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13 Independent Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movies You Need To Watch


Allow Us To Explain

Allow Us To Explain

When it comes to film, we write about the big dogs a lot here at The Mary Sue. Your Marvel and DC movies. Your Stars Trek and Wars. Whatever fairy tales are being rebooted by major studios at any given time.

And those are (or can be) good. Great, even. But there’s a special place in my heart for indie movies, and there always has been. Independent moviemakers have more leeway to do interesting, creative things than their studio counterparts. And, look… this might be blasphemous of me, but a lot of the bigger-budget sci-fi movies, particularly comic book movies, have begun blending together in my head as of late. The Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men: First Class, Man of Steel… they’re turning into one amorphous blob. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something a little different.

To that end, here are my suggestions for 13 Independent Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movies You Should Watch. I’ve disqualified those lucky indie movies that have garnered mainstream success. It’s not that I don’t think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pan’s Labyrinth, Brazil, or Being John Malkovich are great films, and it’s not that their popularity somehow invalidates their quality, but… look, does anyone need to be told they should see District 9 at this point? This list is for the little guys.

Finally, let’s pour one out for the runners-up: The Host (2006), Trollhunter, Timecrimes, Monsters, Thirst, and Citadel.


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  • Anna Sophia May

    the one- Sunshine made me think of this: http://xkcd.com/673/.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    you should definitely add Eden Log to this list.

  • Anna Sophia May

    Aisling’s not a forest spirit, she’s a faerie, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, from Irish mythology.
    (I’m really big on Irish mythology.)

  • Travis

    I love Iron Sky.

  • Anonymous

    Sunshine – I saw a clip from this in Bironic’s “Starships” and I was wondering where it came from.

  • Samuel

    I enjoyed Sunshine. Another good Independent Sci Fi film that I think gets overlooked a lot is Hunter Prey, it’s a very good super low budget film along the lines of Enemy Mine.

  • Jaki

    I’m pretty sure Tarsem’s first feature film was The Cell with Jennifer Lopez.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Thanks for the correction! Will go make that change. Greek mythology is more my area. :)

  • Anarch0n

    I really like this list. I’ve seen most of these and enjoyed all of them for one reason or another, and that really makes me want to see the ones I haven’t. Even the ones like Iron Sky that are really campy have something uniquely enjoyable or experimental about them. A lot of the larger budget movies lately just make me feel sad after I think about them for a bit, like I ate too many Hot Pockets.

  • Sarah Brockman

    Loving the “Is it on Netflix” section. All movie reviews should have this, especially indie ones. I love independent film, as it is so much more adventurous than the big studio films (which I also love), but it’s so hard to find them outside of limited runs in big cities and maybe finding them on Netflix.

    Going to add Record/Play to the list, but as something to watch out for, as it was shown at Sundance, yet I haven’t seen anything released since. Here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFRI5S9AlPg

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    yep

  • Rebecca Pahle

    You are correct. Blocked that one out of my memory for exploding horse reasons. Thanks!

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    Iron Sky was great, not generally something I would watch but it really was quite funny

  • http://arewerobots.libsyn.com/ DarthBetty

    I will attest forever that Mirror Mirror was not a terrible movie.This mostly involves me in corner muttering angrily under my breath.

  • kat

    The Fall was one of those films that I always saw around Blockbuster but never watched until recently while I was going through my huge ‘must watch everything Lee Pace has done ever’ binge… and now I wonder why in the hell I didn’t watch it sooner (even if the ending does make me start sniffling a little).

    Also saw Byzantium at TIFF last year and I have been counting down the time until it got a proper release date. Sam Riley was actually one of my favorite parts, even if he did have a really small (but compelling) role.

  • Anna Sophia May

    It’s cool. I only know because I took a course on Irish mythology last year and then wrote a paper on Kells for my humanities class.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Same. B movies aren’t typically my thing, but relaxing on a lazy weekend with snack food and a movie about space Nazis really hit the spot for me.

  • Ruby Dynamite

    Rebecca! Thank you so much for including “The Fall” in this list! When I saw the title of the article, I was grumbling to myself, “She’s not gonna include The Fall, I bet,” already gearing myself up to comment and whinge about “Why did you leave The Fall off the list?! It’s one of the most awesome indie fantasy movies ever!” But, thankfully, I don’t have to do that, because you did add it! So yay!

    There honestly just are not words for how beautiful and moving this film is. Lee Pace is just mind-blowingly awesome as Roy and, I dare say, the scene with the completion of the tale is even more gut-wrenching than Artax’s death, since that sequence only lasts a two or three minutes in Neverending Story, while the sequence in The Fall is basically almost the entire last third of the film.

