The 2000s were a weird and wild time for movies. Technology was pushing films into a new era, society was rapidly shifting due to events like 9/11 and the Great Recession, and a distrust of politics and corporations began permeating every aspect of culture, leading to a decade of endless dystopian and post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows.
Science fiction was ground zero for this new style, with the genre shifting away from grand and fanciful space operas and instead focusing on issues people were becoming scared of. Climate change, disease, drugs, and warfare took center stage in the genre, making the 2000s an era of decidedly more depressing sci-fi movies.
But, beneath the pain and fear that gave birth to this decade of cinema, a few gems can still be found that were exciting, thought-provoking, and revolutionary. Here are the 10 best sci-fi movies from the 2000s.
When viewed through a modern lens, M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs hasn’t aged very well thanks to its crappy CGI, weird undertones of religion and grief, and Mel Gibson. But for genre fans, it’s still a fun watch thanks to its overdramatic scares. In the film, humanity discovers that aliens have arrived on Earth, and (for some reason) those aliens are now invading a small family farm in rural Pennsylvania.
By today’s standards, the aliens look atrociously cheap, but at the time Signs was a massive hit, grossing over $408 million at the box office. The movie became such a phenomenon that the plot of Scary Movie 3 was based almost entirely around Signs and directly spoofed the movie numerous times. For fans of horror and sci-fi, especially anyone who loves a good alien movie, Signs definitely deserves to be watched at least once.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Day After Tomorrow was a massive box office hit, and also a controversial and polarizing film. The disaster movie is an exaggerated take on what happens after the planet experiences too much global warming, altering the ocean’s currents and causing epic disasters around the globe.
The Day After Tomorrow is both a cheesy and fun disaster movie, while also feeling eerily more relevant as natural disasters continue to be amplified by climate change. It was also one of the first major pieces of media that got the average person talking about climate change and its potential dangers, making the movie an important piece of history.
Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men was a dystopian film that explored how fragile society is and how quickly it can fall apart. The movie is set in the year 2027, after two decades of complete human infertility. When one woman finally becomes pregnant, she must be protected at all costs for the human race to continue.
The movie wasn’t successful upon its initial premiere, despite being hailed by critics, and was a box office flop. It wasn’t until Children of Men was released on DVD that the movie found a larger audience and became a cult hit. Tackling issues of immigration, racism, fearmongering, and divisive politics, Children of Men has received newfound success in recent years, with many seeing correlations between the film and what is happening in real life, making the movie more relevant today than when it was initially released.
The Mist (2007)
After a string of lackluster Stephen King adaptations in the 2000s like Dreamcatcher and The Secret Window, the 2007 adaptation of The Mist turned out to be a surprise success. In the movie, a strange mist engulfs a town, bringing with it giant monsters. A large portion of the movie is set inside a supermarket, focusing on a group of survivors struggling to understand what’s happening.
The movie perfectly blends sci-fi and physiological horror, with the conflict between the survivors sometimes being just as scary as the monsters outside. Though the movie was only a moderate box office hit, it found more success in the rental market and remains one of the most popular Stephen King adaptations thanks to its towering monsters and shocking finale.
Resident Evil (2002)
It’s really nothing like the game…at all. But Resident Evil is such a fun movie that it doesn’t matter. In the film, a viral outbreak in an underground corporate lab turns people into zombies. Then there’s Alice (Milla Jovovich) who suddenly wakes up in a mansion built on top of the underground lab. Neither Alice nor the underground lab (or any of the other characters) is part of the game series, so the movie just kinda did its own thing and went its own way. And you know what? It worked.
It’s a great zombie movie that switched up the genre by combining action, sci-fi, and horror elements to create something wholly unique. In fact, director James Cameron even recently told Empire magazine that watching Resident Evil is one of his guilty pleasures. Maybe one day we’ll be able to see a Cameron-made Resident Evil film?
It could be argued that Cloverfield reignited the giant monster genre. After Jurassic Park, the genre deflated quickly. Movies like Anaconda and Godzilla were bashed by critics and audiences and 2001’s Jurassic Park III proved to be the final nail in the coffin. After that, the genre went relatively silent until Cloverfield. In the movie, a giant alien attacks Manhattan and it’s all documented in the found footage style that is still popular.
While some bemoaned the camerawork as “nauseating,” Cloverfield turned out to be the monster hit everyone was hoping for, offering up excellent scares and larger-than-life shots of a giant monster destroying New York City. Upon the movie’s premiere, it became the highest-grossing January release of all time (a record it held until 2014) and racked up over $172 million at the box office against a budget of just $25 million. Its success helped reinvigorate the genre and possibly paved the way for movies like Pacific Rim and 2014’s Godzilla remake.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This award show darling is “soft science fiction” in the most literal sense, centering on a couple who decides to get their memories erased after a bitter breakup. At its core, the film is a romance and a drama, with the science fiction aspect of erasing memories lingering in the peripherals. The movie’s true power came from its compelling, complicated characters, and the haunting question that remained at the film’s core: How much are our memories worth?
Thanks to her role in the movie, Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars and the film won Best Original Screenplay at the 2005 Oscars. In 2016 it was also announced that a TV series adaptation was in the works; however, the show has yet to move out of the pre-production phase, so it’s unlikely it’ll ever begin filming.
Wall-E can best be described as “horribly depressing” and “perfectly predicted the future.” In the movie, rampant consumerism has exhausted the planet of its resources, turning Earth into a desolate wasteland. Humanity now lives in giant space stations where they travel around on floating La-Z-Boys with giant screens in front of their faces, all while robots take care of their every need. Obesity and laziness have completely destroyed their physical bodies to the point where they can’t even get themselves up when they fall.
When Wall-E was released, the iPhone had only existed for about a year. The filmmakers probably had no idea how real their predictions of humanity would become over a decade later. Between rampant phone addiction and the fact that almost 42% of Americans are now obese (with that number expected to continue growing by 2030), Wall-E can be somewhat painful to watch at times because it’s just too real. But that’s also why the movie is so powerful and important. Though centered around a robot, Wall-E’s real message is about the preservation of humanity.
District 9 (2009)
Inspired by South Africa’s apartheid and immigration problems, District 9 is about aliens who arrive on Earth and are then sequestered in a camp called District 9. The movie explores concepts like xenophobia, racism, segregation, and class struggle, but still manages to have a good amount of action too.
Wall-E and District 9 helped popularize politically-charged sci-fi moves, paving the way for later films like Elysium and The Hunger Games. District 9 also became a surprise critical success and was even nominated for a bevy of Oscars, including Best Picture. Last year, director Neill Blomkamp told Dextero that he’s currently working on a sequel, District 10, that he hopes will release “in the near future.”
In the future, the sun begins to die, plunging the world into an eternal winter. To save Earth, a team must travel through space and launch a giant bomb into the sun to reignite its nuclear fission. The movie was loaded with an all-star cast, including Cillian Murphey, future Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Benedict Wong, among others.
Halfway through the movie, the plot totally changes thanks to a shocking and unexpected twist, turning Sunshine into a horror movie that feels oddly reminiscent of Event Horizon. The abrupt change in tone could have easily gone wrong and thrown off the entire movie, but thanks to a great script and a team of fantastic actors, the twist only made Sunshine more intriguing. After receiving a limited release in most countries (including the US), the movie found its real success in the rental market, where it became a cult classic and remains a favorite among genre fans to this day.