Nasa / Space

Low-budget science-fiction films: What are your favorites?

Edmond Woychowsky reveals three of his favorite low-budget science-fiction films. List your movie picks in the discussion.

I must be getting a little jaded from all of the big budget science-fiction movies. Yeah, Star Trek was fun, but for every Star Trek, there's a Dune, a Battlefield Earth, a Waterworld, a Stealth, and episodes 1, 2, and 3 of Star Wars, where most of the money went to the special effects department -- Lord knows that it didn't go into the scripts. Maybe that's why I'm anticipating seeing Moon, which was shot for a budget of around $5 million (US). Unfortunately, since Moon isn't playing near where I live, I'll just have to wait for the DVD and get my low-budget science fiction fix elsewhere.

In fact, some of the classic science-fiction films were made on a modest budget (well, Hollywood has different standards about budget than most people). Take, for example, 1958's The Fly, in which a scientist uses a device that is obviously the predecessor of Star Trek's transporter before it's been fully debugged. Seriously, this movie, which had a budget of $500,000 (US), has become part of western culture -- just say the words "Help me!" in a high squeaky voice to prove it.

Not nearly as well known as The Fly is the 1974 film Dark Star, which was made for $60,000 (US). If you're watching a John Carpenter movie marathon, Dark Star is a good place to start. Although it's a comedy, it has a subplot that eerily foreshadows the 1979 movie Alien -- well, that is if the alien was a beach ball with Creature from the Black Lagoon feet and wasn't lethal, just annoying. The reason for this foreshadowing is that both Dark Star and Alien were coauthored by Dan O'Bannon.

As much as I like the previous films, my absolute favorite low-budget science-fiction film (or, for that matter, any science-fiction film) has to be 2007's The Man From Earth, which was shot for under $250,000 (US). Completed on his death bed, it was the final work of the late Jerome Bixby. The Man From Earth tells the tale of college professor John Oldman, who weaves a convincing tale of being a 14,000 year old Cro-Magnon. The reactions of John's friends and coworkers run the gamut of emotions from disbelief to anger to belief. The film keeps the truth hidden until the very end.

What are your favorite low-budget science-fiction films? List your picks in the discussion.

165 comments
SObaldrick
SObaldrick

?600,000 and apparently Moorcock hates it.

eric_harris_76
eric_harris_76

Absolutely "The Man from Earth". In terms of quality per dollar, it's one of the best there is. In fact, it's a pretty damn good movie, period. It annoys me that some people would not consider it science fiction, because there are no aliens or space ships or CGI explosions or ... -Eric

jbyrne
jbyrne

I agree that Battlefield Earth is a bad movie, but I'm getting tired of people crying about the Star Wars episodes 1,2,3 - they are a whole lot better than Battlefield Earth!!!!! Waterworld and Stealth are decent movies as well. Stopya crying!!!

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

While $500K is cheap these days for a movie I have a feeling it wasn't back in 1958 when they did The Fly. The $250K for 2007's The Man From Earth is a far better example and a film that I too have seen and enjoyed. With SciFi and Fantasy it's very, VERY hard to ut out something that doesn't look very cheesy and stil;l fits the Genre without somewhat of a decent budget. The only way to make a SciFi film good with a low budget is to focus on the charatcers and their interactions within a limited number of set s(ideally 1 to 2) and with little to no special costumes or props as was done with The Man From Earth. All in all this movie had no costs beyond the actors, the camera folks and the cost of the film itsefl and it still cost 1/4 million dollars. If that doesn't show how hard it is to do a film on the cheap I don't know what would.

ScarF
ScarF

Excellent story, well done movie for its budget. I also like Mick Jagger's act.

stuart
stuart

This Island Earth. Don't know if it was low budget or not, but it's a classic!

d_baron
d_baron

Most all the older cult-films of back when were low-budget. However, my vote goes for a made for public television version of Ursula LeGuinn's novella, "The Lathe of Heaven." The protagonist has effective dreams, that is changing reality by his dreams. Example of "high-cost" spfx: changing rainy Portland, Oregon (her home town) to a rainless Dallas and other Texas places. $250,000 and two weeks of filming. This film left me literally shattered.

gjd
gjd

If we're going to talk low-budget, let's get real low, a la Killer Tomatoes 1) Little Shop of Horrors, the original - Roger Corman and his screenwriter were drunk at least part of the time and it shows. One of the funniest films ever. Jack Nicholson before he was anybody in a great cameo. 2) Attack of the Crab Monsters - quintessential Atomic Age movie. The professor from Gilligan's Island is the hero. Fantastic cheesy ending. 3) Plan 9 From Outer Space - Ed Wood, what more to say, except "Stupid, Stupid, Stupid" and "Nobody knocks my home planet like that"

K_Green
K_Green

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079946/ An ultra-cheesy low-budget Star Wars ripoff with Caroline Munro (Naomi the helicopter pilot in The Spy Who Loved Me), David Hasselhoff, and even Christopher Plummer. PS: To the OP -- I have seen Moon. You *will not* regret seeing it. In fact, you would not regret driving to another city to see it.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I give very high marks to The Man From Earth.

