Since the spooky season has arrived, we’ve been feeling something strange in the air: moonbeams transmitting faraway messages, AI getting a little bit too smart, and the weather getting a little too weird. Lately, the whole world’s been a bit dystopian — and more frightening than even the strangest horror movies could have foreseen.
In celebration of the filmmakers who sent warnings from the past about the frights of the future, we’re counting down our favorite sci-fi/horror movies. But what exactly counts as sci-fi/horror? There’s been debate about this ever since the birth of both genres, with some scholars even arguing that all horror is sci-fi. We’re not getting too bogged down in the details (are zombie movies technically sci-fi?) — so we instead picked a wide selection of films ranging from post-apocalyptic nightmares to outer space terrors.
Check out our (unranked) list, below!
In this anime adaptation of the classic sci-fi horror manga of the same name by Junji Ito, sharks suddenly sprout hideous legs and rise from the sea, attacking humans and destroying cities. Ito’s grotesque art sometimes borders on the comedic but more often is absolutely nauseating. Things get even stranger when rotting corpses also start becoming mobile, hinting at a vast conspiracy beyond human comprehension.
Brian Cronenberg, son of the legendary horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, continues in his father’s footsteps in this deeply surreal story about a secret agency that can hack human bodies in order to spy on others. Possessor is a strange espionage film that hints at the fragility of identity in a post-modern world.
In another film by the Cronenberg scion, Antiviral imagines a cocaine-capitalist future in which the celebrity-obsessed begin buying up the illnesses of their favorite stars. Want Kim Kardashian’s herpes or John Travolta’s common cold? You can get it — for a price. But when an employee at a high-powered disease dealer tries to steal some secret virology, things start to go terribly wrong.
A group of strangers awake in an empty room and are forced to solve a series of reality-defying tests and trials — or face their deaths. How did they get there, who put them there, and what is the meaning of this experiment? Cube is a puzzle box of a movie that also serves as a Kafkaesque meditation on the banality of existence. The first film spawned several inferior spinoffs that are only worth watching if you need to unravel this sci-fi mystery.
Often considered one of the greatest horror and sci-fi movies of all time, Ridley Scott’s Alien follows a Final Girl formula — but with an outer space twist. Sigourney Weaver is beyond iconic as Ellen Ripley, and the psychosexual, biomechanical designs of H.R. Giger’s xenomorph remain frightening many decades later. Pretty much every movie in the Alien franchise is excellent (even Alien Vs. Predator is a campy treat) but there’s no matching the original film’s terrifying emotional power.
Danny Boyle’s starkly anti-humanist take on the zombie movie sub-genre remains an artistic achievement amidst a genre that’s become rather stale. The cinematography of this rancid post-apocalypse is oddly realistic yet disturbingly beautiful — and the violence that unfolds is satisfyingly savage.
Horror movies are often thought to have jumped the shark when a villainous killer suddenly finds himself in space — but Jason X is a weirdly silly pleasure, despite its obviously stupid premise. Preserved for his supernaturally regenerative power, terrestrial murderer Jason Vorhees is now being studied by scientists several centuries in the future — until, of course, his murder spree begins, once again!
Based on the novel of the same name by writer Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is an artistically and intellectually complex movie about a sudden distortion in reality potentially caused by an alien presence. Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are oddly apathetic researchers who are drawn into “The Shimmer” — where they discover a plethora of strange phenomena that forces them to question their sanity. The movie has an idiosyncratic sense of revolting beauty, and its dreamy climax will certainly leave audiences with more questions than answers.
John Carpenter uses a classic, Lovecraftian set-up for this stomach-churning story about an icy research facility invaded by an unknown, malicious presence. Although the movie is almost 4 decades old, the special effects remain vomit-inducing — and makes a strong argument for why CGI is limited in its ability to convey true terror.
Give yourself over to absolute pleasure! Rocky Horror is a musical pastiche of horror movies and sci-fi tropes delivered with a hedonistic queer sensibility. When newlyweds Brad and Janet become stranded due to a storm, they encounter a strange castle filled with eccentric party-goers. The night devolves into sexual madness, as the pair are seduced by cross-dressing space-aliens! Rocky Horror is a queer classic, with weekly midnight screenings serving as a safe space for newly-out LGBT kids since 1975.
