No more than 10 years ago, science-fiction was merely a niche. Unlike today, when sci-fi is everywhere, some years back, movies with a sci-fi theme were a box office gamble. Major studios rarely wanted to invest in something with an uncertain profit. Overshadowed by the mainstream blockbusters of the time, they remained underrated and not all sci-fi movies found their audiences.
A Lot of Hidden Gems Out There
As a result, there are a lot of hidden gems out there that wait for their time to shine again, this time on the screen in your living room. With the prevalence of online streaming these days, even if some of them are 10 years old, they should be easily accessible. If you are willing to give them a chance, that is.
Here’s a compilation of 5 underrated science-fiction movies that are worth your time. This list reflects the preferences of the author and as a result, it is subjective. Feel free to leave a comment with any underrated sci-fi movie you think deserves to be on this list. So here it goes:
5. The Machine (2013)
Written and directed by Caradog James and starring Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens, The Machine was made with a budget of only 1.5 million USD. That, of course, is nowhere near the big budget you’d expect for a movie that treats subjects such as androids and artificial intelligence. But the movie plays by a different set of rules. It relies on storytelling and acting as opposed to costly special effects.
A Brilliant Take on Artificial Intelligence
As for the story, we’re following Vincent McCarthy. He’s a brilliant computer scientist whose successful research in the field of cybernetic implants grants him funding from the British Government. His work, down in the dark labs of the base, while controversial, has a noble purpose. Help wounded veterans regain their lost body parts and help the Government get an edge in the war against the Chinese.
When Ava, one of his colleagues dies, he’s using her brain scans to create an autonomous android. The success of his undertaking brings the scientist at odds with the director of the base, Thomson. From here on, it’s all a great mix of philosophical debate over morality and the struggle of the main character to do the right thing.
Award Wining Movie
If the plot is not enough to convince you, it’s worth mentioning the film was granted 3 BAFTA Cymru Awards. It was well reviewed by critics and fans alike. It’s definitely a good underrated movie you should see.
4. Paul (2011)
Let’s be honest here for a second. Sci-fi is a deeply cerebral and at times, a philosophical genre. Yet, only beneath the surface, this is true for this 2011 movie, but Paul is also a hilarious comedy. With a light tone, it’s loaded with sci-fi and geeky references. It was co-written by and stars both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Graeme and Clive, the main protagonists.
A Nod to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The movie follows the two British friends on their RV tour of all UFO hot spots in the United States. However, their friendship is challenged when they encounter Paul. The little thing about Paul, he’s an extraterrestrial being who’s escaped from a military base. He hitchhikes a ride with the guys to a rendezvous point. There, a spaceship is supposed to arrive and take him to his home planet.
This proves to be a hard task with federal agents tailing them. But it gets even more complicated when the group grows with a fourth member. Ruth is a devoted Christian and has only one eye. Her faith is shaken not only by the existence of Paul but about his ability to cure her bad eye. This healing power is a clear nod to 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
A Story About the Importance of Friendship
Believing she was kidnaped, Ruth’s father follows them with the intent to save his daughter. However, a romance sparks between Ruth and Graeme and this complicates everything even more. With FBI and an angry father after them, the group must stick together on their goal of helping the alien go home.
The movie ties in all loose ends and gives a satisfactory finale. Sprinkled with references to many sci-fi movies and books, not all of them are very obvious. Sometimes, they are quite refined and satisfying even for the most obscure of fans.
While not as underrated as other movies on this list, Paul sure did not get the attention it deserves. Funny and full of heart, Paul is a must watch.
3. Pandorum (2009)
This takes a leap from the previous movie on the list. A sci-fi space horror, Pandorum is not the kind of movie you’d want to watch alone.
In a future where Earth is overpopulated and on the brink of extinction, a spaceship with 60.000 people on board is humanity’s hope for the survival of the species. The colonists are in hypersleep, to be awakened at the destination, with only a skeleton crew waking up a few times a year in order to take care of the ship.
A Refined Psychological Thriller
But when two of the members of the crew awake, they discover they are adrift, as an unknown issue with the ship’s reactor creates repeated power failures. As they try to reach the engine, they discover not only that other members are awake, but that the ship was taken over by monstrous creatures.
Pandorum is a made-up disease that refers to the effects the hypersleep and prolonged deep space exposure has on the human mind. However, this is translated brilliantly on the screen. Not only regarding the way it connects with the plot but by the way it evolves and affects the characters.
A Box Office Disaster
Despite the overall consensus and a negative reception by fans and critics, Pandorum is a solid movie. Its main fault, however, is that it is hard sci-fi. It doesn’t connect with a mainstream audience and the marketing for the movie was virtually inexistent. With a budget of 33 million USD and cashing only 20.6 million USD, the sequel was canceled and the studio even went bankrupt.
2. Europa Report (2013)
Presented as a found footage documentary, the film presents the journey of the first human crew to reach Jupiter’s moon Europa. The purpose of the mission – to discover possible alien life inside the liquid ocean, beneath the icy surface.
One of the Most Realistic Space Exploration Movies Ever Made
Half a year into the mission, tragedy strikes, as one of the astronauts dies during an EVA. Therefore, the crew must not only have to deal with the loss of their friend but they lose contact with mission control as well.
When they finally reach the destination, the astronauts must continue their mission, not knowing if their findings will ever reach Earth. While the pace is sometimes slow, there’s a constant tension reaching to the viewer. The realism of the footage makes it so believable you understand that this will probably be a reality one day.
As for what the finds of the Europa One mission are, it’s up to you to discover if you decide to give this underrated sci-fi movie a try.
1. Moon (2009)
Although this list is not necessarily in descending order, from the least good to the best-underrated science fiction film, Moon would deserve the first place if it was.
Similar to most movies on this list, Moon also had a fairly low budget but manages to tell an amazing story with just a handful of characters.
It’s hard to make a summary of the movie without going in too many details and ruin the twists. But I will do my best:
Sam Bell is the only human on a fully automated mining station on the surface of the Moon. As his 3 years contract comes to an end, he cannot wait to go back on Earth to his wife and daughter.
But as the term approaches, strange things happen with his mind. There are hallucinations of people that should not be on a mining station. The only fellow he’s got out there is an AI that goes by the name GERTY.
Distracted by one of those apparitions he crashes his vehicle during a routine drive. Later he wakes up in the infirmary with no memory of his accident. Here, starts an entire game of cat and mouse with the AI where he tries to find out what’s really going on on that station.
Well Received by Critics and Viewers Alike
In terms of box office, the movie made close to $20 million worldwide with a budget of only $5 million. It was well received by critics and viewers and remains to this day a landmark of strong sci-fi storytelling, with a limited budget.
So this concludes our list of underrated sci-fi movies you should see. Let us know with a comment which of them have you seen and what other movies do you think should have been on the list.
Writing is my passion and (with any luck) might even become my full-time job one day. Until then, I do my best to learn as much as I can about the wonderful world of novels and share my findings with our readers. I mainly concern myself with works of fiction but don’t be surprised if you see me writing about a variety of other topics as well.