The 20 Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies - A Countdown
Making a good horror movie requires talent. Delivering a good sci-fi horror movie requires a dose of genius. Whether supporting wonderfully the science behind the story or managing to create a unique atmosphere that keeps the viewer entertained and stuck to the screen, this mixed genre is perhaps the ultimate exercise of the suspension of disbelief.
This is our list of the 20 best sci-fi horror movies ever made.
20) A Cure for Wellness (2017)
We kick out things with controversy. Gore Verbinski's latest film about a disturbing Swiss Alps rehab center that hides a sinister story wasn't well received by the critics or the box office. And we just don't understand why.
This is the unleashed Verbinski we were waiting for. One that doesn't have to answer to Disney or the rigor of original, third-party materials. Verbinski is one of those few narrators who work more with gorgeous images than dialogues. The creativity and intelligence behind each shot translate into one of those rare films that manage to stimulate other senses like taste or smell. A Cure for Wellness has a unique atmosphere, full of personality and characters that are implanted in memory (Mia Goth and Dane DeHaan are perfect).
Whatever plot-hole the beautifully grotesque script may have, Verbinski's majestic directing compensate that by a mile. This is one of the best sci-fi horror/goth love movies in recent years.
19) Mimic (1997)
For many, this is one of the low points in the career of Guillermo Del Toro, but make no mistake, Mimic is still a worthy entry in his filmography.
After all, this Del Toro story has Mira Sorvino and Josh Brolin investigating a possible infestation of evolved gigantic cockroaches living underground New York. That premise is more than enough reason to love this movie.
It's impossible not to fantasize with the original ending, in which the male insect makes its final "mimic", humanizing itself. That would have launched the cult behind this film to astronomic levels. But even with the "sweetened" end that the studio enforced, this is a coherent piece of Del Toro, with a sci-fi horror story that also flirts with religious imagery, rebirth and fairy tale elements.
A word of advice: Forget the theatrical release. Make sure to watch the director's cut version.
18) Event Horizon (1997)
There are very few films that, being inside the science fiction realm, decide to experiment with supernatural and even religious themes. Event Horizon is one of them.
Event Horizon has many flaws that prevent it to be a legendary classic, but the cult around it is more than deserved. Paul W.S. Anderson (creator of so-bad-its-good gems like Mortal Kombat or Pandorum) gives a unique twist to the genre, filling the history of horrendous hellish imagery and moments a-la-DOOM while perfectly evading all the clichés of the "alien horror."
Oh, it also has an amazing cast that includes Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Sean Pertwee, Joely Richardson and Jason Isaacs.
17) Life (2017)
Don't be fooled by Life's terrible trailer scored by the cliched Norman Greenbaum's "Spirits in the Sky". The Daniel Espinosa's film may be a copy of Alien, but it's one of those rare cases where the result is actually a good copy.
Compared to Alien, Life is more pure and simple. This is a battle between two species that in order to survive need to extinguish the life of the other. Clinical, straightforward and terrifying.
Life's commitment to horror is admirable. Espinosa takes some narrative risks that are deeply appreciated and made this film earn its spot.
16) The Faculty (1998)
Robert Rodriguez's 90 farewell letter The Faculty, packed with soon-to-be superstars like Elijah Wood, Josh Harnett, Jordana Brewster, Famke Janssen, Usher, Jon Stewart and Salma Hayek. It is a high-school film about teens who are convinced that their teachers are controlled by actual aliens. Talk about not-so-subtle symbolism about subversive spirit.
The sci-fi horror element is a wonderful and unique way of conveying the anti-system rebel message. The Faculty is a needed hate letter to the traditional, adult-square Academy and a reiterated warcry about not losing the impulsiveness and youthful creativity. The inclusion of a "2nd part" of "Another Brick in the Wall" by the "Class of 99" and "Stay Young" by Oasis aren't mere coincidences.
15) Frankenstein (1931)
The first sci-fi horror film of all time is also one of the few that has actually benefited from aging.
