13 of the Best Science Fiction/Horror Films
October is the perfect time to watch those rare films that merge science fiction with horror. These are films that blend mankind's desire to explore the unknown, and the technology we create, along with our ultimate fear of the unknown.
Below, we've got 13 (what other number would we pick?) of the best sci-fi/horror films. Enjoy!
13. The War of the Worlds - 2005
In the hands of director Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, this iteration of H.G. Wells' 1898 novel packs a punch. When lightning strikes cause huge tripod machines to emerge from the ground, Cruise must find a way to protect his two children and reunite with his estranged wife.
Speaking of robots, if you're wondering what Boston Dynamics' robot dog Spot has been up to lately, he was performing last weekend at the halftime show for the University of Missouri's Missouri Tigers.
And, prior to his performance, Spot was filmed hanging out with the cheerleading squad. Lucky Spot.
Unlike Spot, the tripod machines in War of the Worlds contain aliens intent on using humans as a food source. What ultimately happens is explained in a closing narration that is particularly appropriate given the COVID pandemic. Our recommendation: some scenes may be a little intense for younger children.
12. Annihilation - 2018
When a meteorite lands on Earth, it creates the "Shimmer", a strange and increasing area of mutated plants and animals. After only one member of a previous expedition, Kane, returns from the "Shimmer", the military prepares to send in an all-female team which includes Kane's wife, Lena.
The women conclude that the "Shimmer" is a type of prism that distorts any kind of information, including DNA, and that they too are mutating. When Lena discovers Kane's dead body, she knows that the man who returned isn't her husband, but by then, there's an exact copy of her as well.
The "Shimmer" isn't so far-fetched if you consider the theory that we're all just holograms. The holographic principle was first proposed in the mid-1990s by Stanford theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind and Dutch theoretical physicist Gerard 't Hooft.
The holographic principle states that while we appear to live in a three-dimensional universe, it may actually have only two dimensions which contain all the information needed to fully describe our three dimensions, much like a hologram on a credit card. This data is then projected to appear in three dimensions.
In 1998, Argentinian physicist Juan Maldacena posited that our entire universe could be a hologram, in which space-time bends and twists, producing the force of gravity, while also "mapping" to a network of quantum particles that live on a gravity-free surface. This theory is a key part of a model for the quantum theory of gravity which could possibly lead the way to a greater understanding of how our space-time came to exist, and perhaps even a way to unite the theory of gravity and the theories of particle physics.
After the "Shimmer" collapses, a Kane and a Lena remain, but are they the real Kane and Lena? Our recommendation: OK to watch with older children.
11. Cloverfield - 2008
One of the best of the "found-footage" movies, Cloverfield starts with six young New Yorkers filming the going away party for one of them. That's when "Clover", a hideous alien, descends on the city.
After wiping out the Statue of Liberty, the Woolworth Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge, the creature is attacked by the National Guard, but this only succeeds in causing smaller, parasite creatures to fall off the alien's body.
In case you think a creature like Clover couldn't be hiding out somewhere in this world, consider the case of the coelacanth. More closely related to amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals than they are to fish, the coelacanth was originally thought to have gone extinct around 66 million years ago.
Fast forward to December 23, 1938, when museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer received a call from the manager of a local trawler fleet, saying he had a load of fish, pulled out of the waters off the east coast of South Africa, for her to examine for possible museum specimens. While looking through the catch, Courtenay-Latimer noticed an unusual fish, about five feet long (1.52 m), heavily scaled, and with limb-like fins. The fish was eventually identified as a coelacanth. Today, the coelacanth is the best-known example of what's called a Lazarus taxon, animals long thought to be extinct that have suddenly reappeared.
Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, Cloverfield has spawned a number sequels, including 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016 and The Cloverfield Paradox in 2018. Currently, another sequel is said to be in development. Our recommendation: invite the gang over to watch.
10. Under the Skin - 2013
Before Scarlett Johansson was fighting with Disney, she was starring in this sci-fi classic. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the film is about an astonishingly good looking woman who happens to be a alien who needs humans to snack on.
