The Most Underrated Sci-Fi Horror Movies Of The 1990s

List Rules
Vote up the sci-fi horror movies that deserve a second look.

In the 1990s, sci-fi horror films thrived. Part of the popularity of this hybrid of genres could be attributed to the massive success of the blockbuster Jurassic Park in 1993. Most remained in the shadow of it, and many were underrated on their release. This may have been due to box office results, poor critical responses, or a general inability to connect with audiences at the time. Whatever the reason for their perceived failure, these films deserve a second look.

Along with the success of franchise-building (or continuing) sci-fi horror films, there are possible societal reasons for the increase in this particular genre hybrid. Following the advancements of the 1980s and the impending dread over Y2K, there was an increased preoccupation with the terrors of technology. The formation of the Human Genome Project in 1990 and separate news of the first cloning of a mammal in 1996 (Dolly the sheep) led to an increase in films about science taken too far. Whatever the reasons, there were a lot of attempts at sci-fi-horror hybrids in the '90s, and not all received as much love as they should have.

Which films do you think deserve a second look? Remember to vote up your favorites.

  • 1
    648 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: When John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakes with amnesia in a city with perpetual nighttime, he discovers it is actually a deep space habitat being used by extraterrestrials to experiment on the human mind. In experimenting with humanity’s individuality, aliens known as “the Strangers” routinely put their subjects to sleep and rearrange the city they live in, altering their identities and memories.

    Horror payoff: The Strangers are energy beings who use the corpses of humans as hosts to interact with the city they have built for experimentation. Containing a hive mind, these aliens are oblivious to the nightmare world they have created by refusing citizens their individuality.

    Reason for underrating: In his review of the film, Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle wrote, “Dark City looks like a million bucks (or rather, a million bucks gone to compost).” Although not all critical reception was this poor, the film’s box office numbers just barely surpassed the budget of $27 million.

    • Actors: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Richard O'Brien
    • Released: 1998
    • Directed by: Alex Proyas
    648 votes

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  • 2
    925 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: Set in 2047, Event Horizon follows a deep-space rescue mission of the title starship which is found orbiting Neptune unmanned and decayed after being missing for seven years. The phantom ship is revealed to have been equipped with an experimental gravity drive built to generate artificial black holes for faster space travel.

    Horror payoff: Upon boarding the Event Horizon, the rescue team discovers evidence of a massacre. As they are forced to stay aboard, the crew experiences hallucinations tied to their past trauma, discovering that the ship’s experimental drive has opened a portal to a nightmarish dimension. The ship becomes possessed by an evil entity, essentially creating a haunted house hellscape in space.

    Reason for underrating: Following the news that Titanic was unlikely to meet the projected release date, Paramount rushed the filmmaking and post-production process for Event Horizon, in addition to heavily editing director Paul W.S. Anderson's original cut. The result was box office failure, with the movie earning less than $27 million on a $60 million budget.

    • Actors: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
    925 votes

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  • 3
    539 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: When a group of strangers wake up in the individually numbered cube-shaped rooms of a massive structure, they must work together to discover a way out of the puzzle. Calculating the number of rooms to be in the thousands, the group discovers that some of them contain deadly traps. Only an advanced understanding of math may help them avoid the room capable of eliminating them.

    Horror payoff: Although preceding the franchise in release, Cube has a set-up similar to a sci-fi Saw film. The rooms equipped with booby traps are delightfully macabre and likely to satisfy horror fans. Even though the gore is kept to a minimum, the creativity of the violence among a dwindling group of survivors aligns with the pleasures expected from the genre.

    Reason for underrating: Cube was made on an impressively low budget of $350,000, though you would never know from the end product. With a positive critical response and the ability to make back the budget in box office sales, this sci-fi film wasn’t a failure, but is still lesser known than it should be.

    • Actors: Maurice Dean Wint, Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Wayne Robson
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
    539 votes

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  • 4
    486 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: Darkman follows Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a scientist who is in the process of developing a type of synthetic skin when his lab is infiltrated by ruthless thugs. Targeted by an unlawful developer and a brutal gangster, he is left for dead and only an experimental treatment is able to save his life. The procedure leaves Westlake with enhanced strength and the inability to feel pain, though he's monstrously disfigured by the attacks.

    Horror payoff: Director Sam Raimi wrote the short story his film is based on with classic Universal horror in mind. Not unlike the experimental serum in The Invisible Man (1933), the radical treatment used to save Westlake has the unintended side-effect of mental instability. As he grows increasingly psychotic, the former scientist uses his newfound abilities to get revenge on those who disfigured him.

    Reason for underrating: Although the film was a financial success and received positive critical reception, audiences did not all have the same reaction. A poll conducted by CinemaScore resulted in a C+ average rating. Additionally, the significance of Raimi’s film is often forgotten, with other films regularly credited as being the first horror superhero film.

    • Actors: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, Nelson Mashita
    • Released: 1990
    • Directed by: Sam Raimi
    486 votes

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  • 5
    415 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: Based on Donald A. Wollheim's short story, Mimic sets up an alternate New York City in which a disease caused by cockroaches is devastating the childhood population. Entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) is enlisted by the CDC to use genetic engineering to create a hybrid cockroach capable of eradicating the pest population in the city.

    Horror payoff: Despite the CDC successfully stopping the disease spread by the cockroach, the genetically altered bugs quickly evolve into larger creatures capable of mimicking their prey. Developing a colony under the city over several years, these advanced bugs emerge to hunt human prey. Appearing to look like a man in a trenchcoat, these genetically created monsters are able to hide in the shadows unnoticed by most of the population. 

    Reason for underrating: Mimic received mixed reviews from critics, and the film only earned $25 million from its $30 million budget. Much of the praise for the film went to director Guillermo del Toro, described in Roger Ebert’s review as “a director with a genuine visual sense.”

    • Actors: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini, Charles S. Dutton
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
    415 votes
  • 6
    506 VOTES

    Sci-fi premise: When scientists send transmissions into space in search of life beyond Earth, they receive a message from an alien source informing them how to create an endless fuel supply. The next correspondence contains instructions for splicing alien and human DNA to create a hybrid, resulting in the creation of a young alien-human named Sil (Michelle Williams).

    Horror payoff: Although Sil grows into the appearance of a beautiful young woman (Natasha Henstridge), she has the ability to transform into a monstrous reptilian when threatened. Realizing their mistake, the scientists form a team to hunt Sil down, fearing her desire to mate may result in offspring that destroy the world.

    Reason for underrating: Despite being a massive success with audiences, making $113 million on a $35 million budget, critics were lukewarm in their response. The film received mixed reviews, with many criticizing the exploitative elements.

    • Actors: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Roger Donaldson
    506 votes

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