In these days of seemingly weekly science fiction blockbusters (which are usually SF in name only… they’re actually just big gun actioners that take place in the future) and the hype that surrounds them, it’s easy to forget that once such films were the low man on the totem pole. Stuff fit for kids and juveniles but not serious adult audiences. Thus, in past decades, except for a few A list films like Them and The Day the Earth Stood Still in the 1950s and Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and Logan’s Run in the ’60s and ’70s, many SF movies slipped under the radar or were simply shrugged off by the critics.
But in our more enlightened age, as the serious adult film has given way to the tastes of teenagers and young adults, the science fiction film has come to be accepted as just another genre, even worthy of professional criticism. Ironic in that as such films have become more accepted, their intellectual content has shriveled. As a result, SF fans have been forced to search through back catalogs in hopes of finding lost gems that, if nowhere as sharp-looking as 21st century fare, at least offer ideas to think about and to ponder.
We all know the standards that no one questions: 2001, Forbidden Planet, Things to Come. But what about the less well known films? Are there any worthy entries from BCGI (Before CGI) that may not have received their proper share of recognition when they were first released? And if so, how have they fared in the decades since as the magic of VHS and then DVD and now Netflix have placed them at viewers’ fingertips? Have they been rediscovered? Reevaluated? Newly appreciated?
Answer: Many of the best still haven’t.
But how to discern the good but underrated SF films from those deserving oblivion? First, any solid science fiction movie must be driven by one or more science fiction concepts such as a new invention, social novelty, or exploration of other worlds, times, or dimensions. In that regard, some films such as Forbidden Planet or Logan’s Run are chock full of many such concepts while others like Colossus: The Forbin Project or The Andromeda Strain concentrate on only one.
Another thing that’s needed are filmmakers who take the subject matter seriously no matter the size of the budget. If that happens, then a film that cost a few hundred thousand dollars with cheesy FX can still top one of today’s hundred million dollar blockbusters.
With the foregoing in mind, we come to our list of the 10 most underrated classic science fiction films which will be rated not strictly from least underrated to most underrated, but from good to best of the bunch. All of them, in any case, are films that never really took the screen world by storm, nor the SF community for that matter, but that offer elements that deserve the attention of any SF film fan. All are solid little films each with surprising angles that will reward the patient viewer willing to look past production values and embrace the singular worlds they bring to life.
10) The Twonky
Included here because you can never go wrong when you adapt a classic SF story…well, almost never! Loose and whimsical adaptation of the story by Henry Kuttner produced and directed by Arch Oboler, this 1953 film follows a college professor who finds himself in possession of a new TV set that not only displays intelligence but proceeds to control his life apparently for his own good! Much of the entertaining short story is preserved in this film except for the ending. In the story, the Twonky disposes of the college professor while the movie version has the contraption destroyed in an auto accident. Extremely low budget and not very well acted, the film updates the story’s radio/twonky to a television set but is worth viewing due to its unique concept as well as its sheer audacity!