Best Indie Sci-Fi 1997-2015: The Definitive Ranking of 58+20 Films

All of these films were made for US $15M or less (inflation-adjusted), or for $35M or less while receiving only limited release. And 1997 is when the modern golden age of sf cinema began. The ranking (valuing sf intelligence and cinematic brio equally) is based on a combination of three separate 0-100 sub-scores, which I give at the beginning. "All" is the rating from all film buffs, and is based on the Rotten Tomatoes Average Score and IMDB rating. "Fans" is from the average ranking of Netflix users with tastes like mine (their prediction for me). And the third, "Me," is mine. The overall scores run so close together that the precise ranking is almost arbitrary. A final 0-100 number at the end gives the film's popularity or notoriety. See the final film for a list of others (too obscure, likely marginal, or recent to have made it into this list) that will appear in future updates. Feel free to nominate omissions!
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1.
Donnie Darko (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after he narrowly escapes a bizarre accident. (113 mins.)
Director: Richard Kelly
“ All 83, Fans 92, Me 100 = 97. The only film here in the IMDB Top 250. You can watch the original cut for its beautiful (unintended) Lynchian ambiguity, but I strongly recommend the 2004 director's cut (133 min), which pins down the meaning, yielding a thrilling and profound exploration of the nature of free will. (60 popular, the highest here.) ” - emvan
 
2.
Upstream Color (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. (96 mins.)
Director: Shane Carruth
“ All 80, Fans 91, Me 100 = 96. One of the most challenging sf puzzle movies ever, with clues buried in nearly every shot, and also one of the great all-time arthouse-style cinematic experiences. Like Donnie Darko, one of my five favorite films of all time. A moving examination of personal identity, autonomy, and community. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
3.
Primer (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there's something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they've built, wrestle over their new invention. (77 mins.)
Director: Shane Carruth
“ All 73, Fans 89, Me 98 = 94. If you somehow don't know this, try to avoid descriptions. Carruth's first film is famous for being shot for $7000, for its realistic absence of expository dialogue, and for complexity so brain-bursting it leaves some people giddy. If you've seen it and don't think it belongs somewhere near the top of this list, you may need to make up your own. (23 popular.) ” - emvan
 
4.
Frequencies (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
In an alternate reality, children learn how lucky they will be (their "frequency"), knowledge which shapes their destiny. The unluckiest boy must parse the mysteries of free will in order to pursue his forbidden love of the luckiest girl. (105 mins.)
“ (US 2014 VOD). All 85, Fans 87, Me 96 = 93. Almost no one's seen this yet except for Netflix users who got to stream it (as OXV: The Manual), but I think it's so good as to be hype-proof. In terms of puzzle and challenge, it's more Darko-esque than Carruthian, and so I think it has a chance to earn a sizable following once it's out on disc. (6 popular). ” - emvan
 
5.
Open Your Eyes (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A very handsome man finds the love of his life, but he suffers an accident and needs to have his face rebuilt by surgery after it is severely disfigured. (117 mins.)
“ (US 1999). All 81, Fans 86, Me 95 = 92. This Spanish original is so good that I've never bothered to see the remake, Vanilla Sky. One of many films on this list with a strong Philip K. Dick flavor, and that's always a win. (17 popular.) ” - emvan
 
6.
Predestination (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
For his final assignment, a top temporal agent must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. The chase turns into a unique, surprising and mind-bending exploration of love, fate, identity and time travel taboos. (97 mins.)
“ (US 2015.) All 76, Fans 90, Me 93 = 91. I'm so familiar with the classic Robert A. Heinlein story that it's based on ("'--All You Zombies--'") that I had to watch it twice in the span of four nights to figure out how good it is, on its own merits. Answer: tremendous. Oh, and also about free will, and personal identity. (17 popular.) ” - emvan
 
7.
The Congress (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn't consider. (122 mins.)
Director: Ari Folman
“ (US 2014). All 72, Fans 81, Me 95 = 91. It's a message-board cliche to accuse someone who didn't like a movie of not understanding it, but that failure is actually what's driving down the first two sub-scores. Pay close attention when the movie suddenly transforms in style at the end of the first act (when it becomes animated): there's an sf *explanation* for it, and one you have to think about. This loose adaptation of a Stanislaw Lem novel is, I think, the best and most moving exploration of the idea of "escape" (from the real to the imaginary) in all of cinema. (6 popular.) ” - emvan
 
