The 15 Best Science Fiction Movies Of 2023 Ranked

Science fiction is an incredibly flexible genre. It can encompass everything from speculative stories that explore the potential perils of AI to parables about modern economic inequality and white supremacy or even a coming-of-age saga centered on a group of pizza-loving mutated reptilian ninjas residing in the sewers of New York, as we saw in 2023. This year also marked the triumphant return of a certain "King of the Monsters," reminding us that even sci-fi properties that have been around for soon-to-be 70 years can find new ways of speaking to our present-day problems in the real world. And while most sci-fi filmmakers tend to dream about the future, this year saw one particular storyteller dream of something perhaps even more fascinating and unknowable: Nicolas Cage.

Now, obviously, no end-of-year list along these lines can be all-encompassing. There are just too many worthy films of any particular genre that come out every year for those involved in making these rankings to have seen them all, and so it went with our breakdown too. So, with that out of the way, here is our ranking of the top sci-fi films of 2023.

15. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

It is no secret that the "Transformers" franchise fell out of favor with many audience members by the time Michael Bay's "The Last Knight" rolled around in 2017. Lots of folks were over the Bayhem at that point and it was time for a change. Fortunately, 2018's "Bumblebee" seeded that change. But 2023's "Rise of the Beasts" finally gave us a full-on "Transformers" movie without Bay in the driver's seat. In Steven Caple Jr.'s hands, the series managed to find the fun again, thanks in no small part to its '90s setting and accompanying soundtrack. By not taking the material too seriously (we're talking about movies based on toys, after all), this film delivers what has been missing from the series for some time. Also, not for nothing, we finally got "Beast Wars" characters in live-action.

It's easy to write these movies off after Bay dragged it out across five movies, with that iteration of the franchise way overstaying its welcome. But "Rise of the Beasts" is, in so many ways, a representation of what these movies could have been the whole time. Am I saying it's high art? Absolutely not. But watching Bumblebee jump out of a plane and destroy evil alien robots to the tune of "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J is pure blockbuster magic. It's the form of popcorn entertainment "Transformers" was destined to become in the modern era. (Ryan Scott)

14. Shin Kamen Rider

After rebooting Godzilla and Ultraman, Hideaki Anno takes on another one of Japan's biggest franchises in "Shin Kamen Rider." This is essentially a condensed reimagining of the first handful of episodes of the iconic 1971 TV show that launched a phenomenon and paved the way for shows like "Super Sentai" (on which "Power Rangers" is based), and follows Takeshi Hongo, a young motorcycle enthusiast is kidnapped by a terrorist organization SHOCKER and transformed into a mutant cyborg. Hongo escapes and decides to fight back against SHOCKER by becoming a hero known as Kamen Rider. 

Anno shows once again that he is one of the best animators turned live-action directors, because "Shin Kamen Rider" looks stunning, an impressionistic film with a great sense of imagery and iconography. He uses space and silence to convey Hongo's loneliness and soul searching in the same way he did Shinji's. As a sci-fi superhero film, this is unique and distinct, embracing its limited budget to make the special effects and the main characters' powers look uncanny and inhuman. Hongo's mutation gives him extraordinary abilities that are portrayed as absolutely horrific and extremely bloody, with plenty of smashed body parts — the VFX meant to look hauntingly dissonant, reminding the audience and the characters that these characters are no longer human. (Rafael Motamayor)

13. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Whenever we look back at our own disturbing and downright horrific histories, the question "How could we have possibly let this happen?" often sprints to the forefront of our minds. Tyrannical regimes, political corruption, mass propaganda, the genocide of innocent people, and — in more recent years — unignorable footage of it all are embedded in the DNA of just about every "civilized" society on the planet.

"The Hunger Games" film series is based on the bestselling books of the same name by Suzanne Collins and presents an alternate future in which poor districts of people are forced into a yearly lottery where two teenage representatives are thrust into an arena to fight to the death as a means to keep the lower-class from revolting and provide salacious entertainment to the wealthy citizens in The Capitol. But "The Hunger Games" takes place toward the end of the Capitol's regime leaving many fans to ask ... "How could they have possibly let this happen?"

