The Sci-Fi genre features a ton of movies that never made it in front of large audiences, but are still definitely worth your time to watch. Sometimes they’re small, independent films directed by people whose names you recognize now, but you’ve never seen their early work. Sometimes they’re smaller projects from known studios, but with untested directors. Whatever the case, there are plenty of examples of the genre that simply never got the attention they deserve. These six films are good enough to warrant a watch by any serious sci-fi fan.
Time After Time
Directed by Nicholas Meyer, who went on to write the screenplays for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Time After Time debuted in 1978. The time travel film features Malcolm McDowell playing as HG Wells. After Jack the Ripper (Tron star David Warner) uses Wells’ time machine to escape Vicorian London, Wells pursuses the killer to the 20th century. Once he finally locates the killer in 1970s San Francisco, Wells falls in love with a bank teller who is Jack the Ripper’s next target. Wells must save the girl and stop the killer before it’s too late.
If you’re a fan of HBO’s Westworld, you should probably know that it first hit screens as a 1973 movie directed by none other than Westworld author Michael Crichton. It was his first feature film, and was also the first film to utilize digital image processing, which pixellated images to show the android’s point of view. The movie features the Westworld theme park, which lets guests experience worlds of the past thanks to the park’s androids. You can look forward to seeing Yul Brynner play as the main problem android, and he’ll remind you of the original Terminator. Not only is Westworld worth the watch on its own merits, Crichton fans will be able to see the roots of Jurassic Park in this film as well.
Dark Star is a 1974 film that starred and was written by Dan O’Bannon. If that name soounds familiar, that’s because O’Bannon went on to write the screenplay for a little movie called Alien. Dark Star is also the first full length film to be directed by John Carpenter. Like Alien, it tells the story of a crew in space that has to deal with a dangerous alien on board, but while Alien has a more serious tone, Dark Star is definitely looking to deliver a few laughs. It’s a low-budget romp that even billed itself as Dark Star: The Spaced Out Spaceship.” The dangerous alien is actually a beach ball, and the crew also has to contend with a faulty computer system and a smart bomb that has decided that it is God. The fact that it’s John Carpenter’s first feature film alone makes it worth seeing.
The City of Lost Children
The City of Lost Children is a sci-fi fairy tale that features a mad scientist kidnapping kids to use as test subjects in his experiments to harvest dreams. The French film is set in a dystopian future society where everything seems to be constructed of brass. Starring Ron Perlman as a former whale hunter named One, the movie tells the tale of how One sets out to rescue his kidnapped little brother, and what he finds in The City of Lost Children. You can expect to see tons of weird technology, including multiple Santa Clauses, Siamese twins being brutally sliced apart, and cyclops-like creatures with their one eye replaced with computerized hearing devices used to visualize sound. Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who helmed the also odd Delicatessen), The City of Lost Children is a stunning film that flies way too far below any sci-fi fans’ radar.
The 1989 film Slipstream may be the hardest film on this list to find today. It barely saw a US release, which makes it difficult to locate on Blu-Ray or DVD. The movie stars two powerhouse actors from the genre, Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton. Paxton is a futuristic bounty hunter named Matt Owens who kidnaps a captured fugitive named Byron from the two police officers holding him (one, Will Tasker, is played by Hamill). The only real method of transport in this version of Earth, which has been ravaged by natural disasters, is a strong wind known as “The Slipstream,” and the movie morphs into a pursuit story, with Tasker and his partner tryinng to recapture Byron and stop Owens. The cast is fairly strong, with Bob Peck (probably best known for the “Clever girl” line in Jurassic Park) playing Byron, and an appearance from Ben Kingsley as well. It’s a tough one to locate, but it’s worth your while, as it may be the best post-Star Wars movie Hamill made.
The Blood of Heroes
If I told you we were going to watch a movie written by David Webb People and starring Rutger Hauer, you’d probably expect to see Blade Runner, but in this case, you’d be wrong. The Blood of Heroes (released in 1989) brought the two together as well. It’s a post-apocalyptic movie about a sport that resembles a brutal, futuristic version of football. Hauer plays a former star who’s fallen from grace, only to assemble a ragtag group of players known as Juggers into a team. He leads them to one of the remaining nine cities on Earth, where they play for glory, as well as personal redemption. In addition to Hauer, you can also expect to see a young Vincent D’Onofrio, only a couple of years removed from his successful role in Full Metal Jacket. This is another one that can be hard to find, but if you’re a Rutger Hauer fan, you should probably try to track it down.