8.
The Frame (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Two strangers find their lives colliding in an impossible way. Alex is a methodical cargo thief working for a dangerous cartel. Sam is a determined paramedic trying to save the world while running from her past. (127 mins.)
Director: Jamin Winans
“ (US VOD.) All and Fans TBD, Me 94 or better = 91. The thematic similarities to Frequencies are startling, and this may be the deeper, more thought-provoking film. Given the popularity of Winans' previous film, Ink (see #346), this has gotten amazingly little attention in terms of reviews. Like Ink, it's technically closer to fantasy than sf, but very strongly has the flavor of the latter. A potential cult classic. (1 popular. Seriously.) ” - emvan
 
9.
I Origins (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A molecular biologist and his laboratory partner uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society as we know it. (106 mins.)
Director: Mike Cahill
“ All 72, Fans 82, Me 92 = 88. Cahill's emotionally potent followup to Another Earth (#30) is the best examination of the relationship between science and the "spiritual" in sci-fi cinema. Those who are convinced they are necessarily in conflict tend to misread this and not like it much (regardless of which side they favor), but the film argues (correctly) that they can be not just reconciled, but combined. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
10.
Extracted (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
A scientist who has invented a technique to watch people's memories finds himself in a dangerous situation after he's tasked with entering a heroin addict's mind to see whether the man committed murder. (85 mins.)
Director: Nir Paniry
“ (US 2013 DVD.) All 71, Fans 84, Me 92 = 88. Given its budget and the underwhelming reviews and IMDB rating, I had to watch this one twice within five days to see whether I hadn't somehow hallucinated its excellence. I hadn't. Especially impressive are the human side of the story and the performances from the largely unknown cast. (9 popular.) ” - emvan
 
11.
Vanishing Waves (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
A neuron-transfer scientist experiments with the thoughts of a comatose young woman. (124 mins.)
“ (US 2013 DVD). All 74, Fans TBD, Me 91 = 88. (That's right, all but three of my top 11 date from the last two-plus years in the US.) This Lithuanian film is pure arthouse, with stunning visuals, and more than enough sf to satisfy. (2 popular.) ” - emvan
 
12.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. (120 mins.)
“ All 81, Fans 88, Me 88 = 87. As you can tell from the three sub-scores, probably the first entry on the list that's simply a great film that happens to be sf (even if often not considered as such), without special appeal to geeks. (23 popular.) ” - emvan
 
13.
Sleep Dealer (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
The near future. Like tomorrow. In a world marked by closed borders, corporate warriors, and a global computer network, three strangers risk their lives to connect, break through the barriers of technology, and unseal their fates. (90 mins.)
Director: Alex Rivera
“ (US 2009). All 65, Fans 79, Me 91 = 86. Takes an all-too plausible sci-fi technology, smartly extrapolates three different uses for it, and knits them together in a moving and socially relevant story. I suspect that the overlap between fans of hard sf and folks interested in the film's social concerns (immigration and labor policies) is just too small, but if you're in that intersection, this is just great. (7 popular). ” - emvan
 
14.
Coherence (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead. (89 mins.)
“ (US 2014). All 77, Fans 87, Me 87 = 86. This is actually much more head-scrambling and Primer-ish than the sub-scores would lead you to believe; the broad appeal comes from it being so entertaining scene-by-scene. It perhaps sacrifices a bit of depth in the process (I'm open to arguments to the contrary, though). (9 popular.) ” - emvan
 
15.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Two documentary filmmakers attempt to penetrate a cult who worships a woman who claims to be from the future. (85 mins.)
Director: Zal Batmanglij
“ (US 2012). All 74, Fans 87, Me 87 = 86. The second-film co-written by Brit Marling (again, see #30). One or two of its puzzles may be in fact insoluble at present, since it's reportedly the first of a planned trilogy. But there's more than enough that does fit together to give it a ferocious kick. (9 popular). ” - emvan
 
16.
2046 (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
The women who enter a science fiction author's life, over the course of a few years, after the author loses the woman he considers his one true love. (129 mins.)
Director: Kar Wai Wong
“ (US 2005.) All 80, Fans 77, Me 89 = 86. Technically, this sort-of-sequel to Wong's arthouse masterpiece In the Mood For Love isn't sci-fi, but it devotes a large chunk to visualizing a sci-fi story written by its lead character, and rather brilliantly so. (17 popular.) ” - emvan
 
17.
Moon (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems. (97 mins.)
Director: Duncan Jones
“ All 82, Fans 90, Me 82 = 86. I'm not sure the sci-fi scenario underlying the story makes any sense, but the story is as good as its considerable reputation. (40 popular.) ” - emvan
 
18.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
An undercover cop in a not-too-distant future becomes involved with a dangerous new drug and begins to lose his own identity as a result. (100 mins.)
“ All 74, Fans 86, Me 87 = 86. This rotoscoped adaptation of Philip K. Dick's masterpiece doesn't quite capture all of the book's heartbreak and philosophical depth, but it hits almost all of the high points spot-on. (31 popular.) ” - emvan
 
