10 Underrated Sci-Fi Horror Movies, Ranked


Rarely have two genres been able to complement one another in such an effective and transformative way as science fiction and horror in the medium of film. The vast possibilities and fear that can come from futuristic technological advancements and alien species have made science fiction a perfect fit for numerous legendary horror films over the years. Films like Alien and The Thing show just how much mileage can be attained from the combination of these two genres, creating one of the best genre combinations in film history.

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However, for every massive critical or financial success story that comes from science fiction horror, there are still a number of great underrepresented stories and films that deserve their own time in the spotlight. There are no limits to the creativity that science fiction has provided for the horror genre, which, combined with horror filmmaking’s lower budget requirements, results in a great deal of hidden gems being created. Whether they were critically panned at the time or simply couldn’t find their audience, many underrated sci-fi horror films deserve to be recognized for their strengths.

10 ‘Splice’ (2009)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Image via Warner Bros.

Splice follows the story of young scientists Elsa and Clive, who decide to rebel against all legal and ethical ramifications and go forward with a dangerous and unprecedented experiment. They splice together human and animal DNA together in an attempt to create a new, never-before-seen organism. The creature in question, known as ‘Dren’, starts life as a deformed infant before eventually growing into a beautiful yet dangerous winged human-chimera who begins to form a bond with her creators. However, this bond soon proves itself to be much more dangerous than anticipated.

While the ‘experiment gone wrong’ is far from original in the sci-fi horror realm, what makes Splice works as well as it does is the effects work that still holds up greatly to this day. Drea is such an interesting and compelling creature design-wise, as the character grows to be more nuanced and dynamic as the film goes on, a far cry from the standard of creature features like this. While the controversial ending left audiences mixed upon its release, it’s difficult to deny the excellent filmmaking chops on display here.

Splice
Release Date
October 6, 2009

Director
Vincenzo Natali

Runtime
90

Rent on Amazon Prime

9 ‘Pontypool’ (2008)

Director: Bruce McDonald

Georgina Reilly in Pontypool

Pontypool follows the story of disc jockey Grant Mazzy, who, on coming in for what seems to be another day of work at his basement radio station, begins seeing reports on air of the spread of a zombie virus. Mazzy soon takes the initiative and barricades himself inside his radio booth, hoping to be able to find a way to warn his listeners about the virus and, in the process, find out how it works and spreads. Mazzy’s time is limited, however, as the virus is slowly making its way toward his booth and his coworkers.

While the film technically predates the massive explosion of the zombie film that would dominate the 2010s, Pontypool is still a highly experimental and one-of-a-kind take on a zombie film. The film focuses much less on the physical horror of the zombie threat, instead exploring the character dynamics and internal struggles of people in their immediate reactions to this apocalyptic event. Especially for fans of modern zombie shows and media, Pontypool acts as a great underrated gem that finds ways to consistently deliver and surprise.

Watch on Shudder

8 ‘Spring’ (2014)

Directors: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson

spring 2014
Image via Drafthouse Films

Spring follows the story of Evan, a young man dealing with a personal downward spiral, and decides to attempt to find a solution via a sudden trip to Italy, fleeing from his obligations in the US. While in Italy, Evan miraculously finds what seems to be the girl of his dreams, fostering a genuine relationship with someone that he knows nothing about. However, as this spur-of-the-moment relationship continues, Evan begins to learn the terrifying supernatural truth behind his supposed perfect match, ending up in an even worse and more chaotic situation than before.

Spring combined sci-fi horror with romance to create an engaging and unpredictable story of love and betrayal across the countryside that easily brings audiences to the edge of their seats. The film acts as a great subversion and bait and switch to everything that would be expected from its creature feature angle, able to tell a compelling and genuine story of unconditional and blinding love. Especially for fans of Moorhead and Benson’s other works, Spring is a must-watch that fully delivers on its ingenious premise.

