It goes without saying that the 2010s have been an extraordinary decade for science fiction films. Not only have studios invested in bold, original stories from veteran auteurs and rising talents, but there’s also been a great variety to the stories that are told, as many of these science fiction films have intersected with other genres. This is the decade that saw the release of such future sci-fi classics as Blade Runner 2049, Under the Skin, Arrival, Ex Machina, Ad Astra, and The Martian among others.
However, despite the advances in sci-fi storytelling that were made over the last decade, there are some films that remain underrated. Some of these films were complete box office bombs, and while others were successful, they are not given the respect or talked about in the way that they deserve. Here are the top ten most underrated science fiction films of the 2010s.
10. High Life
Claire Denis is an uncompromising filmmaker, and Hgh Life is the type of film that is sure to spark strong reactions from viewers; some consider it to be pretentious, while others view it as a masterpiece. It’s a space film that is uniformly bleak, and the dire depiction of what remains of humanity makes for a tough sit. It’s also a film that is incredibly blunt, and even haunting, with its provocative sexuality.
Yet despite this rough exterior, there’s so much to appreciate about High Life; it’s an intricate web of a story revolving around the complex moral decisions made by the astronaut Monte (Robert Pattinson), who balances being one of humanity’s soul survivors and the father of a young daughter. Denis excels at showing the methodical cycles of Monte’s life, particularly as he becomes desensitized to the vastness of space. For any cinephile, High Life is definitely a conversation starter.
9. The Rover
Another bleak and bold science fiction thriller starring Robert Pattinson is The Rover, a stripped down post-apocalyptic western that follows Pattinson’s character Reynolds, a simple minded criminal who is unexpectedly paired with the veteran Eric (Guy Pearce) as they search for Eric’s car. While there are obvious parallels to be drawn with the Mad Max franchise, The Rover excels due to the great chemistry between the two leads and their interesting relationship; Eric has lost his wife and is driven only by vengeance, and Eric has been abandoned by his brother (Scoot McNairy) and anyone that would provide for him.
Filmmaker David Michod has emerged as one of the decade’s most underrated directors with films like The King and War Machine, and once again he shows a great ability to mix macabre productions with rich emotional storytelling. Michod never feels the need to explain how this apocalypse started, and the details of Eric’s life are only gradually told to the audience; Michod places a trust in his audience to see the world through the perspective of his characters.
This decade has seen many studios unsuccessfully try to capitalize on classic movie monsters, with both the proposed Dark Universe from Universal and Legendary’s Monsterverse producing a string of critical failures that didn’t appease critics or fans. Ironically, one of the decade’s best monster movies was a small, independent comedy that focuses on how the alcoholic writer Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is inadvertently related to a giant Kaiju attack in Seoul.
There is obvious illusions to classic monster movies, but Colossal is confident enough in its own vision that it becomes something totally original; the rules of how the characters are involved in the monster attacks are simple and effective, but the film is really about the trauma Gloria has faced and how she is able to move on. Jason Sudekis also gives the best performance of his career as Oscar, Gloria’s childhood friend who hides an abusive streak under his “nice guy” facade.
7. 10 Cloverfield Lane
The Cloverfield franchise is among the most unusual of any current Hollywood series; the films have all been produced with creative marketing strategies, and the releases of both 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox were revealed as surprises. In the case of The Cloverfield Paradox, the mystery box didn’t pay off, but that wasn’t the case for 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is a terrific confined location thriller that holds up regardless of its connection to the greater Cloverfield universe.
The Academy Awards are notoriously biased against science fiction films, but it is a shame that John Goodman didn’t receive his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his incredible performance as the reclusive Howard; seeing the psychological games that Howard plays and the levels of denial he is in gives Goodman great material to work with. While the ending may still be controversial in how it forces ties to the first film, it doesn’t take away from the unnerving thrills that preceded it.
Okja is a film that is bound to be critically rediscovered; the film was an early release from Netflix, and the anti-streaming stigma dominated the conversation surrounding the film, particularly during its premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. The phenomenon of Parasite is also likely to inspire some film fans to check out some of Bong Joon-ho’s earlier work, as he is now renowned as one of the best filmmakers of his generation, and one of the few filmmakers whose name is a genre itself.
Okja is a merciless takedown of capitalism and the food industry, filled with acidic performances by Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal as larger than life villains. The wackiness is never attempting to be subtle, but Bong balances the satire with a genuinely sweet and affectionate relationship between the young girl Mija and her superpig Okja. The world building and action sequences are as exceptional as one would expect from Bong, but it’s this warped fairy tale at the center that gives the story its humanity.