The list compiled here features a mix of 10 science fiction films that for various reasons have been neglected over the years. Some have well-respected directors, while others are from relative unknowns. Every last one deserves a second (or third) viewing.
There’s everything from an episode from an anthology series to more hard science fiction, including one that has never been released. They all have good performances and interesting premises, so hopefully viewers will seek them out, debate how they fit (or don’t) into the science-fiction canon, and enjoy.
1. Cherry 2000
Cherry 2000 was Steve De Jarnatt’s first film as a director. Miracle Mile would be the most obvious pick for this list, but with recent Blu-Ray releases and retrospective screenings it is now much more widely known. Cherry 2000 is also a much less personal film for De Jarnatt. For a while he disowned the film, but he quickly had a change of heart, possibly after a surprise call from science fiction writer Harlan Ellison who was a rabid fan of the film.
Based on a script by cult screenwriter Michael Almereyda (who also wrote Wim Wenders’ sci-fi epic Until the End of the World), it’s about a successful businessman (David Andrews) whose animatronic wife malfunctions. Then he goes on a desert odyssey to locate a replacement with help from a tracker played by Melanie Griffith. It’s all set in a future that’s somewhere that’s a cross between Brazil and Mad Max.
It’s beautifully designed, with loads of fun visual gags, like The Gloryhole Hotel, plus great use of neon. The section set in the desert is a mix of just outside LA and closer to Las Vegas.
2. The Screwfly Solution
This is based on a short story by James Tiptree, and directed by Joe Dante, who had read the story a few years after it was published. He’d always wanted to make it into a film, as it’s a wild story.
A virus has broken out that turns male humans into murderous psychopaths. Their aggression is linked to sexual arousal, leading to a wave of misogynist murders. Dante took the idea, and as he was working at the tail end of the Bush administration he linked it to fundamentalist religion of all kinds, which the murderous men use as an excuse for their behaviour.
So it’s obviously still a relevant story, and it’s atypical for Dante’s work—it’s played pretty much as a straight horror/science-fiction film, minus his usual cast members and sense of humour. The film is derived from the second season of Masters of Horror, a series that was hit-and-miss despite the talent involved. Dante’s two episodes (the other was Homecoming about zombies coming back from a divisive war in the Middle East) really elevated it.
3. The Box
The Box is to date Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s most recent film, which is insane and sad—that’s someone who should be making movies. It’s very loosely based on a short story by Richard Matheson called “Button, Button.” Essentially, you press the button and get a million in cash tax-free, but someone you don’t know dies. And that conceit is actually the least interesting thing about the film.
In reality, it’s a clinically off-the-rails throwback ‘70s conspiracy thriller that deals with aliens and time travel. here’s a very strong cast (it’s one of the few really good films with Cameron Diaz). It’s even weirdly autobiographical, since Kelly’s dad worked for NASA—the characters played by Diaz and James Marsden are fictionalised versions of his parents.
Kelly is a truly visionary filmmaker who for various reasons has not been able to get another project off the ground since, although his Southland Tales is finally starting to gain a cult following. But The Box also should not be overlooked—it’s a remarkable film.
4. The Rapture
It’s questionable whether The Rapture is a science fiction film. David Duchovny and Mimi Rodgers play a pair of swingers in contemporary LA. Rodgers comes into contact with a Christian sect that says the “Rapture” is coming, and she eventually believes it. Their lifestyle obviously changes, and they become born-again Christians. Rodgers seems to become more and more insane, getting direct messages from God. She drives out to the desert to wait for the big event, where things get really weird. But then everything turns out to be true…
The reason it’s actually a science-fiction film is it’s one of the tiny list of movies (with Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Miracle Mile and Melancholia) where the end of the world actually happens. And while you might have guessed that it was some Christian propaganda, like Left Behind but in reality it’s a dark drama about the perils of faith.
5. The Blob (1988)
This is the remake of The Blob by Chuck Russell, not the also-excellent Steve McQueen vehicle from 1958. It was co-written by Frank Darabont, who would go on to write and direct The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
The first one had that 1950s Cold War aspect to it; the remake is basically a conspiracy thriller where The Blob is a biological weapon created by a shady government agency and unleashed on a small Colorado town. The opposition is led by a teenage kid played by Kevin Dillon. It was shot by Mark Irwin, who also shot all of David Cronenberg’s early films.
It’s a much more cynical take on the idea of The Blob, and it features some really fantastic special effects. Unfortunately, this remake has been somewhat forgotten, even though it’s probably better than the original. It’s not as good as The Thing or The Fly as ‘80s B-movie remakes go, but it’s interesting, and deserves more credit than it has had to date.