19.
Avalon (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
In a future world, young people are increasingly becoming addicted to an illegal (and potentially deadly) battle simulation game called Avalon... (107 mins.)
Director: Mamoru Oshii
“ (US 2003 DVD.) All 75, Fans 73, Me 90 = 85. At the outset, the seemingly straightforward plot seems to clash with its arthouse style and relatively slow pace. Then things start Not. Adding. Up., and by the time it ends, it's morphed into the most challenging puzzle movie on the list. All of that (including the belief that its contradictions are unintentional) will throw off some viewers. I think I know what's going on (check out the message boards), and I think it's extraordinary. (7 popular.) ” - emvan
 
20.
Night Watch (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
A fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control daytime and nighttime do battle. (114 mins.)
“ (US 2006.) As the first half of a single film only: see the next entry. ” - emvan
 
21.
Day Watch (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
A man who serves in the war between the forces of Light and Dark comes into possession of a device that can restore life to Moscow, which was nearly destroyed by an apocalyptic event. (132 mins.)
“ (US 2007.) All 68, Fans 69, Me 92 = 85. This forms a single continual narrative with Night Watch -- despite the titles, most of the plot is reportedly drawn from the first of Sergey Lukyanenko's novels. I think they're massively underrated because folks are not regarding them that way ... and because they are admittedly, in places, confusing as hell. Technically they're epic fantasy, but they feel exactly like sci-fi. (22 and 16 popular.) ” - emvan
 
22.
Attack the Block (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
A teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion. (88 mins.)
Director: Joe Cornish
“ All 76, Fans 82, Me 87 = 85. Our heroes start off unsympathetic and have to earn our affection, to great effect. Cornish is doing Snow Crash next; can't wait. (20 popular.) ” - emvan
 
23.
Fish Story (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In the year 2012 a comet approaches earth, threatening to end civilization when it impacts. On the streets of Japan... (112 mins.)
“ (US 2011 DVD). All 79, Fans 88, Me 84 = 85. This seems to be three of four different movies intercut at random, and then it all starts coming together wonderfully. At the same time, it's sort of an alternate history of punk rock! Everybody who sees this digs it. You're next, right? (3 popular.) ” - emvan
 
24.
Southland Tales (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.5/10 X  
During a three day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an action star stricken with amnesia meets up with a porn star who is developing her own reality TV project, and a policeman who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. (145 mins.)
Director: Richard Kelly
“ (US 2007). All 59, Fans 64, Me 94 = 85. Warning: This ranking is for the combination of the massive, dense graphic novel which forms the first half of the story, and the film. The film half alone is nearly incoherent, the combination makes thrilling sense. (16 unpopular.) ” - emvan
 
25.
Perfect Sense (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A chef and a scientist fall in love as an epidemic begins to rob people of their sensory perceptions. (92 mins.)
Director: David Mackenzie
“ (US 2012.) All 71, Fans 80, Me 87 = 84. One of those films whose sf premise is close to impossible, but plays out beautifully as metaphor once you suspend your disbelief. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
26.
The One I Love (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A troubled couple vacate to a beautiful getaway, but bizarre circumstances further complicate their situation. (91 mins.)
“ All 75, Fans 89, Me 83 = 84. Well, I've already spoiled the fact that it is sci-fi. I'll say no more, except I think my low rating may be an anomaly of not liking the characters much. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
27.
Europa Report (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter's fourth largest moon. (90 mins.)
“ All 71, Fans 85, Me 84 = 83. Hard sci-fi done right, misperceived by some as a monster movie. It's not. (21 popular.) ” - emvan
 
28.
Under the Skin (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
A mysterious young woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. However, events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery. (108 mins.)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
“ (US 2014.) All 77, Fans 85, Me 82 = 83. This stripped-down adaptation of Michael Faber's novel is exquisite, mesmerizing cinema -- and close to negligible as sci-fi. Upstream Color and Vanishing Waves have proven that the latter need not get in the way of the former, and can even deepen the human message. I think I'd rate this higher if I weren't convinced that a huge opportunity was missed. (19 popular.) ” - emvan
 
29.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel. (86 mins.)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
“ All 77, Fans 83, Me 83 = 82. Watch it, and you'll understand why I'm not saying much about it. Trevorrow was hired to do Jurassic World. (33 popular.) ” - emvan
 
30.
Another Earth (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
On the night of the discovery of a duplicate Earth in the Solar system, an ambitious young student and an accomplished composer cross paths in a tragic accident. (92 mins.)
Director: Mike Cahill
“ All 73, Fans 85, Me 81 = 81. The setup of the indie drama side could be stronger, and the sci-fi element is almost silly if taken literally, but as metaphor, it's extraordinary, and then it intersects beautifully with the characters. (19 popular.) ” - emvan
 
