The ten most underrated science fiction movies

by on August 31, 2008 at 7:27 am in Film | Permalink

Here is one such list.  It offers up:

1. Primer
2. Aeon Flux
3. Body Snatchers (1993!)
4. Tron
5. Sleeper
6. eXistenZ
7. A Boy and His Dog
8. Enemy Mine
9. Gattaca
10. Silent Running

My picks would have been Mission to Mars and Titan A.ESunshine is also quite good and not so well known.  At times I regard What Dreams May Come as science fiction.  Can I call John Carpenter’s The Thing underrated?  (Is Gattaca underrated?  I don’t think so, not any more.  Is the wonderful eXistenZ underrated?)  Then there are the three Stars Wars prequels, each deeply underrated (unlike The Clone Wars, which defies every rational choice theory known to mankind).  But we’ve had other comment threads on the prequels, so don’t flame me on that one.  Offer up your picks, with an explanation why.

Someone from the other side August 31, 2008 at 7:51 am

How is Sunshine underrated? I mean all the colours make a nice home cinema demo but the movie itself is just bland.

And I’m entirely unsure how one could think Episode 1 was underrated. That drivel got what it deserved.

Tyler Cowen August 31, 2008 at 7:59 am

Very good pick Someone, I should have put *Starship Troopers* on my list. It’s one of the best anti-war movies ever made.

The Matt August 31, 2008 at 8:36 am

“Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?” What a fun movie.

What about “Dark City”? I don’t know if it’s underrated anymore (kind of like how “Gattaca” is seen nowadays), but I’m still amazed at the number of people who haven’t seen it.

And, while I may not agree with it, I know some who really love “Starman”. I think it’s good, not great, but don’t tell that to a couple of my friends.

Anonymous August 31, 2008 at 8:49 am

Event Horizon

jason voorhees August 31, 2008 at 9:08 am

Galaxy Quest (starring Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver) is not only an underrated sci fi film, it’s an underrated comedy, period.

But how is Gattaca on this list? That movie was widely praised.

jn August 31, 2008 at 9:35 am

“Lathe of Heaven” (early TV version) though well reviewed then seems largely forgotten like “A Boy and His Dog.”

And does Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards” count as science fantasy?

Alex Tabarrok August 31, 2008 at 9:50 am

Sunshine was bloody awful. It’s not even science fiction it’s a horror film in space.

Sonic Charmer August 31, 2008 at 9:54 am

There’s no way Primer, Gattaca, or Existenz are underrated. Maybe in the initial reaction (especially Gattaca, but nowadays by my observation they are all rated quite highly, and rightly so.

Some of my picks to throw on the pile —

How about The 13th Warrior with Antonion Banderas. (Why is this science fiction? Because it imagines that Neanderthals lived/survived far longer than is believed by science)

According to some interpretations, Punch-Drunk Love – which unlike most I believe is the best Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and therefore underrated – is science fiction.

I actually rather enjoyed The Chronicles of Riddick. (**ducks**)

Outland with Sean Connery (or is that just a Western?).

Jody August 31, 2008 at 10:32 am

Cube. Very 50’s B-movieish sort of feel (that’s a plus in my book).

I’ll second Chronicles of Riddick – A lot of fun, plus it’s effectively the same story as most successful sci-fi franchises (e.g., Star Wars, Dune) – minor outworlder discovered as secret/reluctant savior who overthrows oppressive galatic empire, but with better action sequences.

MSC August 31, 2008 at 11:04 am

Agree with the others on Starship Trooper and Event Horizon.

My favorite from the list though, is Gattaca, one of the greatest movies of all time.

Tim August 31, 2008 at 12:22 pm

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars is horribly hilarious. I second all the comments about Starship Troopers with the always great Neil Patrick Harris.

David August 31, 2008 at 12:26 pm

“Flight of the Navigator.”

I’m adding my voice to those who pillory Tyler for saying anything at all nice about the abysmal “Sunshine.” It was clearly was a set without a plot until somebody said, “screw it, let’s just make a character make a nonsensical mistake.” And why send a physicist into space? They needed a bloody mechanic.

Ray Midge August 31, 2008 at 12:43 pm

According to some interpretations, Punch-Drunk Love – which unlike most I believe is the best Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and therefore underrated – is science fiction.

