The first sci-fi films that young people watch in theaters movies like Star Wars, Avatar, or E.T. — tend to bring to life ideas that usually existed in the imagination. Whether the film was thrilling, calm, emotional, or even scary, chances are that moment became part of a collection of experiences that people are able to tell over and over without missing details.

Sci-fi is responsible for such an effect on movie fans. It's the materialization of unimaginable worlds that are only possible through story arcs that are well-suited for cinema. With its ability to dramatize fantastical scenarios, sci-fi is specifically suited to explore complex, bold, and mind-broadening ideas. That and the constant evolution of technology makes sci-fi much more realistic in modern cinema, resulting in more than a few mind-blowing sci-fi films for fans to enjoy.

Related: The 10 Most Influential Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

30 Pacific Rim (2013)

A scene featuring the Jaeger mechs from Pacific Rim
Warner Bros.

In director Guillermo del Toro's superb homage to yet another fan-favorite corner of his brilliant mind, he goes for full-scale battles between massive robots and equally destructive sea creatures. Pacific Rim is definitely an underrated film that's unlike any other del Toro joint.

That doesn't mean it doesn't fit well into his career. Try to imagine a robot using an oil tanker ship as a sword, and that'sPacific Rim. It's a radical envisioning of classic Japanese kaiju movies, combined with the exponential growth of modern movie-making technology. The result is a literally towering film that makes the Transformers movies feel small.

29 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in a scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Focus Features

Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind​​​​​ is a mind-bending romantic film that goes to weird places in order to make its point. It tells the story of a man and a woman who decided to get their memory erased in order to help with a bad breakup and a broken heart.

It may sound silly, but the result is a visually stunning journey across the oceans of synapses, regret, and memories being formed and instantly lost. The loose linear nature of the film makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a sci-fi hit the like of which fans have never seen before.

28 Wall-E (2008)

Wall-E by Andrew Stanton
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A beautiful mixture of dystopia and sci-fi, Wall-E is a Pixar Animation Studio masterpiece that took the world by storm. Wall-E follows a solitary robot left alone to collect an incalculable amount of garbage on an inhabitable Earth that has been deserted by humans.

While it sounds bleak and drab, Wall-E actually features a romance between the titular robot and an advanced search bot. The film also ends on a positive and hopeful note that teaches humanity the importance of saving the environment before it's too late. Deemed one of the best Pixar animated movies of all time, Wall-E is a fantastic sci-fi movie for people of all ages to enjoy.

27 Inception (2010)

A scene from Inception (2010)
Warner Bros. Pictures

In 2010's Inception, a series of criminals set out to plant an idea in the mind of someone else using advanced dream-sharing technology. Christopher Nolan's film about dreams posits that dreams are built like layers and people are able to explore them, voluntarily traveling between each.

Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece is a mainstream extravaganza that mimics art films in a fascinating way. Nobody in the film industry (or really any other industry) had been able to precisely and perfectly portray how dreams work, but Nolan gets about as close as possible with Inception. He made a great attempt with a fantastic cast that's still mind-bending to this day.

26 Ex Machina (2014)

A scene from Ex Machina

Alex Garland's slow-burn thriller about humanity's relationship with AI is incredibly interesting. Ex Machina follows a computer programmer who's commissioned to perform a Turing test on an advanced new artificial lifeform designed by a wealthy visionary.

Things don't turn out for the best in a bleak film about the near future. The Turing test and events of the film challenge the viewer's perception of another intelligent being whose only objective is being able to feel. After watching Ex Machina, fans will think twice before chatting with robots about their feelings. If anything, this is the perfect nightmare-fuel movie for anyone paranoid about ChatGPT and other AI in the real world.

Related: Best Movies About Sentient Artificial Intelligence

25 Sunshine (2007)

A silhouette stands on the observation deck in the movie Sunshine
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Danny Boyle's Sunshine is a curious case of genres shifting without causing chaos in the story. In the film, a group of astronauts is responsible for literally keeping the world illuminated by reigniting the dying sun. When the mission is disrupted by accidents, isolation, and other odd events connected to a previous attempt, the crew starts to fear for their lives.

