The year in sci-fi, fantasy and supernatural horror film was an interesting one. Marvel's model continued to thrive, and three of the most anticipated releases of the year were relaunches of long-dormant franchises. And yet, even within the studio model, there was room for stand-alone stories, an area the indie world continued to mine. Box-office records were broken and broken again, even as some highly anticipated releases flopped.
Through it all, though, one thing remained clear: It's an amazing time to be a fan of our favorite genres, as releases featuring robots, aliens, superspies, wizards and monsters continued to dominate the release calendar. To pick out the best of the bunch, our Contributing Editors voted in a ranked poll for their top 10 movies of the year. The results are below. Check out our list, and let us know in the comments which are your favorites, what we missed and what your best movie-going experience of the year was!
The grittier, angrier James Bond of Daniel Craig returned for a fantastically frenzied fourth appearance. Rather than the personally charged, existential nature of 2012’s Skyfall, this new chapter showcased an intriguing tonal shift for the typically stripped-down series. Indeed, this Agent 007 has evolved emotionally in a way that, at times, seemed uncharacteristically lighthearted. However, in a twist that unraveled in a manner not without controversy, the storyline gestating for nearly a decade throughout the Craig series came to dramatic fruition with the arrival of an iconic Bond nemesis armed with an updated array of machinations and some game-changing biographical curveballs. Overall, the film is both a love letter to classic elements of the Bond franchise from the days of Sean Connery and a timely, poignant plot parable highlighting the dangers of the increasingly symbiotic global surveillance state in the digital age. - Joseph Baxter
It Follows takes the very basic fear of a stranger walking behind you and turns it into bone-chilling art. There's something piercingly universal about the notion that there's something unstoppable always moving towards us with the intent to kill -- because there is. And while recent popular horror leans on creepy sounds and flashes of ghostly terror, It Follows is content to appeal to something far more horrifying reality - we live, we screw, we die. And that's it. - Dany Roth
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Who would have thought that the Mission: Impossible film franchise would enter its 20th year with a fifth film better than most of the previous four? Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation cements this series' status as one of the premiere action franchises -- essentially the American counterpart to the undying James Bond saga. A huge part of its appeal remains Tom Cruise as secret agent Ethan Hunt, ably assisted by series regulars Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner. But this movie also introduces a dynamic, capable and sexy female spy, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who we hope sticks around for the sixth movie. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation feels smart, exciting, somewhat topical and just a tad unpredictable -- quite refreshing to see after two decades. - Don Kaye
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Look, we all know that Age of Ultron is not a perfect movie in many ways. But writer/director Joss Whedon and the Marvel Studios juggernaut still delivered a comic book spectacle, boasting a number of showstopping set pieces and the introduction of at least one instantly compelling new character in the Vision (Paul Bettany). Plus the main gang were all back, and the chemistry that the cast so nimbly created in the first movie was as comfortable as ever in the follow-up. We also got intriguing new back stories for the Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a showdown supreme with Ultron (James Spader) and lots of Phase 3 Easter eggs to ponder...so cut Age of Ultron some slack, huh? - Don Kaye
Pixar has already established itself as more than a powerhouse at this point — so, if the studio wanted to keep cranking out Toy Story and Finding Nemo sequels until the end of time, no one could really blame ‘em. But, with Inside Out, they took a weird and risky project and turned it into one of the most touching and poignant films of the year, animated or otherwise. It could make you (and your kid) laugh and cry, typically all within the same scene. The bird’s eye view into Riley’s mind was affecting for both children and adults, translating the challenges of growing up and dealing with complex emotions through a lens of quirky characters who simplified those concepts into something a four-year-old could follow — all without losing any of the emotional weight. - Trent Moore
Maybe it's because it came out nearer the beginning of the year but, despite plenty of critical praise at its release, I'm not seeing Ex Machina on a lot of best-of-2015 lists...which is a shame, because Alex Garland's directorial debut is a remarkable achievement. In an age of epic, action-packed blockbusters, it's a quiet, sparsely cast, unrelentingly taut film that does what the best sci-fi stories do: It makes us think about *ideas*. The acting is excellent throughout, with special nods to Oscar Isaac (his disco-dancing scene remains probably my favorite of the year) and Alicia Vikander, whose star has been on the rise since her portrayal of the is-she-or-isn't-she-alive AI, Ava. And Garland shows he's not just a one-trick pony by creating a deliciously claustrophobic atmosphere out of the rather antiseptic setting of Isaac's character's estate. I know I haven't said a lot about the plot, here, but really, the less you know going in, the better. Just see it, and bask in the full expression of what sci-fi cinema can achieve. - Adam Swiderski
The Martian is a step-by-step guide to survival on the Red Planet as astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on Mars. Unlike Gravity, which takes place over the course of a short timespan, The Martian leaves Watney stranded for 461 days. And each of those days, he tackles such problems as acquiring enough oxygen, water, and food to live on, one thoughtful step at a time. Watney tells his camera diary, “In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option: I’m gonna have to science the s*** out of this.” Watney reasons his way out of a situation that would have most of us sobbing in despair. Witney’s candor and resourcefulness in the face of a slow death is the reason The Martian is currently my favorite movie...not of the year, but of the decade. - Carol Pinchefsky
With the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe increasing and the average moviegoer citing superhero fatigue, Ant-Man recharged that fervor with a surprisingly sweet loser-becomes-hero story, taking the self-deprecating charm of Paul Rudd to make Scott Lang one of the more endearing protagonists in the MCU. Despite stumbling during the production and possessing a plot plot that feels awfully similar to Iron Man, the film with the lowest expectations wound up being the year's most enjoyable superhero tentpole, introducing supporting characters like Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Luis (Michael Peña) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Lightning struck again as the folks at Marvel found a way to upgrade one of their C-class characters and made a film about a lowlife loser and ants (yes, ants), and made general audiences care about them both. – Ernie Estrella
Mad Max: Fury Road
Before Mad Max: Fury Road, it had been 30 years since Max Rockatansky appeared on the big screen. George Miller's latest installment featured a new actor in the title role (Tom Hardy) and an equally badass female protagonist called Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). In a sea of glossy, CGI-filled films, Fury Road kept it real. Miller's use of practcal effects and explosions were a sight to behold. The movie's post-apocalyptic world was a refreshing alternative to most of last summer's theatrical releases. To date, Mad Max: Fury Road has earned $375 million at the worldwide box office. It also has one of the highest ratings on Rotten Tomatoes with a 97 percent. Not bad. - Krystal Clark
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
You can call it a glorified exercise in fan service. You can complain about plot holes that may or may not be resolved in future installments. You can hate Kylo Ren. I don't care, because The Force Awakens just works, as a journey of emotion and story and nostalgia and everything else that makes up the way we see Star Wars now. Yes, the film goes backwards to go forwards, giving us its own versions of the Death Star and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, but there's an element of emotional satisfaction to every single moment that holds even upon repeat viewings. Star Wars has, even in its most plot-twisty moments, never been about science fictional intricacy or cerebral plotting. It's been about adventure and soap opera-infused moments of triumph and tragedy. Whatever else this film might get wrong, and I will acknowledge that it does get some things wrong, it gets that part right. This is Star Wars in all its pulpy glory, back to show us the power of The Force. - Matthew Jackson