The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies on HBO Max Right Now

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The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies on HBO Max Right Now

The first thing one notices, looking at the sci-fi genre as it exists on HBO Max, is that there’s an unusual level of genuine curation involved here. The overall scope of the service might not be quite as broad as something like Netflix, but you’re likely to have heard of far more of these films. That’s because unlike the catalog of Netflix, Hulu or (especially) Amazon Prime, the bulk of the selections here aren’t made up of modern, straight-to-VOD, zero-budget productions with vague, one-word titles. Rather, almost everything here received a wide release at some point.

That makes for an interesting sci-fi library indeed, one that balances total schlock with acclaimed works by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick. There are alien classics here, and sentient robots, and plenty of action and horror crossovers as well.

In fact, of all the major streamers, HBO Max likely has the library most focused on what you’d call older “classics,” rather than newer releases—fine with us, considering that segment tends to be less well represented.

You may also want to consult the following, sci-fi centric lists:

The 100 best sci-fi movies of all time
The 100 best sci-fi TV shows of all time
The best sci-fi movies on Netflix
The best sci-fi movies on Amazon Prime

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-space-odyssey-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain, William Sylvester
Rating: G
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick told the story of everything—of life, of the universe, of pain and loss and the way reality and time changes as we, these insignificant voyagers, sail through it all, attempting to change it all, unsure if we’ve changed anything. Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (whose novel, conceived alongside the screenplay, saw release not long after the film’s premiere), 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with the origins of the human race and ends with the dawn of whatever comes after us—spinning above our planet, god-like, a seemingly all-knowing, hopefully benevolent fifth-dimensional space fetus—spanning countless light years and millennia between. And yet, despite its ambitious leaps and barely comprehensible scope, every lofty symbolic gesture Kubrick matches with a moment of intimate humanity: the sadness of a mighty intellect’s death; the shock of cold-blooded murder; the minutiae and boredom of keeping our bodies functioning on a daily basis; the struggle and awe of encountering something we can’t explain; the unspoken need to survive, never questioned because it will never be answered. So much more than a speculative document about the human race colonizing the Solar System, 2001 asks why we do what we do—why, against so many oppositional forces, seen and otherwise, do we push outward, past the fringes of all that we know, all that we ever need to know? Amidst long shots of bodies sifting through space, of vessels and cosmonauts floating silently through the unknown, Kubrick finds grace—aided, of course, by an epic classical soundtrack we today can’t extricate from Kubrick’s indelible images—and in grace he finds purpose: If we can transcend our terrestrial roots with curiosity and fearlessness, then we should. Because we can. That the end of Kubrick’s odyssey returns us to the beginning only reaffirms that purpose: We are, and have always been, the navigators of our destiny. —Dom Sinacola

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

mad-max-fury-road.jpg Year: 2015
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Three decades since we last visited George Miller’s arid, dystopian world, the latest installment stars Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky with Charlize Theron as his co-lead—a casting coup. But the long wait had Miller swinging for the fences. Try naming a modern blockbuster that has as much chutzpah as Mad Max: Fury Road. You can’t, because there isn’t one. This is what happens when you lay out all your crazy on the screen at once: glorious, crackling entertainment. Every single dollar of its reported $150 million budget is in the frame at all times, but Miller is so unpretentious that you won’t catch the price tag. Real people cruise in real vehicles across real expanses of desert. When the film does lean on computers, it’s to fill in the margins or summon the occasional dust storm. Miller defines his aesthetic through physical texture, tells story through action, and shows no interest in the routine of contemporary Hollywood spectacle. What’s more, Mad Max: Fury Road is an inclusive effort that invites us to join its heroes in breaking down gender dichotomies. George Miller has made a phenomenal action film with a righteous cause, a movie that layers smart commentary atop jaw-dropping set pieces. May he ride eternal, shiny and chrome.—Andy Crump

3. Blade Runner

blade-runner-poster-inset.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edgar James Olmos
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Just as The Road Warrior set the look and tone for countless post-apocalyptic cinema-scapes to follow, so too did the world of Ridley Scott’s dingy, wet and overcrowded Blade Runner set the standard for the depiction of pre-apocalyptic dystopias. But he also had Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and a cast of actors who all bring this Philip K. Dick-inspired tale of a replicant-retiring policeman to gritty, believable life. Beneath the film’s impressive set design and inspired performances lies a compelling meditation on the lurking loneliness of the human (and, perhaps, inhuman) condition that continues to resonate (and trigger new creations, like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049) to this day. —Michael Burgin

4. Blade Runner 2049

blade-runner-2049-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
Rating: R
Runtime: 163 minutes

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The debate between what makes something “real” or not has become a staple of adult-minded sci-fi fare in the three-plus decades since Ridley Scott made one genre masterpiece after another dithering over the same debate, but the strength of Blade Runner 2049 is in how intimately Villeneuve (and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green) attempt to have us experience this world through the unreal eyes of a Replicant, K (Ryan Gosling). Ideally, we are forced to think about what “humanity” is when empathy—caring for these robots—is the natural result of the filmmakers’ storytelling.

