Science fiction movies are a really mixed bag. Thanks to the success of franchises like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, we’re seeing more sci-fi movies than ever before. Of course, any fan can tell you the bitter truth: not all of these sci-fi movies are created equally! Some of them are a major hit with audiences. These typically become franchises of their very own, and before you know it, your local stores are littered with toys and merchandise for the movie. Alternately, the movie may flop, and you’ll be lucky if people can remember the film’s name after a year or two. However, this isn’t the whole story. Sci-fi basically built the idea of a cult following for a film. Therefore, things that were huge flops in movie theaters managed to take on new life when they were released on home video, and every few years they gain another generation of fans.
The opposite also happens, though. There are movies that had absolutely insane mainstream appeal when they were released. However, home video and streaming gave us a chance to watch these movies over and over again. And there’s only one real conclusion: some of these hits are highly overrated. So, when it’s time to pop on a sci-fi movie, how can you tell the awesome flops from the overrated hits? Simple: with our help! We’ve put together a solid guide that will give you night after night of awesome entertainment. Ready to get started? Read on to find out which "bad" science fiction movies are actually pretty great, and which hits are actually overrated.
20 SECRETLY GREAT: THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK
The world always love Vin Diesel. Right? Not exactly. When Chronicles of Riddick came out, the movie was a huge flop and on top of that, Diesel himself was nominated for a Razzie due to his performance in this over-the-top action movie. However, this is a flop that’s worth returning to!
If you like Diesel, then this movie is great: non-stop action and entertainment from the actor at the top of his game and the DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the film offer some added scenes and material that make it all feel more cohesive. In fact, the home video sales were so good that this film eventually got a sequel!
19 OVERRATED: INTERSTELLAR
If you talk to fans, Interstellar was one of the biggest sci-fi movies of the past decade and the box office seems to bear this out, as the film’s raw star power brought quite a few fans to the theates. Unfortunately, we’ve got a newsflash: this movie is quite overrated.
Interstellar is the kind of film that is mostly guilty of fumbling in the third act. After doing a good job of dramatizing cool scientific elements like the relativity of time, we get an ending that is simultaneously schmaltzy and pseudo-spiritual. It seemed as if the movie was setting up a sequel at the same time that it ensured no one would want to watch it!
18 SECRETLY GREAT: COWBOYS & ALIENS
People don’t like to talk about it, but Daniel Craig seems to have the James Bond curse. That is, he gives a great performance as everyone’s favorite secret agent, but now he has trouble finding success in other roles. That was the case with the high-budget, low-grossing film Cowboys & Aliens.
That’s too bad, because this is actually one of the best genre mashups ever created. The film totally delivers on the premise of the cool title, bringing you Western tropes by way of modern sci-fi anxiety. Throw in arresting performances from Olivia Wilde and Harrison Ford and you’ve got something truly unforgettable.
17 OVERRATED: STAR TREK
Star Trek is a weird franchise in many ways. For instance, it’s extremely successful, having lasted for over 50 years of assorted shows and movies. At the same time, it’s very niche: beloved by hardcore geeks and either ignored or mocked by the mainstream. The first Trek reboot tried to change all of that by making everything bigger, and much more explosive.
And all of it worked. Trek was brought to a new generation and a new franchise was spun off. However, this film is ultimately hollow at its core: the actors don’t act so much as mimic the original cast, and the plot feels much more at home for Star Wars than Star Trek (no wonder director J.J. Abrams ditched this franchise to direct The Force Awakens).
16 SECRETLY GREAT: KULL
Many swords and sorcery movies revolve around the dark ages. Well, for fantasy films, the '80s is its own kind of dark ages: for every fun movie like Conan the Barbarian, you get a dozen direct to video flops. Krull was a fantasy movie dismissed by audiences in the early '80s. It turns out they don’t know what they’re missing!
The movie is fun in an experimental way. There’s cool effects, some interesting voicework, and a rocking soundtrack. If you like your sci-fi big, loud, and utterly ambitious, then this movie is right up your alley. Plus, it’s a great excuse to add “Glaive” to your vocabulary.
15 OVERRATED: MINORITY REPORT
Minority Report had one of the coolest sci-fi premises of all time: how would society react when crime could be predicted? Furthermore, what are the implications of punishing someone before they have ever even committed a crime? The premise, along with the wattage of Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, propelled this movie to major success.
