Horror and science fiction are two genres of film that match up perfectly. For one, both provide limitless potential to tell stories in countless overlapping subgenres. But perhaps more importantly, both horror and sci-fi share a theme that unifies them: the unknown.
In sci-fi, the unknown is often treated as a source of wonder. For example, it’s the wonder of exploring the unknown of outer space in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). In horror the unknown is a source of fear. It’s the unknown killer hiding in the darkness like Michael Myers in Halloween (1978). When you combine the two, you get an unknown killer hiding in the darkness of space, just like in Alien (1979).
Some of the greatest horror and science fiction movies of all time have come from where the two genres meet. From mad scientists, to out-of-control technology, to alien invasions, to man-made diseases and beyond, the list is practically endless. Collected here are the best movies where sci-fi and horror combine to create an unmatchable sense of wonder and fear.
Old Sci-Fi Horror Movies
This movie, directed by James Whale, is based on the famous novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. It’s about a scientist who becomes obsessed with creating a living creature out of the body parts of corpses. However, once the creature (played by Boris Karloff) gains sentience, the townspeople don’t take kindly to him. The universal belief that Frankenstein’s skin is green is because of this movie. The make-up used on the actor who played the monster had a grayish-green tint. This made him take on a pale gray tone in the black and white film. That way, he looked different than the rest of the characters.
Them! is the greatest of the American giant/atomic monster movies of the 1950s. In the New Mexican desert, atomic bomb testing has irradiated ants, causing the insects to grow tremendously. Now the government must clean up their mess and stop the ants before they make their way to Los Angeles and overrun the entire city. The creature effects may be cheesy by modern standards, but the story and pacing are still top-notch.
This film, directed by Philip Kaufman, is about strange seeds drifting down to earth from space. These seeds create pods which end up replicating the citizens and turning them into emotionless creatures. Basically, they each act as a body snatcher. The script is based off a novel by the same name, written by Jack Finney. Several famous faces are in this film, from Donald Sutherland to Jeff Goldblum. More than one film critic has considered this one of the best remakes in cinematic history.
Ridley Scott directed this classic movie about a space vessel receiving a distress call. When the crew is suddenly attacked by a mysterious creature, they must deal with the deadly consequences. Although the Xenomorph is one of the most famous horror movie monsters of all time, it only has four minutes of screen time throughout the entire movie. This film stars Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt, and Veronica Cartwright. This movie was so beloved that it spawned several more hits, such as Aliens (1986), Alien Resurrection (1997), and Alien vs. Predator (2004).
Silent Rage is an action/sci-fi/horror movie starring none other than the legendary Chuck Norris. Norris stars as the Sheriff of a small Texas town who is forced to gun down a deranged murderer. The killer is brought back from the brink of death by a mad-scientist’s experimental formula, but the formula also makes the killer super strong and practically invulnerable. With the criminal on the loose, Chuck Norris must use his fists and feet to stop the madman’s killing spree.
The Thing is directed by John Carpenter and stars Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley. It’s about a research team stationed in Antarctica who are hunted by a shape-shifting alien that takes the appearance of its victims. Carpenter has actually stated that this is his favorite of all the films he has ever created. However, not everyone shared his love for the film in the beginning. The Thing was released the same day as Blade Runner (1982), and were both met with unfavorable reviews during their premiers. Of course, they both went on to become classic movies in the science fiction genre.
Lifeforce is a pulpy cult classic with a lot going on. The movie begins with a mission to space to locate a spaceship hidden in the tail of a comet. Once there, the crew discovers three alien beings which have human appearances. When the ship returns to Earth, the crew are either dead or missing, and a naked female alien escapes while draining the lifeforce of humans. And that’s just the first 20-or-so minutes. A highlight of this crazy movie is seeing Patrick Stewart freak out when it’s discovered that he is possessed by the naked female space vampire.
Jeff Goldblum stars in this body horror film about a scientist who accidentally transforms into a man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes wrong. During his scariest scenes, Goldblum was wearing over five pounds of makeup. It took nearly five hours to apply those prosthetics. However, the time and effort put into the effects was well worth it because Chris Walas, the creator and designer of the fly, won the Academy Award for best makeup.