The bizarre charm of Jeff Goldbloom is undeniable, but watching the smooth-talking actor’s body disintegrate in the wake of a science experiment gone wrong remains a sickening endeavor. Once again, the elder Cronenberg’s knack for knowing how to nauseate is on full display — and The Fly’s special effects remain unparalleled to this day.
Cronenberg once again lands on our list with the deeply Freudian film Videodrome. When a small-town TV producer discovers a secret channel that depicts uncensored sexual torture, his reality begins to unwind into a nightmarish fever dream. Slowly, his body begins transforming to reflect the technological hell he’s wandered into. Filled with sadistic angst and unsettling psychodrama, Videodrome is perhaps one of the most bizarre sci-fi films ever made.
Panos Cosmatos more recently became a cult auteur thanks to his zany film Mandy, which starred Nicholas Cage on a demonic rampage for revenge. His previous film, Beyond The Black Rainbow, is far more subdued and far more disturbing. In it, psychic experiments are being conducted on a mysterious woman. When she awakens to her telekinetic powers, she begins (accidentally?) destroying the researchers around her, while discovering the lab where she’s been held captive’s darkest secrets.
Joe Rogan’s obsession with bizarre entities he discovered while on DMT became a subversive meme, but this low-budget horror movie takes the threat of interdimensional drug-beings much more seriously. The opening scenes of this film are extremely creepy, although as the protagonist discovers more about the fragile nature of reality, the film descends into some truly campy shenanigans.
Although Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn play the protagonists of this colorful and whimsical horror movie, the real star is the late costume designer Eiko Ishioka, whose powerful couture transforms this movie from a standard serial killer melodrama into high art. Lopez plays a psychotherapist using experimental technology to travel into the mind of a serial killer, hoping to save his final victim. But inside the murderer’s brain, she finds a tortured, sick world of fetishes and fantasies that leave her shaken to her core.
A group of Japanese schoolchildren finds themselves mysteriously transported into another dimension with no idea of how to return home. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi, better known for the cult horror classic Hausu, uses gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds and endearingly low-budget special effects to create a technicolored parallel universe that is both touchingly beautiful and extremely off-putting.
Alien parasites crash-land into rural America and begin infesting local farms, causing some truly vile mutations in the population. Presented with darkly humorous wit, the special effects in Slither are gross-out comedy at its most refined and most vile. The movie was a box-office failure when it was released in 2006, but has since become a horror fan favorite.
A staple of 90s horror classics, The Faculty features a star-studded cast of teen heartthrobs — and a very funny cameo from Jon Stewart. A perfect distillation of late-90’s tropes and aesthetics, The Faculty is as much a perfect time-capsule of teenage nostalgia as it is an alien-invasion horror movie. It’s predictable, it’s corny, it’s sometimes lightly erotic — but it’s always entertaining.
Camp is in its most pure form when it is entirely accidental, and Plan 9 is a perfect example: even though director Ed Wood failed exuberantly in creating a coherent sci-fi movie, the stunning beauty and tragic loveliness of his totally bonkers space adventure has garnered this film a reputation as both the worst and the best movie ever made. Malia Nurmi (better known as Vampira) is a vision of gothic beauty in her few moments of screen time as an undead alien seductress. The movie’s hideously cheap sets and poorly made costumes are an inherent part of the film’s enduring charm.
What can be said about Gremlins 2 that isn’t perfectly captured by this iconic Key and Peele sketch? Bearing almost no resemblance to the first Gremlins film, this over-the-top sequel is a cartoony send-up of 1980’s consumer culture. Set in a dystopian mega-mall in which the eponymous furry creatures have run wild, Gremlins 2 is an eccentric horror-comedy that — yes, it’s really in the movie — features both a 4th wall breaking cameo from Hulk Hogan and an uncomfortably sexy female gremlin.
Existential metaphors be damned, Elsa Lanchester’s quirky beauty as the classic monster’s ill-fated bride is perhaps the most iconic role in horror history. With gorgeously agoraphobic, gothic set design and haunting acting from a cast of Old Hollywood legends, Bride is a thoughtful meditation on gender relations, dreams, and humankind’s unending hubris.
