10. Metropolis (1927)
There are so many ground-breaking facets of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that would inspire the sci-fi genre in film it’s difficult to quantify. Between its enormous contribution to the overall visual stylization of science fiction on the screen, its dystopian vision of the future, innovative introduction an artificial life form, science fiction as a vehicle for larger social and political commentary, large scale of production, depiction of advanced vehicles, complex visual effects, and overall hyper-stylization, Metropolis has not just influenced science fiction but fashion and film in general. Often cited as one of the greatest movies ever made, Metropolis is more than just a science fiction movie but one of the most influential movies of all time.
9. Forbidden Planet (1956)
In the future, a spacecraft arrives at a distant planet, Altair IV, to investigate the fate of a group of scientists that were sent there decades ago. When they arrive, they discover two people: Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira, who was born on the planet. As they investigate the fate of the missing scientists, they uncover what happened on the planet and why there are only two survivors left. While many sci-fi films would go on to develop these elements further, Forbidden Planet was the first to detail them on-screen.
8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Dr. Miles Bennell begins to see a number of patients who claim their relatives have been replaced with identical imposters. While initially dismissing it as a sort of mass hysteria, people close to Bennell discover half-formed identical copies of themselves. Before he knows it, Bennell and the few around him that haven’t turned begin seeing large quantities of pods being transported and it’s revealed that alien plant spores have fallen from space that replicate human beings, assimilating their physical characteristics, memories, and personalities but lack emotion. The doctor attempts to stop the invasion as more and more people are turned into so-called 'pod people'.
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey cannot be underestimated. Revolutionizing the field of visual effects and realistically capturing the immensity of space, this vision of a future mesmerized audiences at the time of its release and continues to be recognized as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, if not one of the best films in history. The story is familiar enough to any film fan: Beginning at the dawn of man, who are shown struggling to survive in a harsh landscape, a large black monolith appears one morning which seems to give them the inspiration to use objects as tools–most notably as a weapon.
6. Star Wars (1977)
Attempting to paint on a similarly large canvas as 2001 but also centering on distinct, likable characters, the influence of Star Wars on the genre is similarly difficult to quantify. Although the backdrop is on an immense scale, involving a giant evil empire, spaceships, planet-hopping, and epic battles, the story is focused on a moisture farmer who learns of the mystical power of the force and becoming part of the rebels fighting against the Empire. The characterizations in Star Wars are just as influential as its world-building and groundbreaking visual effects: sci-fi films never before had such an ensemble that could be dramatic and comedic; that would clash with each other and develop complex relationships while the story pushed forward without a long stop-down for expository scenes.
5. Alien (1979)
Genre mixing is always a tricky proposition: when it works, like the mystery comedy or the surreal drama, dynamic films can be produced. With Alien, two of the darkest halves on the film spectrum–horror and sci-fi–melded to create an arresting masterpiece. Synopsizing many of these films seems redundant at this point: everybody knows what happens in these influential films. Alien broke ground as a sci-fi film on the surface with a horror film lurking underneath. Its depiction of realistic, even mundane, space travel–on a large cargo ship–stripped the concept of its 'specialness', placing it just above trucking as a generic method of transport. Its characters weren’t fantastic heroes but working stiffs that gripe about their upcoming bonuses.
4. Blade Runner (1982)
Directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner was a complex vision of the future that had never been seen before in cinema: in 2019, with the world in environmental collapse, technology has become both advanced and retrofitted to available machinery; a majority of the population lives in squalor while wealthier members of society are escaping into space. While we’re just two years off from the year the film is set in and our world isn’t in such an advanced state, it’s not difficult to envision 2050 looking like Los Angeles does in this movie. Blade Runner is a noir-ish detective story. In Blade Runner, the sci-fi genre was mashed into the noir detective story and played it straight: our protagonist isn’t flawless, this future is very flawed, and our 'monsters' are creatures of our own making that just want to live.
3. Back to the Future (1985)
Is there a more likable movie than Back to the Future? The visual effects are simply awesome and still hold up to this day while its specificity has made it iconic. Blending comedy with sci-fi and with a visual dynamic that aims squarely to please nearly everyone in pop culture, Back to the Future was yet another example of how sci-fi can be used to make wildly popular–if not iconic–films and whose influence on the genre continues to be felt as science fiction increasingly becomes funnier and aimed at a wide audience.
2. Akira (1988)
Akira put anime on the map in the West and revolutionized how audiences considered animated films from Japan. Hyper-violent, Akira details a future that’s both technologically advanced and gritty, where human nature clashes with supernatural and powerful forces that are outside of their control. Depicting scenes that would have been impossible to replicate in live-action, Akira opened the door to the potential of animation–not as a style meant for children but what it could depict when creating adult-oriented content. Akira revolutionized not just anime, but sci-fi as a whole and what it could depict on-screen.
1. The Matrix (1999)
The seismic shift in pop culture as a result of The Matrix is difficult to quantify. It seemed for years afterwards films and television shows were referencing this movie either in parody or as a homage; its highly original visual style was immediately adapted in sci-fi and action films; and its speculative story became a template for the kinds of stories sci-fi films could tell. Skipping the synopsis because it’s pointless, let’s talk about its influence. This codified and cemented the idea that a darker, grittier, and edgier style could be popular to mainstream audiences. It created the template for how complex, esoteric concepts could become popular. The Matrix did nothing less than catapult film and pop culture into the 21st century, one year before it began.