6. Mindwarp (1992)
Bruce Campbell. If anything can get a sci-fi, horror, or comedy aficionado to watch a movie, it’s having this B-movie god involved in some capacity. Another post-apocalypse film, this one centers around our protagonist Judy who, like other survivors who live in a sealed biodome, escapes their mundane existence through virtual reality fantasies.
Becoming dissatisfied with this limited life, she begins interfering with other users’ dream states, eventually being exiled to the toxic outer world for this crime. This is where she meets Stover (Campbell), one of the last normal people left on earth outside the biodome. There they fight against mutants, are kidnapped, and then escape–or do they?
Produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, Mindwarp mixes a high-tech conceit like virtual reality with an external wasteland setting, complete with mutants and survivalists. As mentioned earlier, Bruce Campbell’s involvement in the project raises the profile of this low-budget flick, and the movie itself is an enjoyable entry into the genre.
7. Timescape (1993)
After the death of his wife, Ben (Jeff Daniels) moves back to his hometown with his daughter. There, he rents his guest house out to a strange group of tourists that display numerous odd behaviors. After aiding one of the tourists that gets injured, Ben sees that the tourist’s passport has been stamped from numerous locations around the US from different decades–and they all correspond to locations of past disasters.
It’s revealed that they’re tourists from the future who visit locations right before major disasters destroy them. The visitor warns Ben to leave town, and the next day the town is decimated by a meteor, with only Ben surviving. He’s abducted by the tourists and in the process gets ahold of one of their time traveling devices, which he uses to arrive a day before the disaster, hoping to save his daughter and the townspeople.
The first feature film of David Twohy, who would go on to direct Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, Timescape is a clever take on time travel that produces an unnerving high concept sci-fi flick without expensive special effects. Between the time-travel twist of visitors from the future and the effective way the film portrays the tourists, it’s an early 90’s gem of the genre.
8. The City of Lost Children (1995)
A disturbed scientist abducts children to steal their dreams, sending out his bioengineered lackeys to kidnap them. When a circus strongman’s young brother is taken, he goes on a quest to find him, joined by a thieving orphan. Entering an offshore rig where the scientist and his creations live, with the dream-stealing technology warping their own perceptions and memories, the strongman and thief eventually turn the dream tech against the scientist and free the captive children.
The story in summation sounds confusing–and it is–but it’s also a visually stunning film. The signature style directors of this film, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro–who had previously directed Delicatessen and would later create the quirky hit Amélie –are on full display in this film, which is defined by its mixture of steampunk, grimy and worn-out aesthetic, and bizarre surrealism.
Blurring the line between sci-fi and fantasy and produced with a healthy budget, The City of Lost Children is filled with striking visuals and a unique story that imprints itself on the viewer like a dark dream.
9. Full Metal Yakuza (1997)
Directed by the prolific and controversial Takashi Miike, Full Metal Yakuza follows a pathetic wannabe yakuza member who he is killed in a turf war and brought back to life by a scientist. Now reconstituted as a powerful cyborg, in his new near-indestructible form he seeks revenge on those who had wronged him–in the most over-the-top ways possible.
For those familiar with Miike’s style, they can expect the same hyper-violent, bloody, and crazy action normally found in his work (whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the viewer to discern). It’s a mashup of the yakuza crime genre and sci-fi with plenty of humor thrown in for good measure. Shot on a budget and an obvious parody of Robocop, Full Metal Yakuza is a campy but fun film with many elements that would find their way into Miike’s later work.
10. Screamers (1995)
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and starring Peter “Robocop” Weller, Screamers takes place on a distant planet whose environment has been destroyed during a civil war between two competing mining companies.
Sentient machines (the titular screamers) had been developed by one side to track down and kill enemy soldiers; however, they have developed themselves to the point that that they can now pass as human. As the number of survivors of this all-but-abandoned planet begin to shrink due to screamer attacks, they begin to doubt whether other members of their party are screamers, as well.
Unlike many other films on this list, Screamers had the relatively high budget of $20 million, in part thanks to well-known screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who wrote Alien and to develop the impressive visual effects. An atmospheric and effective sci-fi film, Screamers was a box office bomb at the time of its release but has since become a cult classic.
Author’s Bio: Mike Gray is a writer and academic from the Jersey Shore. His writing has been featured on Cracked and Funny or Die and he maintains a humor recap site at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.