Sunshine still looks and sounds great to this day, even when the story enters horror territory and confidently stays there. The wonderful cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne (and many more), made fans realize that space journeys might not be as fun as viewers had hoped.

24 Coherence (2013)

Emily Baldoni in Coherence
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Cult followers have turned Coherence into a widely known film years after it was released. There's a chance fans actually have seen some images online without knowing they are from this outstanding but underrated sci-fi film, and it's one that has to be seen to be believed.

Coherence takes place at a dinner party between old friends as a comet passes by in the night sky overhead. The dinner party's guests find themselves dealing with mysterious doppelgangers in the neighborhood. The guests learn a few things about themselves and see just how far they are willing to go in this daring sci-fi chiller.

23 Dark City (1998)

Richard O'Brien as Mr. hand in Dark City at the council of Strangers
New Line Cinema

Director Alex Proyas might be best known among fans for films like The Crow, but it's 1998's Dark City that stands out as one of his best. The fantastic sci-fi noir reveals its most powerful resource very early in the film, but it never loses steam.

Dark City tells the story of an alien society that has the capacity to change the world, reset minds, and control people in every aspect. However, one man goes too far in uncovering something much bigger about their existence. It has one of the greatest twist endings of all time and a visual atmosphere that gets better with each viewing.

22 Solaris (1972)

A scene from Solaris 1972

Stalker director Andrei Tarkovsky returned to sci-fi for 1972's Solaris. The film featured an interesting take on existentialism within a romantic story set in outer space. Of course, it isn't the typical movie romance. as an astronaut questions his own mind when his spouse appears on his spaceship against all odds and an emotional crisis ensues.

It's beautifully acted, and it's got the identity so typical of Tarkovsky sci-fi dramas. Steven Soderbergh's much shorter version with George Clooney plays well alongside this one, and its visuals and score are also outstanding, but it's the original that really shines to genre fans.

21 Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

A still from Beyond the Black Rainbow
Mongrel Media

Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow is a film most fans will never forget. It's visually burdening, and it's filled with imagery and sounds that will have an effect on viewers contrary to the usual highs and lows of cinematic filmmaking.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is much more of a hypnosis session than it is a movie about a mad scientist who goes too far to prove his methods. When it comes to mind-blowing films, Cosmatos' richly colorful sci-fi hit is one that more fans need to see.

Related: 11 Great Foreign Sci-Fi Movies Worth Checking Out

20 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Hardy and Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
Warner Bros.

The Mad Max movie series is one of the most famous post-apocalyptic, action franchises to ever exist. Mad Max: Fury Road (the fourth installment in the series) hit theaters in 2015 and won the hearts of long-time fans of the franchise.

The post-apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi setting of Fury Road perfectly fits the character of Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy). His ongoing quest takes him through the wastelands to fight a ruthless ruler who is hoarding the two most important resources — water and gasoline. Fury Road featured amazing action sequences that introduced a new generation of fans to the franchise.

19 Dune (2021)

 Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune
Warner Bros. Entertainment

The adventure has only begun in Denis Villeneuve's 2021 adaptation of Dune. The novel by Frank Herbert was thought to be impossible to shoot, and fans saw what happened with Jodorowsky and Lynch's attempts at Dune.

However, modern cinema's indispensable filmmakers proved the impossible to be possible with this exciting and breathtaking sci-fi epic. It's about scope, of course, but it's also about following the narrative logic of a dense story that has become one of the most iconic sci-fi literary works. Dune worked, and fans can't wait for the rest of the story in Dune: Part Two.

18 The Matrix (1999)

Neo bends a spoon from The Matrix
Warner Bros.

The Matrix is looked at as more of an action thriller today, but in the essence of its story, it's a very dirty, aggressive, and intellectual science fiction. Keanu Reeves played John Anderson, a computer hacker named Neo who discovered a dark truth about his world. Neo soon learned that his world was actually a simulation created by robotic AI to control humanity.

Simulation is huge as a theme, but it's the jarring sequences that highlight humanity's potentially dark future that really stuck with the audience. Huge robotic machines use humans as batteries for their own fueling systems after a tragic war poisoned Earth's skies and removed solar energy from the planet. The Matrix was mind-blowing, but the future never looked so bleak.

