At first glance, one might think that 2010 was a weak year for sci-fi films. Truth is, its handful of good-to-great sci-fi films mark a fairly typical calendar year for the genre. 2010 just happened to be the follow-up to the '09 blowout roster of 'Moon,' 'District 9,' 'Avatar,' 'Pandorum,' 'Knowing,' 'Watchmen' and 'Star Trek.' That's a tough act to follow, but let's see how the year's offerings rank.
10. 'Tron: Legacy' -- Sci-fi has long been a genre associated with all of the movie magic a filmmaker can afford, and that's exactly where 'Tron: Legacy' delivers. It might stumble in more than a few areas, but when it comes to providing a special effects-coated spectacle that sounds as good as it looks, 'Tron' does precisely that.
9. 'Predators' -- Of all the recent (allegedly) overdue sequels and remakes Hollywood has glommed onto, 'Predators' is one of the few that feels in complete harmony with its source material. It would have been nice to see the home world/game preserve of the 'Predators' infused with more extra-terrestrial obstacles for the Earthlings to go up against, but that doesn't hurt Nimrod Antal's film from being a perfectly worthy successor.
8. 'Metropia' -- You just don't see many movies like 'Metropia,' a Swedish animated film about an underground society and mind control featuring the voice talents of Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier, and Skarsgards Stellan and Alexander. But you should.
7. 'Splice'-- It's safe to say that 'Splice' is either a love it or hate it kind of movie. There isn't much middle ground on Vincenzo Natali's genre-bending creature feature. Its dark humor and unsettling sexuality aren't for everyone, but around these parts we applaud it.
6. 'The Book of Eli' -- 'The Book of Eli' is the best 'Fallout' fan film ever made. It's not actually based in any way on the 'Fallout' game series, but the two share such a kindred sense of post-apocalyptic humor and style that I can't help but think of 'Fallout' while watching it. Beyond that affection however, this is one of (if not the) best-looking post-apoc movies ever made; it's got a badass cast; an outstanding sound design and a story hook that, though it may induce eye-rolling in some, is unique within the genre.
5. 'Daybreakers' -- Yes, 'Daybreakers' is about vampires and vampires traditionally mean horror movies, but if you view the Spierig Brothers' film through a sci-fi lens, it really shines. They do a great job of building a plausible, fully functioning futuristic society with its own rules and limitations -- and that's exactly what good sci-fi should do.
4. 'Exam'-- 'Exam' is only tangentially a science fiction film, but I'm such a sucker for films that take place entirely within a single room that I can't help but include it on this list. The ending isn't quite as invigorating as the first 45-minutes or so, but it's still a captivating premise that manages to engage even on repeat viewings.
3. 'Monsters'-- Few filmmakers had as impressive a debut this year as Gareth Edwards did with 'Monsters,' his low-budget riff on alien invasion movies. I fear a lot of people soured on the movie since the trailer and title promise a different type of film entirely, but if you go in knowing that this is essentially a road movie about the miraculous-yet-mundane aftermath of an alien invasion, you'll appreciate it a whole lot more. But even if the story does nothing for you, you've got to at least respect what Edwards accomplished with a crew of about three people.
2. 'Inception' -- Few big screen experiences this year were as roundly satisfying as 'Inception.' High concept movies like this -- ones that show you things you've never seen and take you to places you've never been -- are why most of us fall in love with films in the first place.
1. 'Never Let Me Go' -- And here we have the polar opposite of 'Tron: Legacy,' a truly elegant sci-fi film where the only special effect is how its intensely human story makes you forget you're even watching science fiction.