“Stunning Sci-Fi Movies: 24 Visual Wonders!”


As with any creative endeavor, there are seemingly endless elements to master when it comes to cinematography. The names of individual shots, their respective effects on the technicalities of the scene and the emotions of the audience, the purposes of specific camera lenses, and how all of those are most appropriately executed — this is all of the utmost importance for those interested in stepping behind a camera to film a motion picture.

And with regard to genre, there may not be a more prominent one to study than the one at hand: science fiction. Most of the titles on this list were directed by absolute juggernauts of the industry, with star-studded casts as the cherry on the intergalactic cake. You should undoubtedly recognize most of the entries. All that said, these are twenty-four science fiction films with amazing cinematography, ranked.

24 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2

Tri-Star Pictures

This is one of those rare instances where a given sequel — in this case, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), a massive success by director James Cameron — outshines the original iteration in terms of overall quality. From a sheer storytelling perspective, everything works here to a tee: the performances from Schwarzenegger and crew, the pacing of the script by Cameron and William Wisher, and of course the tantalizing choices of photography from the film’s first frame until its thrilling end.

Shot by Adam Greenberg, the cinematographic value of Terminator 2 isn’t exactly off the charts. It was more well-remembered for its special effects than anything else from that sort of technical standpoint of the camera. But its shot value and lighting effects land the project at the start of the list.

23 12 Monkeys (1995)

Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys

Universal Pictures

Starring Bruce Willis — along with an early yet endlessly impressive performance from Brad Pitt — the film at hand saw direction under English director Terry Gilliam, while it was shot by Roger Pratt. And although the cinematography of 12 Monkeys (1995) is never exactly awe-inspiring when considering spectacles and ambiance, the shot value featured herein is endless.

The team essentially mastered the Dutch Angle with this time traveling roller coaster of a film, with several other standout shots to boot. Although it may not seem like it on the surface, the cinematography of 12 Monkeys is on just as spectacular a level as the rest of the films on the list despite its paucity of flashy special effects.

22 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home by Leonard Nimoy

Paramount Pictures

The director of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) was of course Leonard Nimoy, who also plays the famous character Spock. But the director of photography for The Voyage Home was Donald Peterman, who reached such heights as garnering an Academy Award nomination for his work herein, and without a doubt helped this become the most profitable Star Trek feature at the time of release.

It was also a project widely loved by all audiences involved, with breathtaking visuals and meaningful shot selections to boot. At one point, the entire set was painted white in order to seamlessly transition the frames from one of reality to another within a dream sequence. That’s dedication to the craft right there, and it’s that kind of innovation and creativity that landed The Voyage Home here at number twenty-two.

Read more 10 Obscure Sci-Fi Movies That Should Be Remade

21 Oblivion (2013)

A scene from Oblivion

Universal Pictures

The crew of Oblivion (2013) went to impressive, almost forgotten heights to render this modern science fiction hit a treat to look at from start to finish. It stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, a technician who begins questioning his mission to work on repair drones from Earth. It also features the likes of Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, along with a couple talented others.

But with regard to the cinematography: both the director of the film itself and the director of photography utilized 4K resolution, along with specific cameras like Sony’s CineAlta F65 and a Red Epic piece for handheld and mounted rig shots. That’s fairly technical stuff, but it’s that exact mastery of cinematographic techniques that lands Oblivion at number twenty-one.

20 High Life (2018)

A scene from High Life


Easily among the lesser-known films on the light, High Life (2018) is an English-language film by French director Claire Denis. It failed to gain any traction at the worldwide box office despite great reviews from critics, and should undoubtedly be viewed by more audiences if not for the caliber of its cinematography alone.

With Robert Pattinson in the lead role and Juliette Binoche by his side, there’s plenty of name value in the cast on top of the technical mastery of the story itself. And as it follows a squad of criminals sent on a space mission toward a black hole, the setting alone paints a beautiful picture for the camera to capture. In that regard, it undoubtedly deserves a spot on this list.

19 The Abyss (1989)

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss (1989)

20th Century Fox

Directed by James Cameron, this science fiction hit was mostly known from a technical standpoint for its expert application of visual effects, for which The Abyss (1989) won the Academy Award. But shot by Mikael Salomon, key elements of cinematography are just as much at play from a technical standpoint, like impressive shot value and intricate camera rigs.

Its plot takes place after an American submarine sinks in the Caribbean and the rescue crew encounters some strange happenings underwater. To film specific shots, Salomon used three cameras — specifically designed for this film, a process he took part in — that were cased in watertight housings. That’s just one of many facts that showcase the brilliance of its camerawork.

