Underrated, underappreciated, forgotten – either way you describe it, these movies deserve more credit and viewing than they’ve had. The sci-fi genre boasts some of history’s biggest and most loved blockbuster movies of all time.
Films such as “Alien”, “E.T.”, the “Star Wars” movies, and more recently, “Interstellar”, the “Star Trek” reboots and “Gravity” show that sci-fi is a genre consistently capable of producing great mainstream blockbusters. The genre has hidden depths though and infinite room for generating original ideas and reinterpretations.
The movies on this list were chosen as they deserve to be held up as great examples of the genre that should be given more attention, some were criticised at the time of their release but have stood the test of time and can be appreciated in a new light today, some are simply forgotten classics that were well received upon release and others have simply never had the circulation and due credit they absolutely deserve.
Hopefully reading this gives you some insight into what the sci-fi genre can offer, what is your favourite sci-fi movie that deserves to be seen by everyone?
1. The Flight Of Dragons (1982)
Those of a certain age who grew up as a child of the 1980s may remember this classic animated feature, which pits science against magic in a timeless story of wizards, dragons and knights. It’s a film that has been unfairly forgotten over the years, possibly because it hasn’t been made easily available on any format due to limited distribution.
For those that remember the movie, it is no doubt a childhood classic. It’s a classic D&D style story; the world of magic in our distant past is threatened by the evolving world of science. ‘Carolinus’, The Green Wizard, initiates a quest to save the world of magic. Enter our unlikely hero, a board game player and author brought back in time from our present day to steal the magic jewel from the Red Wizard, the seriously evil ‘Ommadon’, voiced by none other than James Earl Jones.
The film features other great voice acting, notably by the late John Ritter, an excellent score with a good theme song from Don McLean, some great dragons and some of the best animation of the time. If you’ve not seen this since your childhood or if it’s brand new to you seek it out and enjoy a lost classic.
2. Videodrome (1983)
The amazing James Woods plays ‘Max Renn’, a TV channel boss with a skewed moral compass, always on the lookout for the next procurement that can push the boundaries of his output. He discovers ‘Videodrome’, a channel of unknown origin, which broadcasts S&M and snuff type torture. ‘Renn’ is determined to find the source and broadcast ‘Videodrome’ himself, unfortunately the show is not just subversive in content but also in the power it holds over it’s viewer.
Cronenberg’s bleak postmodern movie was a breakthrough in his career and evolved a number of ideas touched upon in earlier work. There are clear themes here that deal with fear of aids and the risks of dangerous sex as well as ideas similar to those Jean Baudrillard presented in his ‘Simulacra’ theory.
Woods is fantastically intense as ‘Renn’, Debbie Harry features as the dangerously playful ‘Nikki Brand’ and the film also features some great character names such as ‘Prof. Brian Oblivion’, a man who only exists in the medium of television, and ‘Barry Convex’ (who obviously sells glasses).
The effects are fantastic and show what Cronenberg could achieve with a bigger budget, he went on to further success with some absolutely astounding movies, despite it’s cult following, “Videodrome” is under-viewed and really deserves to be brought out of the shadows of some of those later films and appreciated in a new light. “Long live the new flesh”.
3. Night Of The Comet (1984)
When the world ends who will be left? Kick ass valley girls and mad scientists that’s who. This cult ‘b-movie’ is made in the image of 50s Drive-in theatre classics and is a great deal of fun given the post-apocalyptic setting. Earth eagerly awaits the fly-by of a comet, which last visited a telling 65 million years ago, the promise of a great space spectacle brings the majority of humanity out to watch.
All those exposed to the comet are turned to dust and those partly exposed first go through a phase which turns them into aggressive zombies. Fortunately, ‘Regina’, an arcade gaming, valley girl and her cheerleader sister ‘Heather’ had better things to do and survive without exposure, they join up with ‘Hector’, a truck driver, and seem to accept their new situation pretty well.
Following a radio broadcast the girls make, they are found by scientists looking for survivors, unfortunately the agenda of those scientists is not as innocent as first thought, leading to the movie’s only really disturbing scene featuring two female scientists and some child survivors.
