Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Sci-Fi Horror Movies

Countless movies have attempted to blend the science fiction and horror genres, but not many have done it as well as the original Predator. (Witness, for example, most of its sequels and spinoffs.) With that franchise returning to theaters, let’s call out some other movies that pulled off the trick successfully.

One note: The Alien franchise and John Carpenter’s The Thing are both very obvious picks for this topic. Both have been been featured in enough previous Roundtables that I asked our contributors to shelve them for this one. Consider each of them as a given.

Deirdre Crimmins

Mixing horror and science fiction is nothing new. In fact, it’s so old school that my choice of favorite movie that blends both is 87-years-old. James Whale’s Frankenstein is the original source of the melding of the two genres. Back in a time where science could feel like witchcraft, and that meant horror, the very idea of a scientist playing god was enough to terrify audiences to their core. And like the best horror films, a sliver of tragedy runs throughout the plight of the monster. Frankenstein still makes me jump, think, and cry. What more can you ask?

M. Enois Duarte

Ken Russell’s cult favorite Altered States is a bizarre tale inspired by real-life sensory deprivation research performed by highly-intelligent and influential psychoanalyst John C. Lilly. Technically, the script is an adaptation of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s one and only novel, which he also wrote under a pseudonym. The plot follows abnormal psychologist Edward Jessup (William Hurt in his film debut) and his search for deeper states of consciousness, which he believes can only be achieved by locking himself inside an isolation tank for an extended period of time. The result is an eerie, psychedelic trip layered with grotesquely mind-bending, kaleidoscopic visuals and bombarded with deliriously spectacular and dazzlingly hallucinogenic sound effects. The film is as much weird, fantastical and outlandishly difficult to comprehend as it is strangely reflective, wildly imaginative and a beautiful piece of sci-fi horror cinema.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Sci-fi/horror cinema is littered with cyborgs, unfeeling robotic intelligences, and extraterrestrial menaces. That sort of clearly defined antagonist – a being over which to triumph – is nowhere to be found throughout Cube. Instead, its threat is the cube in which these five characters awake.

These people don’t know each other. They have no idea where they are or why they’ve been taken here. All they know is that they’re in a cube-shaped room, with each of its six walls leading to cubes all but indistinguishable from the one they’re in. They have no food or water. Many of these rooms are rigged with a variety of different traps, from acid sprays to a flesh-slicing grate. As they search for an exit, it becomes all too clear that the greatest obstacle perhaps isn’t the seemingly endless onslaught of booby-trapped rooms; it’s one another.

Cube is both simplistic, establishing the core of its premise within just a minute or two, and remarkably complex. The mind-bogglingly massive cube is a puzzle to be solved. These very different characters are puzzle pieces themselves, as they soon come to learn. The cube itself is not as static as it would seem, and much the same can be said about its captives. Cube embraces mathematics in a way that few other films can match (even if I did find myself groaning at a math student pondering if an even number was prime or not). It has the restraint to resist grand revelations or a tidy ending. Plus, it holds a strangely special spot in my heart, bearing the distinction as the first DVD I ever bought.

Josh Zyber

During his prime, David Cronenberg had a knack for elevating the horror genre to artistic and even philosophical heights. After some success with The Dead Zone, the director was brought on board by Mel Brooks, of all people, to helm The Fly, a remake of a 1958 B-movie starring Vincent Price. The original was fun but pretty corny. For his version, Cronenberg shifted to a much more serious tone, in line with the body-horror pictures he’d made in Canada (The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). The resulting movie is famous for its very grotesque and repugnant gore effects. More than that, it has a compelling script and a terrific performance from Jeff Goldblum playing a scientist slowly evolving into a mutant insect creature after his teleportation experiment goes horribly wrong.

What might have been a sell-out project to get his foot in a major studio’s door turned out to be one of Cronenberg’s best films and a horror classic.

Your Turn

We’ve barely scratched the surface here. Tell us what we missed in the Comments.


  1. plissken99

    Predator is the movie I’ve probably seen the most in life, to this day it just works. Btw, just saw The Predator today, easily the best since the first!

