Where have all the ultimate sci-fi action movies gone?

Everyone loves the sci-fi action movies of the 80s. These movies not only became some of the best action movies ever made but the best action movie series ever made. Terminator, Predator, Robocop, and Aliens produced some of the best series. Some other great sci-fi action series started in the 70s. Examples of these are Mad Max and Star Wars. The 90s continued the trend of great sci-fi action movies with Total Recall, Time Cop, Independence Day, Demolition Man, and The Matrix (1999) in addition to continuations of action movie franchises like T-2 and Predator 2.

But since we’ve past into the 21st century, there are very few sci-fi action movies. They’ve been replaced by superhero movies.

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The 2000s

This decade of action movies began the shift to superheroes. It wasn’t complete though. There still many standard action movies like The Transporter, and artsy action movies like Kill Bill, but the iconic movies of this time were superheroes. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were the biggest franchise of the decade (at least in critical acclaim). The X-Men movies also began during this decade and really kicked off the Marvel revolution that would occur a decade later. The Bourne movies were also released during this decade, and make no mistake, although Borne doesn’t wear a cape he is in every other way a superhero.

The most prophetic movie of this decade was Iron Man. Part sci-fi due to its plot, Iron Man was a huge action movie success. What would come from this film, though, was not a sci-fi action revolution but the genesis of the Marvel Extended Universe that would ultimately become the downfall of sci-fi action movies.

Sure there were a few straggling sci-fi action movies like Minority Report and the continuation of past franchises like The Matrix’ sequels, but other than these few films sci-fi action was functionally dead.

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The 2010s

For the past ten years, nearly all of the most popular (and highly acclaimed, for reasons I don’t understand) action films have stemmed from the Marvel extended universe. Iron Man sequels, Captain America films, Avengers films, Black Panther, Thor, Deadpool, X-Men, the list goes on.

There are a few standard action movie franchises like John Wick and Fast and Furious, which are successful but do not define this era like superhero movies do. The Mission Impossible films are popular, but just like Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt has become superhuman in his abilities and is, in effect, a superhero.

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Daniel Craig’s Bond has flaws that keep him human. Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Thor, and Captain America do not.

Nearly all of the best sci-fi action movies that were released in the past decade come from franchises that are 30-40 year old. Mad Max Fury Road resurrected the Mad Max franchise. The Planet of the Apes movies resurrected that franchise. The Star Wars movies (which are far from the best movies of this decade) continue that 40-year-old franchise. Where are all the new, excellent sci-fi action movies?

There are very few. Inception was highly acclaimed and appreciated for its action scenes. Edge of Tomorrow was a proper sci-fi action film that kicked some ass. Beyond that, there are few memorable sci-fi action films.

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Make Sci-Fi Action Ultimate Again

The first thing a great sci-fi action film franchise needs is a great hero. This hero needs to be an ordinary but capable man who lives in an extraordinary world. Mad Max and Douglas Quaid (from Total Recall) are brave, strong, but ultimately human heroes in science fiction settings. Even Robocop was a man, augmented by cybernetic technology, in a corrupt but technologically advanced society.

With the hero (a brave, human man) well casted, society should be set in a science fiction reality. Superhero movies feature protagonists that are either endowed with powers or use advanced technologies that are only available to them (like Iron Man). In great sci-fi action movies, advanced technologies (or dystopian technologies) are part of society.

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Avoid CGI. Superhero movies use computer generated images as a crutch. CGI is a crutch and the film-making equivalent of cutting corners. Inception, one of the few great sci-fi action movies released after 2000, avoided CGI. Total Recall (1990, of course) had great special affects without relying on them. Genuine film-making (and not CGI short-cutting) is needed to make sci-fi action films ultimate again. 

Throw in some gratuitous nudity, explosions, and alien blood, and you’ve got an ultimate sci-fi action film.

To read more from Jared Trueheart about the art of masculine story-telling check out legendsofmen.com.

What are your thoughts on the state of the ultimate sci-fi action flick? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!


  1. You’re right. Also, don’t forget the excellent, underrated DREDD which did the classic 2000AD lawman justice with its gritty futuristic setting, graphic violence and exciting set-pieces. Luckily in the future, we’ll be getting ROBOCOP RETURNS and recently, there was also UPGRADE which got positive reviews. The Universal Soldier sequels (REGENERATION and DAY OF RECKONING) were also solid.

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