The Reclinervellus nielseni wasps lay their eggs on the backs of orb-weaver spiders. Incredibly, once they hatch, the larvae are able to take control of the brains of the spiders, essentially turning them into zombies, and cause the spider to build an unusual web which provides a cocoon for the wasp larva. If that weren't insulting enough, once the web is completed, the young wasps then eat the spider.
By the end of the film, we find out what is really under Scarlett's lovely skin, and it ain't pretty. Besides some deep interpretations such as this one from The Economist, "...there is some aggressive sexuality in the film: women seem very vulnerable, but then men’s desires are punished," the film stands well on its own merits. Our recommendation: for adults only.
9. Event Horizon - 1997
The film tells the story of a spaceship sent to rescue a missing spacecraft named Event Horizon that had mysteriously disappeared, and then reappeared orbiting around the planet Neptune.
It seems that the Event Horizon had been testing a new propulsion method that created a rift in space-time, allowing the ship to enter another universe, and allowing a malignant entity to hitchhike back into our universe.
Multiple universes are not just a staple of science fiction, but also of quantum mechanics. Theorists trying to explain how inflation (the period of rapid expansion after the Big Bang) has led to everything in the universe have developed a number of models that use the concept of multiple universes. These have included string theory, which incorporated multiple dimensions; M-theory, which requires 11 dimensions; the concept of bubble universes, where varying rates of inflation led to the creation of additional universes; and many other theories.
In 1954, while at a drinking party, Princeton University physics graduate student Hugh Everett first conceived the idea of the "many worlds interpretation" of quantum mechanics, commonly called the "multiverse". Everett's concept was that the universe obeys at all times a deterministic wave equation which doesn't collapse.
The implication of this is that every possible outcome of a quantum measurement is realized in some "world" or universe. By that logic, there must be a very large, or infinite, number of universes. Every decision we make creates new universes, one reflecting each possible outcome. Everett's idea was so radical, that other physicists, especially Niels Bohr, insisted that Everett's idea couldn't possibly be correct, and Everett reacted by leaving academia entirely and going into private industry.
In the movie, the crew on board the rescue ship then start experiencing terrifying hallucinations of their loved ones, which lure some, but not all, to their deaths. Our recommendation: this movie is best enjoyed with friends and a glass of wine.
8. Frankenstein - 1931
Mary Shelley first published the novel Frankenstein in 1818 after she, her husband, the poet Percy B. Shelley, and novelists John William Polidori and Lord Byron held a competition to see who could write the best horror story.
The first film version was made in 1931 by English director James Whale, who went on to direct The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein. The 1998 movie Gods and Monsters was about Whale's experience living in California as an openly gay man. The film is about scientist Henry Frankenstein who decides to build a living being made of body parts taken from corpses. When the creature, played by Boris Karloff, gets a mind of his own and escapes from Frankenstein's lab, the locals respond with torches, pitchforks, and cries of "the monster"!
Assembling a human being from donor parts used to seem like science fiction, but the history of transplantation is a long one. The first successful skin transplant occurred in 1869, while the first cornea transplant was in 1905, and the first successful kidney transplant was performed in 1954.
The first heart transplant was done in 1967, and bone marrow was first transplanted in 1956. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) was passed in 1968, creating a Uniform Donor Card, which is legal in all 50 states, and which allows people to express a legally-binding wish to donate any usable organs.
In 1991, the U.S. Library of Congress added Frankenstein to its National Film Registry, describing it as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Our recommendation: a must-watch for horror fans.
7. The Fly - 1986
The actor Jeff Goldblum has a reputation for being both brainy and cuddly, appearing in films such as Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and The Right Stuff. But in The Fly, while he starts off as cuddly, at least to the journalist played by Geena Davis, he certainly doesn't end that way.
In The Fly, Goldblum plays a nerdy scientist named Seth Brundle who begins changing after a fly sneaks into a chamber Brundle is using for a teleportation experiment.
