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The greatest sci-fi epic movies of all time

Fantastic sci-fi movies through the ages...

The greatest sci-fi epic movies of all time
Andrew Williams
02 March 2024

Dune: Part Two is one of the best-reviewed sci-fi movies of the last few decades.

Its reviews have topped 2021’s brilliant Dune: Part One, trashed those of Tenet, obliterated The Matrix Resurrections.

If we were to go by Dune: Part Two’s Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s Denis Villeneuve’s best film ever. And he directed Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario. There’s not a dud in his back catalogue.

Dune: Part is a sci-fi epic of mammoth proportions that, we hope, will pull win audiences far and wide. But it also left us hankering for more old-school epic science fiction.

With no killer rivals in recent years to draw from, we looked back through the years and decade to put together a list of some of the all-timer epic sci-fi movies. Upvote your personal favourite.

The greatest epic sci-fi movies

The greatest epic sci-fi movies

1. Blade Runner

If you’ve already seen Blade Runner, you can probably picture the rain-soaked streets of Los Angeles where this sci-fi classic is set. This is a dark version of a then-future 2019 where synthetic humans have been made, and then banned after a violent uprising on an off-world colony. Harrison Ford is Deckard, a blade runner who hunts down errant replicants.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

2. The Matrix

Put away suggestions The Matrix was tainted by its sequels. On a rewatch, the film is just as thrilling as it was back in 1999. Keavnu Reeves’s Neo receives a phone call telling him the world is not as it seems, drawing him into an apocalyptic reality where he may or may not be the “chosen one” destined to save the world. Incredible fight scenes, mesmerising concepts and killer style.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey

This singular film from Stanley Kubrick is not your average sci-fi watch. It doesn’t explain itself, and acts as a voyage through human civilisation as well as through space. 2001: A Space Odyssey expanded not just the scope of sci-fi but what films as a medium could do. It is relatively slow-paced, though, so might not be one you can fully appreciate if you’re after pure escapism after a hard week at work.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

4. Planet Of The Apes

There have been three major film series of Planet of the Apes. 2011’s reboot continues to this day. But the crown has to go to the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. A space crew crash land onto a planet, after spending thousands of years in suspended animation. But this planet is ruled over by intelligent apes.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

5. Interstellar

Modern auteur Christopher Nolan has made three sci-fi films. Tenet. Inception. Interstellar. The latter gets our vote in the epic sci-fi category for its sheer scope and spectacle. A NASA mission is out to find another planet to move humanity to before the Earth’s resources run out. But the planets they find orbit a huge black hole, Garganuta. What lies beyond the event horizon?

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

6. Dune

Dune is a sci-fi epic in more than one field. The paperback of Frank Herbert’s book Dune is almost 600 pages long, while he would go on to write six Dune novels. And the series that would be expanded to more than 25 novels after Herbert’s death. Now it’s the source for one of the great sci-fi movie (fingers crossed) trilogy epics. 2021’s Dune: Part One features exceptional world-building, drawing you right into the dunes. Part Two ups the ante with even higher-stakes action. If only we didn’t now have years to wait until Part Three, which is rumoured but not officially confirmed just yet.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

7. Mad Max: Fury Road

This film is the rarest of achievements, a sequel that (probably) eclipses the original. More than 35 years after the first Mad Max movie, George Miller returns with Fury Road, in which human civilisation has devolved into near-feral gangs in the desert. Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is in search of her homeland and frees effectively enslaves wives of mad gang leader Immortan Joe with the help of Max Rockatandky (Tom Hardy).

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

8. Metropolis

1927’s Metropolis was not the first sci-fi film, an accolade that probably belongs to George Melie’s A Trip to the Moon, but it might be the first sci-fi epic. It was the most expensive film ever made, a 24 million Euro production after adjusting for inflation. A silent Fritz Lang film, Metropolis paints a dark utopia of a futuristic city where the privileged live up above, the workers below in a grim underworld.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg is such a master movie-maker, Close Encounters of the Third Kind might onto fit into the lower half of a top 10 of his greatest movies. But it’s his most epic sci-fi project. In this 1976 classic, a giant alien craft descends through the sky and down into mid-west America. It begins to attempt to communicate with what sounds like orchestral music. Finally, a film where the aliens aren’t immediately humanity-zapping monsters.

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The greatest epic sci-fi movies

10. Avatar

Back in 2009 Avatar felt like one of the most expensive films ever made. It was. But these days, even after adjusting for inflation, it barely cracks the top 20. It’s a masterclass in visual world-building. Viewed on the biggest screen possible, director James Cameron pulls you into its blue-green world. Sure, it doesn’t have the most intricate story going, but it’s off-the-charts epic. As are its box office receipts, pulling in $2.7 billion.

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