Strange Cinema:'s Favorite Off-Beat Space Movies

A still from the movie "Dark Star," directed by John Carpenter.
A still from the movie "Dark Star," directed by John Carpenter. (Image credit: Bryanston Pictures)

We recently rounded up what we think are the absolute best space movies in the universe, in our "Most Epic Space Movies List." But if you're looking for something different — something strange, offbeat or unexpected — take a look at the list below.

The following are our personal favorite space and science fiction movies. These are the movies we've watched seven times, the movies that kept us up at night and the movies that we can't wait to talk about with fellow fans. They won't be everyone's cup of tea, but maybe you'll find a new favorite here as well.

We've organized the list by employee. Please note that some of these movies are not suitable for all audiences. Please use your own discretion.

Recommendations from Tariq Malik, Managing Editor

"Soldier" (1998). I think "Soldier" is an underrated space movie. Kurt Russell is amazing as a grizzled, interplanetary supersoldier, conditioned to be one of the best fighters in the galaxy. He's thrown out in favor of new, genetically modified supersoldiers, and then has to defend a group of colonists against the new troops. "Soldier" is just a sci-fi movie that delivers: It' got spaceships. It's got a planet explosion. It's got a moon battle that's awesome. It's like a Western in space with a "Shane"-like gunslinger character. Except he's a space soldier.

The poster for the 1984 film "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension." (Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" (1984). This is a cult sci-fi film starring Peter Weller, as the titular Dr. Banzai, who is a neurosurgeon, a physicist, an explorer — a jack-of-all-trades. He invents the Overthruster, which allows for interdimensional travel. There are bad aliens in the eighth dimension who want to steal the Overthruster, and some good aliens who will destroy Earth if they can't defeat the bad aliens. Banzai finds the twin sister of his dead wife. There's Jeff Goldblum dressed as a cowboy. Also the characters are in a rock band. It's very confusing.

But it's also very awesome. It's just a superwacky movie. It's tongue in cheek, but it's done really well, and it takes itself seriously while also being seriously over-the-top. It's just a wonderfully weird kind of sci-fi movie.

"Tron" (1982). "Tron" is an early sci-fi portrayal of what cyberspace might look like. Jeff Bridges plays a programmer of computer games who must go inside a computer to fight the evil Master Control Program, and battle it out in evil versions of his games. The characters also ride light cycles, which are motorcycles that create walls of light and you have to trap someone in the light. I used to play the "Tron" arcade game a lot as a kid, and this was the first cross-promotional thing for me, where you could watch the movie and then go play the game. There's something about '80s movies that's really great. I like the music. I like the look. And it still holds up — the movie's pacing and humor still hold up today. I think it has a timeless feel to it, even though all their computers are superchunky and they have those huge cellphones.

Recommendations from Mike Wall, Senior Writer

The poster for "Starship Troopers" (1997). (Image credit: Columbia/Tristar Pictures)

"Starship Troopers" (1997). At first blush, "Starship Troopers" may appear to be a brainless action film, all blood-and-guts explosions and absurdly pretty faces. Indeed, two of the film's stars — Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards — would probably have been the top actor candidates for anyone directing a live-action Ken-and-Barbie movie in the 1990s.

But there's quite a bit more going on in "Starship Troopers," which depicts a war between humans and insectoid aliens in the 23rd century (and shares its name with a 1959 novel by sci-fi legend Robert Heinlein). The film is a critique of fascism and militarism, and all the shiny surfaces serve to reflect a strong, often over-the-top satirical light. For example, propagandistic newsreels are interspersed throughout the film, which ends with an ad beseeching viewers to sign up and take part in the war against the bugs. (All of this makes a great deal of sense considering that director Paul Verhoeven experienced fascism firsthand, as a young child in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.)

So give "Starship Troopers" a chance; you can enjoy the movie on several different levels. And to sweeten the pot even more — it features a young (though not "Doogie Howser"-young) Neil Patrick Harris, as well as a catastrophic asteroid strike on a major Earth city.

Recommendations from Calla Cofield, Staff Writer

The special features bonus disk that comes with the "Interstellar" Blu-ray /DVD package is as good (if not better) than the movie. (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The "Interstellar" Bonus Features Blu-Ray (2015). The world of "Interstellar" was, to me, significantly more interesting than the movie's story and script. That's why I love this 3-hour bonus disk, which includes an hourlong TV special about the science of the movie, plus short featurettes that show how various aspects of the film were created, including the construction of the spaceship (built largely from real airplane galley equipment to give the impression it was pieced together over many years), the creation of those awesome robots (operated largely through puppetry), the creation of the alien planets, and more.

