Though the 1980s were a terrific time for science-fiction films, there were a few members of the genre that didn’t get the recognition they deserve and faded into relative obscurity. Many of them did generate a decent cult following over the years, yet they remain underrated pieces of cinema that demand to be seen by a much wider audience.
So for audiences looking for a new sci-fi movie to get on board with, check out these seven films from the ’80s that stand out as some of the genre’s unsung wonders.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
Director Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter depicts a teenager from Earth who gets drafted into an intergalactic war after getting the high score in a special arcade game. Basically, Star Wars meets Tron, this space opera isn’t the most original sci-fi film to come out of the ’80s.
However, it’s still a simple but exciting adventure that feels like it was taken straight out of a video game, and there’s an endearing sense of love and wonder in the story and its characters that can appeal to audiences of all ages. Likewise, the special effects, though unrealistic today, are amongst the first large-scale uses of CGI to create a movie, making it a must-see for film aficionados.
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Though 2010 is the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a surprising amount of people don’t even acknowledge its existence. This film may not have reached the level of cinematic genius of Kubrick’s original film, but director Peter Hyams’s follow-up is still a terrific sci-fi adventure that answers the lingering questions over what happened to Dave Bowman and HAL on their fateful voyage to Jupiter. It also gives audiences a marvelously heartfelt ending that is sure to make them consider their place in the universe.
Time Bandits (1981)
Directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, this surreal adventure follows a young boy who gets dragged through time by a group of thieves who steal treasure from different eras using a mystical map. With a gang of time-traveling dwarfs, an evil wizard who hates slugs, and God as a giant echoing head, this film is the clever and bizarre tale one would expect from a former Python. Audiences will feel like they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole as they experience this film’s ambitious story, quirky humor, and phantasmagorical visuals.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
As the second film in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy,” Prince of Darkness follows a priest and a group of quantum physics students as they encounter Satan in the form of a sentient green liquid that takes control of anyone it touches. Unlike most demonic possession movies, this combines science and religion to create an intriguing and thought-provoking idea of how God and the Devil could exist.
Fans of Carpenter’s The Thing will undoubtedly see the similarities in both of these films, which, along with the performances by Donald Pleasance and Alice Cooper, makes this cosmic horror worth a viewing.
This underrated horror comedy follows a troubled teenager who believes his wealthy family is part of a murderous sex cult. While this film may be undermined by its B-movie acting and humor, it still has a unique and surprising story with a clever commentary about society’s upper class that feels even more relevant today. Also, the movie’s shocking third act features some of the most realistic and grotesque body horror effects you will ever see.
Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, this horror film follows two scientists who experiment with a neon green serum that can resurrect dead bodies, which naturally has terrible consequences when used on human corpses in the vein of Pet Sematary and Frankenstein.
It may come across as cheesy and over-the-top at times, but thanks to some killer practical effects and a frightening score inspired by Psycho, Re-Animator retains a classic horror feel that should please die-hard fans of the genre.
The Entity (1982)
Unlike the other films on this list, The Entity is actually based on a true story. The Entity follows a single mother with a traumatic past who is haunted and sexually assaulted by an invisible, extradimensional force. Though it isn’t as popular as similar classics like The Exorcist or Poltergeist, it is still a visceral and nightmarish depiction of trauma and how it can continue manifesting in one’s life, elevated by Barbara Hershey’s outstanding performance. It was even called one of the scariest films of all time by none other than director Martin Scorsese, which should make any cinephile want to see it for themselves.