Top Ten Underrated Science Fiction Movies

Ten science fiction movies that are often forgotten, but still great.

Science fiction is full of films that get overlooked by critics and audiences alike. Sometimes these films were overshadowed by other movies, sometimes they flew under the radar due to poor marketing, sometimes they were stymied by unrealistic expectations prior to their release, sometimes small flaws in the movie have been blown out of all proportion.

For whatever reason, the below movies just never seemed to get the praise or exposure they deserved

Equilibrium

Before he was growling behind a mask, Christian Bale starred in this science fiction movie set in a world where emotion has been outlawed. Not, perhaps, the most original idea but one that is well executed by director Kurt Wimmer.

Bale is admirably supported by Taye Diggs, Sean Bean and Emily Watson. The cast uniformly elevates a less than perfect script into a film that’s more than just some slick fight scenes. But in all honesty, what makes the film is actually the pretty damn special fight scenes.

Equilibrium introduced the world to the awesome ‘gun ka-ta’. A martial art designed to combat adversaries with guns. This style leads to awesome fight scenes that will get the pulse racing.

The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky doesn’t care about your need for answers, he’s more than happy to leave you with nothing but questions and the memory of a magical film.

Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman star as a couple apparently linked through time, from the Mayan jungle to a spaceship in the far future. Through each of these incarnations the movie deals with themes of passion, loss and death.

That brief overview of the plot does not come close to doing the film as a whole justice. It’s a mysterious movie that you will find yourself still thinking about long after you’ve watched it. Some may find it’s ‘artiness’ a little overbearing, but this should be easy to overlook when you consider it’s ambition.

Sunshine

Sunshine is a movie that has often been unfairly maligned for a jarring genre shift later in the film. It’s true the film does lurch in an ungainly yet predictable fashion toward sci-fi horror in the third act. Yet to focus on this is to ignore a science fiction film of rare majesty.

The movie centers on a group of brave scientists on a journey to jumpstart the sun to prevent its death. What makes this movie a hidden gem is director Danny Boyle’s ability to juxtapose a stunning depiction of the magnitude of space travel with the personal traumas’ of the crew. Each cast member is given enough time to make the characters distinctive and the tensions between them real and compelling.

Sunshine is must watch science fiction because it allows the viewer to glimpse a majesty beyond their mundane lives. You just need to forgive it a few plot points.

Watchmen

If Watchmen were released now it would blow the current crop of superheroes out of the water. It deconstructs the concept of the superhero without mercy and without flinching. The ‘Watchmen’ are a group of retired superheroes who live in an America that never got rid of Nixon.

The movie is adapted from the, previously considered unfilmable, comic book series of the same name. Although some major changes were made from the source material, it’s clear that director Zack Snyder is in love with the original comic. Indeed, many of the scenes are effectively cinematic recreations of the original comic book panels. This gives the film a unique aesthetic that has stood the test of time.

From the opening time-lapse montage it’s clear that this movie is set in an alternate world more bleak than our own. Yet every year we seem to be getting closer to the world the author envisaged when he wrote the series. From the election of Trump, the North Korean crisis to the worrying erosion of civil liberties across the globe; it seems like the world we live in is moving horrifyingly close to that depicted in Watchmen. It’s this changing political landscape that seems to make Watchmen more and more relevant each year.

Watchmen has also become the perfect antidote for when you’ve had too much of Marvel’s saccharine world.

Moon

Sam Rockwell stars in this atmospheric movie set, unsurprisingly, on the Moon.

Rockwell plays a miner, alone on the moon, whose life and possibly mind starts to unravel. The plot gets uniquely weird when Rockwell’s miner finds his doppelganger in another section of the base.

Moon is a tense film that uncoils itself slowly and carefully in front of the viewer. The direction is deliberate and precise. Making a lean film that’s captivating to watch.
Rockwell is at his magnetic best, which is fortunate as he’s on the screen by himself for most of the film.

Moon has been somewhat forgotten since its release, which is unfortunate since it is a rare piece of cinema that deserves attention.

Cargo

The future won’t bring us peace or contentment, only scarcity and despair. Or at least that’s how the makers of Cargo see things going.

Cargo takes place in a future where the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and humanity clings to life off-world. We follow Doctor Portmann as she tries to earn passage to a paradise planet where life is still enjoyable by serving an eight-year stint on a cargo ship.

The job entails long periods of solitude for all of the crew, and when Doctor Portmann’s shift is coming to an end things start to get creepy. The film then moves into sci-fi horror/sci-fi thriller territory.

The film twists and turns towards its conclusion, playing with the preconceptions and expectations of the audience along the way.

Coherence

Coherence is one of those films you find on Netflix and watch on a whim, only to find that it’s actually well worth a watch. And not just because it’s got Zander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in it.

Coherence is one of those rare beasts, a no special effects science fiction movie. The premise of the film is that a pretentious dinner party becomes entangled with multiple parallel universes after a comet passes overhead. This links the guests with their counterparts from these other universes.

From this simple premise, a very complicated plot is born. A plot that sees the guests question which of them are doppelgangers from the other universes as their own personal relationships unravel with each new revelation.

This is a science fiction based on concepts and character rather than special effects and wonder. But that doesn’t make it any less of a sci-fi movie, nor does it make any less of a quality movie.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Perhaps not so much underrated as under-watched. I’ve been shouting about this film ever since I first watched it. And I’ll keep shouting about it now.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a mumblecore movie from the mind of Mark Duplass. Starring Mark Duplass himself and Audrey Plaza.

The film’s quirky plot is set in motion by the, frankly awesome, personal advert below:
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

This advert was put up by Kenneth (Duplass), a loner who wants to go back in time to right a wrong. The film then deals with themes of loneliness, regret and the basic need for human connections in our lives. Doing so in a subtle and fun way.

Repo Man

Repo Man is nothing short of mental. Although perhaps not as mental as it’s almost namesaked Repo Man: The Genetic Opera, it still defies categorisation.

This movie is a sci-fi film with a punk heart. A fuck-you to your expectations of what a movie should be, of how a plot should behave. The film’s story veers wildly between the mental lives of the repo men, alien conspiracies and the clandestine goings-on of government agencies.

Repo Man will certainly make you think, although the first time you watch it you might well think “What the hell was that?”

Gattaca

Gattaca is a 90’s film that has been too easily forgotten. Set in a future where the world operates on a genetic caste system.

Ethen Hawke is a man considered genetically inferior by society, that is trying to pass himself off as one of the genetic upper classes in order to take part in a mission to outer space.

The film is fairly low key, but has a distinct visual style that will stay in your memories long after you’ve watched. Similarly, the performances, from Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law are reserved but effective.

Gattaca might never have got the attention it deserved on its release, but it’s proved itself to be a movie that has endured the test of time. As such, if you’re stuck for a sci-fi film to watch tonight, it should be on your list.

If you’ve read all the way down this article, I hope you found a new film to watch. I also highly doubt you agree with all of my suggestions. If that’s the case, let me know on social media or on the comments.

If you’re still looking for films why not try our ultimate science fiction movie watch list.