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The 10 Best Debut Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

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By Jitin Gambhir

Best Debut Sci-Fi Movies of All Time: Directing a movie is a challenging task that involves considering multiple elements to convey a narrative in the intended way. Among the most popular and captivating genres to watch is science fiction, which challenges one’s intellect and provides a new realm of imagination and possible alternate world views. Due to the genre’s nature, which often requires a lot of CGI, interesting storylines that are sometimes complex, and acting that should be up to par, directing a science fiction film is an incredible achievement.

In this article, we will highlight some of the best sci-fi directorial debuts that were of great and admirable quality, where most of the directors also co-wrote the script.

The 10 Best Debut Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

1. Ex Machina (2015) – Alex Garland
The powerful film Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland, stars Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac. The thought-provoking science fiction motion picture follows Caleb, a 26-year-old gifted programmer who wins an opportunity to spend a week in a retreat in the beautiful accommodation of his CEO by the mountains. However, upon his arrival, he finds out that his CEO is up to a fascinating and unusual experiment. He is supposed to spend time with his CEO’s creation, a beautiful woman who is intelligent and eloquent, called Ava, who feels too human to be true, except she is merely a robot. The film provides a journey from which we can intimately see how humans and AI machines could possibly interact one day, as well as the unlimited potential machine learning technologies could have.

2. District 9 (2009) – Neil Blomkamp
Directed and co-written by Neil Blomkamp, District 9 was a massive success that was nominated for four Oscars. The film tells the tale of aliens who came to earth to find refuge from their dying planet, only to find xenophobia and social segregation that leaves them living in harsh conditions, and isolated from the rest of the world named “District 9”. They are not only contained, but they are also exploited for their advanced technologies. The absorbing film is set in the harsh slums of South Africa, which adds to the realism of the film and complements its dark mood.

3. Moon (2009) – Duncan Jones
Another amazing film on this list is Moon, directed and co-written by Duncan Jones, and the main leads were played by Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, and Dominique McElligott. The moon-themed film zooms in on Sam Bell (Rockwell) who is approaching the end of his three-year contract on the moon where he has to harvest a valuable energy source-Helium -3 that Earth needs. He is only accompanied by a computer assistant called Gerty. However, just as he is eager to come home and reunite with his family, he goes through an accident that unravels a truth to him that throws his sanity into question.

4. Westworld (1973) – Michael Crichton
Westworld is a futuristic sci-fi thriller by Micheal Crichton that takes you into an alternate reality. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin, the premise transports you to an amusement park where rich individuals pay money to have any of their desires and fantasies fulfilled. The highly entertaining motion picture once again highlights the dark side of technology and how that could very possibly be used against its very creators.

5. Primer (2004) – Shane Carruth
Primer is a time-travel drama thriller that was produced on only a budget of 7000 dollars. It was directed, written, and starred in by Shane Carruth. His main supporting cast was David Sullivan, and Casey Gooden. The Sundance Film Festival winner tells the story of several friends who help each other with an invention that involves error-checking devices related to gravity. However, as they develop it, they realize that perhaps it could also be used for time travel.

6. Mad Max (1979) – George Miller
Set in Australia, in a gloomy world where all oil resources have been depleted, and the Earth has dived into war, chaos, hunger, and financial crisis. On top of the total collapse of everything, a cruel and cold-blooded biker gang is going around murdering people. When Max, a police officer played by Mel Gibson experiences the murder of his wife and kids, sets out to seek revenge from the gang and ends up helping a few people along the way.

7. Nine Days (2020) – Edson Oda
Nine Days is a refreshing motion picture that explores the desire to be alive. Directed and written by Edson Oda. Set in a world of pre-existence, the film revolves around five souls who go through a period of interviews for nine days in order to see if they can be born into the world or not in a pre-existence reality. The interviewee is Will (Winston Duke), who is assisted by Emma (Zazie Beetz) and he is the one in charge of deciding who gets a chance on earth.

These sci-fi directorial debuts showcase the talent and creativity of their respective directors, and their impact on the genre will undoubtedly continue to inspire and influence future filmmakers.

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Directing movies is not an easy task. There are so many elements to consider when trying to convey a narrative in the intended way. The science fiction genre has been one of the most popular and enticing genres to watch as it challenges one’s intellect, and provides a new realm of imagination and possible alternate world views.

