Ten Great Anti-Blockbusters of Science Fiction and Fantasy

January 25, 2011

By John J. Joex

We define an Anti-Blockbuster as a film that bucked the Hollywood bloated-budget, cookie cutter blockbuster trend and still managed to deliver a superior viewing experience. They may have had a respectable budget or modest or even non-existent funding and they may have done well in the box office or flew under the radar and perhaps eventually found an audience in the video market. But the main factor is that they diverged from the typical, formulaic output we see all too often from Hollywood and they showed the potential of film-making when the creative team pushes the boundaries and tries something new and original. Following are what I believe to be ten of the best movies covered in this column so far, and you can go to this link to see all of the Anti-Blockbusters we have reviewed.

  1. The Man from Earth – Written by the late Jerome Bixby (a respected Science Fiction author who also penned several classic Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes), this movie has no special effects, no action scenes, no aliens, basically nothing you would expect from a Science Fiction film. Just a group of people sitting around talking. But it delivered a film that I would easily put on a Top 20 (maybe even Top 10) list of the all-time greatest Science Fiction films.
  2. Primer – This film could likely find its way onto the same Top 20 list right alongside The Man from Earth. Produced on almost no budget and written and directed by a mathematician and former engineer, it gives us one the best (if not the best) Science Fiction films to deal with time travel. It’s a pretty intense movie and demands multiple viewings, but it’s worth the commitment.
  3. Moon – This throwback to slow, intelligent Science Fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, and The Andromeda Strain (all of which we have covered on our Must-Watch List) may not have filled many seats in theaters last Summer, but it quickly gained a reputation as an instant classic in the genre.
  4. Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro had a decent budget to bring his dark fantasy to life, but he still did it at one third to one quarter of what it would have cost him in Hollywood. And if he had done it through that machine, he would have never had the freedom to tell the story the way he wanted and would probably been forced to tack on a more upbeat, less ambiguous ending.
  5. Cube – This Science Fiction/Horror tale from Vincenzo Natali (Splice) delivered an engaging, claustrophobic, paranoid thriller following a group of people trying to escape from a bizarre prison they don’t understand.
  6. They Live – Speaking of paranoia, this John Carpenter classic has it oozing from the seams. It gave us an 80’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, not because it followed the same plot but because it delved into the Id of that decade like the 50’s classic did with its era.
  7. Beowulf and Grendel – You don’t have to have a bloated Hollywood budget and high-tech motion-capture animation (as we saw in the 2007 Robert Zemeckis directed Beowulf) to adapt this classic epic. Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson along with Gerard Butler (300) in the lead role turn this Old English saga on its head and use it as a parable for our own times.
  8. Night of the Living Dead – I consider this actually a proto-Anti-Blockbuster as it came out prior to the Blockbuster era that began a few years later with Jaws and Star Wars. But with only a tiny budget, George A. Romero delivered a seminal horror film that spawned a whole sub-genre of zombie-pocalypse movies, books, comics, games, etc.
  9. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – How much further from the Hollywood formula can you get than this genre-bending cult classic. It may take you a few viewings to catch everything, but you will enjoy it that much more each time around.
  10. Ink – This trippy Science Fiction/Fantasy indie film almost defies description but I would tell you to expect to see something along the lines of Terry Gilliam doing a Disney film while partaking in large quantities of hallucinogenic substances. It’s a love it or hate it affair, but I truly loved it and give it a high recommendation for those who appreciate an off-the-wall movie experience.