The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Amazon Prime

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The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Amazon Prime

The sci-fi movie selection on Amazon Prime is considerable, and all over the map—classic sci-fi from the 1970s and ’80s, recent blockbusters, indie gems—and representative of such a dearth of quality, buttressed by butt-loads of low-budget B-movies, that browsing for the good stuff is more than difficult. We’ve dug through pages and pages of free sci-fi offerings for Amazon Prime members and found a handful worth your time, from hilarious satires to graphically violent satires, from iconic, controversial picks to a few from as recently as this year.

You may also want to consult the following, sci-fi centric lists:

The 100 best sci-fi movies of all time
The 100 best sci-fi TV shows of all time
The best sci-fi movies on Netflix
The best sci-fi movies on HBO Max


Here are the 15 best sci-fi movies streaming on Amazon Prime:

1. Inception

inception-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 148 minutes

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In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream. Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife. —Michael Saba and Chad Betz


2. The Man Who Fell to Earth

man-who-fell-to-earth-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Imbued with newfound poignancy and melancholia after the passing of its mercurial lead Starman, David Bowie, Nicholas Roeg’s impressionistic, ravenous, experiential masterpiece is one of the rare films about aliens that feels as exotic in its form as its content. Filled with Roeg’s characteristically discursive, paradoxically symmetrical but nonlinear cutting and violently sensual imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is as much about subverting the very nature of human experience as it is about offering an outside window into our culture. As the “secretive, but not private” Thomas Jerome Newton—a meteoric billionaire industrialist whose knowledge allows him to skip decades of scientific stranglehold at a mere moment—Bowie’s version of a universal traveler is less about a misunderstanding of the world than a semantic confusion of the pronunciation of words, or an inability to reinforce his own externalized narrative. Even as Newton leaps every known scientific hurdle, his life force is slowly being wrung out by competitors and friends alike who are so consumed with success they’re unable to see the big picture, or recognize the importance of Newton’s own interest in returning to his family. In what both represents and replicates the experience of watching a Roeg film, Newton obsesses over dozens of televisions, attempting to collectively view reality as one congealed experience. As he explains, “Television shows you everything, but it doesn’t tell you everything.” Moving decades in single frames, Newton can’t escape this misery of his own making, basking in the death of his memories over endless gins as he experiences seemingly multiple lifetimes in a single event. Referring to his eternal imprisonment, Rip Torn’s traitorous Nathan Bryce asks, “Are you mad that we did this?” On the verge of passing out, Newton responds, “We’d have probably treated you the same if you came over to our place.” Even aliens aren’t immune to our vices of apathy and despair. —Michael Snydel


3. High Life

high-life-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, André Benjamin
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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High Life begins with a moment of intense vulnerability, followed immediately by a moment of immense strength. First we glimpse a garden, verdant and welcoming, before we’re ushered to a sterile room. There we realize there’s a baby alone while Monte (Robert Pattinson), her father maybe, consoles her, talking through a headset mounted within his space helmet. “Da da da,” he explains through the intercom; the baby starts to lose her shit because he’s not really there, he’s perched outside, on the surface of their basic Lego-piece of a spaceship, just barely gripped on the edge of darkness. They’re in space, one supposes, surrounded by dark, oppressive nothingness, and he can’t reach her. They’re alone. Next, Monte empties their cryogenic storage locker of all the dead bodies of his once-fellow crew members, lifting their heavy limbs and torsos into space suits, not because it matters, but maybe just because it’s something to do to pass the time, as much a sign of respect as it is an emotional test of will. Monte looks healthy and capable, like he can withstand all that loneliness, like he and his daughter might actually make it out of this OK, whatever this is. High Life lives inside that juxtaposition, displaying tenderness as graphically as violence and anger and incomprehensible fear, mining all that blackness surrounding its characters for as much terror as writer-director Claire Denis can afford without getting obvious about it. Pattinson, flattened and lithe, plays Monte remarkably, coiled within himself to the point that he finishes every word deep in his throat, his sentences sometimes total gibberish. He doesn’t allow much to escape his face, but behind his eyes beams something scary, as if he could suddenly, and probably will, crack. He says as much to Willow, his kid, whispering to her while she sleeps that he could easily kill them both, never wanting to hurt her but still polluting her dreams. He can’t help it, and neither can Denis, who, on her 14th film (first in English), can make an audience believe, like few other directors, that anything can happen. Madness erupts from silence and sleep, bodily fluids dripping all over and splattering throughout and saturating the psyches of these criminal blue collar astronauts, the overwhelming stickiness of the film emphasizing just how intimately close Denis wants us to feel to these odd, sick fleshbags hurtling toward the edge of consciousness. —Dom Sinacola