A film adaptation of a bleakly nihilistic epic poem, Aniara tells the story of a space station floating endlessly through the void. The horror here is mostly cosmic, as the frailty and meaninglessness of human existence are juxtaposed against the vastness of space itself. We won’t spoil the ending, but the film’s conclusion is beyond dark — conveying a true sense of hopelessness amidst an uncaring universe.
Joss Whedon’s deconstructive horror movie starts with a stereotypical premise — young adults in a cursed cabin — but turns into a more cerebral movie as it enters its second act. It’s ultimately revealed that the monsters chasing the nubile youths were actually unleashed by a shadowy government organization, and the fate of the planet depends on their unfortunate deaths. Both sardonically funny and smartly self-referential, Cabin is really about why people find the sadism of horror movies so satisfying.
Fans of non-narrative cinema have likely already discovered the perverse pleasures of Tetsuo. This 1989 experimental, Japanese film depicts the body of a man morphing into a cyberpunk monster — as he fuses with the technology around him, he engages in techno-sexual atrocities.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut established him as a prescient voice in horror cinema, subverting typical horror tropes in order to make an incisive and sometimes acerbic statement about racial resentment in America. The movie spawned countless copycats, but Peele’s talent for creating meaningful metaphors is unmatched. In Get Out, protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) visits the seemingly liberal family of his white girlfriend, where he uncovers the wealthy suburbanites’ dark secrets.
Starring a young John Boyega, Attack The Block is a rare sci-fi adventure with predominantly Black leads. Teenage urbanites defend their hood from an invasion of amorphous aliens — perhaps a metaphor for the adversity these kids often face in reality.
Paul W.S. Anderson is best known for his absurdly goofy film adaptations of video games. Event Horizon certainly has a similar nutty charm, but some actual scares too: in it, a rogue science experiment opens a rift in space-time, letting in monsters and horrors from another reality. What unfolds is a grotesque phantasmagoria.
Liquid Sky’s neon, punk aesthetic became the basis for the entire electroclash subculture in the early aughts — the movie perfectly captured an ephemeral queer subculture shortly before that world was totally decimated by the AIDS crisis. In Slava Tsukerman’s masterpiece, invisible aliens invade New York City’s grungiest nightclubs, feeding off the energy created by orgasms and heroin highs. Liquid Sky’s lushly romantic costume design is juxtaposed against a backdrop of queer cynicism.
Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name was adapted by director Barry Levinson in this 1998 psychological terror. Scientists investigating a sunken spaceship accidentally discover a mysterious entity with god-like powers: but have they awakened a malicious deity, or are they all trapped inside a terrible dream? Existential horror collides with deep-sea paranoia in this star-studded, Lovecraftian thriller.
Tim Burton’s love letter to 1950’s space adventures is a demented and hyper-stylized ode to classic sci-fi cinema. Burton’s idiosyncratic object styling is obvious throughout (lots of spirals, stripes, and swirls to be found all over) — and comical over-acting from the movie’s insane cast makes this a mirthful misadventure. Although obviously adolescent in its aspirations and humor, the eccentric special effects and ludicrous plotting have cemented this movie as a cult classic.
A smart, contemporary twist on the zombie sub-genre, Girl With All The Gifts depicts the collapse of society in the wake of a fungal outbreak that causes people to become cannibalistic killing machines. When a young girl develops a new strain of the infection, her life must be preserved at all costs — but does she think humanity is worth saving? The casting of Sennia Nanua as the film’s protagonist was hailed as a victory for representation in the genre.
Whatever happened to erotic thrillers? These days, sci-fi doesn’t have very much sex appeal, but back in 1995, the salacious sci-fi movie Species depicted a very specific male fantasy. In it, scientists attempt to hunt down an alien-human hybrid before she finds a mate: but too many men are likely to succumb to her lascivious charms. It’s not exactly high-brow stuff here, but there’s an undeniable charm to this kind of low-brow trash.
A prototypical movie for the entire sci-fi/horror subgenre, Invasion is a paranoid thriller about humans slowly being replaced by malicious, emotionless doppelgangers. Shot in the style of a film noir, the movie’s mysterious premise plays out with a kind of understated schizophrenic terror.
Scarlett Johansson stars as a seductive alien siren in this experimental movie that relies on abstract sequences to tell a sci-fi story. Filmed using hidden cameras and untrained actors, there’s a layer of uncanny, unreality to the movie that elevates the seemingly lurid premise into something much more avant-garde.