CAnnie5055
CAnnie5055

and what about the orginal "When Worlds Collide"? My sisters and I still talk about the day we seen it and whether it was a possibility....

darrell.jones
darrell.jones

This is one of the best of all time IMO, scary and funny all at the same time, and done with a $382,000 budget

Mac_444
Mac_444

Couldn't possibly have had any budget to speak of. My close runner up would have to be Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

madocs
madocs

"Primer" beats everything on this list!

darrell.jones
darrell.jones

Ice Pirates - OK, at $9M not exactly low-budget, but Stewart Raffill rocks with this one. Tag line from imdb is "SEE A Universe on the rocks TREMBLE at the ferocious space possums! CATCH Space Herpie the Love Bug." What can you say? A Netflix delivery, a few beers and the universe is yours.

PackerBacker
PackerBacker

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun The Day The Earth Caught Fire Them It Came From Outer Space Invaders From Mars

TUFOP
TUFOP

It's a horror film not really sci-fi but you don't get much better for $2.40 and a baloney sandwich!

melias
melias

Forbidden Planet, I believe it was the first time I saw 'Robbie the Robot'.

JGH59
JGH59

Best low buck sci-fi of all time, Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame, a talking dog and cannibalism, how could you go wrong.

been-there-done-that
been-there-done-that

Hanger 13 Moontrap Wing Commander ( One of my personal favs) Robot Monster VS Aztec Mummy Just to name a few more. I know what I'm doing this weekend !!!!

NativeTexan
NativeTexan

My favorite low-budget science fiction film is Outland with Sean Connery. The gritty reality of life on a mining station and greed of a few people is right on target with expectations. Great article! Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting tale is a romantic action adventure in space and is more about the characters than the technology.

thall
thall

the original The Thing, for its classic line: "An intellectual carrot- the mind boggles!" MOST disappointing remake: The Time Machine

Ric_Shanahan
Ric_Shanahan

Original production filming was only $7500.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I heard Robert Heinlein say at a Nebula Awards program, "Science Fiction is what if?" Man From Earth is one great "What If?" tale.

LouCed
LouCed

I love Battlefield Earth, it's so bad it's good! 1-3 SW were not that bad, well 2 and 3 werent ( I still refuse to see 1). Waterworld was stupid premise but OK, stealth blew chunks. It's my party, I can cry if I want to!

AOS/VS
AOS/VS

I know I'm a little late to this but doesn't anyone remember this movie? 1974, directed by John Carpenter, super low budget. I thought it was cool anyway.

Buffalo Troy
Buffalo Troy

Nice to see G. Clooney oposite a fuzzy tomatto and John Aston

Buffalo Troy
Buffalo Troy

Keeps the budget down if they accidentally crash a helo while you're filming

darrell.jones
darrell.jones

Good call on this one, a truly entertaining movie, $100K budget

Ulyssys
Ulyssys

And don't forget the older "Dr. Who" tv shows. I have a sonic screwdriver!

SirWizard
SirWizard

Forbidden Planet was NOT a low-budget movie. It was $1.9 Million in 1956 dollars, a gigantic MGM production on a gigantic budget, and showing every penny of it. The ship, Morbius's house, the Krell lab, Robbie the Robot, special effects (including work by a Disney animator), and on and on. It was a stupendous and iconic movie, but not low-budget by any modern or previous sense.

TheAlcatrazKid
TheAlcatrazKid

Them - Tremors - Galaxina - The Blob - The Giant Claw - Evil Dead - Army of Darkness . . .and who can forget Attack of the Killer Tomatoes I think I am going to miss her, a tomato ate my sister. We are talking Classic Stuff . . . oh wait . . .The Creeping Terror.

Buffalo Troy
Buffalo Troy

How different it would have been if Jason Robards had just let Johnson do what came naturally :-)

LarryD4
LarryD4

Was a great movie and game and so was privateer! But I'm not sure if that qualifies as low budget. The actors in it were the new up and coming brat pack of hollywood.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

That one is in the public domain, you can find it at the internet archive.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I count that film as a guilty pleasure, but am reminded of Ellison's comments at realizing how dumb it was after having watched it. Congrats on the first published novel and the review over at Axiom's Edge. Drop me a line via peer mail cause I always have an interest in up and coming writers in the medium, even if we ain't as famous as Slice of Sci yet. :)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Zardoz! :^0 Not low budget, but not high budget either. [i]The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life, and poisons the earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the gun shoots death, and purifies the earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth... and KILL![/i]

LarryD4
LarryD4

I wouldn't call Outland low budget, but it was a great movie.

LarryD4
LarryD4

Loved Space Trucker!!!!!

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Any movie that includes the Doppler effect from sound waves in outer space is an instant turn-off. I wonder if the makers surveyed people to discover if the ROI for including stupid sounds effects was positive. Les. Ok, yes I edited the post.

been-there-done-that
been-there-done-that

Yes- I have Dark Star on DVD and I watch it every once in awhile because it really is a pretty cool movie .

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Any movie that includes the Doppler effect in outer space is an instant turn-off.[/i] Why? Astronomers have used the Doppler effect to great effect (sorry 'bout that) to determine the size and age of the universe. The Doppler effect is the Doppler effect, no matter where you are. Oh, wait, you mean the [u]sounds[/u]! Never mind...

LouCed
LouCed

That was in the body of the article. I saw it first at a SF convention. What a hoot!

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