Science fiction films have come a long way since 1902’s A Trip to the Moon. Various subgenres have faded in and out of popularity, but the genre itself has always been in high-demand. Now, a century later, there is a smorgasbord of science fiction films to choose from each year. This is especially true when you look at last year.
If you look at last year’s sci-fi releases, you’ll find a surprisingly varied combination of movies. Although they all fit in the grand umbrella of science fiction, each film approaches the genre in a different way. Some of the entries are epic in scale, while others are smaller. Some are concerned with scientific accuracy, while others just want to keep folks entertained.
This should be evident as you read the list below. In this list, you’ll find the ten best sci-fi movies of 2021. Some of the entries are grandiose blockbusters; others are high concept indie darlings. They are all, however, worthy of a recommendation.
10. Come True
Come True, like a lot of modern sci-fi movies, resembles an extra-long episode of Black Mirror. Technology is front-and-center, and it appears to be the primary cause of conflict. Fans of the well-regarded anthology series will find something worth watching here, but even if you’re not a fan of Charlie Brooker’s satirical sci-fi show, you might be on-board with this film’s more methodical method of storytelling.
The film focuses on a homeless young woman who participates in a sleep study in order to gain some financial security. Unfortunately, she gets in over her head when she realizes just how traumatic this sleep study turns out to be. The protagonist quickly encounters nightmarish visions as she struggles to distinguish fantasy from reality.
In spite of some pacing issues, Come True generally works because of strong visuals and even stronger performances. It’s reminiscent of several other indie sci-fi flicks, but it doesn’t feel like an all-out retread. There are great ideas here, and they deserve to be seen.
9. Free Guy
Shawn Levy has never been interested in creating groundbreaking arthouse masterpieces. Over the past two decades, he has done everything he can to create fun movies that won’t upset your grandparents. He hasn’t always succeeded, but at the very least, he knows what type of filmmaker he is. Free Guy is not a heady sci-fi drama like several other entries on this list. Instead, it’s a safe, often predictable, action comedy with a strong lead performance.
Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, the naive NPC who serves as the film’s protagonist. When the film begins, Guy is a background character in Free City, a popular video game developed by Soonami Studio. When Guy meets a mysterious player named Millie, he gets roped into helping her take the studio down.
It’s a surprisingly clever premise that’s executed remarkably well. The script is packed with video game references, fast-paced dialogue, and strong character development. This is all enhanced by Reynolds, who does an excellent job of bringing life to a lifeless character. The film doesn’t offer many surprises, but it is Shawn Levy doing what he does best, and that’s all we can ask for.
Outer space survival films are nothing new. Gravity, The Martian, Aniara, and Interstellar have all come and gone in the span of less than a decade. These releases prove that hard science fiction is as popular as it’s ever been. The aforementioned films are concerned with scientific accuracy rather than breakneck action, and surprisingly, critics and audiences have responded very positively to a large portion of these films.
Stowaway is another entry in this subgenre, and while it hasn’t performed quite as well, it’s hardly a misfire. On the contrary, it’s another solid survival film. The premise doesn’t break new ground, but Joe Penna’s deliberate direction should be enough to keep viewers engaged. It’s a tense survival story that only stumbles when it borrows too many ideas at once.
7. The Matrix Resurrections
It might be an understatement to claim that The Matrix Resurrections has polarized viewers. After nearly twenty years, Lana Wachowski decided to bring back the legendary series with a meta sequel that has enraged countless diehard fans. Although the detractors have been notably vocal, the latest entry in the series isn’t an outright trainwreck; it’s just different.
Wachowski refuses to revisit Neo in a conventional manner. The Matrix Resurrections is not a direct continuation of the previous entry; at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a sequel that constantly asks viewers to assess its purpose. Why do we need a legacy sequel? Why does any of this matter? This more analytical approach to storytelling works because it allows the film to distance itself from the numerous legacy sequels that solely rely on fan service.
Though the heavy themes and self-referential quips stand front and center, this is still a Matrix movie. Elaborate fight scenes and lavish visual effects are plentiful; they’re just more confined to the background.
This has, of course, frustrated fans of the series. Movies like Top Gun: Maverick and Ghostbusters: Afterlife make a serious attempt to please fans of the original movies, but The Matrix Resurrections isn’t all that interested in doing so. Although it certainly shares DNA with past entries, it is clearly its own movie. Viewers who are willing to accept that should, in theory, find something to appreciate; just make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Oxygen is a claustrophobic thriller akin to Buried and 127 Hours. Aside from some scattered flashbacks and hallucinations, the camera solely focuses on Elizabeth, the protagonist who finds herself trapped in a cryogenic chamber with no memories. This setup leads to two enormous conflicts: how can she escape and how can she regain her memories? Throughout the course of the film, viewers are tasked with putting the various pieces together in order to solve the overarching mysteries.
As breadcrumbs are laid out for viewers, Oxygen proves that it’s not as straightforward as it seems. While it’s never convoluted, it is more complex than a typical survival movie. The mystery never goes where you expect it to, and as a result, you’re left with a movie that challenges conventions in exciting ways.
Thank goodness for that. This could have been 100 minutes of a woman banging on the walls of her cryogenic chamber, but writer Christie LeBlanc seems uninterested in telling a bland story. The premise may sound familiar, but Oxygen never settles for predictability. It’s a movie that strives to surprise, and it generally succeeds.