What happens when you combine horror and science-fiction–those two vaunted pillars of genre entertainment? You wind up with some of the most fascinating, challenging, and downright kick-ass pieces of cinematic gold ever created. The key to great horror/sci-fi is maintaining that balance between the horrific and the…well, science-fictiony elements, and we think that the 20 flicks included in this list represent the very best examples of just that. We hope you enjoy, and let’s keep the rowdiness to a minimum–people are trying to sleep around here!
The Top 20 Horror Science-Fiction Films of All Time
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20. Event Horizon (1997)
Although bashed by some, we find this gory space epic to be an excellent modern-day haunted house story. Combining hard sci-fi and intense horror, it’s an underrated thrill ride in the tradition of Alien. Directed, oddly enough, by the man who would later take a massive squat on that franchise with 2004’s Alien vs. Predator.
19. Species (1995)
With an impressive A-list cast and a Giger-designed monster, this one tells the tale of a sensual killing machine created by splicing human and alien DNA. Natasha Henstridge plays the unforgettable Sil, an alien life form that must mate and kill. Thankfully, in that order.
18. They Live (1987)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper kicks ass, chews bubblegum, and engages in the longest, most pointless, and most awesome brawl in movie history. All in the name of driving an insidious alien menace from our fair planet. Thank you, Hot Rod!
17. Bad Taste (1987)
Fifteen years before he became a respected auteur with his acclaimed LOTR trilogy, Peter Jackson gave us this inspired, madcap, horror sci-fi comedy about a race of hideous aliens intent on turning humans into fast food.
16. It Came from Outer Space (1953)
A strange spaceship crash-lands near a mine, and while most of the foolish cast takes it for nothing but a meteor, people start disappearing mysteriously. One of the earliest examples of the alien invasion film, thanks mainly to the rise of Cold War paranoia.
15. Invaders from Mars (1953)
Perhaps the definitive McCarthy-era Red Scare inspired alien invasion flick, with Martians literally taking over the minds of Earthlings, with only one young boy knowing the horrible truth. Watch out for the very unusual climax as the army faces off with the invaders in classic fashion.
14. Lifeforce (1985)
A space mission to Halley’s Comet (remember when that was a really big deal?), inadvertently brings back some pesky interstellar vampires that convert the majority of London into the walking dead. Bloody hell!
13. The Blob (1988)
A gelatinous mass engineered by the good ol’ U.S. government (as opposed to the space invader of the nearly-as-good 1958 original) wreaks holy havoc in a small town, eating away at everything in its path. Kind of like Kirstie Alley on a commercial set.
12. The Invisible Man (1933)
Jack Griffin unlocks the key to invisibility. Unfortunately, it also transforms him into a raving, homicidal lunatic. Claude Rains is unforgettable as the titular Universal baddie. One of the classic “scientist tampers with nature and pays the price” stories, based on the seminal H.G. Wells novel.
11. Them! (1954)
The 1950s was rife with cautionary tales of giant irradiated fauna, but none packed as much of a terrifying punch as this one. Massive mutated ants run roughshod over New Mexico in this classic, filled with genuine dread and fine performances from the likes of the late Richard Whitmore.
10. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931)
This Robert Louis Stephenson literary favorite has been retold so many times, we tend to forget it is in fact a seminal work of both horror and early science fiction. And of all the versions, nothing tops Fredric March’s Oscar-winning turn as the scientist who tampers unwisely with the dark side of the human psyche, 75 years before Dr. Bruce Banner.
9. Scanners (1981)
David Cronenberg was simply a master of combining horror and sci-fi, and did so brilliantly in this film about powerful psychics and the forces out to stop them. Plus, it has the most famous exploding head scene in the history of cinema, so what more do you really need?
8. Videodrome (1983)
Speaking of Cronenberg, this bizarre mix of sci-fi and surreal was way ahead of its time, exploring how the media can literally warp and control the minds of its viewers. The imagery is strange and disturbing in the extreme, even for Cronenberg. Unless you enjoy seeing men sprouting vagina dentata out of their mid-sections.
7. Gojira (1954)
If the thought of Godzilla conjures up “Save the Earth”, little boys in short shorts and guys doing wrestling moves in rubber suits, then you need to see the original Japanese Godzilla flick. A powerful and extremely well-made film, it makes a strong case against the dangers of nuclear weapons, and gives us a city-destroying monster that is a far cry from the goofy character he later became.
6. Altered States (1980)
This adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s novel casts a young William Hurt as a scientist who conducts hallucinatory experiments on himself that eventually cause him to genetically regress. Sounds kind of like college.
5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
If someone uses the words invasion, body and snatch all in the same sentence, we normally don’t instantly assume OOH! HORROR SCI-FI… But you can’t always judge based on first impressions. Creeping us out with alien invaders that don’t want us to take them to our leader, but rather to make our bodies host to them, this classic is one that mustn’t be missed.
4. The Fly (1986)
There’s absolutely nothing more terrifying than a half-fly half-Russian Jew with a staccato delivery that Shatner WISHES he could pull off. Well, maybe there is, but the Fly would still be pretty damn close. We also get Jeff Goldblum’s greatest performance this side of Jurassic Park, and a reason to actually appreciate Geena Davis. It takes a real woman to birth a worm.
3. Frankenstein (1931)
In many ways, Mary Shelley’s 19th century novel was the very first science fiction novel, so it’s only fitting that the classic Universal adaptation, though vastly different, would be one of the finest sci-fi horror flicks ever made. In fact, the movie stresses the science-fictional elements ever more than the original book.
2. The Thing (1982)
Once again, if someone asks if we want to see “the Thing”, sci-fi doesn’t immediately spring to mind. This shape-shifting alien is a far cry from the Wonder Twins. And who could forget the infamous blood screening scene? Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “you might want to get yourself tested”!
And finally, the number-one horror/sci-fi film of all time…
1. Alien (1979)
In space, no one can hear you scream. But that doesn’t stop the crew of the Nostromo from doing quite a bit of it in this, the mother of all horror sci-fi flicks. Following in the wake of the fairy tale Star Wars, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece took space drama deeper into the realm of the macabre than it had ever before ventured. It’s a perfect blend of both genres, and the H.R. Giger-designed creature remains the stuff of otherwordly nightmares.
For more news and opinions on the world of horror, including an exclusive review of the new Mischa Barton thriller Homecoming, a remembrance of David Carradine, and the Top 10 Horror TV Series of All Time, check out Brian’s daily blog, The Vault of Horror, at thevaultofhorror.net.
And for a unique look at the feminine side of fear, including an impassioned plea against the Scream remake, and the ultimate A-Z of horror movie actresses, check out The Vault’s sister blog, Day of the Woman, at dayofwoman.blogspot.com.
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