    Before I watched the film, I had absolutely no idea who Lee Pace really was, apart from the brilliant actor who played Calpernia Adams in Soldier’s Girl — that was the only thing I’d seen Lee in, at that point, but I was extremely impressed with his performance and dedication — I had no idea what to expect with The Fall, but it really blew me away. I mean, hell, I even watched the last Twilight movie just because Lee was in it, playing Garrett – and, unsurprisingly, when you fast-forward through all the other crap (I strongly advise it) just to watch his stuff, it actually makes for a rather small but much better film xp

  • Anonymous

    You have Irish Mythology at your college? I went to FSU and they only had Greek/Roman.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Uhhgawd, I forgot about the horse. And she walks through it. And it’s alive. Here comes that mac & cheese I had for lunch.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    >_> THE FALL IS SAD.

  • LifeLessons

    My problem with “Attack the Block” was its very nasty sexism. I felt sorry for the social worker. She played the typical female in a movie: She was there to reflect how great the men were. They tried to mug her – and let’s face it, if you every been attacked in any way your adrenaline will soar and you will not be involved with the rest of the movie – then when she tries to keep them out of her house they are mean to her.

    Really?

    I guess I couldn’t get beyond that. Talk about not respecting female boundaries. I admit I turned the TV off after that. I was very disappointed so maybe I missed some redemption. I hope I did.

    However yes and hooray to the other issues of fighting classism and racism. :) The movie soared on that point and good for them.

  • Anonymous

    ACCESS FAULT IN MODULE FEELS.VXD

    STOP 0×0000016

    YOUR BRAIN WILL NOW REBOOT

  • Anonymous

    The reason I watched “Sunshine” in the first place was because it featured a piece of soundtrack that was in “Kick-Ass” and that I loved. Figured it was taken from “Sunshine” and watched the movie. This track, “The Surface of the Sun”, is one of the BEST soundtrack piece I’ve ever heard : calm, simple and intense at the same time. And it comes at a weird and yet somehow magical moment of the movie. Glad you put this movie in the list, I’ve been blown by its intensity.

  • http://www.twitter.com/invalidname realinvalidname

    Thank you for “The Secret of Kells”! Really liked how different that was from the rest of the animated stuff nowadays.

    Can I also suggest “Voices of a Distant Star”? Talk about independent: 30-minute anime created by one guy on his Mac, about a girl who goes into space to fight aliens and can only communicate with her boyfriend via text message. Due to the distance, the messages take minutes to deliver, then hours, then months. And due to time dilation from high-speed travel, he ages in normal Earth time but she doesn’t. Not on Netflix, but Crunchyroll has it: http://www.crunchyroll.com/voices-of-a-distant-star

  • Gina Truitt

    I’m right there with you. It’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad, and definitely pretty.

  • Anonymous

    My friends and I watched Cube ALL. THE. TIME. in high school after I introduced them to it. We even watched the awful sequels and prequels. My one friend even got hooked on them…SO Kafkaesque.

    Total guilty pleasure.

  • Sarah

    I can’t find The Fall on Netflix :( There are two other movies called “The Fall” but they aren’t the same one.

  • Celesta

    Interesting list, thank you! The ones I have seen on the list are all great, for different reasons. And nice to see Iron Sky included, it’s so ridiculous it’s awesome.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    Nazi zombies in Dead Snow is equally as good for a lazy weekend =D

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Ugh. Darnit, I swear it used to be. That’s what I get for not fact-checking after writing. Sorry. :(

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Sounds interesting, thank you!

  • Lucas Picador

    Just saw Attack the Block on Netflix a couple of days ago, in Canada. Might want to double-check that it’s not on there in the States.

    Also: while I liked it a lot, I didn’t think it came anywhere close to a movie like Moon. It’s certainly no La Jetee. YMMV, I guess.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely about The Fall!! I can’t count how many people I’ve told to watch this moving. Aesthetically stunning and great story

  • Anonymous

    TiMER was such a great and unexpected twist on the Rom-com! Loved that one; it really surprised me.

  • Anonymous

    Great list! I’ve seen four of these; I’m going to have to really up my indie consumption! I’m going to try to hit up Byzantium at the local indie if I can. I hope it sticks around long enough that I can make it (they circulate so quickly).

