6 New (ish) Science Fiction Movies Better Than Star Wars

Joel Lee 16-11-2015

Star Wars is back in a big way, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens kicking off a new era for this long-running series, making people giddy with excitement. But while the hype is palpable, one has to wonder if it’s justified. Is Star Wars really the pinnacle of science fiction movies set in space? Haven’t several films already surpassed the Star Wars series?


I know, I know, “surpassed Star Wars” is a strong statement that perhaps borders on incendiary, but let’s face it: even though the franchise undoubtedly left a permanent mark on global culture, the films themselves are nowhere near perfect. Great? Sure. Flawed? Absolutely.

So what’s my criteria for these so-called “better” films? I’ll boil it down to three things: narrative ambition, overall film execution, and the feeling of satisfaction when the movies ends. Also, for reference, all of these space-related films were released between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Summed up in one quick sentence, Star Wars is essentially an epic science-fantasy adventure in space, and if we’re going by that description, then there’s no other film that better captures that feeling than Guardians of the Galaxy.

Despite being based on a comic book, this film doesn’t feel like a “comic book movie” in the same vein as Spiderman, Iron Man, or Captain America — mostly because the characters in Guardians aren’t traditional superheroes with regular superpowers.

In one word, Guardians is fun. There’s a lot to love about this movie — the humor, the action, the performances, and even the unexpected emotional notes that hit towards the end — but at its core, this movie is a wild ride through space.


As far as science-fantasy adventures are concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy executes much better than Star Wars and, as a result, ends up being a more satisfying meal.

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Serenity (2005)

Serenity is another example of a science-fantasy adventure film that gets it right. To be fair, Serenity is an end-cap to Firefly, one of a handful of brilliant sci-fi television series 10+ Brilliant Sci-Fi TV Shows That Aren't Star Trek [Stuff to Watch] The best sci-fi movies are often cherished by fans and placed up high upon the mantle, but it's TV shows that make up the bread and butter of any geek's media diet. A good TV... Read More , so a decent amount of world-building was already established prior to the film, but the film itself is relatively self-contained.

What’s great about Serenity is the same thing that marks greatness in most of Joss Whedon’s works — witty dialogue, a living breathing world, and a spectrum of diverse yet lovable characters. Whereas Star Wars can be painfully clichéd at times, Serenity is a breath of fresh air.


The scope of Serenity may not be as far and wide as Star Wars, but I’d chalk that up to the limitation between one movie vs. seven movies (with more on the way). Given seven films, I think a Serenity series would’ve easily blown Star Wars out of the water.

Note: Joss Whedon also wrote The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is a very similar film in many ways (though obviously in a different world with different characters and a lighter tone). If you like both Star Wars and The Avengers, you’ll like Serenity.

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Star Trek (2009)

Oh boy. Anyone who claims that Star Trek is better than Star Wars — or even the other way around — is just asking for trouble. The truth is, they’re so different that the two can be tough to compare Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Which Is More Technologically Advanced? We pit Star Trek against Star Wars to find out which is more technologically advanced. What do you think? Read More . After all, the two universes are fundamentally different at their cores — or at least they used to be.


Star Trek re-imagines the universe by shedding a lot of the philosophical weight that once defined it. As a result, it’s lighter and more mainstream, making it feel closer to Star Wars than the series ever did in the past.

What was once an exploration of society and the human condition has become a mainstream science-fantasy adventure complete with a refined cast of characters, a sharp narrative, and wonderful visuals. In terms of sheer adventure, Star Trek is a masterpiece.

But best of all, Star Trek managed to do the one thing that Star Wars could never really pull off: create a satisfying prequel story that doesn’t suck.

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The Martian (2015)

The Martian was one step behind the new Star Wars as far as the most anticipated films of 2015, which is funny because The Martian is almost the exact opposite of Star Wars in a lot of ways.

What’s remarkable about The Martian, besides the fact that the book was serially published The Martian, and the Rise of Serial Publishing A resurgence in serially publishing books in currently underway, with The Martian, now a major motion picture, being the prime example of this fascinating distribution method. Read More , is that it’s one of the few films in space that can actually claim to be hard science fiction. There are no lightsabers (because lightsabers are impossible You Will Never Own a Real Lightsaber, Because Science Ever since filmgoers first saw the lightsaber in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, there has been demand for a real one. Unfortunately, science suggests real lightsabers are an impossibility. Read More ), no laser battles, and no aliens. Nothing but science, ingenuity, and the main protaganist’s will to live.

