The ’90s Sci-Fi Crime Thriller Gem That Everyone Forgets

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

The ‘90s was such an explosive time for science fiction (The Matrix and The Phantom Menace came out within two months of each other in 1999) that it was easy for some genuine classics to fly under the pop culture radar. One of the best examples of this is The Thirteenth Floor, a sci-fi crime thriller produced by Roland Emmerich, famous for directing ‘90s staple science fiction like Stargate and Independence Day. As a neo-noir cocktail of blended genres, The Thirteenth Floor is worth re-exploring for anyone looking to experience some old-school cool.

The Thirteenth Floor Stars Craig Bierko As A Man Trying To Prove His Innocence

What is The Thirteenth Floor about, though? A major part of the film is a crime thriller in which the heir to a pricey tech enterprise must defend himself when he becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his mentor. His defense may rest on clues left behind in his mentor’s ambitious virtual reality program, but what he discovers there may change his views on how much of the “real world” is actually real and how much of it may be a complex simulation.

The Underrated Movie Is A Lot Like The Matrix

Given the plot and when the film came out, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparing The Thirteenth Floor with films touching on some of the same themes, including The Matrix and Dark City. However, despite The Thirteenth Floor essentially slipping through the pop culture cracks, it has remained a film surprisingly accessible to modern audiences.

As the hosts discussed on the GenreVision podcast, “this is the one that feels the most…grounded” compared to The Matrix and Dark City, “and in a weird way, it’s the headiest.”

The Thirteenth Floor Deals With Issues More Relevant Now Than Ever Before

The grounded nature of the film helps keep many of The Thirteenth Floor’s wilder plot points shockingly relevant to our modern technological discourse. For example, there are plot twists involving whether all of the reality we take for granted may be simply be a simulation.

In The Matrix, this kind of plot point is used to explain how nefarious the evil robots are, but The Thirteenth Floor treats this like the existential gut punch it really is (which is how most of us talk about the still-popular idea that our own universe might be a complex simulation).

The Film Wasn’t Well Received By Critics And Audiences

When the film came out, audiences and critics weren’t quite sure what to make of The Thirteenth Floor. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an audience score of 64 percent but a critical score of 29 percent, which generally means that mainstream critics disliked it. However, the film was actually nominated for the prestigious Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, and even though it lost out to The Matrix (probably a fair call), we think sci-fi fans would definitely enjoy a movie that true masters of the genre consider in the same league as Keanu Reeves’ bullet-dodging classic.

The Thirteenth Floor Is Available To Rent On Demand

The Thirteenth Floor isn’t likely to get a remake anytime soon, but we think it’s definitely time for this forgotten classic to get its day in the sun. Between the ongoing actors’ strike and Marvel falling off, it’s an open secret that sci-fi fans aren’t getting much new content, and what we have been getting has gotten pretty stale.

Why not treat yourself to this hidden gem that ensures you’ll never look at this genre–or perhaps reality itself–the same way ever again? You can rent the movie on Amazon Prime Video.