One of the most captivating and thought-provoking subgenres in the vast and ever-expanding realm of science fiction cinematography involves future conflicts, either against a significantly more advanced alien species or against the machines that seek to eradicate their creators.
These movies typically transport us to distant galaxies, dystopian futures, or even alternate dimensions, where the indomitable human spirit clashes with the aforementioned forces. Here are some of the best sci-fi war movies ever made.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Of course, there’s no list of best sci-fi war movies without the iconic Starship Troopers, a movie that rightfully earned its place in the pantheon of science-fiction classics. Though it initially flopped, as the critics perceived that the movie promoted fascism, and the bad reviews and word-of-mouth affected the box office earnings severely, Starship Troopers was later critically re-evaluated.
And it’s now considered a cult classic that launched a multimedia franchise that includes four sequel, animated television series, several video games, and a variety of merchandise.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
If you like the best sci-fi war movies that revolve around alien invasions, time loops, mechanized suits, and Tom Cruise, you’ll love Edge of Tomorrow. The movie revolves around a time loop that forces its protagonist, Major Bill Cage, to relive the same day repeatedly, each time learning from his mistakes and striving to change the course of a seemingly unwinnable war against the aliens.
It’s one of the best sci-fi war movies that refreshes the whole genre as we get to see the Major tackling the same circumstances and events but with an increased level of skill. Definitely worth 113 minutes of our time.
District 9 (2009)
District 9 is a success story in the world of the high-budget sci-fi war genre because this fantastic blend of gritty realism and thought-provoking social commentary went on to earn $210 million on a mere $30 million budget.
The movie is set in a fictional 1982 where alien refugees are forced to live in slums within the segregated Johannesburg in South Africa, allowing the filmmakers to explore themes of xenophobia, racism, prejudice, and the consequences of uncontrolled militarism.
What really makes it one of the best sci-fi war movies is its documentary-style filmmaking, which gives it a more authentic feel.
Independence Day (1996)
So many great movies stirring up childhood memories of adrenaline rushes we’d get while watching Independence Day. It was a significant turning point in the history of Hollywood blockbusters directly responsible for the sci-fi resurgence of the mid-late ’90s.
This is one of the best sci-fi war movies and stars Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and a while star-studded cast that’s trying to coordinate a counter-attack that would put an end to an alien invasion. The movie was a massive success, and it became the highest-grossing film of 1996 while also establishing Will Smith as an action movie hero who nearly passed on Men in Black.
Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Battle: Los Angeles is a pretty good hypothetical description of what might happen if an alien invasion catches us with our pants down—massive casualties, inability to adequately coordinate defense and counter-attack, the overall lack of intelligence on the enemy forces, take your pick.
Besides providing an insight into an uneasy yet quite possible scenario, Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t fall short of delivering relentless, high-octane action, with a clear emphasis on the gritty and chaotic nature of urban warfare. Overall, it’s really a fantastic sci-fi war release that actually spawned a same-name video game.
War of the Worlds (2005)
What is it with Tom Cruise and aliens? War of the Worlds is a modern adaptation of H.G. Wells’s classic sci-fi novel of the same name, set in contemporary times. It follows the story of a working-class father—portrayed by Cruise—who must protect his children as the whole planet faces a full-scale alien invasion.
What separates War of the Worlds from other sci-fi war films is that the movie actually focuses on a single family as they try to survive instead of large-scale battles that are typically associated with the genre. Oh, and the ending is really surprising if you haven’t watched it.
The Terminator (1984)
Here’s a franchise that, unfortunately, hasn’t aged very well. But the first movie was a massive hit when it was released in 1984, as it left an indelible mark on the sci-far war movies genre—and it did so on a mere $6.4 million budget while also launching James Cameron’s film career.
The story is well known to basically everyone: in the future, a computer program made for defense becomes self-aware and wages war on humanity. Naturally, humans resist, so the program sends a cyborg back in time to try and kill Sarah Connor, whose unborn son is destined to lead the human resistance.
Avatar is yet another James Cameron movie on this list and the highest-grossing movie ever made. It falls under the sci-fi war movie category, but instead of us battling against an alien invasion seeking to alleviate our planet of its natural resources, we’re the villains of the story trying to conquer the alien world in search of a planet-specific metal.
Besides becoming an absolute hit among audiences, the movie also stirred heated debate about the European colonization of the Americas, their treatment, and the attempted cultural assimilation of the natives.