Just like its sister genre horror, science fiction teems with scary characters and circumstances. There's a special brand of science fiction movie that, instead of employing creatures or monsters, relies on character-driven performances to raise hairs and generate screams. Such films are responsible for reshaping the nature of genre villains by positioning talented actors in these roles instead of costumed stand-ins or computer-animated entities.
Whether in deep space, underwater, or in dreams, the actors on this list portray some of the most frightful and unnerving evildoers imaginable. While some of these foes are rotten from the start, others creep up on you slowly, revealing their true natures in subtle twists and turns.
Vote up the scary science fiction performances that push the genre to the brink of true horror.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Jeff Goldblum gives a complex performance as shy scientist Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg's classic. Brundle is a brilliant yet egotistical molecular physicist who uses his own body to test out his life's work: a teleportation device. A housefly saunters into the pod with him, and the two organic forms merge in irrevocable ways.
Brundle evolves into the quintessential anti-hero as his body undergoes a mysterious transformation. At first, he believes his superhuman strength, heightened sexual stamina, and euphoria indicate that the Telepods have cleansed and revitalized his body; however, as he becomes increasingly aggressive and starts growing large hairs on his back, his lover Ronnie (Geena Davis), thinks something much worse is happening. In one graphic body horror scene after another, Brundle's corroding skin gives way to the giant bug beneath. By the end of the film, Brundle rejects his humanity completely, becoming a deformed monstrosity of his own making.Scary?
- Photo: New Line Cinema
No one embodies a sadomasochistic serial killer quite like Vincent D'Onofrio in the fever dream of a film known as The Cell. The actor plays Carl Rudolph Stargher, a troubled man whose sick compulsions involve suspension bondage, putting female targets in large glass tanks that slowly fill with water, and recording it all on video. Police close in on him right before he succumbs to a viral infection that renders him comatose, and a psychologist played by Jennifer Lopez, Dr. Catherine Deane, uses experimental virtual-reality therapy to enter Stargher's mind to help police locate the last woman he took before she drowns in his tank.
Stargher's dream world proves as horrific and abominable as the conscious life he leads. Various manifestations of Stargher's twisted psyche visit Dr. Deane as she journeys through his nightmarish mind, giving viewers a deeply uncomfortable look into the psychology of a psychopath made especially frightening by D'Onofrio's surreal performance.Scary?
- Photo: TriStar Pictures
When the T-1000 first arrives in Los Angeles to track down teenage John Connor in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it assumes the identity of a police officer. Robert Patrick plays the machine, and his sharp features, stationary facial expressions, and robotic movements give form to the technological fears emphasized in science fiction narratives like this one. Despite taking on a human shape, the T-1000 lacks any moral ambiguity or nuance. It is a Skynet android assassin on a mission from the future to terminate a 10-year-old boy, and it will destroy anything or anyone in its way.
Composed of liquid metal, the T-1000 uses nanotechnology to scan the cellular structure of anything it touches in order to mimic it. This shape-shifter's mercurial architecture also renders it nearly indestructible, and Patrick's ability to visually represent its grisly quest is unparalleled.Scary?
- Photo: Prometheus/20th Century Fox
Michael Fassbender is the highlight of the Alien prequel films, playing the android surrogate son of Weyland Corporation's founder Peter Weyland. The AI David 8 undergoes a chilling transformation throughout the course of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. In the first movie, David presents himself as a helpful handyman and guide for the humans on board the eponymous ship, crew members who are tasked with tracking down their extraterrestrial ancestors, the Engineers.
After Weyland is slain by an awakened Engineer, David becomes a free agent, and all of the suggestive storytelling about the character's pernicious side reaches its culmination as David tries to become a creator in his own right, preying upon the humans around him in order to conduct eugenics experiments. Like a deep-space Josef Mengele, David carries out tests on people by exposing them to alien mutagens, even learning how to communicate with the aliens as he pursues his obsessive quest to create the ideal life form.Scary?