Watch on Tubi

7 ‘Circle’ (2015)

Directors: Aaron Hann, Mario Miscione

The cast standing around together in 2015's Circle
Image via Taggart Productions

A simple yet highly disturbing single-room horror film, Circle sees 50 strangers awaken and unable to move in a mysterious room in a circular formation. Without any memory of how they got there, they attempt to learn more about themselves and how to escape. Soon enough, the dreadful game begins, as they learn that every two minutes, one of the 50 people will die, with the group forced to vote on who will be executed by the strange device at the center of the room.

Circle makes excellent use of its small budget and single location by focusing directly on the inherent dread and interpersonal human connections and deception that come from its painful premise. It’s far from perfect in its execution, but it does enough with its premise to insight into further discussion and allow for a great number of shocking moments and surprises throughout. Especially with how very few characters actually have names, it makes it incredibly easy for an audience to place themselves into the situation and consider how they would deal with the deadly killing game of social deduction.

Watch on Netflix

6 ‘Slither’ (2006)

Director: James Gunn

Michael Rooker as Grant Grant holding Elizabeth Banks as Starla Grant in Slither
Image via Universal Pictures

Before he would go on to direct Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, James Gunn‘s directorial debut was Slither, a wild and chaotic body horror-filled sci-fi horror comedy. The film saw a small town having to deal with the unexpected consequences of an alien invasion, with the hivemind plague slowly taking over the entire town and turning them into mindless zombies. However, more than just world domination, the alien also has an unexpected goal after harboring a loving crush on one of the town’s residents and the wife of the first man infected.

Slither is filled with the same beautiful style and vision as Gunn’s more popular works, just with a nice heaping of brilliantly disgusting effects and a multitude of bloody and gory carnage. However, this excess of gore and death doesn’t stop the film from having genuine heartfelt moments and effective comedy with its cast of hilarious characters. The film also features terrific performances from the likes of Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Banks, and Nathan Fillion.

Slither
Release Date
March 31, 2006

Runtime
96

Rent on Amazon Prime

5 ‘Oxygen’ (2021)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Melanie Laurent on the floor looking desperate in the movie Oxygen.
Image via Netflix

Oxygen follows the story of a woman who has woken up inside a cryogenic chamber with no memories of her former life or how she ended up in the chamber. However, with the chamber running out of air, she must figure out not only who she is and how she got here, but also how to preserve her own life in an increasingly distressing claustrophobic space. As she uncovers the smallest of details about herself and her situation, she begins to paint the biggest picture and scope of everything around her, further increasing the stakes of her survival.

Oxygen makes great usage out of its minuscule singular location, acting like a futuristic sci-fi equivalent of a film like Buried, where the core of what makes the film work so well is the lead performance. In this case, Mélanie Laurent makes terrific usage of the premise, going through nearly every cycle of grief, desperation, and anger while acting as an easily rootable central protagonist. The film also features a surprising amount of twists and turns to keep it highly unpredictable and engaging despite its singular cold and isolating location.

Oxygen
Release Date
May 12, 2021

Director
Alexandre Aja
Cast
Mélanie Laurent , Mathieu Amalric , Marc Saez , Malik Zidi , Eric Herson-Macarel , Cathy Cerda

Runtime
100 minutes

Watch on Netflix

4 ‘The Cell’ (2000)

Director: Tarsem Singh

Vincent D'Onofrio in The Cell
Image via New Line Cinema 

The Cell follows the story of Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), a psychotherapist who uses a special technology in able to enter and analyze the dreams of her patients. She is soon recruited for her expertise in able to find the hidden location of a serial killer’s latest victim by traveling into his comatose mind to find the answer. However, the mind of a deranged killer proves to be incredibly dangerous to navigate, as Catherine is at risk of losing her own mind in the process.

