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What are Some of the Most Popular Science Fiction Films Ever Made?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Determining the most popular science fiction films is a matter of some debate. Analysts can look at the “numbers” and see which science fiction films have made the most money. Unfortunately, not all sci fi films that make money are considered “the best” by legions of fans. For example, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, both made more money than the original Star Wars. If you look at lists of “best science fiction films,” The original Star Wars always ranks as a far better film, and many critics have panned the second trilogy of Star Wars movies.

Another example would be the second Matrix film, which had a higher box office performance than the original Matrix movie. Again, the first film is often considered far superior to its sequels. Further, science fiction films that were made earlier than the 1970s made less money, but many critics and fans consider them to be essential viewing.

Thus the matter of determining the most popular science fiction films is a highly subjective one. What you can look at is the frequency in which the films occur on listings by critics, in hope of finding some of the “best” to view, or review. This and, of course, personal taste, can help the individual determine the most popular science fiction films.

In no particular order, these science fiction films tend to show up on a number of “best” lists:

  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • The Matrix
  • The War of The Worlds (1950s version)
  • Metropolis
  • Terminator 2
  • E.T.
  • Gattaca
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Some people also incorporate horror films or monster movies into the science fiction genre. Popular films still considered “science fiction” under this category would include The Thing directed by John Carpenter, Jurassic Park, the 1931 Frankenstein, and the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Others feel monster films and horror films with elements of science fiction films deserve their own genre.

A critical minority would also like to include science fiction television series in their lists of most popular. Clearly, the first and second Star Trek series, the X-files, the recent 4400 and Smallville represent some standout science fiction work. Others praise Babylon 5 and the series Jericho, not to mention Lost as excellent science fiction. They are not films, though, so they do not make the list of most popular science fiction films. For science fiction fans, many of these series are just as fun as popular science fiction movies.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By christensen — On Oct 30, 2011

Mor, I agree completely with Serenity. Loved that film, but also loved the series. Just about anything Whedon touches is golden. I'll be interested to see what he does with the Avengers, and of course he just wrapped a Shakespeare movie too.

By irontoenail — On Oct 29, 2011

@Umbra21 - I know what you mean. There have been a few movies that are quite popular that are considered science fiction, that I really think should maybe be considered drama because that is the main focus, and the science is only a means to an end.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind springs to mind. That one is really popular as well, a lot of people I know consider it to be one of their favorites.

Another Earth is one I saw recently that I would put into this category. Although the background has science fiction concepts, most of the movie doesn't really explore them at all.

And then there's Never Let Me Go, which was ostentatiously a science fiction movie, but really was just a way of exploring issues about death. The science fiction aspect seemed kind of tacked on. But, it was a very popular film, particularly among those who don't like science fiction.

By umbra21 — On Oct 28, 2011

@Mor - As the article refers to the "recent Smallville" series, I think it might be before Serenity's time.

Personally I've always wondered where one would draw the line when it comes to what can be defined as science fiction.

I mean, when you come down to it, The Rocky Horror Picture Show had aliens in it as well as science experiments and so forth. Does that make it science fiction? I think most people wouldn't think of it that way.

There have also been some comic book films which I think would really blur the lines, particularly the ones which are reliant on gadgets rather than "magic" for the superhero powers.

Iron Man for example. If it wasn't about a "super hero", but just a man in a robot suit, I think people wouldn't hesitate to put it in science fiction.

I think it can be a difficult thing to define.

By Mor — On Oct 28, 2011

That's funny. The film I always see at the top of any "the best science fiction films" list is the film Serenity.

I know that it probably can't come close to competing with Star Wars in terms of numbers, but I would have thought it could beat some of the others on that list. Particularly Gattaca (which is also a great movie!).

I can, however, see that movies like E.T. are always going to be more popular than the "harder" science fiction movies, or even the space operas, just because they can appeal to people who don't generally like science fiction.

And Serenity did have a rather rabid fan base to begin with. And you kind of have to see the series in order to really understand it.

But a lot of critics will freely call it their favorite science fiction and I think it can appeal to people who don't like the genre.

If you haven't seen it, you should check it out.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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