If one doesn't already have a love/hate relationship with Rotten Tomatoes and its rating system for films, a quick survey of their top-rated sci-fi films will likely evoke a passionate response. While their top films include some obvious sci-fi classics, there are some notable omissions and some surprising inclusions. One would expect iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, or Blade Runner to make the list. Yet notable, all films are absent from the list. Now this is for a number of reasons.

Update June 14, 2023: This article has been updated with even more great sci-fi films based on Rotten Tomatoes ranking.

For older films, there are fewer reviews in circulation available to properly rate a movie. Films also go through cultural reappraisals, so some movies that may have received mixed reviews at the time of their release have those reviews sitting alongside more modern contemporary reviews that are more favorable. Since Rotten Tomatoes is a review aggregator, it takes the various reviews and compiles them, and gives them a number value based on the number of positive and negative reviews. While the absence of some science fiction classics is likely to make many upset, there is also an interesting selection of films that paint a broad brush for the genre. It also may highlight some films audiences may not have heard of any want to check out.

The following are the highest-rated sci-fi films on Rotten Tomatoes, ranked by the "Tomatometer" of critic reviews. We have only included films that have been "Certified Fresh," as those films must meet a minimum number of reviews, as well as reviews from a list of "top critics." In cases where films have the same "Tomatometer" score, the higher audience score will determine ranking.

14 Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet 1956 Robby the Robot

Tomatometer: 96%; Audience Score: 85%

Forbidden Planet is one of the most iconic science fiction movies of all time, as its poster and iconic character, Robby the Robot, have become staples of pop culture. The film is often considered by many to be a science fiction retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. It revolutionized the science fiction genre as it was the first film to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light vessel of their own creation and featured an entirely electronic musical score.

Forbidden Planet served as the inspiration for many science fiction films and television shows. In 2013 it was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for its cultural significance. Even after all these years, it is beloved by fans and critics alike.

13 The Iron Giant (1999)

Warner Bros.

Tomatometer: 96%; Audience Score: 90%

While The Iron Giant was a flop at the box office when it hit theaters, it quickly grew a passionate fanbase and is now considered one of the best-animated films of all time and one of the best science fiction movies ever. Directed by Brad Bird, The Iron Giant follows the unlikely friendship between a young boy and a giant metal alien who has no memory of who he is.

The film is a homage to the 1950s Cold War era science fiction films while also updating the black-and-white politics of those earlier films for the modern day. The Iron Giantis sweet, moving, and beautifully animated. It has endured among audiences since it came out and will surely stand the test of time.

12 April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

A scene from the animated film April and the Extraordinary World
Metropole Films

Tomatometer: 97%; Audience Score: 77%

This wonderfully entertaining French animation film features alternate historical timelines, steampunk, and a talking cat, and those aren't even the best parts. April and the Extraordinary World is set in a 1940s alternate universe where Napoleon's descendants still rule France. Technological innovation is at a steampunk-like level, with no radio, television, or electricity. April, a teenager with a talking cat, goes off in search of her parents, scientists who are being held by the government.

Related: 22 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2022, Ranked

Featuring 2D, hand-drawn animation, the film's rich characters have more soul than a year's worth of big-studio animation releases. The film is as beautiful as it is thought-provoking and approaches sci-fi from a unique angle, as Napoleonic politics are still present. It seems to be a battle of the old against the new in this 2015 movie; Gestapo-like police forcers tracking down intellectuals feel so antiquated in the context of scientists creating an entire jungle ecosystem underneath Paris.

11 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road
Warner Bros. Pictures 

Tomatometer: 97%; Audience Score: 86%

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most recent films on this list. The fourth film in the popular franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road, quickly roared into the hearts and minds of audiences and critics when it hit theaters in May 2015. The high-octane science fiction dystopian action epic was a technical marvel.

Mad Max: Fury Road was also one of the rare science fiction blockbusters that also managed to be an awards contender. It was nominated for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards. While it did not win the top prize, it did go on to win six Oscars, including Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

10 Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang

Tomatometer: 97%; Audience Score: 92%

A classic that is taught in cinema studies classes across the country, Fritz Lang's masterpiece still mesmerizes to this day. With visuals more captivating than most modern CGI spectacles, Metropolis tells the story of a futuristic city where a permanent underclass of workers serves the privileged elite. When the son (Gustav Fröhlich) of the city's founder falls in love with one of the workers (Brigitte Helm), he joins her in a revolution to set society right.