Science Fiction? Okay, I’m intrigued. A link, please.

Sonic Charmer August 31, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Ray Midge,

[Punch-Drunk Love] Science Fiction? Okay, I’m intrigued. A link, please.

Well, I was half-joking, but the theory is out there :-) And although it’s not really important to the film as it is, there does seem to be some basis for it. It’s discussed a little at the below link,

scroll down to ‘Alien Theory’

Will Lewis August 31, 2008 at 1:11 pm

“Equilibrium” has gotten little attention. The cast is solid with Christian Bale in the lead. The story of a fascist future where feelings are outlawed is also pretty compelling. It’s a bit of a Matrix clone, and nowhere as good, but definitely underrated.

Sonic Charmer August 31, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Aronofsky’s The Fountain seemed underrated to me. May not really be science fiction though.

Robert S. Porter August 31, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Æon Flux, seriously? It was absolutely terrible, nearly unwatchable despite it being Charlize Theron.

And Equilibrium is great and I’d argue better than The Matrix.

Raj August 31, 2008 at 2:35 pm

The Polish film Avalon also hasn’t gotten much love.

Alex Tabarrok August 31, 2008 at 5:08 pm

wcyee is correct that it’s primarily the last third of Sunshine which is bloody awful. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahnemann explains why this makes the whole movie especially painful:

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2002/kahnemann-lecture.pdf

(Appropriately enough see the section on medical procedures where the sun don’t shine).

Alex

Jeremy August 31, 2008 at 7:39 pm

How about The Man in the White Suit (1951) with Alex Guinness?

jn August 31, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Harlan Ellison used to claim — half-seriously — that Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons was the finest sf film ever made.

efp August 31, 2008 at 9:26 pm

I actually think the Matrix sequels are underrated. They did good business, but took a lot of crap from critics. They just needed some tighter editing. I believe the Wachowskies suffered from what I now call ‘Peter Jackson Syndrome:’ where an early success gives the director too much license and leads to a bloated, self-indulgent final product.

NPTO August 31, 2008 at 11:17 pm

Gattaca is also one of my favourite movies, I found Aeon Flux to be pretty watchable, Startroopers is bad, but Event Horizon is one of the few movies I ever considered walking out of. Correct me if I remember it wrong, in the end they get out of trouble because there was a spare ship that could have been used since the beginning.

Careless September 1, 2008 at 1:00 am

“A Boy and His Dog” is probably the only movie I’ve seen where we all cheered at the end. We were all hoping for that ending. Actually, I don’t remember a lot of the middle, so I couldn’t say how good a movie it is.

assman September 1, 2008 at 2:20 am

Stargate (the movie) was good

Andrew September 1, 2008 at 3:19 am

Minority Report – underrated because it is not often mentioned as possibly one of Spielberg’s greatest.

Replace Aeon Flux with Equilibrium.

The new Star Wars Clone Wars may be underrated.

Sad that I can’t think of more than that. Apparently, it’s really hard to make a great movie, and really hard to find underrated ones.

As an aside, my wife is always impressed with how I know who is in what movie. Though not world-class, this is how good my facial recognition skills are. I pulled up the cover of Code 46 and could tell that the girl on the front was Agatha from Minority report. Not bragging, just marvelling at the human mind. In this case, mine :)

frank dewith September 1, 2008 at 4:21 am

No one has mentioned “Death Watch”, confirming that it is underrated. The story could be tightened up but it has lots to offer on how technological progress can leapfrog existing ethical boundaries. It also anticipated reality television by a couple decades.

JL September 1, 2008 at 6:19 am

I enjoyed “The Thirteenth Floor” a lot, it’s Matrix territory but was in fact released before it. “The Time Shifters” is a very watchable time travel flick. “Primer” and “Gattaca” are too popular to be underrated, they appear on most lists of best sf movies.

Nathan September 1, 2008 at 7:35 am

“Silent Running” should definately be on the list, as well as the more recent “Screamers”, which is an adaptation of another Philip K. Dick short-story. Peter Weller is always fun.

Careless September 1, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Time Bandits

Haven’t seen that movie for 20-some years, but thinking of the end (“Don’t touch that, it’s evil!”) still brings a smile to my face.

mac September 1, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Nick L. and Careless “NIPPLES FOR MEN!?!?!”

