While I’m an unapologetic fan of the big multiplex explodey sci-fi blockbuster, I think the really good stuff exists at the other end of the budget spectrum.
When you don’t have the money to melt the audience’s faces with intergalactic civil war, the excitement has to come from ideas. That’s when the genre moves into more interesting territory. Using the extraordinary to say something about the ordinary.
This list is, in no way, definitive. The rules I applied were A) They were cheap. B) Made within roughly the last decade.
It’s just a bunch of movies that I enjoyed and, if you haven’t seen them, I’d recommend you check out.
The Daddy of low budget science fiction. Four engineers experimenting in their garage accidentally invent time travel. Which Alan Sugar also did when his R&D team were working on the Amstrad Emailer, apparently.
Made for about a fiver, horrendously complicated and full of jargon, it refuses to make it easy for the viewer. I have to watch it with a handy diagram I found on the internet that explains all the timelines.
Gripping and rewards repeated viewings. Just typing a few words about it has got me wanting to watch it again.
What do you do if you want to make an alien invasion movie, but don’t have the money to film an alien invasion?
Simple. You set it afterwards when the world has dealt with it and got on with things.
Made for about $500,000 with a tiny crew and off-the-shelf SFX software, the director Gareth Edwards went on to make Godzilla (which I enjoyed, but found rather humourless. Which is a bit odd when you’re dealing with something so gloriously insane as Godzilla) and the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One.
There’s a real chemistry between the two leads (unsurprisingly, as they’re played by real-life couple Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) and the gas station scene is so gloriously beautiful, poetic and moving it left me shaking.
Before Colin Trevorrow got himself involved in the latest movies in two of cinema’s biggest franchises, Jurassic World and Star Wars IX, he made this low budget slice of joy that’s full of wit and imagination.
Three journalists try to interview a man who placed a classified ad looking for a companion to go time travelling with him. Less a science-fiction and more an utterly charming comedy/drama about lost and lonely people.
As an aside, I’m loving the fact that Disney are getting hold of guys like Trevorrow and Gareth Edwards to expand the Star Wars universe.
Time travel is popular with low budget movies. I assume it’s because you don’t need monsters, aliens, explosions or another world. Hell, if it’s a time loop film like Timecrimes, you can just use the same sets over and over again.
This one’s a Spanish movie about a man accidentally getting into a time machine and travelling back half an hour. I think of it as the Anti-Primer as the plot delicately unfolds like a beautiful flower and answers all the questions you have at various points in the running time.
Tom Cruise bought the rights for an American re-make, so watch this one now before he ruins it.
Six years later, I’m still annoyed that Sam Rockwell didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his performance as the only inhabitant of a moonbase. Coming to the end of his three year stint, things go – well – slightly odd. And that’s pretty much all I can say without revealing too much.
It reminded me of those great ‘cerebral’ science fiction films of the 60s/70s like 2001 and ‘Silent Running’. Director Duncan Jones went onto make the bigger budget ‘Source Code’ with Jake Gyllenhaal (who I’m a big fan of even if he caused my beloved Taylor Swift to write a break up song about him)
One of the few films that I immediately re-watched when it had finished. Things go batshit mental at a dinner party when a comet passes close to the Earth.
Awkward, claustrophobic and smart. Essentially a relationship drama told through the prism of quantum physics, it asks how much do you really know your lovers, friends and – in the end – yourself? And it’s got Xander from Buffy. A sign of quality right there.
Joe Cornish’s movie is simply the most fun you can have through the medium of film. Aliens crash into into a South London estate and everyone, both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial, begins to fuck shit up.
But it’s more than that. As we get to see the boys beneath the hoodies, Cornish handles the social commentary with a light touch and great big bloody fanged wolf-aliens. And when did Ken Loach or Mike Leigh have great big bloody fanged wolf-aliens in their films? Amateurs.
Another found footage film.
No! Wait! Come back! This is proper Hard Science-Fiction! Actual boffins with letters after their names have praised the film for its accuracy and depiction of space travel.
A team of astronauts go to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon in search of life. Things, of course, don’t go completely as planned. Told in a non-linear style using the spacecraft’s onboard cameras, it uses the claustrophobic location to its advantage and squeezes an impressive amount of tension into its efficient 90 minutes running time.
The newest on the list, three friends discover a mysterious machine that takes pictures 24hrs into the future and conspire to use it for personal gain. And everything goes swimmingly.
It’s played out with a sense of dread and full of “Shit. How are they going to get out of THAT?” moments. One of those films where you sit on the couch for a while afterwards running it back through your brain to make sure you’ve caught everything.
There. A proper blog post. That went alright, didn’t it? Anything else you’d recommend film-wise? What did I miss off?