    I have a slight quibble, though. The Secret of Kells is not about *a* illuminated manuscript: it’s about THE illuminated manuscript, a huge and significant point in Irish history and old manuscripts. There are only a few copies in the world. I’ve seen one, and it truly looks like the animation style. They did an incredible job, and it really makes the film otherworldly. I hope we can see more Irish-animated films soon just because it’s so lovely.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I wasn’t a huge fan, to be honest. By the end I was kind of like “OK… what was the point of that?” Just not for me.

  • Anonymous

    It may not be on Netflix as streaming, but they do have the discs. That’s how I saw it. Good film but a “saw it, loved it, moving on” type of film.

  • Anonymous

    Hysterically funny. Not to be taken seriously on any level whatsoever (except the SFX maybe). The producers are raising funds for the next one on… Indegogo, I think.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    The Iron Sky sequel? I read there might be dinosaurs in it.

  • Anonymous

    Because everyone should have seen it already. :D

  • Anonymous

    Great list! I caught Safety Not Guaranteed on TV… it was bizarre, but surprisingly worth it. Still not sure how I feel about the ending, but that’s getting into spoiler territory.

  • Mina

    An ex of mine loved Cube and had me watch it once. Alas it was not the film for me.

    Several of these others look pretty good though. I will have to check them out.

  • http://sharqubus.tumblr.com George Trello

    Super sad Trollhunter didn’t quite make the cut, I love that flick! I actually only originally watched Attack the Block because of Nick Frost’s bit part and wound up finding a great movie. Definitely going to add a few of these to my “need to watch” list.

  • Anonymous

    I love that one of the Iron Sky characters just starts dressing like Mr. Sinister.

  • Anna Sophia May

    It was a one time class- we have a 350R class that changes every semester- one time it was Superheroes, one time it was christianity in poetry, one time it was Irish mythology- sometimes they repeat, though. It was a good class.

  • Anonymous

    Well damn. I was hoping to have at least one to look forward to in that list. I saw them all. Too bad.
    MVP award goes to the Fall and Cube.

  • Seanna Tucker

    Completely agree. I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than the other Snow White movie to come out that year. And it was pretty funny.

  • BabeWoreRed

    Eh this is all over the place…The Fall was GORGEOUS but just an okay movie, Moon was fantastic obviously, but Sunshine was GARBAGE, it was one of the most disappointing films I’ve ever seen…
    I venture to say The Fountain? It was better and more thought provoking than Sunshine by a long shot…

  • BabeWoreRed

    And was totally fantastic.

  • OlaOlie

    Safety Not Guaranteed is freaking fantastic

  • OlaOlie

    I was just going to say that. Loved the movie, heard the book is awesome (but different)

  • Blue Mina

    Yes! I love “The Surface of the Sun!” It’s without a doubt one of the best things about Sunshine (and you’re right, it’s such a great scene that it’s featured in). As far as the movie, I definitely liked the first half of it much better than the latter portion, when it was more directly focused on the characters, their interactions, and their psychology. When it shifts gears half way through (you’ll know what I’m referring to if you’ve seen the movie), I think it loses a large part of its appeal. All in all though, still a great, underrated film.

  • Blue Mina

    Yes, the Fountain is an excellent film, and given the difficulties during it’s production, one we almost missed out on. As I said above, I think Sunshine is a mixed bag. I think the first half is a great movie, but the second half doesn’t live up to that potential.

  • Anonymous

    This film (Primer) is on SnagFilms.
    http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/primer

  • Adibug

    Attack the Block is an amazing film. Though I still think Repo! The Genetic Opera should be in this list, at least as a runner up.

  • Jess

    Right?! Absolutely my favorite movie. Just too gorgeous and moving to not tell everyone you know.

  • Mallory

    Sunshine is an amazing film. I remember seeing it in one of our city’s smaller theaters and being absolutely mesmerized.

  • Melynda

    My little brother loves Moon, but it went off of Netflix Instant before I had the chance to watch it. Sunshine kinda had me sold when Mark Strong was mentioned. And Secret of Kells I randomly watched because I wanted some new animation in my life and it is absolutely gorgeous. Another good movie is Mirrormask. I haven’t seen it in awhile, but: Neil Gaiman.

  • Andrew Orillion

    I would include Happy Accidents on this list. It’s a really fun sci-f romantic comedy.

  • Anna Sophia May

    I’m at Brigham Young University Idaho. It’s awesome (and under $4,000 a semester.)

  • CMFTW

    Cool article! Thanks for the recommendations. :)

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget when she rips off his nipple piercings!

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. Love the first half of the film and the buildup, but the climax sort of feels like the plot of a Dr Who episode. Still it’s a beautiful film. And Cliff Curtis.