Made in Germany during the Weimar period, in which Germany was economically and socially reeling from the effects of World War I, the film is highly political. The story pushes a Marxist narrative–– portraying a unionized proletariat front fighting against the evils of the wealthy upper class. Metropolis set the standard for science fiction in many people's books, and the 2008 discovery of missing original footage thought lost for eight decades has only solidified its classic status. From the name inspiring the fictional city Superman would reside in DC Comics to the main robot being the inspiration for C3PO in Star Wars, its legacy cannot be disputed. The film may be a standard darling of the critics, but it deserves to be.

9 Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future movie
Universal Pictures

Tomatometer: 97%; Audience Score: 94%

There are very few science fictions out there that are also beloved comedies, and Back to the Future has been described as the perfect sci-fi comedy. Based in 1985, the film follows Marty McFly, a teenage boy struggling in his home and school life, and his next-door neighbor Doc as two accidentally set off Doc's feat in scientific ingenuity: a car that takes them in the past. The film is zany and lovable, with Doc and Marty getting into crazy antics when they wind up going back to the year 1955. And while the two are having fun, they soon realize their presence in the past is jeopardizing their future. The two must put their heads together to figure out how to get back to 1985.

After all these years, the film hasn't lost a bit of its charm––– who doesn't love a mad scientist and a young high school duo? Like so many great films, Back to the Future had its production setbacks, including having to recast the character of Marty after six weeks of filming, replacing Eric Stoltz with the producers' original choice for the role, Michael J. Fox. It's easy to see that, even with a great supporting cast and a crackling script, Fox is the reason why this film works.

8 Repo Man (1984)

Repo Man
Universal Pictures

Tomatometer: 98%; Audience Score: 78%

Universal didn't have much faith in Repo Man, a low-budget sci-fi film from Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy) about a punk rocker (Emilio Estevez) who repossesses a car with potential ties to extraterrestrial life. It was only released in 39 theaters in 1984, but critics praised it as one of the best films of the year. The 1980s were very good to Emilio Estevez, as he had hits in just about every genre, but this was the "Brat Pack" member's breakout role.

A satire of the Reagan administration, the film addresses issues regarding consumerism and fears around nuclear power. Yet, Repo Man sets itself apart from others like it for its uniquely punk rock aesthetic. After all, it was created by a couple of UCLA film student graduates. This film might not have the name recognition of iconic sci-fi films like Star Wars or Blade Runner, but that makes its inclusion on this list and high ranking so fascinating.

7 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Allied Artists Pictures

Tomatometer: 98%; Audience Score: 85%

With a title like this one, you can bet that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an unsettling film. When it was first released in 1956, the film connected with American audiences that were already paranoid about the "Red Scare" of the era. The movie has a B-movie premise but the execution of an A-list classic. Kevin McCarthy plays a doctor who learns that alien pods are hatching clones that are taking over every human being in a small California town, and no one believes him.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a fast-paced conspiracy thriller that is still a lot of fun to watch, with a great performance by McCarthy. While the film explores the idea of alien life and their interactions with Earth, the aesthetic and world-building of the film are uncannily mundane. Rather than focusing on high-tech gadgets and gizmos, the film focuses on how aliens are able to adapt to human culture and experiences. The film has seen several solid remakes, but the original remains the best.

6 Brazil (1985)

Jonathan Pryce as Sam in Brazil
Universal Pictures

Tomatometer: 98%; Audience Score: 90%

Directed by Monthy Phyton alumni Terry Gilliam, Brazil is a dystopian black comedy science fiction film. While a box office bomb when it was released, it was praised by critics at the time and gained a cult following. The film is notable for the conflict behind the scenes over the film's ending. The studio favored a happier ending, while Gilliam's original ending was a darker one.

