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The five greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time

Cinematical recommends seven classic films that are both science fiction and horror, and I can gleefully attest to having seen six of them. (Found via SFSignal.) Looking at IMDB's top-rated horror films you'll see more than a few sci-fi titles. This begs the question: What is the greatest sci-fi/horror film ever made?

Cinematical recommends seven classic films that are both science fiction and horror, and I can gleefully attest to having seen six of them. (Found via SFSignal.) Looking at IMDB's top-rated horror films you'll see more than a few sci-fi titles. This begs the question: What is the greatest sci-fi/horror film ever made? To no one's surprise, I've got a short list.

First, some ground rules. 1) Science fiction means that has to be at least some tacit scientific basis for the major plot devices, even if it's just "these aliens are a lot like vampires." Thus, the various sequels the Friday the 13th, Leprechaun, and Hellraiser that are set in outer space don't qualify. 2) No zombie movies. Yes, there is often a great deal of mad science in zombie movies, but zombie movies are their own genre these days, outside of horror and sci-fi, with their own conventions and rules. 3) The movie needs to be scary, not just tense or gory. Sure, the Terminator is a pretty scary dude, but nobody would call The Terminator a horror flick, it's a sci-fi action classic with some suspense thrown in.

So without further ado, here are my Top Five Sci-Fi/Horror Films of All Time.

  1. Alien This is the pinnacle: Hard sci-fi (or near as you get from Hollywood), an ensemble cast of well drawn, well acted characters dealing with a literal inconceivable, unreasoning alien "other" which seeks to destroy them all--or worse. (This theme is the basis for almost all monster movies.) Plus, it's actually really freakin' scary, and has one of the most memorable screen monsters to plague our celluloid nightmares, made even scarier by Ridley Scott's better-than-Blade Runner direction. Extra points for taking both horror and sci-fi seriously, and for giving us arguably the first, best female action protagonist ever set to screen, Ellen Ripley. If it's sequel weren't more an action film than a horror flick, Aliens would be up here too.
  2. The Fly (1986) Director David Cronenberg matches creepy quirkiness with Jeff Goldblum to make not only a comprehensible, but a terrifyingly, revoltingly compelling tale of literal dehumanization by virtue of one man's own technologically empowered hubris. Dr. Seth Brundle literally uses his homebrew teleporter to play God, and is struck down for his arrogance in gleefully gory fashion worthy of cyberpunk Greek tragedy.
  3. The Thing (1982) John Carpenter's magnum opus, preying upon fear of strangers, fear of darkness, fear of enclosed space, fear of cold, fear of physical violation, and fear of self. An alien shapeshifter stalks men trapped in an antarctic research station, who can't flee in the harsh conditions, can't trust each other because any one of them could be a doppelganger, and can't ever rest easy as at any moment, any living thing could sprout fangs or tentacles and seek to consume them. The ambiguous, almost hopeless ending is great example of how sometimes lack of closure is the scariest dramatic device possible.
  4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) One of the first major Hollywood films to actually grasp the notion of "science fiction is a metaphor for the present, not the future," this required-viewing classic wraps up McCarthyist paranoia in a nice, tasty alien-invasion costume and lets the creepiness ensue. Director Don Siegel (yeah, the guy who directed Dirty Harry) laid the groundwork for a lot of serious sci-fi to follow, even though he never really directed in the genre again. It's a testament to the films understated complexity that there's no one way to interpret it: Is it anti-Communist, anti-establishment, or simply anti-conformist? Hard to say, and it doesn't necessarily matter, because it's all scary.
  5. Frankenstein (1931) People forget that this masterpiece is a sci-fi film, even though it almost single-handedly defined both mad science and the public perception of its titular monster, all in one fell swoop. Director James Whale pits Colin Clive as the doc and Boris Karloff as the monster against each other in a surprisingly timeless tragedy, with the aforementioned hubris, hatred, and alien "other" all playing out in one classic tale of loss, self-destruction, and fear. Plus: "It's alive!"

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

154 comments
jor55
jor55

The original The Thing and The Fly were much more scarier. Generally, if you have seen an original and then it's remake, you will be disappointed. Remakes of horror flicks have to be more graphic, more grisly, brighter colors, louder sounds and distort the original plot all in an attempt to better the original but usually falling short of that goal.