17 The Fountain (2006)

The Fountain (2006) by Darren Aronofsky
Warner Bros. Pictures

2006's The Fountain is one of Darren Aronofsky's lesser-known films but is also one of his best. It explores love and fate across three storylines featuring different characters played by the same actors. While some fans take it as an exploration of immortality, others look at it as a take on reincarnation.

The ambiguous nature of the story is part of what makes it so compelling to sci-fi fans. This underrated film by one of modern cinema's most interesting filmmakers is one fans have to see for themselves, as it also features perhaps Hugh Jackman's most underrated performance

16 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey is an enigma that fans can interpret in many different ways. The answers that appear will almost always vary from person to person. It's personal, existential, and stunning, and however fans choose to explain 2001: A Space Odyssey, the experience of watching it is unforgettable.

It's not surprising that 2001: A Space Odyssey is still considered a game-changer in the history of films. Director Stanley Kubrick portrayed non-existent but still incredibly accurate technology, hypnotizing viewers into thinking the future was possible — but is it any good? A machine named HAL 9000 will make fans think twice about communicating with ChatGPT today.

Related: 11 Great Foreign Sci-Fi Movies Worth Checking Out

15 Minority Report (2002)

A scene from Minority Report with Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton
20th Century Fox

Steven Spielberg is known for making mind-blowing sci-fi movies and his 2002 movie Minority Report is one of the best. Loosely based on a novella by Philip K. Dick called "The Minority Report" which came out in 1965. Set in 2054, Tom Cruise plays a police chief of a specialized federal department called Precrime.

Precrime used psychics to decipher the intention and location of perpetrators before they even commit a crime, but the system fell apart when one of their own is framed for murder. The enthralling action movie kept the audience on the edge of their seats with a few twists and turns. Minority Report is the perfect film for fans of action movies set in a futuristic setting.

14 High Life (2018)

Mia Goth in High Life

In this low-concept existential film by Claire Denis, criminals are sent to space and experimented upon as they move closer to a black hole. There's not much of a structure in High Life's narrative but the nightmare-like setting where the film takes place is appropriate for the sci-fi thriller.

High Life features disturbing performances from actors like Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, and Juliette Binoche also help the film stand out among sci-fi blockbusters. The frenetic story also features a haunting ending that won't soon be forgotten by fans. The film by one of France's most interesting directors is on its way to becoming a cult classic.

13 Stalker (1979)

A scene from Stalker by director Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker is considered by many to be the greatest sci-fi ever made, and there is a reason. This existentialism-based film by Andrei Tarkovsky is a mystery itself. From lost footage to unexplained decisions by its director, the film is shrouded under a veil of mystery that only gets more interesting with the plot.

Stalker tells the story of a rural area known as the Zone where desires can come true with unforeseen consequences. Stalkers are hired to help explore the Zone in Tarkovsky's beautifully essential but criminally underseen sci-fi film. For fans looking to try something new on movie night, Stalker is a fantastic choice that more viewers need to see.

12 Interstellar (2014)

Concept art from Christopher Nolan's Interstellar
Paramount Pictures

Interstellar is one of Christopher Nolan's best, albeit most confusing movies. However, the concept of time is explored with a complex script that's never too oblique to decrypt for dedicated viewers. That understanding quality is usually the beauty of Nolan's films, though Tenet definitely challenged some viewers.

In the midst of inevitable confusion, fans will feel like they're part of something bigger. Nolan's films often range between epic and emotional, but Interstellar is loaded with an existential tone that's greatly helped by impeccable performances and truly amazing CGI effects.

11 Metropolis (1927)

A scene from Fritz Lang's Metropolis

One of sci-fi's classics came out in 1927. Fritz Lang's Metropolis is a German expressionist film that pioneered the path for a generation of sci-fi movies to follow. The silent film is based on a sci-fi novel of the same name by Thea von Harbou.

Metropolis featured a dystopia where the rich rule over the poor in the titular city. The poor manned giant machines that kept the skyscrapers of the rich people running. The movie is still regarded as one of the best sci-fi works by many fans and holds a highly-regarded place in the annals of cinematic science fiction.

Related: Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, Ranked