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The 20 Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Films of 2023

Godzilla, Turtles, Barbie, Spiderman

Where do these films rank on the list? Find out here.
Image: Toho, Paramount, WB, Sony

Fans of genre movies had an absolute blast in 2023. Hollywood studios and streamers alike provided us with a seemingly never-ending slate of excellent fare. The animated films were fire. Some superhero films were super. And along the way, there were lots and lots of happy surprises. Below, you’ll find io9’s picks for the best, and our favorite, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films of 2023.

If Dream Scenario was simply what you expect it to be, it would probably be a solid movie. That it then goes beyond that to dissect our modern society gives it an extra special edge. The basic set-up is that a normal guy, played by Nicolas Cage, ends up randomly showing up in people’s dreams all over the world. What happens from there is a commentary on modern celebrity, technology, and so much more. A funny, creepy, excellent film.

Based on ND Stephenson’s popular graphic novels, Nimona was canceled years ago as a result of the Disney-Fox merger. But instead of being one of many casualties of Hollywood’s acquisition spree, Annapurna brought the film back from the dead… and to Netflix. Nimona is a beautifully animated and charming romp that easily makes it the most engaging animated fantasy flick of 2023. Within minutes, it’s easy to see why it was worth bringing back in the first place, and why it resonates so strongly with queer viewers.

John Boyega is back, baby! In They Cloned Tyrone, the Star Wars star takes a trip into a darkly comedic sci-fi drama. Co-starring Jamie Foxx and The Marvels’ Teyona Parris, the film is a mind-bending mystery that riffs on dystopian truths and gives off pleasingly bizarre vibes. This one will require multiple views for all the layers.

A girl traveling around Japan with her talking, moving chair (who was once a boy, to be clear) is an eyebrow-raising setup for any coming-of-age fantasy film. But despite the silliness of that elevator pitch, Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume was a gorgeous, genuine treat of a film well worth seeing in theaters. While it’s maybe a bit too predictable in spots, its storytelling is so effective—hitting all the right emotional notes—that it’s hard not to get swept up in it by the end.

This underrated gem of a film from Nida Manzoor brings us an action-packed tale of sisterhood. Starring Priya Kansara alongside The Umbrella Academy’s Ritu Arya and Ms. Marvel’s Nimra Bucha, this film about South Asian cultural societal expectations isn’t everything that it seems to be and almost flew under io9’s genre movie radar. There’s quite a twist in this kick-ass comedy romp that’s not to be missed!

Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone has never been better than in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein-inspired fantasy/comedy. It follows a woman (Stone) who is reanimated with a child’s mind and has to grow up with an already grown-up body. The supporting cast including Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe lift the movie up and keep it fresh with constant surprises.

West Side Story Oscar winner Ariana DeBose shines in Wish, giving a stellar performance as Disney’s newest original heroine. From a script co-written by Frozen co-writer/director and Disney animation head Jennifer Lee, the fairytale mythology that is the root of all Disney films gets its own origin story in a nod to the company’s first 100 years. Also, “This Wish” is one of the strongest of the studio’s signature “I want” songs in recent years.

Hideaki Anno’s third and potentially final re-imagining of the Tokusatsu series that influenced his legendary works is arguably the one nearest to his heart—and his love for Kamen Rider is clear upon watching Shin. Brutal action and high camp in equal measure, it’s a superhero movie unlike any other around these days, all wrapped around a sincere heart about the fragility of human connection and what it means to live for yourself and others. If this is how Anno bows out on the Shin series after Ultraman and Godzilla, it’s a worthy final act.

You’ll believe Tom Cruise can fly! Or very nearly, in Christopher McQuarrie’s seventh entry in the action series, which has come a long way from a TV show about people ripping face masks off (plus one of the greatest theme songs of all time). Sure, there’s a plot in here somewhere—good guys, bad guys, MacGuffins, international intrigue, globe-trotting hijinks—but the real draw has always been the stunts. Dead Reckoning Part One knows this, and delivers the hair-raising, jaw-dropping goods.

Jaime Reyes’ first solo outing didn’t change the hierarchy of power in the DC universe, and it wasn’t the greatest superhero movie of all time that tried to honor the brand’s legacy. In the end, it was a conventional superhero flick that could’ve come out in the mid-’00s and not much would’ve changed. But that’s what makes it so enjoyable in the first place: it’s not trying to be anything but a fun origin story for a hero people may not yet be familiar with. And in that sense, it’s a fairly revolutionary swing to pull off in 2023, and here’s hoping we see more of Jaime in the future.