The vast majority of the film is a great ride and we are treated to our heroines showing their automatic weapon skills and taking a shopping trip without a care in the empty world. The effects are cool, but dated by today’s standards, the main characters are very likeable and the narrative never slows. There could be worse people to carry the burden of civilisation.
4. Enemy Mine (1985)
Wolfgang Petersen’s “Enemy Mine” is set in the far-flung future of intergalactic war. Humans and their alien foe, the ‘Drac’, battle over newly discovered star systems. When Dennis Quaid’s fighter pilot, ‘Willis Davidge’ crash lands on an uncharted planet he discovers he isn’t alone.
Also marooned on the planet is a ‘Drac’ pilot (Louis Gossett Jr), the opening scenes involve a continuation of hostility with ‘Davidge’ trying to kill the ‘Drac’. Soon enough they enter a shaky truce, which eventually leads to true friendship and love with both learning each other’s culture and language.
On the surface it may sound a bit mushy, but the film is a fantastic tale of survival in the harshest of conditions, yes there are some sickly sweet moments, but this gives way to some truly moving scenes, particularly the revelation that the ‘Drac’ (now nicknamed ‘Jerry’) is asexual and the subsequent scene which leaves ‘Davidge’ responsible for a baby ‘Drac’. Further threat arrives in the form of a group of human miners/scavengers who hunt ‘Dracs’ to work as slaves.
“Enemy Mine” seems relatively forgotten today but it’s a powerful, moving film which has a strong narrative. Petersen does a great job in directing, the backdrops to the planet are excellent, as are the make up and effects, best of all is the interplay between Quaid and his ‘Drac’ companion. To top it all off, there’s also a good rip off of the ‘Sarlacc’ pit from “Return of the Jedi”.
5. Lifeforce (1985)
“Lifeforce” is a film without comparison, it was based on the novel “The Space Vampires” and concerns a space mission to Halley’s comet, the mission fails and a follow up crew find the original ship and an alien craft in the tail of the comet, they discover and bring back the 3 naked humans they find in a state of unconsciousness there.
At this point chaos ensues and doesn’t let up, the vampires of the novels title are not the blood sucking, fanged creatures of Stephen King et al but rather they literally absorb the life force of their victims in an astounding light show, leaving a husk of a corpse behind.
“Lifeforce” was directed by Tobe Hooper of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” fame and features some excellent effects work, absolutely everything in the movie is done by hand and when taking into account the stop motion work to create the lightning in the scenes mentioned above it really does impress. The narrative and script are both wonderfully bizarre and the movie features a younger (but still bald) Patrick Stewart, an almost always-naked Mathilda May and an unhealthy dose of misogyny.
Altogether it’s an astonishing ‘b-movie’ ride and was clearly made with a wild abandonment for budget. Unfortunately it was received badly both critically and commercially and was a compounding factor in the death knell of the great Cannon Group at the time, it seems to be now finding a new lease of life on ‘Blu-Ray’ and hopefully will one day be regarded as the classic it is.
6. The Stuff (1985)
A clever but clear sideswipe at the consumerist nature of the west and the power of capitalism and advertising. Larry Cohen’s superbly entertaining, no budget sci-fi pays great homage to 50’s greats like ‘The Blob’, with wide eyed nuclear families and quirky jingle led TV ads. ‘The Stuff’ of the title is a white goo, which is found bubbling out of the ground, turns out it tastes great and is highly addictive. The whole of America lives on it and believes in it, families force their children to eat it.
Not everyone is convinced though, Michael Moriarty plays ex-FBI agent ‘Mo’, a bizarre but wonderfully enjoyable character who is hired to find out what’s in “The Stuff”, how it’s made and who controls it. This leads him on a wild chase across America during which he finds out the true and subversive nature of ‘The Stuff’, uncovering the people behind it and the conspiratorial nature of the company in control.
The movie is packed with excellent characters, none more entertaining than ‘Col. Spiers’; a guerrilla militant army leader still fighting the ‘Commies’, played by the excellent Paul Sorvino, he’s a treat to watch here. Cohen does really well with such a low budget, there are some wonderful schlocky special effects on show and the effort put into creating the ‘The Stuff’ brand for the movie is admirable.