Underrated Sci-Fi Movies of the ’80s, Ranked

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Underrated Sci-Fi Movies of the ’80s, Ranked

To call the ’80s an experimental period in cinema is an understatement. The commercial aspect of cinema was solidified with tons of blockbusters, and horror subgenres multiplied. But film studios also saw a huge opportunity to experiment with genre films as home video was born and became unstoppable.

Suddenly, films didn’t have to be successful in theaters only, and tapes were sold all over the world. Nothing matched watching a film in theaters, but microbudgets started to be accessible for less renowned filmmakers who simply wanted to do their best without high pretensions. Science fiction wasn’t a big player in this game. Horror was undeniably bigger, and thrillers stepped on the edge of slasher cinema. The exploration of outer worlds took a step back and mostly bigger films were part of every conversation.

But as the following list shows, not everything had to be under the grasp of Spielberg to be a good sci-fi film. We sailed through the tape bins and came up with a list of highly respectable sci-fi films from the ’80s that definitely deserve a second watch. We can guarantee these are much better than what their VHS covers imply.



20 Outland

Warner Bros.

In Peter Hyams’ Outland, sci-fi is a mere backdrop to an intriguing mystery led by Sean Connery and a great supporting cast. This takes place in a mining town set in outer space where strange deaths have occurred recently, and Connery is a marshal trying to solve what appear to be several murders.

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Great kills and a big Western touch are the reason why we couldn’t leave this off the list. It is also one of the few on the list actually nominated for an Academy Award (Best Sound).

19 Contamination

Cannon Films

Italian cinema wasn’t only based in horror. There was also sci-fi horror! And Contamination is a good example of an Italian sci-fi production that went beyond the rules of the “cannibal” mindset and simply dared to do something different. Well, sort of.

It could be mistaken for an Alien ripoff because of its premise and some of its production design. But the practical effects were pretty good and incredibly gory. This was a “video nasty” that used a rock soundtrack by The Goblins. Not Goblin, but The Goblins. Yeah, same guys but who knows why they made such a change.

18 Liquid Sky

Liquid Sky
Cinevista Media Home Entertainment

Chances are if you see a trailer for Liquid Sky, you won’t understand much. And it’s okay. You will probably have to watch this one to get the art scene it’s part of, and also observe its subtext of sex and drugs.

This is New Wave sci-fi with a very interesting horror premise. A UFO lands on the roof of an apartment where a drug-addicted model lives. The alien seeks heroin but rather finds endorphins released with orgasms. The soundtrack is insane, the performances are very good, and the production design is nightmarish yet very sexy.

17 The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project
20th Century Fox

Marshall Brickman’s The Manhattan Project is an underestimated film that capitalizes on the ’80s nuclear paranoia to build a film about a teenager who builds an atomic bomb during a school assignment. You probably remember this one because of its iconic poster that shows a kid with his bicycle against every single vehicle in law enforcement.

It flopped at the box office, and critics didn’t exactly love it, but it’s actually a much better film than you think. Give it a try with the Kino Blu-ray!

16 Dreamscape

20th Century Fox

Never mind how the poster resembles a similarity with every Indiana Jones poster or the fact that it isn’t more popular among its sci-fi peers. Dreamscape is actually very, very good. It has great performances by Dennis Quaid, Max Von Sydow, and Kate Capshaw, and a horror adventure tone, production design, and soundtrack that greatly capture the ’80s essence.

This one’s about a young man whose talent includes being able to manipulate the dream world and his dilemma when he stumbles upon an assassination plan when he explores the President’s mind.

15 Xtro

New Line Cinema

It’s quite difficult to describe Xtro. Not because we’re afraid to spoil important details, but because its weird premise is almost secondary to how the film manages to include every single element of horror, sci-fi, and ’80s cinema. It’s strange but they’re all there!

The film tells the story of a man who comes back home after disappearing for three years. In his return, he just wants to reconnect with his son. But the truth is he had been abducted by aliens, and now he’s looking for something other than being a dad. The creature effects are insanely good, and it has one of the best birth sequences in genre cinema history. You will cover your eyes.

14 Lifeforce

Lifeforce 1985
Cannon Film Distributors

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is probably the scariest film on the list. Yes, it has great monster effects, but it’s also how the score and the haunting imagery work together to make us feel part of a solid horror film that doesn’t play by the rules.

The story is simple. We are naive enough as a species when astronauts find alien beings in suspended animation in outer space and decide to bring them back. When they wake up, specialists realize the aliens have an agenda: to wipe us out from the face of the Earth. Oh yes, and they’re vampires draining us of our life force.

13 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
20th Century Fox

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension belongs to cinema’s lineage of films that could only have been made in their time. An idea like this one would be automatically botched in the current film industry.

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It tells the story of a scientist with many talents who prevents an alien invasion by using physics, rock music, and a band of misfit adventurers who stand by his side. This one’s a funny and sexy comedy sci-fi classic that you will never forget. It has gained cult status over the years but still, people disregard it because of its diversity in tone and genres.

12 The Entity

The Entity movie
20th Century Fox

The Entity is a seriously underrated horror sci-fi film that was actually based on true events. The story is about a single mother who keeps getting assaulted by a mysterious, invisible being. When she seeks help and people start noticing she may be right after all, the entity becomes violent.

A very, very well-shot film with a performance by Barbara Hershey that could be the best of her career, The Entity is one of those films that got lost because of the popularity of slashers. The score by Charles Bernstein is impressive.

11 Night of the Comet

Night of the Comet
Atlantic Releasing Corporation

This movie has a bonkers storyline that could only exist in an era where the absence of rules possibly meant a fun time in the movies. Night of the Comet goes from funny to scary to insane in a matter of seconds, and it’s all thanks to Thom Eberhardt’s insistence on making the film a sci-fi- adventure above all.

