When choosing the best sci-fi films, it’s hard not to miss one occasionally or get swept up in the mainstream films of that time. Robots, aliens, and time travel movies pushed the early aughts into a new era of technology-based cinema with a unique style. A genre shift in science fiction could explain why some films, such as space operas, shifted into more dystopian movies later on.
With the sheer number of films released in this genre every year, it is not hard to imagine that a few underrated gems get swept under the rug. These films have been panned by critics and widely ignored by audiences, but a second look has given them the credit they deserve.
9 ‘Supernova’ (2000)
Supernova follows the adventures of a six-member deep-space hospital, Nightingale 229, in the early 22nd century who receives a distress call from a mining operation 3432 light years away. The 6-person crew includes captain and pilot A.J. Marley (Robert Forster), co-pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), medical officer Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), medical technician Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips), search and rescue paramedic Danika Lund (Robin Tunney), and computer technician Benjamin Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz).
The film was a box office bomb, only grossing $14.8 million with a budget of $90 million. Panned by critics, the film received negative reviews, with one critic calling it “an insult to the sci-fi genre.” However, within the negative takes came praise for director Walter Hill‘s directing and writing, but criticized Francis Ford Coppola for his weakening of the characters in his reshoots. The famed director had an uncredited role for the work he did.
8 ‘Ghost of Mars’ (2001)
Now inhabited by human settlers, Mars, following the overpopulation of Earth, has nearly 640,000 people living and working on the planet, mining it for its natural resources. However, one of the mining operations uncovers a deadly long-dormant Martian civilization whose warriors are taking over the bodies of humans. A squad of police officers and a convicted criminal gear up to fight against them after being possessed by its original settlers.
Directed by John Carpenter, the film received mostly negative reviews. However, Roger Ebert controversially praised the film for its “chosen level,” something other critics saw as a negative. In recent years, the film has received a cult following, with critics praising the action sequences, soundtrack, and the blending of sci-fi and horror.
7 ‘Ultraviolet’ (2006)
In the late 21st century, a fictional vampire disease modifies some humans, giving them superhuman abilities such as strength, intelligence, and speed. The threat of civil war looms as ordinary people, threatened by the enhancements, demand the extermination of those infected. Violet Song Jat Shariff (Mila Jovovich) finds herself in the crossfire when she becomes the protector of a young boy (Cameron Bright) perceived as a threat to humanity.
Ultraviolet was a novel by Yvonne Navarro and turned into an anime series titled Ultraviolet: Code 044. The film was a box office bomb and was panned by critics for its incomprehensible backstory, something the book had but was not in the movie. The book differs from the film in many ways, with many of the plot twists taken out and a more ambiguous ending.
6 ‘The Cell’ (2000)
The Cell stars Jennifer Lopez as psychologists Catherine Deane who has been experimenting with a new therapy where she can experience what is happening in another person’s unconscious mind. Lurking through the nightmarish mind of serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), the doctor tries to find any evidence of where his final victim is trapped.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, with Roger Ebert giving one of the most positive, also placing it on his “The Best 10 Movies of 2000” list. Awards season was very good for the film as it was nominated for an Academy Award for its make-up, with Jennifer Lopez winning at the MTV Movie Awards and the now-defunct Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.
5 ‘Evolution’ (2001)
When a meteorite falls to Earth, two college professors, Dr. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Professor Harry Phineas Block (Orlando Jones), are assigned to check out the site where they discover organisms not of this planet. Soon the government takes over, forcing Harry and Ira to the side. The rapidly evolving organisms become more dangerous, and it’s up to the two professors to save planet Earth.
Evolution drew comparisons to Ghostbusters upon its release and garnered mixed reviews from critics. The film was based on a story by Don Jakoby, who initially wrote it as a sci-fi thriller until the director Ivan Reitman had it rewritten as a sci-fi comedy, which the writer enjoyed. A short-lived animated series, Alienators: Evolution Continues, was loosely based on the film.
4 ‘Pitch Black’ (2000)
When dangerous criminal Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) is being transported to prison in a spacecraft, a comet damages the ship, and he crashes on a desert island. The crash survivors soon discover they are not alone when deadly creatures attack them, and they team up to fend off the aliens.
The film received mixed reviews from critics who praised its visual style and performance of Diesel but panned the lack of premise expansion and the cliches. However, the film became a sleeper hit and kickstarted a franchise, with the most recent film released in 2013.
3 ‘The Fountain’ (2006)
Tomas (Hugh Jackman) is a man traveling through time to save Izzi (Rachel Weisz), the woman he loves, from her destiny of death. The two are bonded through centuries, with Tom always trying to find a way to stop his love’s death; the film intertwines three stories of his efforts through time.
Darren Aronofsky directs the film that had to shut down when the original lead Brad Pitt dropped out. Despite the new script, the film received mixed reviews, with many critics calling it unfocused and seemingly repeating itself. The following years have been good for the movie as it has gained a cult following.
2 ‘Serenity’ (2005)
A continuation of the television series Firefly, Serenity follows a group of rebels traveling on the outskirts of space on their ship outside the reach of Alliance, a regime with sinister control of the universe. The crew takes in siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and his psychic sister River (Summer Glau), with the latter being rescued from Alliance forces. With the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an Alliance agent, pursuing them, they soon find he will stop at nothing to find them.
Praised for its snappy dialogue and goofy characters, the Joss Whedon film was highly anticipated to open at #1 but instead at #2. The film won and was nominated for many awards that year but fell short thanks to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Serenity would later rank 383 on Empire magazines500 Greatest Films of All Time. The Firefly and Serenity DVDs currently reside on the International Space Station as entertainment for the station’s crews.
1 ‘The Man from Earth’ (2007)
An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) becomes a mysterious interrogation after the professor reveals he is a caveman who has secretly survived for over 14,000 years. The film is set in and around Oldman’s house during the party, with dialogue between him and his colleagues seeking the truth.
The film won and was nominated for several awards. The film got a direct sequel to the movie in 2017 called The Man from Earth: Holocene and was adapted into a play in 2012 with director Richard Schenkman as the writer. The play received positive reviews and, in 2013, was adapted again, this time into a theater play staged in Greece.
NEXT: The 10 Worst Science Fiction Movies of All Time, According to Rotten Tomatoes