Are ratings and reviews that important? Film history has shown us time and time again that a movie that upon release might’ve been maligned could gain a completely new reevaluation in the future. This happens with every genre, but sci-fi has given use some real underrated gems in the past couple of decades. Without further ado, here are five of the most underrated sci-fi films of the century so far.
Maybe not be the most undervalued film on the list, but for an ultra-low budget cerebral sci-fi with almost no special effects to be this good is rare. James Ward Byrkit made the film with a budget of only 50,000 dollars. Even more impressive is that the film was born out of an improvisational exercise. Byrkit wanted to make a film “without a crew and without a script”. After a lot of research and improvisational rounds, Coherence was shot over five nights in Byrkit’s own apartment.
The film follows a group of friends who get together for a dinner party. After a power outage makes the whole neighborhood darkens, strange, surreal things begin to happen. This is one of those movies where it’s best to go in blind and be surprised by the creativity and wit on display. Much like Shane Caruth’s indie hit Primer, Coherence is a sci-fi that relies more on theory and clever storytelling than visual effects. The result is one of the most original and underrated sci-fi films of recent memory.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Mexican auteur Guillermo Del Toro took on sci-fi wth the mega-budget Pacific Rim. Del Toro wrote the screenplay with Travis Beacham and the shooting began in November 2011. After a lengthy production, the film was released to theaters in the summer of 2013. It was a massive financial hit, earning almost 500 million dollars at the box office. However, the film has never received the praise that it surely deserves and has sort of faded from public memory since. Maybe the weak sequel is to blame, regardless, it is the sort of film that begs for a reappraisal.
The story follows a group of fighters who connect themselves to massive robots called Jaegers in order to fight interdimensional monsters that are wreaking havoc on Earth. Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnan star and give convincing performances. But what really makes Pacific Rim special is how convincing a world it creates. Everything from the action sequences to the character design is aligned and effective, and it contains some of the most exhilarating sci-fi battles put on film. At only a 6.9 rating on IMDb, it is surely a film that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Under the Skin (2013)
Now, this is a controversial movie. For every person that calls Johnathan Glazer’s film a sci-fi masterpiece. There are three claiming it’s garbage. It is truly a film that was made to be polemical; from its combination of sci-fi and hidden camera, droning score, and abstract plot, this is a hard film to love.
But for those of us that are able to see Glazer’s intent it is easily one of the best science fiction films made in the last 25 years. The story follows an alien played by Scarlett Johansson who for most of the runtime drives around the Scottish countryside in a van picking up unassuming men, who after following her to a creepy house are consumed by some sort of dark matter. The background behind ScarJo’s mission and the aliens is never really revealed, but it doesn’t make the film any less mesmerizing.
The technical craft on display is incredibly impressive, the cinematography by Daniel Landing and the score by Mica Levy are award-worthy, and for a film with a budget of fewer than 10 million dollars, it has some pretty mesmerizing effects. Under the Skin’s online ratings don’t really do it justice, and if there’s one film in this list that you should definitely watch, it’s this one.
Like Coherence, Nacho Vigalondo’s sci-fi masterclass is a perfect example of how to do sci-fi with a low budget. This Spanish film was made on a budget of fewer than 3 million dollars, yet it is immensely clever and entertaining.
Timecrimes is one of those films that plunge you into a crazy, confusing situation and slowly peel away the layers until the audience is left nodding in amazement. To not spoil the craziness of the story, all I will say is that it deals with time travel. Despite its ultra-low budget and lack of effects, it is one of the best time travel movies ever made. The plot is as precise as a Swiss clock and the directing is assured and exhilarating. Although it has decent ratings online, its nowhere near as popular or acclaimed as it should be.
Deja Vu (2006)
British filmmaker Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Hunger, True Romance) blessed the sci-fi genre with this super slick thriller starring Denzel Washington. The plot follows Washington’s ATF Special Agent Doug Carlin as he seeks to prevent a terrorist attack on an aircraft carrier during a 4th of July parade in New Orleans. The film also stars Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, and Bruce Greenwood, and photography by Paul Cameron.
Deja Vu perfectly combines time travel and terrorism to create a unique and thought-provoking film that asks interesting questions about predestination and memory. The direction by Scott is excellent and fits well into his 2000s oeuvre. Upon its release, critics reviews were mixed and Scott took most of the blame for the films faults. Scott defended himself by saying that the production was only of 19 weeks, not nearly enough time “for a film like Deja Vu”. The film has gotten a bit of a new fandom recently but its still nowhere near as respected or well-known as it could’ve (and should’ve) been.