You never get bored during the journey of two young girls who become survivors after a comet hits Earth and everyone turns into dust or zombies. Instead of being the regular survivors of an apocalypse, they have fun any way they can. Buffy, the character created by Joss Whedon, was mostly inspired by the Sam character.

10 Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine
20th Century Fox

The premise of Enemy Mine is very simple. A human and an alien soldier become stranded on a remote planet, and they must work together in order to survive. The thing is they’re natural-born enemies that fight on the opposite sides of an interstellar war.

Performances by Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. are essential to the film’s serious tone and further, lean into the pure drama set in a sci-fi environment that has a life of its own due to a great production design and special effects. This is one of those films that strangely hasn’t been considered for a remake.

9 My Science Project

My science project
Buena Vista Distribution

The reason why you haven’t heard much about My Science Project is that it was a lesser studio’s reply to films like Back to the Future, Weird Science, and others of its peers in 1985. But from a more objective perspective, the premise’s solid enough to make for a sci-fi action adventure that can easily be enjoyed by every member of the family.

It tells the story of a teenage dude who finds a device that can cause disruption in time and space and connect Earth with other dimensions and ages. It’s so ’80s it hurts, but it’s a Buena Vista Distribution film that complies with every Disney rule in the book, and it’s also quite clever at the same time.

8 Starman

Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges in Starman
Columbia Pictures

This one is another Oscar contender on the list. This one gave Jeff Bridges a spot in the Best Actor race. John Carpenter’s Starman is a very interesting science fiction adventure coming from the hands of a director that didn’t usually touch on any other territory that wasn’t horror. The good thing is it works.

It tells the story of a widow who one day comes upon an alien being born in her living room. He’s a clone of her dead husband. Of course, she falls in love with him as government officials don’t agree with this official response from the invitation we sent on Voyager 2.

7 The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter
Universal Pictures

Perhaps, The Last Starfighter shouldn’t be put on this list considering its cult status. But we like it so much, we can’t think of why it hasn’t gotten more recognition among its science fiction peers.

Its storyline is awesome. Think of your favorite video game. You’re probably a master at it and have finished it several times. Now think of what you could do “inside it” if everything in that universe actually existed, and you could fight the monsters you usually fight on TV. Yes, this one deserves to be brought back, and not exactly as a reboot.

6 D.A.R.Y.L.

Paramount Pictures

Fresh off the success of The Neverending Story, Barret Oliver starred in a family adventure that today wouldn’t be made. What’s safe about showing a kid flying the very lethal Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird? Even if it’s a cyborg, we don’t believe such a pivotal scene would be approved today.

In D.A.R.Y.L., a young kid has amnesia and only remembers his name. The thing is his impressive skills are extraordinary, and this draws the attention of the government agency responsible for actually creating him. This one works alongside some other modern films that bring to the table some awareness about how A.I. is something not to be played with.

5 Brainstorm

MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Brainstorm is insanely cool and almost optimistic up to a point. But of course, the horror element shows up and the dark side of science fiction directs the plot towards humans misbehaving out of greed and ambition.

The film tells the story of scientists who are able to transfer memories and thoughts from one mind to another. But then the big bosses attempt to use the technology in military conflicts. Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, and Natalie Wood are the stars of this sci-fi adventure that everyone should see. It was produced in 1983, but the film looked great. All because of Douglas Trumbull’s direction and his insistence on shooting effects scenes in 70mm. Unfortunately, people seem to remember this one only because it was Natalie Wood’s last film appearance.

4 Innerspace

Warner Bros.

This one actually won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1988. Presented by Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante’s Innerspace is a much better film than people remember. It’s very well-shot and acted, but people often confuse its tone. It’s excessively funny because of its lead Martin Short. But this is Joe Dante, and you know he’s a director who likes to cross over between the boundaries of expectations.

In Innerspace, an aviator participates in an experiment. He’s willing to get miniaturized for medical and scientific purposes. The problem is the lab gets attacked, and Tuck Pendleton is injected into the body of a grocery clerk who knows nothing about this. What follows is a great adventure with impressive special effects that you will never forget.

3 Altered States

Altered states
Warner Bros.

Ken Russell’s Altered States is a much better film than people remember. Its story about a scientist using sensory deprivation to explore the limits of the human mind (and more), goes for a dark tone that feels natural in the Russell-verse of thrillers that step on the edge of other genres.

Related: Underrated Sci-Fi Movies of the ’90s, Ranked

The special effects on this one are very, very good, and it’s known for being the feature debut of William Hurt.

2 Videodrome

Universal Pictures

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is definitely one of his most interesting films. The reason is the story is strong enough to sustain the director’s weird statement about capitalism and the media industry, creating entertainment out of everything they could get their hands on. But yes, it’s also an incredibly bizarre movie.

It tells the story of a young executive who discovers a broadcast signal where strange content is always being transmitted and someone is attempting to control the minds of audiences with pieces that include snuff, violence, and sex.

1 Batteries Not Included

batteries not included
Universal Pictures

Few films are as ’80s as Batteries Not Included. Sure, we may have sort of cheated when including a production by Spielberg, but almost 40 years after its release it still retains that magic of family-friendly adventure that could only come from the mind of genre darling Mick Garris.

It tells the story of a group of New Yorkers facing the threat of property development and the small alien beings that arrive to help them fight the system. 1987 wasn’t exactly a great year for genre films, but this one proved to be a strong contender in the case of sci-fi that everyone in the family could enjoy. It includes great performances by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.

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