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The top 10 sci-fi horror films of all time

Five years after debuting its top five sci-fi horror flicks, Geekend returns with an amended and extended top 10 catalog of science-fiction scarefests.
Five years ago, I threw down a list of the five greatest sci-fi horror films ever. As usual, I was immediately bombarded with comments explaining how incomplete, inaccurate, and inadequate my list was. Inexplicable endorsements of Event Horizon notwithstanding, I spent a half-decade digesting your feedback and stand here with an amended list of the 10 greatest hybrid science fiction/horror flicks ever made. 10. Forbidden Planet

Leslie Nielsen takes a serious turn battling literally unstoppable "monsters of the id" in a thinly veiled yet still thrilling and brilliant allegory of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." It hasn't aged well, especially effects-wise, but it planted seeds that bore remarkable science-fiction and horror films for the next half century. Also, Robby the Robot for the win.

9. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The original science-creates-flesh-eating-zombies classic, it launched its own subgenre of films and gave rise to an entire generation or three of monsters. You don't get such modern stalwarts as 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, or (perhaps most importantly) Shaun of the Dead without George Romero's legendary frightfest.

8. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

The first person who implies the 2008 Keanu Reeves remake is the superior version gets a Gort to the brainpan. The film is an inversion of so many classic tropes: the Big Dumb Object story where the object is Earth and the tour guide is the young awestruck boy, not the all-knowing alien; a monster that is menacing in its impregnable inactivity rather than in the destruction it wreaks; and a movie that isn't revealed as horror until the very end. There's a reason geeks still mutter klaatu barada nikto in the presence of dangerous tech; it's an incantation we've learned to fear and respect.

7. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

Perhaps the first Singularity movie is also an apex of Cold War tension given techno-terror form. A generation before Terminator gave us SkyNet, we get the tale of not one but two sentient nuclear-arsenal-controlling supercomputers -- one American, one Soviet -- joining forces to hold the world hostage...for its own good. The subtext is razor-sharp, as is the existential terror.

6. Village of the Damned (1960)

It's an established fact that children are creepy, but you don't get pure-horror scarefests like The Omen or The Ring without the terrifying techno-vignette of hivemind children that parlay their parents' unwillingness to kill them (plus inexplicable paranormal powers) into conquest of the world. The often unspoken fear that one's children will not only overtake, but obviate us is given horrific, enduring form. Not to be shown to expectant mothers or babysitters you want to hire a second time.

5. Frankenstein (1931)

It's campy, to be sure. Dated? Without question. But James Whale's magnum opus almost single-handedly established the visual vocabulary for mad scientists, reanimated creatures, and homicidal creatures that are sympathetic while still terrifying. Sci-fi horror began here, and as such no list is complete without this undisputed classic.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

McCarthyism taken to its absurd metaphorical extreme. Everyone is a potential enemy, and it's only a matter of time before we all fall to the threat. Paranoia is the only rational response, and the abject horror of that "logic" is the real message of this timeless classic. The 1978 Donald Sutherland screamer remake is solid, but nothing quite matches the campy 1950s fairy tale pierced by alien invaders who turn us against ourselves.

3. The Thing (1982)

An alien that can be anyone of us is the perfect metaphor for the enemy we suspect any one of our friends or family could become -- or already is. When push comes to shove, who can you really know, let alone really trust? Now magnify that with the power of an alien stalker that can turn a severed head into a giant spider. Scary is an understatement. Director John Carpenter also tacks on perhaps the most nihilistic ending you've ever seen in a sci-fi/action/horror film.

2. The Fly (1986)

Videodrome and maybe even Scanners could have made this list, but if you're only going to accept one disturbing David Cronenberg meditation on the horrors of technology run amok, it's the tale of Seth Brundle's horrific transformation into a human-fly hybrid. The nausea-inducing effects aside, The Fly has a great deal to say about Brundle's acceptance of, and even enthusiasm for, the monster his science has made of him. It's a literal metaphor of humanity willfully lost in the quest for knowledge, and that's perhaps the scariest monster of them all.

