5 Underappreciated Sci-fi Movies

Wednesday, 17 February 2016



If I could only watch one genre for the rest of my life, I'd definitely pick science fiction.  Not only is it broad, but it's way more fun, rich and complex than a lot of people give it credit for.  Honestly, it's one of my major bugbears that film critics and awards, particularly the Oscars, never seem to take science fiction seriously unless it's in terms of sound or special effects but, well, apparently they don't take ethnic minority actors seriously either (shots fired) so sci-fi is at least in good company.

Since I haven't been talking quite so much about the geek side of my life since starting this blog back up again, I thought I'd share some of the sci-fi movies that I thought were pretty great and didn't get quite as much praise and attention as I (personally) think they deserved.

EUROPA REPORT (2013)
I wouldn't have even heard of Europa Report had it not been for the Other Half pottering around on IMDb looking for other sci-fi movies we could watch.  It's definitely not one of the best sci-fi movies around, nor is it going to ever be a classic, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  It's shot in found-footage style, and shows the story of the first crewed mission to visit Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, and learn about the environment and search for signs of possible life.  Without giving anything away, let's just say the shit hits the fan as it is prone to doing in movies.  I think what I love most about this is just that it appeals to the part of me that really hopes that there's something else out there and gets really excited by the thought of there even being living microbes on other planetary bodies in our solar system.  But, I mean, if you want wonderment then watch Cosmos, this is more if you want to be nervous for a couple of hours and think but what if?
DISTRICT 9 (2009)
I hadn't really heard anything about District 9 until one day my mum and I saw something about it being an unexpected hit on the news shortly after it was released, so we went to go and see it.  When we came out of the cinema, even my mum - who isn't really much of a sci-fi fan - was floored.  It's set in an alternate version of our world, in which aliens became stranded in South Africa and explores how they are treated and humans' attempts to exploit them and their technology while making obvious parallels with apartheid.  Their technology is gritty and worn and feels real, and the aliens themselves aren't as humanoid in appearance as we've come to expect from sci-fi, rather they're very believable, well-designed and bug-like.  Everything about it feels real, especially the segregation and reactions of humans towards their visitors, who ended up being more prisoners than guests.  This is still one of my all time favourite movies, and has a brilliant plot, visuals and soundtrack.  I'm still genuinely angered by the fact that this didn't win any of the Oscars it was nominated for, because it brought back depth and originality to the genre at a time it was rather starting to lack those things and showed the world what sci-fi was capable of again.
PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Pacific Rim is one of those movies that was heavily praised in certain circles online, but the majority of critics, randomers and people I know just immediately discounted it as another dumb action movie with nothing to offer.  I could literally write an entire dissertation on the nuances of Pacific Rim that evidently whooshed over the heads of everybody else, but I'll summarise it by saying that it's a film that features multiple people of colour in lead roles, has an actual strong female character (not a Strong Female Character (TM)), and is about a bunch of Millennials uniting in an international alliance to defeat a common enemy with technology.  Guillermo Del Toro deliberately made a film that was fun and just cool to transport you back to your childhood; gave children varied, compassionate and kind characters who don't 'get the girl' to look up to as role models; placed romantic, platonic and familial love and relationships all on the same level instead of prioritising romance and created an amazing alternate world that actually shows our much maligned, tech-obsessed generation as forward-thinking heroes all while subverting tons of rubbish clichés and tropes that are tired and old and boring as hell.
CONTACT (1997)
To be perfectly honest, I'm not even really sure that I enjoyed Contact that much when I first watched it, but I loved it the second time around!  Rather than set in space or documenting alien invasion, it's about a scientist who works for SETI when, finally, communication from extraterrestrials is discovered.  I had no idea when I first saw it that it was based off of Carl Sagan's novel of the same name, but in retrospect and on second viewing it makes perfect sense!  There's a lot of awe-inspiring discussion of spirituality and our relationship with and place within the universe, as well as social, religious and political commentary that would no doubt be issues if contact was ever made in reality. It's really one of the best 'realistic' Earth-based science fiction movies of my time and it really captures Carl Sagan's love and appreciation of the cosmos and how ground-breaking it would be to make contact.
CARGO (2009)
Another unexpected gem found from trawling long lists of movies, Cargo is a Swiss film set a couple of hundred years into the future after Earth has become uninhabitable due to ecological collapse.  It follows a young doctor who hopes to relocate to live with her sister on a distant, paradise-like planet, so takes a eight year job on an old cargo ship to earn the cash to get her there.  While on her shift and with the rest of the crew in cryogenic sleeps, weird things start to happen and she's convinced that something is in the cargo hold and wakes the others, and, you know, things happen.  It's one part atmospheric thriller and one part dystopian future, so I was pleasantly surprised by it because I love me some dystopian future.  Bits of it are pretty clichéd, but on the whole it's a great movie with a great aesthetic and I'm surprised it isn't mentioned more often.

If you're looking for some new sci-fi movies to watch, I hope this gave you a couple to try!  Got any recommendations for me?

What are some movies you think are underappreciated, sci-fi or otherwise?

6 comments

  1. Really enjoyed this post and hadn't heard of Europe Report before - will have to check it out!
    I think one of the most underappreciated sci-fi films I've seen is a movie called "Primer" - it was shot for $7'000 but one of the most inventive films I've ever seen.

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    1. Thanks, glad you liked! I've never heard of Primer before but it sounds right up my street, thanks so much for sharing!

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  2. Out of all of those, I've only watched Pacific Rim, and I will defend it with all I have. It has some inherently flawed logic (regarding the "analogue" Gypsy Danger for example *cough*), but it doesn't take itself too seriously and really, it's just brilliant. :D

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    1. Yesss! Pan Pacific Defense Corps 4 lyfe. And YES that was quite the wtf moment and one the other half and I still regularly take the piss out of in daily life - 'IT'S OKAY IT'S ANALOGUE!!!'

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  3. Great list, never heard of Europa report so need to check that out, Contact and District 9 I actually own as they are that good =)

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    1. Thanks! It's not exactly a high quality piece of cinema but I definitely enjoyed it. You have good taste, sir! :)

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