1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) / Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) / War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) – It’s cheating to name all three legs of this trilogy, but this brilliant reboot of the classic franchise that began in 1968 imagines an engineered virus that nearly annihilates humanity but simultaneously enhances the intelligence of other primates.
2. The Avengers (2012) – There’ve been a billion superhero movies since 2000’s X-Men proved that classic comics could be successfully adapted for the screen, but writer/director Joss Whedon holistically melds the stories started in previous standalone Marvel films, resulting in nearly perfect popcorn fun.
3. Snowpiercer (2013) – Celebrated Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho directed this thriller about a train endlessly circling a frozen Earth. Its passengers—the sole survivors of a disastrous environmental experiment—represent society in microcosm, with lower classes inhabiting cold, spartan cars in the rear, while elites enjoy luxury and comfort at the front. The hows and whys of this eternal circumnavigation make little sense, but the talented international cast make you care about their plight.
4. Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Tom Cruise is his own worst enemy when it comes to PR; here he uses that to his advantage in the story of a weaselly military PR flak who finds himself reliving, a la Groundhog Day, the same battle against a seemingly unstoppable alien horde.
5. Ex Machina (2014) – A young programmer wins the opportunity to visit his ultra-wealthy CEO’s isolated residence to give the Turing test to a new AI in the form of a fetching fembot. But who’s testing whom?
6. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Thirty years after Australian director George Miller concluded the adventures of his post-apocalyptic antihero in Beyond Thunderdome, he reboots the franchise (with Tom Hardy stepping in for Mel Gibson) in this viscerally thrilling, visually overwhelming action-adventure that subverts the franchise’s macho posturing with an ultimately hopeful tale of feminist liberation.
7. The Martian (2015) – Ridley Scott adapts Andy Weir’s celebrated novel. Left-for-dead astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must wield science and battle loneliness to survive on the Red Planet.
8. Arrival (2016) – Based on Ted Chiang’s award-winning novella “Story of Your Life,” Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation follows the life- and mind-altering first contact between humans and giant, tentacled aliens. If language affects our thoughts, can it affect our perception of time?
9. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – Again with Denis Villeneuve! This time he boldly presumes to continue the story begun in Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, capturing the tone and mystery behind the nearly-human replicants while bringing new layers to their story.
10. Get Out (2017) – In Jordan Peele’s terrifying directorial debut, a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) visits his wealthy white girlfriend’s family and uncovers a sinister conspiracy to co-opt black culture as well as black bodies.