1. Alien

This requires no explanation. Ridley Scott's masterpiece of body-violating, unknowable malevolence set loose upon a working-class crew of relatable stiffs is the apex of horror sci-fi. The inexorable, unreasoning, incomprehensible Other we all fear lurks in the darkness is given tangible, terrifying, genre-defining form thanks to artist H.R. Giger -- and 30 years later it's still the standard by which all movie monsters are judged. Alien is equal parts understated Lovecraft epic, Hitchcockian serial killer thriller, and perhaps the first real female-protagonist action film. And it's absolutely terrifying, too. Accept no substitutes (and only one sequel, if you can help it).

No doubt, many of you will still have a bone to pick with the latest version of this list. The never-ending battle resumes in the comments section.

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...

52 comments
gmbtech
gmbtech

This list needs a little Pandorum (2009). It's one of the best sci-fi/horror movies ever, and so underrated/unknown. Also, TNOTLD is a zombie movie, and does not belong in sci-fi genre discussions. You also forgot T2, and Aliens (which was arguably better than Alien).

metaphysician
metaphysician

Years ago I wanted to show my then girlfriend Them. Her original comments were that it was full of cliches and things done a thousand times. I pointed out that Them wasn't full of cliches, because it was the first. The cliches were established as cliches by the imitators and derivative films. She thought about it and changed her whole attitude to the old films. My wife now seeks them out as much as I do. Except spiders. She hates spiders. And I would like to offer the recent Mummy films to the list. Yes, they had comic relief and were not something where I could suspend my belief, but they were true to the genre. There is another film that I don't know if you want to call it Science Fiction, that was one of the few films that actually scared me. The Serpent and the Rainbow gave a view of voodoo with toxins and drugs that put you in a state where you no longer were sure what was real and what were images provided by the priest, where you no longer had any control over your environment. That was very scary.

critic007
critic007

i dont watch a lot ,but Green Hornet is a good one Order tramadol

pgit
pgit

Man, you have a way with words! Unfortunately you don't have a way with top ten movie lists. Turn the numbers around, Forbidden Planet being #1, and I'll let you slide on your "top 5," only one of which would make my list of top 100. "The Thing" is disturbing to the point I'd burn every copy of it and expunge it's very existence from the human canon. Gross for grossness' sake doesn't cut it.

mike21b
mike21b

I saw both Alien and The Thing without having any idea of what the main story line was about (Alien on opening night, no date), so the fright scenes embedded in each definitely made me jump! I don't frighten easily while watching movies but I could feel the goosebumps while watching both.

richard.b.fowler
richard.b.fowler

I agree with your inclusion of "The Fly" and "The Thing", but you did not even reference that these were remakes (1958 and 1951, respectively). I like the remakes, but both originals had worthy endings that were not in the remakes, so they're still worth a look. I'm pretty sure the spider-head is much scarier than the giant carrot, though!

sparker
sparker

No discussiion of horror/sci-fi would be complete without at least one William Castle film. His opus "The Tingler" was campy and weird but sent dozens screaming from the theatre. OK, so some were paid to scream and fake a fainting spell, and some were helped by vibrators under the theatre seats, but the movie was a great success. I remember going to the movies and seeing his gender/bender "Homicidal" . Couldn't sleep for several nights. Great stuff.

Kris.J
Kris.J

I'm taking it home to the wife, now we have some fodder to get us thru this wet and dreary Michigan Fall weekend! :)

myangeldust
myangeldust

Alien/Aliens John Carpenter's The Thing Species Videodrome The Relic Predator Attack the Block Hollow Man The Fly Forbidden Planet The Faculty Tremors The Crazies Pitch Black The Blob (both versions) *An unordered list.

dudelerdad
dudelerdad

Something about the half human fly in the spider web in the last scene always gave me the chills!