James Whale managed to create the first movie about a complex, not one-dimensional monster. This is a creature that produces fear, but also capture the empathy of the public with its well-argued actions.
Boris Karloff is a cinematic legend for a reason. His Frankenstein monster remains iconic, unique and the main reference for the gigantic gallery of creatures that came after.
14) The Mist (2007)
Forget the Frank Darabont of The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile. In The Mist, the horror-sci-fi a-la-Lovecraft is absolute.
The Mist is gore for the soul. A sadistic look at the fear of the unknown and the way humans rationalize their lives when social structures collapse.
The low-quality CGI can distract a bit, but don't worry. This film proudly displays its great atmosphere worthy of the original material of Stephen King, his great handling of actors and his damn unforgettable script.
13) Aliens (1986)
The James Cameron's sequel Aliens could be much more focused on action and machine guns, but its core it's still pure horror.
Just remember the alien-infested-ceiling scene or the one with little girl Newt (Carrie Henn) in the water. Aliens is still a scary movie.
Cameron reshapes the character of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) giving her a more maternal side, seeking to protect a little girl from the xenomorphs, the hostile environment and a damn bureaucrat (a great Paul Reiser). The stakes are higher.
12) Timecrimes (2007)
The debut of Nacho Vigalondo is a complicated and wonderful puzzle that includes a couple, a naked woman in the forest, a mysterious man with pink bandages and a one-hour time loop created to prevent a crime.
Timecrimes also one of the best time-travel movies ever made.
This is one of those cases in which the genius of a screenplay completely makes up for the zero production budget. When the puzzle is complete, Vigalondo's work improves with each rewatch.
11) Cube (1997)
This Vincenzo Natali's piece earns points for its great originality and magnificent direction. There is not extraterrestrials, viruses, or mutated monsters here, but a mysterious, hi-tech, clinical, lethal cube with thousands of rooms.
Five unknown people wake up in a room with a hatch in each wall. Without knowing the reason for their presence in that place, everyone begins to try to figure it out some kind of pattern of that mathematical maze where each room, of a different color, potentially has a deadly trap that activates in different ways. Lasers, acid, sharp knives, you name it, every lethal room offers a creative new way to annihilate humans.
With this panorama of claustrophobia and paranoia, Cube offers an interesting story about the struggle for human survival.
10) Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
At times, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a nightmare only suitable for lovers of extreme imagery. In this black and white, 16mm horror gallery, human flesh and dozens of mechanical metal implements clash violently with each other. There is nothing organic about seeing a man and a woman being continuously pierced and forcefully modified by extreme materials such as drills and steel bars, and that frantic discomfort is a unique on-coke commentary on the human relationship with their environment.
Shinyua Tsukamoto does it all here. He writes, directs, edits and produces. The reason seems obvious: This is his very personal and genuine nightmare and the need to make it as faithful as possible to his vision was necessary. Mission accomplished, it a special cyborg movie.
9) Scanners (1981)
David Cronenberg's classic is a must on this list. There is nothing more terrifying than a psychopath psychic that can make your head explode with the power of his mind. Ok, there is one: A private security firm wanting to have control of these people for their profit and monopoly of violence.
Scanners have everything: wonderful practical effects, a good dose of body horror, industrial espionage, big chases, and shootouts. It also has a fantastic and grotesque Michael Ironside.
8) The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
It all starts with a classic setting: a group of beautiful and sexually active young people arriving at a lone, creepy cabin in the woods to spend a holiday.
But from then on, what will come is an endless labyrinth of wonderful and terrifying possibilities.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard take elements of virtually all genres of horror to create a unique and original film. The Cabin In The Woods is a systematic deconstruction of horror storytelling.
The big plot twist of this movie deserves to be kept secret. Few movies manage to surprise, terrorize and entertain the viewer at the same time.
In a way, The Cabin in the Woods is the ultimate sci-fi horror film.
7) Cloverfield (2008)
The marvelous gem by the Abrams-Goddard-Reeves trio is a perfect balance between slow-build suspense and a spectacular Kaiju movie.