Blade Runner 2049, then, is undoubtedly the most gorgeous thing to come out of a major studio in some time. Roger Deakins has inculcated Jordan Cronenweth’s lived-in sense of a future on the brink of obsolescence, leaning into the overpowering unease that permeates the monolithic Los Angeles Ridley Scott built. The scale of the film is only matched by the constant dread of obscurity—illumination shifts endlessly, dust and smog both magnifying and drowning the sense-shattering corporate edifices and hyper-stylized rooms in which humanity retreats from the moribund natural world they’ve created. There is a massive world, a solar system, orbiting this wretched city—so overblown that San Diego is now a literal giant dump for New L.A.’s garbage—but so much of it lies in shadow and opacity, forever out of reach. What Scott and Cronenweth accomplished with the original film, placing a potboiler within a magnificently conceived alternative reality, Villeneuve and Deakins have respected as they prod at its boundaries. There’s no other way to describe what they’ve done other than to offer faint praise: They get it. —Dom Sinacola

5. A Clockwork Orange

clockworkposter.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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As with most (well, probably all) of Stanley Kubric’s book-to-screen adaptations, A Clockwork Orange remixes several aspects from Anthony Burgess’s novel, and probably for the better (at least Alex [a terrifyingly electric Malcolm McDowell] isn’t a pedophile in Kubrick’s film, for example). It’s still a relentlessly vicious satire portraying a society permissive of brutal youth culture, one where modern science and psychology are the best countermeasures in combating the Ultra Violence™ that men like Alex and his fellow “droogs” commit. It’s painfully clear that when Alex is cast as a victim by the British Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) that—spoiler alert!—evil wins. Christ, can any of us ever hear ”Singing in the Rain” the same again after this nightmare? —Scott Wold

6. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget.

As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola

7. Solyaris

solaris-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Rating: PG
Runtime: 168 minutes

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In 2002, Steven Soderbergh adapted Stanislaw Lem’s classic science fiction novel into a perfectly fine and handsome movie. It’s the one time that the story of a Tarkovsky film has been duplicated, sharing source material, and it illustrates an important truth: Andrei Tarkovsky’s vision is singular, inimitable; it towers over all others. Where an accomplished director like Soderbergh made a serviceable sci-fi flick, Tarkovsky made visual poetry of the highest order. Tarkovsky’s artistic instincts rarely failed him, and even though it was a big budget genre picture, Solyaris takes risks with the same confidence of expression and the same depth of resonance as any other Tarkovsky film. The science fiction concept of the titular planet-entity allows Tarkovsky a new angle at the same themes pondered in many of his works: the pivotal roles of history and memory in our present and future; the fraught responsibility of the individual in responding to the calls of the sublime; the struggle to know truth. Tarkovsky’s long-take, free-associative aesthetic was predicated on his philosophy of filmmaking as “sculpting in time,” and in Solyaris there is a fascinating confluence between the way time and perception is manipulated by Tarkovsky, and the way those things are manipulated by Solyaris itself. Solyaris gives back the protagonist, astronaut psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), for what purpose is unclear. But Tarkovsky’s films work in a similar fashion; difficult to say exactly why they do what they do, yet they pull at the deepest roots of ourselves. They elicit emotional, meditative realities unlike any other. Like Kelvin’s resurrected Hari, the stimuli are simulacrums, symbols mined from a collective dream, but this does not diminish the worth of experiencing them. Sometimes they lead you to a place like Solyaris leads Kelvin: an island of lost memory—or perhaps of an impossible future, awash in the waters of some Spirit. That makes the unreal real; that gives the dream life. —Chad Betz

8. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

nausicca-poster.png Year: 1984
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos
Rating: PG
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is, quite simply, the film responsible for the creation of Studio Ghibli. It not only signaled Miyazaki’s nascent status as one of anime’s preeminent creators, but also sparked the birth of an animation studio whose creative output would dominate the medium for decades to come. Following the release of The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki’s odd Lupin III adventure, the director was commissioned by his producer and future long-time collaborator Toshio Suzuki to create a manga in order to better pitch a potential film to his employers at Animage. What resulted was Nausicaä, a fantasy-sci-fi epic inspired by the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, starring a courageous warrior princess trying to mend a rift between humans and the forces of nature while soaring across a post-apocalyptic wilderness.

