The Five Most Underrated Sci-Fi Masterpieces (Act II)

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

Oh the agony.

Our quest to isolate, consolidate and appreciate the 5 most underrated sci-fi masterpieces has taken more than a few twists and turns. What is true sci-fi? What counts as underrated? What qualifies as a masterpiece. Talk about a bewildering debate. (See the complete debate here)

And then there’s this complicating factor: The film that would be near the top of my list as the most underrated accomplishment just took the top slot in my “top sci-fi films of the decade” list. So there’s no way I’m going to take one of my five measly slots to reiterate something from my decade list.

The plot thickens, my friends. It’s like I’m watching Primer all over again.

Reviewing all available materials and conferring with my sci-fi spiritual guides, I’ve somehow managed to compile a final list of 20 nominees. Twenty epics that never were; twenty visionary filmmakers who never received the satisfaction of knowing that audiences cherished their work. Review this list of 20, and chime in with your thoughts: Which of these are best? What titles have I overlooked? What picks would infuriate you? Your comments will indeed be factored into my final decision.

Think of this as the Oscar nominations, if the Oscars didn’t suck. We are now entering the interim period, before the awards are announced, and you must cast your vote.

So we’ll leave this post up through the holidays and three weeks from today, January 6, we will announce the final verdict. Techland’s Five Underrated Sci-Fi Masterpieces – a far more challenging process than I ever imagined.

Nominees (listed alphabetically):

Altered States

Alien3

Andromeda Strain

Dark Star

Dark City

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

eXistenZ

The Fountain

Gattaca

The Hidden

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Predator

Primer

Silent Running

Sleeper

Solaris (1972)

Solaris (2002)

Stalker

Sunshine

Time Bandits

Tron

I know, I know, this is a hard one, but let’s work together in a bid for consensus! Let’s prove we’re better than our elected representatives.

35 comments
deighteen19
deighteen19

Timecrimes should be on the list. It's a low budget Spanish film with a version that is reasonably well overdubbed in English. It follows no formula but relies on mind-bending cleverness. 

EdW
EdW

Idiocracy, Mike Judge's 2006 dark comedy set 500 years from now where human have devolved in to complete and utter morons, should get an honorable mention. Cleverly utilizing such sci-fi tropes such as cryogenics, over-automation, panic, apocalyptic scenarios, and a "time machine", this film is as much science-fiction as it is crude farce. 

Vivian
Vivian

Moon, Primer, The Fountain, Sunshine, 12 Monkeys, The Abyss, Contact, The Fly, Time Bandits, and either Logan's Run or Soylent Green (the latter more speculative fiction than sci-fi maybe).  I also think Red Dwarf is a kind of underrated masterpiece in its own right, too.  Best sci-fi movie never made?... Rendezvous With Rama (I've heard Morgan Freeman owns the rights)

drleon01
drleon01

Looking over some of the previous comments, I have to agree with IIeffler's Omega Man. Some of these lesser known movies probably have to be considered from the point of view of people who watched them when they were first released in theaters. Omega Man was a big hit with me. Another film that seems to have been relegated to the trash heap made a big impression for insight with me - "Brazil." I'm still trying to figure out the intent behind Zardoz, so I can't stand behind that one. When it showed in theaters, nobody seemed to know why it was made or even more strangely why Sean Connery agreed to act in the leading role.

drleon01
drleon01

I'm a bit surprised "Enemy Mine" from 1985 didn't make at least the top 20 list. Starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr., it seems to have just the right mix of humor, story and uniqueness. Just a bit of overacting too, but it seems to fit somehow. There are several movies I tend to watch at least once every year and this is one of them.

lleffler
lleffler

Also, Logan's Run should be considered too.  The whole concept of eugenics and forced euthanasia in a futuristic society which has no idea why they perform such acts.  Turns out that it was an idea from a 21st-century political group, named after a hot beverage with no cream and often bitter,  to counter the movement for health care for all people.  As a result of an unknown cataclysm, the idea of euthanizing large segments of the populace gained ground and morphed into forced extermination of all people by a specific age, thereby eliminating the need for any health care thereby solving the inflationary costs of medical treatment.  (sorry folks, I just couldn't resist).  Live long and prosper, yada yada. 

lleffler
lleffler

I think Omega Man starring Charlton Heston has to be one of the better ones too.  Sure some things are dated in the movie, but the underlying premise and story are excellent.  And, while we're at it, how about Soylent Green.  No one will look at a Wheat Thin the same way after seeing that movie.

