While some sci-fi flicks are destined to become blockbusters, other equally deserving films often linger unloved on Netflix or gather dust on the shelves before they gain a cult following. Maybe they received poor initial reviews, or perhaps they suffered from a limited or low-key theatrical release. Whatever the reason, they all deserve a second look from true science fiction fans. Here are some of the most underrated sci-fi films of the last 15 years.
Sunshine. While most scientists agree that we have a few billion years left before our Sun dies, the plot of 2007’s Sunshine moves that timeline up considerably. It’s 2057, and the Sun is already nearly dead. The Earth endures freezing temperatures worldwide, and a small crew led by a physicist played by Cillian Murphy is sent on a Hail Mary mission to save the Earth. They must attempt to reignite the Sun with a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan.
28 Days Later. Director Danny Boyle pulls inspiration from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien to take viewers on a wild psychological ride from start to finish.
Moon 2009’s Moon is a deliciously spare sci-fi film that uses its modest budget to great effect. The film focuses on a solitary astronaut played by Sam Rockwell who is manning a lunar mining operation. Moon explores both ethical and existential questions when the astronaut begins hallucinating about a young woman. His only companion on the base is an artificial intelligence program, voiced by Kevin Spacey. “What about the messages she sent to me?” “Sam, I can only account for what occurs on the base.” When Sam discovers what appears to be his doppelganger in another area of his base, things start to get pretty crazy. What’s real and what isn’t? You’ll have to watch Moon to find out.
Equilibrium. Unlike most of the other films on our list, 2002’s Equilibrium never won massive acclaim from critics. That’s mainly because the dystopian “Thought Police” plot is not particularly original. But the excellent cast and amazing fight sequences more than make up for that. Christian Bale leads the cast as a Cleric highly trained in the martial arts and responsible for tracking down those guilty of refusing to take a government-issued medication that suppresses all emotions. Watching the heavily stylized, intricately choreographed gun battles will leave your jaw on the floor, much like the first time you saw the lobby shoot-out scene in The Matrix.
Another Earth. If you like philosophical conundrums and a dose of existentialism with your sci-fi, then 2011’s Another Earth is for you. A planet identical to Earth in every way has just been discovered hiding in our solar system, and there’s speculation that the planet’s inhabitants are identical, as well. Meanwhile, a young scientist played by Brit Marling has her career cut short when she accidentally kills several people while driving drunk. Ethical dilemmas arise for the young woman when she meets the survivor from the car crash, falls in love with him, and is later offered a chance to travel to this “Earth 2.” “The mystery flight member is 21-year-old Rhoda Williams, who is rumored to be an ex-convict.” Did her doppelganger cause a similar crash on that planet? Are her victims alive there? Another Earth explores all these questions and more, making for an entertaining sci-fi movie that will leave you thinking deep thoughts long after the credits roll.
Coherence. Shot on a shoestring budget with no script and no special effects, 2013’s Coherence also stars director James Byrkit’s friends and was shot primarily in his own home. The movie follows a group at a dinner party, which is interrupted by the flyover of a comet. The effects of the comet temporarily open up pathways to parallel realities, inhabited by the same group of friends. The group eventually fractures, breaking off to explore the other realities, and chaos ensues. “This whole night we’ve been worrying there’s some dark version of us out there somewhere. What if we’re the dark version?” By choosing friends who were also skilled improvisational actors and who didn’t know each other before filming started, Byrkit harnessed their own creativity to create a thought-provoking and thrilling film that is also almost entirely improvised.
Predestination. As far as science fiction plots go, 2014’s Predestination doesn’t start out on the most original note. Ethan Hawke plays an operative from a time-traveling intelligence agency, back on the job after a horrible injury with one last mission to complete: He has to prevent a time-traveling terrorist from setting off a bomb in New York City in 1975. This might sound like the beginning of a fairly formulaic sci-fi action film, but Predestination is anything but.
When Hawke’s character meets a stranger with a darkly compelling life story, he takes that stranger along on his mission—and things get pretty weird from there, with a wild ending most viewers will never see coming.
Snowpiercer. The limitless hubris of humanity is a common theme of science fiction films, and 2013’s Snowpiercer is an eye-popping example of the form. Humans have essentially destroyed the planet by fiddling with Earth’s climate, bringing on a new ice age.
Humanity’s last remaining survivors are all aboard the Snowpiercer, a massively long train constantly circumnavigating the globe on a continuous track. Twenty years after the climate disaster, a distinct caste system has emerged on the train. One of the lower class citizens, played by Captain America’s Chris Evans, leads a rebellion to the front of the train to try to take control of the locomotive by force. The group faces many foes along the way, including the incomparable Tilda Swinton as the bizarre Minister Mason. “I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head; you belong on the foot.”
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