The 1990s were an interesting time for science-fiction movies. On one hand, the decade provided us with some certified classics, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix. There were a handful of other very good titles. The Fifth Element, Men in Black, Independence Day, and Contact are among them. Pictures like Dark City, Strange Days, and Gattaca weren’t immediate hits, although they found their audiences over time, thanks to the twin miracles of home video and cable TV. All in all, it was a fruitful decade for the genre.
On the other hand, there were at least as many sci-fi turkeys as there were quality efforts. The ’90s saw studios eager to crank out science-fiction tales, believing that they were practically a licence to print money. Some suffered from low budgets that were insufficient to carry out grandly conceived ideas. Some were ruined by feeling too similar to other movies. And some just had terrible scripts that never should have been put into production.
What follows is a rundown of some of the worst sci-fi films from the ’90s. These titles are widely recognized for being sub-par. Additionally included are five movies that, while not exactly good, are nevertheless kind of fun to watch. We’ll tell you why each movie is either bad or “so bad it’s good.” In every case, an effort was made to dazzle audiences, and in every case, that didn’t quite go as planned.
Here are 20 Notoriously Bad ‘90s Sci-Fi Movies (And 5 So Bad They Were Good).
Bad: Judge Dredd
Fans of the Judge Dredd comic books were excited to see the character brought to the big screen. Then they saw the movie and that excitement vanished. Sylvester Stallone has the title role in this 1995 dud. The plot finds him being framed by a criminal he sent away.
The uneven tone of Judge Dredd is a big part of what makes it so bad. At times, the film tries to be a hardcore action flick, while at other times it almost seems to be a parody of one. Stallone doesn’t do a whole lot to make the character distinct, either. He mostly plays his own well-honed screen persona.
Freejack certainly has a good, if unusual cast that includes Mick Jagger. That’s right, Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones rocker plays a bounty hunter hired to track down a race car driver (Emilio Estevez) whose body has been transferred to the future for use in a bizarre plan hatched by a sinister business tycoon (Anthony Hopkins).
Despite those actors and a potentially interesting sci-fi story, Freejack was panned by critics and rejected by audiences. An ambitious idea got foiled by cheap, unconvincing special effects. And while Jagger is a charismatic musical performer, his skills as an actor leave something to be desired.
Bad: The Puppet Masters
The Puppet Masters is based on a well-regarded Robert Heinlein novel. Despite that fact, it didn’t successfully translate to the screen. In the movie, aliens arrive on Earth and take control of the minds of humans in order to carry out their evil plans. Donald Sutherland plays a government agent attempting to stop them.
Before making this film, director Stuart Orme did music videos for Phil Collins and Level 42. Consequently, The Puppet Masters has a slick look, yet lackadaisical storytelling. Considering the drama inherent in the premise, there’s surprisingly little suspense to be found here.
Before they appeared together in American Gangster, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe made an utterly forgettable sci-fi thriller called Virtuosity. Crowe plays a virtual reality simulation that has been programmed with the personalities of serial killers. When it escapes into the real world, former cop Washington is brought in to track it.
Like several other ’90s thrillers, Virtuosity attempted to create paranoia about what modern technology might be capable of. At the time, the movie just seemed oddly disjointed and muddled. Today, its portrayal of VR’s potential for abuse is laughably preposterous.
So Bad It’s Good: Carnosaur
Three weeks before Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was released, another dinosaur-themed movie hit theaters. That film was Carnosaur, a low-budget B-movie about an insane scientist (Diane Ladd) with a plan to wipe out humanity by impregnating human women with dinosaur eggs. Then one of her creations escapes the lab and terrorizes a small town.
Carnosaur has the cheap-o effects and exploitative vibe of many B-movies. That, plus Ladd’s impressively intense performance, makes it weirdly enjoyable to watch. The film had an unlikely supporter in film critic Gene Siskel, who gave it “thumbs up.”