  • starsplatter

    The “all on one page” link isn’t working, can it be fixed? Thanks for the list!

  • Katrina Gutierrez

    Your inclusion of Secret of Kells got me thinking of animated films that are not so well known that have great sci-fi/fantasy narratives. One of my favorites is The iron Giant. That movie still makes me choke up :)

  • Anonymous

    What Is It? It’s the year 2057, and the sun is on the verge of going out. In a last-ditch effort to avoid the Earth turning into an Earthsicle a crew of astronauts are sent to deposit a nuclear bomb in the center of the sun, hopefully reigniting it.

    I think XKCD referenced an idea for a disaster movie like this once. I assumed he was JOKING. That’s the dumbest idea for a disaster movie I’ve heard of, even beating out The Core. Seriously? Seriously?

  • Anonymous

    Safety Not Guaranteed was great.

    I’d add Chronicle to the list, but maybe despite being an independent film it’s well-known enough that including it doesn’t seem necessary. I know it’s got no major female characters, but it’s still one of the best and emotionally strongest “superpowers” movies I’ve seen.

  • Not So Young Democrat

    I only saw it once but I’m a sucker for movies like that where the scifi/fantasty element is of debatable reality. For others Vincent Donofrio plays a guy who claims to be a time traveler and has a romance with Marissa Tomei who isn’t sure whether he’s telling the truth or crazy

  • The Notorious MIA

    Great list, guys! And as others have said, I highly approve of the ‘Available on Netflix’ addition. I haven’t seen any of these, but another movie that I’d suggest-while it is more “cult” than “indie”- is “Repo! The Genetic Opera”, a horror/sci-fi rock opera about a future where synthetic organs are necessary due to a planetary epidemic of organ failure.
    GeneCo, the company that produces said organs, sells them on a payment plan, and if you are unable to pay,assassins called Repo Men come to take them by force. It’s definitely campy, and has Paris Hilton in it (appropriately enough as a spoiled heiress), but despite that it is really good, and available on Netflix!

  • Anonymous

    Aww no Chronicles of Vidocq? I loved that movie, I rented it for 99 cents at Blockbuster back in the day, I really liked it. It was a really interesting French action movie. Then, I found out the director was the same one who did Catwoman, and I was shocked, because the two movies are very different.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Indeed! Chris O’Dowd is just delightful in general.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I wasn’t too into The Fountain, to be honest. It felt a little too in love with itself for me.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    “Sup…er…man.” BAAAWWWWWWW.

  • Camille Monae

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Sunshine

  • Anonymous

    Agree, but the Book of Kells has uncertain place of origin – generally Ireland, Scotland & Northern England at that time in history were engaged in the illum manusc/monastic culture (eg Lindisfarne Gospel), and could have been sent to Kells as result of Viking raids elsewhere. Whichever the case, it remains a truly amazing piece of work.

  • http://elisabethflaum.wordpress.com/ Elwyne

    disliked the book, basically for the reasons Rebecca says above.

  • frankenmouse

    I figure you might know this or you might not, so I’ll just post it:

    The Book of Kells is a very, very old illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, and is one of Ireland’s national treasures. It’s especially interesting because it combines both traditional church imagery with Celtic knotwork and it possibly the most elaborately illuminated manuscript ever found. Some of the most decorative pieces have designs one can only see with a magnifying glass. Hardcore stuff, man.

  • Anonymous

    One movie I’d append to this list, Melancholia! It’s sci-fi in that it deals with the possible end of the world due to a rogue planet, it’s brilliant in the way it addresses depression. It’s on netflix! Or Amazon Instant if thats your style.

  • Kenneth Barker

    I wrote, produced and directed a micro-budget subtle homage to Forbidden Planet called On The Shoulders Of Giants. Yes, being a true indie with no cash made it much harder to produce but here it is on distrify for streaming https://distrify.com/films/6097 and its facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/On-The-Shoulders-of-Giants-The-Movie/383469958384829 I would love your support please.

  • Rizz Rustbolt

    Pumzi. Watch it. Be amazed.

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    Replace Iron Sky with Upstream Color and we got a deal. Otherwise, great list!

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    That was SO FREAKING COOL. Catching that scene on the TV is what made me seek out the movie.

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    It’s worth buying the DVD.

  • R Louis Hodges

    I would’ve appreciated a warning that the Secret of Kells was a seriously Christian allegory, but it was really good animation and definitely something new on the artistic front. I just was greatly disappointed in the story.

