10 Classic 1980s Sci-Fi Movies That Weren't Properly Appreciated … – Collider

Underrated sci-fi classics that have aged like fine wine.
Occasionally, it seems like some time needs to pass before certain movies get the appreciation they deserve. While this can happen to any movie in any genre, it feels like it happens quite often with science-fiction movies. After all, if these movies often look to the future and try to predict where humanity is headed, there's every chance that some could feel too ahead of their time.
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This is true for the following movies, all of which were released in the 1980s yet received more attention in the years that followed. The decade as a whole was a golden age of sorts for the genre, even if the people who lived through the 80s might not have appreciated it at the time. These forward-thinking movies were all ahead of their time in a way, with a few still feeling somewhat underrated even nowadays.
Unfortunately for The Thing, it happened to come out around the same time as one of the most beloved sci-fi films of the 1980s: E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Both dealt with human characters coming into contact with a never-before-seen alien creature, though the creature from The Thing wasn't lovable or endearing like the alien from E.T., and instead spent the movie shape-shifting and murdering the research crew at a base in Antarctica.
Audiences gravitated towards the family-friendly and far less violent/dark film of the two, which of course was E.T. The Thing was a noteworthy disappointment upon release, but has since gone on to become one of the most beloved sci-fi/horror movies of all time, with an intense narrative, a constantly foreboding atmosphere, and special effects that have aged near-perfectly in the four decades since its initial release.
Besides The Thing, the other huge sci-fi movie that was released and overlooked in 1982 but had its reputation grow over time was the original Blade Runner. With Ridley Scott's direction, expert production design, music by Vangelis, and a perfectly cast group of actors firing on all cylinders, it's a thrilling and absorbing sci-fi film, asking difficult questions about life, love, the finality of death, and what really makes a human being human.
All the ideas unpacked by Blade Runner remain fascinating and relevant today, with all its technical aspects holding up incredibly well too. Sadly, its initial release was impacted by a theatrical cut that's universally seen as weaker than any of the director's and/or final cuts that have been released since, with the unnecessary narration and cop-out ending in the film's original version likely being a reason audiences didn't gravitate to Blade Runner straight away.
Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds was a film that didn't have a huge impact when it was first released in 1987, didn't fare much better upon a wider release in 1989, and to this day remains a film few have heard of. It depicts a different kind of post-apocalyptic outback to the more well-known one seen in the Mad Max series, and follows a brother and sister whose lives change when a lone wanderer stops by the isolated home they've been holed up in.
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It was the first feature film directed by Alex Proyas, who went on to direct better-known films like The Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot. Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds remains his most overlooked film (and one of his best), with stunning visuals and a remarkably fresh spin on an otherwise familiar sci-fi/dystopian premise. To some extent, it's still looking for its audience, and will hopefully find it one day.
Of all the sci-fi movies out there, Threads is probably the last one anyone would ever want to see come true. It depicts life in Britain right before, during, and then after most of the world is destroyed by nuclear warfare. Despite it being a low-budget production, it doesn't skimp on any aspect of its presentation, being intense, grisly, and visceral for its entire runtime.
It created a stir in Britain upon release, but took a little more time to circulate elsewhere. Even if it was appreciated during the 1980s, it's arguably even more powerful now, as it still feels so realistic, harsh, and plausible, should nuclear war ever become a reality. It can only be hoped that more people continue to watch (and be affected by) Threads, so that those in power do what they can to make sure this science-fiction never becomes fact.
When people hear the name John Carpenter, they're likely to think of movies like The Thing and Halloween, or maybe some of his contributions to the action/thriller genres, like Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. Few are going to think of the criminally underrated Starman, itself a surprisingly heartfelt and sentimental movie, considering Carpenter's best-known works.
It's possible to compare Starman to E.T., as both feature an alien coming to Earth and bonding with a human being. Starman, however, is a romance between a widow and an alien who appears as her old husband. It sounds really weird and silly, but the committed performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, the solid screenplay, and Carpenter's surprisingly sensitive direction make it work extremely well.
In 1984, musician/composer Giorgio Moroder took one of the greatest silent films of all time and remixed it dramatically. While Giorgio Moroder's Metropolis follows the same plot regarding a worker uprising in a futuristic city that the 1927 classic does, it presents it in such a way that it's worth distinguishing it as its own film.
The most noticeable difference is the music, which consists of 1980s pop hits and electronic compositions by Moroder himself. Numerous parts of the movie are also color-tinted, making it a little more visually vibrant than the black-and-white original. Some may have found the remix disrespectful and overblown upon release, but the over-the-top music works well with the large, over-the-top performances, making Giorgio Moroder's Metropolis a worthy watch for fans of the original who want to see an alternate take on a well-loved classic.
Brazil might be among the most nightmarish non-horror movies of all time. It takes place in a dystopian setting where excessive bureaucracy has driven everyone mad, and the film's hapless protagonist finds himself in a situation he doesn't understand, continually falling further down a never-ending rabbit hole as the film keeps going on.
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The social commentary in Brazil has aged regrettably well. Modern life and work still feel like a nightmare to many, making the world of Brazil – and the critiques it gives of certain institutions – feel more relatable and darkly funny than ever before.
The story in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is just as crazy as you'd expect, based on the title. The film follows a ragtag gang who protect the world from alien invaders (from the 8th dimension!), with plenty of comedy, romance, and adventure along the way.
A film like this might've just been too weird for audiences in 1984, but the sense of humor and wholesome craziness resonates more directly for viewers today. While it's a shame this film didn't spawn a franchise, at least this one exists, and holds up as a great cult sci-fi movie.
Born in Flames may have been released in 1983, but in 2023, it still feels ahead of its time. It takes place in a world where the political parties dominant in the 1980s were overruled, and democracy is said to have prevailed… yet certain groups still feel marginalized, and begin to plot a political revolution.
Taking place in New York City, it looks at what happens beyond "true" social democracy being achieved, and the problems that would come about afterward. The events that set this narrative in motion still haven't truly happened in the actual USA, meaning that even 40 years after release, Born in Flames still feels like a sci-fi story that's looking towards the future.
The criticisms of consumerism and capitalism in They Live still ring true 35 years later. Helpfully, it's also just a very entertaining sci-fi/action/comedy film, with a story revolving around a man who learns that aliens are controlling humanity through subliminal messaging.
He mounts a very personal revolution against these forces, leading to plenty of excitement and goofy action. It's a shame society still functions in a way that makes They Live's message remain relevant, but that also becomes a testament to how ahead of its time it was, and why it became a more popular movie long after its initial release.
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Jeremy is an omnivore when it comes to movies. He’ll gladly watch and write about almost anything, from old Godzilla films to gangster flicks to samurai movies to classic musicals to the French New Wave to the MCU. When he’s not writing lists for Collider, he also likes to upload film reviews to his Letterboxd profile (username: Jeremy Urquhart) and Instagram account.

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