While scientists haven't been able to teleport a person yet, they have been able to teleport information between photons placed on computer chips. In 2020, scientists at the University of Rochester and Purdue University were able to teleport electrons, which are one of the basic building blocks of all atoms.
The physical principle behind teleportation is quantum entanglement, which Albert Einstein famously called "spooky action at a distance." When entangled, the properties of one particle affect the properties of another particle, even if they are separated by a large distance.
The film, directed by David Cronenberg, won a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Makeup, and don't be surprised if you find yourself crying at the end. Our recommendation: invite your non-squeamish friends to watch it with you.
6. Predator 1 and 2 - 1987/1990
Director John McTiernan directed the original Predator, and it featured a group of tough-as-nails mercenaries, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura. They are tasked with executing a rescue mission in the South American jungle but as they attempt to hike out of the jungle, they are targeted by an alien "Predator" who wants to match his hunting skills against the best of the best.
Unfortunately, one of the Predator's skills is that he is virtually invisible, which makes him hard to hunt. Soon, the Predator starts picking off the cast one by one, until only one member is left.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the former head of the Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, Luis Elizondo, is writing a book which will "...reveal shocking never-before-shared details regarding what Elizondo has learned about UFOs and the profound implications for humanity ..."
Elizondo told the publication, "The American people now know a small portion of what I and my colleagues in the Pentagon have been privy to: That these UAP (unidentified aerial phenomenon) are not secret U.S. technology, that they do not seem to belong to any known allies or adversaries and that our intelligence services have yet to identify a terrestrial explanation for these extraordinary vehicles."
In Predator 2, a different Predator shows up in Los Angeles and proceeds to hunt down gang members. He is pursued by dogged L.A. police lieutenant, Mike Harrigan, played by Danny Glover, as well as a secret government organization.
The final showdown between Harrigan and the Predator is not something to be missed. Due to its violence, Predator 2 was the first movie to be given the NC-17 rating, which after being recut, was changed to an R rating. Our recommendation: put the kids to bed before screening these two films.
5. The Thing - 1982
Dogs are cute and furry, right? Well, not this time, not when they harbor a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form capable of copying any organism it chooses. When the dog turns up at an American Antarctic research station, things get very dicey very quickly, especially once the crew realizes that anyone could be "The Thing".
Today, various countries operate research stations in Antarctica. They include China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Finland, Poland, Uruguay, Chile, Germany, India, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina, Japan, Spain, South Korea, Pakistan, and Germany.
Antarctic temperatures range from a relatively balmy 67.6° F (19.8° C), which is the highest temperature ever recorded on January 30, 1982. The lowest recorded temperature was set on July 21, 1983 at a staggering −128.6 °F (−89.2° C).
The 1982 film was directed by John Carpenter and starred Kurt Russell as the group's helicopter pilot. Can any of the crew survive the bitter cold and annihilate "The Thing" at the same time? You have to see for yourself. The Thing has spawned a variety of novelizations, board games, video games, merchandise, and a 2011 prequel film. In 2020, a remake of the film was announced. Our recommendation: don't watch this film alone.
4. A Quiet Place 1 and 2 - 2018/2020
Actor and director John Krasinski might have looked warm and fuzzy while playing Jim Halpert on the U.S. version of The Office, but don't let that fool you, he has some serious sci-fi/horror chops. In these two films, horrifying, blind aliens have descended on Earth, but they are blessed with an extraordinary sense of hearing. They use this sense to hunt humans to the brink of extinction. The film focuses on a couple and their children, one of whom is deaf, who must struggle to survive.
Sound can be used as a weapon. In 2005, a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) was used by the crew of the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit to deter pirates who were attacking the ship. Police use similar devices for crowd control, and in the UK, Mosquito sonic devices have been used to deter teenagers from hanging around certain areas. These devices emit ultra-high frequency sound of around 20 kHz which is especially annoying to people under 20 years of age, but can't be heard by those who are older.
