In the age of the video store, the shelves used to be filled with tapes made to imitate, or at least make the cover look like, popular genre films. Since then cameras have become cheaper and so have low-end computer-generated graphics, and more of these low-budget sci-fi films are being made now than ever before.
The problem for b-movie fans is the practical effects of the old sci-fi b-movies are gone and so is a lot of the charm and enjoyment. It’s hard to find the low-budget movies that are actually entertaining from this century whether the movies are well made despite their budget or so bad that they’re hilarious to watch, or if your just looking for more sci-fi adventures.
10 5th Passenger (2017)
Like many classic sci-fi b-movies, this one borrows from the premise of Alien (1979), to tell a story about a group of people trapped with an alien monster that is picking them off, with the addition of social stratification. However, this low-budget independent film does have an interesting twist on the premise. Star Trek fans will see many familiar faces as it features Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager), Armin Shimmerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Marina Sirtis (Star Trek The Next Generation), and Doug Jones (Star Trek: Discovery).
9 Prospect (2018)
Made for a budget of less than $4 million and features Star Wars star Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian). It tells the story of a father and daughter traveling to a forest moon to mine gems. Once there if the shady characters inhabiting the moon don’t get them, her father’s greed might destroy them. Though cheaply made this film limits their computer effects and manages to make a truly alien environment, and it’s a superior example of a sci-fi western action genre mashup, taking inspiration from The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (1948).
8 Immortal (2004)
Immortal is a strange French sci-fi movie that actually had a decent budget, even if the end result looks and feels like a b-movie. We follow a girl who appears to be 3 months old, despite her being a full-grown woman, and is a genetic anomaly. She is pursued by a vicious god that appears to be the Egyptian god Horus, who came from a giant pyramid ship floating above the city. Horus has been sentenced to death and wants to bear a child and find a human host. Though this film relies heavily on computer graphics that haven’t aged great, it’s stylistic and a truly one-of-a-kind sci-fi movie.
7 The Man From Earth (2007)
The concept for this film sounds like the result of a bet or like they only had a couple thousands dollars to make a movie, either way, the result was one of the best sci-fi b movies released this century. Set almost entirely in a small house we learn that our protagonist John Oldman is a Cro-Magnon caveman who has never grown old or died for 14,000 years. John is preparing to move, to hide his lack of aging, and is the recipient of a surprise farewell party from his fellow professors, over the course of the party he reveals his amazing secret to obvious skepticism. The script was written by Jerome Bixby (Star Trek) who finished the script shortly before his death in 1998, it was eventually turned into a very effective and budget-friendly film.
6 Primer (2004)
Two engineers accidentally invent a way to time travel, while trying to invent a machine to reduce an object’s weight. They construct a larger time travel box that fits a human and begins traveling back in time at six-hour intervals. Realizing the personal and financial benefits of traveling back in time, they use their new device to manipulate the stock market.
However, the extra time in the day and unknown physical side effects of time travel threatens to destroy them. Made for a reported $7,000 this is one of the best and most realistic time travel movies ever made, thanks to the experimental editing and frequent discussion of the scientific concepts behind the movie.
5 Quietus: To The New World (2004)
Director Richard Lowry is no stranger to b-movies, as his second movie was the minor cult classic Hawk Jones (1986) and he’s been behind many low-budget genre films since 1985. But his short film named Quietus is a high concept sci-fi exodus that’s his best work by far. With a run time of just under 20 minutes and without a word of dialogue, Lowry manages to create a stunning work of art depicting humanity’s departure from a dying Earth. This is a must-see for any sci-fi or b-movie fan, especially since it’s free to watch on the youtube channel, Rico Lowry.
4 Pass Thru (2016)
Some of the most entertaining b-movies are independent films made for little money, made as vanity projects by the filmmakers. Any of Neil Breen’s five passion projects could make the list as they all have similar themes and Neil Breen is always some mystical all-powerful alien figure. In Pass Thru, Neil Breen stars as an A.I. alien entity from the future who comes back in time to save the world by killing 300 million evil people. Breen’s films rank high in the “so bad it’s good” category of b-movies. Part vanity project, part political statement, but all funny, Pass Thru will be the highlight of any b-movie night as you yell at the screen.
3 Advantageous (2015)
This dystopian drama tells the story of Gwen, a single mother and a salesperson for cosmetic procedures. Though she has a decent job she still struggles to provide her daughter with the best education and future she can, and her unexpected termination makes matters worse. Her relationship with her sister is rocky and she is left with no choice, except for having her mind transferred to a younger and prettier body in order to keep her job. Premiering at Sundance, but afterward going direct to Netflix this artistic b-movie focuses on story over spectacle and depicts a very realistic near-future dystopia.
2 Hunter Prey (2010)
A spaceship crashes on a desert planet and the crew of elite commandos was transporting a dangerous alien prisoner. The Commander insists he must be captured alive, but that becomes difficult as the prisoner’s deadly traps keep thinning their numbers. With a plot that harkens back to classic 80s action movies, like Predator (1987) and First Blood (1982), this reminds fans of the cheap b-movie imitations they used to see in the video store. Thankfully the action, detailed costumes, and great makeup effects elevate it beyond most other similarly plotted direct-to-VHS b-movies.
1 3022 (2019)
In 2190, a crew of four astronauts are on a 10-year mission aboard a refueling station named Pangea. By their fifth year, the crew is starting to succumb to the psychological pressures due to the lack of human contact and tight quarters, and the Doctor rules that they must end their mission early. Shortly afterward the Earth is destroyed in a mysterious cataclysmic event and the crew has to deal with the fact they’re the last living humans. This cheaply made sci-fi drama is a fantastic example of a good b-movie. The main cast is small but full of experienced actors, even if you don’t know their names you know their faces. They also greatly limited their need for computer effects and kept the story confined to the well-made space station sets.
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