31.
Monsters (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion, a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border. (94 mins.)
Director: Gareth Edwards
“ All 71, Fans 79, Me 83 = 81. Godzilla revealed Edwards' limited ability to fully flesh out characters in a screenplay, but here, he has his actors improvising the dialogue very effectively. Meanwhile, his genius for turning sfx into visual poetry is already evident, and plays especially well within the micro-budget pseudo-documentary style. (24 popular.) ” - emvan
 
32.
Timecrimes (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A man accidentally gets into a time machine and travels back in time nearly an hour. Finding himself will be the first of a series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences. (92 mins.)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
“ (US 2008.) All 76, Fans 84, Me 80 = 81. Paper thin but razor sharp. (14 popular.) ” - emvan
 
33.
The Zero Theorem (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
A hugely talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem: that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless. But meaning is what he already craves. (107 mins.)
Director: Terry Gilliam
“ (US 2014.) All 66, Fans 76, Me 84 = 81. The more I think back on this, the more I like it; I'm with those who think it's Gilliam's best film since Brazil. (9 popular.) - emvan

I regard these first 33 as must-see films for fans of intelligent sf cinema. ” - emvan
 
34.
The Nines (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A troubled actor, a television show runner, and an acclaimed videogame designer find their lives intertwining in mysterious and unsettling ways. (100 mins.)
Director: John August
“ (US DVD.) All 68, Fans 79, Me 83 = 81. In fact, three short films, each featuring Reynolds in one of those roles. But together they form a single, very cool and thought-provoking story. (15 popular.) ” - emvan
 
35.
Code 46 (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
A futuristic Brief Encounter, this is a love story in which the romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility. (93 mins.)
“ (US 2004.) All 68, Fans 73, Me 84 = 80. The entire first act is spent putting the pieces on the chess board, so it demands patience, and trust that the dramatic stakes will intensify. They absolutely do. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
36.
Ink (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
A mysterious creature, known as Ink, steals a child's soul in hopes of using it as a bargaining chip to join the Incubi - the group of supernatural beings responsible for creating nightmares. (107 mins.)
Director: Jamin Winans
“ (US DVD.) All 78, Fans 83, Me 79 = 80. The first film on this list with serious weaknesses (some mis-directed, overly broad performances, and some structural slack), so you know the strengths must be extraordinary to bring it to the edge of must-see quality. His next film is #8 here. Technically a fantasy, but with the scope and logic of sf. (13 popular.) ” - emvan
 
37.
The History of Future Folk (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
The possibly exaggerated origin story of the real life alien bluegrass band, Future Folk, that has been playing for NYC audiences for the better part of a decade. (86 mins.)
“ (US 2013.) All 79, Fans 79, Me 81 = 80. The sci-fi elements are taken rather tongue in cheek, so it's relatively slight ... but utterly delightful. Very good songs, too. (5 popular.) ” - emvan
 
38.
The Man from Earth (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine. (87 mins.)
“ (US DVD.) All 87, Fans 85, Me 74 = 80. Fairly negligible as a film (the "All" score would be much lower had it been reviewed by more professional critics), and you'll value it in direct proportion to your unfamiliarity with its very thought-provoking ideas. If the films above it are natural geek communities, this one's Mensa. (23 popular.) ” - emvan
 
39.
Melancholia (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth. (135 mins.)
Director: Lars von Trier
“ All 81, Fans 87, Me 74 = 80. And here's the opposite number: an exquisite piece of cinema that gets the science so wrong that it's impossible to identify a coherent set of character motivations. And yes, I know it's a metaphor, but I swear that I largely fixed the science and dramatically improved the metaphor while walking to my car from the movie theater. In a small parking lot. (28 popular.) ” - emvan
 
40.
The Road (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
In a dangerous post-apocalyptic world, an ailing father defends his son as they slowly travel to the sea. (111 mins.)
Director: John Hillcoat
“ All 77, Fans 81, Me 80 = 80. This Cormac McCarthy adaptation is so less than cheerful that it got only limited distribution despite its mid-sized budget. Not much happens, but it's nevertheless powerful and memorable. (42 popular.) ” - emvan
 
41.
Chronicle (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides. (84 mins.)
Director: Josh Trank
“ All 76, Fans 86, Me 76 = 80. The only film here to get a wide release, using found footage to get its considerable bang for the buck. At its most interesting before it tries to get epic. (51 popular.) ” - emvan
 