"Attack the Block" (2011). When a pack of beastly aliens (that look like evil Muppets) land on Earth, a group of London teenagers must try to survive the beasts' attack on their high-rise apartment block. This movie is a masterful blend of horror, action and science fiction, and gives its characters surprising depth amid the chaos.

Calla also recommends: "Contact" (1997), "The World's End" (2013), "They Live" (1988).

"Primer" (2004). Watching this movie is like solving a complicated math problem, but in a good way. (Just be glad nobody's grading you on it.) Primer is a low-budget, bare-bones, mind-bending drama about time travel, and it takes more than a few viewings before most people begin to get a handle on it. You can try and diagram it, figure out what's going on, but to say the film doesn't "hold your hand" is an understatement — even understanding the premise is tough, as the main characters engage in realistic, fast-paced technical discussion. Suffice it to say, their experiment doesn't go as planned, and they're thrown into a battle of wits that will leave you puzzling, watching from the outside and gathering tiny clues and cues. Luckily, it's only 77 minutes, so you can watch it again. And force people to watch it with you. Also: the time traveling starts earlier than you think.

Recommendations from Tom Chao, Producer

"Dark Star" (1974). Before "Alien" and "Starman," filmmakers Dan O'Bannon and John Carpenter co-created this cult sci-fi comedy, which began as a student project at the University of Southern California. Following the exploits of the titular spacecraft's journey through the galaxy on a 20-year mission to destroy unstable "rogue planets," the movie depicts the stressed-out and spaced-out crew grappling with an alien resembling a beach ball with claws, dealing with a dead-but-cryogenically-frozen commander, dancing wildly, and trying to reason with one of the ship's sentient nuclear weapons. The space travelers bandy about unbelievable space and science terminology, keeping with the film's ultra-low-budget aesthetic that punctures the self-importance of epics like "2001: A Space Odyssey." And, the theme song probably represents the best use of country music in a sci-fi film.

"Planet of the Vampires" (1965). This low-budget yet visually striking movie features many elements that pop up years later in other sci-fi productions. The film's plot is remarkable for its similarities to Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979): On a weird, uninhabited planet, a human-crewed spaceship finds a derelict alien ship. At the controls is the huge skeleton of a dead alien. The film's colorful lights, pseudo-military uniforms and saucer-shaped spaceships anticipate TV's "Star Trek," although "Vampires" was released a year earlier.

The poster for the science fiction movie "Dark City." (Image credit: NewLine Cinema)

"Dark City" (1998). Another film with a strong visual style, "Dark City" is set in an unnamed metropolis where the citizens' memories are rewritten every night by aliens called The Strangers. The movie has the feel of 1940s America, torn from the black-and-white "film noir" movies of the era — but things in "Dark City" may not be as they seem. Rufus Sewell stars as an amnesiac who is hunted as a serial killer.

"Destination Moon" (1950). This movie paints a realistic picture – based on the scientific understanding of the time – of the first landing on the moon, nearly 20 years ahead of the actual event.

"Ikarie XB 1" (1963). A Czechoslovakian film set in the 22nd century, "Ikarie XB-1" features the crew of a huge starship sent to a distant planet. As in "Interstellar" (2014), the dilation of time causes the crew to lose touch with those they left behind on Earth.

"The Woman in the Moon" (1929). A German silent film by director Fritz Lang, "The Woman in the Moon" was the first film to depict a rocket voyage with realistic science.

Actually, Dave, a career filmmaker, had so much to say about space cinema, he ended up writing an entire essay about it, which you should definitely check out.

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News and editorial team is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. Originally founded in 1999, is, and always has been, the passion of writers and editors who are space fans and also trained journalists. Our current news team consists of Editor-in-Chief Tariq Malik; Editor Hanneke Weitering, Senior Space Writer Mike Wall; Senior Writer Meghan Bartels; Senior Writer Chelsea Gohd, Senior Writer Tereza Pultarova and Staff Writer Alexander Cox, focusing on e-commerce. Senior Producer Steve Spaleta oversees our space videos, with Diana Whitcroft as our Social Media Editor.