Cloverfield is one of the few cases where the found-footage genre works because it responds to the need of the story and not to reduce production costs. The uncertainty and fear of a group of young party-goers whose world is about to end are perfectly captured by that shaky camera.
Extra Tip: Dive into the viral campaign of this movie, which expands the mythology, gives more answers and continues to increase its eerie, a-la-Lost atmosphere.
6) Predator (1987)
Don't be fooled by the fact that the characters of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura expend their time flexing their muscles to reaffirm their machismo through a vast part of the movie.
Predator kicks off as an action, testosterone movie full of bullets and cheap American patriotism, but takes a tremendous turn to the genre turning our Alpha male heroes into hunted prey.
The Predator is one of the most iconic and grotesque creatures of cinema history. A reason for that is that this is an alien that hunts humans for mere sport, which is extremely cold and bone-chilling. Another bigger reason is that in that lethal process, the predator is also holding a mirror. We're also quite the predators ourselves.
5) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The remake of the original 1956 film is vastly superior in all the departments. Where the script of the first film used the invasion of extraterrestrials that replaced humans as an allegory to the anti-communist witch hunting of the 50's, this version uses the divorce boom (and therefore the construction of a new type of family) of the 70's as the background theme.
The direction of Philip Kaufman, reminiscent of the style, beauty shots of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, also has an intelligent design of the antagonistic aliens. That invasive, hostile vegetable-animal hybrid is still sickening even today.
The cast has a unique charisma. Leonard Nimoy, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright are the face of humanity, with all their flaws and strengths.
Special mention to Donald Sutherland. Almost 40 years later and his final scene performance is still one of the most frightening images of horror cinema of all time.
4) 28 Days Later (2002)
In this list, we consciously exclude zombie movies because they are a unique mega-genre in itself.
And still, we were unable to leave 28 Days Later out.
Danny Boyle proves to be the most versatile director alive by--along with writer Alex Garland--creating this story that beyond humans infected by a rabies virus, is about the breakdown of society and the importance of solidarity and community.
In 28 Days Later, loneliness is the most frightening element. It's the ghost towns distilling nostalgia and sadness which could break the spirit of the survivors and end up haunting the viewer.
3)The Fly (1986)
The best piece of body horror of all time couldn't be out of this list. The story of scientist Seth Brundle (played by a fantastic Jeff Goldblum) and his hideous Kafkaesque man-to-fly mutation remains today a hard-to-see sickening nightmare.
Of course, The Fly is much more than that. This is a grotesque allegory about the erosion of sentimental relationships. Whether due to terminal illness, old age, or just opposing points of view, David Cronenberg spins a devastating tale of the rise and fall of a romantic couple.
What Is the Best Sci-Fi Horror Movie?
2) The Thing (1982)
With a hostile Antarctica setting, John Carpenter constructs an amazing thriller tale that bounces between agoraphobia and claustrophobia while having some western elements--is not a coincidence that the great Ennio Morricone electronically scored this project--about an alien entity that assimilates living beings.
The Thing is a wonderful festival of prosthetics, gory puppets, Kurt Russell, fire, ice and much, much paranoia.
It's also the possible story of the beginning of the end of the world. This was also a personal favorite in my alien contact movies list.
1) Alien (1979)
The first place on this list is quite obvious. It's also deserved. It's just impossible not to imagine a Xenomorph at the moment of pronouncing the words "sci-fi horror".
Ridley Scott's Alien simply transcends the genre. This is one of those rare cases where everyone involved creates a near-perfect work. Whereas Scott in the direction department, H.R. Giger in design, O'Bannon in the screenplay or Goldsmith in music, this just was a dream team.
In a movie about an iconic monster, the human cast was also fantastic. Tom Skerrit, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and John Hurt quickly connect with the viewer. Ian Holm is responsible for one of the most disturbing scenes of this film.
And of course, then there's Sigourney Weaver. Her Ripley's character basically created the archetype of a female action heroine in contemporary cinema.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best sci-fi horror movies.
© 2019 Sam Shepards