18 Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars by George Lucas

20th Century-Fox

Although one could argue The Empire Strikes Back (1980) stands out as the superior film thanks to its well-written script with intertwining plots and iconic twists, there’s a solid argument that the original Star Wars (1977) was the more beautiful project.

Everyone knows this was directed by George Lucas, but one name has flown a bit too far under the moons of the Outer Rim throughout the years: Gilbert Taylor. The director of photography, he was in charge of transmitting the warm rays from the twin suns of Tatooine onto the big screen, and likely exceeded all expectations held by studio execs at the time.

17 Sunshine (2007)

A scene from Sunshine

Fox Searchlight Pictures

There are several noteworthy names who worked in some capacity on Sunshine (2007) by Danny Boyle. That particular British director is among the most famous ever offered in his region, with other names in the project including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, and Michelle Yeoh among its ensemble cast.

Cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler took inspiration from several films that appear later in this very list to create the intriguing dynamics of color. But the most prominent aspect of cinematography worth noting with Sunshine would be its effective use of lighting. During one scene, a crew of twenty assistants rotated a collection of lights around Murphy’s protagonist. It’s perhaps the standout sequence with regard to Sunshine, and it’s all by dint of creative utilizations of thought-out lighting.

16 Brazil (1985)


20th Century Fox

For this entry, focus your attention on the interrogation scene featured towards the film’s finale. It was filmed on location in the Croydon B coal-fired power station in London, which made for an endlessly engrossing playground for director Terry Gilliam and cinematographer Roger Pratt to toy around with shot variety, camera movements, color, lighting effects, and so much more.

With regard to the individual camera tactics — long shots, Dutch angles, tracking shots, over-the-shoulders — they were all used specifically to elicit emotions of unease within the audience. Brazil (1985) is worth your time for every creative reason under the sun, none perhaps as prominent as the camerawork.

A scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Universal Pictures

In this family-friendly science fiction classic, a young boy named Elliott discovers and befriends an alien (the titular character, named E.T.) who was recently stranded on earth. Of course, E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) was directed by Steven Spielberg, and it goes down as one of the most famous titles among his wildly popular filmography.

But it also marks his first of three total collaborations with cinematographer Allen Daviau, who later worked with Spielberg on both The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987). Although he never won, he was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards for all three. And E.T. was arguably his best work.

14 Avatar (2009)

Avatar by James Cameron

20th Century Studios

As one of the most popular names on the entire list, Avatar (2009) by James Cameron prioritizes spectacle over story. The beauty of its settings is arguably the main appeal of the film itself. People wanted to legitimately inhabit the world of Pandora, and the camerawork gave them their first glimpse thereof.

With a deep color palette and innovative uses of visual effects — lighting for larger areas on set, the use of a deeper motion-capture stage, and the availability of full-ranged performance capturing — the art and ambiance of Avatar was the result of nearly 1,000 creatives contributing thereto. These Herculean efforts from Cameron and crew render Avatar one of the most beautiful science fiction films ever.

13 Arrival (2016)


Paramount Pictures

With Arrival (2016), Canadian director Denis Villeneuve marks his first appearance on this list thanks to the tandem camerawork from Bradford Young. The director specifically sought out a cinematographer who leans more toward natural lighting inclinations than anything else in that regard, and the result was a well-shot science fiction stint from start to finish.

It stars Amy Adams as a linguist who’s sent to communicate with extra-terrestrial lifeforms who had recently arrived on Earth. She must learn to speak to them before war breaks out, creating a thrill ride of a film with beautiful camerawork and carefully chosen colors. Ultimately, Arrival lands here at number thirteen.

12 The Fountain (2006)

The Fountain

Warner Bros. Pictures

Inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film that appears later in the list, director Darren Aronofsky and his visual effects team — Jeremy Dawson and Dan Schrecker, who previously worked with Aronofsky on Pi (1998) and Requiem For a Dream (2000) — avoided entirely the use of computer-generated imagery here in The Fountain (2006).

And the director used very specific cameras with individualistic choices of lighting, which cinematographer Matthew Libatique had previously prepared to shoot the film when it was originally conceptualized with a $70 million budget. However, after losing lead actors Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the budget was cut in half to $35 million. This limited Libatique’s courses of action, but it also gave him so much experience working on this one project that the result of effective lighting and specific camera choices lands The Fountain here at number twelve.

11 Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

20th Century Fox

What stands out most prominently regarding the cinematography of Alien (1979) is the focus on individual types of shots. From establishing shots and close-ups to low angles and over-the-shoulders, the most basic of cinematographic techniques are on expert levels of display here in Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and shot by Derek Vanlint.

