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5 most scientifically accurate sci-fi movies, ranked

Joaquin Phoenix looking at a cityscape on his balcony in Her.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Science fiction movies tend to lean heavily on the fiction side to create fantastical stories and futuristic worlds beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. There are more than a few films in the genre, however, that stand out for using theories and concepts grounded in actual science. These scientifically accurate movies use realistic principles to create engaging worlds and scenarios that are often more effective because they are plausible.

From the meticulously crafted survival story in The Martian to the not-too-distant future shown in Her, these movies make the most out of the unique intersection between science and imagination. They propose potential realities people may one day experience given the trajectory of both human ingenuity and society’s most dangerous flaws. Whether viewers are in the mood for soft sci-fi or more extreme applications of scientific theories, there’s something for every type of fan looking to see how science and cinema collide.

5. Gattaca (1997)

Ethan Hawke in a suit looking back, someone in a white lab coat in the distance behind him in a scene from Gattaca.
Sony Pictures Releasing

In the dystopian future of Gattaca, genetic engineering dictates one’s social and professional destiny, which doesn’t sit right with Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke). Despite being conceived naturally, thus deemed genetically inferior or “in-valid,” Vincent dreams of becoming an astronaut but faces discrimination due to his genetic profile. He commits a crime by assuming the identity of a “valid” to sneak into the elite space agency, where he becomes tangled in a murder investigation that threatens to expose his lie. He also meets fellow employee Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman), and the two share a budding forbidden romance.

Directed by Andrew Niccol, the film explores the potential of gene editing and its societal consequences, portraying the ethical implications of such engineering and its role in worsening societal inequality. Gattaca‘s portrayal of the technology was groundbreaking and remains relevant almost three decades later, especially as policies surrounding emerging precision genetic manipulation tools like CRISPR remain unclear. For now, at least, Vincent’s plight poses critical questions about the extent genome sequencing should play in the near future.

4. Interstellar (2014)

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.
Paramount Pictures

Among director Christopher Nolan’s best works, Interstellar is an acclaimed epic sci-fi film that takes place in a future where Earth is suffering from ecological collapse rendering it uninhabitable. Here, former NASA pilot turned farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is unexpectedly recruited for a mission to find a new home planet for humanity by traveling through a wormhole near Saturn. Alongside scientists Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi), Cooper leaves his family to go on an interstellar voyage to save humanity.

The Oscar award-winning movie received universal praise for being a visually stunning and mind-bending masterpiece that became an instant classic of the genre. Its dramatic sequences on other worlds are not only striking but also deeply rooted in scientific concepts, particularly its depiction of black holes and time dilation. Nolan’s collaboration with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who served as scientific consultant and executive producer for the film, ensured that Interstellar‘s representation of these phenomena was grounded in real science. For instance, the depiction of the black hole Gargantua is praised for its accuracy, with its awe-inspiring representation being based on complex calculations that offer a convincing look at its event horizon and gravitational lensing effects.

3. Arrival (2016)

Amy Adams holds up a whiteboard sign in Arrival.
Paramount Pictures

Before creating the popular Dune movies, director Denis Villeneuve had already established himself as a master of the sci-fi genre through 2016’s Arrival. The absorbing film is centered on linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), recruited by the military when 12 alien spacecraft land across the globe. Her task, alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), is to communicate with the extraterrestrial beings they call Heptapods to understand their purpose on Earth. The clock is ticking as tensions escalate among world leaders who begin to argue about how they should deal with this potential threat.

While the existence of aliens is a hot debate both within and outside the scientific community, one thing Arrival gets right is its portrayal of linguistic principles. The way the protagonist becomes immersed in the alien communication was thoughtfully planned, with linguistics professors like McGill University’s Jessica Coon involved in ensuring that “the interactive nature” of the fictional language is something “the film gets exactly right.” She would further explain that the “way a linguist would approach” such a situation, like how they would annotate the logograms, is surprisingly accurate.

2. The Martian (2015)

Matt Damon in The Martian.
20th Century Studios

One of the best sci-fi movies of the 2010s, The Martian is a gripping sci-fi adventure directed by Ridley Scott based on Andy Weir’s eponymous 2011 novel. The survival story follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is presumed dead and left behind on Mars after a fierce storm forces his crew to abort their mission. Stranded alone on the Red Planet, Watney relies on his ingenuity and knowledge of botany to survive, figuring out how to grow potatoes using Martian soil and human waste, generating water through chemical reactions, and communicating with NASA using a rover. When someone finally realizes he’s alive, his colleagues at NASA scramble to rescue him in time.

Aside from Damon’s impressive performance as the brilliant and humorous protagonist, The Martian‘s scientific accuracy is one of its strongest points. Staying true to realistic concepts and the book it’s based on, the 2015 film showcases how an astronaut might use real scientific methods to solve problems in such a predicament — including the space potatoes. The portrayal of space travel logistics was also grounded in real science, with NASA’s involvement in the film’s production guaranteeing that the technology and scenarios were as true-to-life as possible.

1. Her (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in Her.
Warner Bros. Pictures

At this point, it’s easy to see why the unsettlingly prophetic Her is a scientifically accurate movie. Set in a near-future Los Angeles, the sci-fi romance revolves around the lonely writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who escapes his isolation by connecting with an advanced operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The film is full of their intimate conversations, with their deepening relationship soon posing unique problems for Theodore.

The future depicted in director Spike Jonze’s film is already becoming a reality, with recent and rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) changing the way humans interact with technology. “AI boyfriends” are becoming more common as people find unexpected companionship through their screens, with a variety of customizable chatbots now just a few clicks away. The fact that Scarlett Johansson’s legal team is claiming OpenAI has unfairly used a voice that’s “uncannily similar” to her own for their AI personal assistant further underscores the predictive nature of the film.

Hannah Saab
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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