The science fiction film canon is filled with amazing cinema and classic sci-fi movies we’ve all heard of. But there’s a deep collection of lesser-known sci-fi movies that are well worth your time. While a true fanatic has likely seen all of these, these lesser-known classic sci-fi movies are a good second step for those with a growing interest in sci-fi movies.
On this list, we’ve tried to avoid movies that are classics for simply being strange, bizarre or inscrutable. We’ve also tried to hit on a mixture of older movies, as well as newer classics of the genre. You won’t find anything from the last ten years, however, no matter how worthy.
While slow moving and ponderous, “Solaris” is an intriguing film about the imperfection of perception and the complexity of the human psyche. Highly associative and unsettling, the 1976 film might feel dreamlike or archaic to modern audiences.
The story of “Solaris” follows a widowed psychiatrist sent to investigate a space station orbiting the strange planet Solaris. The psychiatrist is sent to investigate the strange death of one of the crew members, and try to determine the cause of the remaining skeleton crew’s deteriorating psychological state. Strangely, he discovers his deceased wife on the station, and gradually discovers that something on the the planet Solaris may be recreating repressed memories.
Based on a novel by famed Polish science fiction author Stanisław Lem, the 1976 version we mention here is one of three cinematic adaptations of the tale. The mediocre 2002 version starring George Clooney is interesting mostly in contrast to the earlier films.
In a cold and clinical near-future world of “Gattaca,” genetic manipulation allows for the creation of super children by the rich. Those too poor to be genetically manipulated at birth form a derided underclass, while the smartest, tallest and strongest citizens are sent to the stars. But one man knows he has what it takes to fly, and will wage a long-running campaign of training and deception to make it to space, where he belongs.
The frigid world of the future is designed by the same people that make Simply Human trashcans, and the effect is somewhat chilling. Human variation and diversity have been programmed out of the population, and the aesthetic of the time reflects that conscious choice.
It’s also an emotionally effective and artistically resonant film, with strong themes of human endurance throughout, and a compelling narrative that doesn’t simply hit the expected beats. Look for amazing performances from Jude Law and Ethan Hawke and some truly memorable moments.
The Stalker guides two men into the Zone, a mysterious area guarded by soldiers and contained by barbed wire, where strange anomalies occur and the normal laws of physics are frequently upended. The Stalker guides the visitors through the oddities of this strange land to a room where innermost desires are said to be granted.
Not only an incredible science fiction film, but an incredible drama as well. Frequently lauded as one of the greatest films of any kind, you might feel a bit upended yourself when you’re done watching.
An astronaut mining moon gas nears the end of his three-year solo contract but is driven to a crisis by an ominous discovery in this psychological thriller wrapped in a sci-fi film. It’s quiet, claustrophobic and unnerving, but not in a way that’s difficult to watch.
Another sci-fi film with both brain and heart, “Moon” relies on an intense performance by Sam Rockwell and a world-bending last reel twist. Fans of “Blade Runner” and “Ex Machina” are sure to enjoy it.
Famously made for nearly no money, “Primer” follows a team of start-up engineers that create an inexpensive time machine in their garage and try to use it to manipulate the stock market for financial gain. But even with their significant precautions, things start going awry and the plan proves more difficult to execute than they imagined.
It’s the kind of film you’ll need a explanation on when you’re done, but it’s a gripping story throughout, regardless of the limited production quality. The film is decently constructed, but it’s a testament to how much a good screenplay matters. It’s also one of the least flawed on-screen depictions of time travel. If you like films that challenge your intellectual flexibility, you’ll find a lot to like in “Primer.”
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