However, the movie is far more interested in slick chase sequences than crunchy philosophical dilemmas. And the ending (in which the PreCrime unit is dissolved) is predictable and toothless. This is especially true compared to the short story it was based on in which the main character is willing to end someone's life in order to preserve the PreCrime unit.
14 SECRETLY GREAT: POWER RANGERS
Nostalgia is thick in the air in Hollywood -- that’s why just about every movie is a sequel, prequel, or reboot. However, audiences are getting a bit sick of it, and that’s one of the reasons why the Power Rangers movie didn’t exactly make a huge splash when it premiered.
However, the movie managed to do the impossible by being a genuinely good reboot. The young actors do a good job bringing the Rangers to life while the older heroes and villains are played by amazing actors such as Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston. To heck with nostalgia -- this is a genuinely fun movie even if you’ve never seen an episode of the original show.
13 OVERRATED: MEN IN BLACK
Many of the movies on this list were major hits, however Men in Black was some kind of new level of success. The movie was everywhere, spawning a cartoon, a special Burger King burger, and more Will Smith singing than anyone was ready for. But if you look at the movie itself, you’ll see something pretty overrated.
Men in Black is what happens when you create a movie cocktail out of Ghostbusters, the X-Files, and Lethal Weapon. So, while the final product may feel like something new, each one of its component parts (from busting super-criminals to chasing aliens to buddy cop comedy) has been done better by something else.
12 SECRETLY GREAT: SOLO
The Solo movie has gone down as one of Disney’s few really big failures. After the success of Rogue One, the House of Mouse thought what we really needed was some young Han Solo adventures. But the movie’s cost ballooned as the original directors were fired, and audiences did not exactly flock to the film. The result? A Star Wars flop, something previously thought impossible.
Here’s the thing, though: once you get past the very real fact that no one wanted Han Solo’s backstory, the film is quite enjoyable. The performances are charming and hilarious (particularly Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian), and there’s plenty of Star Wars trivia to keep superfans glued to the screen.
11 OVERRATED: STARSHIP TROOPERS
Starship Troopers is really beloved. For fans of satire, it’s a great send-up of military culture and modern propaganda. For action fans, there are plenty of interesting action scenes and silly dialogue. Ultimately, though, this is a movie where there’s no “there” there.
Our lead actors were chosen because they played over-the-top parody characters very well. But when the parody wears thin, there is no real charm and humor to keep you coming back. The exception is the amazing Neil Patrick Harris, but he is confined to a small handful of appearances in the film. Sorry, Starship Troopers -- it turns out that we wouldn’t like to know more after all.
10 SECRETLY GREAT: SPEED RACER
Typically, adapting anime into live action results in a train wreck. In fact, Netflix keeps trying, and anime fans just keep dragging them for the poor results. Once upon a time, there was a movie that did it right and in an unforgettable way. Unfortunately, hardly anyone watched it!
Speed Racer is a movie that is absolutely filled with kinetic energy. Every scene is manic and alive, and the film leans hard into the absurd world of the source material. There are no attempts at gritty realism here: this is pure, high-octane fun. If you’ve never seen it, drop what you’re doing and go check it out.
9 OVERRATED: INDEPENDENCE DAY
For nerds of a certain age, Independence Day was a cultural watershed movie. It was a perfect storm of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman. And you could certainly argue that there Pullman’s “Independence Day” speech is one of the coolest moments in sci-fi movie history.
However, beyond some fun action and one-liners, the movie doesn’t hold up too well. You have to suspend your disbelief regarding things like alien software being infected by a Macbook and crashing alien ships magically missing all the landmarks they were hovering directly over. Oh, and Cousin Eddie is a lot weirder than your nostalgia probably remembers!
8 SECRETLY GREAT: TITAN A.E.
The idea of a mashup is a delicate thing. If you’re too close to the original works, you’ll just seem like a copycat. If you’re too far from them, though, then you lose the original appeal. Some movies really go for it, though, and throw all the concepts into a blender to see what happens.
That’s a large part of why we love mega-flop Titan A.E. It has elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and Dystopia thrown in with a mixture of 2D and 3D animation and a wild '90s-flavored soundtrack. The result is something memorable and fun, and there are great performances from Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, and Ron Perlman.