4. Starship Troopers

starship-troopers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Glistening agitprop after-school special and gross-ass bacchanalia, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers delights in the ultraviolence it doles out in heavy spurts—but then chastises itself for having so much fun with something so wrong. Telling the story of a cadre of extremely attractive upper-middle-class white teens (played by shiny adults Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Nina Meyers, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris) who get their cherries popped and then ground into hamburger inside the abattoir of interstellar war, Verhoeven cruises through the many tones of bellicose filmmaking: hawkish propaganda, gritty action setpieces and thrilling adventure sequences, all of it accompanied by plenty of gut-churning CGI, giant space bugs and human heads alike exploding without shame or recourse or respect for basic physics and human empathy. As much a bloodletting of Verhoeven’s childhood trauma, forged in the fascist mill of World War II Europe, as a critique of Hollywood’s cavalier attitude toward violence and uniformly heroic depictions of the military, the sci-fi spectacle can’t help but arrive at the same place no matter which angle one takes: geeked out on some hardcore cinematic mayhem. —Dom Sinacola


5. Ghost in the Shell

ghost-in-the-shell.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Stars: Mimi Woods, Richard George, William Frederick
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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It’s difficult to overstate how enormous of an influence Ghost in the Shell exerts over not only the cultural and aesthetic evolution of Japanese animation, but over the shape of science-fiction cinema as a whole in the 21st century. Adapted from Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga, the film is set in the mid-21st century, a world populated by cyborgs in artificial prosthetic bodies, in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Niihama. Ghost in the Shell follows the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the commander of a domestic special ops task-force known as Public Security Section 9, who begins to question the nature of her own humanity surrounded by a world of artificiality. When Motoko and her team are assigned to apprehend the mysterious Puppet Master, an elusive hacker thought to be one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, they are set chasing after a series of crimes perpetrated by the Puppet Master’s unwitting pawns before the seemingly unrelated events coalesce into a pattern that circles back to one person: the Major herself. When Ghost in the Shell first premiered in Japan, it was greeted as nothing short of a tour de force that would later go on to amass an immense cult following in the states. The film garnered the praise of directors such as James Cameron and the Wachowski sisters (whose late-century cyberpunk classic The Matrix is philosophically indebted to the trail blazed by Oshii’s precedent). Everything about Ghost in the Shell shouts polish and depth, from the ramshackle markets and claustrophobic corridors inspired by the likeness of Kowloon Walled City to the sound design, evident from Kenji Kawai’s sorrowful score, to the sheer concussive punch of every bullet firing across the screen. Oshii took Shirow’s source material and arguably surpassed it, making an already heady science-fiction action drama nto a proto-Kurzweilian fable about the dawn of machine intelligence. Ghost in the Shell is more than a cornerstone of cyberpunk fiction, more essential in this day and age than it was over 20 years ago: a story about what it means to craft one’s self in the digital age, a time where the concept of truth feels as mercurial as the net is vast and infinite. —Toussaint Egan


6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola


7. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

19-best-movies-stream-a-i-poster.jpg
Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


8. “Donnie Darko

donnie-darko.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Apparently, at some point in its burgeoning cult ascendency, director Richard Kelly admitted that even he didn’t totally get what’s going on in Donnie Darko—going so far as to release a “Director’s Cut” in 2005 that supposedly cleared up some of the film’s more unwieldy stuff. Yet another example of a small budget wringed of its every dime, Kelly’s debut crams love, weird science, jet engines, superhero mythology, wormholes, armchair philosophy, giant bunny rabbits and Patrick Swayze (as a child molester, no less) into a film that should be celebrated for its audacity more than its coherency. It also helps that Jake Gyllenhaal leads a stellar cast, all totally game. In Donnie Darko, the only thing that’s clear is Kelly’s attitude: that at its core cinema is the art of manifesting the unbelievable, of doing what one wants to do when one wants to do it. —Christian Becker


