Sci-Fi movies have gripped the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world for decades. Many of the highest-grossing films ever– Star Wars, Avatar– are in the Sci-Fi genre.
Their popularity is not surprising: everyone finds something they love with a good sci-fi flick. Many are jaw-dropping works of art with multi-million dollar special effects productions. Franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek have lifelong devoted fans of the films who even go so far as to learn the alien languages, like Klingon.
However, some of my favorite memories are watching ridiculous low-budget sci-fi films with my parents (many times about sharks, for some reason) and listening to them laugh.
I also enjoyed thought-provoking sci-fi movies that shaped how I saw the world around me, and even today provide insight into how society is. For example, Children of Man draws strong parallels to the contemporary baby bust or societal changes in attitude toward having children.
Sci-fi films answer the perennial questions “what if?” and “how” in various ways. Also, with a huge library of literature that dives deeply into the genre, filmmakers have plenty of inspiration to draw from.
Most sci-fi films intertwine with other genres as well, so fans of action, drama, or suspense can find something to enjoy.
Read on to see more about the different types of science fiction films.
1. Alien Invasion Films
The idea of an alien invasion is a popular one in science fiction literature and film. In these stories, aliens come to Earth with the intention of taking over the planet or wiping out humanity. Some examples of alien invasion films are War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
2. Alternate History Films
Alternate history films are another subgenre of science fiction that explores the concept of time and choices. In these stories, the course of history is changed in some way, typically by introducing a new element that alters the outcome of an event. One example of an alternate history film is The Butterfly Effect, which explores the idea of cause and effect.
3. Alternate/Parallel Universe
This genre is very similar to alternate history, but rather than simply changing the course of history, parallel universe stories create an entirely new world with different rules. An example of an alternate universe science fiction movie is 12 Monkeys, in which a deadly virus has wiped out most of humanity and the last survivors live underground.
In this movie, time travel is possible, but it’s very dangerous and rarely used because it can create alternate universes.
Apocalyptic films explore the idea of a world-ending event, such as a nuclear war, pandemic, or natural disaster. In post-apocalyptic stories, the focus is on the survivors in the aftermath of this event. One example of a post-apocalyptic film is Mad Max: Fury Road, which is set in a desert wasteland where water and gasoline are scarce.
5. Artificial Intelligence
This subgenre deals with the idea of artificial intelligence, or machines that have been created to think and act like humans. In the film Ex Machina, a programmer is tasked with testing the artificial intelligence of a humanoid robot to discover if it can pass the Turing test.
In this subgenre, humans leave Earth to colonize another planet or space station. One example of a colonization film is Wall-E, where humans have left an uninhabitable Earth and now live in outer space on a giant space station.
Cyberpunk stories are typically set in the future and focus on a world where technology has advanced to the point that it has changed society as we know it. Blade Runner, filmed in 1982 and set in 2019, is a quintessential cyberpunk film where humans coexist with artificial intelligence.
8. Dying Earth
The Dying Earth subgenre is set in the far future when the sun is about to die and the earth is almost uninhabitable. In the film The Road, a father and son are trying to survive in a world where most of humanity has been wiped out.
A dystopia is an imaginary world where everything has gone wrong. In a dystopian society, the government might be oppressive, there might be widespread poverty or violence, or some other element that makes life difficult for its citizens. The Hunger Games and Divergent are two examples of dystopian films.
10. First Contact
First contact stories are about humans meeting aliens for the first time. In the film Arrival, a linguist is recruited by the military to help communicate with an alien species that has landed on Earth.
11. Galactic Empire
In this subgenre, humans have colonized the galaxy and there is a central government that rules over all of the planets. Star Trek is one example of this genre.
12. Hard Science Fiction
Hard science fiction stories are usually about space exploration and focus on accurate scientific details. In the film Gravity, two astronauts are stranded in space after their spacecraft is damaged. It’s considered a hard science fiction film because of its accurate portrayal of space travel and astrophysics.
13. Genetic Engineering
Genetic engineering is the modification of DNA to change the characteristics of an organism. In the film Gattaca, a man is born with genetic defects and decides to undergo illegal genetic engineering to change his DNA and become an astronaut.
14. Generation Ship
A generation ship is a spacecraft that takes many years to reach its destination due to the vast distances involved in interstellar travel. In the film Passengers, a man and woman are traveling on a generation ship when they wake up 90 years too early.
15. Human Development
A story about human development is one that explores what it means to be human. In the film Her, a man falls in love with artificial intelligence that has been designed to be the perfect girlfriend.
The immortality subgenre deals with characters who are either immortal or have the ability to live for a very long time. It also explores ways for humans to achieve immortality, either through scientific means or some other supernatural means. Also, viewers can see the implications of immortality on individuals and society.
In the film The Fountain, a man is trying to find a way to extend his life so that he can be with the woman he loves. In the film In Time, people stop aging at 25 and must purchase additional years of life with money.
17. Military Science Fiction
Military science fiction stories focus on the military, either as a way to protect society from enemies or as a way to control its own citizens. In the film Starship Troopers, humans are at war with an alien race and must use military force to protect themselves.
18. Mind Uploading
Mind uploading is the transfer of a human mind from a biological body to a computer. These films go into detail about how this might be achieved and the implications of such a technology. In the film Transcendence, a man uploads his mind to a computer so that he can live forever.
