Star Wars, Alien, Planet Of The Apes… these are the sci-fi movies that you probably have seen. But what about those movies that may have slipped under your radar?
In this article, we pick out 10 sci-fi movies that you may have missed. Have you seen any of these underrated gems? Or are there any titles on this list that you have never even heard of? Let us know in the comments below.
THX 1138 (1971)
A long time ago, in the galaxy that you are sitting in currently, a young man named George Lucas created one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time. That movie? Star Wars! But that 1977 space adventure wasn’t his first foray into science fiction. Several years before he introduced the world to Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo, et al, he directed THX-1138, a low-budget movie set in a dystopian future where sex, emotion, and human relationships are strictly forbidden.
The movie was considered a flop at the time of its release and the critical response was rather negative. But in the years that followed, the movie achieved classic status due to Lucas’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian society, the surprisingly decent special effects, and the talented playing by its two main stars, Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance.
There are no lightsaber battles in this movie and there are no starships being blasted out of the skies! But while it doesn’t have the gung-ho heroics of the Star Wars movies, it does tell a thought-provoking story about a society that could one day become our reality!
Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970)
In 1983, John Badham’s War Games depicted a supercomputer that nearly brought about the end of the world after Matthew Broderick’s hacker initiated a game of Global Thermonuclear War on his own computer. Over a decade before that movie, Colossus: the Forbin Project told a similar story, albeit one that wasn’t necessarily aimed at video game-obsessed teenagers.
The Colossus of the title is a military computer that has been given total control over a nuclear stockpile by its creators. After it becomes linked to its Russian counterpart, the two become a Super Computer that threatens the world with nuclear extinction.
The movie was made at a time when computers were viewed with suspicion. Many people were worried about AI and machines taking control, hence the interest of moviemakers, who created titles such as this one and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This cautionary tale has long been forgotten but it still ranks alongside War Games and The Terminator as a chilling reflection of what could happen if computers ever become free of the people that created them.
Demon Seed (1977)
Here’s another 70s movie about a sentient AI that escapes its confines and causes mischief. This one is centred around an organic supercomputer named Proteus that takes control of the automated house that its creator, Doctor Harris (Fritz Weaver), and his wife Susan (Julie Christie) live in.
Susan becomes trapped in the house by this malevolent machine and to her horror, discovers that it wants to impregnate her! The movie is as bizarre as it sounds but it’s utterly chilling and well worth a watch. It might also give you cause to reflect on the Smart devices in your home if you have made your life easier by making everything fully automated. Perhaps now is the time to disconnect Alexa…just in case!
Midnight Special (2016)
Jeff Nichols, the director of Mud and Take Shelter, is at the helm of this entertaining sci-fi movie that at times resembles the movies that Amblin used to make back in the 1980s. It tells the tale of a father and son (Micheal Shannon and Jaeden Martell) who go on the run from the US government and a dangerous religious cult who are both interested in the boy’s telekinetic abilities.
This isn’t a big-budget movie and it’s not quite as exciting as you might imagine, given its premise. But with a great cast, which also includes Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, and Joel Edgerton, and an emotionally impactful story, this is still a gripping piece of sci-fi that deserves far more attention than it has been given since the time of its release.
Turbo Kid (2015)
This throwback to the futuristic adventure movies of the 1980s stars Munro Chambers (Knuckleball) as the kid of the title, an avid comic book reader who adopts the persona of his favourite hero when the self-proclaimed ruler of the post-apocalyptic wasteland threatens both his life and the life of the girl he is crushing on.
One critic dubbed this movie ‘Mad Max on BMX bikes’ and they’re not far wrong. It has much in common with George Miller’s Mad Max movies, most notably the second in the original trilogy, but with a helmeted teenager on a bike as the hero instead of a leather-clad Mel Gibson in his souped-up car.
The movie is a blast from start to finish, and with its synthesized score, it is bound to evoke feelings of nostalgia in anybody who grew up in the 80s.
