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

Science fiction continues to be a popular genre that has only improved over the years, with its wide scope of influence seen in upcoming Marvel movies and major releases like Avatar: The Way of Water (which premiered last December 16, 2022). It’s not just blockbusters that deserve praise and attention from viewers, though, as there are numerous hidden gems that fans on Letterboxd believe are worth watching.

The social media platform’s “Showdown” topic, “Predestination,” makes it easy to find the must-see and top underrated sci-fi movies. These range from creative and imperfect works like A Scanner Darkly to stunning box office flops like Ad Astra.

Updated on May 8, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

With this year’s Oscar winners including instant classic sci-fi films like Everything Everywhere All at Once and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, it’s clear that the genre has reached new heights and will likely continue to produce beloved blockbusters. That said, there’s no shortage of the best underrated sci-fi movies out there, with Letterboxd users’ personal lists serving as much-needed nods to these overlooked gems.



15 ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006)

Keanu Reeves and Woody Harrelson in A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Image via Warner Independent Pictures

Inspired by Philip K. Dick‘s 1977 book of the same name, A Scanner Darkly imagines a dystopian future in which the US has lost the war on drugs. Substance D, a potent new narcotic, is sweeping the country, and undercover agent Bob Arctor is entrusted with finding a means to stem the tide of the pandemic. Soon, the protagonist starts to experience an identity and reality crisis as a result of taking the drug.

Not surprisingly, given the film’s unconventional aesthetic and provocative plot, it is among the Criterion Collection’s best hidden gems. The film’s premise referencing the opioid epidemic is reinforced by its innovative animation style, which relies on interpolated rotoscope to produce surreal yet stunning visuals.

Watch on Kanopy

14 ‘Prospect’ (2018)

Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher in Prospect
Image Via Dust (Gunpowder & Sky)

Among the most criminally overlooked sci-fi movies, Prospect transports viewers to a distant planet where a memorable father-daughter duo (masterfully played by Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher) searches for valuable minerals. When the two come across a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure, they’re forced to make some tough decisions.

Directed by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, the film is a masterclass in world-building, as it manages to present a limited yet believable environment that makes its story more immersive. Of course, Pascal and Thatcher’s compelling performances can’t be discounted either, as they bring out the best in the flawed yet relatable characters that make it easier to feel invested in their wild journey.

Watch on Kanopy

13 ‘Looper’ (2012)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

In one of the best unknown sci-fi movies, Looper, victims are sent back in time to 2044 by a criminal organization from 2074, so that they can be murdered and disposed of by the “loopers” hired by that group. Joe is one of the loopers who has a hard time killing his future self when he emerges in the present. The conflict that arises between the two is fascinating to see, as Joe’s future self strives to alter his present.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film has a unique and disturbing perspective on the societal consequences of time travel, making it a true standout in the genre. It’s a more intimate and exhilarating take on the concept, with a truly explosive and unforgettable ending that isn’t afraid to tackle a paradox.

Watch on Freevee

12 ‘Source Code’ (2011)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code

Director Duncan JonesSource Code follows the soldier Captain Colter Stevens, who one day wakes up on a moving train with no idea of who he is or how he got there. Soon, he learns that he’s part of the titular government experiment, which lets him take control of a stranger’s mind for eight minutes before they’re killed in a bombing on that train heading to Chicago. He has to find the bomber and stop the attack before it’s too late.

With an intriguing and novel premise (not to mention an astounding performance from the lead, Jake Gyllenhaal), Source Code easily engrosses audiences as the protagonist jumps from one mind to another. Each new mind brings fresh information, adding a mystery element to the suspenseful sci-fi thriller.

Watch on Showtime

11 ‘Existenz’ (1999)

existenz willem dafoe
Image via Miramax Films

David Cronenberg‘s Existenz (stylized as eXistenZ) is a futuristic sci-fi horror movie set in a world where the titular virtual reality game has taken over. The game’s talented but flawed creator has to cope with ruthless assassins while navigating an increasingly thin divide between real life and the virtual world she created.

The movie makes viewers stop and think about how technology is changing the world and human lives. This central theme is coupled with a thrilling storyline and impressive visual effects, all of which make it a favorite among Cronenberg fans.

Watch on Showtime

10 ‘Colossal’ (2016)

Anne Hathaway in Colossal
Image via Neon

Director Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is a creative and comedic film that follows an initially average woman named Gloria, who loses her job and her boyfriend and moves back to her hometown. Soon, news of a giant monster in Seoul forces her to connect the dots and realize her role in the catastrophic situation.

With its genuinely original premise and convincing performances, the movie is guaranteed to make viewers laugh. While its plot does get a little too wild at some point, it more than makes up for it with the novel concept and satisfying ending audiences get.

Watch on Prime Video

9 ‘Event Horizon’ (1997)

Event Horizon - Astronaut

Director Paul W. S. Anderson’s Event Horizon is a film that needs no introduction. Set in 2047, the movie revolves around a group of courageous astronauts sent to retrieve the eponymous spaceship, which was previously missing for seven years. Their journey to Neptune doesn’t end how they (or anyone) expects, though, as a nefarious and mysterious force complicates their mission.