Nausicaä was the film that introduced the world to the motifs and themes for which Miyazaki would become universally known: a courageous female protagonist unconscious of and undeterred by gender norms, the surmounting power of compassion, environmental advocacy and an unwavering love and fascination with the phenomenon of flight. It spawned an entire generation of animators, among them Hideaki Anno, whose lauded work on the film’s climactic finale would later inspire him to go on to create Neon Genesis Evangelion. The essentialness of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s placement within the greater canon of animated film, Japanese or otherwise, cannot be overstated. —Toussaint Egan

9. The Matrix

matrix.jpg Year: 1999
Directors: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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There is not much to say about the film that made cyberpunk not stupid—and therefore is the best cyberpunk movie ever made—or that made Keanu Reeves a respectable figure of American kung fu, or that finally made martial arts films a seriously hot commodity outside of Asia. The Matrix is—next to the Wu-Tang Clan—what proved to a new generation that martial arts films were worth their scrutiny, and in that reputation is bred college classes, heroes’ journeys and impossible expectations for special effects. While there are plenty better, there is no movie in the canon of martial arts films bigger than The Matrix, and even today we still have this film to thank for so much of what we love about modern kinetic cinema. This is our red pill; everything else is an illusion of greatness and everything else is an allusion to what the Wachowskis accomplished. —Dom Sinacola

10. Fantastic Planet

fantastic-planet-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: René Laloux
Stars: Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart
Rating: PG
Runtime: 71 minutes

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It doesn’t matter if you’re watching René Laloux’s excellent, eccentric Fantastic Planet for the first time or the fortieth, under the influence or stone sober: The film is such a one-of-a-kind oddity in cinema that each viewing feels like its own wholly unique experience. Put simply, there’s nothing quite like it. If you’ve yet to see this masterwork of 1970s psychedelia-meets-social-commentary, you’re missing out. If you have seen it, chances are you haven’t seen anything quite like it since, because there isn’t much in animated cinema to match it. The closest you’ll get is Terry Gilliam’s paper strip animation stylings in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or maybe the still painting approach of Eiji Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness. Neither of these equate with Fantastic Planet’s visual scheme, though, which just underscores its individuality. Where does a movie like Fantastic Planet come from? How does it even get made? Laloux has offered few answers over the years, though the documentary Laloux Sauvage holds some insight into how his mind works. Maybe the answers aren’t worth pursuing in the first place, and maybe the best way to understand Fantastic Planet is just to watch it, and then watch it again. —Andy Crump

11. The Animatrix

the-animatrix-poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Various
Stars: Hedy Burress, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, James Arnold Taylor, Clayton Watson, Julia Fletcher, Kevin Michael Richardson, Pamela Adlon
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

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The Animatrix is, without a doubt, the best thing to come out of the Matrix franchise since the original movie. At the height of the series’ popularity between production of the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, the Wachowskis recruited the talents of seven of the most preeminent directors working in the field of anime to co-create an anthology of nine short films set within and around the continuity of the Matrix universe. All the familiar tropes are present: the mirrorshades, the kung fu acrobatics, the pulsing rain of digital kanji. But the greatest quality of the Animatrix anthology was in refracting the singular vision of the Wachowskis to a kaleidoscope of yet-unexplored visual and conceptual possibilities within the series’ core concept. Whether it be Mahiro Maeda’s chilling prequel in “The Second Renaissance,” Shinichiro Watanabe’s low-tech noir mystery in “A Detective Story,” or Peter Chung’s bizarre and psychedelic journey into the mind of a human-designed matrix with “Matriculated,” the Animatrix dove directly into heart of films’ collective mythology and reimagined it with every last drop of untapped creativity the series had then yet to muster. —Toussaint Egan

12. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

godzilla-vs-mechagodzilla-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Jun Fukuda
Stars: Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihito Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi
Rating: PG
Runtime: 84 minutes