"The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," also based on a book by Collins, is a prequel film set 64 years before "The Hunger Games" that centers on a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the man who will eventually become the ruler of the Capitol (Donald Sutherland) and Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), the tribute from District 12 he is tasked with mentoring. The film is an engaging prequel filled with delightfully evil and campy villains, but more importantly, serves as a reminder that the evilest members of society ... are not monsters, but people. And no amount of thirsting after a young Coryo Snow can prevent him from becoming a fascist tyrant. (BJ Colangelo)

12. Poor Things

What's the best science-fiction story ever told? "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley's "Modern Prometheus." Science is the search to not only acquire knowledge, but bend it to human will; Victor Frankenstein's story is the classic tale of science gone wrong. "Frankenstein" has inspired too many movies to count (but we tried); one of the new best Shelley-riffs is Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" (loosely adapted from Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel), a sci-fi black comedy.

Emma Stone stars as Bella Baxter, a (mentally) young woman born from a brain transplant into a dead body. The film's conceit is simple but clever; what if Frankenstein's Monster began life thinking like the infant he was? The movie lives and dies on Stone's performance (though Mark Ruffalo as the selfish villain Duncan Wedderburn holds his own). She's fearless in her ability to act out the humiliating but innocent simplicity of a small child. Every one of Stone's line readings put a smile on my face, but I laughed myself especially silly when Bella first masturbates with an apple (i.e. the fruit of the Garden of Eden). A loss of innocence like that could easily be too pretentious to be funny, but Lanthimos masters the tone.

"Poor Things" is sillier than Lanthimos previous films like pitch-black-bleak "The Lobster" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." This serves the narrative though, which is entirely centered on Bella's journey to self-actualization. As she travels this exaggerated world seen through fish-eye lenses, you'll wish it's a trip that could never end. (Devin Meenan)

11. The Artifice Girl

No piece of pop culture had more to say about AI in 2023 than "The Artifice Girl." A true-blue indie film written and directed by Franklin Ritch, the movie centers on a programmer with a dark past (Ritch) who inadvertently creates a virtual AI being he names Cherry (Tatum Matthews) after making a chatbot to catch child predators. It's a setup that immediately makes you squirm, which is the point. AI, as we know it, isn't sentient like Cherry, but it raises ethical questions much like those explored in the film. How does one even go about using AI responsibly? It's one of the many quandaries the movie's human characters discuss and debate without providing a trite, oversimplified answer. More than that, "The Artifice Girl" reminds us that AI is a mirror for humanity; its shortcomings are ultimately our own. In doing this, Ritch crafts a story that's as much a "Frankenstein" parable about the relationship between creators and their creations as it is a cinematic treatise on AI.

Make no mistake, "The Artifice Girl" is a talky affair. At the same time, Ritch and his collaborators, particularly cinematographer Britt McTammany, make great use of their (very) limited sets. Most of the picture consists of two or more people in a room chatting, yet it constantly switches to different camera angles that demonstrate the fluctuating power dynamic between characters. In its tenser moments, the movie has the same walls-closing-in-on-you atmosphere as so many classic (mostly) single-setting psychological dramas. That palpable sensation of discomfort is paramount to what "The Artifice Girl" is trying to accomplish. Films about killer AI robots can be great escapist fun; here, though, you're meant to really marinate on the concept of AI and all its unpleasant implications. (Sandy Schaefer)

10. M3GAN

2023 truly was the year of "M3GAN."

Director Gerard Johnstone's gonzo horror flick is such a hoot that it's easy to forget it's also a compelling sci-fi narrative. Akela Cooper's script (based on a story she cooked up with James Wan — because who else could find a unique new twist on the "killer doll" subgenre?) unfolds like clockwork, seamlessly weaving messages about the importance of grieving and how technology isn't a sufficient replacement for a human shoulder to cry into its AI fear-mongering plot. It's far from the first film to tackle this subject, yet "M3GAN" does so while also carefully considering the role AI plays in our daily lives and recognizing it's not enough to ask "What if robot but too much?" and call it a day.

