a damn good movie in its own right. The flattering albeit untrue comparison makes it so that people have all kinds of differing expectations. Yes, there are some parallels between the two films, but Interstellar is its own beast.
With that small rant out of the way, let’s get to the actual discussion. Christopher Nolan proves time and time again that he loves to challenge himself, and this is no exception. Interstellar is a film that’s ambitious to a fault. In fact, it has a tendency to collapse under the weight of its own ambitions, but there’s a giant asterisk attached to that criticism.
The thing is, most viewers are going to be perfectly okay with the flaws because the emotional highs make the overall experience worth it. Plot holes be damned! Jessica Chastain didn’t act her ass off just so people could complain about scientific accuracy.
This response is of course hyperbolic and filled with logical fallacies. Movies like Interstellar shouldn’t be immune to criticism. The complaints are perfectly valid. Let’s be real; they will be deal breakers for certain viewers. At the same time, the overwhelmingly positive response is equally valid. Regardless of the issues, Nolan created something special here.
Before he became the internet’s favorite punching bag, Rian Johnson was just a budding director trying to make a name for himself. Back in 2012, he certainly had the critics in the bag, but casual filmgoers were a different story. His previous efforts earned him acclaim, but they also failed to sell tickets. The same can’t be said about Looper.
While Looper didn’t set the world on fire, it did surprisingly well for a modestly budgeted R-rated movie with no ties to an existing property. Movies like this are a tough sell, especially during the decade of remakes, reboots, and sequels. Johnson and company faced an uphill battle, but strong word-of-mouth and skilled marketing helped them in the long run.
This acclaim is well-deserved. Two solid movies later, Looper remains a highlight in Johnson’s filmography. It’s admirable to see a film that feels so fresh, especially when it seems like fewer directors are willing to take risks. In this case, the risks paid off big time.
12. The Martian
The early 2010s were not particularly kind to Ridley Scott. The man who gave us Alien and Blade Runner was seriously struggling following multiple critical mishaps. This is especially true when you look at the back-to-back releases of The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Say what you will about Prometheus, but those two films were borderline inexcusable. Fortunately, Scott ended up redeeming himself with the release of The Martian.
The film works so well because it’s a straightforward crowd pleaser that does more than enough to differentiate itself from any form of competition. Although it doesn’t experiment to the same degree as several other entries on this list, it offers something else: pure popcorn entertainment. Drew Goddard’s heartfelt script works in conjunction with Scott’s confident direction and Damon’s charismatic performance. Put simply, everything is in sync.
You have to admire Alex Garland for refusing to take the easy way out for his sophomore effort. He could have played it safe by directing something simple, but that wasn’t his cup of tea. Instead, we got something that openly disrupts the status quo. It laughs in the face of Hollywood conventions because it wants to challenge viewers, and it succeeds.
By tackling complex subjects like grief and humanity, Annihilation allows itself to stand out in a crowded genre. To add to that, these topics are addressed in ways that feel refreshing. Plenty of films have attempted to make bold statements about the aforementioned motifs, but none of them do it like Garland. The arthouse leanings are bound to alienate certain viewers, but they feel necessary in the long run.
See, without the bolder, more experimental aspects, Annihilation would feel empty. It works because it joyfully defies expectations. Don’t let the simple premise fool you; this is the type of movie that will floor you. Just make sure you’re on board for a little experimentation.