Fans of horror films know that truly good horror can be difficult to parse from less-than-stellar releases. This is especially true with the sci-fi horror subgenre, which can be loaded with clichéd plots and shoddy performances. Luckily, I’ve watched tons of films in this subgenre and can recommend some real gems. Whether you’re a fan of alien movies or low-budget films, I have a diverse list to add to your watchlist.
The films on the list span from the 1980s to today and cover a variety of topics. Unsurprisingly, a good portion of them concern extraterrestrial beings. That being said, you can still find technology-based films on this list, and even a film that is purely about space and the human condition. Check them all out if you’re up for a mega-marathon of sci-fi horror.
Aniara is a 2019 Swedish science fiction drama about a ship lost in space, based on a 1960s television film of the same name. While it’s not technically billed as a horror film, by its ending we’re not sure how you could view this dark film as anything else. After being struck by an asteroid while heading to Mars, the Aniara (the ship’s name) struggles to stay on course. The crew and passengers gradually go through various stages of psychological despair, and the despair never really ends. Aniara.
A more modern film than Extraterrestrialthe 2017 film Life still has bits of the classic film floating around in its DNA. Ryan Reynolds plays Rory Adams, an engineer who is aboard a spaceship investigating the presence of life (named Calvin) recovered from a Mars probe. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong with Calvin and the crew, resulting in a bloody mess at the end. Life is as fun as it is tense, and it doesn’t let up at all.
8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
What more could you want than a sci-fi horror starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a wild adventure that keeps you questioning yourself and your perceptions until the end. Winstead plays Michelle, a woman who wakes up in a bunker after a car accident. Goodman is her captor, telling her she can’t leave because of an apocalyptic event. She doubts his account of events and tensions rise. Watch 10 Cloverfield Lane yourself to find out how things work out.
7. The cabin in the woods
If you’re looking for a feature that’s more meta and comedy-focused than some of our darker entries, check out The cabin in the woods. We know that when you start watching it, you’ll wonder how this classifies as a sci-fi horror film (rather than a regular horror film, as it initially appears). But trust us, keep watching The cabin in the woods blind, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the chaos to come after the twist presents itself. It’s a great time and full of meta-commentary on the horror genre.
If you’re looking for some low-tech sci-fi horror, look no further than Coherence. The 2013 film was shot on a very limited budget and essentially takes place in a single setting (sort of, but we can’t elaborate without spoilers). The entire draw Coherence is an incredibly scary and mysterious story. As a group of friends gather for dinner, the passing of a comet makes things in the world downright strange and confusing.
The notion of Possessor This alone is horrible, but the execution only increases the terror of the multitudes. A technological invention allows people to take control of other people’s bodies, and Tasya Vos is an assassin who uses this device to eliminate contracted blows. The events of Possessor spiraled from there, and Cronenberg created yet another triumph of disturbing body horror (and we mean, Really disturbing) to delight (or torture) the senses.
Annihilation isn’t even that old of a film (released in 2018), but it has quickly set itself up to become an enduring classic for the horror and sci-fi genres. It wowed fans with its fresh premise, beautiful otherworldly horror, and inventive visuals. Annihilation follows a group of women who embark on the second expedition into the Shimmer, a supernatural phenomenon threatening to spread and consume the Earth. Natalie Portman gives a star performance, but we’ll say it best the performance probably goes back to the haunting bear creature seen halfway through Annihilation.
If you’ve followed Jordan Peele’s directing career, you’ll know he has a talent for unique concepts. No is perhaps Peele’s best work in this regard, combining several ideas into one masterpiece. The sci-fi and horror aspects of this film are balanced, with even some comedy highlights. No is even a film that benefits from rewatches, allowing you to appreciate the little details you may have missed the first time around.
Need tons of action to accompany your sci-fi horror? Then you can’t go wrong with Extraterrestrial. The initial part of Extraterrestrial may be a bit slow, but things eventually pick up and become tedious in a way that’s extremely enjoyable for viewers. Sigourney Weaver gives this film’s standout performance, but the rest of the cast is nothing to scoff at either. Extraterrestrial is still enjoyable even after several rewatches, offering new ways of perceiving the film.
1. The thing
You can’t get a film much more typical of the sci-fi horror subgenre than 1982’s. The thing. With Kurt Russell and Keith David, The thing is a horribly daunting exploration of what to do when you can’t trust anyone, even yourself. An alien is hiding inside someone in the Antarctic base, but who? The mystery persists, even after the credits roll. For being a somewhat dated film, The thing still holds up quite well to modern audiences.