7 OVERRATED: THE FIFTH ELEMENT
The Fifth Element has a special place in many nerd hearts. It’s got an interesting premise, and the presence of actors like Bruce Willis immediately evokes a “John McClane in space” vibe. There are also some truly quotable moments: in fact, there’s a 100% chance you’ve heard someone say “Leeloo multipass” in real life at least once.
But the film is ultimately very hollow. It’s basically cool makeup and set pieces along with mediocre action and a vague antagonist. Throw in the “twist” that the fifth element is basically love and you have a plot that would have been more at home as an '80s Saturday morning cartoon.
6 SECRETLY GREAT: TREASURE ISLAND
Disney are the kings of "if you can't beat'em, join'em." That's why they joined with Pixar when the latter company was kicking their butts in the CGI animation game. But no matter how charming CGI animation can be, fans of a certain age will always be sad that traditional animation seems to have died for feature films, and it turns out that Treasure Planet was its last hurrah.
This movie blended traditional and digital animation, and it's absolutely stunning to look at. The film flopped commercially, but is actually very charming and holds up quite well for modern audiences. A fair bit of warning, though: after seeing this movie, you'll be sadder than ever about the end of feature animation!
5 OVERRATED: JURASSIC WORLD
Jurassic Park was a big gamble once upon a time. Despite some fun star power and Spielberg directing, the world’s first (partially) CGI monster movie had the potential to go really bad. However, it was a hit and spawned a franchise. And that franchise continued with the successful Chris Pratt-led Jurassic World.
That film kicked off a new franchise, but if we’re being honest, it’s not that good. The lead actors are certainly charming, but it’s basically a dino action movie that lacks much of the humanity and charm of the earliest film. Throw in some truly disposable supporting characters and you’ll be rooting for the dinosaurs before you know it.
4 SECRETLY GREAT: ENDER'S GAME
Sometimes, a film’s in danger of flopping well before it is released. That was the case with Ender’s Game. So because the film was adapting an absolutely beloved novel, fan expectations were going to be unreasonably high. On the other end of the spectrum, some people boycotted the movie due to the original author’s very ignorant and narrow views.
Beyond the high expectations and politics, though, the actual movie was very good. There is a solid performance from Harrison Ford and a particularly great performance from Asa Butterfield (an actor who very nearly became Spider-Man in the MCU). Even though this film didn’t kick off a franchise like they wanted, it’s really worth checking it out.
3 OVERRATED: AVATAR
Avatar is one of the most successful science fiction films ever made. Veteran director James Cameron brought us a film filled with action and thrilling effects that also (for better or for worse) ushered in the era of modern 3D movies. In fact, this movie was so successful that a seemingly endless array of sequels is coming.
However, the Avatar story isn’t really worth all those sequels. It was barely worth the movie it got. As many people noted, the pitch for this tale seemed to be “Last of the Mohicans ...in space!” It’s a lazy mashup at best, and we’d rather Cameron use his talents to create fresher franchises.
2 SECRETLY GREAT: R.I.P.D.
R.I.P.D.? More like F.L.O.P.P.E.D! The premise of this movie was that the afterlife has its own kind of police department, and their job is to drag wayward souls who refuse to move on back from Earth. Think of this as a mashup of Men in Black and Constantine.
Sounds terrible, right? Most audiences thought so and skipped this movie. However, the casting alone is fabulous: Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges are both the kind of actors who could read a phone book and make it entertaining. Their buddy cop comedy is solid, and this is ultimately one of the few comic book adaptations of the last few years that still feels like a fresh idea.
1 OVERRATED: THE MATRIX
There are many ways to define “hit” movies. Do we go by box office? Critical appeal? Or cultural impact? The Matrix is a movie that was a hit in every category and spawned a series of sequels, video games, and endless fan debate. However, the blunt truth is that the original movie had many of the same “meh” qualities the sequels did.
The action scenes are certainly great. But everyone seems to be overacting or underacting in each scene. Many of the characters are forgettable, and the “what if reality wasn’t reality” premise isn’t surprising or new: there is a 99% chance you’ll eventually hear a version of this from a talkative stoner at some point in your life.