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Sci-Fi Horror Movies: 10 Frightening Films That Make You Think

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Looking back at science fiction film history, we see that its roots are dug deep and tied together with into sci-fi horror movies

In the first sci-fi movie ever made, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), five astronomers are attacked by horrific insectoid aliens. Years later we’re introduced to a canon of creatures created by science in Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The predominant theme is a fear of the unknown, or a lack of understanding that leads to terrible mistakes.

The following sci-fi movies continue a horror-tinged tradition to deliver shock, awe, and dread. Some are mainstream; others, obscure. But the through-line is the same. These films invite you to think about what horrors lie just beyond your understanding of science, history, and culture.

This thought alone can keep people awake at night, and that’s just what we aim to do.

Alien (1979)

alien 1979 sci-fi horror movies

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if the crew of a spaceship came face-to-face with an unknown alien species more animal than human?

Cast & Crew

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Plot Synopsis

The crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space freighter, picks up a distress signal and are forced by company policy to investigate. Once there, they inadvertently awaken the brood of a deadly alien species that begins to breed and devour the crew members one-by-one. As the last member of the crew standing, Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) must arm the ship’s self-destruct protocols and evade the deadly alien to make her way back to Earth.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

I started this list with the best example of cosmic sci-fi horror I could think of. 

Alien is rife with danger and uncomfortable energy, which stems from the film’s beautifully haunting set designs (shoutout to H.R. Giger) and incredible practical effects. While it has become a mainstream staple of science fiction and sci-fi horror, it never loses its punch no matter how many times you watch it. It’s hard to believe that there’s a whole new generation growing up right now that hasn’t seen it yet, and this needs to be rectified. 

If you want a more complete analysis of Alien, check out episode #22 of The Fictionphile Podcast.

Watch Alien (1979) on Amazon Prime now

Annihilation (2018)

annihilation sci-fi horror films

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if an alien phenomenon played with the fabric of Earth’s ecosystems to horrifying effect?

Cast & Crew

Director: Alex Garland

Writer: Alex Garland and Jeff VanderMeer

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong

Plot Synopsis

A team of scientists are sent to explore and study a strange area called “the Shimmer” where the biology of everything inside has been altered to an unnerving effect. As the crew continues to search for a missing team that entered before they did, it becomes apparent that everything within the Shimmer is out to destroy them. In the end, Lena (Natalie Portman) confronts a hostile alien presence, destroys the foundations of the Shimmer, and is forever changed by the experience.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

Easily one of my favorite sci-fi horror films of all time, but definitely not one that will appeal to a very wide audience. 

It’s cerebral themes and use of body horror were not hot ticket selling points in a year where the highest grossing horror film was The Meg. There’s a genuine mystery surrounding the Shimmer, and it continues even after the reason for the strange biology is revealed. I warn you that “the bear scene” will keep you up at night. 

This is not recommended for the faint of heart or the squeamish.

Watch Annihilation (2018) on Amazon Prime now

Class of 1999 (1990)

class of 1999 sci fi horror movie

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if society blurred the lines between law-enforcement, military pursuits, and education?

Cast & Crew

Director: Mark L. Lester

Writer: Mark L. Lester and C. Courtney Joyner

Starring: Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind, Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach, Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, Darren E. Burrows, Joshua John Miller

Plot Synopsis

In 1999, a high school inside of a dangerous “free fire zone” becomes the site of an experiment perpetrated by the Department of Educational Defense. Three android teachers are released into the school to help solve its delinquent problem but quickly begin forming minds of their own and killing students. One student, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg), becomes aware of these androids and attempts to destroy them. The androids incite a gang war within the school to cover their tracks, but Cody and his friend, Christie Langford (Traci Lind), convince the gangs to join forces in one final battle against the androids.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

This ranks relatively low on my list because it is the weakest in terms of horror, production values, acting… and really just about everything else. 

So, why did this sci-fi horror film make the list? Because it’s awesome. 

It’s an 80s film that combines all the beloved aspects of punk culture, cyberpunk terror, government conspiracies, and beloved action movie tropes into one. 

Is it the best movie on this list? Not by a long shot, but it is great for a movie night with friends, and you won’t be dumber because of it.

Watch Class of 1999 (1990) on Amazon Prime now

Event Horizon (1997)

event horizon sci-fi horror movies

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if a tear to another dimension caused a spaceship crew to go mad?