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The first-ever appearance of Mechagodzilla in Godzilla’s Showa series is still the best. I have such fond memories of this film, and it truly embodies the high points of the earliest series of Godzilla movies. Mechagodzilla is presented as an absolutely devastating opponent with abilities that outclass Godzilla in every way, and he beats Godzilla to within an inch of his life during their first battle. My favorite bit though, is the inclusion of a Godzilla ally named “King Caesar,” some kind of bizarre lion-dog hybrid who needs to be woken from a long slumber by singing Japanese adult contemporary music. Then, after all that build-up, he immediately gets WRECKED by Mechagodzilla, in a sequence that plays like sublime, unintentional comedy. That, and the aliens controlling Mechagodzilla are secretly ape people, for some reason! Seriously, this one is as nutty as it is entertaining. —Jim Vorel

13. Escape From New York

escape-from-new-york-poster.jpg Year: 1981
Director: John Carpenter, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau
Stars: Kurt Russell,
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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In the far future of 1997, when the president’s Air Force One flight is hijacked and crash-lands in the now-maximum security prison of Manhattan, there’s only one man who can save him, a one-eyed Kurt Russell who goes by the name of Snake. He struggles to thwart The Duke’s plans to use the President as a human shield in his march to freedom, all while maintaining his badass disdain for the US government. Written in the wake of the Watergate scandal, John Carpenter’s view of the future is a decidedly cynical one: Snake may be trying to save the president, but not without his classic sneer. —Sean Doyle

14. Independence Day

independence-day-poster.jpeg Year: 1996
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 145 minutes

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They pretty much don’t make action movies like Independence Day anymore, although if you ask someone who caught Independence Day: Resurgence, they’ll tell you that’s probably a good thing. Regardless, there’s a certain sheen to this particular brand of FX-driven pre-2000s disaster blockbuster, an earnestness of conviction in terms of clear-cut characters like Jeff Goldblum’s “David Levinson”—call it a willingness to believe that the audience will be 100 percent on board with a protagonist from the very beginning, rather than questioning his methods. As for the rest of the cast, we get a who’s who of ’90s delights, whether it’s an ascendant, wisecracking Will Smith—one year before Men in Black would cement him as leading man material—or Bill Pullman as the flyboy American president ready to deliver one of cinema’s greatest jingoistic addresses. Independence Day doesn’t shy away from its inspirations as pulp (it might as well be a remake of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers as far as the alien motivations are concerned) but it dresses up its Saturday morning cartoon plot with undeniably ambitious spectacle, even when viewed 20-plus years later. That exploding White House, not to mention the effortless camaraderie of Goldblum and Smith in all their scenes together, cement Independence Day among the most rewatchable sci-fi action films of the past two decades. —Jim Vorel

15. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

mad-max-road-warrior-poster.jpg Year: 1981
Director: George Miller
Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty, Mike Preston, Kjell Nilsson
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Where the original Mad Max captures a crumbling society with collapse in the near future, The Road Warrior makes no bones about it—civilization is a thing of the past, and only the tough will survive in the new wasteland. George Miller’s first sequel to his seminal action series retains the thrilling car stunts and impressive choreography of the original while substantially evolving the production design to something that will look far more recognizable to those who have seen a film like Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller’s spike-laden, fantastical art direction is coming to the forefront here, in a tale of our western hero Max helping a community of settlers ward off a gang of deadly marauders, like something out of Kurosawa. The combination of ramshackle vehicles and ingenious weaponry has been a staple of the genre ever since, making The Road Warrior likely one of the most purely imitated films of the decade. —Jim Vorel

16. Dune

dune-1984-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesa Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart, Sting
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 136 minutes

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David Lynch’s Dune, a would-be magnum opus hamstrung by the limitations of working within a studio system in 1984, will always be a divisive film, both among sci-fi geeks and devotees of the director’s filmography. As an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune often leaves much to be desired, and its casting can veer toward the questionable. In terms of art design, costuming and effects, however, Lynch did an admirable job of bringing the unique sci-fi universe of Dune to life, particularly in scenes such as the introduction of the truly grotesque guild navigator. As documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune well illustrated, an adaptation of this story is a very heavy stone to lift, which is also why Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded version has captured so much attention. Lynch’s take on this material will, at the very least, always contain iconic bits that have since been welded to the series itself, none moreso than “the spice must flow.” —Jim Vorel

17. Godzilla

godzilla-2014-poster.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 123 minutes

