The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Amazon Prime (2021)

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The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Amazon Prime (2021)

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 last 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 20 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. Robocop

robocop.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Daniel O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Throughout the late-’70s and indulgent 1980s, “industry” went pejorative and Corporate America bleached white all but the most functional of blue collars. Broadly speaking, of course: Manufacturing was booming, but the homegrown “Big Three” automobile companies in Detroit—facing astronomical gas prices via the growth of OPEC, as well as increasing foreign competition and the decentralization of their labor force—resorted to drastic cost-cutting measures, investing in automation (which of course put thousands of people out of work, closing a number of plants) and moving facilities to “low-wage” countries (further decimating all hope for a secure assembly line job in the area). The impact of such a massive tectonic shift in the very foundation of the auto industry pushed aftershocks felt, of course, throughout the Rust Belt and the Midwest—but for Detroit, whose essence seemed composed almost wholly of exhaust fumes, the change left the city in an ever-present state of decay. And so, though it was filmed in Pittsburgh and around Texas, Detroit is the only logical city for a Robocop to inhabit. A practically peerless, putrid, brash concoction of social consciousness, ultra-violence and existential curiosity, Paul Verhoeven’s first Hollywood feature made its tenor clear: A new industrial revolution must take place not within the ranks of the unions or inside board rooms, but within the self. By 1987, much of the city was already in complete disarray, the closing of Michigan Central Station—and the admission that Detroit was no longer a vital hub of commerce—barely a year away, but its role as poster child for the Downfall of Western Civilization had yet to gain any real traction. Verhoeven screamed this notion alive. He made Detroit’s decay tactile, visceral and immeasurably loud, limning it in ideas about the limits of human identity and the hilarity of consumer culture. As Verhoeven passed a Christ-like cyborg—a true melding of man and savior—through the crumbling post-apocalyptic fringes of a part of the world that once held so much prosperity and hope, he wasn’t pointing to the hellscape of future Detroit as the battlefield over which the working class will fight against the greedy 1%, but instead to the robot cop, to Murphy (Peter Weller), as the battlefield unto himself. How can any of us save a place like Detroit? In Robocop, it’s a deeply personal matter. —Dom Sinacola


5. 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


6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

star-trek-ii.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Come for the “KhaaAAHHHHHN!” and stay for the surprisingly emotional treatise on aging without wisdom—as well as one hell of a potent, humbling gut punch of an ending. Anyone arguing for any other film in the Trek franchise will find themselves speaking into a black hole chewed in the matte canvas by exquisitely potent villain, played by Ricardo Montalban. That director/co-writer also Nicholas Meyer somehow coaxes a performance from William Shatner that’s only barely un-Kosher makes this movie a space opera with broad, lasting appeal. —Scott Wold


7. Melancholia

melancholia.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

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If you want a really, really disturbingly beautiful apocalypse, you can’t go wrong with Lars von Trier. Melancholia is the second of a trilogy of films in which the director dives into the nature of depression. It revolves around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—after a staccato series of prologue images set to Wagner (if you’ve ever experienced severe depression you’ll recognize the choppy, distanced, “underwater” quality of this first section), we open on Justine’s wedding reception. There is something seriously wrong with these people. Or is there? It seems like Justine’s boss is actually harassing her for ad copy in the middle of her own wedding toast. It seems like her father is a raging narcissist and her mother is “honest” in a way that makes you want to never take a phone call from her, ever. Everything seems off. And that’s before anyone realizes a runaway planet called Melancholia might be on a collision course with Earth. —Amy Glynn


8. Galaxy Quest

galaxy quest poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell
Rating: PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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J.J. Abrams once called this Star Trek parody one of the best Trek movies ever. He’s not wrong. Galaxy Quest is less interested in making fun of Star Trek than in making fun of Star Trek culture, from obsessive fans to goofy special effects to actors who alternately hate, resent or are proud of their time on the show. It also features one of Alan Rickman’s greatest roles, in case you’re one of those kids who only knows him from his Harry Potter stuff and wants to take in the full measure of the man.—Alan Byrd


9. 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


10. Dredd

dredd-2012-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Karl Urban—who’s no stranger to tightly wound sci-fi fare (including the unfairly maligned The Chronicles of Riddick) provides the scowl and chin of Judge Joseph Dredd—a total-law package professional who is clearly as disinterested in humoring his rookie partner as the script is in coddling its audience. A few lines of raspy Man with No Name narration, coupled with a superbly bleak establishing shot from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, are all the generosity afforded by the filmmakers toward understanding this world before it unleashes chase sequences and bursting heads. This is a film that aims squarely at respecting its source’s established fan base, and cares little for casualties who can’t hang on through its grindhouse paces.