A party game goes way out of control in this genuinely eerie feature debut from Australian brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who infuse an infectious energy honed by their successful YouTube career into every frame of this frightfest. Though its premise is pure tales from the crypt—an embalmed hand that lets you communicate with the dead!—the world it takes place in feels entirely like our own, making the fates of its naive young characters even more horrifying.

What started as a relatively simple revenge story back in 2014 has since become one of the most exciting and stylish series ever—a feat made even more outstanding because, in a world where nearly every action movie is adapted from a comic book or is part of an existing franchise, John Wick stands alone. Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as the taciturn assassin, and though John Wick maybe expires at the end of Chapter 4, the fascinatingly detailed universe that he exists in feels like it could bring many more adventures to come. No superhero fatigue here whatsoever.

Fans of legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki will never get a chance to walk around inside his head, but the next best thing is The Boy and the Heron. The latest animated masterpiece from Miyazai and Studio Ghibli sees a young boy travel to another world looking for his mom and features a non-stop bonanza of incredible creatures and poignant storytelling.

After the unique nightmare that was 2017’s Terrified, we knew we’d follow Argentine horror master Demián Rugna anywhere, no matter how agonizingly frightening… and his follow-up, When Evil Lurks, more than makes good on that promise. Not only is it one of the most original possession tales ever brought to the screen, it’s easily the scariest movie of 2023, with gasp-worthy moments intertwined with an absolutely pervasive sense of inescapable dread.

It’s easy to forget how it seemed like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 wouldn’t happen—or at the very least, not with James Gunn at the helm. Despite the longer-than-expected wait, the threequel comes peacocking in like nothing happened, and it’s easily one of the stronger Marvel affairs in the last few years. As silly and poignant as its direct predecessor, Vol. 3 is a little darker (and by extension, more emotionally manipulative) than the first two Guardians films, while also offering a real sense of growth and finality across this trilogy. The MCU’s cosmic a-holes couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff.

One of the funniest movies of the year, Honor Among Thieves served as a loving tribute to the world of Dungeons & Dragons and the act of TTRPG play, with a pitch-perfect balance of serious worldbuilding and stakes with a lighthearted, fun tone that evoked a group of friends getting together at the table and rolling some dice. Chris Pine leads an all-star cast whose joy and fun is practically oozing out of every frame, and the swashbuckling action makes the whole thing shine. A comfort movie for years to come, we cannot wait for this party to gather and venture forth again someday.

They really thought this movie couldn’t be made. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie defied the expectations of what a Barbie film could be with a story that really encompasses womanhood through the lens of Barbie’s creation, hopes, and dreams of the future. It doesn’t hold back even on its own role in how women are seen in society and how the narrative can be reclaimed generationally. Kens of the world, step aside—Barbies are coming through!

How do you follow up a game-changing animated movie, and a game-changing superhero movie to boot? Across the Spider-Verse went big and broad as it thrust Miles Morales and his friends into an even wider world of Spider-heroes, but it never sacrificed how it used that world to explore Miles’ personal journey of being a hero. Instead it got to expand it just as deeply with characters like Gwen this time around, on top of delivering the gorgeously rendered spectacle one would expect out of a superhero sequel. Even though we have to wait for Beyond to get the full story, Across still successfully manages to feel like it takes its characters on huge, complete arcs, keeping it all the more satisfying in the here and now even as we wait to see how it pays off in the future.

After seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018, we expected its sequel, Across the Spider-Verse to be excellent. But after the 2007 animated Ninja Turtles movie, expectations were low for Mutant Mayhem. Surely this new movie would be better, but would it be good? Not only was Mutant Mayhem good, it’s a borderline miracle. Combining an unforgettable, incredible new spin on the Turtles with gorgeous animation and a perfect tone, the film is joy in cinematic form.

Japan’s first homemade Godzilla movie since Shin Godzilla takes the King of All Kaiju back to the darkest hours of the 20th century for the nation in an epic, horrifying, and brutally sincere examination of post-war Japan. Just as unflinching in its politics as its predecessor, Minus One stands out in contrast with its exploration of ordinary people in the face of Godzilla’s threat, rather than governmental agencies.

And what a threat it is: Godzilla himself has never looked so brutal and unyielding as he does here, a fitting blend of retro aesthetics evoking his man-in-a-suit roots with a presence that feels like less of a beast and more of a force of nature, the fears of the atomic age made flesh and blood. A monster movie with bite, in more ways than one.

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