On paper, it might seem as though the science fiction and horror genres are too different to work well together. But, since they’re apples and oranges—sci-fi is all about spectacle and tackling lofty concepts, whereas horror is all about building suspense and creating a terrifying atmosphere—there’s an opportunity for filmmakers who combine these genres to bring out the best in each of them.
It’s a tough line to walk, but there are plenty of great sci-fi horror movies, from the crew of the Nostromo’s battle against a xenomorph to a found-footage flick about a kaiju attack. So, here’s a handful of movies that have nailed this curious hybrid genre.
Updated on May 23rd, 2020 by Ben Sherlock: Moviegoers still have yet to tire of the sci-fi horror hybrid genre. It’s tricky to explore heady concepts and terrify audiences at the same time, but plenty of movies have managed it. And when a movie really nails that balance, it can be wildly entertaining. The original 10 entries on this list stand as classics of sci-fi horror cinema, but the genre still has a bunch more gems to offer. So, we’ve updated this list with a handful of new entries.
15 Pitch Black
Vin Diesel’s most popular franchise will always be Fast & Furious (or The Fast Saga, as it was recently rebranded), but the Riddick franchise also holds a special place in his heart. In fact, he only agreed to a cameo appearance in Tokyo Drift in exchange for full rights to the Riddick franchise from Universal.
The first film to star Diesel as Riddick, David Twohy’s Pitch Black, focuses on a space crew getting stranded on a planet where bloodthirsty creatures come out at night – and a month-long eclipse is about to take place.
Before Guardians of the Galaxy made him one of the most famous directors working today, James Gunn wrote and directed Slither, an underrated monster movie about an alien parasite invading a small town.
There was some controversy over Gunn’s liberal use of “homages” to Fred Dekker’s classic B-movie spoof Night of the Creeps, but Slither acts brilliantly as a spiritual successor to Dekker’s film.
13 The Fly
Body horror pioneer David Cronenberg created one of the subgenre’s finest works with The Fly, the story of a scientist whose teleportation experiment transforms him into a human-fly hybrid. Jeff Goldblum is compelling in the lead role, while Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis’ makeup effects are delightfully disgusting.
Ultimately, The Fly is a tragedy. The film was loosely adapted from a 1957 short story by George Langelaan, but its cautions about the dangers of playing God can be traced back to the themes explored in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Speaking of which…
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely regarded to be the first science fiction story ever written, while James Whale’s film adaptation was one of the first horror movies ever made. It’s tough for the first of something to hold up after the decades of derivative knockoffs that follow.
But 1931’s Frankenstein still stands as a sci-fi horror classic. From Boris Karloff playing the monster as a Miltonian tragic figure to terrifying moments that censors tried to cut, Frankenstein is a cinematic masterpiece.
The second entry on this list directed by David Cronenberg, the undisputed master of the body horror genre, Scanners is most renowned for the iconic scene in which a man’s head is blown up by a telepath. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; the movie has so much more to offer.
The story of an evil corporation targeting mind-readers and one roguish mind-reader fighting back is one of the most riveting in the history of blending sci-fi and horror.
Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic is a masterclass of blending science fiction and horror. Three years after scientists created a bloodthirsty insect to wipe out the cockroaches that were spreading a deadly virus around New York, the insect returns to take on its worst enemy: humankind.
With a cast anchored by Mira Sorvino and Josh Brolin, del Toro crafted a horror movie with plenty of scares and a poignant hidden message about genetic engineering.
9 The Mist
In Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Mist, a thick mist descends upon a small town and turns out to be populated by bloodthirsty Lovecraftian beasts.
Thomas Jane plays an everyman holed up in a supermarket with his son, plotting to get out in the open and return home to see if his wife is okay. It’s an incredibly dark movie, with some harrowing twists and turns along the way.
8 Event Horizon
Although it was slammed by critics and failed at the box office, Event Horizon has gone on to become a cult classic adored by sci-fi fans and horror fans alike.
When a missing spacecraft called the Event Horizon reappears, the rescue crew discovers that it went through a tear in the spacetime continuum, allowing a terrifying entity hiding in its own dimension to take control.
7 Under The Skin
Scarlett Johansson is compelling in this arthouse sci-fi chiller about an alien who masquerades as a beautiful woman to lure men into her trap. Set in a bleak Scottish town, the movie has an enrapturing atmosphere. It’s shot with an almost documentary-like coverage style.
There’s no Hollywood magic other than the sequences where the men sink into the black pool in her house and get crushed into oblivion. A lack of score gives certain scenes an ominous realism, despite the obvious spectacle of a disguised alien targeting unsuspecting men on Earth.
6 Attack The Block
Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block brings the alien invasion genre to the streets of South London as a nurse teams up with the gang who mugged her earlier in the night to survive a horde of furry, neon-toothed E.T.s.
The movie didn’t do so well at the box office, for whatever reason (it got great reviews, but maybe the marketing people dropped the ball), but it’s destined to become a cult classic.
Childhood pals Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams put their heads together to cook up this found-footage gem about a giant monster attacking New York.
The characters are initially filming the night’s events because they’re throwing a going-away party for their friend who’s jetting off on a business trip to Japan (a nod to the genre originating from here), and they keep filming as they run through the streets of the city, desperately trying to survive the onslaught of “Clover.”
Thoughtful as a sci-fi movie and terrifying as a horror movie, Alex Garland’s Annihilation was one of 2018’s most underrated gems. In his chilling portrayal of alien life, Garland did something that very few depictions of extraterrestrials manage to do: he created something genuinely unknown. The aliens in Annihilation, as well as their home, the Shimmer, can’t be comprehended by mere humans.
The only shame about this movie is that the studio panicked about its chances at the box office and sold a lot of the distribution rights to Netflix, because this movie would’ve been great to watch on a big screen with an audience full of people who are just as horrified and baffled as you are. Although, the upside of this is that you can watch it right now.
3 The Terminator
James Cameron’s The Terminator is more of a thriller than a horror movie, as a cyborg from the future relentlessly pursues the would-be mother of the guy who leads a band of resistance fighters against the cybernetic invaders—but it’s certainly scary.
As both a cautionary tale about the dangers of developing sentient artificial intelligence and a thrill-ride that moves through its dense plot at a breakneck pace, The Terminator is a fantastic achievement of filmmaking.
2 The Thing
This remake of The Thing from Another World was the third of five collaborations between director John Carpenter and 80s action hero extraordinaire Kurt Russell. It’s a claustrophobic tale about scientists at a chilly outpost who are met with an alien that imitate anything. Before too long, they have no idea who they can trust.
Carpenter replaced most of Ennio Morricone’s score with his usual synthesizers. While it would’ve been interesting to hear Morricone’s original score, synths always work well with Carpenter’s distinctive filmmaking style. (Morricone ended up recycling some of his unused material in his Oscar-winning score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.) Thanks to eye-popping practical effects and tense editing, The Thing is a masterpiece of the sci-fi horror hybrid genre.
Alien doesn’t rush into the terror; it’s a slow-burn chiller. And this works because Ridley Scott uses the gore-free first 45 minutes of the movie to develop the characters and their relationships, so, by the time an alien baby rips through John Hurt’s chest, his character Kane feels like a real person that we’ve come to know and love, making the bloodshed infinitely more impactful.
H.R. Giger’s designs are phenomenal. The xenomorph, in particular, stands out as a distorted, disturbing rendition of the human form, but the design of everything else in the movie—the ship, the alien planet, the “space jockey” etc.—is just as hauntingly beautiful.
NEXT: 10 Best Action Comedies That Blend The Genres Perfectly