Related: The 20 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, Ranked

Gilliam's ending was released in international markets, but Universal Pictures released the happier ending for the film in the United States. Universal eventually did agree to release Gilliam's cut of the film domestically, and since has become one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

5 Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver with a cat in Alien
20th Century Fox

Tomatometer: 98%; Audience Score: 94%

There have been plenty of science fiction-horror films, but none are as perfect as Ridley Scott's Alien. The tale of a bloodthirsty creature that hunts the crew members of a spacecraft made Sigourney Weaver an icon, and Alien continues to scare audiences to this day. The Chestburster scene hasn't lost a bit of its shock value, even after 40 years. Like another famous monster film, Jaws, the Alien gets limited screen time. They only appear for about four minutes in total, and yet their presence is felt throughout this masterpiece.

4 Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens 1986
20th Century Fox

Tomatometer: 98%; Audience Score: 94%

Deciding between Aliens and Alien is like trying to pick a favorite child. Both films are unparalleled sci-fi-horror classics, but Aliens is a visceral action masterpiece, whereas Alien is the perfect claustrophobic thriller. And while both films are certainly worth the watch, and Sigourney Weaver is perfect in both films, the world-building is more expansive, and the Ripley character is more emotionally deep in Aliens. Centered around Ripley in a mother role to the orphaned Newt (Carrie Henn) and taking place in a spaceship, the film captures all the fear and horror of having a murderous alien lurking around such tight quarters.

It's an iconic performance, and it's no wonder why the film was Weaver's favorite Alien movie to make. The supporting cast of Marines, led by Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, adds both humor and a voice of reason, as Paxton's Hudson never fails to say what the audience is thinking. Aliens is a pitch-perfect action masterpiece.

3 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

A scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Pictures

Tomatometer: 99%; Audience Score: 72%

Surprisingly, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is Steven Spielberg's only film on this list, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (94%) and Jurassic Park (91%) falling short of even cracking the top 20 on Rotten Tomatoes. E.T. certainly weaves an adorable sci-fi classic and, at one point, was the highest-grossing film of all time, so it isn't surprising to see it on this list.

The tale of a friendly alien who befriends a family while trying to contact home is arguably Spielberg's most entertaining sci-fi film, which is helped immensely by the fantastic child actors in the film. While Henry Thomas is unforgettable as Elliott, Dew Barrymore steals every scene she's in, with many of her best lines ad-libbed.

2 The Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator
Orion Pictures

Tomatometer: 100%; Audience Score: 89%

James Cameron's 1984 classic about a time-traveling cyborg on a mission to change the past holds up decades later, even if some of the makeup and special effects haven't. That's part of the charm of The Terminator, as every other aspect of the film is absolutely fantastic, with a great performance by Linda Hamilton, a couple of iconic one-liners that are still quoted today, and perhaps the most perfect casting of all time with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the killer robot.

The Terminator launched a long-running franchise, and while Terminator 2: Judgement Day likely eclipsed its predecessor in popularity and among movie fans, The Terminator still remains not only a great sci-fi horror classic but a great show for the talent that both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger would bring to cinema. In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

1 Stalker (1979)

Man stands in sand small dunes inside of a room in Stalker

Tomatometer: 100%; Audience Score: 92%

If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for a doozy with Stalker, a 1979 sci-fi mind-bender from Russia. Directed by noted auteur Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev, 1972's Solaris), the film is meditative, deep, and visually stunning. Stalker is largely unknown to even devoted sci-fi fans, but those who have seen it stand by it. Once you've seen it, you'll understand why it rates so high. It's a surreal, meaningful cinematic experience that deserves more attention. Tarkovsky is known for his science fiction movies, often mind-bending narratives that look at the nature of human beings, and this one is no different.

Set in an unnamed country, the film follows three men who attempt to enter "The Zone," an area outside a dilapidated village where something from space has either crashed or deliberately landed. The government allows no one to enter and shoots anyone who attempts. It is rumored, however, that within The Zone is a room that will grant any wish. Two of the men, a professor, and a disillusioned writer, want to enter The Zone and find the room. The third man, a "stalker," is guiding them in, and along the way, we learn their motivations for going there. Stalker is not an easy film to watch; it demands you to listen, pay attention, and think. It's slow-paced, and there's a lot of talking, but you've likely seen nothing like it. Prepare to watch it twice to fully appreciate it.