The 12 Best Feel-Good Sci-Fi Movies

Science fiction easily lends itself to incisive cynicism about our future. It's understandable. Sci-fi is just one tool creators have to pull out today's big issues and blow them up into a scenario that we can consider from a distance. Still, too much grim introspection creates a feedback loop of depression when breakthroughs happen. We begin to think about robot apocalypses and unstoppable viruses, tech magnates going supervillain, and "Black Mirror" episodes coming true. Sometimes our paranoia is unfortunately justified, but we earn a chance to make it better.

This form of sci-fi is meant to be cautionary, not depressive, but we've all been going through a lot lately, and it's hard not to feel the weight of the world getting heavier. So let's have a nice day for once and look at some science fiction movies that leave us happier than we were before we pressed play. These are only 12 of my favorites for when things get tough, but don't worry. There's always something more to look forward to.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

A farmboy (Mark Hamill) becomes the Chosen One. A grimy space pirate (Harrison Ford) steps up as a hero. A waifish princess (Carrie Fisher) kicks more evil Empire ass than Rowdy Roddy Piper. The villain (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) sounds like the scariest vacuum on Earth when he breathes and is wearing the coolest outfit anyone in 1977 ever saw. From such humble beginnings, a generational legacy was born. "Star Wars" was built on optimism and the foundering, irrepressible ways we sometimes fight for hope.

With John Williams' thrilling score turning any first-time viewer into an eight-year-old hopped up on the sheer coolness of it all, "A New Hope" really is a simple story about good versus evil. The whiz-bang space battles and laser swords are window dressing for a morality tale about why it's always fashionable to beat the crap out of fascists. And at the end of the original movie, our heroes earn an outright happy ending. No bittersweet hooks here. We get to see a joyful ceremony, and the credits roll to the swelling triumph of that iconic Williams score. Practice self-care. Lie in bed, eat your favorite snack, and rewatch the legendary "Star Wars" intro one more time.

The Martian

There's a recognizable theme in these macho survivalist stories about rugged individualism — and it's crap. When things hit the fan, your best path to success is to make it a group affair. Put it this way: Even Wyatt Earp had his homies at his side during his Tombstone revenge tour. We're pack survivors, folks. Deep down, we're happier when we're lending each other a hand.

That makes "The Martian" all the more joyful as an experience. It's two hours of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who thinks he has to go it alone on Mars for four years and isn't sure anyone knows he's alive. After a few hiccups, though, our hope for Watney's future becomes a worldwide group project. Nationalism and politics get set aside to help rescue this one guy, or, as Watney wants to be known, history's first space pirate. Hard science, genuine nerds, and insomnia-fueled miracles come together in harmony. There are no long, drawn-out scenes about the cost of one human life. The one guy that whines too much about safety and PR (played by Jeff Daniels, and to be fair, this is that guy's job) is treated as the closest thing to a villain the movie has. Well, he and Cmdr. Lewis' (Jessica Chastain) collection of disco music.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Maybe you have to be a little high to get the full effect during the finale, but Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" is ultimately about the universal hope for our species' evolution. Admittedly, there's some dark stuff to go through, including the opening scene that suggests violence is inherent in our history. HAL 9000's story of artificial intelligence gone mad is spooky, too, until you figure out that human mistakes caused a terrible logic glitch and the computer can't help what it's doing.

Yet, the overarching theme is ascendancy over these parts of ourselves. As brutal as our ape ancestors were, there's little bloody violence in "2001." And after Bowman (Keir Dullea) triumphs over HAL, he completes the mission to investigate Jupiter's moon. The full results may be hard to explain without a lot of philosophy books (and maybe a heroic bit o' shrooms), but Bowman, essentially, is our guiding light to the next stage of human evolution. We can grow into something beyond death and time, reborn into pure galactic essence. That's worth hoping for.

Jupiter Ascending

Jason Bourne has five movies, the "Fast & Furious" franchise is on its way to a dozen films, and Batman exists, but make one movie about a girl who's actually a galactic princess (Mila Kunis) with her space werewolf boyfriend (Channing Tatum), and everyone loses their minds. "Jupiter Ascending" is a gonzo love letter to the daydream scenarios we make up when trying to go to sleep. It's a warm hug to the fanfic kids. Unbunch, and you'll realize this movie is a lunchbox of stupid fun.