However, once he is uploaded, he becomes a danger to humanity.
In the surveillance subgenre, characters are constantly being watched by some sort of government or corporate entity. In the film The Truman Show, a man’s entire life is broadcast on television without his knowledge.
Mutants are creatures that have undergone a genetic change that gives them new or enhanced abilities. This subgenre often explores the idea of humans evolving into new, more powerful beings. In the film X-Men: First Class, a group of mutants must use their powers to stop a nuclear war.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on a very small scale, typically at the level of atoms or molecules. Films in this genre explore the implications of such technology, both for good and for evil. The film Bloodshoot is an example of this subgenre. It is based on a comic book of the same name.
The plot is about a man who is brought back to life by nanotechnology and given superhuman abilities. However, he soon realizes that he is being controlled by the people who created him.
Near-future stories are set in a world that is only slightly different from our own, typically within the next few decades. In Minority Report, a special police unit uses precognition to stop crimes before they happen. They are able to do this because they have been given three precogs or people with the ability to see the future.
23. Parallel Universe
A parallel universe is a universe that exists alongside our own, typically in another dimension. In the film The One, a man discovers that he is one of many versions of himself from different parallel universes. He then sets out to kill all the other versions of himself so that he can be the only one.
24. Pulp Science Fiction
Pulp science fiction stories are typically fast-paced and action-packed, with larger-than-life characters. In the film Flash Gordon, a football player is transported to another planet where he must battle the evil emperor Ming the Merciless.
Robots are artificial beings that have been designed to look and act like humans. Many films use robots or androids and their role in society. One example is Blade Runner 2049, in which androids are used as slaves by humans. The plot revolves around a man who is tasked with killing all the androids.
26. Science vs. Nature
In this subgenre, science and technology are often pitted against nature. In the film The Andromeda Strain, a deadly virus is released from a satellite that was sent to space to collect samples of alien life. The virus kills almost everyone it comes into contact with, and a team of scientists must find a way to stop it.
27. Space Exploration
This subgenre focuses on humanity’s exploration of outer space. In the film Apollo 13, the astronauts must find a way to return to Earth after their spacecraft is damaged.
Superheroes are characters with superhuman abilities who use their powers to fight crime. In the film Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker must stop the Vulture, a villain who is using alien technology to commit crimes.
29. Science Fantasy
Science fantasy is a genre that combines elements of both science fiction and fantasy. In the film Avatar, a man is sent to another world where he falls in love with an alien. Fantasy elements like this are often used in stories set in space or on other planets.
In the film The Maze Runner, a group of teenagers must find their way out of a giant maze that has been designed to keep them trapped.
The singularity is a point in time when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to rapid and exponential change. In the film The Terminator, a robot is sent back in time to kill a woman before she can give birth to the future leader of the resistance.
It’s a good example of a singularity movie because the robot is far more intelligent than any human.
Slipstream is a type of time travel that allows a person to move forward or backward in time without being affected by the space-time continuum. In the film Clockstoppers, a teenager uses a device that freezes time to stop a thief.
32. Space Opera
Space opera stories are often set in a vast, sprawling universe with many diverse worlds and cultures. They often feature large-scale conflict between different groups or factions, and can be very complex and detailed.
Some space opera stories focus on the personal conflicts of individuals, while others focus on the larger-scale conflicts between groups. Often, space opera stories are told from the perspective of a small group of individuals who are caught up in the conflict.
Steampunk stories are set in a world that is powered by steam and other old-fashioned technology. In the film Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. an intrepid reporter teams up with a pilot to stop a mad scientist who is using giant robots to take over the world.
34. Time Loop
In a time loop story, characters are caught in a repeating event from which they cannot escape. An example of a science fiction time loop story is the film Edge of Tomorrow, in which a soldier must relive the same day over and over again until he can find a way to defeat the aliens.
Terraforming is the process of making a planet habitable for humans. In the film Interstellar, a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole in order to find a new home for humanity.
The theological subgenre deals with religious themes and the nature of faith. It depicts a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality, the Matrix, created by intelligent machines to subdue the human population, while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source.
Computer programmer Thomas Anderson, under the hacker alias “Neo”, discovers the truth about the Matrix and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines along with other people who have been freed from the system.
37. Time Travel
Time travel stories involve characters traveling through time, either to the future or the past. In the film Back to the Future, a teenager travels back in time and must ensure that his parents fall in love or he will never be born
In utopian science fiction, it portrays an idyllic future with the help of futuristic technology. One example of a utopian science fiction film is Tomorrowland, based on a Disney theme park, that centers around the adventures of an inventor and young heroine.
Viral stories are all about diseases and epidemics. In the film Contagion, a deadly disease spreads around the world and threatens humanity. Another example is the film 28 Days Later, in which a group of people must survive in a world that has been overrun by zombies.
40. Virtual Reality
Science fiction movies in the virtual reality sub-genre deal with characters who are immersed in a simulated world. Inception is an example. The film follows a group of thieves who can enter people’s dreams and steal their secrets.
The war subgenre deals with stories about conflict, usually on a large scale. In the film The Hunger Games, a group of people are forced to fight to the death in a televised event.
Zombie science fiction movies are all about a virus that turns people into zombies. In the film World War Z, a group of survivors must fight their way through hordes of zombies in order to find a cure for the virus.