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

I know it didn't get the greatest reviews, but I enjoyed Event Horizon and it falls squarely in the "sci-fi/horror" genre more snugly than some other sci-fi films mentioned here. I'd also swap The Thing with The Fly for the #2 spot. Otherwise, great list!

ronyar
ronyar

The greatest sci-fi movie was "The Lawnmower Man". The transition from simple Job to Cyber Job was a fantastic journey in both realities (actual and virtual). However, the sequel was a flop.

ckiely
ckiely

Hello!?!?!?! Blade Runner...

serenitywizard
serenitywizard

The Tingler and original House of Wax did it for me!

tazman968
tazman968

Action or no action, Aliens should be right after Alien or vice versa for #1 & #2. The Fly was more sickening than scary so take it off the list.

kpdriver
kpdriver

House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price a. 1955

fdmundo
fdmundo

One of the Sci-Fi movies that had a big impression on me in my youth. The "Cinemagic" process looked weird and cheesy, like watching the movie through red cellophane. Best line: "Rocks are rocks -- let's get a move on!"

marcia
marcia

Definitely Science Fiction, and with the most archetypal scary imagery imaginable. The ultimate bad dream.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

Unexpected twists and scare your pants off movies. I had trouble watching the end of Event Horizon!

davew
davew

The day the Earth Stood Still

ilona2046
ilona2046

Oh... Alien is definitely the best)) ----------- Best homes

Paul R.A.
Paul R.A.

what is this - remake days? Original Thing was better, and so was the original fly. Sigh and what happened to the Blob(original) partially filmed in Phoenixville PA and cut in Yellow House Pa. Classic simply Classic

the_resonant_flux
the_resonant_flux

Don't forget Event Horizon, I mean they are talking about the scariest. And that movie just about killed me.

frank.fisher
frank.fisher

AlienSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS surely How can you miss Aliens? game over man, game over

app
app

I would have to vote for the classic black and white "Day of the triffids" I first heard the british radio play sometime in the seventies. I didn't sleep for a week (ok...I was 12...) It fascinated and repulsed me at the same time. I had to keep listening even though I was terrorised. I resisted seeing the movie until I was in my 30's. and was equally horrified. I don't know what was worse, the social implications of an entire society gone blind, or the walking killer plants from space that preyed on them. Yes the film is dated, but it gets my vote as the greatest Sci-Fi Horror Book/Movie/radioplay of all time

barnabyheaton
barnabyheaton

What about 1980 razzie nominee Saturn 3 with Hector the homicidal h'android

rich_lenore
rich_lenore

Sorry, I think I posted this twice before it showed up at the bottom of the list...This one scared me so much as a kid that I slept with the lights on for a week. All I can remember of it is it was in b/w, there was an alien black, creeping, oozing mass (NOT The Blob), and it burned any human it touched. There was a scene in a cave with a bunch of men and one had his arm blackened when the creature engulfed it, then another scene where it came into a woman's bedroom and I remember it knocking or oozing over a standing candelabra. That's all I remember other than being freaked out for a week. My sister votes for "Gargoyles." She watched it late one night and it scared the living daylights out of her!

kurt.mechaley
kurt.mechaley

You missed Forbidden Planet, one of the all time classics.

sboverie
sboverie

Today is Frankenstein Day, I don't know if it is for Victor Frankenstein or for his creature. I had to vote for Aliens as best Sci-Fi Horror. It had suspense in when you first see the alien it was a little thing that you only got a glimpse before it disapeared. You never got a good look at the alien and it could hide in the background and you would not see it until it moved. There was also the theme of the company, the crew were just workers. As the movie unfolds there are the grunts holding out for a piece of the prize and being assured that they would get their reward. The tension escallates as each one is taken one by one. Don't forget about the synthetic human who betrays the whole crew and seemed to have known a lot more about what they were up against. The alien was supposed to be the ultimate survivor, it was tough and very strong. Add defenses like the razor sharp tail and super corrosive blood and it seemed unstoppable. The real ultimate survivor was Ripley, a role that got stronger in the sequels. Other films mentioned in other posts are good but did not have the nightmare inducing effects of Aliens. I really enjoyed The Thing ( a very close second to Aliens),Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Invasion of the body Snatchers.