I'm not claiming it's art or that it's not absurdly over the top. I'm saying that it's totally, joyously stupid and should be respected for its commitment to the bit. There's a guy named Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), and he can control bees. That's ridiculous! I love it! Guys, there's been 30 years of the beloved anime series "Dragon Ball," and everyone's names are based on food or undergarments. Dumb names aren't just fine. Pulp stories should always embrace them. "Jupiter Ascending" is about the comfort our dreams give us. We all deserve to be space princesses and princes, even if only at 11:30 at night when we can't sleep. 


When "Tron" was released in 1982, home computing was barely on the rise. The Commodore 64, the Apple IIe, and the first IBM machines were trickling out to lucky families who could afford what was then curios. Most didn't know what bits and bytes were, and the interior of these beige bricks, with their glowing screens, held mysteries beyond our comprehension. "Tron" gave these mysteries a life of their own. It's a goofy film, and it only gets goofier over time. Do Adobe programs get bullied on the Grid?

Jeff Bridges, absorbed into the secret world of technology, is the best guy to narrate this story for us. He's Flynn, an eccentric computer genius who runs an arcade and plots revenge against Thieving Capitalist Bad Guy and his fancy Master Control Program computer (both played by sci-fi genre delight David Warner). Not only does Flynn win, but along the way, we delight in the neon-lit world of the Grid. It's a comfort food classic, but you may never look at your "Force Quit" or "Task Manager" options the same way again. Are we guillotining some digital dude whenever we hit it? Maybe, but the guy keeps firing up Steam on boot whether we want him to or not, so hey.

Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Trilogy

One cannot exit this time-traveling phone booth in a bad mood. Yes, the third film, "Bill & Ted Face the Music," begins with sympathetic melancholy. Thousands of adults who grew up with Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and "Ted" Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) who've also lost the path to their dreams. But just as the previous two films showed, there's always a happy ending for those willing to, at least, give it their best shot. Or their second-best shot. The point is, they keep trying, and so should we.

Bill and Ted (and sometimes Death, played by William Sadler and who's 100 percent the same Death as in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal") are too dumb to be anything other than hopeful and wholesome. They're the himbo dream incarnate, a couple of would-be musicians who meddle with time for the sole purpose of (a) babes, (b) babes, and (c), oh yeah, saving our utopian future with the coolest music ever recorded. These most excellent adventures exist to cheer us up. A world without these three movies would be bogus, indeed.


Product placement is necessary to the film industry and annoying to viewers, and we get a kick out of movies that lampshade that fact as "Wayne's World" does with its hilarious product placement scene. However, there's one science fiction movie whose entire set-up relies on an absurdist product-placement reveal, and that's the most underrated movie on director Ivan Reitman's resume, 2001's "Evolution."

Drs. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Harry Block (Orlando Jones) are community college professors who discover a crashed meteor site that's already causing some weird John Carpenter-level stuff. But this movie doesn't take any of it seriously. Duchovny, whose cameo in "Zoolander" the same year solidified his comedy chops, is charming in this idiotic gross-out fest. The gag is that the key to saving the world is a popular dandruff shampoo, but what's more important here is the reminder that science fiction doesn't have to be stuffy. Sometimes slimy fun is all we need to make a dreary week a little bit better. "Evolution" can't compare to Reitman's "Ghostbusters" movies, but that's not fair to this silly treat. Come into this movie with an open mind — and a healthy scalp.


It's safe to say Christopher Nolan probably isn't going to go through a late-career revival as a director of uplifting '90s-style movies. This is not the dude who will remake "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" for the Gen Z crowd, but he's not the Morrissey of film, either. There's hope to be clung to in many of his films, and the most optimistic is his sci-fi opus, "Interstellar."

