Top 10 Dark Science Fiction Movies

I just got through watching A Boy and His Dog courtesy of so I thought I would put together a list of my top 10 favorite dark science fiction movies.

I define a dark science fiction movie as one that:

  • - Has an overall apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, or dark society theme
  • - Doesn’t have an overall action orientation, although some action is OK
  • - The main characters aren’t heroic, but more anti-heroic
  • - No cute kids or non-menacing robots. 

Here’s my list:

10. Metropolis (1927) - One of the original science fiction films, it is a futuristic view of class warfare. It has some of the 1920’s optimism over socialism while giving a nod to its darker elements. The effects are excellent considering the era.

9. THX 1138 (1971) - George Lucas’ first major film has a tightly controlled futuristic society where a couple rebel from it. Lucas makes a great visual movie but doesn’t always connect with actors and writing. Lucas uses references from this film in American Graffiti and the Star Wars series.

8. Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) - While the movie is a little limited by the FX available at the time and budget constraints, the overall effect of Vonnegut’s difficult novel come through in the film. It was directed by George Roy Hill who was famous for hits like The Sting.

7. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) - This is an almost true-to-the-book adaptation of George Orwell’s classic novel. The performances by Richard Burton and John Hurt are excellent.

6. Twelve Monkeys (1995) - Terry Gilliam’s time travel movie stretched Bruce Willis as an actor since he didn’t allow him to use any of his cliche moves. The darkness of the ending is very memorable.

5. Donnie Darko (2001) - This is another movie with time travel elements and knowledge of a future disaster driving the plot. There’s a director’s cut of the movie that haven’t seen.

4. A Boy and His Dog (1975) - This film, a satirical view of American society set in a post-nuclear war Phoenix, was put together by several actors and producers who wanted to break out of the Hollywood blockbuster mentality. A young Don Johnson stars in the film along with the dog from The Brady Bunch 

3. Alien (1979)  - Unlike the sequels, this film mixes action with horror elements and an overall gloomy, claustrophobic, feeling. 

2. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - This film is known for its ‘ultra-violence’ and its individual against a dystopic society view.

1. Blade Runner (1982) - Phillip Dick’s classic short story was brought to life in this Ridley Scott film. It also features an excellent cast, including Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. Classic interactions, such as the ones with the Voight-Kampff machine, abound.

What are your favorite dark science fiction films? Did I leave one of your favorites off the list? Do you agree or disagree with my list? Why did I leave off the Matrix series? Leave me a comment and find out why.


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Comment by DeadParrot
2007-11-04 00:56:27

A must have on the list is “Dark City”.

Worth considering is both “Night Watch / Day Watch” movies, but those are in the funny SF/Fantasy border, so aren’t strictly SF.

Comment by jfc
2007-11-04 01:11:28

Thanks for dropping by DeadParrot,

I haven’t seen Dark City but I’ll have to check it out. I read the IMDB page for it and it looked interesting.

There were a few that I didn’t include, like Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and Heavy Metal, because they were more in the science fantasy vein.

Comment by Eric Socia
2007-11-10 11:10:31

Dark City is definitely a must-see. One of the most original and greatest concepts I’ve ever seen in a movie, SF or otherwise. And I’ve seen a lot of movies. =P

Otherwise, great list! :)

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Comment by Anonymous
2007-11-04 03:01:14

On the Beach

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Comment by jfc
2007-11-04 09:38:16

Thanks for stopping by ‘Anonymous’

On the Beach is a good one. It just didn’t spring to mind since it’s more of a “warning of nuclear apocalypse” movie, like The Day After or Threads, than a science fiction.

Colossus, I just didn’t get into for some reason.

Comment by Simon Haynes
2007-11-04 09:15:33

City of Lost Children.

Comment by jfc
2007-11-04 09:41:25

Hi Simon,

I haven’t seen that one. I’ll have the check it out sometime. Thanks.

Comment by Simon Haynes
2007-11-05 01:55:02

Sorry, I should have left a longer comment explaining it ;-)

Although it’s here in full:

A French film, very weird. It does have children but certainly not the cute kind.

From some of the reviews and comments on IMDB it sounds like a fairytale/fantasy movie, but it’s more like steampunk to my eye.

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Comment by Dave Tackett
2007-11-04 12:24:11

Very good list. The original (Russian) Solaris, Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes(1968), The Lathe of Heaven(1980), and The Last Man on Earth all might be contenders, at least for a top 20.

Comment by jfc
2007-11-04 12:45:27

Hi Dave,

Those are good too. Another Charlton Heston classic is The Omega Man although it isn’t one of my favorites.

I watched part of the Solaris remake and I was bored by it. I’ll have to watch the original one sometime.

Comment by albo
2007-11-05 09:51:55

Terminator 3, believe it or not. It felt the most hard-SF of the three, and had a downbeat ending that felt right

Comment by jfc
2007-11-05 11:56:28

Hi Albo,

I did consider the Terminator movies but I think of them more as FX and action oriented SF movies than dark SF. That’s why I didn’t include the Matrix series as well.

I needed to draw a line somewhere I guess. If I moved it just a little bit to allow more action/FX sequences I would have to include both the Terminator and Matrix series in the list.

Comment by Mike Olbinski
2007-12-12 12:55:35

Frank, I love this list…

I got kind of bored in Blade Runner, but I know it’s hugely popular.

You know they are remaking Metropolis don’t you?

Also, one that I’d have on this list somehow, somewhat, is Dark City. Have you seen it? A great dark sci-fi film that most people never heard of.

Comment by jfc
2007-12-12 13:26:04

Thanks Mike,

Blade Runner is kind of a stylistic movie so it gets kind of slow between action sequences. I guess it depends on what you’re expecting out of the movie.

Someone else had mentioned Dark City earlier. It’s on my ‘must see’ list.

One movie I didn’t mention in the list was John Carpenter’s low budget college project Dark Star. It’s more of a dark sci-fi comedy. The beachball alien mascot is hilarious.

2008-01-01 13:36:59

[…] Frank C (10) - Blog Highlight: “Top 10 Dark Science Fiction Movies.“ […]

Comment by Wolfgang
2008-06-26 14:40:55

That’s a great list! I remember the first time I ever saw A Clockwork Orange - Kubrick’s amazing. The weirdness of it and totally shocking, even despite the age of the film (I saw it in 1997).. Made me want to get into movies THAT much more when I saw a film that bizarre. :)

2008-08-24 02:10:38

who knows just how accurate clockwork was compared to the red fin diary though?

Oops! I didn’t realize that you had made anti-hijacking changes to Top Commentator that would keep me from hacking it like this. Darn!

Comment by Heavy Metal Me
2009-02-10 05:14:12

Don’t know if I can agree when it comes to the choice of Donnie Darko, but otherwise a great list of superb movies… Where’s this blog been hiding? heh heh…

Oh, and very glad to see Blade Runner Topping the list

Comment by Australia News
2009-02-14 07:13:03

I love blade runner - particularly the director’s cut - it has a beautiful feel to it - but its also darkly disturbing

Comment by Bryan
2009-12-14 23:29:22

Brazil. A damn good movie with fantastic acting, and the ending really effs you up.

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