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10 Underrated Sci-Fi Movies You Need to Watch

Press play on these hidden gems. 

underrated sci fi movies
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  • Photo Credit: Screen Gems

From cinema’s very earliest days, when Georges Méliès crashed a rocket into the eye of the moon, science fiction has been an inextricable part of the movies. 

Regardless of whether it’s looking toward the future with hope or with dread, science fiction will always be a part of the cinematic landscape. These 10 underappreciated, underseen, and underrated sci-fi movies from across the decades all deserve a second look. 

The Devil Commands (1941)

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  • Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

One of a string of movies in the 1940s that saw Boris Karloff cast as a mad scientist, often with a good heart underneath it all, The Devil Commands stars Karloff as a grief-stricken researcher whose studies of human brain waves take on morbid and sinister dimensions after the death of his wife. 

While the science may not always be sound, Karloff offers a predictably magnetic central performance, and the whole thing builds to a climax that must been seen to be believed.

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

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  • Photo Credit: Universal International Pictures

A meteorite falls in the Southern California desert. It’s a classic setup for a 1950s drive-in monster movie, with one notable exception. 

The titular Monolith Monsters aren’t alien invaders, blobs from outer space, or something that make the local fauna grow to gigantic size. They’re just inanimate rocks, at least until they get wet. Then they start to grow, forming vast, crystal towers that eventually become too heavy and topple over, shattering into thousands of pieces, each one of which then begins to grow when it gets wet, and so on. 

The result is a monster (and a monster movie) quite unlike any other.

The Earth Dies Screaming (1974)

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  • Photo Credit: Lippert Films

It inspired an Atari 2600 video game and songs by UB40 and Tom Waits, but most people have never even heard of this brief, black-and-white, apocalyptic British thriller from the 1960s.

Prefiguring movies like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, The Earth Dies Screaming features a handful of survivors trying to navigate the aftermath of a mysterious cataclysm, menaced by strange, robotic figures, the walking dead—and one another.

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

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  • Photo Credit: Robert Wise Productions

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton (back before Jurassic Park turned him into a household name) and directed by the great Robert Wise, The Andromeda Strain was a success when it was first released. However, it's since been overshadowed by other films. This is a shame, as it’s one of the few movies to ever make realistic science still seem exciting. 

You don’t have to take our word for it, though. In 2003, the Infectious Diseases Society of America called this story of an alien virus “the most significant, scientifically accurate, and prototypic” of all films in the viral outbreak genre.

The Hidden (1987)

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  • Photo Credit: Line Cinema

This buddy cop story about the pursuit of a body-hopping alien serial killer was an obvious (if uncredited) influence on Men in Black. It’s also a gloppy, weird, and thrilling sci-fi/action hybrid that combines the buddy cop conventions popular in ‘80s movies with some weird alien special effects, as the extraterrestrial “thrill killer” makes its slimy way from one body to the next.

Gattaca (1997)

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Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, Gattaca can aptly be described as “star studded.” It also managed to snag an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. But these days, it has been overshadowed by some of the more bombastic science fiction films of its era. 

Gattaca, by comparison, tells a relatively quiet tale of genetic discrimination, set in a future where children are conceived through careful gene selection to ensure that they have the best possible genetic traits. Roger Ebert called it “one of the smartest and most provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas.”

Attack the Block (2011)

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  • Photo Credit: Screen Gems

It helped launch the careers of both John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker, but too few people have actually seen this delightful take on the alien invasion trope. 

Boyega plays the leader of a gang of juvenile delinquents who must band together with one of their victims to defend their shared apartment block after glowing aliens begin raining down on London. The result is an action-packed take on an Amblin Entertainment-style film, with a very modern social conscience.

Europa Report (2013)

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  • Photo Credit: Wayfare Entertainment

The first crewed mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa struggles against a variety of catastrophes to finally reach its destination after a nearly two-year voyage. Once on the moon’s surface, however, they find mounting evidence of extraterrestrial life—life that may be inimical to their presence. 

Like The Andromeda StrainEuropa Report has been praised for its scientific verisimilitude, with its Rotten Tomatoes summary claiming that it “puts the science back into science fiction.” In spite of that, this first-contact thriller remains woefully underseen.

Predestination (2014)

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Grasping the various paradoxes of time travel firmly by the horns, this flick, adapted from a story by Robert Heinlein, makes literal a variation of the “I’m my own grandpa” joke. 

Ostensibly about a time-jumping agent’s attempts to stop a terrorist known as the “Fizzle Bomber,” time travel paradoxes quickly begin to stack up, revealing that not only is everyone not who they initially appear to be—many of them may actually be the same person.

The Vast of Night (2019)

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  • Photo Credit: GED Cinema

A late-night disc jockey and a switchboard operator investigate UFO sightings and high strange phenomena in a small New Mexico town in the 1950s. The low-budget film has been praised for its stylish direction, historical accuracy, and strong central performances. The eeriness and wonder of the empty night sky has rarely been captured more eloquently, and the entire picture brings back the haunting sensation that we’re not alone in the universe…