At the same time, "M3GAN" takes the concept of "What if robot but too much?" and runs with it, gifting us a new horror icon who slays on the dance floor and serenades children with her soothing rendition of David Guetta and Sia's "Titanium" ... when she's not ripping kids' ears off before murdering them and giving new meaning to the idea of "terminating" your co-workers. Kudos to the sound design team for making what we don't see in the film's theatrical cut as gnarly as the carnage on display in the unrated version. I would also be remiss if it didn't shout out Amie Donald for performing the uncanny (valley) movements that turned M3GAN herself into a viral sensation months before her movie cemented her stardom. (Sandy Schaefer)

9. Infinity Pool

Director Brandon Cronenberg is his father's son, for he makes the same kind of movies about how destroying the body means destroying the soul too. How fitting that as a director tries to prove himself the worthy heir of a filmmaking legacy, he makes a movie about whether an imitation can compare to an original.

In the third-world nation Li Tolqa, tourist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) is roped into a group of other (rich, white) travelers, represented by Gabi (Mia Goth). Despite the country's authoritarian laws, the group indulges itself happily. You see, in Li Tolqa, the rich can buy their way out of execution by human cloning; the duplicate pays with their borrowed life while the original criminal can go on free. The scenes depicting cloning, where the creations awaken in a thick red pool, is a horrifying blend of technology and organic body horror as seen in Cronenberg Sr. classics like "Videodrome" or "The Fly" (not to mention Junior's own 2020 thriller "Possessor").

Satire is a crucial ingredient of science fiction; stories explore hypothetical inventions that might change the way we live or be adapted into existing structures. "Infinity Pool" gestures at the rapaciousness of the tourism industry, but its ideas come out clearest when condemning the up-for-sale criminal justice system; human cloning is just a new and exclusive means for the wealthy to escape punishment. Plenty of science, not so much fiction. (Devin Meenan)

8. Dream Scenario

All at once, it feels like not that long ago when Nic Cage was doing nothing but direct-to-video schlock and, simultaneously, it feels like an eternity ago. That's because Cage has been more selective with his roles these days and he's been turning in bangers like "Pig" and "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent." Adding to the list of late-era Cage bangers, we have director Kristoffer Borgli's "Dream Scenario." A movie about a man named Paul Matthews who inexplicably finds himself in thousands of people's dreams all across the world at the same time, Cage delivers one of the finest performances of his career in a grounded sci-fi movie that serves as a wonderful excuse to let one of our most compelling actors shine.

So often, Cage gets credit for going off the rails, as he did so wonderfully in 2018's "Mandy," but what's refreshing about his performance here is that it's more reserved, with shades of wild-man Cage in some of the movie's many dream sequences. Borgli executes the story very well, doing a lot with relatively little. This is not big-budget sci-fi. Rather, it's high-concept, slice-of-life sci-fi that relies solely on execution. Existential, darkly funny, and deeply relevant, it's a good movie that makes one consider modern life through the lens of fleeting fame, one that is elevated by an Oscar-worthy performance at its center. It's a movie with something to say that serves as a welcome showcase for an actor putting in some of his finest work. Come for the A+ Cage, stay for the biggest emotional gut-punch of an ending you're likely to come across this year. (Ryan Scott)

7. They Cloned Tyrone

It's clear all is not what it seems in "They Cloned Tyrone," well before drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega) inexplicably awakens safely in bed the morning after a transaction gone horrifically wrong. Director Juel Taylor's film is that rare genre-blending original that not only channels the spirit of John Carpenter's work (from his fondness for hazy imagery to his distrust of so-called traditional American values and finesse at staging fireworks) but goes beyond it to chart fresh thematic territory. You can see this in the film itself, a blend of "They Live"-style sci-fi conspiracies and a celebration of the aesthetics and attitude of classic Blaxploitation cinema.

