16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction

16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction

From left: Big Hero 6, Her, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
From left: Big Hero 6, Her, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Image: Disney, Annapurna Pictures, Lucasfilm

Science fiction has long existed to warn us about the dangers that await us, but sometimes it’s also there to remind us of how good things could be—and how beautiful they can look.

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 favorites 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.

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Fundamental Films

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.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Disney

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.

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Lucasfilm

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.

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Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Disney

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.

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Mass Effect series

Mass Effect series

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: BioWare

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.

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Disney

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.

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Black Panther

Black Panther

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Disney

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.

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Her

Her

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Annapurna Pictures

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.

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Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Skydance Media

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.

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Bicentennial Man

Bicentennial Man

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Touchstone Pictures

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.

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Futurama

Futurama

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Fox

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.

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Blade Runner

Blade Runner

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Warner Bros.

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.

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Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Warner Bros.

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.

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The Expanse

The Expanse

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Amazon Studios

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.

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16 / 17

Minority Report

Minority Report

Illustration for article titled 16 of the Most Inspiring Cityscapes in Science Fiction
Image: Dreamworks Pictures

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.


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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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