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The rebooted American Godzilla by Gareth Edwards struggles between two aspirations, to channel the gravitas and meaning of the 1954 original and also satisfy a popcorn-crunching audience of American action movie fans who just want to see some stuff get blowed up real good. At its best, it gives in to the pulpy ridiculousness of being a film about giant monsters, simply stepping back for a second to let the beautifully rendered creatures become the stars. At its worst, it bogs down in endless human drama that is devoid of meaning, following the wrong protagonists (why kill Bryan Cranston? Why?) as they struggle to rescue nameless children and the audience wonders why it should care. A number of awesome moments in the final 30 moments help propel this launch of Legendary’s MonsterVerse up the list, and the film particularly benefits from its sense of scale and awe toward Godzilla in particular, but just as often it frustrates by teasing the audience with expected confrontations that don’t actually happen. It’s a mixed bag, but one that has grown in our esteem in the years since it was first released. Of the modern American Godzilla films, it easily pays the most respect to Godzilla as a character and a force of nature. —Jim Vorel

18. THX 1138

Year: 1971
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley
Rating: PG
Runtime: 88 minutes

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The brilliance behind George Lucas’s choice to have his dystopic society disciplined via android cops is that there’s little difference between the machines who keep the “peace” and the people for whom they’re keeping it. Resembling a sort of campy take on highway patrolmen (think the Village People, except with way less singing) spliced with G.I. Joe’s Destro, the robot police force is governed solely on “budget,” which of course allows our hero THX (Robert Duvall) to escape the underground society, and the mysterious deity, OMM 0910, that represses him. Yet, in being left to his own devices after OMM determines that chasing after THX would put the robot police force 6% “over budget,” even THX’s humanity is further reduced to a matter of balancing numbers. It may be a point of triumph for our protagonist, but in perhaps the most subtle thematic move the director has ever made, Lucas is implying that even the organic characters in THX 1138 are mere tools for a higher power. —Dom Sinacola

19. Godzilla vs. Kong

godzilla-vs-kong-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Not as aggressively dumb as the preceding Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but also lacking any real attempt at a bigger message or any kind of profundity, Godzilla vs. Kong knows exactly what it is and delivers what it promises in its title—no more, and no less. Generations have been waiting for this rematch, and the fight scenes between the two “alpha” Titans are certainly worth the price of admission, as the two great beasts smash each other’s faces through skyscrapers with absolutely no concern for the thousands of innocent bystanders who are most assuredly trodden underfoot. We admit that we’re particularly glad to say that an actual winner is crowned in that fated 1v1, and the right choice was made. The human drama of Godzilla vs. Kong, on the other hand, is like a starvation ration of plot being shared by three times as many performers as should be necessary to handle it. Why more human characters keep getting added to the Legendary MonsterVerse, when it doesn’t know what to do with the ones it already has (and killed the only interesting ones), we can’t say. But they don’t do Godzilla vs. Kong any favors. Still, this is a serviceable popcorn muncher. —Jim Vorel

20. Prometheus

prometheus-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Years after its initial release, fans of Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise seem to have come to peace with Prometheus, at least to some extent. Suffice to say, when it was released in 2012 the film simply wasn’t the deep dive into Alien mythos that many fans were hoping for—rather, Scott was more interesting in telling a religious allegory about man’s search (and eventually A.I.’s search) for meaning in a cold, indifferent universe. Visually, the film remains impressive, and it deserves some credit for tackling weighty themes within the structure of what could easily have been written as a dumb action movie (‘ala Alien: Covenant), but it also regularly undermines itself with poorly written characters who behave in some of the most illogical ways imaginable. What you’re left with is a big, jumbled mess of interesting ideas and interesting characters, particularly Fassbender as the instantly iconic android David, but a lack of cohesion. The film feels pulled in multiple directions at once, but it probably didn’t deserve every bit of the scorn it received from many genre geeks. —Jim Vorel

21. Twilight Zone: The Movie

twilight-zone-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

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A true poster child for the concept of a “mixed reaction,” cultural opinion of Twilight Zone: The Movie is a rare instance of a film whose assessment has remained in flux for almost 40 years at this point. Too often, discussion of the film simply returns to the tragic helicopter accident that claimed the lives of three people, including actor Vic Morrow, and the subsequent lawsuits involving director John Landis, leaving no time for assessment of how the film attempted to modernize several classic Twilight Zone episodes from the visionary Rod Serling. In truth, the film is as variable in quality as TZ so often was itself—perhaps unexpectedly, the superstar directors in the group (Spielberg and Landis) turn in weaker segments, while Joe Dante and George Miller rescue the endeavor with their renditions of “It’s a Good Life” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The latter in particular can’t be denied, as Jonathan Lithgow turns in a hair-raising performance as the panicked passenger who can’t get anyone to believe there’s a gremlin on the wing of the plane. It’s a stylish rendition of a classic story, fully adapted to 1980s horror sensibilities. —Jim Vorel

