Every year, Hollywood dishes out massive sci-fi spectacles for the world to behold. Later this year, we have movies like Terminator: Dark Fate and Ad Astra to look forward to. These movies will join other big-budget science fiction flicks like Alita: Battle Angel and Captain Marvel.
With so many wide release sci-fi films, it’s hard to keep track of the smaller ones that fly under the radar. Truth be told, there is a seemingly endless supply of low-budget science fiction movies that have no choice but to slip under the cracks. That’s why this list exists.
A lot of websites love to write lists about “movies you probably haven’t seen.” The problem is that a lot of the movies listed are pretty well-known, especially to cinephiles. Because of this, a combination of factors went into the decision-making process. This includes the number of IMDb votes, box office numbers, and social media chatter. There’s no guarantee that everybody will leave this list with something to watch, but there is a guarantee that movies like Predestination and Upgrade will not be included.
Because there’s such a giant pool to choose from, this list will only focus on relatively recent releases. There’s about a five-year window. Anything older will not be included, so don’t be upset if your favorite micro budget sci-fi movie from 2012 didn’t make the list. With all of that out of the way, the following diverse selection should have plenty to offer for fans of the genre.
1. The Endless
Back in 2012, budding directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead directed a little indie horror movie called Resolution. The movie was released to critical acclaim, but it never really found an audience.
It’s a fantastic movie that doesn’t fit the criteria of this list because it’s not exactly sci-fi and it’s too old to fit within the cutoff. There’s good news though: the pseudo-sequel is sci-fi and it’s only a year old. There’s even better news: it’s a better movie in every conceivable way.
The Endless revolves around two friends who revist a cult they once belonged to. That’s the most basic synopsis that can be given. To explain any more would ruin a movie that’s seriously full of surprises.
It’s hard to talk about a movie’s quality without getting into the nitty-gritty, so we’ll leave it at this: The Endless takes every opportunity to surprise it’s viewers. These surprises are complex, but that’s part of the magic. The complex twists and turns are improved when you think about the film in relation to its predecessor.
Although it’s kind of cheating to recommend two movies, it should be noted that both movies should be watched. If you can watch them back-to-back, even better. That’s because the amount of connections are astounding. The little shared universe these guys created is incredibly impressive.
We all know Marvel knows a thing or two about shared universes, but they could learn something from Moorhead and Benson. There are so many things that viewers likely won’t catch the first time around. The Endless has layers, which adds an awful lot to an already excellent movie.
This is a perfectly good movie on its own, but it becomes something remarkable when viewed immediately after its Resolution. It’s not a direct sequel. It revolves around different characters doing different things, so it technically can be viewed by itself. At the same time, it’s almost a disservice to skip the first movie because this one does so much to connect every little dot. It’s brilliant.
2. Marjorie Prime
Looking for something that will break your heart and make you think? Marjorie Prime might be the film for you. It’s about an 85-year old woman with Alzheimer’s who reconnects with her deceased husband when he’s “brought to life” by a service called Prime.
Prime specializes in creating AI versions of people so that others can relive past memories. It’s a brilliant premise, but it’s also a premise that could have fallen apart in the wrong hands. Luckily Michael Almereyda, director of the criminally underrated Experimenter, delivered the goods.
Marjorie Prime isn’t always an easy watch. The opening sentence claimed it’s heartbreaking for a reason. A majority of the film is dedicated to watching a woman struggle to come to terms with her own mortality. On top of that, we have to watch her relive memories that aren’t exactly comfortable. Sad movie haters might want to stay away, but there’s so much that makes this a worthwhile investment.
Lois Smith and Jon Hamm are absolutely incredible. Smith in particular gives one of the best performances of 2017. On top of that, the writing is absolutely top notch. This combination of strong writing and strong performances results in a movie that earns a glowing recommendation.
It’s no wonder the 82 Metascore indicates “universal acclaim.” Marjorie Prime deserves the acclaim. Movies about artificial intelligence have become increasingly popular, but few movies do it as well as this one. It’s more low-key than something like Ex Machina, but it has a lot to offer fans of this type of subject matter. Actually, it has something to offer most people.
In Radius, the science part of science fiction isn’t exactly the top priority. The first half simply has fun with the premise while the second half acts as a (light) character study. In between, there’s a scientific explanation concerning the general set-up, but in general, viewers are in for a soft sci-fi experience.
This isn’t at all a bad thing since it’s still a movie with a lot on its mind. In fact, it may be a positive when you consider the fact that a lot of the films on this list try to make grand statements about science and technology. This one cares more about humanity.
The aforementioned premise revolves around a man who wakes up with amnesia and an interesting power that causes anything within a certain radius of him to die. He eventually meets an amnesiac woman who he apparently knew before the amnesia hit. The central mystery revolves around figuring out how these two know each other.
Choosing to focus on this rather than the origin of the “radius powers” proves to be successful. This results in a movie that feels more human while also maintaining science fiction undertones. Regardless of whether or not the science is toned down. Radius is still science fiction at heart. It still has everything it needs to appeal to a wide variety of viewers. Because of this, it comes with a glowing recommendation.
Pedro Pascal and newcomer Sophie Thatcher are the heart of Prospect, a slow-burn sci-fi movie about loss, humanity, and greed. In all honesty, the movie excels in a number of ways beyond a couple of good performances. Complex themes, well-developed characters, and strong dialogue definitely add onto the quality delivered by two exceptional leads.
All of this is especially good news considering the fact that action and special effects tend to take a back seat. Prospect puts its characters in the spotlight. This isn’t about giant alien spacecrafts or some type of futuristic war; it’s about the relationship between Cee and Ezra. Strong writing and stronger acting make it so that this relationship is almost never boring.
This is even true for people who tend to like their science fiction with a bit more action. Prospect is so well done that the lack of action and slow pace feel justifiable. Sure, it’s dialogue-heavy, but even people with a short attention span should be able to soak in the dialogue and learn about the implied messages presented by the filmmakers. The budget may be miniscule, but it doesn’t need to look like Avatar to tell its story.
Like all movies, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but the near-flawless execution makes it a movie worth checking out regardless of your interests. It’s indie sci-fi at its finest. Hell, it’s a movie that gives big-budget Hollywood sci-fi a bad name. Imagine going out of your way to see something like Replicas when movies like this are available.
OtherLife is an episode of Black Mirror come to life. This is not a groundbreaking statement. In fact, several critics have already made this comparison. Still, it’s hard to ignore these parallels. After all, this is a list about lesser-known sci-fi films.
It would be a disservice to leave this comparison out just because it has been said time and time again. Black Mirror is a massive success, so it seems beneficial to give the relatively unknown OtherLife a boost by likening it to one of the most successful science fiction shows on the air.
Like Black Mirror, OtherLife explores the negative effects of science and technology. In the film, a company develops a drug that transports users into a type of virtual reality. When users are in this mental state, time essentially stands still, which allows them to live out their greatest fantasies without the fear of aging. This all sounds brilliant on paper until the drug has some negative side effects.
These side effects set up the movie’s conflict. The protagonist, played effortlessly by Jessica De Gouw, has to figure out a way to make this drug beneficial to her own life. Unfortunately, the countless hurdles cause her to second-guess herself every step of the way.
While this is clearly detrimental to the character’s well-being, it benefits anybody watching because it creates one hell of a viewing experience filled with pitch-perfect suspense that comes as a result of skillful directing.
Overall, OtherLife proves that you don’t need a massive budget to create sci-fi gold. The script had to be rewritten to accommodate for such a small budget, but this clearly didn’t ruin the experience. Honestly, it made for a more charming film that clearly comes from a team of passionate filmmakers.