While there is some overlap with "Get Out" in the way it explores white supremacy and Black autonomy, "They Cloned Tyrone" is far more concerned with the matter of assimilation and the ways Black people are forced to (or, in some cases, willingly) surrender their individualism to be deemed acceptable by white people. Through the lens of sci-fi, Taylor and his collaborators deliver an enthralling absurdist satire that's as purely entertaining as it is thought-provoking, with Boyega once again exuding that magnetic "it" movie star quality in the role of a complicated yet sympathetic protagonist. Of course, Teyonah Parris and Jamie Foxx are equally great in their supporting turns as a sex worker and her boss, bringing an audacious and often comedic energy to the proceedings as they team up with Fontaine to unravel the mystery of just who "They" even are. (Sandy Schaefer)

6. Asteroid City

As Wes Anderson has continued as a filmmaker, he's embraced the artificiality of his style more (candy store colors, unnaturally perfect framing, dollhouse set and costume design), but without taking his heart off of his sleeve. His latest, "Asteroid City," is his first foray into science-fiction, a genre all about imagination.

As is an Anderson trademark, "Asteroid City" is a story within a story (different layers are coded with different color schemes). In the 1950s American Southwest, a group of families are gathered on a military base for a "Junior Stargazer" science competition. When an alien crashes the party, they're all confined to the base. However, these events are all part of a TV play; the movie cuts between the in-universe "Asteroid City" and the writing/filming of it.

"Asteroid City" is funny yet melancholic like only a Wes Anderson movie can be; his characters recite their dialogue so speedily that you can sometimes forget how sad their words are. The director introduces fantastic features to his usual aesthetic, from ray guns to aliens, but they blend right in with how unreal the effects appear, purposefully resembling 50s B-movie props.

While a period piece, "Asteroid City" has its mind on the present. It's Anderson's pandemic movie, placing its characters in quarantine and asking how we can move forward after tragedy. To that end, why do we even tell stories? They can't give us all the answers, but the feelings they're made from and in turn conjure are no less real because of that. (Devin Meenan)

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Even in the realm of superhero cinema which, itself, feels unending (particularly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), all good things must come to an end. Such was the case with James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy" trilogy, which reached its conclusion this year with the heartfelt and heartbreaking "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." Star-Lord and the gang said farewell to one another in fitting fashion in a movie that is equal parts funny, sweet, and visually impressive. Even at a time when many people are feeling a little burnt out on the MCU, this stands out as what can happen when this entertainment behemoth is firing on all cylinders. More than that, it's a testament to Gunn's abilities as a blockbuster filmmaker.

The movie, very fortunately, is not saddled with setting up the future of the greater franchise. Instead, it largely gets to stand on its own two feet and serve as one last ride for this lovable band of misfits. Anchored by a harrowingly emotional arc for Rocket Raccoon and one of the MCU's better villains in recent memory in The High Evolutionary (played to perfection by Chukwudi Iwuji), this movie does the unthinkable by providing richly satisfying closure. Will Chris Pratt's Star-Lord and/or some of these other characters show up elsewhere in the future? Maybe, maybe not. But as a trilogy, Gunn stuck the landing here. It's a reminder that superhero movies work best when they're willing to really be about something. That was true 15 years ago when the MCU began and it remains true now. (Ryan Scott)

4. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

After "Into the Spider-Verse" kickstarted a revolution in American studio animation, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" took everything that made the original special and doubled down on it. There are more alternate universes, more action, more gorgeous animation, and so, so, so many Spider-People that it is virtually impossible to catch them all. Now that Miles Morales has established himself as a bonafide superhero, he gets his biggest challenge yet — not only in the form of one of the coolest-looking villains in years, but also an interrogation of the very formula of a "Spider-Man" story.

As more and more movies get released that explore the idea of the multiverse, the more it becomes clear that none of them have as good a grasp on the possibilities of the multiverse as the "Spider-Verse" movies. From wild experimentation with visuals that reimagine characters in completely different realities to using such a big concept to tell an intimate story, there's nothing quite like "Across the Spider-Verse." Sure, this may be half of a two-part movie, but "Across the Spider-Verse" delivers a complete character arc — not just for the character you'd expect — and one of the best opening sequences of the year. (Rafael Motamayor)

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Just like "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" revitalized Spider-Man by taking advantage of the infinite potential of animation to create unique worlds and characters, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" uses animation to revitalize the iconic heroes in a half-shell. This is a movie that feels simultaneously like both a classic "TMNT" adventure and a bold new take. The characters look unique and distinct from one another, as does the world of the film, with a stunning visual style that feels like the doodles of a brooding teen. This aids the film's focus on the turtles as actual teenagers, complete with teenage concerns and teenage fandoms.