You have probably seen the American HBO series of the same name but have you seen the movie that it was inspired by? If not, you should definitely track down this disturbing sci-fi thriller about vacationers at a Western-themed amusement park whose lives are put at risk when one of the android cowboys suffers a mechanical breakdown and goes rogue.
The TV reboot told a more complicated story that touched upon the theme of identity and what it means to be human but despite the acclaim it received, it’s nowhere near as much fun as this early 70s sci-fi movie starring Yul Brynner as the rampaging robot. The movie’s director, Michael Crichton, also wrote Jurassic Park, which shares some similarities due to its tale of visitors at a theme park that becomes seriously unsafe.
Alien Nation (1988)
Aliens are often seen as a threat in sci-fi movies. Even ET was hunted down and experimented on by suspicious scientists! But there are a handful of great movies that show what life could be like if aliens ever become part of our society. District 9 is one such movie and so too is Alien Nation, a title that could easily fall into the buddy cop genre.
In Alien Nation, these visitors from outer space have been dubbed Newcomers. One of these has become the first alien police officer (Mandy Patinken) and the movie focuses on his partnership with Officer Matthew Sykes (James Caan), a mildly racist veteran of the force who eventually begins to warm to his new partner.
This would appear to be just another cop movie, albeit one with a sci-fi twist, but look beneath the surface and you will discover a thinly-veiled commentary on immigration and police racism, two themes that, sadly, are still relevant today.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Don’t be fooled! This isn’t a family movie akin to Lassie or Old Yeller about a boy and his faithful dog. This is a post-apocalyptic thriller about Vic (Don Johnson) a young survivor of a nuclear war that has wiped out most of the population, and his four-legged friend Blood, with whom he can communicate telepathically!
The canine appears to be the brains of their partnership as they scour the land looking for food. As this dark tale progresses, they stumble upon an underground community who are living in a bomb shelter. It’s here where Vic is lured in for sex as this virile young man is the only one among their number who has the sperm count to re-populate society.
Dystopian thrillers were all the rage back in the 1970s with Mad Max being the most famous of them all. But this odd little film, which is based on the novel by American writer Harlan Ellison, deserves to be better known.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
After the success of Star Wars, a number of similar movies were put into production. Unfortunately, most of these were pretty bad but Battle Beyond the Stars, while clearly being a copycat of Lucas’s movie, was better than most due to a fun screenplay from John Sayles (who a few years later directed the low-budget sci-fi gem Brother From Another Planet) and the spirited performances of its talented cast.
The Star Wars influences are obvious. The plotline is very similar for starters as it revolves around a farm boy who recruits a band of mercenaries to save a planet that is on the verge of being wiped out by an evil tyrant and his armada of aggressors.
Shad, the young farmer, is basically Luke Skywalker with Waltons star Richard Thomas in the role instead of Mark Hamill. One of the mercenaries is named Space Cowboy (George Peppard) who is clearly fashioned after Han Solo. And the main villain of the piece is named Sader (John Saxon), who will remind any Star Wars fan of Darth Vader, and not only because of the copyright-infringing name!
Battle Beyond The Stars is a cheap and cheerful movie that will fill the hole of any Star Wars fan who wants a similarly fun movie set in a galaxy far far away!
Time After Time (1979)
As far as we know, author HG Wells didn’t have an actual time machine, despite writing a novel about such a fantastical device. But according to this underrated gem from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer, he did have his own time machine but later lost it when it was stolen by Jack the Ripper (David Warner) who used it to travel from Victorian-era England to 70’s San Francisco.
Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is able to give chase when his time machine returns to him and the movie follows his attempts to track down the serial killer before he strikes again.
Time After Time isn’t a movie that is widely discussed today but at the time of its release, it was very well-received by critics. It’s an exciting race-against-the-clock-type thriller with an intriguing concept and an excellent cast that excel in their roles as the fictionalised versions of their characters. It’s well worth a watch, especially if you have ever wanted to watch a mashup between a time travel movie and a serial killer thriller.
So, there we have it, our pick for the 10 best sci-fi movies you have probably never seen. Do you agree with our picks? Or have we missed any movies that you think deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments below.