Most Underrated Science Fiction & Fantasy Movies

By Stephen Cass | July 8, 2008 12:59 pm

The summer movie season is upon us, and I’m looking forward to watching a bunch of science fiction movies over the next few weeks. Batman, Hellboy, X-Files, Babylon A.D. are all getting the full blockbuster promotional treatment. Chances are though that some of them will be overrated, which got me to thinking about some of the most underrated movies I’ve seen. I love underrated movies: for whatever reason you plop yourself down in front of the screen not expecting much and then: “Hey! This is pretty good!” Here’s my top ten — what are your suggestions?

  • The Satan Bug (1965): Before The Andromeda Strain and Outbreak, this cloak-and-dagger thriller brought the specter of species-killing disease to the big screen.
  • Silent Running (1972): Although a little preachy, an uncompromising ending rescued the movie from cheesiness as the spaceborne remnants of Earth’s forests face destruction.
  • The Quiet Earth (1985): Twenty years after I first saw it, the enigmatic ending of this Last-Man-On-Earth tale still sticks in my mind.
  • Last Night (1998): Another movie with a haunting ending, it follows the lives of a handful of people in the final hours before the Earth is destroyed.
  • eXistenZ (1999): Overshadowed by The Matrix when it was released, this virtual reality tale is wickedly imaginative.
  • Pitch Black (2000): Although it spawned a sprawling sequel, the movie that introduced the character of the lethal Riddick was a tight thriller that relied on psychology more than special effects.
  • Underworld (2003): I loved the surprisingly rich backstory that gave a war between vampires and werewolves some real weight.
  • The Fountain (2006): Another movie that, whatever other flaws it may have had, paid off with a great ending.
  • Stardust (2007): Peppered with wry humor — and with romantic leads that manage not to irritate.
  • Sunshine (2007): The on-screen physics didn’t make sense, but the psychology of a crew pushed to extremes by their environment worked for me.
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Comments (36)

  1. Shockingly, you’ve ignored Silent Running (1972). Bruce Dern. Adorable robots. Ahead-of-it’s-time eco-theme. What more could you ask?

  2. It’s #2! on the list! It’s Buttle all over again…

  3. Sorry about that. I am about to become one of of those commenters who complains about the small font.

    My new comment is: Shockingly you’ve ignored Outland (1982). Sean Connery. High Noon on a dirty, dystopian space colony. What more could you ask?

  4. Actually, yes, I have to give you Outland, if only for the memorable sight of blood dripping up.

  5. Ian

    What about Heartbeeps (1981). Robot Andy Kaufman……. I’m kidding.

  6. Dave Geary

    Sorry, but Sunshine was the most pretentious piece of rubbish I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have to sit through.

  7. What’s weird about Heartbeeps is that it still looks great on paper: Academy Award nomination for makeup, electronic score by John Williams, and the director is currently a producer on Heroes. And then you actually see a clip…

  8. LF8

    Nice list! I would also include The Man From Earth (2007), about a university professor that is actually a Cro-Magnum that has been alive for the last 10,000+ years. It might sound stupid, but it is very very interesting and intelligent.

  9. trevor

    but what about zardoz? why isnt zardoz on there? huh? huh?

  10. Roland

    Trevor:
    Zardoz is not there because it sucks. Get over it.

  11. LF8:

    I see The Man From Earth was written by the same guy who gave us Evil Spock!: straight onto my netflix queue so!

  12. aisling

    and,yeah,…what about Millenium, with Kris Kristpherson and Cheryl Ladd? Some thought provoking paradoxes, for sure.

  13. chilton

    good list, but what about blade runner? or THX-1138? I havn’t ever been able to see the later but i heard it was good

  14. Zino

    chilton:

    blade runner and thx weren’t exactly underrated. Maybe thx but def not blade runner. It was huge.

    My suggestion would be Dark City. Matrix be damned…

    A solid list man. A few I havn’t seen. I’ll have to keep an eye out at work for them.

