I figured it was time to make another list of underrated science-fiction movies. These are the ones that never get picked as the best sci-fi films of all time, but they are thoroughly entertaining and deserve some love.
Although many of my choices here are indeed masterpieces (yes, there will be a Makoto Shinkai movie here!), others are just fun, engaging movies for those afternoons when you are bored and want to have a good time.
If you haven’t found one you think should be on this list, be sure to check out my first list of 10 Underrated Sci-Fi Movies. You might find it in there.
I’ll keep a chronological order, except for the first one on the list (I’ll explain it later). And we got options for every decade, from the 80s until this very year of 2023.
Let’s dive into the list!
1. 12:01 (1993)
This is not the oldest on this list, but I couldn’t help but mention it first. This movie inspired me to write the first list, AND I COMPLETELY FORGOT TO LIST IT THERE! <<Screaming in frustration.>>
12:01 is a time-loop movie. My favorite time loop movie!
In this Jack Sholder movie, released straight to TV, the protagonist gets stuck reliving an awful day. His boss scolds him, his coworker pranks him, and he watches his crush get murdered right before him. With each interaction, he tries to save her and eventually finds out why he keeps reliving this day.
It’s an excellent movie! Especially for time-loop enthusiasts like myself. I dare say this movie got me hooked on time-loop stories. It surely deserves more love from everyone else.
IMBD score: 6.8
64% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
2. The Last Starfighter (1984)
By popular demand, here it is!
The Last Starfighter, directed by Nick Castle, seems to be a beloved movie. So many people requested it to be on my following list when the first list came out!
After beating an arcade game, the teenager Alex Rogan is recruited to become a Starfighter — a soldier in a very real (and secret) galactic war that inspired the game. (Three-Body Problem, anyone?) From there, adventure ensues.
The reason why it wasn’t on my first list was that I had never watched it before. I’m thankful you made me do it. The story is fun! A bit dated, sure, but fun!
IMDB score: 6.7
70% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
3. Enemy Mine (1985)
“Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.”
This 1985 movie, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and starred by Dannis Quaid, is so heartwarming! It tells the story of a human and an alien soldier of an enemy species forced to cooperate to survive and overcome their differences.
It was based on a Hugo-winner novella of the same name by Barry B. Longyear that I shall one day read!
IMDB score: 6.8
68% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
4. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1986)
A family movie with an adorable, quirky scientist who accidentally shrinks his kids and loses them. I mean, why isn’t this film talked about more? Directed by Joe Johnson and starred by the legendary Rick Moranis, this 1986 movie deserves more attention.
It has two sequels, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, but they don’t live up to the standard of the first. But they don’t detract from it either, so you can give them a shot too.
If I ever make a top 10 family-friendly sci-fi film, you bet Honey, I Shrunk the Kids will be on it.
IMDB score 6.4
54% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
5. Tremors (1990)
I cannot believe the number of people that never even heard of this movie! It seems to be beloved in the U.S., but it’s pretty neglected outside of there.
This 1990 movie, directed by Ron Underwood and starred by Kevin Bacon, has one of my favorite movie-monsters: a giant sand-rider, carnivore worm. These creatures are attacking a small town in Nevada, and a group of people has to survive them.
I guarantee you will be, at least, entertained by this horror/comedy. Please give it a go.
IMDB score 7.1
75% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
6. Pitch Black (2000)
A sci-fi horror movie with Vin Diesel playing the main character — do I need to say more? After crashing into a planet with two suns, a group of people (carrying the fugitive Riddick, played by Vin Diesel) faces deadly creatures during an eclipse.
Curiously enough, the sequel to this David Twohy movie is better known, thanks to the success of Vin Diesel’s character. Pitch Black is the first film in the Chronicles of Riddick and is surprisingly diverse! We have Muslim characters, a female spaceship pilot, and Riddick, the “blind” antihero with his eyes modified to see only in the dark.
It was a flop at launching but has since gained a cult following.
IMBD score 7,0
77% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
7. Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
Makoto Shinkai is underrated, and I fully intend to help change that!
Voices of a Distant Star is beautiful and bittersweet. A love story about a girl astronaut and the boy she leaves behind on the planet, keeping a thin connection through letters that take longer and longer to arrive. It’s touching and heart-wrenching. It’s a Makoto Shinkai movie.
This animation is a short movie, only 25 minutes long, but it deserves your attention. It has a war in space, mecha suits, and a long-distant love in space and time.
IMDB score 7,1
86% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
8. Orbiter 9 (2017)
This Spanish movie has a slower pace and a solid twist and is only 95 minutes long. So it is never dull or dragging. It grabs you from the beginning with a well-thought mystery and a cool setting.
A woman has lived her whole life on a spaceship, and suddenly an engineer appears, and they become romantically entangled.
Directed by Hatem Khraiche, it was nominated for Best European Film at the Brussels International Fantastic Film. If you want a break from Hollywood, this is a great start.
IMDB score 5,9
42% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
9. Sputnik (2020)
This Russian sci-fi horror directed by Egor Abramenko is reminiscent of classics like Alien and The Thing. After two cosmonauts return to Earth with strange symptoms, a young doctor is recruited by the Soviet military to investigate.
A thrilling story and the suspense is on point. You will not regret watching it! Fun fact: I thought Sputnik was a historical movie about the actual spacecraft when I hit play. But I was not disappointed.
IMDB score 6,4
72% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
10. Jung_E (2023)
This one just came out of the oven. Yeon San-Ho, the same director of Train to Busan, directed this Korean thriller/drama. It is by no means perfect, but it has a lot of heart, and sci-fi fans will appreciate the nods to Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dicke, among other great authors.
It is also a quick movie, and you won’t feel disconnected from the story at any point. It may be a bit cliché, but entertaining nonetheless. Jung_E is a program to develop android clones of a soldier who excelled in battle. However, the test subjects keep failing the battle simulations, and the team of scientists (which includes the daughter of said soldier) tries to figure out why.
IMDB score 5,5
53% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
That’s it for today, folks!
Have you watched any of these movies? What do you think of them? Let me know in the comments!
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.