Trippy Sci-Fi Movies That Aren't Mainstream For A Reason
Photo: Possessor / Neon

Trippy Sci-Fi Movies That Aren't Mainstream For A Reason

Voting Rules
Vote up the sci-fi movies that make you feel like you're losing your mind (in a good way).

Some of the biggest blockbusters of all time are science fiction movies, but the nature of the genre means that sometime things get a little too out-of-this-world. Whether that means they're confusing, psychedelic, or just straight-up freaky, sci-fi films can sometimes stretch the boundaries of the average filmgoer's patience.

But, for those with an open mind and a love of all things off the beaten path, those ones can be some of the best movies out there. In that spirit, here's some of the trippiest sci-fi movies that aren't mainstream for very good reason.

  • 1
    107 VOTES

    Alex Proyas’s Dark City served as a calling card for the hyper-creative and unusual vision of its director upon release, and garnered the film and filmmaker a cult following. Whether Proyas has ever topped Dark City is debatable, and despite its positive critical reputation and ardent support from a key group of fans, it's no surprise the movie never fully crossed over into the mainstream consciousness.

    What begins as an ostensible murder mystery following an amnesiac murder suspect named John Murdoch, is soon revealed to be set in a bizarre city experiencing perpetual darkness. As if that wasn’t enough, the city is under the control of a mysterious collective of beings known as the Strangers, who seem to know something about the truth of Murdoch’s identity and involvement in the alleged crimes. But this is no normal conspiracy thriller - because the conspiracy doesn’t just include secret societies, psychic powers, and city being under the influence of endless midnight - there are aliens involved, too. It’s an excellent and powerfully singular movie - but maybe a bit much for “normie” audiences to chew on, especially at the time.

    107 votes

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  • 2
    7 VOTES


    Underseen 2013 science fiction thriller +1 has the kind of semi-genius premise that sounds simple in its set-up, but proves to be incredibly complicated in its execution: What would happen if suddenly an entire house party were confronted by exact duplicates of themselves, with all of the knowledge and memory that entails, up until just a few minutes before, and what kind of madness might ensue?

    If what the movie posits is to be believed, a lot of incredibly dark violence. Despite +1 employing a veneer of highly commercial coming-of-age, one-crazy-night tropes, the ensuing film is anything but prototypical. It’s storytelling is knotty, the central conceit relatively difficult to wrap one’s head around in a practical sense, and the details of its deceptively straightforward premise surprisingly serpentine in how the rules are deployed.

    7 votes
  • Directed by the Spiereg Brothers and starring Ethan Hawke and a pre-Succession Sarah Snook, Predestination centers on a time-traveling agent for a strange organization responsible for preventing crimes before they happen. After failing to stop a fugitive known as the Fizzle Bomber on a mission, the agent takes up as a barkeep and meets an intriguing man while on the job. The man confesses to having been born a woman, and someone who had been spurned by the agent’s employer after a pregnancy that ended in an emergency hysterectomy.

    Further complicated by the fact that the father disappeared before the procedure, the baby is stolen and the woman is discovered to have been intersex, and has her gender unwillingly changed to that of a man. The agent agrees to bring his interesting new pal back to meet their younger self, in an effort to change the course of their fate. Of course, nothing is that simple - and neither is the grander plot of Predestination. Throw together the (unjustly) unusual-for-a-commercial-project subject matter of gender identity, the onion-like multi-layered plot device, and the ultimate big reveal that - it's a whopper, but let's leave that for you to discover - and you have a distinctively complicated science fiction movie that makes for a steep learning curve to those uninitiated to the genre's weirder corners.

    42 votes

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  • 4
    40 VOTES
    Photo: IFC Films

    2004 microbudget sci-fi Primer is a work of pure cinematic id - written, directed, edited, scored by, and starring filmmaker Shane Carruth - and one that garnered near universal acclaim from critics and genre devotees upon its release. That it hasn’t quite become a widely acknowledged classic from more casual fans of the genre isn’t a surprise, though, considering the hyper-complex and dense nature of its storytelling.

    The story of a group of engineers who unwittingly invent a time machine, and begin to test its efficacy themselves to increasingly dark results, Primer has no qualms about throwing its viewers into the thick of its multi-layered, intermingled, and tangled timelines. There’s none of the typical hand-holding exposition to make the central time-travel conceit and its rules more easily digestible - no Doc Brown to make the core ideas easy to understand. Primer has proven so difficult to parse - even for its most passionate supporters - that its plot is the subject of several explanatory diagrams that can be found online. Microbudget or not, that’s some big-brained sci-fi!

    40 votes

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  • 5
    31 VOTES

    The last of master anime director Satoshi Kon’s feature-length films released before his untimely death, Paprika follows a scientist who moonlights as a “Dream Detective,” whose work on a tool for entering the minds of psychiatric patients takes a dark turn when the device in question is stolen, forcing the heroine scientist to take action guaranteeing its safe return. A purposefully mind-bending blend of dreams and reality, underlined by Kon’s psychedelic visual fantasia, Paprika is equal parts Inception (which it inspired), The Cell, and the director’s own Perfect Blue.

    Putting aside the (unfair) aversion toward anime from certain segments of the moviegoing public, Paprika’s opaque approach to plot makes it difficult to parse for those less-than-primed to pay close attention. Those who can, though, are greatly rewarded by Kon’s modern sci-fi classic.

    31 votes
  • Despite its star-studded cast, Richard Linklater’s underseen masterpiece A Scanner Darkly didn’t make much of an impression at the box office when it debuted, but has since developed a passionate cult following. The sci-fi headtrip centers on a narcotics detective named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) who develops a debilitating addiction to a hallucinatory drug that has taken over the minds of more than 20% of the American populace.

    While romancing a dealer in an effort to catch her supplier and simultaneously gathering intelligence on his roommates, Bob becomes the victim (and perpetrator) of a series of increasingly complex and dangerous conspiratorial crimes that suggest no one is who they seem to be. Aside from its purposefully windy plot, A Scanner Darkly utilizes a visual technique known as “rotoscoping,” or the layering of traditional 2-D animation over a live-action camera shot, to wonderfully trippy effect.

    54 votes

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