Most science-fiction movies that are produced these days are large, big budget franchise projects. This is a far cry from some of the thought-provoking, mind-bending stories that we are being given, as the smaller films do not get the advertising and marketing dollars given to the franchise productions.
This list will focus on those smaller movies; movies that the general public are not aware of, or have not seen.
Without further ado, let’s start counting…
10. Annihilation (2018)
As the highest grossing film on this list, Annihilation may not be very unknown, but it is criminally under-viewed. Alex Garland‘s 2nd directorial effort saw his scope broaden drastically from his debut outing, Ex Machina. At its’ core, Annihilation is about self-destruction; and while Garland may not answer any imperative questions, the inquiries he makes about the human mind will have you self-reflecting for weeks (or even months) to come. Given more time to gestate, Annihilation could find itself in the Top 5, or even Top 3, of this list.
9. Midnight Special (2016)
Written and Directed by relatively unknown, but wildly talented filmmaker Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special tells the story of a boy and his father who are on the run. Every member of the cast provides magical performances that own their respective screen time. Midnight Special is Nichols homage to the early Spielberg works like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and while it may not be the timeless classic that inspired this film, Midnight Special is a worthy viewing experience for every sci-fi lover.
8. The Congress (2013)
A washed-up, aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to sell her digital likeness to a movie studio in exchange for a lifetime of retirement and enough money to take care of her sickly son. The studio now owns her and can make any movie with her that they would like. The premise places this movie in the conversation of this list, the performance by Wright puts it on the list and the animation/visuals cement The Congress as one of the must-see sci-fi films of the 21st Century.
7. Melancholia (2011)
The aptly titled, Melancholia is a test of how much nihilism a viewer can take. Life is sad, hopeless and meaningless; the world is ending, so why bother? Here, Kirsten Dunst reminds us that she is a talented, capable actress, worthy of being a leading lady. And with a final shot that is perfection in restraint, Lars von Trier shows us the beauty in the end of the world.
6. Attack the Block (2011)
Making his theatrical debut as a director, Joe Cornish brings a bevy of style and charm to this alien invasion flick. There is a tremendous blend of humor, action and thrills that seem to be a staple of Cornish’s flair. Centering around a breakout performance from John Boyega, Attack the Block has the heart and intrigue to stand out in a crowded field.
5. Under the Skin (2013)
“What did I just watch?” is a phrase that will surely be repeated by everyone after viewing Under the Skin. Scarlett Johannson gives a haunting performance as a woman who wanders the night, seducing men. Filled with mesmerizing visuals and imagery, writer/director Jonathan Glazer brilliantly captures the experience of being desired for what is on the outside. A complete and utter, “WTF” ending will have you searching Reddit subs for explanations and answers.
4. Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, hit a home run in his first at bat. The premise we may have seen before, but this story we certainly have not. Evoking Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jones brings genuine emotion to a movie that is mostly one for thinkers. Beautifully shot and convincingly acted, Moon has already cemented itself as one of the greatest low budget sci-fi movies of all time.
3. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
This film was shot digitally and animated using the “interpolated rotoscope” technique, where artists trace over the shot footage, frame by frame, giving the completed animation a realistic look to it. This method aligns itself perfectly with the tone and feel of A Scanner Darkly. The way the actors performances shine through the glossy, acid-trip visuals is a testament to not only the acting, but the direction, as well. Shot in a slick manner, A Scanner Darkly is as uncomfortable as it is thought-provoking.
2. Primer (2004)
Primer is one of the most difficult movies to “keep up with” that I have ever seen. It is truly a perfect example of a movie that warrants multiple viewings (and as you will see, writer/director/actor/composer/producer/casting director/production designer Shane Carruth thrives in the “making people think” department). Primer focuses on two friends who, while attempting to decrease the weight of objects, stumble upon time travel. This is the most detailed, well thought out and properly explained time travel device that I have seen. Primer, which was produced for a measly $7,000, is full of brainy dialogue and complicated ideas. You better turn your phone on ‘silent’ for this one.
1. Upstream Color (2013)
From the same mind (Shane Carruth) that brought you Primer comes a story of two people who, unbeknownst to them, are infected with a parasite that brings them together and upends their lives. Upstream Color is the pinnacle of visual storytelling, but it is also much more than that. It is a love story. It is a science fiction blockbuster. There is something for everyone, as long as you are open to a film with tremendously little dialogue and more ideas than you can wrap your head around. The editing is frantic, the camerawork is refined and the narrative shows unrivaled ambition. With the top two sci-fi films that most people have not seen, Shane Carruth maybe the most talented, unheralded filmmaker the world has ever seen.
What relatively unknown, obscure science-fiction movies are your favorite?
Have you seen any of the movies listed above, what are your thoughts?
Drop a comment below and let me know of a movie that I may not have seen before!