42.
Battle Royale (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act. (114 mins.)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
“ (US 2012 DVD.) All 82, Fans 81, Me 77 = 79. Unlike the much later Hunger Games, the justification for the action is cursory and hard to believe, rather than the point of the story. OTOH, the character interactions are considerably more interesting. (27 popular.) ” - emvan
 
43.
The American Astronaut (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Samuel Curtis, an interplanetary trader, sets forth through a rustic and remote solar system, unaware that his old friend Professor Hess is trying to kill him. (91 mins.)
Director: Cory McAbee
“ All 70, Fans 77, Me 81 = 79. Decidedly uneven, but the high points approach the best of Guy Maddin and the funny scenes of Eraserhead. A must-see for fans of weirdness, with great punkabilly songs as a bonus. (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
44.
Revengers Tragedy (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
From cult director Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy) comes this modernised adaptation of Thomas Middleton's celebrated play from 1607... (109 mins.)
Director: Alex Cox
“ (US 2004 DVD.) All 72, Fans 77, Me 80 = 79. Cox deluded himself, I think, into believing that the Jacobean English of the original, transplanted into a dystopian near-future, would not reduce the commercial potential to close to zero. If you're OK with the language, you may well find this labor of love to be a sardonic blast. (2 popular.) ” - emvan
 
45.
Extraterrestrial (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
Everyone knows what to do if one morning the sky would be absolutely full of UFOs: run as fast as you can. However, what would happen if the invasion started while you are in the flat of the girl of your dreams, the one you have just met? (95 mins.)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
“ (US 2012). All 65, Fans TBD, Me 81 = 79. The sci-fi element in Vigalondo's followup to #32 mostly provides the underpinnings for a twisted and often very funny rom-com; that nothing about it is explored, revealed or resolved apparently has cheesed many viewers off, but the sheer audacity of that made me grin. (3 popular.) ” - emvan
 
46.
Shuffle (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Shuffle is the tale of a man who begins experiencing his life out of order; every day he wakes up at a different age, on a different day of his life, never knowing where or when he's going to be once he falls asleep. (82 mins.)
Director: Kurt Kuenne
“ (US 2012 DVD.) All TBD, Fans 77, Me 79 = 78. There's a huge change of tone after two acts that pretty much works because it's demanded by the plot, but there's no getting around that the first two acts (which reminded me of Aronofsky's Pi) are much more innovative and distinctive. (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
47.
Save the Green Planet! (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Byeong-gu believes that the world is on the verge of an alien invasion, and sets out to save the world. (118 mins.)
Director: Joon-Hwan Jang
“ (US 2005.) All 79, Fans 75, Me 78 = 78. The alien-invasion sci-fi story really just exists to be insanely mashed up with a different genre altogether (serial-killer revenge). Lots of fun. (6 popular.) ” - emvan
 
48.
Antiviral (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  
In a blackly satirical near future, a thriving industry sells celebrity illnesses to their obsessed fans. Employee Syd March's attempts to exploit the system backfire when they involve him in a potentially deadly mystery. (108 mins.)
“ (US 2013.) All 64, Fans 73, Me 80 = 77. Impossibly scathing satire of pop-cultural celebrity obsession, combined with "I'm my Dad's son, alright" body horror. (8 popular.) ” - emvan
 
49.
District B13 (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Set in the ghettos of Paris in 2010, an undercover cop and ex-thug try to infiltrate a gang in order to defuse a neutron bomb. (84 mins.)
Director: Pierre Morel
“ (US 2006). All 76, Fans 76, Me 77 = 77. Great martial-arts and parkour action, a fresh structure, and some pointed social commentary in its sci-fi plot. Hard to go wrong with this one. (23 popular.) ” - emvan
 
50.
LFO (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
LFO is a dark comedy/drama/Sci-Fi about a man who realizes that he can hypnotize with sound. He starts experimenting on his neighbors, where the abuse of power takes over and, eventually, severe consequences for mankind are at stake. (94 mins.)
Director: Antonio Tublen
“ (US 2014 DVD.) All TBD, Fans 74, Me 77 = 76. Arthouse in its minimalism, sharp, funny, and twisted, with only one flaw: it's all from the POV of a sometimes hallucinating character, and the science is sketchy, so that the most coherent reading is that nothing has actually happened at all--which completely undercuts the otherwise vicious satire. (1 popular.) ” - emvan
 
51.
The Machine (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
In efforts to construct perfect android killing machines in a war against China, UK scientists exceed their goal and create a sentient robot. (91 mins.)
Director: Caradog James
“ (US 2014.) All 67, Fans 79, Me 77 = 76. Maybe wants too badly to be an action thriller, but a very solid exploration of A.I. and tremendous visual bang-for-the-buck. Caity Lotz (from TV's Arrow) is a revelation in the title role. (13 popular.) ” - emvan
 
