We've had a massive response to last week's feature on Ten Truly Underrated Sci-Fi Movies, a response that's taught us two things - 1). People have a true, hardcore passion for talking about their favorite sci-fi films and 2). People effing HATE Aeon Flux. (We knew it was going to be an unpopular choice, but sometimes, you've just got to live dangerously.) But the main thing we want to get across to our readers is "We've heard you." We are self-obsessed, self-esteem-challenged narcissists, and we've read every comment, critique, and screed you left on link networking sites, messageboards, bathroom walls, burned with gasoline onto our mom's front lawns... we get it. We've heard your take on what the fan community as a whole considers to be honest-and-truly THE most underrated sci-fi films of all time - several of which did NOT appear on our original list - and we have to admit that many of you had some excellent, well-argued points.
On the flip side, many of you also sounded like stark-raving idiots. BLADE RUNNER is underrated? In what galaxy is one of THE most influential, frequently-cited sci-fi epics considered "underrated"? (The same goes for Brazil.) And whoever suggested that The Thirteenth Floor or Ultraviolet are anything but colossal time-sucks needs to turn their geek-credentials in at the door and quietly move towards the exits. However, to appease the masses and acknowledge that we're EXTREMELY fallible here at MovieRetriever.com, thanks to your plentiful feedback, we've assembled this list of five underrated sci-fi flicks that we missed the first time around (with some reasons why they were excluded in the first place) and five other less-inspiring reader suggestions that we're completely unwilling to budge on. (Looking at you, Event Horizon.)
FIVE UNDERRATED SCI-FI MOVIES WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME
1. Dark City (1998)
Why We Missed It: Believe us, we wish we hadn't. Without question, Dark City was THE number one movie most frequently brought up in discussions of our original list, usually in the context of statements like, "The very fact that Dark City is not on this list proves that whoever authored it is a brain-dead, chromosome-deficient colon parasite." (Only we're dressing up the language a bit to make it less hurtful.) Don't get us wrong. We didn't forget Dark City. Who could forget Alex Proyas' gorgeously complex blend of film noir and hardcore sci-fi (aside from Academy voters, that is)? Particularly since the damn-near amazing Dark City: Director's Cut DVD has just been released and is stunning. However, we left Dark City off our original list since the film does have pretty vocal and passionate critical support in many circles (Roger Ebert might be its biggest fan) and, since its release, it HAS developed quite a fan base. As we mentioned in our Tron entry in our previous list, the term "underrated" is very loaded and open to a million interpretations, so, at the time of writing the first list, we didn't really feel that Dark City was underrated. However, after the backlash we got for excluding it, we're totally willing to revisit that decision and give you guys whatever you want. (Please don't hurt our families...)
2. Strange Days (1995)
Why We Missed It: Want us to be honest? We simply forgot about Strange Days, and that oversight is KILLING us. We're big, big fans of Kathryn Bigelow's end-of-the-millennium thriller, and, if we were making lists like "Ten Most Underrated Films of the 1990s" or "Ten Amazing Movies That Didn't Deserve to Flop," Strange Days would be at the top of both lists. We're not really sure why Strange Days keeps falling through the cracks - the premise is packed with potent commentary on how technology can be both fatally depersonalizing and addictive; the film is brilliantly directed; and Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett give powerhouse performances, culminating in THE most passionate screen kiss we've ever seen. If you get a chance, revisit Strange Days sometime soon and you'll find a truly unheralded gem of a sci-fi movie that's never gotten the credit it deserved. Lenny Nero - we promise to never forget you again.
3. Cypher (2002)
Why We Missed It: There was a lot of passionate discussion about including the films of Vincenzo Natali on our original list, particularly from several editors who unabashedly LOVE Natali's sparsely inventive Cube. However, as we paired the list down, if we were going to include some Canadian sci-fi, we just felt a little more strongly about Cronenberg's undervalued eXistenZ. But now that we have a chance for a do-over, we'd be absolutely thrilled to do anything we can to bring more attention to Natali's work, specifically, the legitimately cool and desperately underseen Cypher. If you think The Matrix played mind-games, you haven't seen ANYTHING yet. This Jeremy Northam/Lucy Liu futuristic corporate-espionage thriller simply delights in stripping away layers of reality like onion skins, revealing dark and sinister truths hiding behind every character. The best compliment we can pay Cypher is that we weren't sure what was happening for 70% of the movie, but we still LOVED watching it. That's an impressive accomplishment for any film, and Cypher deserves a much bigger audience for that reason alone.