Sure, Star Wars might take place in space, but The Martian takes us somewhere we’ve never been before. This film is equal parts suspenseful, inspirational, and primal. The story it tells is simple and straightforward, but also optimistic and universally relatable — and that’s a rarity in this genre.

Interstellar (2014)

Without a doubt, Interstellar will be remembered as one of the future science fiction classics Get Smart: Watch the Best Futuristic Action Movies There are a number of movies that combine hard-hitting action with deep concepts. These are smart, thought-provoking films that offer a most welcome form of intelligent entertainment. Read More . It’s one of the few movies that does justice to the immensity of space, as well as the inherent wonder and mystery of it all. Interstellar respects the vastness of space in a way that Star Wars never did.

But more so than that, Interstellar has far more ambition than Star Wars — and that’s saying a lot, considering how many more Star Wars films are in planning and the massive canonical universe that it has spawned since its inception in 1977.

Indeed, Interstellar accomplishes way more in just one film. Not to say that it’s a perfect film, but it certainly attempts to be an ultimate film experience. The scope is massive, the acting is phenomenal, the concepts are cutting edge, and the visuals are ethereal.

Interstellar is dense and compact while Star Wars is wide and shallow. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being wide and shallow, but as far as filmmaking ambition goes, Interstellar is the clear choice.

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Gravity (2013)

Many people view GravityInterstellar, and The Martian as the Holy Trinity of modern space films that actually take space seriously. These films have a pragmatic and realistic outlook on space — very few fantastical elements included — and it’s honestly refreshing.

Gravity was the one to jump-start that trend. (It also grossed more than the other two films in all meaningful metrics, including Domestic, Worldwide, and Total.) People like to rag on Gravity, but it deserves praise for what it tried to do.

Here’s how Gravity surpasses Star Wars — it focuses on the one truth of space that Star Wars conveniently overlooks: space is the most dangerous thing about space, even more so than Sith Lords and Galactic Emperors.

Gravity is a thrilling ride from start to finish, and the threats along that journey are more relatable to everyday people than the foes in Star Wars. In that sense, Gravity is much more worthy of praise.

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Other Notable Mentions

There are several other high-quality space films that were released in the past decade that also deserve recognition: Sunshine (2007), Moon (2009), and even Avatar (2009). Better than Star Wars? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how you see it.

Don’t get me wrong: Star Wars is awesome, and there’s no denying its impact on society. I mean, just look at how many parodies of The Force Awakens trailer were made. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as evidenced by all of these Star Wars fanfiction stories.

So what do you think? Is Star Wars the best space science fiction film of all time? If not, which ones are actually better? How badly do you agree or disagree with this list? However you feel, be sure to let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Movie Trailer, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars.

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  1. Michael
    March 26, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    You are crazy, these films are not better and never will be better than Star Wars (original trilogy). But if you meant Force Awakens, yeah, even the Star Wars porn parody is better than that...

  2. Tilly Reid
    September 2, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Star Wars indeed is a good movie , but I believe in 2016 there are some good science fiction movies are well worth watching, like The Last Man on the Moon (2016), Independence Day: Resurgence.

  3. Anonymous
    December 15, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I believe in turn the precursor to Star Trek was the 1956 film 'forbidden planet' which is very recognisably a prototype for many of the themes and ideas in the 1960s TV series (artificial intelligence, fallen civilisations, and a benign but military style of space exploration) (and many later films). (Its obviously much too old to be recent :-). I think the 'problem solving' films like Gravity and the Martian clearly map back to Apollo 13, which highlights how space is the biggest threat in space travel (in reality not fantasy), and how travellers are dependent on a variety of technologies, but also their own ingenuity and inventiveness.

  4. Anonymous
    November 18, 2015 at 1:46 am

    Mr. Lee! Mr. Lee! *waves hand frantically*....

    I offer the one solid proof that Star Wars is the greatest science fiction film(s) evah!


    How many of the movies on the list accomplished THAT??? Baaaaahahahahahahaha!

    Hey, I'm too close to the source to be impartial here...I was 7 when Star Wars (the REAL episode 1) came out, and my best friend on the playground had ALL of the action figures, vehicles, etceteraaaaa. It was burned into my synapses as THE greatest, superseding the more easily-accessible Battlestar Galactica series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Space 1999, and many other combatants for my faithfulness. :)

    All that aside, I'm looking forward to seeing many of the newer films you mentioned...after my daughter and my dad go with me to see The Force Awakens hee hee.