Among many science fiction classics that have popularized the genre are the movies: A Space Odyssey, and Star Wars. Due to the nature of the genre often needing a lot of CGI, interesting storylines that are sometimes complex, and acting that should be up to par, directing a science fiction film is an incredible achievement. Here is a list of the best sci-fi directorial debuts that were of great and admirable quality, where most of the directors also co-wrote the script.

10 Ex Machina (2015) – Alex Garland

Ex Machina
A24

 

 

The powerful film Ex Machina was written and directed by Alex Garland and stars Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac. The thought-provoking science fiction motion picture follows Caleb, a 26-year-old gifted programmer who wins an opportunity to spend a week in a retreat in the beautiful accommodation of his CEO by the mountains. However, upon his arrival, he finds out that his CEO is up to a fascinating and unusual experiment. He is supposed to spend time with his CEO’s creation, a beautiful woman who is intelligent and eloquent, called Ava, who feels too human to be true, except she is merely a robot.

The film provides a journey from which we can intimately see how humans and AI machines could possibly interact one day, as well as the unlimited potential machine learning technologies could have. However, what is their intelligence spirals out of their control, would we be able to stop them? The film explores manipulation, power, surveillance in a thrilling, intense and gripping way. Garland’s directorial debut is pure science fiction that is truly impressive.

9 District 9 (2009) – Neil Blomkamp

District 9
Sony Pictures

 

Directed and co-written by Neil Blomkamp, District 9 was a massive success that was nominated for four Oscars. With the main leads being Sharlto Copley, David James, and Jason Cope, the film tells the tale of aliens who came to earth to find refuge from their dying planet, only to find xenophobia, and social segregation that leaves them living in harsh conditions, and isolated from the rest of the world named “District 9”.

They are not only contained, but they are also exploited for their advanced technologies. The film was inspired by the events that happened in Cape Town’s district six during the Apartheid era and just pretty much sums up and mirrors all acts of prejudice, discrimination, power play, and abuse found in the world. The absorbing film is set in the harsh slums of South Africa, which adds to the realism of the film, and complements its dark mood. The atmosphere and premise of the movie are highly original and will haunt you for a while as it imprints your mind with its perfect blend of CGI, human emotions, and compelling social commentary.

8 Moon (2009) – Duncan Jones

Moon movie Scene
Sony Picture Classics

 

Another amazing film on this list is Moon. The piece was directed and co-written by Duncan Jones, and the main leads were played by Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, and Dominique McElligott. The moon-themed film zooms in on Sam Bell (Rockwell) who is approaching the end of his three-year contract on the moon where he has to harvest a valuable energy source-Helium -3 that Earth needs. He is only accompanied by a computer assistant called Gerty. However, just as he is eager to come home and reunite with his family, he goes through an accident that unravels a truth to him that throws his sanity into question.

The Bafta-winning film is carried by the top-notch performance of Rockwell as most of the movie’s focus was on his journey, his utter loneliness, and his thought process. Deeply moving, and unique, the film is bound to make you feel something, especially at the end, as it provides the perfect build-up and revelation. With little CGI, and a low budget, Moon really manages to translate what it intended to do on-screen, making this a classic and masterfully made science fiction film that has etched its name in the genre.

7 Westworld (1973) – Michael Crichton

Yul Brynner fixes his head in Westworld
MGM

 

Westworld is a futuristic sci-fi thriller by Micheal Crichton that takes you into an alternate reality. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin, the premise transports you to an amusement park where rich individuals pay money to have any of their desires and fantasies fulfilled. The hosts of the park are robots and there are no limits to what one can indulge in.

Yet, the robot world is not as perfect as it seems and when a computer glitch happens, things start taking an unusual turn. What starts as a perfect world turns into a nightmare. The highly entertaining motion picture once again highlights the dark side of technology and how that could very possibly be used against its very creators. The interesting and authentic plot has inspired other films, one of which is The Terminator, and also later had a reboot in 2016, where the initial ideas were explored further.

6 Primer (2004) – Shane Carruth

Shane Carruth as Aaron and David Sullivan as Abe in Primer (2004).
THINKFilm

 

Primer is a time-travel drama thriller that was produced on only a budget of 7000 dollars. It was directed, written, and starred in by Shane Carruth. His main supporting cast was David Sullivan, and Casey Gooden. The Sundance Film Festival winner tells the story of several friends who help each other with an invention that involves error-checking devices related to gravity.

