These five science fiction movies deserve a lot more recognition.
The past ten years have seen a lot of big-budget, big-audience sci-fi films, and while some have been amazing, many of them have ended up being disappointments. In a decade ruled by Star Wars and Marvel, it’s easy to have missed smaller science fiction films, some of which garnered some hefty critical acclaim despite lower box office takes. But we’ve got you covered with this list of the five most underrated sci-fi films of the past decade.
1. Ex Machina (2014)
This thriller, written and directed by English novelist, screenwriter, producer, and director Alex Garland, follows a man who wins the prize of spending a week at a secluded retreat with the CEO of a major tech firm. What he doesn’t know is that his time there includes being part of an experiment in which he must interact with a young woman (Alicia Vikander) who happens to be the robotic housing for the first genuine artificial intelligence in the world.
It received high praise from critics and audiences alike, and its $37 million haul is respectable for a $15 million budget, but it’s still on the low side of what a studio wants to see. If you want to see something complex, fascinating, and frightening, though, you can’t go wrong with this one.
2. Upgrade (2018)
We’ve seen films about a future dominated by technology, but there is not another one quite like Upgrade. When a self-proclaimed technophobe seeks revenge in a world where technology controls nearly every aspect of life, he is forced to take a computer chip implant that turns him into a combat machine with amazing reflexes, speed, and strength. Intensely violent and featuring dizzying imagery, this high-concept action/horror thrill ride comes on fast and hard and never lets up.
Made for just $5 million, the sci-fi movie more than tripled its budget in worldwide gross, but since that’s still only $16 million, the movie remains largely undiscovered.
3. Coherence (2013)
Hailed as one of the best science fiction films in years, this taut story builds in tension as it goes, revealing an ever more complex web of deception. The movie follows eight friends who attend a dinner party on the night of an astronomical event, only to be hit by a power outage that starts a string of events causing reality itself to seem to twist. Featuring Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Nicholas Brendon, this nerve-wracking kaleidoscope of intrigue should have found a larger audience than it did.
Made for just $50 thousand, it did fairly well proportionally, but a global box office of just over $139 thousand means a lot of people still need to see it.
4. Annihilation (2018)
The second Alex Garland film to make our list, this novel adaptation stars Natalie Portman as a biologist who signs up for a dangerous mission, venturing inside a growing anomaly known as “the shimmer,” where DNA is being rewritten in strange and horrifying ways. She and her team must unlock the mystery of this apparently alien environment before it kills them and mutates life on the entire planet. Reportedly, Paramount execs wanted to rework the film after a screening was deemed “too intellectual” and confusing, but Scott Rudin, who had final cut, sided with Garland and refused to change the film.
While that decision might have rescued artistic integrity, it could also have contributed to the film’s $43 million take on a $40 million budget. We think it’s another triumph from Garland and was unduly ignored, so now’s your chance to catch it while it’s streaming free.
5. Midnight Special (2016)
From writer/director Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special has been described as “soulful sci-fi” and has drawn comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind for its focus on a family whose lives are altered when their child develops strange powers. In a cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Adam Driver, Michael Shannon stars as a father who goes on the run with his son to escape both government agents and a cult that has started forming around his son’s mysterious abilities. The son, played by Jaeden Martell, later of IT and Knives Out fame, seems destined for something beyond normal human existence.
The biggest financial failure on our list, Midnight Special was considered a small-budget film by Warner Bros., who allowed Nichols final cut on that basis. But it still only made back $6.7 million of its $18 million budget. We think this expertly composed, heartfelt film deserves a lot more attention, so go check it out.
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.