22. The Blob

the-blob-1958-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Irvin Yeaworth
Stars: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Alternatingly described as either a parable on creeping Communism or simply a good excuse for some necking at the drive-in, 1958’s The Blob fits neatly regardless into the era of atomic monster creature features that began roughly with 1954’s Them!. It has elements of the “us vs. them” counterculture films to come, with its “teen” characters (Steve McQueen was 27 at the time) being the immediate suspects of civil unrest according to local law enforcement, rather than the gelatinous alien blob slithering around town. It was made for a pittance of a budget, but the special effects hold up surprisingly well even today, especially in the iconic sequence in which The Blob attacks a “Midnight Spook Show” theater full of the target demographic. Still, in the years that followed, the film was likely best remembered for spawning Burt Bacharach’s novelty hit “Beware the Blob,” until Chuck Russell’s slick 1988 remake infused it with a whole new level of gross-out gory violence. Both films capture the same justified teenage fear of authority; the choice is only a matter of how viscerally you want to watch someone’s face get dissolved. —Jim Vorel

23. Chronicle

chronicle-2012-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Josh Trank
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 83 minutes

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Chronicle is a sometimes fun, slightly dark film about a boy and his camera. Directed by Josh Trank, the film wants to be more interesting, more complicated than its found-footage counterparts (Cloverfield, Blair Witch Project, etc.), and in many ways, it is. Trank clearly wanted to create a true character in Andrew (Dane DeHaan), to explore familial bonds and dysfunctions and strange friendships that are as weak as they are strong. The characters, although annoying at times (being teens and all) are well-cast. They are never just problem kids, or just kids with superpowers, or creepy kids with cameras (like those wretched brothers in Another Happy Day). But the storyline of Chronicle does not fully allow for a deeper exploration of what makes them tick. Clichés overwhelm the piece, and as with most found-footage films, it gets extremely difficult to believe that someone is still determined to get the shot when all hell is breaking loose. One wonders if the short film (84 minutes) might have benefited from a slightly longer running time. Too quickly, the victim becomes the villain, and the transformation lacks authenticity—even with good, quality acting. Ultimately, the script does not ring as true as the performances, and this failure weakens what might have been a much stronger film. — —Shannon M. Houston

24. Short Circuit

short-circuit-1986-poster.jpeg Year: 1986
Director: John Badham
Stars: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G. W. Bailey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Short Circuit is pretty much what happens when you remake E.T. by swapping the alien with a robot, and Elliott with Ally Sheedy, and call it a day. That, and some charming practical effects, was all it took to mint a minor ‘80s classic in this sci-fi comedy, which is aware from the start that it’s not going to be delving into any questions of “the true meaning of sentience” or anything like it. Instead, this is a light and breezy tale of a military robot who comes to life following an electrical mishap, going on the lam until he’s found by a young woman who takes “Number 5” under her wing. They quickly bond, as you would no doubt expect an E.T. replacement and his Elliott surrogate to do, and what follows is a lighthearted farce of a witty robot on the run from his government captors, spouting one-liners all the while. Today, it’s mostly notable for the excellent effects work that brought the eventual “Johnny 5” to life—one detail that will always hold up, even when the 1980s fashions won’t. —Jim Vorel

25. Batteries Not Included

batteries-not-included.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Matthew Robbins
Stars: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Old people and aliens partner to fight gentrification for the crowd-pleasing win! Spouses both on and off the screen, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn play a couple who are among the low-income residents of an apartment building at odds with The Man, who goes so far as to hire a local gang to vandalize the couple’s downstairs diner and further drive out the tenants. As luck would have it, a pair of friendly flying saucers dubbed “the Fix-Its” are in town, and squat on the top of the building while repairing anything and everything there in miraculous time. Oh, and the UFOs aren’t just do-gooding Fix-Its, they’re fertile, family-minded Fix-Its at that. Exec produced by Steven Spielberg and co. and with a script co-penned by Brad Bird (his first feature screenplay), *batteries not included is smart and cute, in the best sense of that term—the Fix-Its are positively adorbs. The cast (which also includes Elizabeth Peña) is pitch-perfect, especially the sprightly Cronyn. There’s a childlike innocence to the whole thing, and darned if it doesn’t charm you. —Amanda Schurr

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