6 Amazing Sci-Fi Films Released in the Last Decade You’ve Never Heard Of

The genre of science fiction spans a huge range, from comedy, drama, thriller, horror, even political satire and romance. It digs into society’s deepest fears about the future while also criticizing the present. As such, it has been a popular genre throughout cinematic history, adapting to the ever-changing times, always remaining fresh and new. While there have always been the critically acclaimed classics like Blade Runner and Star Wars and the modern fare like the Star Trek reboots, there are plenty of quality sci-fi films that slip through the cracks. If you’re looking to find some films that are off the beaten trail so to speak, here’s a look at 6 fantastic sci-fi films from the last ten years that you’ve (probably) never heard of.

6. Melancholia (2011)

Yesmelancholia poster, before Lars von Trier made all those controversial comments at the Cannes Film Festival, he was best known for his less than traditional film making. His movies use horrifying physical events as metaphors for emotional and mental trauma. His previous cinematic venture, Antichrist, delved into the theme of internalized and oppressive misogyny by telling the story of a married couple’s supernatural retreat to a cabin in the woods. Melancholia continues this tradition by dealing with the complex issue of depression in a story where the Earth is about to be obliterated by a much larger planetoid.

The movie follows Justine, a young woman suffering from depression that destroys her marriage, family, and personal well being. Meanwhile the world faces the threat of Melancholia, a planet which is on a collision trajectory with Earth. It is, however, during the oncoming threat of world wide destruction does Justine find a sense of peace and an ability to deal with death in a way her well-adjusted sister Claire cannot. While the focus of the film is on the human drama between Justine, Claire, and Claire’s husband John, Melancholia deals with the scientific realities of a world on the brink of planetary annihilation. The final scene of Justine, Claire, and Claire’s son sitting together as Melancholia slowly crashes behind them is almost guaranteed to take your breath away. The film’s amazing cinematography features some beautiful shots of natural phenomena in the beginning, as we watch the characters struggling against nature, both the nature of physics and the human nature of depression and fear. It’s a heavily symbolic film that exhibits a true understanding of science fiction’s potential as a genre that conveys both a human and inhuman experience. While it’s not the most sci-fi heavy film on this list, it’s a great way to subtly slip some in to a loved one’s film collection

5. Sunshine (2007)

sunshine posterSunshine is often accused of being yet another “motley crew saves the world from naturally-occurring super disasters” film like The Core or Armageddon. Such comparisons, however, do a disservice to this relatively unknown feature film and its ability to create tension, horror, and suspense. In the year 2057, the Sun begins to shut down into a solar winter, which will kill all life on Earth. When the first mission fails, the crew of the Icarus II sets out to try and restart the Sun using a nuclear bomb. As they approach their destination, bizarre malfunctions begin occurring around the ship and crew members start dying left and right. Soon physicist Robert Capa finds that it is not only time working against him to try and save Earth, but something darker and more determined.

Sunshine contemplates some major themes, such as the existence of a higher power and our place in the universe, the general big questions that come to mind when someone is the last hope for humanity’s survival. The cast includes many well-known names like Batman Begin‘s Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame and Captain America himself Chris Evans. This visually stunning film contains a lot of allusions to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, not the least of which is a female-voiced super computer controlling the ship, and makes for a fun time picking out all the references between the gruesome deaths. There are some complaints that the twist ending about who is creating all the issues on the ship is cliched and too bizarre to be plausible, it does present an interesting philosophical point: should humans selfishly fight to stay alive, or should we die as is the order of the natural chaos of the universe? This film is all about posing the tough questions and leaving it open to its audience, almost like old episodes of Doctor Who or Star Trek, and that’s part of its charm. Sunshine is a thrilling, suspenseful movie that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish guaranteed. 

4. Daft Punk’s Electroma (2006)

Electroma posterMany sci-fi and music fans around the world know of Daft Punk’s most famous music movie, 2003’s Interstella 5555. The internationally-acclaimed anime film that is the realization of their second album Discovery and was the first film linked to the French robotic techno duo. Much less known is the film they directed and starred in themselves, Daft Punk’s Electroma. It follows two robots living in a robot world who wish to become human. They dawn latex faces and fake human appendages to attempt to become human from the outside-in, feeling more at home in those forms than as robots like everyone else. Their new look doesn’t go over well with the rest of their robot community and even after they return to their robot forms, society forces them out into the desert. Once there, the film suddenly turns into an abridged version of Gerry, if it ended with a self-destruct sequence and a flaming, flailing robot running into the sunset. 

While Daft Punk both direct and star in the film, there is none of their own music on the soundtrack. Instead they opt to create a moving musical set piece including the works of Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno, and Jackson C. Frank, showing that Daft Punk are not just techno gurus but also well rounded music lovers. The genius of this movie is in the way it blends disturbing visuals, haunting music, and narrative undertones of the nature of humanity’s knee-jerk rejection to those who are different, the need for escapism, and loving nature of sacrifice. I would even venture to say that Daft Punk’s Electroma works as a reverse metaphor for Daft Punk themselves, as humans taking on the guise of robots to feel more themselves then they ever did in flesh and blood. While it’s certainly not their best-known work, it’s a must have for any sci-fi or music fan.