Predator is a genre-defining action/sci-fi/horror hybrid. The premise is simple: an alien from an advanced species comes to Earth to hunt humans for sport, but an elite commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger) turns the proves to be dangerous prey. The action is bombastic in that wonderful 1980s style, the characters are instantly memorable even if they get killed off with relatively little screen time, and the horror is perfectly executed with a brilliant mixture of gore and tension. Predator is peak action/horror which has been emulated time and time again.
Though it’s computer-generated special effects are humorously dated by modern standards, Species is still as entertaining today as it was when it came out. The movie, about a deadly female alien/human hybrid that is driven to mate with human males, was a pretty big deal when it came out, opening second at the box office just behind the legit classic Apollo 13. Today, Species is a wonderfully trashy time capsule of mid-1990s sci-fi horror.
Cube is one of those smaller, indie movies that people keep discovering and rediscovering decades later. Made in Canada on a modest budget, Cube fared poorly at the box office, but found its audience later on home video. The movie is about a group of people who wake up to find themselves trapped inside a gigantic puzzle box. Each room is connected to six other rooms which are nearly identical, with the main differences being the colored lighting and a wide variety of deadly traps. Cube is one of the forerunners of the “escape room” subgenre of horror.
This film, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, is about a spaceship that disappears on its way to Proxima Centauri. Seven years later, the ship is discovered orbiting around Neptune, and a rescue crew must investigate the ship and figure out what else is hiding on board. Hellraiser (1987) was a huge influence on this film. Its creator, Clive Barker, consulted on Event Horizon during pre-production. Despite the care that went into making it, the film only took ten months to complete. This is a short timeframe for such a complex film filled with special effects.
This David Cronenberg film has it all: technology, virtual reality, adventure, and spinal infused technology cords that bring you into a hyper-realistic video game. The movie has several twists and turns, and one IMDB reviewer put it, you just need to see this film: “By far the most bizarre and inventive films from David Cronenberg, and a film that is sure to become a cult classic. The story cannot easily be summarized in a small review without spoiling the movie completely, so you’ll have to see it for yourself.” In some ways this movie also a similar cyberpunk aesthetic as The Matrix (1999).
New Sci-Fi Horror Movies
The Mist, which was written and directed by Frank Darabont, is based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. Although many of the elements remain the same, the ending is much different in the film than in the book. Darabont believed the book ending was too ambiguous, so he came up with a more straightforward ending which many consider controversial. However, King approved of the change and even claimed he wish he would’ve thought of it himself.
I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, is about a plague that kills most of humanity. The remaining humans are transformed into monsters, leaving the main character stranded alone with his dog. This movie is based off of a book by Richard Matheson, but it was green lit without a script. The computer-generated creatures used throughout the movie took a team of one-hundred people fourteen months to create. The red eyes and veins in the dog were also a visual effect.
This found-footage film, directed by Matt Reeves, is about a group of friends who are in New York during a monster attack. It is meant to look like the entire movie was shot using a hand-held camera. Some footage in the film was even shot by the actors. Due to the way the scenes were shot, some movie theaters actually put up warning signs about motion sickness. At least 104 people left due to dizziness.
This movie, directed by Ridley Scott, was the first Alien film to be formatted in IMAX. It is about a team who discovers they are not alone on a distant moon. Because of this movie, Guillermo del Toro stopped working on his film adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness, a novella by H.P. Lovecraft. He believed the set pieces were too similar, the big reveal at the end was similar, and some scenes would be almost identical.
Scarlett Johansson stars in this arthouse style sci-fi horror movie distributed by A24. Johansson plays an unnamed, otherworldly woman who travels through the streets of Scotland, enticing random men to join her for a private encounter back at her apartment. Along the way, the woman attempts to adapt and learn about the skin she’s living in and the world around her. Under the Skin is at time surreal, and almost always strikes a quiet, contemplative mood that feels dreamlike in many ways.
This film, starring Brad Pitt, is about a man who tries to stop a zombie pandemic before civilization completely falls. At the time, this was Pitt’s highest-grossing film of his career. Despite its success, Marc Forster, the director, prefers the extended, unrated cut of the film. Not only does it have more gore, but it is much more intense than the PG-13 version. Forster claims a lot had to be pared down for the theatrical release, which has a runtime of two hours.
Life may be a fairly typical killer-alien-gets-loose-aboard-a-spaceship horror movie, but that’s not a bad thing. A soil sample from Mars is brought aboard a space station, and a cell from the sample rapidly grows bigger as it threatens the crew. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Hiroyuki Sanada are all great, and the movie is fun in a way that doesn’t really challenge genre conventions. You get exactly what you expect, so if you enjoy this style of movie, then you’ll enjoy Life.