Marcus55901
Marcus55901

THEM. Sure, the whole giant insect genre is kinda cheesy, but this one was very well done. Good actors, great photography. The scene with a giant ant emerging from an ant hill and tossing out a human skeleton still gives me chills.

ryoung
ryoung

Vincent Price in the Last Man. If your area gets Offbeat Cinema you can still watch these classic Drive-In movies and the advertising trailers for the concession stand food too. Talk about horror!!!

makeja
makeja

Them (giant ant movie of the 60's. first to exploit notion that atomic testing maybe had downsides !!

acridweasel
acridweasel

The Matrix Revolutions?? Sci-Fi = Sentinels, hover-ships, neural-cortex Internet connection (and I thought 8Mb was fast!), etc. Horror = Plot, Keanu's acting, the money I spent on the DVD, the waste of Larry Fishburne. I loved the first Matrix and managed to forget the second's flaws (did you see Will Ferrell's MTV awards parody? Classic!), but come on Wachowskis. It could have been a fantastic trilogy, oh well...

yobtaf
yobtaf

How can you miss PSYCHO. The Master, Alfred Hitchcock decided to try his hand at making a low budget horror film and invented the slasher film in he process, no to mention creating a classic. Bernard Herrmann's shower sequence music is still copied to this day. This is my choice for #1 Also: The original "The Thing" (1951) is far superior to John Carpenter's (1982) remake. Although Christian Nyby is credited as director, it is widely recognized that Howard Hawks actually helmed the film. It is not often that a director of that statute makes a horror film.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Maybe the directors cut of Bladerunner, but the cinema version wasn't very scary. Les.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

MAybe not scary now, but scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Les.

acridweasel
acridweasel

Tried to watch this a while ago and couldn't. It wasn't so much the horror aspect but that long-white-haired guy riding the bicycle just unsettled me so much! Maybe I'll try again...

sreich104
sreich104

"Cat People" with Simone Simone. I saw this in a theatre when I was about 12 and had to walk home in the dark. The streets were quite empty and I was never so frightened as on that trip home, with me looking back over my shoulder every ten seconds to make sure I wasn't being followed by a black leopard.

fredscomprepair
fredscomprepair

Remember? With Leslie Nielson. The Krill and of course Dr. Morbvious, Robbie the Robot, and the creature?? And of course the most modern space craft of all times. I believe it was made in the late 50's. It was the predecessor to Star Trek??

mikemulren
mikemulren

1. Alien 2. The Thing (orig.) 3. Invaders from Mars (org.) 4. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers 5. Earth versus The Flying Saucers 6. War of the Worlds (orig.) 7. The Day The Earth Stood Still 8. All the old Flash Gordon serials (orig.) 9. All the old Commander Cody serials like the Radar Men from Mars

50-50
50-50

"Them" was maybe the best of that genre and yes, the ant tossing away the skeleton was a creepy scene.... too bad that's not how ants take out the trash. They dedicate a chamber underground for their trash heap. Something like 1/3 of all flowering species of plant put a piece of ant food on their seeds so the ants will take the seeds underground, break off the tasty bit, then stash the rest of each seed in the trash pile, thus dispersing and planting the seeds. Still "Them" was a scary movie and its radiation-mutation bad nuclear science was far better done than the bogus power-plant as bomb anti-nuke agit-prop of "The China Syndrome".

Eoghan
Eoghan

Psycho is not SciFi

moleman
moleman

I remember having nightmares as a kid (and maybe as an adult) after seeing this all time classic. Leslie Nielson was excellent, and Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius, and Anne Francis (mmeee ooowwwers) as Altaira, Plus a cast of many great up and coming actors. And of course Robbie the Robot. What a great movie. A must see for real SciFi Fans. I would also like to put my vote in for "This Island Earth" The premis that aliens came to earth to recruit scientists to help with a nuclear powered planetary force field on Metaluna. And Lets not forget "Fantasic Voyage" where they miniturized a small submarine and injected it into a person to work on his brain. Ok, now you've done it. I quess I will have to take the day off, and break out my SciFi collection. LOL.

Eoghan
Eoghan

Not to mention Anne Francis (the daughter)! Excellent mind-horror SciFi

rich_lenore
rich_lenore

This looks very likely to be the movie I'm remembering, and I don't think I've ever seen it amidst the ususal run of horror movies that come out this time of year. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

sgetty
sgetty

CommandER Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: A fantastic band in the 70's.

yobtaf
yobtaf

I was corrected above.

50-50
50-50

It's scarier than Psycho, too.

mikemulren
mikemulren

...that "Night of the Living Dead" is Sci-Fi. Which is to say, its not at all sci-fi. So neither of these 2 films, while they are both great flicks, should be included.

yobtaf
yobtaf

My mistake, I haven't had my coffee yet.

mikemulren
mikemulren

Yes, I did mean Commando Cody. I always make that mistake. Great! Weren't they?