The recent moviegoing experience is often overshadowed by event films like marvel and DC blockbusters which are predominantly sci-fi in nature. The genre keeps pumping out these visually overwhelming films that are m mostly backed by captivating CGI characters battling each other somewhere in Space or mostly in the USA. While it is easy to look over the sci-fi genre as popcorn flicks that entertain the masses, there are some hidden gems lurking inside that definitely deserve your attention.
Our relationship with the digital world is rapidly changing. The prominence of AI and machine learning is seemingly beginning to reach the mainstream thanks to tools like ChatGPT. As we all know, films and any form of art actually is a reflection of the society that either showcases people a mirror or predicts the future in some form or the other. The changing landscape of the world surely hasn’t reached the point where a Tony Stark-Esque billionaire is building his very own Ultron in his backroom science lab (or maybe there is? but it surely begs us to ask the question – What if?
This curiosity among humans surely will not be explored for the longest time but there are films that have charted this territory really well. In our 17th anniversary special edition, we wanted to have a look at all the best sci-fi films that sadly remained underrated. Check them out right now –
Bong Joon Ho definitely won all the laurels and even an Oscar for his film Parasite but it was long before that when he directed the post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer. It was based on a French graphic novel and revolves around humanity losing its battle against global warming which results in another ice age. The remnants of humanity take to a self-sustaining circumnavigational train which has a segregated class divide in it. Besides being an interesting sci-fi film, it also is a chilling portrayal of the class divide and how it might stay prevalent even at times of a global wipeout.
Edge of Tomorrow (2013)
Edge of Tomorrow is undoubtedly one of the most underrated films ever by Tom Cruise. The sci-fi time loop film actually ended up being loved more on home video than in the theatres which is surely a tragedy given how good it actually is. It is a smart spin on two sci-fi tropes that are time travel and alien invasion that barely loses its touch through the entire runtime. Plus the lead pair Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are surely a treat to look at through the crisp runtime of nearly two hours.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
I remember walking into a theatre to watch Blade Runner 2049 as a college student and scratching my head the entire time to figure out what was going on. It was only half a decade later when I revisited the film and understood the underlying themes of existentialism it so beautifully portrayed. The film revolves around Ryan Gosling’s character K who is charged with retiring machines. Here, machines are more human than the people who mercilessly order their deaths. His path soon becomes intertwined with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and the two are forced to team up to solve a mystery.
Paramount studios did not do right by this film as it was released in February, a month that is not associated with blockbusters to any degree in Hollywood. The result? Annihilation became an uncelebrated addition to the list of forgettable sci-fi films when it actually deserves the opposite of it. The film made its way to Netflix just three weeks after its theatrical release where the OTT audience surely appreciated it. The film revolves around a group of explorers entering a mysterious zone where plants and animals are rapidly mutating due to an alien presence.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Another Emily Blunt sci-fi film makes its way to the underrated list. What can we say? She’s a phenomenal actress still waiting for her mainstream appreciation. The film revolves around a United States congressman David who discovers his ‘Free Will’ decisions were actually being dictated by a mysterious group known as the ‘Adjustment Bureau’. When one of the events of David’s life does not go as planned by the bureau, his life goes haywire. The film is not just a fantastic sci-fi watch but also has undertones about secret societies and the notorious Illuminati.
Minority Report (2002)
For a film released in 2002, the Steven Spielberg directorial Minority Report was undoubtedly way ahead of its time. The film was surely a box office success when it was released 21 years back making $358 million against a budget of $102 million. However, its prevalence in recent times stays fairly underrated. The Tom Cruise starrer is set in the year 2054 where a specialized police department titled ‘Precrime’ arrests criminals before a crime is committed by them using a foreknowledge technology called ‘Precogs’. While the film’s main theme sounds pretty straightforward, it dives deep into the mind-bending concepts of determinism, free will, government interference, and citizen freedom.
When we think about an alien invasion film, our perception leans towards over-the-top action entertainers like Republic Day. However, director Denis Villeneuve wanted to bend people’s expectations with Arrival and successfully did the same. The film dives deep into the contemplative nature of an alien invasion rather than an apocalyptic one and emphasizes forming contact with the extraterrestrial. Amy Adams leads the way in this film as a linguistic professor tasked with forming contact with the aliens.
Maybe if Dune did not release in the middle of the pandemic then it could’ve received a greater box office reception. However, it failed to get the cash registers ringing as expected even with an amazing critical response. The film is based on Frank Herbert’s novel Dune and primarily covers only the first half of the book. A sequel is in the making and will be released in 2023. Set in the distant future, the film revolves around the noble House Atreides being forced to go to war against the hostile desert planet of Arrakis.
Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland’s directorial debut was made on a humble budget of $15 million and managed to not just double its money at the box office but also earn two Academy nominations. The film revolves around the story of a young programmer named Caled who is selected in a lottery to participate in a top-secret experiment revolving around an AI. The film revolves around the AI learning what it means to be a human.
Ad Astra (2019)
There are only a few sci-fi films that are based on the psychological genre. The film revolves around an astronaut who ventures into space research in order to find his lost father. The film will remind viewers of the animated film Wall-E where humanity’s greed has driven it beyond just Earth and onto the Moon.
Before Joaquin Phoenix ruled the box office with his spine-chilling performance in the film Joker, he made us believe that humans and artificial intelligence can be deeply in love. Her is a refreshing take on the dystopian world trope as it showcases a tender viewpoint of what ‘smart’ devices are capable of. The film is beautiful and packed with raw emotions that are sure to make you tear up.
Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy was made on a modest budget of $40 million but ended up earning a massive $463 million at the global box office. Johansson plays the character of Lucy in the film that gains psychokinetic powers after a bag of drugs is absorbed into her bloodstream. The film explores the limitations of our brain and what can happen once it is unlocked.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Moviemaking bigshots James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to make Alita: Battle Angel. The film was an adaptation of one of the most beloved mangas of all time. While James Cameron was set to direct the film, he got busy directing the super-successful Avatar franchise.
Gravity managed to bag 7 Oscar wins including Best Directing and Editing, however, still remains criminally underappreciated by the general audience. The film revolves around Dr Ryan Stone on her first space mission who meets with an accident.
The Adam Project (2022)
It is a tragedy that a film featuring Ryan Reynolds, Zoe Saldana, and Mark Ruffalo remains underrated. The film revolves around a time traveller/fighter pilot Adam Reed stealing a jet in order to go back to 2018 and save his wife’s life.
Looper is packed with action, thrill and sci-fi mixed in a time loop setting. The film is based in a distant future where time travel exists but can only be afforded by the rich as it’s a luxury. Whenever a mob wants to get rid of someone, it sends the target into the past where the protagonist is hired to finish the job.
High Life (2018)
Robert Pattinson has featured in a number of whacky films before he picked up the mantle of Batman. High Life revolves around the character of Monte and his daughter who struggle to survive in space. While its IMDB rating stands at an abysmal 5.8, it surely is one of the best sci-fi films of all time.