10 Great Sci-fi Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen
How do you even start with Waterworld? Over the years it has gained a cult following after being heavily panned at the time of its release. It’s basically a huge-budget rip-off of Mad Max on water, with one of Dennis Hopper‘s most ridiculous performances ever as The Deacon.
It was one of the last big-budget films with almost entirely practical special effects instead of CGI—the set design is amazing, and it has a nice environmental message (although the ‘science’ presented is complete bunk.)
Reaching it after the time has passed for the endless reviews of its overblown budget and Kevin Costner’s equally overblown ego, you realise that it’s a better film than it was given credit for.
Recently Arrow Video released a mammoth three-disc Blu-Ray with various cuts and a feature-length documentary. It includes the “Ulysses” cut, which is the theatrical cut plus the extra scenes made for the TV version, but without the TV censorship. This one is closer to Kevin Reynolds’ original vision for the film, before Costner eventually took over the production. It’s a film that deserves a second chance, and I recommend that cut.
7. Nothing Lasts Forever
This is a film that you cannot currently see legally, as it was never officially released by MGM or later owner Warner Brothers. It occasionally gets one-off theatrical screenings, often with star Zach Galligan or director Tom Schiller doing a Q&A.
It has also been shown a few times on Turner Classic Movies and elsewhere. It’s a strange science-fiction romantic comedy that has Galligan’s character going on a bus trip to the moon.The action is set in a future New York that looks like the 1920s, where an inane bureaucracy controlled by the Port Authority who has complete control. It has a weird handmade quality that is reminiscent of Michel Gondry’s work.
Nothing Lasts Forever is also an example of why test screenings should be scrapped—MGM shelved it when it got a poor reception but actually it’s amazing—it was invited to Cannes two years in a row but the studio refused.
Schiller never made another feature, but he’s the guy who made all the short films that were shown on Saturday Night Live for years, as well as writing for the show. There are cameos from Bill Murray and John Ackroyd; John Belushi was meant to be included but died just before filming began.
Allegedly WB is not totally against releasing Nothing Lasts Forever, but it’s not a priority. So if you want to see it (and you should), it’s widely available on certain torrent sites.
This the most recent Andrew Niccol film: Niccol is best known for writing and directing Gattaca and writing The Truman Show. Anon was essentially dumped onto streaming channels, but it deserved much better.
Anon owes a fair bit to Minority Report, and is set in a future where you can’t have anonymity online. Clive Owen plays a detective who randomly comes across a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who has no identity. It’s during an unsolved murder case, so naturally he’s suspicious.
It’s a noir-tinged sci-fi film that has some interesting ideas about the totalitarian dangers of cyberspace, and is set about “25 minutes into the future”. While it wasn’t well received at the outset, it’s a smart science film with two very strong performances. It owes a lot to Philip K. Dick (as did The Truman Show), and it’s a much better film than the reviews suggested.
It’s not under-rated at this point, but for the longest time Seconds was incredibly hard to see. In recent years there have been a few Blu-Ray releases, and it’s come to be seen as one of John Frankenheimer’s best films. It has some of the most extraordinary cinematography ever seen, by James Wong Howe, using extreme fisheye lenses to lend a strange and claustrophobic aesthetic to the whole thing.
It stars Rock Hudson in one of the few roles he was ever proud of. John Randolph plays Arthur Hamilton, a middle-aged man whose life has become unfulfilling. Then he is approached by a secret organisation that offers him a new life. He becomes Hudson’s character, Tony Wilson, through various surgeries. Hamilton/Wilson lives the bohemian dream in Malibu Beach, but as the film progresses, his new life turns out to not be what it seemed.
The film takes some very dark turns, and has one of the greatest downer endings in cinematic history. In an interesting aside, a lot of the “seconds” in the cast are played by actors who were blacklisted, a deliberate choice by Frankenheimer—as was the choice to cast Hudson, who really was living a secret (from the public) second life as a gay man.
When it was released, Seconds got a very hostile reception at Cannes (almost always a good sign). It remains one of the most paranoid takes on the Faustian tale. And it’s also the movie that caused Brian Wilson to not see another movie for 15 years.
There have been various attempts to remake Seconds since the 1990s as its critical reputation grew, and its influence can be seen in The Game and Coppola’s Rumble Fish. There was even an almost-remake, Self/Less, as an action film. But this is the one to see.
Author Jonathan Lethem has said, whenever asked about Philip K. Dick adaptations, that eXistenZ is the best—even though it’s not based on a Dick novel. David Cronenberg was the original director on what would become Total Recall, and had always wanted to do a Dick adaptation, but his solution was to write his own.
It’s all about virtual reality and different levels of reality, and took inspiration from the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. Characters plug into a videogame through a port on their bodies, but a crazed fan is trying to kill game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She goes on the run with Ted Pikul (Jude Law), and they have a series of episodes where reality and the game merge. There’s a great Dickian twist at the end as well.
Other than some aspects of Cosmopolis, it’s Cronenberg’s last foray into body horror or science fiction. Like most of his films, there is a strong ensemble cast full of great actors.
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