The sci-fi genre has gained a huge fan base through blockbuster movie series such as the “Star Wars” and critically acclaimed movies from legendary directors like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” or Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. Here is a list of some criminally underrated gems of the sci-fi genre you have probably never seen.
10. Brainstorm (1983)
Directed by Douglas Trumbull, “Brainstorm” is a thought provoking sci-fi drama that explores the complex theme of thought sharing. It is not only one of the most underrated sci-fi films of the 1980s, but also Natalie Wood’s last film.
To be more specific the film follows the unsettling story of some scientists as they develop a virtual reality device that records human thoughts and feelings. When the two lead researchers of this project, Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) and Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) perfect this unique device, the government becomes interested in their work.
Michael has to deal with not only the government who wants to use the device for a different purpose, but also the tragic death of his co-worker Lillian. In addition, Michael tries to fix his broken marriage with Karen (Natalie Wood) as well as to sabotage the government’s unethical project.
It goes without saying that Douglas Trumbull manages to create an underrated hidden gem of the sci-fi genre. Despite the fact that it is a slow paced drama, the powerful performances and the experimental direction create a tense atmosphere.
Christopher Walken delivers a sensational performance as a scientist struggling to save the world as well as his broken marriage. Additionally, Louise Fletcher’s performance is breathtaking, whereas Natalie Wood is also great in the last role of her career (she died during the shooting of the film).
Moreover Douglas Trumbull, a visual effects pioneer (“Blade Runner”, “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”) enhance this weird sci-fi journey with astonishing visual effects.
Overall, “Brainstorm” isn’t just one of the most underappreciated sci-fi films of all time, but also a jewel of cult cinema.
9. Kafka (1991)
Inspired by Franz Kafka’s real life and great works such as “The Castle” and “The Trial”, Steven Soderbergh creates a unique blend of reality and fiction. Although the main character is named after the legendary writer, the film is an amalgam of Kafka’s vision and Soderbergh’s interpretation of a kafkaesque world. The film was written by the prolific sciptwriter Lem Dobbs.
Jeremy Irons stars Kafka, a shy clerk working for an insurance company who writes weird stories in his free time. When Edward (Kafka’s coworker) is murdered, Kafka discovers a mysterious underground group trying to expose a secret society that controls the world.
Thus, Kafka embarks on a bizarre journey to reach the castle in order to stop this secret organization. He has to deal with not only some mad scientists and their experiments, but also Edward’s lover Gabriella (Theresa Russell).
Although the film begins as a classic film noir with witty dialogues, it soon becomes a suspenseful sci-fi thriller with gorgeous black and white cinematography. It is quite obvious that Steven Soderbergh manages to capture the essence of a kafkaesque world.
The conspiracy theory, the depiction of a bureaucratic system and the magnificent performance by Jeremy Irons enhance this claustrophobic tale of madness. It is not only a stylish drama with visually stunning photography, but also a philosophical study of existential anxiety and absurdism.
All in all, “Kafka” is a great effort to reimagine Kafka’s vision of a terrifying world. A great lo-fi sci-fi film for those who enjoy Kafka’s work.
8. Liquid Sky (1982)
“Liquid Sky” is undoubtedly one of the weirdest sci-fi movies of all time. This low-budget gem of cult cinema is also an important movie of the post-punk and new wave movement of that era.
This bizarre tale follows the story of Margaret, a drug addict fashion model who lives in a small apartment with her lover Adrian. Margaret is a bisexual model who has to deal with the people of the fashion industry as well as Jimmy, another androgynous model.
When a small flying UFO land at the top of Margaret’s apartment, everything goes out of hand. These aliens, who came to Earth to look for some heroin, are now interest in Margaret’s sex life. What follows is a series of psychedelic scenes involving murders, aliens and drugs.
Directed by Slava Tsukerman, “Liquid Sky” is genuinely unique film that captures excellently the underground scene of New York of the 1980s. The experimental direction, the great selection of songs and the psychedelic animation create a marvellous presentation of the post-punk subculture.
On the other hand, the catatonic characters of Margaret and Jimmy are both portrayed excellently by the sensational Anna Carlisle.
In addition, Paula E. Sheppard is also great as a weird musician with a quirky personality.
Taking everything into account, “Liquid Sky” it remains one of the most underrated movies of all time. It is not only a great experimental sci-fi film, but also a hidden gem of the cult cinema that deserves more attention.
7. The Endless (2017)
“The Endless” is a bizarre sci-fi movie created by the talented directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. The two visionary directors have managed to create one of the most original sci-fi movies of the 21st century. They have not only directed, written and produced this low-budget gem, but also played the roles of two main characters.
The film tells the story of two brothers, Aaron and Justin, who have left a mysterious cult a long time ago. When they receive a videotape with footage from the cult, they decide to visit for one last time the cult’s campsite. The cult is set in a secluded camp in the countryside, where everyone seems to be very happy.
Everything looks perfect until the two brothers discover some weird Polaroid photos and cassette tapes. Then everything gets out of control, as the two characters are trapped in this sacred place where even time is distorted. They have to not only find a way to escape, but also fight a battle against an unforeseen divine threat.
Despite the fact this is an underrated low-budget film, it is a great effort to create a magic universe of endless possibilities. It is not only a marvellous study of mysticism, but also an essay about faith and religion. Additionally, the experimental direction, the existential themes and the gorgeous scenery enhance this creepy and suspenseful atmosphere.
“The Endless” is not only a genuinely unique sci-fi tale, but also one of the best independent movies of the 21st century.
6. The Quiet Earth (1985)
Directed by Geoff Murphy, “The Quiet Earth” is one of the best New Zealand films of all time. The film is a loose adaptation of Craig Harrison’s novel of the same name.
Bruno Lawrence, one of the greatest New Zealand actors of all time, stars as Zac Hobson, a scientist working on a classified project about global energy. One day he wakes up to find himself alone in a post-apocalyptic world. He desperately tries to not only find other survivors, but also find out what happened.
When he realises that the project he was working on may have caused this tragic event, he becomes mentally unstable. After a few weeks he has an unexpected encounter with Joanne, a young girl that has also survived. Then the two lone survivors along with Api (a guy they met) team up to save the world from another future destruction.
“The Quiet Earth” is obviously a thrilling post-apocalyptic tale about human extinction and loneliness. It is not only a bleak depiction of a nightmarish world, but also a great study of existentialism and nihilism. This sci-fi tale also stands out as a social critique of the alienation of modern life.
Furthermore, Bruno Lawrence delivers a spellbinding performance as a tragic character who seeks for a purpose in a meaningless world of total chaos.
All in all, “The Quiet Earth” isn’t just a great post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure, but also a rare gem of the New Zealand cult cinema.