The horror season is fast-approaching, but unfortunately, COVID-19 has stalled blockbusters and dampened the flow of great new films, so this seems like a perfect opportunity to return to some of the best sci-fi horror movies. There are hundreds of movies that fit this genre, but only a select few are genuinely worth watching due to their cinematic brilliance, awe-inspiring visuals, and engaging plots.
While not the scariest in the face of the contemporary pieces being released, Frankenstein (1910) marked the beginning of the blend of science fiction and horror in cinemas. Alraune (1918) followed suit with a similar pretense, though this is considered a “lost” film that has spawned many remakes. Ever since, sci-fi horror has emerged as a revered genre, celebrated by movie enthusiasts and sci-fi aficionados alike. Listed below are some of the best sci-fi horror movies to come out of the genre, according to critics and viewers alike.
It’s difficult to find a list regarding science fiction movies or horror movies that don’t mention this classic by Ridley Scott. The same director that created Blade Runner (1982), Scott directed a masterpiece, as critics have called it, of existential significance in his imaginative telling of this horrifying story.
Set aboard the ship Nostromo, Alien follows the crew as they respond to a nearby planet that has been determined to be the source of a distress beacon. As with most horror movies, this doesn’t go well and the crew is forced to face off with a creature of terrible capabilities.
The alien, designed by the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger. who is known for strange and unsettling designs, achieved international fame, and in 1980 received the Academy Award for “Best Achievement for Visual Effects”.
Technically a prequel to Alien, Prometheus distinguishes itself as a standalone film of merit. The movie provides some context to the Alien world, which had long since developed into an entire franchise, without burdening viewers with too much background information.
Prometheus tells the story of a team of scientists and researchers exploring a star chart recovered from ancient civilizations on Earth, and believing that it will point the way to the location of humanity’s ancestor. While they do find the predecessors, the trip paves the way for the unfortunate events of Alien.
Inspiration for the plot came from Chariot of the Gods?, written by Erich Von Däniken in 1968. Von Däniken’s book theorized that the human race had been visited by an advanced extraterrestrial race, who bestowed the religion and technology that ancient humans relied on.
Critics have lamented over the incredible visuals and unnerving ideas presented in Annihilation, which shows Natalie Portman in the lead role as Lena, a brilliant biologist determined to understand what happened to her husband. Brought in to explore an unexplainable zone that appeared following a meteorite crash, he returns and leaves Lena with a few too many questions.
Critics that didn’t love it were quick to point out that the dialogue was a bit clunky and awkward, and that the relationships weren’t quite plausible. Still, everyone agrees that the final thirty minutes of this movie are positively terrifying and make up for everything that happens before.
Annihilation is based on the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy, written by Jeff VanderMeer. Joshua Rothman with the New Yorker points out that with the trilogy, VanderMeer “transcended ‘weird’” and rightfully so. There’s never been a world quite like the one imagined here.
Under the Skin (2014)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, this existential film follows a beautiful woman, who is later shown to be an alien, as she struggles to adapt to the harsh realities of life as a woman. Though the beginning of the film depicts her luring unsuspecting men to their implied deaths, the dynamic shifts as she begins to explore the implications of her role as a perceived woman.
Produced by A24, the powerhouse behind Midsommar (2019), Hereditary (2018), and The Witch (2015), expectations were high when Under the Skin was released. Viewers have generally been more skeptical of this film’s overall value, but critics agree that it is a brilliant reflection of humanity.
The bizarre void that appears during the final moments for the victims was actually made using a black glass floor, which is another testament to how imaginative this film is. Just be prepared: it’s confusing.
Event Horizon (1997)
While critics have been extremely harsh on this film, with it boasting a low 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is one movie where it’s safe to ignore the professionals and listen to the amateurs. Viewers adore this cult classic existential horror film, which seems to blend Hellraiser (1987) and Alien, creating a perfect visualization of deep space exploration gone wrong.
The plot follows Lawerence Fishburne and his crew, which includes an eccentric Sam Neill, as they are tasked with recovering the lost Event Horizon, a deep space ship that disappeared for seven years and miraculously reappeared near Neptune. Things seem fine until they board the ship, which has more to offer than they were led to believe.
Event Horizon absolutely bombed at the box office. It could be argued that this was the result of poor marketing or an overinflated budget, but it has since become a staple in the best sci-fi horror movies collection. The original cut of the film was thirty minutes longer, but most of that content was cut due to it being exceptionally disturbing.
What’s Next for Horror in Science Fiction?
With the pandemic raging on and many studios stalling movie releases, it’s difficult to say what we can expect to come next. While not a horror film, Dune (2020) is set to be released in December and is allegedly going to be the sci-fi film to end all sci-fi. Based on one of the most celebrated science fiction novels of all time, this is a highly anticipated film.
Several other movies, including The Green Knight, another hotly anticipated fantasy movie from A24, do not have a set release date.