Best sci-fi movie from the year you were born
Looking up at the night sky, it’s easy to understand why science fiction exists. It can be a difficult genre to define, but at its core, each work of science fiction deals with a great unknown. Said unknown can probe the mystery of what resides alongside us in the universe, or it can pose the question of what we, as humans, are capable of with technology.
It is also one of the best escapes, distractions, or parallels given viewers’ situations and perspectives. During tough times like the current COVID-19 pandemic and resulting isolation for many, we hope this list of great sci-fi films provides at minimum some inspirations, and at most some reprieve.
The art of speculative fiction was cemented with the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” in the early 19th century. Science fiction began cropping up consistently in literature, but it didn’t really reach cinema until what many consider to be the first science fiction film: Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon,” released in 1902. From there, the genre spent many of its first decades mired in B-grade Hollywood classics as filmmakers struggled to visually depict the intricacies of many science fiction plots. While other genres such as fantasy can rely on absolute suspension of disbelief to produce a good story, science fiction is arguably unique in the demand it places on viewers and filmmakers alike: The viewer will only sacrifice what logic dictates if the world depicted by the filmmakers is somehow entirely believable.
We start our quest to find the best science fiction film the year you were born in 1920. Stacker created an index that equally weights each film’s IMDb score and Rotten Tomatoes critic rating (when available) to rank all science fiction films in a given year. The film with the highest Stacker Score is what you see here.
A genre that reaches to put humanity in context with the makings of the universe, science fiction has spawned many of the greatest philosophical films the 20th and 21st centuries have to offer. As the popularity of the recent TV series “Black Mirror” suggests, we are more focused on the dark possibilities of technology than ever before. In this day and age, science fiction may be the closest thing we have to a prophetic work.
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1920: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Director: John S. Robertson
- Stacker Score: 81
- Runtime: 49 min
A doctor drove to prove that evil and good exist in everyone accidentally unleashes his evil alter-ego: Mr. Hyde. Starring John Barrymore as both titular characters, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is the first of many films inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel.
1921: The Mechanical Man
- Director: André Deed
- Stacker Score: 61
- Runtime: 80 min
One of the first science fiction films produced in Italy, “The Mechanical Man” is about a robot that ends up in the wrong hands; to counter his criminal activities, another robot is built. The film has somewhat of a cult following, as much of its footage is presumed to be lost.
1922: The Young Diana
- Director: Albert Capellani and Robert G. Vignola
- Stacker Score: 61
- Runtime: 90 min
Starring Marion Davis in the titular role and directed by Albert Capellani and Robert G. Vignola, “The Young Diana” is about a young woman whose father pushes her to marry into British nobility, despite her feelings for a sailor. Throughout the story, Diana is also pursued by a scientist consumed with searching for the elixir of life.
1923: Black Oxen
- Director: Albert Capellani
- Stacker Score: 64
- Runtime: 80 min
“Black Oxen” is not considered a science fiction film in the strictest sense, but at the heart of its romantic conflict lies a twist futuristic enough to make it the best sci-fi film of 1923. A philanderer (Conway Teele) falls in love with a beautiful European countess (Corinne Griffith), before realizing that her timeless looks may be a clue to a much larger secret.
1924: The Last Man on Earth
- Director: John G. Blystone
- Stacker Score: 60
- Runtime: 70 min
As many of the earliest science fiction films did, “The Last Man on Earth” found its inspiration from Mary Shelley’s novel, “The Last Man.” Tapping into a timeless fear, “The Last Man on Earth” is about a plague that wiped out every fertile man on Earth over the age of 14—until an aviator (Grace Cunard) finds a reclusive man in the woods (Earle Foxe). The film spirals into a comedy as women everywhere begin to fight over Foxe.
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1925: Our Heavenly Bodies
- Director: Hanns Walter Kornblum
- Stacker Score: 68
- Runtime: 92 min
An experimental piece, “Our Heavenly Bodies” is a German, patchwork science fiction film that attempts the impossible: to explain human knowledge of the world and the universe in just 92 minutes. The film combines documentary clips, historical documents, and underlying fictional elements to ultimately produce a piece unlike any preceding its release.
1926: The Adventures of the Three Reporters
- Directors: Boris Barnet, Fyodor Otsep
- Stacker Score: 70
- Runtime: 250 min
This Soviet spy film was released nearly a decade after WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution, serving as a compelling piece of political propaganda. The movie, also known as “Miss Mend,” focuses on a trio of reporters trying to defeat an evil Western enemy intent on launching an attack on the USSR.
- Director: Fritz Lang
- Stacker Score: 91
- Runtime: 153 min
“Metropolis” is considered by many to be a pioneering science fiction film, as one of the first feature-length releases of its kind. Firmly in the science fiction realm, “Metropolis” takes place in a dystopian, urban world where the city ruler’s son (Gustav Fröhlich) falls in love with a woman from the industrial working class who was forced to toil beneath the city (Brigitte Helm). “Metropolis” is still obsessed over to this day, and recent attempts have recovered most of the film’s lost footage.
1928: Alraune (A Daughter of Destiny)
- Director: Henrik Galeen
- Stacker Score: 62
- Runtime: 108 minutes
“Alraune” explores a german professor (Paul Wegener) as he seeks to validate old German folklore that a root buried in the Earth is said to absorb men’s power as they die, and is used in love potions. He attempts to impregnate a prostitute in a strange, twisted experiment.
1929: High Treason
- Director: Maurice Elvey
- Stacker Score: 62
- Runtime: 95 min
Arguably inspired by the notable “Metropolis,” “High Treason” looks at conflict on the scale of a World War: The "United States of Europe" (Europe, India, the Middle East, Canada, Africa, and Australasia) come into conflict with the “Empire of the Atlantic States” (the United States and South America). Dr. Seymour (played by Humberston Wright) desperately attempts to ease tensions between the two supernations alongside his daughter, Evelyn (Benita Hume).
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