Everyone knows about Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi movies like Star Trek. But there are some great gems out there that lots of people never heard about or got to see. Here are five of my science-fiction favorites. What they loften lack in polish and production values they more than make up for in heart and soul.
The Hidden, 1987
In "The Hidden", Michael Nouri and Kyle Machlachlan play two detectives trying to solve a string of violent murders. The local cop, played by Nouri, is baffled, not only by the murders but by the behaviors of the FBI agent, played by Machlachlan, who shows up and takes over his case. In time he learns, as we do, that the agent is not an agent at all, but an alien, who has been in pursuit of the killer from another planet. We get our clues in the strange looks in the eyes of the people the aliens embody, which make for some fascinating moments. There's plenty of action and humor, but best of all is the way the two characters form a bond that makes the heartfelt ending so believable.
Another alien embodiment, this time with Jeff Bridges playing the part of the cloned human the alien is learning to control and use. Bridges alien came here peacefully, but of course the misguided humans shot his ship down. He winds up in the home of a widowed Karen Allen, and the body he creates and inhabits is that of her dead husband. What starts as a standard science-fiction story turns into a road trip movie as they head out to the Great Meteor Crater where he's to catch his ride home. But the best and most surprising part of the movie is the great acting between Bridges and Allen, as the movie ultimately ends as a very touching love story.
The Arrival, 1996
Now what could be more unexpected than a great sci-fi thriller starring Charlie Sheen? How about a movie that is also highly intelligent? Done in the style of the paranoid thriller, Sheen uncovers clues that of course nobody wants to know about: aliens taking over the planet. With a chilling message: "We're just finishing what you started," one of the aliens says. "What would have taken you 100 years will only take us 10."
Time Crimes, 2009
If you can get past being put off by the low-budget look of this Spanish film, and what seems at first glance to be a generic bloody teenager movie, then before long you will find yourself enjoying one of the great time-travel movies of all, er, time! A man relaxing in his back yard takes in a little voyeurism that leads him on a fascinating journey into time. Or maybe the journey began before the voyeurism? The beauty of this movie is the way in which it unfolds, so that we never know more than the characters and are figuring it out as we go along. Some absolutely hair-raising moments, so rare to find these days.
Dark City, 1998
A man (Rufus Sewell) is startled awake in a bathtub. Who is he? Where is he? Why is there blood on his forehead? He finds a knife, and a woman's body. Did he kill her? A detective (William Hurt) is after him, as is a scientist (Kiefer Sutherland) and his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and the Strangers, the alien race who we eventually learn built the city as a kind of lab to study humans. Not just a great science fiction movie, but a Great Movie of any genre, so much so that it made Roger Ebert's Great Movie list.