The Five Most Underrated Sci-Fi Masterpieces

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UPDATE III (Jan. 10): The final list has just been announced! Go here to see which films made the cut.

So I hear you like lists.

Seriously: All of us here at  Techland have been told by our online overlords that lists go over big in these tubes of the intrawebs. So we’ve been ordered to come up with an initial batch of big-time lists, to win you over. I would have protested the order, but it just so happens that I’ve been debating the merits of various sci-fi films with my friends quite a bit lately – mostly concerning why I think Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” isn’t just the best sci-fi film ever made, and not just one of the three or four best movies ever created, but also one of the most definitive artistic statements of the 20th century.

I can plunge deeper into that whole topic later. But for now, I’m announcing the official launch of the great Techland Sci-Fi Movie List: The Five Most Underrated Sci-Fi Masterpieces of All-Time. It shall not be easy, nor pretty; it will amost surely inspire vigorous disagreements and petty insults. You might have problems with my ideas too.

The first issue when it comes to a list such as this, of course, is deciding what counts as a sci-fi film. Our colleague Caitlin threw her support behind “Predator,” but is that more of an action film? My friend Dave touted “Brazil,” but is that more dark comedy? Then there’s things like “Conan the Barbarian” and “They Live.” Sci-fi? Fantasy? Both?

Furthermore, what counts as overlooked? I love “A.I.,” which was dismissed by a good many critics, but can any Steven Spielberg film be overlooked, when it’s made by one of the world’s most popular director? Dave thinks “Star Trek IV” is a great movie that goes beyond the conventional framework of the “Star Trek” franchise, but can any “Star Trek” film be underrated, when it has 30 years of history behind it? “Dark City” surely deserved more praise in its initial run, but when Roger Ebert names something the best film of the year, can it still be underrated?

And can a movie be so sad that it’s actually good – a la “Plan 9 From Outer Space?” My dad sure seems to think so.

The more you think about this project, the more difficult it becomes – tracking down the best movies that not enough people know about. Given that the great films tend to catch on, this is something of a mission impossible.

I think the best way to start such an endeavor is to assemble a list of contendors, and then put them to a sort of public debate. So let’s start with my initial ideas – the 15 titles that sprung from my imagination, in no particular order: “Brazil,” “Solaris” (Soderbergh), “Predator,” “Strange Days,” “Time Bandits,” “eXistenZ,” “They Live,” “A.I.,” “Dark City,” “Fantastic Voyage,” “The Fountain,” “Let the Right One In,” “Sunshine,” “Silent Running,” “Primer,” “Sleeper.”

It’s an imperfect list to be sure, but this is just a first step. We’re going to continue amassing a catalogue of overlooked hits, and then slowly narrow the pack.

There can only be five. What say you!

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