This film, directed by John Krasinski, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. It follows a family who lives in hiding in order to protect themselves from monsters with sensitive hearing. In addition to directing and acting in the film, Krasinski also played the monster in a motion capture suit for a few scenes. He acts alongside Emily Blunt, who plays his wife. They are also married in real life. The family photos shown in this film are legitimate photos of their relationship and their children.
This film, directed by Susanne Bier, is about a world where most people have been driven to suicide by an unseen presence that is hinted to be some sort of cosmic horror. It follows a mother, played by Sandra Bullock, and her children who are trying to reach safety. The film is based on a book of the same name by Josh Malerman. However, there are quite a few differences in the adaptation. The book takes place in Detroit rather than California, its timeline is more spread out, and its ending is much darker. Bier wanted a slightly more positive ending in the film so the audience would feel hopeful.
Produced by J.J. Abrams, Overlord is big-budget shlock in the best way. Starring Jocan Adepo and Wyatt Russell, the movie follows a group of Allied soldiers during World War II as they attempt to take out a Nazi radio tower. During their mission, they uncover a nefarious plot by Nazi scientists to create undead, mutant super-soldiers. Bullets, bombs, and gore go flying in this throwback-style monster movie perfect for a night of mindless fun.
Annihilation is one of the more beautiful sci-fi horror movies ever made. Natalie Portman stars as a biology professor who joins a team venturing into The Shimmer, an expanding region of land surrounding a meteorite where the DNA of plants and animal are mixed and mutated. Lena (Portman) and her team encounter fearsome beasts and gorgeously bizarre plants as they try to solve the mystery of The Shimmer and what happened to the special forces team members who previously explored the region. As with many of Alex Garland’s movies, discerning the true meaning of Annihilation can be challenging, but the experience is completely worth it.
Though Upgrade is primarily a cyberpunk action movie, it is also incorporates a surprising amount of body horror. The movie follows Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) as he is paralyzed during an attack that also ends in his wife’s death. Trace has an experimental AI chip called STEM implanted in his body which allows him to regain control of his paralyzed limbs, and which also helps his seek revenge on his attackers. However, STEM can also take control of Trace’s body, leading to a mental and physical struggle. Upgrade is quite violent and bloody, and the changes Trace’s body goes through arguably qualify it as an unconventional type of body horror.
The Invisible Man reimagines the iconic H.G. Wells’ character for a modern audience. Instead of a chemical potion that turns people invisible, the man in this movie (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) uses a technologically advanced suit. Also, instead of focusing on the man, the lead character in this 2020 version is a woman, Cecelia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), who is being stalked by her invisible and abusive ex-boyfriend. The change in point-of-view ramps up the fear considerably, and the performance from Elisabeth Moss is mesmerizing. Plus, modern horror standout Leigh Whannell wrote and directed the film, so it’s no surprise that this version of The Invisible Man is so good.
As with Jordan Peele’s other horror films, Nope is loaded with mystery and metaphors. Nope also leans heavily into spectacle, specifically the spectacle of blockbuster science-fiction movies. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as siblings OJ and Em (respectively) who attempt to document a UFO that OJ sees zipping through the sky near their property. As they get closer to getting the perfect video of the flying saucer, they discover that what they’re chasing may not be what it seems. Nope sparked a deluge of internet debates about the various meanings and intentions behind the spectacle, but one thing is certain: Nope is one of the best horror movies of 2022.
After decades of ups and downs for the franchise since 1987, the Predator series finally put out another entry that nearly everyone can agree on. Prey is a fantastic action-sci-fi-horror movie that doesn’t stray too far from the premise of the original: an advanced alien hunts humans, but a particular human warrior (Amber Midthunder) is too much for the Predator to handle. The setting is in the Great Plains in 1719, making the characters and action feel fresh even if the plot if familiar. The movie also does a great job of acting like a prequel of sorts without being weighed down by too many references or obligatory story connections.
More Sci-Fi Horror Movies
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Dr. Frankenstein builds his monster a mate.
- I Married Aman From Outer Space (1958) Aliens arrive from outer space and possess the bodies of innocent humans.
- God Told Me To (1976) A series of murders are committed by strangers who believe God ordered them to kill.
- Demon Seed (1977) A scientist creates a sentient machine that becomes obsessed with human beings.