However, as they develop it, they realize that perhaps it could also be used for time travel. What’s interesting about this film is that it is mainly based on intellect rather than impressive CGI or sound effects, its value comes from the idea it offers and explores, which makes it refreshing in the sci-fi genre.

5 Mad Max (1979) – George Miller

Mad Max is wearing his leather bomber jacket and holding a gun.
Warner Bros.

 

Set in Australia, in a gloomy world where all oil resources have been depleted, and the Earth has dived into war, chaos, hunger, and financial crisis. On top of the total collapse of everything, a cruel and cold-blooded biker gang is going around murdering people. When Max, a police officer played by Mel Gibson experiences the murder of his wife and kids, sets out to seek revenge from the gang and ends up helping a few people along the way. It explores themes such as man and nature, society, and good vs evil.

The classic film was also produced on a low budget but ended up amassing its spot in the hearts of fans and even went on to have several sequels. Here you can expect amazing action sequences and some hearty revenge. It has also inspired many other movies that focus on a post-apocalyptic world.

4 Nine Days (2020) – Edson Oda

Nine Days
Sony Pictures Classics

 

Nine Days is a refreshing motion picture that explores the desire to be alive. Directed and written by Edson Oda. Set in a world of pre-existence, the film revolves around five souls who go through a period of interviews for nine days in order to see if they can be born into the world or not in a pre-existence reality. The interviewee is Will (Winston Duke), who is assisted by Emma (Zazie Beetz) and he is the one in charge of deciding who gets a chance on earth. After his selection process, he observes his chosen ones to see how they go on about their lives.

However, when one of his favorite souls attempts suicide on Earth, his emotional well-being takes a toll on him, as he can’t understand why she did it, but later has his perspective changed when an empathetic candidate shows up wanting to be born into the world. The film is a beautiful ode to what it means to be human that dives into existential questions, and different approaches to life as well as the effect living could have on those who experience both in terms of sadness and sheer beauty. The beautiful film is jeweled with beautiful cinematography and an even more beautiful score.

3 THX 1138 (1971) – George Lucas

THX 1138 from George Lucas
Warner Bros.

 

THX 1138 is a dystopian film directed and co-written by George Lucas. Set in a futuristic world where human emotions are controlled in a society that has dehumanized humans through mandatory medications. Humans no longer have names, they have designations and live in huge underground cities where it is forbidden to procreate. They are enslaved to a system of conformity and homogeneity.

When two humans, Robert Duval (THX) and Maggie McOmie (LUH 3417) stop taking their medications, they realize what has been done to them and fall in love in the process. Their dark realizations of what has become of them drive them to run away from the confines of their world and cruel leaders at all costs. The film is a powerful take on the suppression of individual freedom and being forced to adhere to a specific system that exists in our everyday reality. The highly artistic movie delivers a relatable premise that is scary and thought-provoking.

2 Phase IV (1974) – Saul Bass

Phase IV
Paramount Pictures

 

Phase IV is a fairly unknown science fiction horror film from the ’70s that flips the scenario: ants are gaining intelligence, are becoming powerful because of a mysterious cosmic accident, and are after two scientists and a woman in the desert. The movie takes itself seriously and really makes you feel that ants can be a terrifying enemy through the movie’s world-class cinematography and editing. The desert atmosphere successfully transfers the feeling of isolation and eeriness.

It was directed by Saul Bass with its main ensemble being Nigel Davenport, Micheal Murphy and Lynne Frederick. This unique classic truly deserves to be known.

Related: 12 Forgotten Sci-Fi Horror Movies That Are Worth Checking Out

1 Silent Running (1971) – Douglas Trumbull

The 1972 environmental-themed science fiction Silent Running
Universal Pictures

 

The last on the list is the classic Silent Running, which was directed by Douglas Trumbull. Starring Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Bochco, the film follows Freeman Lowel (Bruce Dern), an ecologist whose duty is to maintain a greenhouse in a space station when all the flora on Earth goes extinct. This plan is to preserve the plants for the reforestation of earth when the time comes.

However, when he is ordered to destroy the greenhouse, he starts rebelling and tries his best to keep it protected. The sci-fi movie is a beautiful tribute to nature and its importance, which is more prevalent now than ever.

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