It seems that science fiction movies are either blockbuster smashes or total flops at the box office.  Good science fiction is hard to come by, so check out our list of 6 amazing sci-fi movies you probably missed.

Equilibrium (2002)

EquilibriumProduction budget: $20 million; Domestic box office take: $1.19 million

Released in 2002, Equilibrium seemed to most to be a low-budget ripoff of The Matrix, especially given the trenchcoat look of the main character, a “Cleric” named John Preston (played by Christian Bale).  We’re guessing that most people passed on the movie for that reason, but they missed something completely unique.

Equilibrium is a story about a future where war and violence has been suppressed in the population by eliminating emotions using a drug – called Prozium – and by making creative art forms,books and music illegal.  Clerics are government supercops responsible for eliminating the rule breakers.  When Cleric John Preston accidentally misses his dose of the emotion-suppressing medication, he begins to see the regime in a new light and finds himself the only person capable of stopping them.

With slick and previously unexplored concepts and unique imagery, Equilibrium is a satisfying flick well worth your time.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

FinalFantasyProduction budget: $137 million; Domestic box office take: $32 million

Perhaps it was the perception that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within would be a video-game movie, sharing the caliber of some of the truly awful game-related movies.  Whatever the reason, this film is an overlooked gem.

Said plainly, this film has nothing to do with any of the Final Fantasy video games.  The plot of the film follows Dr. Aki Ross, a young scientist in the year 2065.  Earth has been invaded by phantom-like aliens who kill by contact.  The world has become a wasteland and humanity has retreated to barrier cities with shielding to keep the monsters out.  Humanity is about to launch a full-scale attack against the aliens using an orbital super-weapon which could have devastating effects on the planet itself.  Dr. Ross meets up with the Deep Eyes military fire team, led by her old flame Grey Edwards while working on a research mission that could mean the survival of the human race.

The film displayed the first real photorealistic computer animation in cinema, elegant enough that you can forget that the characters you see on the screen aren’t real actors.  Twelve years after it’s release this film still holds up as a solid sci-fi epic with killer effects.

Red Planet (2000)

RedPlanetProduction budget: $80 million; Domestic box office take: $17 million

Did you know that Val Kilmer was the star of a science fiction flick, alongside Carrie-Ann Moss (best know for playing Trinity in The Matrix)?  And you know what?  It is a pretty darn good movie, too!

Red Planet tells the story of the first manned mission to Mars.  The Earth is dying – choking from the pollution of overpopulation, and the colonization of Mars could hold the key to the survival of the human race.  Mankind has been seeding Mars with simple plant life designed to process the atmosphere, when suddenly the ecosystem seems to disappear.  A small crew is sent to investigate.  Shortly after arriving in Mars orbit things go terribly wrong, and the crew find themselves stranded on the surface of the plant with no resources and malfunctioning equipment (including the deadly military-turned-science robot AIMEE).

The film is a fast-paced with punchy dialog and an unpredictable plot.  The movie almost certainly failed at the box office following the absolutely wretched flick Mission to Mars, starring Gary Sinese, which released earlier that year and certainly left many viewers feeling ripped off.  It is unfortunate that Red Planet didn’t get more attention, because of the two films it is the clear victor.

Titan A.E. (2000)

TitanAEProduction budget: $75 million; Domestic box office take: $22 million

This is the film that singlehandedly took down Fox Animation Studios following devastating box office returns.  But don’t judge this movie based on the box office take.

Titan A.E. tells the story of humanity in the far future, following a kid name Cale Tucker when the Earth is unexpectedly attacked by the Drej, an alien race with a devastating superweapon.  Moments before Earth is destroyed, Cale’s military father escapes in a massive ship called the Titan which might just hold the key  to humanity’s survival.  Watching his planet be destroyed and his father disappearing, Cale is devastated.

Fifteen years later Cale and the rest of humanity are scraping together an existence working for discriminatory alien races, when Cale is visited by Captain Korso, a man who claims to have served with his father on the Titan.  Cale could be the key to finding the Titan and saving humanity, if only he can survive the Drej, who will stop at nothing to see the Titan destroyed.

People could be quick to discount this movie due to the aging soundtrack and unusual look, but they should take another look.  After all, the script was doctored by none other than Joss Whedon, and his snappy dialog is peppered throughout the film.  Titan A.E. is one of my long-time favorites and I bet you’ll agree.

Sunshine (2007)

SunshineProduction budget: $40 million; Domestic box office take: $3.6 million

Set 50 years into the future, Sunshine takes place exclusively on a spacecraft hurtling towards the Sun.  The star is dying prematurely, and science has devised a solution to kick-start the star and save the earth.  The Icarus Project sent one shield-ship toward the Sun 7 years ago, but evidence points to the failure of the first mission.  Robert Capa (played by Cillian Murphy) and a crew of 7 others at at the helm of the Icarus 2, hurtling towards the Sun carrying another massive bomb.

Sunshine went largely unnoticed despite a cast of well-known names (Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh for example).  Directed Danny Boyle (most known for his horrifying film 28 Days Later) the film is artistic, unique and very good fiction, even though the science of how a sun can be restarted with a bomb is a little fuzzy.  The sets and acting in this film are top-notch, though we admit that the third act of the film takes the movie in a completely unexpected direction.  Even so, this movie is well worth the few hours you’ll spend watching it and the many hours you’ll spend pondering what you’ve seen.

Paycheck (2003)

PaycheckProduction budget: $60 million; Domestic box office take: $53 million

Seriously, Ben Affleck in a science fiction role?  For some reason, Paycheck works.  We suspect that’s because the film was based on a Philip K. Dick story.  (In case you aren’t familiar with the impressive works of Philip K. Dick, he’s the mind behind many of the blockbuster science fiction films you know and love, among them Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and the amazing art film A Scanner Darkly – which frankly could have been on this list.)

True to his chosen genre, Paycheck is a story that plays on a twist of time travel; I like to describe it (and Minority Report) as time travel movies without time travel.  Paycheck tells the story of Michael Jennings (played by Affleck), a scientist who specializes in reverse-engineering the products of competing companies.  Jennings typically works a few months finding out how a product ticks, and when his work is done his memory of that period is erased, per his contract.  Thus he doesn’t remember the work he’s done and winds up with a sizable paycheck to enjoy his life.  An old friend, James Rethrick (played by Aaron Eckhart) approaches Jennings with a job that is too good to refuse.  In exchange for 3 years of his life he’s promised an 8-figure paycheck.

Before starting the job Jennings hands in his personal effects, to be returned upon completion.  When the job is done, his memory is erased and he finds that he’s earned a cool $90 million for his work.  The only problem is that when he attempts to secure his hard-earned paycheck, he finds that his past self forfeited the funds for reasons he doesn’t remember.  He’s left with an envelope of personal effects which he doesn’t recognize.  Soon thereafter he’s picked up by the FBI on suspicion of treason, and with only the envelope of innocuous-looking personal effects he has to find out why.

Paycheck is a smart flick designed to keep you working out the plot as the pace quickens.  We heartily recommend it.

Which sci-film do you love that doesn’t get enough notice?  Tell us about it in the comments section below!