So, my underappreciated films series continues, and this time we're looking at sci-fi films. I love the sci-fi genre, but I'm also a very picky watcher. If it holds my attention beyond the first five to ten minutes, I'll give it a chance; if not well... then it probably isn't something I'm going to re-watch anytime soon.
There aren't any concrete rules for what's fair game for the list; anything goes as long as there's a strong sci-fi element to the film. That said, let's get into it.
5: 'Species' (1995)
Species was an erotic sci-fi thriller released in 1995 and follows a group of people who are trying to hunt down and destroy an alien/human hybrid before she can mate with a human and produce offspring.
The film starred Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, Forrest Whitaker, Ben Kingsley, and Natasha Henstridge in her film debut. H.R. Giger designed the alien's look on this film and the initial budget was $35 million.
In terms of reception, the film was a runaway success, grossing $113.3 million at the box office. It was also MGM's biggest release of 1995. There were three sequels released shortly after: Species II in 1998, Species III in 2004 and Species: The Awakening in 2007.
Sadly, however, it seems that this particular film is rarely discussed nowadays. It has something of a cult following and still makes it on to most sci-fi film lists but that's not quite the same thing. The only people who talk about this film are the ones who've seen it, a fact which is kinda sad considering that this is such a cool alien flick.
4: 'Starship Troopers' (1997)
This is a film which, admittedly, I didn't initially care for.
Based on Robert Heinlein's book of the same name, Starship Troopers follows a group of marines in a war against an insect-like alien enemy. The film starred Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris, and Michael Ironside. It was directed by Paul Verhoeven and was produced on a budget of $105 million.
The film went on to gross just over $121 million at the box office but was met with a largely negative reception. Now, something I didn't notice until a few viewings later was the rather... satirical tone to the film—it's almost as if it was made as a joke to poke fun at history in a way. It was an interesting thing for me to see because, after I realized that, the film took on a new meaning in a way.
It's not a great film; it's cheesy beyond belief, and the effects, while on the whole haven't aged badly, are dated; the script is also laughable a lot of the time. All that said, however, this film is still an enjoyable sci-fi action movie. It's a pity that few of the people I've ever spoken to about sci-fi films have been unfamiliar with the film; but hey, I guess that's the way it goes.
3: 'Back to the Future Part III' (1990)
OK, so a lot of you are probably wondering what this movie is doing here and that's fine—I'll explain.
The third installment in the Back to the Future trilogy was made at the same time as the second film and had a budget of $40 million. The film went on to receive a mixed critical response and gross $244.5 million at the box office.
Now, this film is a classic, so of course it has its following but I feel like a lot of people nowadays—especially the younger generation of moviegoers—don't give the film the recognition it deserves. The cast was exhausted during production. If you watch the making of featurette for this film the fact that parts II and III were made back to back is explained in detail and it's kind of hard to think of a cast and crew (outside of Lord of the Rings) who deserve such major kudos.
Admittedly the film's script is really corny and it does seem to take itself way too seriously at times, but overall it's a fun film which doesn't seem to get a lot of love anymore.
2: 'The Time Machine' (2002)
The most modern film on this list is probably also the most unpopular. Based on the 1895 novella by H.G. Wells and the screenplay of the 1960 adaptation of the novella, The Time Machine tells the story of an inventor named Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) who builds a time machine following the tragic death of his fiancee Emma (played by Sienna Guillory) and goes back in time to save her.
He manages to prevent the initial event but sees her killed in an accident a short while later leading him to go into the future—seeking an answer as to why he can't save his fiancee from death.
Released in 2002, The Time Machine garnered a mixed reception; critics found the film visually impressive but noted that the story had a number of plot holes regarding the way the time traveler's actions in the past affect the future, among other things. To make things worse, the film wasn't really the hit that producers were hoping for, grossing $123.7 million on a budget of $80 million—still a financial success but only barely.
Personally, I liked the film's visuals but I found that the story was, in a few instances, very confusing, which is why it makes sense that this one doesn't get as much attention as the others.
There's a romantic subplot between Alexander and a tribal woman several million years into the future that feels incredibly awkward and forced—the fact that it also seemingly comes out of nowhere doesn't really help matters either. The answer that Alexander was looking for is, when you get right down to it, nonsensical. It's a clear answer, but it's not explained very well at all.
In terms of pacing, there are a few instances where it gets a bit... erratic is the best word I can use; but, for the most part, it's fine and the cast deserves major kudos. Some of the dialogue was so corny but they tried to make it work. Overall the film's not great but it's also not terrible; if you want a fun, over the top popcorn movie then check this one out.
1: 'Night of the Comet' (1984)
This has to be one of my favorite films ever and it had some serious competition!
Night of the Comet follows two sisters Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney) who survive a cataclysmic event which sees the rest of the world's inhabitants basically disintegrated when the earth passes through the tail of a comet—this is apparently something that hasn't happened since the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Regina and Sam team up with one of the very few survivors as they try to make sense of this strange new world that they've found themselves in.
The film was released on November 16, 1984 and was something of a hit with many praising the film's look, humor and tone. There was also, as I mentioned earlier, some serious competition. James Cameron's The Terminator was released just three weeks earlier on October 26, 1984 and had a budget of $6.4 million. On the other hand, Night of the Comet had a much smaller budget of only $700,000, and while I don't know if the two were in theaters at the same time (though I probably would've watched both) I think a lot of viewers probably would've gone to the film with the bigger budget—it has a crisper look after all.
All that said, however, the numbers don't lie; Night of the Comet grossed a whopping $14.1 million at the box office—in spite of the competition.
Sadly, not many people seem to be aware of this movie; it's almost like you have to have seen it in order to know about it. Considering that this is one of the influences behind Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I think it stands to reason that it should get more attention. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do because it's a fun, campy sci-fi romp full of your typical 80s humor and well worth a watch.
Fun Fact: Night of the Comet is one of the first mainstream films to carry the MPAA's PG-13 rating.