Updated: Jan 26
These may not be the best the sci-fi genre can offer, but they deserve much more love than they get. I will not talk about movies that failed at the box office but later found their niche, acquiring the status of cult classics. My goal here is to remind you of some super entertaining, solid movies that not enough people talk about.
We have a long list ahead, so let’s jump into it, from oldest to newest. I’ll try not to give spoilers.
In this story, directed by Simon Wincer, a kid on the run is found by an elderly couple, and they take him to an orphanage. His only memory is his name, Deryl. He is assigned to a foster family and becomes the perfect son. Until his “real” parents show up and take him away to a secret facility. And this is when the sci-fi happens. I will leave it at that.
This is a family movie, not a genre that usually gets entangled with science fiction. Maybe this is why it is less known among sci-fi lovers. But it has lovable characters, a sound plot, and good pacing. It deserves more love.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
A movie about a simulation released in May 1999. No, it is not Matrix, but it may explain why The Thirteenth Floor bombed. It had a similar premise and was released in the U.S. a week after Matrix. But the movie directed by Josef Rusnak is not simply a copy.
Instead of humans being trapped in a simulation, The Thirteenth Floor is about consciousness arising in playable characters inside a simulation when they are not being played. Sure, it had none of the groundbreaking styles of Matrix, and the cinematography is not its strength. Still, the idea is intriguing. What if our PCs are conscious when we are not playing the game? The movie’s weak point was the focus on the twist instead of the philosophical question it instigates.
The One (2001)
This sci-fi action movie was directed by James Wong and starred by no other than Jet Li. In this multiverse, an agent of a bureau of the interdimensional police, played by Li, goes rogue. He decides to kill every copy of himself in every universe to become more powerful. The bestest of the premises! It has an epic battle of Jet Li against Jet Li. It is cliché but so worth the effort! Did I mention Jason Statham is also in it?
Déjà vu (2006)
With Denzel Washington playing the main character, Déjà vu is a sci-fi action movie directed by Tony Scott. After a bombing on a ferry carrying hundreds of US Navy sailors and their families, an ATF agent pairs up with a newly-formed FBI investigation unit with an intriguing machine named Snow White. It allows the agents to see the past. More precisely, 4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds, and 14.5 milliseconds before the now. But only once. However, it turns out Snow White was more than a television plying the past. And things unfold from there.
I love this movie! I seriously have no idea why people don’t talk about it more often. It plays with time in a way I find fascinating. In a way that I have no way of explaining without giving spoilers, so go check it out.
5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
Maybe I’m cheating a little bit with this on. But come on! It’s a Makoto Shinkai movie. I say I’m cheating because this one is a drama with sci-fi elements to it. It is truly beautiful. It tells the story of Takaki Tōno and Akari Shinohara, two friends since elementary school who have feelings for each other. However, their timing is never right, and they want different things from life. This bittersweet story is explored further in the third act through the sci-fi elements I’ve mentioned earlier.
To avoid spoilers, I will stop here with this simple advice: go watch it.
Source Code (2011)
Directed by Duncan Jones and starred by Jake Gyllenhal, this sci-fi thriller puts us into a loop-run against time. An amnesic soldier, Captain Colter Stevens, played by Gyllenhal, wakes up inside a machine that allows him to hijack the consciousness of another person. The catch is, this person is in the past, onboard a train that will blow up in a terrorist attack. Stevens has 8 minutes to figure out who the bomber is. While he uncovers this mystery, he starts to get his memory back.
Maybe I’m biased here because tropes involving time are my ultimate favorites, and this movie plays with time-loop super well. I’ve seen people who dismiss the film for its very last scenes, but in my opinion, it does not detract from the ride. I agree that it would become excellent without the ending, but being one scene away from a masterpiece means it comes close enough.
Neill Blomkamp’s story happens in a futuristic Johannesburg when an oppressive, mechanized police force patrols the streets. A prototype of a police android is stolen and reprogrammed by criminals. It becomes Chappie, the first robot to become sentient.
The cultural aspect and the thematic are the soul of this movie. It is unique in style, and the great characters take this simple premise to the next level.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Why is this animation so underrated? It was directed by Wes Anderson, it has a stellar cast, yet no one talks about it. Why?
The setting for sci-fi comedy is somewhat familiar to everyone living in this pandemic. There is an outbreak of canine influenza in the fictitious city of Megasaki, and the authoritarian Mayor convinces the citizens the best solution to stop it from spreading further is to exile all of the dogs on a Trash Island. A while later, the Mayor’s nephew wakes from a coma and finds out his dog is on said island, so he goes on a rescue mission.
It has Japanese influences and the unmistakable style of Wes Anderson. And the dogs talk. This should be enough to convince you to give it a try.
Released on Netflix in July 2018, this movie was directed by Ben Young and starred by Michael Peña. This story of a father suffering from recurring visions about losing his family, trying to work on his relationship with them amidst an alien attack, may seem formulaic, but it has a cool twist.
It received general unfavorable reviews, but it is a solid story. It favors action over sentimentalism, and this is probably the point people tend to dislike. But this is also why the twist works. And it really changes your perspective the second time you watch.
The Platform (2019)
This Spanish movie, directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, generated a lot of buzz when it came out, but it has since been forgotten. This dystopic story is an intriguing, nail-biting allegory for wealth distribution in society, with a deep exploration of human behavior. A high-concept horror movie with plenty of criticism aimed at every direction, you can find a lesson on different levels of analysis. Feel free to dissect it.
The day I watched it, I was so excited I wrote my own analysis of it. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see it. I can write a blog post about it.
That’s it for today, folks!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I like action movies. But, even if you don’t, I hope I could help you find a good science-fiction movie to watch this weekend.
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.