While some sci-fi flicks are filled with mindless action, others, such as Total Recall, Looper, and Snowpiercer, are more thought-provoking and cerebral.
When science fiction’s thought-provoking themes are combined with action cinema’s nonstop spectacle, it can be a match made in heaven. The best sci-fi action movies use their action sequences to keep the provocative explorations of speculative concepts engaging; they’re not just regular actioners in a futuristic setting.
Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven, is a great example of a sci-fi action film that’s also a great action film. Total Recall, based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” is an action-packed Black Mirror episode with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
10. Total Recall (1990)
As a blue-collar worker in the near future, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a company that can implant memories of vacations, which is cheaper than actually going on vacation.
While he decides to have the memories of a Martian secret agent implanted in his brain, he breaks out of the machine mid-procedure, ranting and raving about how he must get back to Mars to complete his mission before the procedure is finished. Rest of film is spent in self-questioning and dismantling of reality.
9. Looper (2012)
Before directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson was the writer and director of the underrated sci-fi action film Looper, which was much more tolerable.
It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays an assassin who dispatches mob targets back in time with ease.
Complicating matters is the fact that he’s tasked with killing Bruce Willis’s future self (who, admittedly, looks nothing like Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
8. Annihilation (2018)
Annihilation, the sci-fi sequel to Alex Garland’s debut feature Ex Machina, stars Natalie Portman as an intrepid scientist who leads a team into “The Shimmer,” a mysterious zone where animals and plants undergo mutations under the apparent control of extraterrestrials.
Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gina Rodriguez all give strong supporting performances alongside Natalie Portman in this disturbing film, which contains some of the most disturbing imagery in recent memory.
7. Minority Report (2002)
Similar to Steven Spielberg’s Total Recall, Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report was adapted for the big screen by Steven Spielberg. In the near future, when technology has been developed that can predict crimes before they happen, Tom Cruise plays a police chief.
In order to discover who the person is and hopefully avoid murdering him, he must go on the run when he is accused of the future murder of a man he has never met.
6. Inception (2010)
When Christopher Nolan followed up The Dark Knight’s box office triumph with a pitch for a new film, Warner Bros. handed him a $160 million check and told him to get to work on it.
Nolan’s latest film, Tenet, was marred by confusing storytelling and a disjointed tone, whereas Inception is still regarded as an action movie classic. For the most part, director Christopher Nolan used practical methods to get the job done, such as building a rotating hallway for the film’s most thrilling fight scene. Tenet’s time inversion is more difficult to understand (and boring) compared to Inception’s dream levels.
5. They Live (1988)
They Live, John Carpenter’s bizarre dystopian action film, is a biting satire on consumerism. Roddy Piper plays a drifter who discovers a magical pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for what it truly is. Ads filling cityscapes feature messages like “OBEY” and “CONSUME” to keep the human race in check. The one percent are alien invaders who have taken over the world.
Despite the fact that some white supremacists misinterpreted the film, it is an overt satirical critique of capitalism. Its critique of Reaganomics from the 1980s is still relevant today.
4. Snowpiercer (2013)
It’s a theme in all of Bong Joon-films, ho’s including his best picture winner Parasite and 2013’s sci-fi drama Snowpiercer.
While traveling through a future Earth that has been rendered uninhabitable due to the ice age, Chris Evans plays the lower-class passenger who is determined to bring about change for those who live in luxury with fine dining while the lower-class passengers are forced to eat bugs.
3. The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowskis drew inspiration for The Matrix from a variety of sources, including Ghost in the Shell, Alice in Wonderland, and a slew of Hong Kong action flicks. In the end, we have a film with mind-blowing action sequences, thought-provoking themes, and a compelling story that questions the very fabric of reality itself.
The film stars Keanu Reeves as an office drone who discovers that our reality is a fiction and that he is “the One” who will defeat the machine overlords.
2. Akira (1988)
Akira is a post-apocalyptic superhero story with cyberpunk visuals about the leader of a biker gang and his childhood friend who gains telekinetic abilities after a motorcycle accident, and is credited with introducing anime to the general public for the first time.
Akira is a masterpiece of the sci-fi action subgenre thanks to its engrossing story, hypnotic action sequences, and stunning cityscape shots in neon.
1. Blade Runner (1982)
When Ridley Scott adapted Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into Blade Runner, he drew inspiration from film noir and created a new genre called “tech-noir.” A futuristic version of Philip Marlowe, Rick Deckard is a hard-boiled detective on the prowl for cyborgs posing as humans in a sprawling metropolis.
It’s even more relevant in a dystopian future where skyscrapers soar and artificial intelligence is assimilated to explore moral gray areas and urban decay like in classic noir film noir. Fortunately, Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049 (one of the few long-awaited sequels that pleased fans) preserved Scott’s film’s ambiguity.