  15. Quentin Georgel

    existenz and pitch black were 2 film that i really liked

  16. Dark City was LAME! You don’t need high tension music for an entire movie, honestly, you don’t. They would play that music if a nose was being blown or teeth being brushed. Nice concept, but it was poorly executed. I’ll tell you what’s missing from this list: Intacto.

  17. Chilton:

    I have to agree that with Zino that Bladerunner isn’t underrated, even though it didn’t do very well at the box office when it was first released. THX-1138 I go back and forth on — while there are some very cool things in that movie, for me I didn’t quite feel like I was pulled into the movie’s world enough.

  18. Kolten

    - The original “Andromeda Strain” was excellent. I stumbled upon it while flipping channels one day and was absolutely enthralled.

    - THX should have definately made the list.

    - The Fountain I didn’t even finish watching. Maybe I will just to see the ending (is it that good?)

    - Dark City and (to a lesser extent) Existenz are both good shows, and under-rated.

  19. Kolten:

    The Andromeda Strain is a great movie, but like Bladerunner, I don’t think it’s underrated. As for The Fountain, well you can tell from my list that a good ending is important to me, and I will forgive much for one, but if the movie’s admittedly slow pace was enough to make you stop watching, the ending may not offer enough of a pay off for you.

  20. Larry Fantastic

    But serious folks — if we’re talking about great UNDERRATED sci-fi films you must include Solaris (Tarkovsky’s original not Soderbergh’s misstep – though not as underrated as it is forgotten), Primer, Pi, Donnie Darko, 1984 and good ol’ Soylent Green and the original Planet of the Apes film — well, at least the first couple.

  21. Larry Fantastic: I don’t know about the original Solaris. While it was amazing in many ways, there was just a little too much highway footage… Primer is terrific, but as it was a Sundance winner, and received a fair amount of press (I interviewed Carruth myself!), I’m not sure if it’s underrated though…

  22. Jesse

    The Man on Earth.

  23. Andrew

    The Arrival
    Completely overshadowed by the Independence Day marketing machine, gave a good twist to the alien invasion story before X-Files: Fight the Future rehashed it. An awesome soundtrack, and I’m not a soundtrack kind of person. It’s a crying shame this thing hasn’t been offered anamorphic on DVD yet.

  24. Huggkruka

    Quiet Earth was the first sci-fi movie not set in space I saw as a kid. I still love it, the ending, as you say, sticks with you. The score is also amazing.

  25. erjones

    Good to see “The Quiet Earth” – great film – disturbing, funny, haunting.
    I especially like it when a good sci-fi is not space horse-opera, as it were

  26. Gregory Purcell

    How about

    Village of the Dmned 1960

    The Girl from Monday 2005

    The Blood of Heroes 1989

    Village of the Dmned 1960

    District B13 2004

    The Girl from Monday 2005

    Night watch 2004 & Day watch 2006

    Idiocracy 2006

    Mongol 2007

    Doomsday 2008

    All great movies no one has heard of.

  27. Harrison Shaw

    “Sunshine” is one of my favorite films of all time. Highly undderrated. Despite it’s biggest flaw (the slasher like film sequence in the final 15 or 20 minutes), it’s such a beautiful film.

  28. darqmatr

    “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” Another George Pal classic…

  29. I agree that Quiet Earth belongs on any list of underrated movies. My complaint about most of what I see above is that they are mostly from the last 10 years. Broaden your horizons- SF movies have been made for more than 75 years, like Metropolis from the 1920′s. Have a look at my list that goes back at least to the 1950′s at http:/www.oldsfbooks.com/dvd.html

  30. Honestinwilkesbarre

    eXistenZ reminded me of the Peter Weller film The Naked Lunch.
    Unlike The Naked Lunch, I didn’t like eXistenZ. The technology portrayed was unrealistic to the point of silly. The plot line felt very contrived and the ending left me very unsatisfied. It was like a short story that they didn’t even bother to pad, but simply stretched to fit a feature length film, leaving gaping holes.
    I suggest replacing it with Naked Lunch.

  31. Jayden

    thank you so much for putting a lot of these movies up
    Quiet Earth and Sunshine have become two of my favorite films :)
    But to be honest I hated Last Night

  32. Limey
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