9. Vivarium

vivarium-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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A quirky real estate story, where first-time homeowners Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) get a lot more than they bargained for, Vivarium is a low-key sci-fi nightmare of the mundane in the vein of early David Cronenberg. Director Lorcan Finnegan’s film also functions as a relationship allegory, where Tom and Gemma find themselves stuck in a trendy neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes where starting a family isn’t just an expectation but something foisted upon them. It isn’t as grisly as something like Shivers, but more affecting in its surreal design and hopelessness. Eisenberg and Poots own the screen as a disintegrating couple coping in distinct ways to their newfound terrarium where they are observed, manipulated, and—perhaps most disturbingly of all—objectively provided for by unseen and undefinable forces. Its 2020 release feels especially fitting as repetition and hopelessness become permanent residents of the couple’s home. Genre elements seep into the film, accelerating in hiccups and starts that are as arresting as the film’s intentionally artificial design. Startling sound dubbing, odd colorizing, and a few genuine “Oh shit” moments make Vivarium a tight, nasty fable that would fit in with the best Twilight Zone episodes. —Jacob Oller


10. Memories

memories-otomo-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Directors: Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura
Stars: Tsutomu Isobe, Hideyuki Hori, Gara Takashima
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes

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After wrapping production on Akira in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo returned in 1995 to helm his third anthology collection of short films, titled Memories. Initially scripted around the theme of the collection’s namesake, the anthology eventually yielded a series of three shorts, each fronted by one of three of the most acclaimed directors working at the time, Otomo included. The first segment, “Magnetic Rose,” is unanimously praised as the anthology’s best, and for good reason: Directed by Koji Morimoto and scripted by Satoshi Kon, “Magnetic Rose” is emblematic of the themes of perception, identity and uncertainty, which exemplify Kon’s work at its most incisive, depicting the terrifying story of a deep space salvage cruise’s ensnarement in the siren wiles of an aristocratic opera singer. The anthology’s other two installments, Tensai Okamura’s “Stink Bomb” and Otomo’s “Cannon Fodder,” are worth the price of admission as well, the former a crassly comedic take on an extinction-level crisis and the latter a wartime parable animated with an intriguing Terry Gilliam-esque art style (framed as one long take). Whatever your palate as anime film-goer, Memories is not to be missed. —Toussaint Egan


11. Marjorie Prime

marjorie-prime-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Michael Almereyda
Stars: Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Tim Robbins
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Marjorie Prime is an elusive movie. You could call it dense, but calling it agile, or maybe just tricky, better describes the film’s character. Another director might have felt compelled to present Marjorie Prime as a mystery box, a riddle to be solved instead of a film to be savored, and peppered its plot with clues to vie for our attention, encouraging us to figure out the box’s secrets before its creator tips their hand. Michawl Almereyda gives not a single damn about outsmarting his viewers or his viewers outsmarting him. Like him or not, there’s no point denying how well he’s aged as a filmmaker throughout his extensive career. Appropriate, then, that this is a movie about precisely that—age—and all of the melancholic baggage and ennui that comes along with it. Working from Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, Almereyda presents a tale of generational grief, in which elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith, reprising her role from the original play) is kept company in her modern seaside abode by a hologram modeled after her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm). Walter, referred to coolly as “Walter Prime” by Marjorie’s daughter, Tess (Geena Davis), and her son in law, Jon (Tim Robbins), looks and sounds like the real thing, perfectly captured as a man in his 40s by the miracle of technology. Tess thinks the whole thing is weird. Jon less so, though he has his own problems with the Walter dynamic despite being the one who purchased him for Marjorie in the first place. From there, Almereyda mounts an exquisitely challenging production, one that calls for repeat viewings over years, all the better to persuade the film to surrender its meaning. How does the old saying go? That a lie told often enough becomes the truth? Such is the stuff that Marjorie Prime is made of: The lies we all tell ourselves to work through mourning and the passage of life. —Andy Crump