Cast & Crew

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writer: Philip Eisner

Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Peter Marinker

Plot Synopsis

In 2047, a rescue ship responds to the distress signal of the Event Horizon, a ship that mysteriously disappeared seven years earlier. As the crew explores the ship and begins to piece together the events surrounding its disappearance, it becomes clear that its experimental engine, which allows it to move through other dimensions, was to blame. A hostile entity has attached itself to the ship and is now actively killing off the crew with hallucinations and psychosomatic suggestions. The survivors manage to get back to Earth, but the nightmares of the experience remain.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

Unlike some of the other sci-fi horror movies on this list, Event Horizon relies less on physical creatures and more on preying upon the fears, regrets, and darkest thoughts of the space crew. 

The other dimension is never shown, but its effects are felt as an almost omnipotent force breaks the fragile minds of the crew members. There are different types of monsters in fiction, but the most frightening of all is “the monster within,” which is the dark reflection of innermost thoughts that are usually suppressed.

In this movie, those thoughts are brought to life, and you’ll be pondering the results long after the credits roll.

Watch Event Horizon (1997) on Amazon Prime now

The Fly (1986)

the fly jeff goldblum sci-fi horror films

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if a scientist’s ego caused them to ignore the dangers of their experiments, and it resulted in something grotesque?

Cast & Crew

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: George Langelaan, Charles Edward Pogue, and David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson

Plot Synopsis

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldbloom) is a scientist who invents a pair of pods that can teleport things instantly between them. He offers the exclusive rights to documentation and news to Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis). As the experiments progress, so too does their relationship. As Seth manages to successfully transport himself, a spark of jealousy about Veronica’s ex boyfriend takes hold. Seth begins to deteriorate physically and mentally until he becomes a horrifying creature.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

The Fly is an example of a remake done right. 

Rather than try to recreate the 1958 film of the same name, David Cronenberg threw out the book and managed to create something that paid homage to the premise of the original while improving it in every way. 

The Fly is not only a story about the corrosion of the mind of genius through jealousy and ego, but it’s also a cautionary tale about meddling with science that we have only begun to understand. 

Special acknowledgement also needs to be given to the sci-fi horror film’s makeup effects artists, Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis, who brought home an Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Watch The Fly (1986) on Amazon Prime now

Pontypool (2008)

pontypool

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if language could carry a disease?

Cast & Crew

Director: Bruce McDonald

Writer: Tony Burgess

Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

Plot Synopsis

We follow the lives of shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), and his irritated station manager, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) one morning as something strange begins to unfold outside the station. The traffic helicopter spots people acting deranged and brutal in a riot downtown. A strange transmission comes over the French airwaves telling everyone not to use the English language, and absolutely not to translate the message. Pontypool is in quarantine. Over the course of the next few hours, the crew is assailed by murderous infected people and almost succumb to the virus themselves.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

This is such an underrated “zombie” movie. 

When a friend of mine first introduced this film to me, I laughed at its name, and his enthusiasm for something that seemed like such a strange premise. I was so wrong, and I have never been happier to admit that. Pontypool is an amazing sci-fi horror film that utilizes exactly one set and about eight actors. 

“Cinema time” doesn’t exist here. As new developments come in over the course of the film, the audience is forced to wait for the next piece of information as they watch the station crew react. 

Watch Pontypool (2008) on Amazon Prime now

Sunshine (2007)

sunshine space mind bender

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if the survival of the human race was entrusted to a small crew of people who had to reignite the sun?

Cast & Crew

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Alex Garland

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis, Chipo Chung, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, Mark Strong

Plot Synopsis

In 2057, the Earth is freezing as the Sun begins to die out. In a last desperate attempt to save the human race, a special team is sent out aboard the Icarus II with a massive nuclear bomb designed to reignite the sun. In route, they find the remains of the first Icarus, and as they attempt to take its payload, disaster strikes, leaving the mission’s fate up in the air. Sacrifice and madness follow as the haunting beauty of the sun, and the terrifying reality of being the saviors of the Earth, sets in upon them.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

A film that seeks to marry elements of Alien, Solaris, and 2001: A Space Odyssey into a semi-cerebral amalgamation of science, visual effects, and slasher vibes. 

