We’ve put together a list of some of the most beautiful and inspiring cityscapes in modern science fiction. These are the ones that fill us up with hope instead of dread, promising a future that we could have if we strive toward embracing the best parts of ourselves and the world around us. When things are tough, sometimes it’s good to take a breath and admire how things could be one day.
Here are our picks for some of the most inspiring cityscapes in science fiction — let us know some of your favourites in the comments. We also included a few cityscapes at the end that, while beautiful, are a bit more dystopian than the others — if that’s not your cup of Earl Grey this week, feel free to stop reading a bit early.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The opening five minutes of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets promised a jaw-dropping movie experience that, unfortunately, we didn’t get. But you’ve still got to give the movie props for how it creates a lush city populated by hundreds of different species, each with their own distinct look and style.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1
It’s kind of hard to look back on this now, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 was revolutionary for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was the first MCU movie to venture into the cosmos and give us fantastic new planets to explore, like the utopian city of Xandar.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The CGI may not hold up over time, but the planet of Naboo certainly does. It’s one of the most beautiful locations in Star Wars, a democratic paradise in a sea of corruption and greed.
If Disney’s Tomorrowland had spent less time on Baby Boomer fatigue and that wild goose chase for a pin, and more time exploring the film’s utopian haven for science and innovation, I think we’d be talking about a much better movie. It did look pretty though.
Mass Effect series
The Mass Effect video game series wasn’t just about Commander Shepard and their ragtag team. There was another, equally important character in the series: the Citadel, a massive intergalactic hub that had everything you could think of and more. It’s no surprise Mass Effect 3's Citadel DLC is considered one of the best storylines in the franchise.
Big Hero 6
Disney took us into an alt-reality future with San Fransokyo, a perfect blend of Eastern and Western design that brought Hiro Hamada’s world to life.
The moment we stepped through the barrier protecting Wakanda from the outside world, it was mind-blowing. A futuristic green space that existed in harmony with nature, rather than taking over it. The city’s design has even been cited as inspiration for ways to tackle climate change in urban planning.
You don’t have to travel to the distant future or other planets to see gorgeous sci-fi cityscapes — sometimes it’s about seeing the possibility in your own world. Her was largely filmed in Shanghai and Los Angeles, with a few added notes to make it a future we could see in our lifetimes. The result was a place that felt strange yet familiar.
Star Trek Beyond
It’s impossible to choose a Star Trek film or show that epitomizes utopian futuristic design. They all do it! Even Star Trek: Discovery season three has delivered, with cities that thrive on green spaces and conservation.
Much like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Robin Williams-led Bicentennial Man is about a robot learning what it means to be human. However, one thing that sets this film apart is how it truly does span 200 years, and the movie does a solid job updating the cities and fashions to show how the world is changing...and remaining the same.
Futurama’s city of New New York is a fun, ever-evolving tribute to sci-fi design — plausible and ridiculous at the same time. It helped that we had Fry, a man from our own time, serving as the ongoing commentary track to remark on how much things had changed.
The last few entries on this list are “inspiring” in other ways. In the case of Blade Runner, it’s how the film’s cyberpunk design inspired a generation of filmmakers.
The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending exists in that pocket of sci-fi films where beautiful locations hide terrible truths. Examples of this include The Hunger Games, Elysium, and Cloud Atlas (also from the Wachowskis). For this film, it’s that the families who rule the universe harvest people on other planets so they may live forever.
The Expanse gives us a future that’s simultaneously gorgeous and ugly. It looks like a promising place to live, at least for the upper classes — but mass unemployment and starvation leaves others in the dust. Plus, the increasing problems of climate change literally surround them.
Minority Report might be one of the most prescient movies on this list. It shows the merging of classic American architecture with futuristic design — along with the ever-growing threat of mass surveillance.