Everyone has their go to sci-fi films they break out at movie nights or recommend to a friend who is trying to get into the genre. And although there’s nothing wrong with watching Empire Strikes Back until you’re blue in the face from quoting every line, there’s always the risk over-watching and getting sick of something you love. Below is a list of five phenomenal science fiction films that I feel have slipped under the radar.
1. Silent Running (1972)
Plot: It’s the indeterminate future and all of Earth’s vegetation is extinct. A group of four men are in charge of taking care of all of the planet’s remaining flora aboard a spacecraft called the Valley Forge. Eight years into the project the men can no longer be bothered and are eager to return home. All of the men except for Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), who instead has made it his life mission to care for the planet’s remaining plant life. However, the men get word that the project is ending and not only are they going home, but they are commanded to blow up the pods containing the last of Earth’s foliage. Lowell takes it upon himself to save all the remaining trees, bunnies, and cantaloupes with the aid of his three drones, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Why Watch It?: I was recently introduced to this film, but it quickly became one of my favorite movies. Bruce Dern is perfectly weird and the drones are perfectly cute. In addition, I feel that it is one of the best tales of conservation in sci-fi. It’s a theme that is often attempted, but rarely accomplished successfully. Most films don’t quite hit the mark as well as this one does. It’s a charming cult-classic.
2. Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
Plot: Adam Beckett (Zach Galligan) wants to be an artist. But of course, it’s easier said than done. When he’s forced to take an art test upon moving to New York City (which is now run by the Port Authority) and fails it, he is forced into a menial job (see above clip). After getting into a conversation with a kind homeless man, he is introduced to an underground network of homeless people who are in charge of determining peoples’ fates. He is then instructed to take a bus to the moon (driven by Bill Murray) in order to find his true love and soulmate (played by Lauren Tom).
Why Watch It?: I suppose it is hard to call this movie a classic, since no one outside of the people who worked on the project knew of its existence until last year. (At least, that’s the case here in the U.S., apparently it’s been playing on late night television in Europe for years) And, that being said, maybe no one would have cared about it had it been released when it was supposed to. However, I throughly enjoyed this film. It was cool to see Lauren Tom in another sci-fi piece, since I mostly know her from her voice work on Futurama and other cartoons from my childhood. Additionally, I will watch any movie with Bill Murray in it. Period.
Note: This one may be hard to find. It was up on YouTube for awhile and I personally snagged a copy before it got pulled down. I’m assuming it will make it’s way back up eventually or more likely, WB will release it on DVD at some point in the near future.
3. THX 1138 (1971)
Plot: In the dystopian future, commercialism runs all. People are controlled to create things to be consumed and to be consumers. That’s it. Their emotions are even controlled by a strict drug regime which if not followed, can lead to arrest and isolation. Sex is forbidden. Love is forbidden. It’s all controlled by the pills. However, THX 1138 and LUH 3147 are determined to fight the system and be together, at any cost.
Why Watch It?: This film is a love story at its core, so if your a hopeless romantic this one’s for you. Additionally, this was George Lucas’ first feature film. It was based off of a short film he made while a student at USC, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB. Also, it was produced by Francis Ford Coppola who served as Lucas’ mentor, and I guess these are just the sort of things that happen to some people straight out of film school, at least when you’re George Lucas.
4. Videodrome (1983)
Plot: Max Renn (James Woods) is the head of a sleazy TV station focusing mostly on erotica. One day, one of his employees comes across a pirate snuff station called Videodrome. Renn starts to obsessively watch it and his girlfriend Nikki (Debbie Harry) even goes to audition. However, Renn has noticed that watching the broadcast has caused him to hallucinate. As the hallucinations get worse, Renn goes to investigate what Videodrome really is.
Why Watch It?: I am obsessed with this film. As someone who probably watches way too much television I’ve always been intrigued by movies that focus on the evil of it. Also Debbie Harry (Blondie) is in this movie, so what’s not to like?! Rick Baker’s special effects hold up way better than the early forms of CGI that came after this era. It’s a lot of awesome claymation ala Raiders Nazi face melting that was so prevalent in the 80’s. Long live the new flesh.
5. Sunshine (2007)
Plot: A group of astronauts are sent on a mission to reignite the solar system’s dying sun. How will they do it? With a bomb of course. However, things don’t go as planned and as various parts of the ship start to fail the crew must come up with a way to complete their mission and deliver the payload. They also have to deal with the moral dilemma of saving their crew members versus saving all of man kind.
Why Watch It?: If this film’s phenomenal cast isn’t a good enough reason to check it out (Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, and Cillian Murphy just to name a few) than Danny Boyle’s direction and Alex Garland’s script should be enough to win you over. Honestly, this is probably one of the most underrated sci-fi films of all time. It’s beautiful, compelling, and asks all sorts of questions about morality.
What are some of your favorite lesser-known sci-fi classics? Let us know in the comments below!