There's plenty to cry about during Matthew McConaughey's journey to save us from our dying Earth. Cooper (McConaughey) loses a lifetime with his family, his old cowboy toughness unable to stand stoic against the relentless charge of time. Plus, he has to contend with our arrogances and our fears. Still, there's more on his side than against, from TARS, redeeming us of our fears of HAL 9000, to Amelia Brand's (Anne Hathaway) optimism in rebuilding life among the stars. Chief among them is Cooper's bond with his daughter, Murph (Jessica Chastain), which transcends time powerfully enough to win our species a lifeline. Love, technology, and old-time toughness help us survive. That's as cheesy as Nolan is ever going to get, but it's a good cheesy — the kind we need when we're staring down the barrel of our world's dangerous changes.

Jurassic Park

"Jurassic Park" remains a masterpiece. It's the dinosaur movie of all our kiddie dreams — rampaging Tyrannosaurs and all. It's so foundational that its blockbuster success helped paleontologists grow their field. We've also never looked at chickens the same since, as the probability of some dino species surviving today as birds is likely.

Yet, more than what "Jurassic Park" did for science is what it did for our daydreams. Yes, a real world with dinos running amok would probably be scary. However, Steven Spielberg and a great cast that includes Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum as our iconic trio of leads let us explore the wild world that once was. It's as thrilling an adventure ride today as it was all those years ago, with a triumphant ending that allows the John Williams score to build into another thrilling surge just as the end credits roll. Take or leave the sequels, but the original will always leave us with a big childlike smile.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg has made it clear that "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" would be a different movie if he made it today. One with a finale not as weird, melancholy, and paradoxically triumphant. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) wouldn't have his final encounter with the being visiting Earth, and we wouldn't feel the mystery weighing down the next phase of his life.

It's a movie that starts a little scary. It's even more frightening if you've seen its darker counterpart, "Communion," beforehand, but it turns into a thriller about UFOs so sharp that it severs Neary from his family. Still, there's hope in it and a relentless build towards an event that could change the evolution of our world if it ever actually happened. Drawing from the work of optimistic scientists like J. Allen Hynek (who codified the UFO "encounter scale" and has a cameo in the finale), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" approaches its topic with an earnest wonder that never becomes cheesy,  Maybe first contact with an alien species will never happen, but if it does, how wonderful it would be if it were like this, with the music of the galaxy joining in.

Galaxy Quest

"Star Trek" fans have long considered "Galaxy Quest" an honorary member of the franchise, and it's a position supported by at least two "Star Trek" captains, too. It's a loving parody of the classic space opera, with its titular show thriving long after its original airdate thanks to a passionate fanbase. The fans even save the day by the end of the film, but before that is a madcap rush through a lot of cheeky laughs at some well-known tropes.

As Capt. Jason Nesmith, Tim Allen is at his most tolerable (I'm not a fan) as a pretty good off-brand William Shatner. He's even got all the right mannerisms: He's in a hurry to get his shirt off, rolls a lot, and is prone to upstaging everyone else. Alan Rickman is the biggest delight, though. As our faux-Spock alien, he's openly sick of Nesmith's crap but knows when to put his ego aside for the team. Having the most fun, however, is Sigourney Weaver, who revels in the airhead nature of her job of repeating the ship's computer. It's silly and loving, and I wonder if "Star Trek Lower Decks" would be the same in a world where "Galaxy Quest" didn't exist first.

The Fifth Element

Director Luc Besson hasn't filmed a banger since 2007's "Taken," but that's okay because "The Fifth Element" already exists. Not only is it one of the last times Besson was at the absolute top of his game, but it showcases Bruce Willis at his post-"Moonlighting" best. He's funny and self-deprecating but also competent and tough. It's fun to pretend that cabbie Korben Dallas (Willis) is a descendant of John McLane — sort of like how Doomguy has "Wolfenstein's" B.J. Blazkowicz as an ancestor.

After a series of rambling, wild incidents, Dallas winds up protecting Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) on her mission. Leeloo is a perfectly engineered weapon with unnatural hair (and fashion sense) who doesn't need much protection but could use a better tutor. Together, they meet an increasingly weirder batch of characters, including Gary Oldman doing God knows what as the villain Zorg (but I could watch five hours of him doing it). "The Fifth Element" is all pulp and neon glitz, an updated "Barbarella" that leans hard into the French "Metal Hurlant" comics it's inspired by. And it leaves us with a silly but hard-earned happy ending and a reminder that sometimes just being human is enough.