A science-fiction horror film, those two genres often rely on techniques of this ilk to facilitate particular elements of filmmaking often associated therewith. Sci-fi stints, for example, often utilize grand, wide-ranging shots of set pieces and spectacles to instill inspiration within the audience, while horror movies maintain elements of camerawork to initiate an overarching sense of fear. Both tactics are on excellent display here with Alien, ultimately landing it at number eleven.

10 Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Iceland

Parmount Pictures

Directed by Christopher Nolan, this emotional ride of a science fiction film stars Matthew McConaughey in the lead role alongside Anne Hathaway, with other notable performers being Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, and his most frequent collaborator in Michael Caine. They all performed with heartfelt poignance in Interstellar (2014) and arguably stole the entire show.

But a close second in that regard — if not more impressive than the performances outright — would be the cinematography. Shot by Hoyt van Hoytema, digital projectors displayed the visual effects of Interstellar, meaning, they created the effects list before principal photography began and used the projectors opposed to green screens. Pretty impressive stuff. There’s so much more worth noting about the colors, lighting, shot angles, and more, but it’s best you experience it for yourself.

9 Children of Men (2006)

Clive Owen in the dystopian movie Children of Men

Universal Pictures

Directed by Alfonso Quaron — who will appear again later in the list — Children of Men (2006) features tantalizing camerawork at the hands of Emmanuel Lubezki, who also appears later in the list. The same project, in fact, as they’re officially deemed frequent collaborators with regard to behind-the-scenes elements of filmmaking.

But with Children of Men — an action thriller set in a Dystopian society — they both brought their absolute A-games. The film was shot with handheld cameras to convey a sort of panic, a choice that provides the project as a whole with a tandem sense of verisimilitude. The frequent, tantalizing long takes are a different discussion entirely. This one is undoubtedly worth your time, and you’re sure to marvel at the cinematography.


8 Dune (2021)

Paul and Jessica, from Denis Villeneuve's Dune
Warner Bros.

There are many qualitative filmmaking elements worth noting in Dune (2021), like its convincing performances by an ensemble cast and a well-written script by Eric Roth — which was in turn adapted from Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name from 1965. But aside from those writers, there are two other creatives worth noting: director Denis Villeneuve, who’s relevant as it’s his second appearance on this list following Arrival.

But then there’s Greig Fraser, noteworthy herein as he was in charge of the cinematography. His dramatic filming of certain spectacles within the plot of Dune ultimately garnered the attention of the Academy more so than any other cinematographic project of that year. In other words, Fraser won the Oscar for Best Cinematography thanks to Dune, and undoubtedly deserves a spot on this list.

7 Inception (2010)

Inception by Christopher Nolan

Warner Bros.

Its general concept by Christopher Nolan amplifies many creative elements of filmmaking, as the time-bending plot contains multiple well-timed, iconic twists with spectacular set pieces to boot. And all throughout Inception (2010), the cinematography by Wally Pfister outshines nearly everything else involved, from the impressive performances of its cast to the inventive editing tactics of Lee Smith.

The aforementioned cameraman walked away with a golden statuette for his work herein, and justifiably so. Look no further than the hallway fight scene from Inception for confirmation on the caliber of its camerawork. That sequence was shot with multiple rigs from various angles, using rotations and pans galore to get the final result. And perhaps most impressive was that it was filmed sans CGI.

Read more 25 Most Mind-Blowing Sci-Fi Movies Ever Made, Ranked

6 Gravity (2013)


Warner Bros. Pictures

Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, this modern science fiction hit saw direction under Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. But with regard to its cinematography, Gravity (2013) was shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, who constantly utilized the film’s tantalizing deep space backdrop to create memorable moments of mesmerizing camerawork.

The man behind the camera controls closeups as if they were second nature, and can transition just as seamlessly into a wide shot or a medium shot or even a POV without skipping a cinematographic beat. There’s a long shot early in the film of Bullock’s character Dr. Stone getting separated from Lieutenant Kowalski (played by Clooney) after their Space Shuttle destructs while in orbit. It perfectly showcases the tactics of camerawork mastered by Lubezki in Gravity.

5 Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve

Warner Bros. Pictures

A sequel to Blade Runner (1982) by Ridley Scott, this entry in the famous science fiction franchise marks the third appearance from Denis Villeneuve on this very list. And without a doubt, Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) is his most impressive from point of view of quality camerawork.

That was thanks to Roger Deakins, commonly cited as the greatest cinematographer to ever do it, and this is up there as his most beautiful film to-date. With an expertly crafted color palette and atmospheric use of lighting, Blade Runner: 2049 will leave you engrossed from start to finish thanks to its cinematography alone, let alone the performances of its cast — Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, and Ana de Armas — and the direction from Villeneuve. Nothing quite stacks up to its camerawork, and for that, it lands in the top five.

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