RipVan
RipVan

I agree with much of this, but my FAVORITE thing you did was name two remakes to the list. "The Thing" and "The Fly" were okay in their original format and for their time, but the remakes were superior. I also liked the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," but like you, I believe the original was superior. I have a friend who still likes the original "The Thing" and I just can't figure out why he is afraid of a mushroom. Just throw some red wine and garlic on him and lunch away. As far as "The Fly," it was a very good moment when Brundle vomits on the donuts. What he did next was THE FREAK, man!!!! Thanks again...

MarkWAliasQ
MarkWAliasQ

Some great films there to be sure but there has been some terrific sci-fi flicks in the last 25 years, none of which seems to make the grade here.

scairns
scairns

I found Event Horizon to fall well and truly into this category. Primer was also very good, but although it's tense and scary, I don't know if it actually falls into the "horror" category.

mheartwood
mheartwood

John Carpenter's "The Thing", which is absolutely brilliantly scarey, is also quite true to its original source material, a novella called "Who Goes There?", right down to the nihilistic ending.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

is definitely one of my favorites in this list. Definitely a great classic! I personally think it holds its own and aged well. Then again, I grew up watching a lot of movies made before the 70s.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There's certainly been some horrific sci-fi films. Battlefield Earth and Starship Troopers for instance. :D

spdragoo
spdragoo

One of their first VHS movies they owned was Alien. And just about every Sunday, they'd sit down to watch it while eating spaghetti...

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

Depends on your definition of a remake. John Carpenter's "The Thing" was much closer to John Capmbell Jr's "Who Goes There?" than the 1950's movie (as mentioned by mheartwood above). I disagree with mheartwood about the novella's ending though. IIRC, the ending was triumphant in the original story; the heroes captured a nuclear-powered, anti-gravity harness from "The Thing".

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I have both and really like to watch them back to back to compare and contrast how the movies portray societal outlooks on the military and scientific establishment.

myangeldust
myangeldust

Almost, "Saturn 3". But you remembered.

RipVan
RipVan

I read that they took the whole day to film that scene because the two of them couldn't stop laughing!!! It is a classic, for sure.

Lynn Aeon
Lynn Aeon

I agree Mark. It seems there were a few missed and some of the older films don't terrify the way they used to. Most of this list still hold up. I would add "28 Days Later" which brought the whole Zombie genre raging back, and, where the heck is "Predator" on this list?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

is to exclude derivative works. I'm trying to think of an original Sci-Fi + Horror concept that doesn't draw on the above list and am coming up blank. E.G. I liked Demon Seed, but it draws a lot from Colossus: The Forbin Project. Also I think Horror and Sci-Fi started to bulk up in their respective venues over the past 25 years to the point that you don't really market Sci-Fi AND Horror anymore.

donallsop
donallsop

Love this film! The effects are of course not comparable to modern movies, but more important than looking realistic, they looked *good*. And speaking of looking good, Anne Francis...delicious. Also notable for the first all-electronic music score.

VJMcDonald
VJMcDonald

This was the first movie that flashed into my mind when I saw the lnk to this thread. I first saw this when I was 13, and it scared the dickens out of me. I can still see that steel door bending from the assault.... That scene, juxtaposed with the comedy of Robbie, make this an unusally appealing film. Now I've got to go find a copy of the darned thing, just so I can see it again.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

It's one of my favourite movies (with an important message, just like "The Day the Earth Stood Still"). "[i] It hasnt aged well, especially effects-wise, ...[/i]" I disagree with this though. How many 60 year old movies have better effects than "Forbidden Planet"?

HHH
HHH

Starshp Troopers was AWESOME!!! the 2 movies after it sucked.

pgit
pgit

I would definitely NOT eat while watching Alien or The Thing. (remake that is)

spdragoo
spdragoo

If that's the one I think it is (i.e. an AI put in charge of a house that decides it needs to contribute its own "legacy", so to speak), I think that's based on a Dean Koontz novel. Not to say Dean didn't borrow from the other movie, but that might fall more under the "book adaptation" category".