3. The Host (2006)

the host posterBefore anyone has a small heart attack, no, this is not the Stephenie Meyer book adaptation of the same name that was released this year. This film’s original Korean title is Goemul which translates to “Monster” but was translated into English as The Host. While a big success in its native Korea, very few English-speaking audiences have ever seen the film due to a lack of a major theatrical release and the ever-growing prejudice against films with subtitles. The movie follows a Korean family, though not all of them are related by blood, out to save their daughter who was kidnapped by the mysterious monster in the Han river.

Monster movies are often hard to accomplish successfully, but The Host is able to swerve past all the typical mistakes made by films like Cloverfield and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Through the use of an un-convoluted origin story, creating a unique monster design which they use sparingly rather, and understanding what’s important isn’t how disturbing the monster looks but how the main characters interact and defeat it, this film is both heart-warming and creepy. By focusing on a family rather than a group of strangers, the audience gets both great character development in a shorter amount of time and stronger bonds that help the audience to quickly identify and empathize with the actors on screen. That’s not to say that the scenes with the monster on a killing rampage aren’t equally as engaging, but as I said before, the best part of a monster movie are the characters trying to kill it, not the CGI special effects. This film also makes comments on international and military politics, the morality of science, and yes, even pollution. The Host is beautifully shot, well acted, and expertly written, so don’t let the fact that there are subtitles scare you away from this gem of a film.

2. Primer (2004)

primer posterWhile this film has been gaining notoriety in the last few years among cinephiles on the web, it remains mostly unknown to the public. Primer is an independent science-fiction film made on a budget of $7,000, written, produced, directed, and starring former computer software developer turned film maker Shane Carruth. His debut film follows two friends and engineers, Aaron and Abe, who create a rudimentary functioning time machine. I say rudimentary because it’s very small, contains no oxygen, and can only take one person back to earlier in the day. They, of course, use their new discovery to get rich through the manipulation of the stock market, but find that messing with time is never an simple business when you have multiple versions of yourself running around.

This film is loaded with scientific and mathematical jargon, and needs charts to even begin to understand the convoluted entanglement of the time lines. If that isn’t enough to scare you off this daunting film, there are some some strange, unresolved plots lines like attempting to save a woman at a party, the dead body of said woman’s father, and a mysterious ailment that afflicts both Aaron and Abe after their travels in the machine. That’s not to say that this film isn’t worth seeing – it is actually very entertaining, especially if you’re into science fact as much as science fiction. To its credit, this film looks magnificent for being shot on such a small budget, utilizing easy cinema tricks to convey suspense and horror. I highly recommend Primer to anyone looking for a more realistic depiction of time travel, or at least to impress people by feigning that you understand what the characters are talking about.

1. Moon (2009)

moon posterOne of the most impressive sci-fi films I have ever had the pleasure of watching, Moon is Sam Rockwell’s tour de force. Astronaut Sam Bell is tasked with extracting helium from the Moon, and is soon set to depart back to Earth. He comes to discover after a minor accident that, much to his horror, he is one of several clones which are promptly incinerated after their three-year life cycle and subsequently replaced. He and a new Sam clone (played by Robin Chalk for the sake of distinction), who was brought to life when the computer believed the first to be dead, attempt to work together to try to get the news of the illegal cloning back to Earth. As company men approach the shuttle to assure the incineration of the Sam-Rockwell-clone, both clones find that their short lives are in danger. Paying homage to such classic films like Solaris (1972), 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Alien, this film is has some of the most breath-taking imagery ever put to film.

What this film does better than any other film on this list is atmosphere. The daunting and vast isolation of the Moon, the claustrophobic space station becoming more and more like a trap as certain death approaches, even the majestic beauty of the empty universe elicits an emotional responses. Amongst the complicated issues of cloning and morality, one of central themes of the film is the reliability of memories. It ponders the questions of how can we be sure we actually remember who we are, that we actually know the people in our lives, and if they be any less real if they weren’t technically ours. Moon handles these issues with grace and a keen understanding of the human psyche, reminding the audience that just because these questions are in a sci-fi movie doesn’t make them any less applicable to real life. I highly recommend this film to any movie lover who wants a dark, intellectually challenging film.

There are, of course, several hundred more science-fiction films which are obscure to the average film fan. Classics like Zardoz and They Live! are waiting to be rediscovered by new audiences. Even modern films, like the Spanish and Russian produced The Cosmonaut, often fly under the radar simply because they lack major theatrical releases. Hopefully this list has put you on the right path to explore many more of these hidden genre gems and will keep you on the lookout for great movies no matter where they come from.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Sam Walker

    Sunshine and Moon were both fantastic films! It was refreshing to see sci-fi films that dealt with actual science, but were fantastical enough to be enjoyable. Very interesting list, I will definitely give Primer a watch at some point!

