2024 is right around the corner, so we only have a few more days to celebrate the highs and lows of 2023’s film slate. Fortunately, this year has given movie fans plenty to talk about. Over the past 12 months, viewers have gotten more memorable films than they have from any other year since 2019. That’s particularly true for the year’s feature-length sci-fi offerings, ranging from broadly appealing to shockingly experimental.
In recent weeks, we’ve honored this year’s best comedies, thrillers, and TV shows. Now, it’s time to look back and remember the 10 best sci-fi movies of 2023, including several underrated gems that most moviegoers may have missed when they were originally released.
Quietly released in February, Linoleum is a delicate, layered sci-fi gem. Written and directed by Colin West and starring Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn, it’s an ambitious, low-budget drama with a lot of ideas on its mind, most of which aren’t revealed until the film’s gently heartbreaking final minutes.
For most of its runtime, Linoleum seems like nothing more than a quirky but straightforward film about the host of a children’s science show trying to build the rocket of his dreams. There’s real depth lingering beneath the surface of Linoleum’s story, though, and the film is worth seeking out solely to experience how patiently it unveils the hurt, empathetic heart beating at the center of it.
A Back to the Future-esque riff on a traditional slasher thriller, Totally Killer is an offbeat, absurdly fun film about a young girl who ends up trapped in the 1980s and forced to save her mom’s teenage self from a masked killer. Like all great time travel movies, the Amazon Prime Video original film is straightforward yet subversive, ridiculous yet relatable.
Anchored by Kiernan Shipka’s immensely likable, spirited lead performance, it’s a film that has been welcomed with open arms by horror fans but has nonetheless emerged as one of 2023’s most underrated sci-fi offerings. Hopefully, that’ll change in the years to come.
Not many sci-fi movies were released this year that felt as visually, stylistically, and narratively distinct as They Cloned Tyrone. The Netflix original film, which premiered on the streaming service in late July, is partly a genre-bending sci-fi comedy and partly a heartfelt love letter to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. On top of all of that, it’s also a conspiracy thriller with quite a lot to say, and it says it with more attitude and style than most of 2023’s other sci-fi titles.
The film has had a passionate fanbase ever since it was released this past summer, but don’t be surprised if the love for They Cloned Tyrone only continues to grow moving forward. It’s the kind of movie that seems designed to sneak its way onto many viewers’ lists of favorite sci-fi films, which is about as high a compliment as one can give it.
Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg chose to follow up his visceral 2020 feature debut, Possessor, with one of the year’s most acidic and unforgettable sci-fi thrillers. Set in an alternate reality where the world’s richest people get to pass off the punishments for their crimes onto their own, ready-to-use clones, Infinity Pool is a cynical takedown of the bourgeoisie, a haunting sci-fi fable, and a disorienting thriller.
Featuring two unforgettable, unhinged performances from Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård, Infinity Pool firmly cemented Cronenberg as one of the world’s most exciting and distinct new filmmakers when it was released in January. Its spell has proven difficult to shake off nearly a year later.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem takes the inherent sci-fi elements of its franchise as far as it possibly can. The Jeff Rowe-directed animated film features more gloriously well-designed mutated creatures and characters than it knows what to do with, and it climaxes with a kaiju battle that perfectly rides the line between absurd and horrifying.
The movie makes hanging out with its four eponymous leads seem more appealing than any of the TMNT films that have come before it. When it was released in early August, it seemed destined to rank as one of 2023’s most endearing blockbusters. Now that the year is winding down, it seems safe to say that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem has firmly held onto that title.
No One Will Save You is one of the year’s simplest and most effective thrillers. Written and directed by Brian Duffield, it follows a young woman as she’s forced to fight for her life during an alien invasion. Despite being ostracized by the other citizens of her small town, she proves to be uniquely difficult for her alien attackers to defeat. The harder she fights for her existence, however, the more insight both viewers and her extra-terrestrial enemies get into the past traumas that have defined her life.
Anchored by yet another formidable lead performance from Kaitlyn Dever, No One Will Save You is simultaneously a nail-biting thriller that’ll have you on the edge of your seat for the majority of its runtime and an introspective exploration of the lasting effects of guilt and the importance of forgiveness — no matter who or where it comes from.
A visually breathtaking blockbuster of truly remarkable proportions, director Takashi Yamazaki’s Godzilla Minus One makes the forgettable nature of many of America’s kaiju films seem much less forgivable. Across its 125-minute runtime, the Toho-produced Japanese film manages to introduce and pay off human storylines that actually work, all while delivering enough incredible set pieces to justify the massive scale of its story.
In other words, the film pulls off many of the things that Hollywood viewers had previously been forced to accept as impossible. It’s not only one of 2023’s biggest last-minute surprises but also one of the year’s very best sci-fi films.
Wes Anderson’s latest feature directorial effort is a lot of things: A quarantine comedy, a love letter to the theater, and a heartbreaking exploration of grief. There’s so much going on in Asteroid City, in fact, that it’d be easy to forget that its plot pivots entirely around the sudden appearance of alien life on Earth. The film’s brief UFO sequences aren’t superfluous instances of sci-fi invention, though. They’re just as important to Asteroid City as anything else in the film.
Like so many of the great sci-fi stories and movies that have come before it, Asteroid City is about coming face-to-face with the vast unknowability of the universe and trying to find one’s place in the grand, cosmic wilderness. It’s a beautiful addition to the sci-fi genre, one that’s brimming with impeccable retro-futuristic design choices and details, as well as enough moments of profound emotional and intellectual insight to keep you coming back to it again and again and again.
Poor Things is a visually stunning, decidedly feminist riff on Frankenstein. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the acclaimed comedy follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a recently dead woman with the brain of a child who sets out on a path of self-discovery the likes of which moviegoers have never quite seen before. The film’s surreal, Victorian-era European world is so striking and appealing that, were it not for Stone’s audacious lead performance, Poor Things’ sci-fi elements might have gotten lost somewhere in its first act.
Stone’s determined, uninhibited turn as Bella is so commanding, though, that you never forget the fact that you’re watching a woman grow under the most strange of sci-fi circumstances. That’s just one of the reasons why Poor Things works as well as it does. The film balances so many different elements so effortlessly that it makes many of this year’s other movies look simple and lazy by comparison.
No other movie this year packs in quite as many sci-fi thrills as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The film, which also ranks as 2023’s best superhero movie, is an awe-inspiring adventure that somehow manages to make the otherwise increasingly stale idea of the multiverse still seem exciting. It does so by taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by its multiple realities — throwing viewers headfirst into universes that look, move, and feel completely different from each other.
The film is one of the most gobsmackingly beautiful, technically impressive feature-length animated movies ever made, and seeing how well it uses its medium to tell its purposefully complex, high-concept sci-fi story is just one of the many pleasures that Across the Spider-Verse has to offer.
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