In the film, Krasinski was smart enough to cast his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, as the mother. Blunt won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and the original film grossed more than $350 million worldwide. Our recommendation: keep the lights on and don't watch these two films alone.
3. The Terminator 1 and 2 - 1984
While "The Terminator" isn't exactly an alien, he is a machine made of steel and human tissue who has been sent back from the future ruled by an AI to kill the mother of the man who will defeat the AI. Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator kills several wrong Sarah Connors before setting his sites on the right one. The only thing standing in his way is a human warrior, who has been sent from the future to stop him.
Both films serve as a great warning against trusting machines, especially those made by Cyberdyne Systems. And, if you love great lines from movies, these films have got a bunch of them, not the least of which is Schwarzennegger's laconic: "I'll be back."
The U.S. military has been trying to develop an exoskeleton suit that could be warned by troops. In 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began funding projects including the Sarcos full-body, a powered exoskeleton. Today, Lockheed Martin's ONYX suit aims to support soldiers in performing tasks that are "knee-intensive".
The success of The Terminator spawned six sequels including, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a television series, comic books, novels, and video games. In 2008, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Our recommendation: assemble the gang for a Terminator marathon.
2. Alien - 1979
Director Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece is about the space freighter Nostromo, which is en route back to Earth when it receives a message from "the company" to go to planet LV-426. There, they find a crashed alien spaceship with a dead spacefarer who was created, along with the rest of the visuals, by the famed Swiss artist H.R. Giger.
When one crewmember, Kane, played by John Hurt, descends into the heart of the crashed ship, he discovers a nursery of ... if you don't know, we're not going to tell you.
The Proxima Centauri system has one gas giant and one rocky planet that is almost the same size as Earth, being only 17 percent larger. That world is within the star's habitable zone, which means that liquid water could exist. The signal shifted slightly, implying that it was caused by the movement of a planet, but before scientists can conclude it was an alien communication they first have to rule out other possible sources.
Returning to the Nostromo, the crew celebrates with a festive meal which ends really, really badly. After that, it's an all-out sprint for the remaining crew members to survive. Do any of them make it home? What about the cat? You'll have to see for yourself. Our recommendation: don't watch this film alone.
1. Aliens - 1986
Proving that a sequel can be as good if not better than its original, director James Cameron's film follows one of the Nostromo's original crewmembers, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Safely back home, Ripley is haunted by what the alien did to her crewmembers onboard the Nostromo. Then, she is contacted by a representative of "the company", played to oily perfection by Paul Reiser, who tells her that contact has been lost with a group of colonists who have been living on LV-426.
Reluctantly, Ripley agrees to go back to LV-426, accompanied by a contingent of tough space marines who include Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Michael Bean, and Jenette Goldstein. When only one colonist is found alive, a little girl, Ripley becomes attached to her, and the remainder of the film concerns Ripley's attempts to keep this pseudo daughter alive, while the alien mother feels exactly the same way about her offspring.
Mothers have been known to do some amazing things to protect their children. One mother, Amanda Stockfelt, was sheltering under her desk at work when a tornado hit. She strapped her infant daughter into a car seat, and when the two were sucked up into the tornado, Stockfelt hung on for dear life, saving both her baby and herself.
When a Waco, Texas woman, Jennifer Duncan, had a car accident on a bridge, she pulled over to the side of the road and took her 8-month-old son out of his car seat. While standing by the side of the road holding her son and waiting for police to arrive, a passing car hit one of the cars involved in the accident and it knocked Duncan and her baby over the railing and down 30 feet (9.14 m).
The mom instinctively brought her legs up to completely envelope her baby and he survived without a scratch. Mom wasn't so lucky, she had a shattered pelvis, nine broken bones in her back, fractured legs and ribs, and she had to have one of her legs amputated.
The final showdown between the two mothers is not something to be missed. Our recommendation: invite your friends over for a viewing party, and celebrate mothers the universe over.