But perhaps the boldest part of the movie is right there in its title, "Mutant Mayhem." The film heavily changes the canon most fans are familiar with by putting the "mutant" part of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" front and center. A big part of the film is the feeling of being an outsider and, well, a mutant. Enemies become allies, the villain has a masterplan that resembles that of the first "X-Men" movie, and the "Attack on Titan" anime literally becomes a huge part of the plot. As a big sci-fi blockbuster, this movie is full of cool concepts like laser guns, mutated creatures, a kaiju, and more. But what makes this stand out is how much the turtles act like normal teenagers, with dorky jokes and plenty of awkwardness. (Rafael Motamayor)

2. Godzilla Minus One

It had been seven years since Toho produced a "Godzilla" movie in-house dating back to 2016's much-beloved "Shin Godzilla." In the time since it's largely been Legendary's MonsterVerse carrying the load with movies like "Godzilla vs. Kong." So, when it was announced that Toho was finally bringing a new movie in the franchise to the big screen, there was a registered excitement. But not even the most optimistic fan could have predicted that we would be gifted with an all-time great monster movie. Yet, that's exactly what we got in the form of director Takashi Yamazaki's "Godzilla Minus One," which instantly goes down as an all-timer. The initial buzz was so effusive that it gave way to a feeling of, "Could it possibly be that good?" The answer is a resounding "Yes." This is not just a good "Godzilla" movie; it's one of the best movies of the year — period.

Yamazaki opts to not be anchored down by any continuity and, instead, takes us back to post-war Japan. The country is freshly devastated in the aftermath of World War II. Just as the nation begins to pick up the pieces, the most terrifying version of Godzilla we've seen in years (if not ever) rises from the depths, bringing with him death and destruction. Genuinely frightening, visually arresting, and anchored by human characters we actually care about, this is perhaps the best argument we've ever had for "Godzilla as legitimate cinema" this side of the original 1954 masterpiece that started it all. It's also, not for nothing, wildly entertaining. For blockbuster junkies such as myself, this is the reason we go to the movies. (Ryan Scott)

1. No One Will Save You

Ah, alien invasions — one of the oldest science-fiction plots in the book. What makes Brian Duffield's "No One Will Save You" stand out is how small-scale its focus is in the face of the world ending. Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever) lives alone in a rural home outside a town that hasn't forgiven her for a past sin. When nebulous aliens land, she runs in circles for her life.

The most publicized part of "No One Will Save You" is how there's practically no dialogue. Yet, it's not a gimmick; more lines would feel only perfunctory. Brynn has no one else in her life, so she stays silent. When you're alone, do you speak out loud a lot? Yet, the silence can escape your notice thanks to the inner dialogue in your head.

In its lack of dialogue, the movie asks how well you can understand someone from their actions alone; thanks to Kaitlyn Dever's magnificent performance, the answer is quite well. After our initial introduction to Brynn's solitary life, the film becomes a long chase sequence; when she escapes one alien, another arrives soon. Watching "No One Will Save You" is like walking through a haunted house attraction or a nightmare you can't wake up from.

Some of the best science-fiction movies are simple thrill rides. "No One Will Save You" is the type perfect for a late-night theater screening — so of course it went straight to Hulu. Even outside its ideal viewing environment, it deserves to be seen. (Devin Meenan)

How this list was made

This ranking was decided by assembling /News's writers and editors who are experts on the subject. They discussed their selections in private conversation before submitting a ranked ballot with their choices for the list. Each list was then compiled, with higher ranked titles carrying more weight than lower ranked titles. Ties were broken by calls made by the editorial team, with discussion from the larger group. The final list reflects a general consensus, and therefore, the larger recommendations and opinions of the /News team.