4. Stalker (1979)
Why We Missed It: There are many reasons - we only had ten slots to fill; in terms of film criticism and scholarship, you can't really call ANYTHING Andrei Tarkovsky directed "underrated"; how do you pick between Stalker and Solaris; and, finally, Tarkovsky's movies are tough nuts to crack and they're not exactly the kind of fun guilty pleasures that are easy to write about. But, upon further reflection, Stalker definitely deserves more exposure to modern mainstream sci-fi fans, and it definitely wins out over Solaris in the "underrated" competition since there's no George Clooney remake of Stalker currently under-development. (As far as we know.) A truly existential sci-fi movie, Stalker uses stark imagery to tell the tale of a professional guide hired to take a writer and a professor through the ominous Zone - a strange no-man's-land brimming with unseen danger - to a room where all of your wishes can be made into reality. (So, the writers of Lost must be big Stalker fans, eh?) Perhaps the coolest thing that Tarkovsky accomplishes with Stalker is constructing this tense, thematically-dense sci-fi environment entirely out of things unseen - we never see the hidden dangers of the Zone, we never learn how the "Meat Grinder" got its name - and yet the movie as a whole seems so vividly real to audiences that you totally buy it as a sci-fi classic with nary a flying car in sight. Quite the accomplishment.
5. The Quiet Earth (1985)
Why We Missed It: When we were assembling our original list, we had several discussions about the differences between a movie being "underrated" and a movie being "obscure." The obscurity factor was a big part of the reason why the New Zealand cult favorite The Quiet Earth was left off the first list - we simply didn't know very many people who had seen it and, if a movie is so obscure that most people have never really "rated" it in the first place, can it truly be considered UNDER-rated? (Please don't tell our bosses that we spent work-time having these kinds of conversations.) Of course, once our list went out to the unwashed masses on the internet, we discovered loads of people who knew and loved The Quiet Earth and, as such, we get to make up for our mistake now. TQE follows Zach, a New Zealand scientist who wakes up one morning to find out that, due to an experiment he was working on (the mysterious Project Flashlight), he may now be the last living person on Earth. Director Geoff Murphy does a stellar job at completely selling us on Zach's progression through various stages of grief and insanity and creates a gripping, inventive-as-hell story that would've made Rod Serling proud. Definitely worth finding a copy.
FIVE SCI-FI MOVIES THAT DEFINITELY AREN'T UNDERRATED
1. Equilibrium (2002)
Why We Ignored It: Sigh... stop practicing your gun-kata and move closer to the screen, Kurt Wimmer fans. Are you there yet? OK. Here's the thing - Equilibrium is, without a doubt, one of the most OVERRATED, silly-as-hell, pathetically-bad science fiction movies since Plan 9 from Outer Space. It's two hours of pretension and plot-holes masquerading as a "serious" sci-fi movie, but, in reality, it's about as deep as thimble. We have no idea how this weepy, half-thought-through Matrix rip-off developed the fan base it did, but please, for the good of humanity, start taking your daily doze of emotion-killing pills and stop caring about this ridiculously lame movie.
2. Event Horizon (1997)
Why We Ignored It: It was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the guy responsible for Mortal Kombat, Solider, Alien vs. Predator, and Death Race, and it's about a spaceship that travels to Hell.
3. The Fifth Element (1997)
Why We Ignored It: Don't get us wrong. There's a lot to like in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element - both Gary Oldman and Bruce Willis look like they're having a great time; the general premise is intriguing; and there's some fantastic design work (mostly revolving around Milla Jovovich's costume choices). But, in terms of tone, the movie is all over the place, flipping from slapstick goofiness to sci-fi action at the drop of a hat, and we're still getting over the headache Chris Tucker gave us with his Ruby Rhod voice eleven years later. It's not a bad movie, but underrated? Not so much.
4. Starship Troopers (1997)
Why We Ignored It: Before the smug Verhoeven fans get their knickers in a twist and start talking down to everyone, let us just say that, "Yes, we DO realize that Starship Troopers is supposed to be exaggerated, satirical, and ironic. Thanks for pointing out the obvious." But, to be honest, we've never really bought the "Well, it's supposed to be cheesy and bad" argument when it comes to Starship Troopers. Verhoeven did social satire so much more elegantly and subversively in Robocop, and it's just hard to like (or take seriously) a movie that is constantly winking at you about its oblivious, half-talented B-movie cast (NPH excluded, of course). It's an admittedly fun bug-hunt, but that's about it.
5. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Why We Ignored It: A.I. gets tons of grief in fanboy circles, but, it has to be said, it's a movie filled with beautiful moments and it unquestionably stands as one of the significant moments in Steven Spielberg's career - a moment when Spielberg shrugged off his common sense and decided to swing for the fences. Does the movie work? Not entirely, but you can't ignore the ideas and ambition driving the project. We could get off on a rant about how the movie should've ended 14 times before it did and how we just wanted to spend the whole story with Gigilo Joe, but the real reasons why we ignored the movie on our first list are simple: #1). The movie never really comes together in the end. #2). It's hard to call something that comes from the most successful director in the world "underrated."
Have we still not appeased your bloodlust? Do we need a verbal spanking for not realizing the cinematic glory of Paul Anderson the Lesser or Kurt "Worst Thing That Ever Happened to William Fitchner" Wimmer? Do you still really, really think that Blade Runner is underrated? (Sigh.) Sign up for a My VideoHound account today and let us know how you feel in the comments section below.