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7 obscure sci-fi movies from the 1990s you need to watch right now

The 1990s was a fantastic decade for sci-fi. From movies like The Fifth Element and Contact to TV shows like The X-Files and Roswell, it was an absolutely stellar era for iconic and memorable genre entertainment. But the ’90s are also full of sci-fi movies that many people have totally (and sadly) forgotten about.

From Sharon Stone exploring the depths of the ocean to T2′s Robert Patrick struggling with an alien abduction, and even a pre-X-Men Famke Janssen fighting for her life on the high seas, the ’90s holds a treasure trove of totally overlooked, obscure sci-fi movies just begging to be watched. If you’re a fan of science fiction and are looking for something new to check out, be sure to watch these seven movies.

The 13th Floor (1999)

A man enters a simulation in The 13th Floor
Columbia Pictures

In 1999, the world is loaded with VR realms, and Hannon Fuller runs a giant virtual reality simulator designed to look like Los Angeles circa 1937. Inside the simulation, tons of AI citizens exist, living their lives completely unaware that they’re not real (in the same vein as Westworld). But The 13th Floor is loaded with twists – one of which is that an AI resident in the simulation has built his own VR world. The entire film is super trippy and toward the end, it becomes unclear whether the protagonists are living in reality … or a simulation.

Though the movie received mixed reviews upon release, with some praising it and others calling it confusing, it has aged well. It explores many of the same themes as The Matrix, making it an interesting watch for any Wachowski fans out there. The 13th Floor was also one of the first major roles for Gretchen Mol, who is best known for starring as Gillian Darmody in Boardwalk Empire.

Sphere (1998)

The team discovers a mysterious sphere in Sphere
Warner Bros.

While most sci-fi movies were taking audiences to space to fight aliens, Sphere went in the opposite direction, plunging viewers to the depths of the Pacific Ocean. There, a ship is discovered, and inside it sits a giant sphere. The sphere gives whoever enters it the power to make their fears come to life, turning the movie into somewhat of a psychological thriller.

The best part about Sphere is that it’s pretty ridiculous. Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone make an odd pair, and the manifested fears that attack them are absolutely wild (in the best kind of way). From a giant squid to a horde of poisonous jellyfish, and even a totally fictitious prehistoric anglerfish-like sea snake, the movie is pure nautical nonsense.

And yet, despite how wacky Sphere is, its deep-sea setting makes everything dark and claustrophobic, somehow turning even the most cheesy gag into a genuinely suspenseful scene. In 2020, it was even announced that HBO was making a series based on Sphere, but since its initial announcement, little has been said about the project.

Fire in the Sky (1993)

Aliens prepare a man for an autopsy in Fire in the Sky
Paramount Pictures

Based on the “autobiography” of Travis Walton, who claims he was abducted by aliens in the 1970s, Fire in the Sky is a solid entry in the alien abduction subgenre. Though Walton claims he was probed by aliens in a sterile, hospital-like facility, the movie went for a more gritty, slimy, macabre alien race (a perfect example of how differently people imagined aliens pre- and post-Ridley Scott’s Alien movie).

While it’s a complete deviation from what Walton actually described, the movie’s alien autopsy scene is downright disturbing and is perfect for anyone who loves body horror and practical effects – especially since we haven’t had a good abduction movie for quite a few years now.

Walton is still alive today and has continued to rack up publicity for his supposed abduction, getting his own special on Travel Channel, appearing on Joe Rogan’s podcast, and regularly making appearances at UFO conferences. Whether you believe his story or not, the movie definitely has some great scenes that sci-fi fans will love.

eXistenZ (1999)

A man gets a plug inserted into his back in Existenz
Dimension Films

Considering that it was written, directed, and produced by David Cronenberg and starred Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, it’s shocking that eXistenZ didn’t get a wide theatrical release, and instead faded into obscurity. The movie received stellar reviews at the festivals where it screened and was even nominated for awards at the esteemed Berlin Film Festival. And yet, unless you’re a hardcore genre fan, you’re probably unaware it even exists.

It centers around a VR designer who is hated by “realists” — a group of humans who revolt against VR because its heavy usage has started blurring the lines of reality. Similar to The 13th Floor, eXistenZ is all about keeping audiences guessing and forcing them to constantly question which events are happening in the real world and which are happening in a simulation. However, in typical Cronenberg style, expect the movie to be grittier, sadder, more disturbing, and more thought-provoking.

Body Snatchers (1993)

An alien takes a human shape in Body Snatchers
Warner Bros.

Body-snatching movies made a resurgence in the ’90s.  There was 1994’s The Puppet Masters, a direct adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel starring a hammy Donald Sutherland; 1998’s The Faculty, Robert Rodriguez’s modern-day take on the same story; and 1993’s Body Snatchers, an adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In the latter movie, an alien race of “pod people” come to Earth and begin sucking the life out of humans and replacing them with replicas. The entire film is loaded with a sense of despair as you watch the human race fall victim to alien parasites, but that intensity also makes the movie more scary and suspenseful.

Body Snatchers premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won over critics, including Roger Ebert, who was notoriously a bit of grouch when it came to the horror and sci-fi genres. He awarded the movie 4 stars, and a slew of other critics praised the film as well. Sadly, the great reviews didn’t score the movie a wide release. It premiered in just 13 theaters, hindering its success before it even had a chance.

Deep Rising (1998)

The sea monster grabs a victim in Deep Rising
Hollywood Pictures

Despite being an absolute box office failure (earning only $11.2 million), Deep Rising has become a cult classic and found an audience that appreciates its action-horror concept. In the film, a cruise ship is raided by pirates who want to steal everyone’s money and sink the ship. Little do they know the ship has already been invaded by giant leech-like monsters that have eaten virtually everyone onboard. For a cheap ’90s movie, the CGI effects aren’t that bad and Deep Rising even has some fantastic body horror elements since the monsters secrete an acidic stomach bile.

Starring a totally random cast including Djimon Hounsou, Famke Janssen, and the late Treat Williams, the movie is difficult to categorize. It’s sorta action-packed, but also a bit like a horror movie. It sorta takes itself seriously, but also kinda knows it was a joke. For anyone who wants a traditional horror or action experience, the movie will likely be very off-putting. But for those viewers out there who don’t mind a film that’s an odd mishmash of genres, as well as 100% totally off the deep end, then Deep Rising is for you.

Cube (1997)

The survivors see a way out of the cube in Cube
Cube Libre

Despite being a movie that many peoplehaven’t even heard of, Cube has a lasting legacy that’s heavily impacted sci-fi and horror. The movie has spawned two sequels, a 2021 Japanese remake, and is credited with serving as the inspiration for movies like Circle (2015) and The Platform (2019). Plus, many argue that its trap-based, game-like design might even be the precursor to the Saw franchise. In the film, five strangers wake up in a giant mechanical cube that’s connected to other cubes, all of which make up one giant ever-shifting cube. Their only goal is to escape.

Throughout the movie, audiences are left wondering why this group was chosen, who put them in the cube, and why any of this is happening. Paranoia, fear, and dread begin to consume the group, adding an aspect of psychological horror to the mix, turning Cube into a masterwork of suspense and anxiety. While it’s certainly not a feel-good movie, it’s incredibly captivating and impressively made considering its tiny budget of just $365,000.

Keith Langston
Keith Langston has been obsessed with entertainment ever since he was a kid. He fully believes The Faculty and Deep Blue Sea…
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