52.
Robot & Frank (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team. (89 mins.)
Director: Jake Schreier
“ All 76, Fans 81, Me 73 = 76. Slight but completely charming. (24 popular.) ” - emvan
 
53.
Robot Stories (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
Winner of over 23 awards, "Robot Stories" is science fiction from the heart, four stories in which utterly... (85 mins.)
Director: Greg Pak
“ (US 2004.) All 68, Fans 73, Me 78 = 76. The first and third of these four shorts are solid but forgettable sci-fi. The second is a moving family drama, but with no sf elements (the robots are toys). The fourth is tremendous. (5 popular.) ” - emvan
 
54.
Happy Accidents (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Ruby Weaver has man trouble: she tries to fix them, so she's stuck herself with a string of losers. Her current lover... (110 mins.)
Director: Brad Anderson
“ (US 2001.) All 74, Fans 81, Me 73 = 76. Thoroughly entertaining romance that evaporated from my brain within days of viewing. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
55.
Idiocracy (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Private Joe Bauers, the definition of "average American", is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes five centuries in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive. (84 mins.)
Director: Mike Judge
“ All 71, Fans 75, Me 76 = 76. The premise of C.M. Kornbluth's famous story "The Marching Morons" turned into a very funny comedy. Loses a bit of steam when it insists on working through its plot. (27 popular.) ” - emvan
 
56.
Kaboom (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  
A sci-fi story centered on the sexual awakening of a group of college students. (86 mins.)
Director: Gregg Araki
“ (US 2011.) All 66, Fans 71, Me 78 = 75. Takes a whole bunch of narrative and structural conventions (e.g., how to explain what's been going on), lines them up side-by-side, and pees on their shoes. I loved that, and I doubt I need to add that YMMV. (9 popular.) ” - emvan
 
57.
How I Live Now (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her. (101 mins.)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
“ All 69, Fans 75, Me 76 = 75. You've seen all the elements before, but this understated adaptation of Meg Rosoff's atypical YA novel is still memorable, largely for Ronan's performance. (14 popular.) ” - emvan
 
58.
Griff the Invisible (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
Griff, office worker by day, superhero by night, has his world turned upside down when he meets Melody, a beautiful young scientist who shares his passion for the impossible. (90 mins.)
Director: Leon Ford
“ (US 2011.) All 66, Fans 73, Me 77 = 75. A "liminal fantasy" is one where it's meant to be unclear whether the fantastic element was real, or only in the mind of the protagonist. For obvious reasons, there's almost no liminal sci-fi. But this is, very satisfyingly so. (6 popular.) - emvan

While I regard these last 25 films (beginning with #34) as falling short of must-see stature, I think that any serious sci-fi film buff should (at some point) see them.

The remaining 20 films are those that such a viewer could certainly see; they are split between ambitious, flawed films that should have been better, and modest ones that offer smaller pleasures.
 ” - emvan
 
59.
TiMER (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
If a clock could count down to the moment you meet your soul mate, would you want to know? (99 mins.)
Director: Jac Schaeffer
“ (US 2010.) All 70, Fans 79, Me 73 = 74. Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) delights in a thoroughly engaging story, but I wanted one more handwave to make the sf premise more credible, and rather more consistency in its argument about romantic politics. (16 popular.) ” - emvan
 
60.
Young Ones (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
Set in the future when water is hard to find, a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive. (100 mins.)
Director: Jake Paltrow
“ All 62, Fans 73, Me 76 = 74. Worth seeing for the tremendously well-realized dystopian future. I wish the storytelling had been clearer; the first of a number of films in this final section that strike me as being a draft or two away from something that much better. (5 popular.) ” - emvan
 
61.
Ever Since the World Ended (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.1/10 X  
Twelve years ago, a plague swept through, wiping out most of the population; in San Francisco, only 186 people remain... (78 mins.)
“ (US 2007 DVD.) All 67, Fans 75, Me 75 = 74. "Modest" is an understatement, but this mockumentary is so well realized that I watched the deleted scenes to find out more about the "subjects." (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
62.
Thomas in Love (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Thomas is a young agoraphobic man; he's afraid of coming to any kind of contact with other people, so he lives totally isolated in his apartment... (97 mins.)
“ (US 2001 DVD). All 72, Fans 77, Me 72 = 74. Like #61, the high concept demands and justifies the vanishingly small budget. Always interesting, and I can imagine it as more emotionally engaging for others. (3 popular.) ” - emvan
 
63.
Doomsday Book (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
The First Chapter of The Anthology Film- In A Brave New World, a mysterious virus brings the city to ruins and zombies flood the streets of Seoul... (115 mins.)
“ (US DVD.) All 70, Fans 73, Me 74 = 73. Two quite funny tales sandwich a more contemplative one (which would be much more at home in Robot Stories than here); all are good, none great. (6 popular.) ” - emvan
 
