Mixing genres requires surgical precision by filmmakers. When done poorly, it can be an absolute mess. However, when done right, it’s incredibly entertaining. Movie history is littered with classic genre mashups, though none are quite as unique as science fiction comedies. Some of the all-time classics in cinema fall into this category.
With “Men in Black International” opening this week, we’re going to be looking at the ten best science fiction comedies to date. Honorable mentions within the world of sci-fi comedy include “Back to the Future Part II,” “Back to the Future Part III,” and “Safety Not Guaranteed.” As you can see, and will see below, time travel plays a paramount role in this genre combination.
10“Men in Black” (1997)
dir: Barry Sonnenfeld
One of the blockbusters that turned Will Smith into a megastar, this science fiction comedy managed to blend action into the equation as well. Toying with the shady role that government agents play in American citizens’ everyday lives, Smith and co-star Tommy Lee Jones are wonderful foils, keeping the unsuspecting public from knowing the aliens that walk among them. The first instance of many on this list of deadpan reactions to extraordinary circumstances, there’s consistent laughter generated through Jones’ role specifically. “Men in Black” took the star powered summer blockbuster formula and added sci-fi tinged laughs to the mix.
9“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
dir: James Gunn
Once considered a huge risk and a lesser property within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these off-brand Marvel characters immediately delighted audiences. Instead of a silly low rent “Star Wars” knock off, “Guardians of the Galaxy” became a breath of fresh air for the MCU. With lovable characters that still have an edge to them, like Groot and Rocket Racoon, James Gunn mixed his offbeat science fiction favorings with the formula of a comic book film. The result was an absolute joy, one that helped set the MCU off on a lighter trajectory.
dir: Mike Judge
Science fiction films often foretell the future. No work has more tragically foretold our society’s fortune than this vehicle from Mike Judge. One look at the news on a given day reveals a tragic headline that years ago would be seen as comic lunacy. Judge taps in to that to predict a future where the lowest common denominator has become the only measuring stick. “Idiocracy” started out as a cult movie. A decade later, it’s a bold prophecy for where society is headed. To be sure, it’s still absolutely hilarious, especially when skewering where entertainment in the future would go. That being said, every laugh now includes a nervous chuckle as well.
7“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005)
dir: Garth Jennings
The seminal novel among science fiction comedies took decades to become a movie. Comedy legends like Robin Williams courted roles, though once it hit screens, it was the unlikely quartet of Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, and Sam Rockwell who brought the book’s characters to life. The deadpan British humor is a take on sci-fi comedy that the big screen has rarely seen. Full of the book’s spirit, this is an incredibly underrated outing within the genre.
dir: Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks can turn any genre into a satirical comedy. Horror received the same treatment with “Young Frankenstein,” while “Blazing Saddles” spun out the western genre. Here, sci-fi – specifically the “Star Wars” franchise – gets Brooks’ trademark hazing. A joyously silly romp, the legendary filmmaker never misses an opportunity to lovingly make fun of the series, especially when it comes to the commercialization of the product. This was true when it came out over 30 years ago, and in a nifty bit of foresight, has only become more accurate here in 2019.
5“Groundhog Day” (1993)
dir: Harold Ramis
The first of two appearances on this list by Bill Murray, this addition puts him into an endless time loop, one where his character essentially becomes the god of a world he’s held prisoner within. There’s less “science” here than in any of the other science fiction comedies on this list, but there’s arguably the best “comedy” on display. It’s an absolute masterclass by Murray. Together with director Harold Ramis, Murray found both the darkness and lightness that comes with a premise like this. Solid gold science fiction comedy followed in “Groundhog Day.”
dir: Woody Allen
Woody Allen‘s lone true sci-fi effort is a brilliant comedy that harkens back to the slapstick silent era. Even currently, the idea of a health nut accidentally transported to the future, one where everything he believed is wrong, holds immense comedic potential. Initially conceived as a silent film in the style of Buster Keaton, Allen added sound, but kept the Keaton mentality. The result is Allen’s best and most widely loved straight comedy.
3“Galaxy Quest” (1999)
dir: Dean Parisot
A cult classic, “Galaxy Quest” was ahead of its time. Nowadays, spoofing something like “Star Trek” while also paying homage to it is par for the course. Two decades ago, however, it was not something audiences saw frequently. Even if you’ve never seen what the film is spoofing, this is just a delightful sci-fi comedy with charm, heat, and laughs in equal measure. Tim Allen is at his best channeling the silliest aspects of the William Shatner persona, while Sigourney Weaver and the rest of the cast brilliantly take various parts of the series to task. No one appreciated how on point this movie was upon release. Now, it’s finally getting its due.
dir: Ivan Reitman
Bill Murray asserts his dominance in science fiction comedies once again with this absolute classic. Hunting ghosts with Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, and his “Groundhog Day” director Harold Ramis, Murray brought his trademark wit to the world of the paranormal. Filmmaker Ivan Reitman let the actors run wild with the concept, crafting what is, among other things, as much a workplace comedy as one centered on the spectral world. The interactions between the quartet elevate the already entertaining material to classic status.
1“Back to the Future” (1985)
dir: Robert Zemeckis
A perfectly crafted sci-fi comedy, “Back to the Future” is what happens when a simple idea is executed with surgical precision. Who, as a teenager, hasn’t wanted to see what their parents were like as teens? Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis figured out a way to brilliantly tell that story. They literally re-wrote the rules of time travel in the process, burning the conceit of “Back to the Future” so into the zeitgeist that other time travel tales cite it. Look no further than earlier this year’s “Avengers: Endgame” for proof of that. With iconic performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, this fun, quotable comedy has set the standard for nearly three and a half decades. As far as science fiction comedies go, this is the best of all-time.