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21 Great Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Films You Need To Watch

29 January 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Liam Clark

lo-fi sci-fi movies

Lo-Fi Sci-Fi is an emerging genre of the last decade or so inspired by Mumblecore and budgetary constraints. The name is derived from ‘Low Fidelity’ and ‘Science Fiction’, seemingly meant to convey the low budget, amateur approach of filming a Science Fiction movie. This is not to dumb down the genre at all but portray its indie status devoid of any Hollywood blockbuster characteristics that many contemporary Science Fiction films have. New Sci-Fi cinema has unfortunately began to suffer in thematic substance and has been generally made for commercial mass audiences with an ‘artistic’ endeavor to make it big at the box office.

The films of this emanating underground genre have similar, but at the same time, completely disparate themes and elements, which can make this genre hard to exactly pin down. As there is no definitive manifesto written on Lo-Fi Sci-Fi, characteristics such as a shoestring budget or outer space themes do not necessarily have to be abided by; this is no Dogme 95, yet. This list is a collection of Science Fiction films, not your generic blockbuster ones, these films are far more interesting, obscure, philosophical, mind bending and often intelligent.

Please comment below with any suggestions of films you may feel fit this genre. Apologies if I missed out on any but this is simply a list of 21 of them.

 

21. Computer Chess (2013)

computer-chess

Once referred to as the “Godfather or Mumblecore”, director Andrew Bujalski delivers us this eccentrically droll and experimental piece of nostalgic filmmaking that proves itself original and outlandishly satisfying. Shot in a monotonous black and white, Computer Chess not only resides within disparate genres such as Sci-Fi, Comedy and Mumblecore; it eclipses them at the same time into a retro dream/nightmare. Chosen by Indiewire’s critics pick, it landed at number eight of the best movies of 2013, praised with words such as “deadpan, absurdist and off-putting”.

The thing that was most astounding about Computer Chess though was the viewer’s ability to determine whether this film was actually shot in the eighties and these characters were actually real attendees of this bizarre convention. Maybe we wanted these characters so much to be real people that we truckled to cinematic escapism or what Coleridge described as a suspension of disbelief.

Watch this movie if: You enjoy chess.

 

20. The American Astronaut (2001)

The American Astronaut

Take the look of Lynch’s Eraserhead, the concept of Zachariah and Buck Rogers on some bad LSD and you have The American Astronaut in all its bewildering, Lo-Fi Sci-Fi, campy ness. Again, shot in a grainy black and white, this Space Western/Musical sometimes feels like a surrealist Film Noir, belonging only too the north north weird west.

Watch this movie if: You Enjoyed Englund’s Zachariah, Acid Western films, Lynch’s Eraserhead, Space Western Musicals, Crichton’s West World, the hybrid amalgamation of most genres squeezed into a Laurel and Hardy skit directed by Salvador Dali.

 

19. Mars (2010)

mars 2010 movie

Lead singer of Volcano, I’m still excited!!! Mark Duplass, a notable founder of the Mumblecore aesthetic stars in this hybrid tale of Romance, Comedy, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Mars is told via the vivacious style of a graphic novel by director Geoff Marslet, who used a unique animation process specifically developed for the film. With hints of Linklater’s outward contemplation, this film takes a light hearted, low energy and low budget approach to mans fetish for the unknown. Watch this film if you can find it and be rewarded with its heart warming quirkiness and pensive undertones of why do we want to know what’s out there?

Watch this movie if: You like Mark Duplass, the whimsical quirkiness of Juno, the look of Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, Mumblecore cinema, The oddities of space travel.

 

18. Christmas On Mars (2008)

Christmas On Mars

Christmas On Mars is a fantastical and disturbing humanistic freak-out Sci-Fi film from the Space Rock band The Flaming Lips. Written and Directed by the band’s front man Wayne Coyne and featuring the entire band in cast, this psychedelic, hallucinogenic, lysergic trip has more in common with The Mighty Boosh than any other space travel film. The soundtrack consists of The Flaming Lips own music and in-between bouts of ‘Eat your own spaceship’ and ‘In excelsior vaginalistic’, we are asked to “Imagine if Stanley Kubrick, Frank Capra and Jim Jarmusch got into a bar brawl and The Flaming Lips won”.