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

Some of my favourite quotes. [b]Robby:[/b] "No sir. Nothing coming [i]this[/i] way." [b]Doc:[/b] "The blasted thing's invisible!" [b]Commander Adams:[/b] "Monsters from the Id ..." "Monsters from the subconscious. Of course. That's what Doc meant." [b]Commander Adams:[/b] "Look at your gauges. Look! That machine is going to supply your monster with whatever amount of power it requires to reach us." [b]Morbius:[/b] "My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!"

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Literature when Dean Koontz came up. I'm a fan of Ellison and it pains me when I see stuff ripped off from him. That was the point, not the implication that a movie was directly made. It is not inconceivable the Forbin Project and Dean Koontz's work were influenced by Ellison's prior art (along the lines of Terminator.) Addendum: my earlier post used the Forbin Project in place of Koontz. Confusing am I, thx for catch!

online
online

...they never made a movie of it. And we're talking about movies.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I just checked the date on Harlan Ellison's [i]I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream[/i]. It predates Koontz by six years...

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

This was an adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel. I just read the 1973 synopsis under wikipedia and the original novel sounds even more like The Forbin Project. E.G. Proteus was an external supercomputer that took over the house Susan was living in, not a construct of her husband (movie). Thanks!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As I recall, there are no legal protections on the use of a title. Completely different books, songs, and movies can legally have the same name. A movie titlled 'Starship Troopers' could be a western or a biblical epic.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to read my comments. I'd like to say I'm honoured...

myangeldust
myangeldust

I don't watch a comic book movie to see the comic adapted verbatim from the original. Comics change every 15 years to fit the times. The core should remain timeless but some of the story devices have to change. New writers add stories to fill in gaps in a character's history. Backstories are put in place where certain things were never explained. As long as the core is intact I won't trash it (much). Good core: Batman Begins. Bad core: Batman and Robin. Good core: Hulk. Bad core: Incredible Hulk.

Burnsie61
Burnsie61

perhaps there should be a rule that is 75% of the original story isnt included in the film (or series of films) they can't use the name of the book / comic etc.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

or perhaps more accurately whether we enjoyed it or not. That's it relationship to the book it was meant to be based on was at best fleeting is however indisputable. If they'd have called it Unrealistic space bugs kill off B movie actors and some naked women, I might have watched it in the spirit it was made. As it is, they called it RAH Starship Troopers, and reaped the consequences of their deceit.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I call it, the "Only the name's the same, to sucker in the unwary" syndrome. Anime/manga fans are always outraged when Hollywood releases "based on ..." movies. Hollywood does it with US movie remakes too (e.g. Rollerball, Total Recall).

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is that they're taking advantage of those who've read the book in order to build their audience. But if books aren't your thing, let's switch gears to another medium that is now being adapted frequently to movies: comic books. Imagine you pay to see a 'Spider-Man' movie based on what you've read in the comic, but Uncle Ben isn't killed by a criminal Peter Parker side-steps. The 'With great power comes great responsibility' message, the entire underpinning of Spidey's crime-fighting activities, is tossed out the window. That's how the 'Starship Troopers' movie made me feel. By using a title to attract those familiar with the book / comic / original medium, Hollywood implies certain characters, themes, scenes, settings, motivations, and actions will be present. The greater the deviation, the greater the likelihood that I'm being sold a pig in a poke. Just name the movie something else and I'll shut up.