  • Jon Dunseith

    Canadians! Many of these are on Canadian Netflix, including Attack the Block, Moon, both Brit Marling movies, The Secret of Kells, and Cube.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/misslolabyrd Lola Byrd

    Was this post written in the future? After looking at the time and date stamp, I had to look at my calendar several times to make sure I wasn’t crazy.

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Are you seeing something other than “June 27th, 2013?”

  • Danny Adams

    I’d found some of these already thanks to Netflix’s Recommendations page. :)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/misslolabyrd Lola Byrd

    Wow, momentary lapse of reason.. I hadn’t slept yet (night shift), for some reason I thought we were still June… I feel like such an idiot.

  • not-so-small-mercies

    Not to reveal the plot but **slight spoilers** It is more to do with the overall race/class commentary. The boys reveal that they mugged her because they didn’t know she was from the block i.e. ‘one of us’, an assumption implied to be due to the fact that she was a well dressed white woman. Also, setting up the boys as criminals/antagonists at the beginning is something I think that rounds off the ending and drives it home even further.

  • lala

    Fantastic list! I would like to add Never Let Me Go to the list of thoughtful movies. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a spoiler putting it on a sci-fi list, because it’s another movie where you don’t know the genre until halfway through.

    I love Primer so much! Why can’t there be more movies like Primer? Actually, I know why. Because every time I recommend Primer to someone, they complain that it’s too complicated. I wish there could be more complicated films, but I guess audiences aren’t into it.

  • lala

    I don’t get how The Fountain is so popular, but The Fall is practically unknown. I can’t imagine anyone liking one of those two but not the other.

  • Katrina Gutierrez

    @disqus_beLt40DDWs:disqus waaaave!!! and hug :)

  • Anonymous

    It was a cute movie.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed….I watched it, but wasn’t amazed.

  • Anonymous

    I also loved Safety Not Guaranteed. Watched it with my husband….he didn’t like the end.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to leave you with three releases that damned well should have been on your list.
    One, “The Man From Earth” in which several college professors sit in a cabin and try to deal with the unthinkable.

    http://youtu.be/lVMhEAI3pvg
    Number Two, “Monsters”
    A brilliant alien invasion film shot against a third world background.

    http://youtu.be/njeofv4dr9Q

    The third is “Stake Land”
    Easily one of the best modern vampire movies ever made.

    http://youtu.be/zNC2HwAaWWE

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Thanks for your suggestions; will have to give The Man From Earth a Watch. I actually included Monsters in my runners-up, as you can see above; it was a great film, and I admire the director for what he was able to do with so few resources, but there were parts of it that really didn’t work for me. (The acting wasn’t great, and the ending was anti-climatic, no pun intended.) And I didn’t like Stake Land.

  • Katy

    The Fall is on YouTube. The quality isn’t great, but it’s still enjoyable.

  • Robin

    I’d also like to add one. Ink. It was made on a budget of 250K, which
    is a pittance for a movie! Hell, the director was also the writer and
    the composer…and it really, really worked. The budget shows, but only
    makes it more admirable when you see the things that they do with it.
    The story is very different- in it, the dead bring dreams to the living.
    Good dreams are brought by Storytellers, and nightmares by Incubi. Ink
    is a strange creature and an independent factor between these two sides,
    but seeks to become an Incubus in order to be rid of a pain he carries.
    To do so, he must do something terrible- and the plot takes off from
    there.

    There’s a lot more to it, of course, and some excellent twists, but I didn’t want to get into spoiler territory. ;)

  • Josh

    Hopefully our indie scifi film can make this list one day!
    http://sennition.com

  • Emily Walton

    The monster design was what got me to watch Attack The Block in the fist place, and I’m so glad I did.

  • Monica Mestas

    Maybe you know……..I’m trying to find a sci fi movie I saw a couple years ago and loved. Pretty modern. Similar theme to Attack the Block, a group of twenty-somethings in a highrise big city apartment, tie one on. Next morning when they start opening the blinds, they change as the light hits them — veins popping out, bug eyes, etc. Then there are these big octopus-like aliens flying around grabbing people and depositing them into the mother ship, where their brains are eaten, I think. Even the two protagonists get “sucked up.” The computer animation is amazing. Any ideas? War? World? Alien Invasion? Last Day? Thanks!!!

  • Rebecca Pahle

    As you can see in the title, it’s science fiction or fantasy. What doesn’t qualify?

  • Rebecca Pahle

    As you can see in the title, it’s science fiction or fantasy. What doesn’t qualify?

  • Ta Linn

    I think you mean Skyline?