Watch this movie if: You enjoy the films of Lynch, Jarmusch, and Tarkovsky. If you like The Flaming Lips, Psychedelic music, Frank Zappa, Syd Barrett, Fred Armisen, Salvador Dali.

 

17. Upstream Color (2013)

Upstream-Color-628x348-628x348

Nine years after giving us Primer, Shane Carruth writes, directs, edits, composes, produces, casts and stars in the ultimate artsy, pretentious, confusing, dreamlike Upstream Color. A blue powder not dissimilar to Scopolamine mixed with DMT is extracted from a worm/parasite and used to brainwash and control the mind of a young woman. As she finally gains control of her body and mind her life becomes entangled with a man who may have suffered from the same fate and both set off on a Memento like journey to discover themselves.

The earth and nature play a huge role in this film along with the connection of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau and his meditative journal Walden. This movie is not easy to watch and is definitely not for everyone, but alas, as cliché as it sounds the viewer will be rewarded by sticking it out till the end. Either this or they will be fucking confused.

Watch this movie if: You liked Carruth’s previous film Primer, Jones’ Moon, Carax’s Holy Motors, Malick’s the Tree Of Life, Thoreau’s Walden.

 

16. Antiviral (2012)

Antiviral (2012)

From the semen of legendary Canadian director David Cronenberg comes his son Brandon Cronenberg’s auspicious debut feature in all its macabre, surreal and astonishingly original goodness. Caleb Landry Jones plays (Syd March), an unearthly pale employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans.

This dark dystopian Sci-Fi sometimes feels not that far away as Antiviral comments on today’s celebrity obsessed culture and rising trend of sticking needles in your face as disease becomes fashionable. The scene where Syd’s mouth surrealistically morphs into a rusty looking grate and then propels blood is enough to watch this film alone. Find it and watch it!

Watch this movie if: You like disturbing Surrealist Horror films, Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, Cosmatos’ Beyond The Black Rainbow, any of David Cronenberg’s films, Body Horror.

 

15. Science Of Sleep (2006)

science-of-sleep

Science Of Sleep is like a Surrealistic jigsaw puzzle that can only be figured out whilst asleep. Michael Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind takes us on a vivid trip into Stéphane Miroux complicated mind, acted by the living legend Gael García Bernal. Set in the land of cinema, Paris, Stéphane becomes infatuated with his neighbor Stéphanie played by the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg and then weird stuff begins to happen. The blossoming romance finally awakens the sleeping confidence that the withdrawn Stéphane was previously capable of displaying only in his dreams.

Borderline Mumblecore but more interesting, Science Of Sleep takes us to Surreal dreamscape maybe painted by a ten year old Salvador Dali and boasts tracks by The Velvet Underground and The White Stripes.

Watch this movie if: You like the minds of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman specifically Being John Malkovich, Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Van Dormael’s Mr Nobody.

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  • J Pablo R Hdz

    Beasts of the southern wild… since when this is SCI-FI?

    • Beaureguard Wainwright Esq.

      It’s a dystopian film, and dystopian fiction is often considered to be a branch of sci-fi. So there’s an argument to be made.

      • J Pablo R Hdz

        Sorry, but no science on sight to me

      • Rodolfo Martinez

        It takes place in the slums of pre-Katrina New Orleans. How is that dystopian in any way shape or form? The fact that you thought it was fictional also demonstrates how effed up the impoverished areas of the US really are.

  • http://kanna89.blogspot.com/ Kannan

    Superb list and wonderful movie reccos under each section. Surprising how Escape from Tomorrow (2013) and Chronicle wasn’t covered in this list.

  • Liam Clark

    Hi Kannan, cheers! I had thought about both these films and Escape from tomorrow was very close to making it on the list but didn’t make the final cut. And Chronicle i found to be way to commercial and just not that good a film. Cheers for your input though. And Pablo, i also thought this the first watch of ‘Beasts’ but after reading various reviews i realise it borders on Fantasy/Sci-Fi but realistically is quite ungenereable (i may have made that word up). We must not forget the origins of Sci-Fi and that its all not space and Star Wars.