Time Bandits is a great film and the low budget effects hold up much better to time than some of the advanced stuff. I’ll second Galaxy Quest as well.

John David Galt September 1, 2008 at 8:03 pm

My #1 has to be Dark Star. Made for $500, and better than just about anything George Lucas ever put his name on.

Starship Troopers would be #1 if they’d followed the book. As it stands the point is lost. Those who have philosophical points to make about it, pro or con, should also read the book first.

Jozo September 2, 2008 at 10:57 am

It seems that Dark City is so underrated, that it does not even show up in “underrated” lists. I was always wondering why Matrix become such hit and 1 year earlier Dark City does not got attention…

Henry September 2, 2008 at 11:37 am

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Probably doesn’t qualify as underrated, except that it may get passed over as a “kid’s” movie.

So consider Disney’s Black Hole (not just a Star Wars knockoff)

Jayme Moore September 2, 2008 at 12:11 pm

I have always thought the brilliance of Starship Troopers was that it was a strongly pro-war movie, in spite of the fact that the director was trying to make an anti-war movie. I think it is one of those films that was poorly received on its initial release, but whose reputation has steadily risen since.

I found eXistenZ to ask less interesting questions than a similar movie released at almost the same time, the already mentioned The Thirteenth Floor. Both movies were released within two months of The Matrix, which is undoubtedly a reason they were overlooked.

Sebastian September 2, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I’ll 3rd “The Cube”. It was pretty darn good, even if minimalist set design. You rarely see character driven science fiction, but it was.

Jarrod Myrick September 2, 2008 at 11:57 pm

my friends,

the post is most under-rated not your favorites but thanks anyway for tossing in your faves.

*starship troopers is possibly the worst movie i’ve ever seen in public, although i did see it at the dollar theater: not the worst because of the coed shower scene and the shining features of ms richards

*existenz couldn’t possibly be under-rated. the geeks love it the geeks love it

^dark city is under-rated and brilliant (dollar theater on that one as well0

^solaris is under-rated

^code 46 very under-rated: deserves a cult

^the fountain is under-rated and only watchable at the theater, and in an altered state

^contact is under-rated say i

^freejack is under-rated, mick

^hellraiser

^krull messed me up as a kid, under-rated

^AI very under-rated, concentrate

^2001 can’t be over-rated nor can spaceballs or any star treks or star wars; i’m watching star wars on spike right now

El Gigante September 12, 2008 at 2:03 am

I just watched Sunshine, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The story has been told before and better, and it definitely lifts heavily from 2001. If you’re going to lift, though, you might as well lift from the best. Otherwise, I thought it was well-acted, suspenseful, and visually impressive. I guess those first two arguments are debatable, but the last is not.

Of course, it has its flaws. The insane captain/God-inspired-monster(?) is inexplicably tacked on, the importance of the mission and its background are largely unexplained, and its many characters are woefully underdeveloped for a film that wants us to believe its characters are somehow important (unlike 2001, which makes no pretenses). Judging from some of these comments, most will disagree with me when I say the film should have been half an hour longer to account for these deficiencies.

El Gigante September 12, 2008 at 2:04 am

I just watched Sunshine, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The story has been told before and better, and it definitely lifts heavily from 2001. If you’re going to lift, though, you might as well lift from the best. Otherwise, I thought it was well-acted, suspenseful, and visually impressive. I guess those first two arguments are debatable, but the last is not.

Of course, it has its flaws. The insane captain/God-inspired-monster(?) is inexplicably tacked on, the importance of the mission and its background are largely unexplained, and its many characters are woefully underdeveloped for a film that wants us to believe its characters are somehow important (unlike 2001, which makes no pretenses). Judging from some of these comments, most will disagree with me when I say the film should have been half an hour longer to account for these deficiencies.

Spawnyget October 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

My most underated SF film of all time is Spielberg’s A.I. Did twice as well in the rest of the world as opposed to the US (which is nearly unheard of for an American film).
Next is Arnies Total Recall – Arnies best acting performance and 2nd only to T2 in all his films

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Ken Pefkaros February 11, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Silent Running. Makes more sense now than in 1970.

gucci sneakers May 29, 2010 at 7:25 am

Gattaca is also one of my favourite movies,

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