- The Fury (1978) A telekinetic boy is kidnapped so his powers can be used for evil.
- The Brood (1979) A man gets suspicious when his wife visits an unconventional psychiatrist.
- Altered States (1980) A scientist performs experiments on himself that cause him to regress genetically.
- Scanners (1981) A man with extraordinary powers hunts down others like him.
- The Sender (1982) A telepathic man transmits his dreams to everyone around him.
- Videodrome (1983) A cable TV show programmer gets thrown into a dangerous situation.
- The Terminator (1984) James Cameron’s sci-fi action classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is arguably the darkest of the Terminator franchise and is considered a horror classic by some.
- Re-Animator (1985) A medical student tries to re-animate dead tissue.
- The Hidden (1987) Several regular, law abiding citizens unexpectedly become criminals.
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) A man turns into a hybrid of flesh and metal.
- Screamers (1995) Soldiers realize robots they’ve built have become sentient.
- Gattaca (1997) Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this exciting sci-fi thriller where genetic discrimination forces Vincent Freeman (Hawke) to hide his genetic makeup, only to have a murder investigation threaten to expose him.
- Mimic (1997) Killer cockroaches try to destroy humankind.
- Blade (1998) A man who is half-mortal and half-vampire sets out to slay other vampires.
- The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) In this sci-fi thriller, Charlize Theron stars as the wife of an astronaut (Johnny Depp) who returns home from a mission as a seemingly different person.
- Pitch Black (2000) A ship is marooned on a dangerous planet filled with bloodthirsty creatures — and a convict named Riddick.
- Resident Evil (2002) Scientists turn into mutated, flesh-eating monsters after an experiment goes wrong.
- The Ring (2002) Supernatural horror meets technology as a ghostly curse infects a VHS tape in this acclaimed remake of the Japanese classic Ringu (1998), starring Naomi Watts.
- Underworld (2003) A vampire warrior gets stuck in a conflict between werewolves and vampires.
- Dawn of the Dead (2004) Director Zack Snyder and writer James Gunn present an action-packed version of a zombie apocalypse in this remake of the George Romero classic.
- Hellboy (2004) Guillermo del Toro wrote and directed this beautiful fantasy/superhero/sci-fi action movie based on the comics by Mike Mignola.
- The Descent (2005) The monsters in this claustrophobic film about survival while trapped in a cave features were once humans, but, in a case of evolution taking a dark turn, turned into sightless creatures after decades of inbreeding and isolation.
- Slither (2006) An alien plague turns humans into mutant monsters.
- 30 Days of Night (2007) A deadly group of vampires takes advantage of an Alaskan town’s month-long period of darkness for a 24-hour-a-day attack.
- Rec (2007) A reporter and her cameramen get locked inside an apartment building with an unknown infection turning people into raving, zombie-like monsters.
- Let the Right One In (2008) A young man falls in love with a girl who must drink blood to survive in this strange vampire movie.
- Pandorum (2009) Two crew members on a spaceship realize the rest of their colleagues have gone missing.
- Apollo 18 (2011) American astronauts go on a secret expedition.
- Attack The Block (2011) An alien invasion threatens South London.
- Riddick (2013) Produced by and starring Vin Diesel, this action/science fiction movie has Van Diesel playing a convict wanted throughout the whole entire galaxy.
- The Banshee Chapter (2013) This movie about a journalist trying o track down her missing friend is loosely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond.”
- Europa Report (2013) Several astronauts search for life on one of Jupiter’s moons.
- Interstellar (2014) Brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan wrote this time travel and time bending story of an astronaut in deep space.
- Ex Machina (2014) A programmer falls for a highly advanced humanoid AI, this is one of the better artificial intelligence movies out there and was made by A24.
- The Girl With All The Gifts (2016) A group of hybrid children in a dystopian future crave human flesh.
- Train to Busan (2016) A zombie infection finds its way aboard a train speeding in this seminal South Korean horror movie.
- Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele’s highly successful directorial debut, Get Out is a psychological thriller that dips slightly into sci-fi when the mystery of Chris Washinton’s (Daniel Kaluuya) plight is fully revealed.
- Await Further Instructions (2018) A family receives strange instructions through the television on Christmas.
- The Room (2019) A couple buys a house with a room that grants them an unlimited number of wishes.
- Underwater (2020) Oceanic researchers search for safety after a mysterious earthquake.