64.
The Last Days (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
2013. A mysterious epidemic spreads across the planet. Humanity develops an irrational fear of open spaces that causes death within seconds... (100 mins.)
“ (US 2014 DVD.) All 71, Fans 79, Me 70 = 73. Like Perfect Sense, the sf premise is an obvious metaphor. Alas, the story proceeds via a succession all-too predictable beats, but if that doesn't bother you as much as it does me, you may find the emotionally satisfying payoff sticking with you harder. (7 popular.) ” - emvan
 
65.
Ghost from the Machine (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
After his parents are killed in a car accident, Cody is left dealing with enormous guilt, caring for... (86 mins.)
Director: Matt Osterman
“ (US 2011 VOD.) All TBD, Fans 71, Me 73 = 73. The first film on this list that looks and feels like a really good student film rather than a fully professional effort, but there's much to like here, and I'm not the only person who had that reaction: this is being remade as Our House, with a new screenplay by Nate Parker (Moon). (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
66.
Before the Fall (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
The world learns that a planet killing meteorite will arrive in 72 hours. (93 mins.)
“ (US 2009 DVD.) All 71, Fans TBD, Me 71 = 73. Attempts to combine two obviously incompatible genres (the second being crazed-killer-on-the-loose) and almost pulls it off; extremely well done, but the larger plot doesn't add enough (if anything) to the main one. Gutierrez is doing the next The Ring sequel. (3 popular.) ” - emvan
 
67.
John Dies at the End (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? (99 mins.)
Director: Don Coscarelli
“ (US 2013.) All 67, Fans 79, Me 69 = 72. Lots of fun, but the multiple sci-fi threads don't ever knit together in a satisfying way. Fans of "David Wong"'s novel feel that much important stuff was cut. (16 popular.) ” - emvan
 
68.
Virtuality (2009 TV Movie)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
Twelve extremely talented men and women have been chosen to be part of the Phaeton mission, a 10-year trek to explore a distant planetary system... (87 mins.)
Director: Peter Berg
“ All 65, Fans 81, Me 68 = 72. Failed pilot from Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore had a lot of promise, but is somewhat frustrating as a standalone. (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
69.
The Rover (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. Along the way, he captures one of the thieves' brother, and the duo form an uneasy bond during the dangerous journey. (103 mins.)
Director: David Michôd
“ All 69, Fans 73, Me 72 = 72. As well crafted as you'd expect from the writer / director of Animal Kingdom, but Pearce's protagonist is so emotionally constrained that most viewers find it less affecting than the sum of its parts. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
70.
Cypher (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
An unsuspecting, disenchanted man finds himself working as a spy in the dangerous, high-stakes world of corporate espionage. Quickly getting way over-his-head, he teams up with a mysterious femme fatale. (95 mins.)
Director: Vincenzo Natali
“ (US 2005 DVD). All 71, Fans 76, Me 69 = 72. Gets off to a great start, but ends up burdened by nagging plot holes and sketched-in characters. Some great ideas, though; I spent the better part of the next day trying to completely rewrite it. (12 popular.) ” - emvan
 
71.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
An adventure set in the early part of the 20th century and focused on a popular novelist and her dealings with would-be suitors, the cops, monsters, and other distractions. (107 mins.)
Director: Luc Besson
“ (US 2013 DVD.) All 67, Fans 73, Me 71 = 71. Mid-budget adaptation of a popular French sci-fi / fantasy comic; I can imagine a minority having a soft spot for its modest and consistent pleasures. (8 popular.) ” - emvan
 
72.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan. (101 mins.)
Director: Lorene Scafaria
“ All 70, Fans 79, Me 67 = 71. Engaging, but I found it straining after desired story beats without entirely convincing character motivation or rationale, a problem in a film with an ostensible indie approach. (26 popular.) ” - emvan
 
73.
Special (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
A lonely metermaid has a reaction to medication and becomes convinced he's a superhero. (81 mins.)
“ (US 2008.) All 69, Fans 71, Me 71 = 70. Nothing, in fact, special, but a solid modest effort, and more memorable than it ought to be. Actually is borderline sf, I think, because (as in Franzen's The Corrections), it features a psychoactive drug with an at-present impossible specificity of action. (5 popular.) ” - emvan
 