RobertGDonald
RobertGDonald

A number stand out to me, including Dune, Twelve Monkeys and Slaughterhouse Five as having been underrated. But one I have not seen mentioned at all is "Zardoz".  Though it had its moments of being artsy and over the top, which you forgave in "Silent Running", which I also liked, it grasped at the root of humanity's desire to be gods, to fool mother nature and probed how we might do it in, what I found to be foreward looking ways. Nice to see this list, and all the good efforts at sci fi that were recognized, but I think that Zardoz may have been one of the most underrated, and ignored, of the lot.

djmallinson
djmallinson

Slaughterhouse Five (but not sure if it's strictly sci-fi)

Dune

Contact

OttoTorrens
OttoTorrens

You might want to rethink your definition of the word "under-rated". 

Where's Tremors ?

thatsallshewrote
thatsallshewrote

Would "The Man from Earth" be considered Sci-Fi? Certainly an underrated film, in my opinion.

TheNerdNextDoor
TheNerdNextDoor

I'm sorry but Solaris was so boring.  It wasn't the slow pace that got to me, it was all 3 hours of it.  Just read the book.  It works mentally better than visually.  Off the list, I vote for Gattaca.

tesmith47
tesmith47

the most chilling / effective film i have ever seen is" the fifth kind"  truly scary because it is entirely possible

the other that is stunning is " antivirus" the ending is just shocking!!!

achrisash
achrisash

An underrated SciFi that is my all time favorite is The American Astronaut.  It was at Sundance and I can't think of a more perfect movie...

chubsterrubster
chubsterrubster

I am a huge SciFi fan and an underrated SciFi movie I discovered (as a matter of fact, I hadn't even heard of it until my son told me of it), is "Looper" with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. One of the better "newer" SciFi's I've seen in years since Children of Men or the Firefly/Serenity series/movie.

SteveSpatucci
SteveSpatucci

For once, a list and comments that I almost universally agree with (I've never seen Silent Running and haven't seen The Fountain).

I couldn't even think of one that wasn't mentioned in the list or comments, but my favorites are:

Children of Men, Dark City, Gattaca, Primer, Terminator, Timecrimes.

Also strong: Alien Nation, The Hidden (the one film I want a remake of!), The Iron Giant, 12 Monkeys (seems almost forgotten now), eXistenZ, and Equilibrium.



ffyrdrms
ffyrdrms

primer is an excellent movie, truely mind boggling how well thought out and performed. since the first time i saw it, i knew id have to watch at least 5 more times to get a true understanding of what was Really going on, and even now i want to rewatch it to learn more. the lead actors are great, its just a really wonderful movie that i wish more movies were like. in the future movies like this, clerks and other low cost indie productions will soon rival box office powerhouses. the future of film, the general public making our own entertainment, as we want it, faster, cheaper, with more realism.

sean1303
sean1303

Just saw the list of 20, would have thought that Things To Come from 1937 would have made the cut.

prasadgc
prasadgc

My favourite underrated SF movies:

Enemy Mine

Alien Nation

The Final Countdown

The Iron Giant (animation, but still grossly underrated)

After Earth

CarlesTaberne
CarlesTaberne

Dark City is one of the best science fiction movies of all times, and it is fact that many of the famous SF movies which were produced after it portrayed many scenes and ideas taken from this.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) is one of the most well-resolved comedy SF movies of the last two past decades. 

Gattaca (1997) is another pearl, with Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman performing and group of well-known supporting actors performing in excellent manners.

Both versions of Solaris, the Russian (1976) and the American (2002) are not deserving to being in any list of underrated or forgotten movies.  Both success in bringing anxiety and solitude to the audience and are full of well-presented hidden messages.

Sunshine (2007) is another good well-directed movie with a good script that does not deserves to be forgotten.

benzene
benzene

Silent running!?  To be one of the top five, a film cannot have the fatal problem of being BORING.  It is indeed beautiful, but also very slow-moving.  Surely "The Hidden" is a better film and no less underrated.

Morbious
Morbious

How in the world does "Metropolis" get left out? Produced in 1925, this silent movie is the forerunner of all Sci Fi films.

MichaelBowen
MichaelBowen

I've thought for years that the movie "Source Code" did not get the credit it deserved....a great "twist on time travel" kind of movie with moments of edge of the seat excitement. If you haven't seen it, check it out. 

