6. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Before Ex Machina, Upgrade, and The Terminator, there was Colossus: The Forbin Project, a low-budget sci-fi flick about pissed-off artificial intelligence. Given the sheer quantity of similar movies, this under-the-radar thriller from 1970 might not sound like the best way to spend an afternoon. What does it have to say about artificial intelligence that hasn’t already been covered by its newer and shinier competitors?
The answer to that question is tricky. On the one hand, this kind of premise can only go so many ways. At its core, this is a by-the-numbers examination of artificial intelligence. The average viewer knows exactly what they’re in for when it comes to storytelling. Luckily, storytelling is only a fraction of what makes a movie worthwhile.
Colossus: The Forbin Project benefits immensely from its use of dark humor. It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious or anything, but its morbid sense of humor is liable to result in a few chuckles. It goes beyond chuckles though. This dark sense of humor pushes the story into a more nihilistic direction than one might expect from something like this. So even though the basic story is the same, the storytelling is very different and very charming.
7. The Quiet Earth (1985)
The Quiet Earth was filmed on a shoestring budget, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it. This post-apocalyptic drama from Kiwi director Geoff Murphy feels positively grandiose in scale. While the premise comes off as frustratingly familiar, you’ll find a surprising amount of thought-provoking ideas here.
Fans of the genre will immediately catch onto the inspirations behind this particular film. It borrows liberally from classic post-apocalyptic stories such as I Am Legend, and as such, the set-up can result in deja vu. However, when The Quiet Earth chooses to deviate, things get interesting.
Unlike so many similar stories, there are actual nuances. It’s so easy to release a sci-fi movie that’s strictly focused on action and horror, but The Quiet Earth seems to have very different intentions. It’s a quietly moving spectacle that challenges viewers with the depth of its themes.
8. Until the End of the World (1991)
Finding the time and energy to watch Until the End of the World is a daunting task. The only place to stream it legally in America is the Criterion Channel, which only features the longest cut of the film. Generally speaking, when people talk about long movies, they mean anything over two-and-a-half hours. The Irishman, Avengers: Endgame, and Titanic are all considered relatively long, but they don’t even approach the runtime of this behemoth’s director’s cut. The most easily accessible version of Until the End of the World approaches will require roughly five hours of your time. In spite of this, it is the definitive version. So brew some coffee, schedule an intermission, and get ready for the strangest road movie of the early ‘90s.
Wim Wenders crafted a confounding science fiction epic that draws viewers in with its ambitious worldbuilding and striking visual flair. At times, it feels like the story takes a backseat to the experience, but the passionate cult followers don’t seem to care. Until the End of the World doesn’t really have one central conflict. It doesn’t really go from point a to point b. It just kind of does its own mystifying thing.
That turns out to be more of a positive than a negative. If you choose to sit back and relax throughout this lengthy ride, you’ll find yourself quietly enchanted. As is the case for most movies this size, not everything works. There are moments that overstay their welcome, and you’d best believe there are some frustrating plotholes. Thankfully, it’s easy to respect just about everything in this unusual piece of cinematic history.
9. The Omega Man (1971)
Contrary to popular belief, I Am Legend is not the only adaptation of Matheson’s post-apocalyptic novel. While the 2007 movie pushed Matheson’s work into the mainstream, it was actually Hollywood’s third crack at the source material. The first one, The Last Man on Earth, has its merits, but it’s not quite as fascinating as I Am Omega.
1971’s I Am Omega is probably the loosest adaptation of the original story. Yes, it’s post-apocalyptic and it features an army of infected enemies, but that’s where the comparisons end. I Am Omega changes the origin of the world-ending event. This time around, humanity essentially destroyed itself with the use of biological warfare. Even though that’s a substantial change, it’s hardly the most memorable thing that I Am Omega does.
The alteration that tends to stand out the most revolves around the antagonistic species that threatens the main character. In the novel, Robert Neville must face off against a swarm of vampiric creatures. The other two adaptations certainly tweak that, but they don’t go as far as I Am Omega, which pits the hero against a society of intelligent albino mutants. This sounds bizarre, but in some ways, it actually works.
These big changes are, frankly, an insult to the source material. However, they still result in an endlessly charming journey with just the right amount of camp. Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash know they’re not performing Shakespeare, but that doesn’t stop them from committing to every line of dialogue. This, coupled with surprisingly confident direction, helps I Am Omega stand out.
10. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is somehow even more ridiculous than its name implies. The film revolves around a guitar-playing neurosurgeon who is tasked with saving the world from Red Lectroids, a species of aliens seeking to cause chaos. The premise is wacky enough, but it wouldn’t be worth a watch if it wasn’t well-executed. Luckily, it is.
The occasionally conflicting tones leave something to be desired, but if you just need something to brighten your day, this should do the trick. It’s hardly flawless. On the contrary, it’s riddled with small problems, but these small problems seem trivial in the grand scheme of things. W. D. Richter’s quirky science fiction B-movie provides more than enough bonkers entertainment to keep fans of the genre satisfied.