While it does none of these things to an effect where it made a huge dent in the genre of sci-fi horror movies, together it forms a strange and beautiful movie that is highly underrated for its cinematography, score, and cast. 

To top it all off, it’s genuinely scary and does well at ramping up tension.

Watch Sunshine (2007) on Amazon Prime now

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

tetsuo the iron man science fiction and horror movie

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if a man began to slowly turn into an amalgamation of metal and flesh?

Cast & Crew

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Starring: Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Plot Synopsis

A couple accidentally kills a metal fetishist with their car as they are driving. The two hide the body. Soon after, the man begins to notice metal coming out of his skin. This eventually leads to it rapidly spreading over his entire body until he accidentally kills his girlfriend. The fetishist returns as a spirit and possesses the girlfriend’s body before emerging from this “cocoon” as a metal monstrosity himself. The two clash, and in the end, both are consumed by their battle and turn their sights on the world as a single entity bent on turning the Earth into a ball of rust.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

While this Japanese sci-fi horror movie by cult movie director, Shinya Tsukamoto, was made in 1989, the visual style is much more reminiscent of a 50s or 60s horror film shot in black and white. 

It seems to be making a case for the over-saturation of technology in modern society, but the plot synopsis here doesn’t even begin to describe how genuinely disturbing this film is. 

It’s an experience that you must see for yourself, though this recommendation does not go out universally. If you’re not a fan of films like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, then you won’t like this movie. It’s strange, depraved, grotesque, and oddly sexual. 

If you’re into obscure cult movies and want to see something utterly terrifying, then Tetsuo: The Iron Man is for you.

Watch Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) on Amazon Prime now

The Thing (1982)

the thing science fiction horror genre movie

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if an alien lifeform could morph itself into anyone or anything it wants in order to hunt its prey?

Cast & Crew

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: Bill Lancaster and John W. Campbell Jr.

Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffit, Joel Polis

Plot Synopsis

An American research team on a remote base in Antarctica inadvertently takes in a parasitic alien life form assimilating a sled dog. When it assimilates the other dogs on base, it is seemingly destroyed by a flamethrower. However, another creature appears in the form of a recently autopsied body. The researchers become paranoid of one another, suspicion mounts, and sabotage destroys their ability to discern friend from foe.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

If you’ve been enjoying the recent surge in popularity of Among Us, you owe it to The Thing, and the novella it’s based on, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. 

Arguably one of the best sci-fi horror movies of all time, it’s the quintessential movie about paranoia, isolation, and alien hostility. The gut-wrenching practical effects for the monster scenes were part of the reason this film did so terribly at the box office, especially because it was sandwiched between E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Tron

If you’ve never seen John Carpenter’s The Thing, you owe it to yourself to view it now with the lights off surrounded by your closest friends.

Watch The Thing (1982) on Amazon Prime now

Us (2019)

us movie jordan peele

Sci Fi Horror Premise

What if everyone had a clone that mimicked what they did?

Cast & Crew

Director: Jordan Peele

Writer: Jordan Peele

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex

Plot Synopsis

The Wilson family goes on vacation only to be attacked by copies of themselves, also known as doppelgängers. What follows is a terrifying night of cat and mouse as the family is separated and forced to contend with their doubles one-by-one. As the night progresses, it becomes clear that their experience is not an isolated one.

Analysis: Sci-Fi Horror

The second film by Jordan Peele takes a strange concept that seems supernatural on the surface, and turns it on its head to make it even more unbelievable as it transitions into pure science-fiction territory. 

The end reveal and the film’s abrupt turn-on-a-dime nature make it a fascinating study in narrative structure that will leave you full of dread even as the credits roll. This film is tense, frightening, and delivers its scares with surgical precision. 

There are many ways to interpret what you’ve seen after it’s done, and it might take multiple watchings to get the whole story, but that’s part of what makes Us so great.

Watch Us (2019) on Amazon Prime now

Conclusion: Sci-Fi Horror Movies

Science fiction and horror on the big screen share so much common history, back to the very beginning of movies, that their intertwining continues today. 

From thriller sci-fi horror movies about aliens-turned-monsters to thought provoking explorations of science experiments gone wrong, sci-fi horror is here to stay.

There are many other fantastic sci fi horror movies out there that didn’t make this list. What are some of your favorites? Drop your picks in the comment section below.

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