Shadow4
Shadow4

Greetings, I'm surprised no one mentioned The Terminator or the The Matrix.  Terminator was my son's fav at 6 years old.   My all time personal favorite is Forbidden Planet.  Considering when it was made, it was far ahead of it's time.  In a way alot like 2001 A Space Odessey in futuristic forsight and C.G. quality graphics.  But keep in mind all  EFX were hand made/ hand drawn!   Also, a second nod to A Boy and His Dog.  However, Time Bandits sucked.  Too cutesy.  A differentiation needs to be made  for true SCI FI as opposed to Science Fantasy.  The second catagory is what Time Bandits falls into.

armyofda12mnkeys
armyofda12mnkeys

Ill mention my favorite 3 more modern ones 1st, some which are on the list:
Sunshine - wonderful space-horror/'No one can hear you scream in space' genre
Moon - another more quiet masterpeice
Pandorum - i thought this movie was great with a decent twist at end.  All that whispering in the beginning, i need subtitles to watch hehe. 'No one can hear you scream in space'

honorable mention: TimeCrimes - just a wonderful recent foreign movie revolving around Time Travel that isn't really action-orientated.

I agree with Alien 3... it was not approaching the sillyness Alien 4 brought and was the last good Alien flick

12 monkeys - a classic... Brad Pitt is great in this as the crazy guy.
The Fifth Element - space opera classic
Flatliners - cool idea, i liked the actors in the movie as well.

The Chronicles of Riddick/Pitch Black: i throw both on here cause some like the simple Pitch Black storyline, but i thought Chronicles was kinda cool too (the Necromancers look like something Terry Gilliam would have cooked up).
The Abyss - i watched this thinking it was a grand movie with good effects and good story
A.I. - i thought this was an excellent movie. 'I am, I was'
Contact - another grand movie with good effects and nice story
Capricorn One - I watch these next few movies as a ode to scifi before my birth. I thought it was a very good concept about Nasa/Goverment austerity.
Logan's Run - I admit, there's some eye candy in this movie but thought the concept was interesting enough...
Last 2 movies could be re-done but more seriously/darker.
A Boy and his Dog - great convos between the dog and his owner in the future.
The Omega Man - Charles Heston, Hippie vampires = hilarious
The Fly - i just rememeber watching this and liking alot
Mad Max - The Road Warrior: i think the original was almost too subtle to be considered sci-fi... I thought it could have taken place in a regular small town in Australia. Thats why i throw this sequel on here.
Dune/Children of Dune miniseries on SciFi: 1984 movie was a bit weird... I thought this was very interesting and weird without getting 'too' weird (i guess it was hard to follow the movie without some context of the books... I liked the actors in this tv series and effects were decent.)

some ones others may like:
Children of Men: i liked alot... but if they could just tell me an interesting reason why people cant have babies anymore it would have peaked my curiousity a little more.
Equilibrium: a scifi movie with Christian Bale... some of those action/fighting sequences were kinda annoying though.
Pi
The City of Lost Children - kinda weird but interesting
Outland - Connery, nuff said hehe

PauloEsber
PauloEsber

@RobertGDonald true. Zardoz starts amazing from it's title, it's a wordplay of "wiZARD of OZ". I find it quite adequate to what you just said ("it grasped at the root of humanity's desire to be gods, to fool mother nature and probed how we might do it in, what I found to be foreward looking ways"). I don't think it's over the top as Silent Running is, and i also think sci-fi shouldn't be afraid of being artsy over the top. Zardoz certainly isn't. It's narrative has a very intelligent and erudite design, if we think about it, as the "godly" people see their dome of narcisism being changed by the outsider. The outsider barbarians are there to show us that the dome people are truly godly, higher, evolved (to put emphasis on this cultural distance between the two). And then there is the way the outsider *penetrates* the reality of those "godly" people, changing them forever. I don't know if you remember, but people don't have sex in the dome (at least not physical sex), so i like to think that it takes an outsider to make the dome "pregnant", as if he was an spermatozoid. As if the "peaceful" and "evolved" dome were an uterus and the "barbarian primitives" were, well, semen (and the protagonist is the only one ever to penetrate the dome, so the pregnacy metaphor fits like a glove)...

The fact that the "outsider spermatozoid protagonist" is Sean Connery just adds to the underrated factor. I mean, i'm not saying he acts great, just that how is it possible that nobody have wacthed this? It is indeed one of the most ignored movies.

sean1303
sean1303

@Shadow4 this is the UNDERRATED list. The terminator movies and The Matrix franchise have to be some of the most OVERRATED movies of all time!