myangeldust
myangeldust

I was going to make fun of people who read books... and their insistence that movie scripts adhere to said books. But I thought this was a good example of both book and movie being, separately, good. Heinlein's book is this "what if..." about the government that's geared towards the military without being a military dictatorship in the classic sense. Civics 101 wrapped around an interstellar war. It's pure science fiction. The Starship Trooper movie is a satire of military propaganda with a horror element (if you got a fear of bugs). The marketing bumpers asking you to "Join the Mobile Infantry!" The go-go attitude of the characters before they realize that war is ugly and actually dangerous. Then there's the bugs! Rarely do movie-goers get to see an non-anthropomorphic enemy. The bugs have no faces or pupils to focus on, multiple legs, fast-moving, shrill screamers. But instead of being these dumb wooden ducks to shoot at, the bugs actually display a good amount of tactical thinking. Anyways, similar to Robocop, Troopers ridicules at our attempts to make War into an activity we WANT to participate in while scaring the crap out of us with these beings we can't relate to. Well, unless you're NPH, who's the only one allowed to "Pet the Worm". That reminds me: Jurassic Park III. (All the velociraptor moments are horror scenes.)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I thought it was a commercial. I think the level of trauma I suffered watching that made me bury it in my subconscious. Some would say you've done me a favour by making me relive the experience. No I'm not one of them. :)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The book wasn't about the bugs. They were simply a horrible enemy we couldn't communicate with. A parody, or an allegory perhaps. But as far as the science fiction aspect of the book is concerned they were scenery, nothing to do with the premises at all. One being that only those who are prepared to risk their lives for their country are fit to have a say in how it is run...

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

Even without reading the book, the entire premise of "The bugs hurled a rock across an entire galaxy from one side to the next and hit the town they were aiming for, which (even if they hurled the rock at the speed fo light, whcih they didn't) would not have existed yet, let alone tracking the orbit of planet Earth over billions of years to predict where it might be by the time the rock arrived" while at the same time trying to find proof that "the bugs are intelligent" made me "WTF" so badly I couldn't even enjoy the giant spiders properly.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

What is the book about, you'll have to read it, because it isn't in the film. It was like doing Saving Private Ryan the only child, but with no brilliant opening, and crap actors. The only good thing about it was the ladies, especially the naked ones. As a soft porn spoof film, It had credible story line, but not enough porn, is about the best I can say of it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I thought Troopers strayed too far, keeping only the action and leaving out most of RAH's social commentary underpinnings regarding the responsibilities of citizens, role of the military in society, etc. I'm surprised Tony didn't point out the horror that was 'I, Robot', a film with nothing in common with Asimov's collection of short stories except the title. Not a truly bad movie, and I could excuse it if they'd just called it something like 'Fresh Prince of Caves of Steel'.

spdragoo
spdragoo

Doesn't mean that the movie "sucked", though. It's extremely hard to find movies that are 100% faithful to their book origins, even ones that are as successful as, say, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Of course, for every LotR series (or even Harry Potter series), you have...things... like Twilight, where you wish they [b]weren't[/b] as faithful to the books as they are. If you had never read the novel, though, then Starship Troopers would easily be classified as a successful summer blockbuster. And even if you have read the novel, just remember there's a lot of events that go on in the novel that get very little attention in a book setting, but would require a lot of onscreen time... like the various invasion sequences. Not to mention the invariable complaints as to whether the "Mobile Infantry" suits were "good" adaptations of the book's descriptions or not. Irregardless, considering that my wife enjoyed it, & she's not exactly a sci-fi fan (horror, yes; monsters, somewhat; serial killers, especially cannibals, cue Mr. Burns saying, "Excellent!"), I think we can call it a success. #2, not so much; can't say on #3, haven't seen it yet. Of course, it could be worse. It could have been the complete opposite, where the movie is [b]much[/b] better than the book. I remember reading the novelization for the first Christopher Reeves [b]Superman[/b] movie. Don't remember all of the details, but I do remember that not only was the nuclear missile issue completely missing from it, but the 2nd half involved Lex Luthor & Superman traveling to an alien planet (Luthor using a spider-shaped spacecraft), and having to defeat an alien version of the Pied Piper that nearly took over Earth. *shudder*

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