  2. Dale Barham

    While having heard of every entry on this list, you’ve picked out a really strong bunch. I have yet to see Melancholia but you hit the nail on the head with the rest. I loved the inclusion of the Host, and an honorable mention goes to A Scanner Darkly, the Richard Linklater film.

    • Sara Roncero-Menendez

      I have yet to see A Scanner Darkly! You are referring to the version with Keanu Reeves, correct? I read the book so I really should check it out soon! Thanks for the comment Dale!

    • Dale, remembering your comment on the Oldboy story regarding the hammer scene, you HAVE to see Melancholia. The opening sequence spans about 5 minutes, all shot in super slow motion with the Phantom HD Gold. Very memorable, it’s probably too late now but seeing it on the big screen is quite an experience.

  3. I’ve heard of all, but only actually seen Moon. Great list!

  4. Jon Lisi
    Jon Lisi

    I’ve totally heard of all of these except the Daft Punk project and I have to say this is a great list. So glad you included Melancholia. Lars Von Trier is the best filmmaker today and I love how all of his films, like Melancholia, completely subvert their genres. (Consider Dancer in the Dark and the musical or Antichrist and horror).

  5. That “You’ve Never Heard Of”? Don’t hate me for saying this but I was expect some really rare movies here… all of them are very known, most kicking the box office, which doesn’t make them that rare if you ask me.

    I like your writing but your choice of movies, not as much.

    • Sara Roncero-Menendez

      No worries, I don’t hate. With the advantage of the Internet, it’s a lot easier to find smaller gems like these than back in the 1970s or 1980s. I know lots of people have heard of these films, but I hear it from people who are typically web savvy or cinephiles. This list is geared towards those English-speaking audiences who aren’t as familiar with sci-fi to give them places to start. I really appreciate the critique though!

      If you’re looking for something really rare, I do mention a film called The Cosmonaut in the conclusion. It’s only gotten a small release and is actually a really wonderful film, so you might be interested in that.

  6. Vic Millar

    Great list, the only one I haven’t seen is Electroma but it sounds interesting so I’ll definitely check it out. Sunshine is my favorite of Danny Boyle movie – I know the third act is divisive but I still love it!

  7. Jordan

    I hadn’t heard of many of these movies, except “Melancholia”. Since I love taking a look at weird foreign films, i will definitely watch the Host when I find it!! Thanks for an interesting list.

  8. Ana Souza

    Not sure Melancholia was that unheard of, particularly considering the buzz it generated at Cannes at the time and its casting of Kirsten Dunst; nonetheless this is a great list! I absolutely love Moon and you’re right, it harnesses the best of atmospheric sci-fi and was undeservedly way under the radar (although that can be considered a good thing).

  9. Amanda Gostomski

    I just can’t stand that Lars von Trier and how much he portrays women. Primer is a good choice though! Needs more attention for just what someone can do with almost not budget and a good idea.

    • Sara Roncero-Menendez

      I was really surprised when someone told me how low budget Primer was. It looks better than even some of the big budget Hollywood fare. He’s making a new film soon, can’t wait to see that one!

  10. I’ve seen all of these (none are “never seen” movies), and they’re good. Have you seen District 9? Fairly well-known, but I would have put it on the list.

    • Ikke Muler

      District 9 is very known 😀 Wasn’t it Oscar nominated for effects…?

      • Sara Roncero-Menendez

        Indeed, it was nominated for 4 Oscars. Also I didn’t put it on since it did have a major theater release, at least in the US and Europe.

      • Yeah but all the ones on this last are very well-known, more so than D9. District 9 was from a first-time director. Sunshine is from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and Melancholia from the world-renowned von Trier.

  11. Always great to find lists like this to explore.

    Is it a jerk move to point out a typo, though? The robots can’t ‘dawn’ something — they have to ‘don’ those latex masks…

  12. Matthew Sims

    Great list. While I haven’t seen ‘Electroma’ or ‘The Host’ (they are now on my must-watch list) all of the others are must-see films for any film lover.

    While Melancholia is not instantly recognisable as a science-fiction film, it definitely has elements of the genre sprinkled throughout. The sound design is just breathtaking.

    Sunshine is an enjoyable sci-fi action film which keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.

    Primer is perhaps the best time travel film and one of the most confusing films I have ever seen. You have to spend another one and a half hours just to understand it. Not for everyone, but one that everyone should see at least once.

    I have to see Moon again. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the plot, probably because my expectations were too high. Yet, Sam Rockwell can never be bad in my books and the cinematography and score by Clint Mansell is fantastic.

    Again, stellar list. Can’t wait to read your next.

  13. Nick Santoro

    Awesome list, I enjoyed Moon the most, probably.

  14. Mike Keith

    Um, I have watched “The Host” a dozen times or so. What do you mean they are not all related by blood??

  15. Liz Kellam

    Moon also gives one of the greatest performances of the last decade. Sam Rockwell is such an underrated actor. He holds his own in that movie, and he is, quite literally, all alone.

  16. wow Melancholia was in fact, a fantastic movie I’d never heard of.

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