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From Barbarella to Howard the Duck: the 7 cheesiest sci-fi movies ever

The science-fiction genre has a vast smorgasbord of cheesy films stretching way back to the early days of cinema. Such pictures are known for their weird stories, unrealistic dialogue, low-budget productions, and exaggerated acting.

While many of these films have been panned by critics and audiences alike, some of them have garnered success for being “so bad, they’re good.” Whether or not they have been held up by a dedicated fan base, these seven movies stand out as the cream of the cheesy sci-fi crop.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon in "Flash Gordon" (1980).
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

Flash Gordon follows star New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon as he is thrust into space and a battle against Ming the Merciless to save the Earth from the evil emperor’s wrath.

Though this sci-fi romp is now considered a cult classic, and Queen delivers a killer soundtrack, much of this film is unintentionally hilarious, the acting is over-the-top, and both the visual effects and voice dubbing leave much to be desired. It’s also worth mentioning that Max von Sydow’s racist portrayal of Ming hasn’t aged well at all.

Barbarella (1968)

Jane Fonda in "Barbarella" (1968).
Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

Audiences can tell this film is a product of the Swinging ’60s. Barbarella follows the titular space traveler in the distant future as she is tasked with finding a scientist who has developed a weapon that could destroy the Earth.

This film is a futuristic fever dream with its psychedelic imagery, strange humor, and Jane Fonda’s oversexualized protagonist (case in point: there’s a scene in which the villain tries to kill Barbarella with a literal sex machine). Simply put, this film is the epitome of erotic sci-fi silliness, but it is one of the most fondly remembered films of its kind, particularly due to Fonda’s iconic performance.

Jason X (2001)

Uber Jason in "Jason X."
New Line Cinema / New Line Cinema

There’s jumping the shark, and then there’s sending the killer to space. After government scientists fail to unlock the secret of his immortality, Jason Voorhees gets frozen and is awoken in the distant future. From there, he terrorizes a group of teenagers on a spaceship during their field trip to Earth in one of the most out-there slashers of the 21st century.

The film does feature some creative kills courtesy of Jason (most notably crewmember Adrienne’s brutal death by liquid nitrogen). But with its premise of the Crystal Lake killer being turned into a cyborg, this sci-fi slasher tries too hard to revive a franchise that should’ve been put on ice a long time ago.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

A man holding a woman's body in his arms in "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Valiant Pictures / Valiant Pictures

To prevent humanity from using a weapon that could destroy the universe, a group of aliens starts resurrecting Earth’s dead to make everyone listen to them.

Plan 9 from Outer Space is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, with the verdict best summed up by none other than Jerry Seinfeld himself. Though it is rife with cheap visuals, blatant filming mistakes, and continuity errors, this shoddily-made film has garnered a cult following for being a laughably inept blend of classic alien and monster movie tropes.

Battlefield Earth (2000)

John Travolta in "Battlefield Earth."
Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

Based on the story by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, this film follows the war between enslaved humans and the tyrannical alien Psychlos in the year 3000.

Just about every aspect of this film has been criticized, and it is widely remembered as a disastrous blockbuster, with John Travolta going full ham in the lead role. Though Battlefield Earth was accused of promoting Scientology upon release, if this film taught audiences anything, it’s to be sparing with tilted angle shots.

Howard the Duck (1986)

Howard the Duck in "Howard the Duck."
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

Before Howard the Duck joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Guardians of the Galaxy, he had his own solo film back in the ’80s that got egg on everyone’s faces. The story depicts Howardas he gets sent from his home planet of Duckworld to Earth, where he gets a job as a janitor and battles the Dark Overlord of the Universe.

With its bizarre plot, juvenile humor, disjointed tone, and lackluster visual effects, this incoherent movie couldn’t seem to crack bringing the comic book character everyone knew and loved to the big screen.

The Happening (2008)

Mark Wahlberg in "The Happening" (2008).
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

In one of M. Night Shyamalan‘s most hated films, a group of people fights to stay alive when a mysterious natural disaster compels people to kill themselves. The Happening plays like a cheap sci-fi B-movie from the ’50s due to its unconvincing performances, odd dialogue, and poorly executed twist.

Though it tries to convey an environmentalist message, the movie gets so bogged down in its goofiness that audiences can’t tell whether or not the entire thing was meant to be taken seriously, leaving everyone just as confused as star Mark Wahlberg.

Editors' Recommendations

Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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