74.
Radio Free Albemuth (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
Berkeley record store clerk Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) begins to experience strange visions from an... (111 mins.)
Director: John Alan Simon
“ (US 2014). All 61, Fans 83, Me 66 = 71. Dick's novel adapted with, alas, little craft and no art, but the source material is strong enough to make it worth a look. (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
75.
Automata (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
Jacq Vaucan is an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation who investigates cases of robots violating their primary protocols against altering themselves. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity. (109 mins.)
Director: Gabe Ibáñez
“ All 63, Fans 73, Me 70 = 70. Blade Runner wannabe has great visuals, and one brilliant idea which is not only left unexplored, but is pointedly ignored in order to generate a third act composed entirely of unmotivated violent action. Would top this list if the criterion were smarts x stupidity. (13 popular.) ” - emvan
 
76.
S1m0ne (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
A producer's film is endangered when his star walks off, so he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star, becoming an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person. (117 mins.)
Director: Andrew Niccol
“ All 66, Fans 62, Me 73 = 70. I thought Niccol's followup to Gattaca was a thoroughly entertaining trifle; apparently, many viewers would excise two words from that description. (25 popular.) ” - emvan
 
77.
I'll Follow You Down (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
After the disappearance of a young scientist on a business trip, his son and wife struggle to cope, only to make a bizarre discovery years later - one that may bring him home. (93 mins.)
Director: Richie Mehta
“ (US 2014 DVD.) All 62, Fans 71, Me 69 = 69. Interesting ideas, reasonably engaging execution, but in the end, undermined by lapses in logic. Yet another film that makes you want to rewrite it. (4 popular.) ” - emvan
 
78.
Cube (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless kafkaesque maze containing deadly traps. (90 mins.)
Director: Vincenzo Natali
“ (US 1998.) All 74, Fans 77, Me 57 = 64. I'm including it because so many like it, and it's undeniably stylish. It also permits no rational explanation (while asking for one, which is to say, it might have worked in a Lynchian vein, but it isn't) and is populated by characters I didn't believe in for a moment. (28 popular.) - emvan

75 More films! 2015 was a mildly disappointing year, and 2016 even more so; I have a lot of viewing left. 2015 saw theatrical releases PK (actually from Dec. '14 and currently slated to rank after #11), These Final Hours, Spring (slated to rank after #43), Ex Machina (slated to rank after #12), Time Lapse, Advantageous (slated to rank after #48), Turbo Kid, and Z for Zachariah (slated to rank after #59), and disk/VOD releases Memory Lane, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Hard to Be A God, 41, The Infinite Man, and Uncanny.

2016 had The Lobster, slated to rank after #6, and VOD release ARQ, going in after #65, but the potential highlight is the Netflix "mini-series" The OA, which is actually a multi-part film from the creators of #15. Into the Forest, Embers, and Evolution seem promising. Seven more films just sneaked into the queue: theatrical releases Synchronicity, Creative Control, Men & Chicken, High-Rise, and Equals, and VOD releases For the Plasma and Capsule.

At least two films with serious buzz seem primed for 2017: Colossal from the director of #32 and #45, and Marjorie Prime. The Discovery, from the director of #26, streams on Netflix beginning in March. Rememory seems promising. (All four films played Sundance.)

Meanwhile, some promising older films have crossed my radar on DVD or (mostly) popped up on VOD: Time of the Wolf (2004), Impolex (2011), Lunopolis (2011; slated to rank after #60), The Color out of Space (2012), Travelling Salesman (2013), Life Tracker (2013), Earthbound (2014), Comet (2014), and Senn (2014).

Hopefully, all 39 of those films will be good enough to be included in a comprehensive V2.0 arriving in late 2017. And there are 11 to 13 more that I hope to check out for the subsequent edition, even though they seem likely to land in the bottom chunk: Koi... Mil Gaya (2003), Happy Here and Now (2005), Zebraman (2007), The Substitute (2008), Fissure (2009), Iron Sky (2009), Womb (2013), Astronaut: The Last Push (2012/2013), Riley Rewind (2013), Ku_on (2015), Nightingale in a Music Box (2002/2016), and possibly Beta Test (2016) and Morgan (2016).

Depending on how those turn out, I may continue with The Sticky Fingers of Time (1997/2001), Final (2001), Daft Punk's Electroma (2006), Suspension (2008), Half-Life (2008/2009), Franklyn (2009), Hunter Prey (2010), Black Lightning (2011), Detention (2011/2012), Errors of the Human Body (2013), Mars (2013), After the Dark (2014), The Scribbler (2015), Project Almanac (2015), Parallels (2015), Circle (2015/2016), The Identicals (2016) and Hardcore Henry (2015/2016).

And I'm still eagerly waiting to see Last Night (1999) if it ever comes out in widescreen.

Three films I did see but felt weren't quite worthy of a mention were Dimensions (2013), Allegro (2007), and The Signal (2014).

Thanks to Markus Magnuson for 8 suggestions (and counting!). ” - emvan