Though the competent, workmanlike approach to achieving the visceral thrills of the source material is excellently realized, it comes at the expense of sidelining writers Wagner and Ezquerra’s satirical background radiation of fascism’s consequences. While a few moments of gallows humor emerge—typically of the “Ouch!” variety—any subtext that might get in the way of servicing its adrenalized momentum is cordoned off, so as not to disturb the thrilling crime scene. Nothing more to see here, folks. Move along. But this is not even an offense punishable by three days in an Iso-Cube. The rule of law by which audiences are meant to abide is laid out immediately and authoritatively, and—just in case you needed reminding—Dredd is the law. —Scott Wold


11. “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


12. 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


13. 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


14. 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


15. 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


16. Bride of Re-Animator

bride of reanimator poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: Brian Yuzna
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Bride of Re-Animator has a tendency to rehash a lot of material from the seminal Stuart Gordon original, but that happens to be in the nature of both Herbert West and Dr. Frankenstein before him—they’re both so arrogant that no matter how many people die in each grisly experiment, they always convince themselves that next time all the flaws can be corrected. Dr. West is back in action here, roping his old accomplice Dan into helping him by promising to bring his dead fiancee Megan back to life by reanimating her heart. Meanwhile, West’s nemesis Dr. Hill is also revived via the re-agent, with his severed head and psychic powers entirely intact. With an army of reanimated zombies at his command, it all leads to a big showdown between Herbert West, Hill and the revived “Bride.” As in the last film, the real draw here is the explosively gory practical effects and the performance of the wonderful Jeffrey Combs as West. His imperious, patronizing tone toward everyone who isn’t on his intellectual level makes the character a joy to watch—you simultaneously root for him and await his inevitable comeuppance. —Jim Vorel


17. Star Trek Beyond

StarTrekBeyond232x345.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Star Trek Beyond proves admirably willing to push the neo-film-series’ frontiers, at least in its eagerness to envision brand new, alien environments with incredibly imagined designs. Less compelling are the emotional stakes Director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung provide for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Lin’s fleet direction and the charismatic cast give dedicated fans their fix and the casual moviegoers a fun enough time, but Beyond offers a less memorable outing than its more ambitious predecessors, providing more for the eyes of its audience than for their hearts. —Curt Holman


18. Lifeforce

lifeforce-1985-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Mathilda May, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Even though he’s a classic horror director, Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame isn’t really the guy most would have expected to produce a kooky, ’80s sci-fi-infused vampire film. That is of course provided you recognize the aliens of Lifeforce as vampires. Hooper ditches the grimy aesthetic of his earlier work and cleverly plays with the old vampire genre conventions, keeping a few bat references but ditching the blood-sucking. Rather, the “space vampires” have been updated into more cerebral, aloof killers who drain people of their life energy. Oh, and by the way—the lead “space girl,” gorgeous French actress Mathilda May, spends pretty much the entire film nude, so be ready for that. What you’re left with is a uniquely gonzo, sexually charged sci-fi horror mash-up, equal parts mystical and pseudo-scientific—like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode as presented by USA Up All Night in the mid-’90s. I once saw it screened as part of a 24-hour B-movie festival, and that strikes me as exactly the way to consume Lifeforce: In a half-awake haze full of nudity and desiccated victims exploding into dust. —Jim Vorel


19. Barbarella

barbarella-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Roger Vadim
Stars: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Marcel Marceau, David Hemmings, Ugo Tognazzi
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Barbarella was a unique film when it was released in 1968, and it remains something very unusual as it celebrates its 50th anniversary: A blend of science fiction, fantasy and erotica that plays all three both campy and straight, depending on its mood. Appropriately, then, Jane Fonda’s Barbarella is a young space vixen trained in the “art of love,” but she’s also something of an ingénue without any experience in the real world. The film’s sets, costumes and production design rightfully earned attention upon its initial release, being fabulously lush and colorful, making for gothic but lascivious grandeur in space, and featuring Space Mutiny’s John Philip Law to boot. If Barbarella initially sold itself upon a vaguely defined promise of titillation, those artistic flourishes ended up proving more influential for the next generation of ’70s science fiction. Barbarella will likely never gain the respect it’s owed, but one could point to plenty of B-movies of its day to testify to the lasting impact it had on exploitation film and the tawdrier corners of sci-fi. —Jim Vorel


20. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine

dr-goldfoot-bikini-machine-poster.jpg Year: 1965
Director: Norman Taurog
Stars: Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart, Jack Mullaney
Rating: G
Runtime: 88 minutes

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If you’ve never heard of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, drop whatever you’re doing and watch the trailer, at the very least, if only to hear the narrator say things like “these lush bikini babes are built to perform!” and “sex has never been funnier!” An absolutely bonkers comedy from B-movie mavens American International Pictures, Dr. Goldfoot stars Vincent Price at his zaniest, playing a gold booty-wearing mad scientist who invents the titular “bikini machine” that creates sexy fembots to influence politicians and world leaders. They roll out of the machine on an assembly line, bulletproof, invincible and chock full of feminine wiles. This movie is gleefully—insanely—misogynistic, in an “aw shucks” sort of way that is equal parts groan-inducing and gut-bustingly funny in its outmodedness. The prospect of the gold bikini-wearing fembots is of course the carrot on a stick intended to goad audiences into the theater, and their array of powers will almost make you forget how demeaning the film is for every woman in it. —Jim Vorel

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