  2. Charles Contreras

    I have to go with They Live, Roddy Piper knew how to kick some serious alien ass in that one. Also, The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and (pre James Bond) Daniel Craig is another go to favorite of mine.

  3. I am going to go with the obvious choices of Terminator and Terminator 2. In Terminator, you have a machine that looks human who has no issue injuring or killing anyone who gets in the way of his target. Terminator 2 takes it a step further by adding a machine who can mimic other humans or objects, making one wonder who you can trust in this movie. Throw in a psycho mother who decides to go shoot up the house of some computer nerd who is just excited about technology and has no negative motives.

    The first Jurassic Park movie was scary the first time, especially the raptures, and you really don’t know if your main characters are going to survive – people are dying left and right, and in the book, Hammond dies, so the story has no issue killing off main characters, and there was no second book at that time. I am sure I am not the only one who thought Tim was dead (more than once), or that Ian was gone.

    Much beyond movies like that, I don’t really care for the Genera. The Alien franchise is a perfect reason why I have issues – Alien and Aliens were fantastic movies, as was Prometheus, but then you have Aliens 3 that just wants to be a gore fest. Robocop I have similar issues with – it just wants to be gory. And I HATE The Cube with a passion.

    So while there are some stand out titles in the genera I like, for the most part, I avoid it.

  4. EM

    Since youʼve taken the Alien movies and Carpenterʼs Thing off the table, itʼs only natural to go to the latterʼs predecessor, The Thing From Another World. Obviously a blend of the sci‐fi and horror genres, this Thing also presages the slasher subgenre of which Carpenter would be a pioneer. Though I find its flying‐saucer trappings too science‐fictiony for Halloween viewing, the film manages to tap into the old‐school horror zeitgeist with its Frankensteinian “monster” (the look, the mutism, the reanimation, the nigh‐unstoppability, the enabling by blind scientific curiosity…) while forging the new world of 1950s SF horror. Favorite fear moment: when a door is being opened, and youʼre expecting something to happen, and something does happen even sooner than you expect—even after years of repeat viewings, that scene still induces a thrill! No wonder Carpenter wanted to remake it—and include it in his seminal slasher Halloween (it plays on TV in ʼ78).

  5. Barsoom Bob

    Something old, something new.
    The old : My childhood sci-fi moody horror was Donovan’s Brain. Scientist manage to keep alive a respected colleague’s brain in a jar, but the process warped it’s mind and it had the ability to telepathically control people who spent time near it and made them do murderous things.
    Honorable mentions : Them ! & O.G The Fly, that final scene is still kind of disturbing.

    The New : Sunshine. First 3/4 is a pretty good straight up sci-fi movie that then morphs into a slasher, haunted house flick. Kind of WTF, but it didn’t ruin the whole movie for me. Had a redeeming ending with the sun coming out with the frozen, ice encrusted, iconic opera house in Austraila in the background.
    Honorable mention : District 9 &. Attack the Block.

  6. Bolo

    I’m surprised there’s not more zombie flicks being mentioned.

    I love ‘Planet Terror’. That film makes me absolutely giddy. The film has really good energy and keeps the gags coming. I’m generally not the biggest Rodriguez fan, but his strengths as passions are perfectly applied here.

      • Bolo

        The zombie plague is a military bio weapon experiment gone wrong. The sci-fi aspect is there to put the threat in place and then it becomes a horror movie about trying to subvert and conquer that threat. Just like ‘Predator’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Alien’, ‘The Thing’, ‘The Terminator’ and most of the other movies mentioned.

        • Bolo

          And if it makes you feel better, scratch ‘Alien’ from that list because I appreciate that there’s sci-fi worked into the setting and that robot who betrays Ripley. But most of the rest of the movies mentioned take place in our present world and just use sci-fi to introduce some sort of monster, which is what ‘Planet Terror’ does.

    • Charles Contreras

      I loved Planet Terror and I used to have it some years ago. Now you’ve got me thinking about adding it to the new collection that I’ve been building.

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