The Cell works wonders thanks to its simple yet ingenious premise, allowing for a wide number of striking imagery and nightmare visuals to help amplify the themes and story being told. The film also plays against the perceived notions of a number of its main stars, as horror as a genre is something rarely seen from Lopez. Its distinct horror elements help it stick out from other high-concept sci-fi movies of the early 2000s, as The Cell finds its style aligning much more with the trends and tone of a modern-day psychological horror film.

The Cell
Release Date
August 17, 2000

Runtime
107

Rent on Amazon Prime

3 ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’ (2010)

Director: Panos Cosmatos

beyond the black rainbow0

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a psychedelic sci-fi horror experience that sees a young girl named Elena who is at the center of a massive research facility dedicated to testing and experiments surrounding her powers. Elena can only communicate with people through telepathy, which combined with her other innate psychic abilities, has numerous scientists attempting to use her to find the link between science and spirituality. However, Elena is attempting to break out of the facility for good, hoping to lead a normal life and escape the wrath of her experimenters.

The style of psychedelic horror filmmaking lends itself greatly to a science fiction lens, creating additional layers of depth from Elena’s struggles with her powers that ironically confine her instead of freeing her. It’s the type of heavily symbolic horror film that demands to be rewatched time and time again in order to pick up on more nuanced details that were missed on previous watches, making each watch its own experience.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Release Date
December 3, 2010

Director
Panos Cosmatos

Cast
Michael Rogers , Eva Allan , Scott Hylands , Marilyn Norry , Rondel Reynoldson , Ryley Zinger

Runtime
110

Watch on Fubo

2 ‘Cube’ (1997)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Maurice Dean Wint in a strange room in 1997's Cube
Image via Cube Libre

Cube takes a more nuanced sci-fi approach to the classic mysterious death game formula, seeing a group of strangers trapped inside a maze-like prison, filled to the brim with deadly traps and no signs of life. However, each member of the core group provides the requirements for them to escape the seemingly inescapable cube, forcing them to team up, despite their differences. However, the high stakes and danger of the cube prove to be too much for the group, as they slowly find themselves falling apart and gunning for each other before the cube inevitably kills them.

Tone and atmosphere are everything when it comes to this type of enclosed-location horror film, which is a feat that Cube excels greatly in, making it a defining film within the genre as a whole. While the film still certainly has its amazing character moments and philosophical themes with each character in the film, Cube still has a tremendously creative world and setting, filled with equal parts intrigue and dread. While the film would get a couple of bland and uninteresting sequels, the original film is still a masterclass in sci-fi horror.

Cube (1997)
Release Date
September 9, 1997

Director
Vincenzo Natali

Cast
Nicole de Boer , Nicky Guadagni , David Hewlett , Andrew Miller , Julian Richings , Wayne Robson , Maurice Dean Wint

Runtime
1h 30m

Watch on Amazon Prime

1 ‘The Faculty’ (1998)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood standing next to each other and others standing behind them in The Faculty

The Faculty combines the screenwriting of Scream writer Kevin Williamson with the wild directing of Robert Rodriguez to create a perfect match of coming-of-age sci-fi horror. The film sees an alien parasite slowly infecting a local high school, starting with all the teachers and faculty before slowly spreading to the rest of the students. It soon becomes up to a group of unexpected outcast students to team up to put a stop to this parasite takeover and save not just their school but the entire world.

There’s a level of self-awareness and respect for the audience that The Faculty has towards its proceedings and plot that makes it work exceptionally well. While it certainly does feature some great horror sequences and interesting alien concepts, the back and forth and interaction between the core main group of teens transforms the film into a true hidden gem. It almost feels like the apex end goal of teen horror movies of the 90s, combining all the classic archetypes and styles into one amazing, comedically charged time that still holds up wonders in the modern era of horror sci-fi films.

The Faculty
Release Date
December 25, 1998

Runtime
104 minutes

Watch on PlutoTV

NEXT: The 15 Most Underrated Sci-Fi Movies, Ranked According to Letterboxd

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