5 underrated sci-fi movies that are perfect to watch for the winter

The cast of Sunshine with the sun burning behind them.
Fox Searchlight

Spring is thankfully just a few weeks away. But before winter wraps up, we may have some lingering cold weather to deal with. Now, would you rather be out in the cold or nice and snug at home where it’s warm and comfortable? Assuming you’d prefer the latter, we’ve put together a list of five underrated sci-fi movies that are perfect to watch for the winter.

Not all of our choices for this list can be described as great movies, but even some of the stinkers have been known for being fun to watch with friends and family. And since these are underrated sci-fi movies, it’s better to watch them without knowing too much ahead of time, especially if you enjoy surprises.

Altered States (1980)

William Hurt in Altered States.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Among sci-fi fans, Altered States tends to be overlooked in part because of its age and subject matter. This is a body horror flick from director Ken Russell, who doesn’t go as far as David Cronenberg tends to. In his first big-screen role, William Hurt portrays Dr. Eddie Jessup, the husband of Emily Jessup (Blair Brown) and father of Margaret (Drew Barrymore) and Grace (Megan Jeffers).

With his marriage on the rocks, Eddie becomes obsessed with an untested theory that dream and hallucinatory states can reshape the human body. Eventually, Eddie gets his hands on some Indigenous mushrooms and a sensory deprivation tank, which allows him to run unsettling experiments. Once Eddie gets started, he may not be able reverse his own transformation into something that is both more and less than human.

Watch Altered States on The Criterion Channel.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Jake Gyllenhaal in The Day After Tomorrow.
20th Century Studios

Roland Emmerich has seemingly never come across a city that he doesn’t want to destroy on film. The Independence Day director uses cold as his weapon of choice in The Day After Tomorrow, a sci-fi disaster flick that sends humanity into a new global ice age. This film is far from a masterpiece, but the visual effects of the super storm and the frozen cities really are impressive.

Dennis Quaid stars as Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist who correctly predicts the rapid changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. After Jack’s warnings fall on deaf ears, his son, Sam Hall (Jake Gyllenhaal), and his friend, Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum), are trapped in New York City when it undergoes a deep freeze. Even if Jack can find a way to save Sam, the world will not be the same.

Watch The Day After Tomorrow on Fubo.

The Giver (2014)

Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush in The Giver.
The Weinstein Company

Taylor Swift actually has a small supporting role in The Giver, in one of her first acting credits. But the movie itself was a passion project for Jeff Bridges, who portrays the title character. In this future dystopia, humanity has been freed from emotion, sexuality, painful memories of the past, and even from color. It’s the Giver’s burden to carry those traits himself until he can pass them on. But even the Giver’s daughter, Rosemary (Swift), couldn’t handle it when it was her turn to take the role.

A young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory after the Giver. Rather than following his calling, Jonas decides to follow his heart and his romantic feelings for his friend, Fiona (Odeya Rush). Jonas also decides that it’s time that humanity took back the traits that made them human, even if it endangers his own life.

Watch The Giver on Prime Video.

Mortal Engines (2018)

The cast of Mortal Engines.
Universal Pictures

Mortal Engines‘ biggest crime is that it is nowhere near as good as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. But since Jackson co-wrote the script with his LOTR collaborators, that connection was used to hype up Mortal Engines to a level that it couldn’t live up to. If you’re willing to forgive that flaw, and its other shortcomings, Mortal Engines is an enjoyable big-budget steampunk sci-fi movie.

In a devastated world where mobile cities devour smaller towns, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is inadvertently reunited with London’s Deputy Lord Mayor Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), whom she hates for killing her mother and scarring her face. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) saves Valentine’s life, but his heroism is repaid by betrayal and exile. To survive in the wasteland, Hester and Tom will need to work together if they ever want to catch up with Valentine and expose his lies.

Watch Mortal Engines on Freevee.

Sunshine (2007)

A man standing in front of the sun in Sunshine
Searchlight Pictures

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is about as scientifically accurate as Michael Bay’s Armageddon. But people need to remember that movies are made for stories, not science lessons. Plus, it’s really hard to disregard any film whose cast includes Oppenheimer‘s Cillian Murphy, along with Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Mark Strong, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Troy Garity.

The story takes place decades in the future, as the crew of the Icarus II journeys to the sun in order to deliver a massive bomb that is meant to restart it and prevent the Earth from freezing and dying. Along the way, the crew encounters the Icarus I, the ship that undertook the original mission to save their world years earlier. But as the truth about what happened to the Icarus I comes to light, the survivors of Icarus II feel the weight of the entire world riding on their successful completion of the mission.

Rent or buy Sunshine on Prime Video or other digital outlets.

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