Though commercially unsuccessful, Event Horizon eventually became a cult classic once fans recognized the entertainment value in its deep-seated references, cheesy shocking moments, and absolutely wild plot.

Watch on Paramount+

8 ‘Cube’ (1997)

Four confused people in a strange room

Cube is a sci-fi horror movie that blends the genres well. It’s centered on a group of six people, who wake up in a strange maze-like structure and are forced to work together to escape. They soon learn how dangerous their prison is, as there are a lot of horrific surprises in store for the victims with each new room they discover.

There’s no denying that its dated special effects and unlikable characters haven’t aged well, but director Vincenzo Natali’s masterpiece has predictably gained a cult following. Its impressive set pieces and suspenseful tone keep it engrossing throughout, not to mention its quirky and surreal vibe that’s way ahead of its time.

Watch on Tubi

7 ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)

Halle Berry in 'Cloud Atlas'
Image via Cloud Atlas Productions

Written and directed by the Wachowskis based on the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is an epic sci-fi movie that tells a complex narrative spread out through six eras. The individual stories have far-reaching effects, underscoring the impact one life has on the grand concept of time.

The film was understandably polarizing when it was first released. Its main weakness is often pointed out to be the fact that it tries to do so much that each element doesn’t ever fully feel complete. However, it’s worth re-evaluating today, if only to see the spectacle that is its fantastical universe and ambitious weaving together of numerous storylines.

6 ‘The Fountain’ (2006)

The Fountain - 2006

Director Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is an ambitious film that is centered on two lovers who are linked together across three different points in time. Each version of the couple is tragic in some manner, as the man is fated to lose the woman he loves in one way or another.

The riveting movie attempts to deliver a philosophical message about love and mortality, which is done so in an otherworldly way that can be both intriguing and hard to connect with. That said, its gorgeous visual effects and brilliant use of match cuts to further emphasize connections make it easy to appreciate how much work and effort went into making the underrated film.

5 ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’ (2001)

Haley Joel Osment with other robot children in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Image via Warner Bros.

Initially started by director Stanley Kubrick before being passed on to Steven Spielberg, A.I. Artificial Intelligence follows a childlike android who is programmed to know how to love. When he’s adopted by human parents, it’s soon clear that he doesn’t quite fit into the family the way an average human should.

The influences of the two directors who worked on the movie is easy to see, with Kubrick’s sophisticated cinematography and Spielberg’s narrative style creating a truly unique viewing experience. It’s this same strength that can make the film fall short and feel disjointed, but for those who enjoy it, the protagonist’s journey can be both philosophical and heartbreaking.

Watch on Paramount+

4 ‘The Vast Of Night’ (2019)

Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night
Image via Amazon

Set in New Mexico during the 1950s, The Vast of Night is centered on the experiences of the switchboard operator Fay Crocker and radio DJ Everett Sloan who come across a strange audio frequency. They soon understand that it’s not just any anomaly, but one that could be coming from extraterrestrial life forms.

Directed by Andrew Patterson, the unassuming low-budget sci-fi mystery film chooses to rely heavily on well-timed practical effects and immaculate sound design to build a tense atmosphere. Coupled with its charming protagonists and nostalgic backdrop, and it’s surprising that it isn’t more popular.

Watch on Prime Video

3 ‘High Life’ (2018)

Two astronauts, one man and one woman look through the window towards the sun aboard their spacecraft
Image via A24

Undoubtedly among the most underrated space movies, director Claire DenisHigh Life portrays the story of a group of criminals sent into outer space and towards a black hole. Along the way, they serve as expendable lab rats to glean information about the celestial body. Among the criminals are Monte and his young daughter, who are soon embroiled in a mysterious circumstance as they get closer to their destination.

Fans of space movies should consider the A24 sci-fi horror film essential viewing. Its mind-bending depiction of space travel is raw, artful, honest, and original. Audiences can expect to be both mesmerized and horrified as the film attempts to explore beguiling themes like humanity, eroticism, and faith.

Watch on Showtime

2 ‘Tenet’ (2020)

John David Washington as Protagonist in Tenet
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

When a CIA agent passes a risky test to join a secretive organization in Tenet, he learns unbelievable things about the way humans are manipulating time. He soon has to master it himself as he’s sent on a critical mission to prevent an attack from the future, but later realizes there’s more to the task than what they told him.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, the sci-fi thriller is worth seeing because of its ambitious premise, stellar performances, and thrilling story. Tenet’s confusing ending sequence can be a lot to take in, and a second viewing may be necessary to fully appreciate the concepts Nolan puts forward.

Watch on DirecTV

1 ‘Ad Astra’ (2019)

Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) in 'Ad Astra'

Director James Gray’s Ad Astra follows the challenging quest astronaut Roy McBride goes on following an enigmatic string of events around the planet. He soon learns that his father’s obsession with finding alien life has a dark connection to what’s happening all over the solar system. His mission is to brave the vastness of space to find his missing father and ensure the human race’s survival.

What should have been a box office hit had an underwhelming yet positive reception from both fans and critics. The sci-fi thriller is bold, enthralling, and an excellent example of how far the genre has come. Audiences will be captivated by its beautiful visuals and rooting for its nuanced characters.

Watch on DirecTV

NEXT: The Most Underrated Sci-Fi Movies of the Last Decade


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