12. The Dead Zone

the-dead-zone-1983-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurts, Martin Sheen
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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As expected from a King adaptation, we’re once again dealing with a protagonist who has telekinetic powers that he doesn’t want, and it depends on the course of the story and the choices that the character makes to find out if that gift becomes a curse, or if the curse becomes a gift. For the first half of The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg’s tightly wound and twist-filled thriller, the first outcome seems to be the case, as Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) uses his newfound powers of touching people and being able to see into their secrets and pasts to help those in need. Then the latter outcome presents itself, as Johnny is forced to dispose of a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) who will certainly bring about nuclear holocaust. Sound familiar? Also, minor spoiler, does anyone really think Trump won’t use a baby as a human shield to save his own life? Perhaps The Dead Zone itself has powers of premonition. This is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, with a fairly straightforward mystery-horror structure, but this doesn’t stop him from building a mood full of dread and confusion, right from the terrifically enigmatic opening titles. Walken had the ability to come across as a likable everyman, a conduit for the audience, before his oft-imitated mannerisms turned him into a caricature. He displays that side of his work really efficiently here. —Oktay Ege Kozak


13. Bumblebee

bumblebee.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Paramount actually made a Transformers movie that’s a lovely, exciting and wholly engaging gem of a sci-fi adventure for teenagers. I guess it’s time for me to finally go into my dream business of exporting the newly formed ice from hell using my army of flying pigs. Bumblebee is an ’80s set spin-off/prequel to Michael Bay’s migraine-inducing, often infuriating, and always head-slappingly stupid five Transformers flicks. It wisely scales down Bay’s love of random mayhem in favor of a fairly respectful and inventive throwback to those Spielbergian family sci-fi/adventure movies about the friendship between a nerdy, lonely teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and a friendly and protective alien/robot/magical being. Their bond teaches the teenager to come out of her shell and face her fears. Of course since we also need an action-heavy third act, the big bad military that’s unfairly threatened by the creature goes after it, forcing the teenager and the creature to defend each other against all odds, learning lessons about the importance of love in the process. Sure, Bumblebee doesn’t really bring much that’s especially new or daring to that formula, but at least all the ingredients really work. It’s hard enough to have a fully CG character as your co-star, and it’s even tougher when an actor is tasked with creating a deep emotional connection with something she can’t even see during production. Steinfeld is up to the challenge, making us believe in Bumblebee’s existence almost as much as the animators who worked on bringing him to life. Just like death and taxes, it’s a certainty of life that we will get a new Transformers in theaters once every few years. If they’re more like Bumblebee going forward, the thought of that doesn’t depress me nowhere near as it used to. —Oktay Ege Kozak


14. The Last Man on Earth

last-man.jpg Year: 1964
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Stars: Vincent Price, Tony Cerevi, Franca Bettoja
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend has proven notoriously difficult to adapt while keeping any of its ideas intact, but compared to the later Omega Man or 2007 version of I Am Legend with Will Smith, this is probably the best overall take on the story. Some have called it Vincent Price’s best film, featuring wonderfully gothic settings in Rome where the last human man on Earth wages a nightly war against the “infected,” who have taken on the characteristics of classical vampires. It doesn’t fully commit to the inversion of protagonist/antagonist of the source material, but it certainly does make use of Price’s magnetic screen presence and ability to monologue. No one ever watches a Vincent Price movie and thinks “I wish there was less Vincent Price in this,” and The Last Man on Earth delivers a showcase for the actor at the height of his powers. Night of the Living Dead director George Romero has stated that without The Last Man on Earth, the modern zombie would never have been conceived. —Jim Vorel


15. The Running Man

running-man-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dawson
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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While The Running Man lacks the sophistication and dynamic pacing of a certain other Schwarzenegger-starring/dystopian sci-fi/satire film, its entertainment value is nothing to sneer at. Adapted loosely from a Stephen King novel of the same name, The Running Man depicts a future where everyone dresses like they’re at an ’80s-themed Halloween party and citizens regularly tune into a show where convicted criminals must fight to survive against both their fellow contestants and professional killers. Insert Hunger Games reference here. Between the absurd production design and Paula Abdul-choreographed dance sequences, any attempted satire is all but buried in a thick layer of silly. Still, in terms of sheer fun value, this film is quite the gem. —Mark Rozeman

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