    • J Pablo R Hdz

      I have always thought Sci-fi meant ‘fiction’ based on scientific assumptions. Taking BOTSW as it is, it makes no sense to me calling it a Sci-fi (just as some people say Harry Potter is, and just as the term has been a little misunderstood lately).

  • 7992

    fuck the usa

    • Dheep’

      Plenty of Reasons ,but why here ? It was written by an Australian…??

  • Steven Hopstaken

    To this list I’d add “Gattaca,” “Robot and Frank,” “Timer,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” All movies with just enough scifi to get the story going.

  • Bradley Schwartz

    Author: You should probably know Beasts of the Southern Wild some how made it onto your list of Sci-Fi films. Obviously this was in error, since it is in no way science fiction in any sense of the word. Just letting you know so you can put back in whatever was supposed to be in its place.

  • Beaureguard Wainwright Esq.

    Kidlat Tahimik’s “Perfumed Nightmare” more than deserves to be on this list.

  • David Williams

    ‘Time Crimes’ is well worth checking out and ‘La Jetee’ is fascinating (it was the genesis for 12 Monkeys). Recently caught the British film ‘Dimensions’ – loved it!!!! Empire described it as ‘if H.G. Welles rewrote Downton Abbey’.

  • JoeSwanberg

    Lo-fi? What garbage. How are Melancholia and Her considered “lo-fi?”

  • Oscar Medina

    Well, as you say there are only 21 films onn your list, i am a fan of Phantasy and Sci-Fi, so i think you sould include the movie “The Man From Earth”, if you haven’s see it, do it, it’s a great film…..

    • Dheep’

      Man From Earth – Yes,Very Good !

  • Pingback: Science Fiction - 42 - Pagina 3

  • M.A.

    Interesting, if inevitably incomplete list when you limit yourself to 21 titles for a century’s worth of ‘alternative reality’ movies — ‘cos, I agree, some aren’t really Sci-Fi in the true sense of the word. And thanks to those that added other worthy candidates.

    As obvious ‘must sees’ I’d add pretty much anything by Tarkovsky, a Clockwork Orange, Metropolis, Men in Black 1, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’56), 2001, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Brazil, Mad Max, Pan’s Labyrinth, Alien/s, Being John Malkovich, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Jurassic Park, Terminators 1 & 2, Frankenstein (’31)….. to name but a few, but a truly comprehensive list that included all of our favorites would, literally, be many hundreds of titles long.

  • George_Spelvin

    “Her” had an estimated cost of $45,000,000. Not exactly inexpensive.

    • derjanno

      according to IMDB $23 mil.
      thats still 2x star wars! ^^

  • http://www.designbill.com Mohsin Khan
  • Vico MF

    good list, and considering that the title is not accurate (having her an Melancholia as lo-fi) I would add ESOTSM.

  • The Paratus

    I’m surprised to not see “The Brother From Outer Space” on this list.

  • Christopher Binder

    Beasts of the Southern Wild? What a hilarious misfire.

  • Porphyry

    “[T]hree years on the dark side of the moon” isn’t possible. Maybe you mean the *far* side?

  • Andrew Kidd

    I would add Astronaut: The Last Push (2012) and Flatland (2007).

  • Matthew Rees

    You forgot “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel”.

  • Red Lagoon

    The list was very good (except B.of the SW which I don’t think it’s a sci-fi) until nr.2 “Her”. Not only that movie was boring as hell, but also “Chobits” already did every thing better. Srs. it looked like a rip-off of the manga (and anime)!

    • Guest

      I would suggest Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” or Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo – the Ironman”.

      • Red Lagoon

        Wow!!! Videodrome looks good.

  • Gabriele Bonora

    Mmmmh, no Dark Star? (1974). John Carpenter’s movie and written by Dan O’Bannon?. Worth watching, very lo.fi but with some interesting concepts.

  • bernardo amaral

    Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” or Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo – the Ironman” could also be on the list..