  5. Nuri Ufuk
    November 17, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Star Trek (First Contact), Event Horizon, Prometheus, Sphere, Immortal, Abyss

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2015 at 3:10 am

      Event Horizon probably deserved a mention, but it's a bit too different from Star Wars considering it's a horror film. I haven't seen the rest of the films you mentioned, so I'll give them a shot and see how I like them. Thanks Nuri!

  6. Fan of Joel Lee
    November 17, 2015 at 5:33 am

    Serenity is a terrible film when compared to the TV show. It feels like a rushed epilogue to a show that was a prologue. I think there are better candidates than that one for this list given that your criterion is recent-ish films. Pandorum, and even Wall-E (yeah it's animated but pretty good nonetheless) are strong candidates for this story. The title says science fiction, but space opera would perhaps be a more accurate description.

    I'll still throw in some good science fiction films from the recent past. Edge of Tomorrow, Mad Max Fury Road, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and (of course) Inception. Cheers!

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2015 at 3:08 am

      A lot of those movies are great, but I chose not to include them because they didn't take place in space. Pandorum was good for what it tried to do, but ultimately I decided against including it because it's wayyy too different from Star Wars in genre and experience. But yeah, all great movies on your list!

  7. Anonymous
    November 16, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    It would be more correct to call Star Wars "science fantasy" or "space fantasy." There's almost nothing about the movies that suggest or reference any actual technology (other than the canonical technical manuals with vastly larger made up numbers than Star Trek uses, which is why a Star Destroyer could single-handedly annihilate everything in the Alpha Quadrant).

    I'd also like to present the case that, as cool as Star Trek might be on TV, the movies have been decidedly lackluster compared to the TV shows and even the best outings have not had the cultural impact of the lesser Star Wars films.

    Moon absolutely deserves to be given more of a mention than it got.

    Interstellar, on other other hand, should only be interesting for its score. The movie itself is completely forgettable.

    Another genuinely good outer space movie with some semblance of actual science about it is "Europa Report", in which ill-fated astronauts from a very recognizable near future vlog their discoveries.

    And since Science Fiction doesn't necessarily mean "space", we could also bring up stuff like Blade Runner, Ex Machina, pi and any movie in which Seth Rogan is a romantic lead.

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2015 at 3:09 am

      Star Wars is "science fantasy" for sure. If I could've fit a seventh movie, it certainly would've been Moon. Excellent, excellent film. I still haven't seen Europa Report, but your recommendation of it makes me want to give it a try. Thanks likefun!

  8. juan
    November 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    2001, a Space Oddysey can not be forgotten as a seed for all these more technical, and more believable, films.

    • Oswaldo
      November 17, 2015 at 1:11 am

      I see "2001" as a direct inspiration for "Interstellar".

      • Anonymous
        November 18, 2015 at 1:39 am

        You, sir, are coooorrect!

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2015 at 3:06 am

      Absolutely! Too old to include on the list but definitely deserved a mention. Thanks juan!

    • Anonymous
      November 23, 2015 at 1:35 am

      Star Trek, the TV show (1966) predated 2001 (1968), so it's probably more correct to say Star Trek inspired Kubrick...

  9. Dark passenger
    November 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    If you average all 6 SW films then these don't look bad. The top one in this list, Guardians of the Galaxy, would be about the 3rd best SW movie.

  10. Tim L.
    November 16, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Star Wars is certainly the most popular. For pure escapism, it is a great movie franchise. It is certainly one of the best. The science nerd in me scoffs a bit at the silliness in Star Wars though. To me, the best science fiction movies capture me by providing a true sense of awe, but also make me believe the world they exist in and the technology used is at least a bit more plausible. Movies like Interstellar, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien and Jurassic Park were all superb and are presented in a way which makes you believe in them more from a scientific viewpoint. I would love to see The Mote In Gods Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle made into a big budget movie with a great director and done in the hardcore style. Mankind's first contact with a totally alien species is always going to provide a great sense of awe, especially if they are presented in their original form and not just humans with some scales painted on their faces and pointy ears attached.

  11. Richard Hopkins
    November 16, 2015 at 5:13 pm
    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2015 at 3:05 am

      I loved Predestination! Really wanted to include it but didn't because it doesn't take place in space, but it was mentioned in our piece on the best time travel movies! :) Thanks Richard.