Bad: I Come In Peace
Depending on where in the world you live, you will know this movie as either I Come in Peace or Dark Angel. It was released under different titles in different countries. Either way, Dolph Lundgren plays a detective tracking down an alien who came to Earth in order to extract endorphins from humans.
That plot is fairly straightforward, yet the movie muddles it badly through an excess of plot holes and some distractingly choppy editing. A comic buddy-cop vibe between Lundgren and an FBI agent (Brian Benben) similarly does the movie no favors.
Bad: Island of Dr. Moreau
Released in 1996, The Island of Dr. Moreau was the third screen version of H.G. Wells’ famous story. David Thewlis stars as a United Nations representative who finds himself on a remote island. There, the demented Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) is mixing animal and human genes together, creating some disturbing-looking creatures in the process.
It’s entirely possible The Island of Dr. Moreau could have been a good movie under different circumstances. Some well-documented behind-the-scenes drama — including the original director being replaced, Val Kilmer being difficult, and Marlon Brando being weird — turned it into a perplexing mess.
Bad: Wing Commander
Bad movies based on videogames are common, but few are as borderline unwatchable as Wing Commander. Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard play members of a futuristic fighter squadron trying to win the war against a ruthless alien enemy known as Kilrathi. Along the way, Prinze also falls for his leader, played by Saffron Burrows.
For a movie that is supposed to be a cool and exciting space adventure, Wing Commander is filled with laughably bad special effects and a cheesy romantic subplot. The performances are overwrought, but then again, the actors are forced to spout inane dialogue, so perhaps they aren’t entirely to blame.
There is no reason why Sphere should have been bad. It was based on a terrific Michael Crichton novel, was directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson, and had an A-list cast of Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. And yet both critics and audiences hated it. What went wrong?
The consensus from reviewers, who awarded it a dismal 14% at Rotten Tomatoes, was that the story of alien life at the bottom of the ocean felt a little too familiar, especially in the wake of James Cameron’s superior The Abyss. An attempt to send a profound message at the end is also hampered by some corny visual effects.
So Bad It’s Good: Timecop
The concept of Timecop is amusingly goofy, but it’s the casting of Jean-Claude Van Damme that lands it in the “so bad it’s good” category. The movie is about a police officer who goes ten years back in time to foil a corrupt senator, as well as to prevent his wife and children from being eliminated by the man.
That’s a perfectly serviceable premise. But since JCVD stars, there was a need to insert martial arts scenes. Consequently, Timecop is kind of like a Terminator rip-off that can’t fully decide whether it wants to be science fiction or a typical Van Damme action flick. It’s improbably, enjoyably both.
Bad: Ghost in the Machine
If you can hear the premise of Ghost in the Machine and not fall immediately into hysterical laughter, pat yourself on the back, because you’ve got real restraint! The movie is about a violent psychopath whose mind is turned into electrical energy after lightning strikes the hospital where he’s having an MRI. Suddenly, he can use computer networks to continue his crime streak. A hacker and a single mom try to foil him.
As if being inherently preposterous wasn’t bad enough, Ghost in the Machine takes itself so seriously that it ventures into the realm of unintentional comedy.
Bad: Barb Wire
Barb Wire was supposed to turn Baywatch‘s Pamela Anderson into a full-fledged movie star. Instead, the film became a joke. The actress plays the Dark Horse comics character, a futuristic bounty hunter on a mission involving a special pair of contact lenses. The only thing worse than that absurd plot is Anderson’s stiff, one-note performance.
When it was released in 1996, Barb Wire got crushed at the nation’s cinemas. According to Box Office Mojo, it opened in 12th place, with a debut gross of $1.8 million. Anderson’s career as a big screen leading lady was appropriately short-lived.
Mario Van Peebles plays the title character in Solo. He’s an android solider sent into battle in Latin America. Unbeknownst to the American military, he has a thing against eliminating innocent people, so when he comes to empathize with the oppressed citizens of a small village, he instructs them in the art of fighting back.
Solo has many of the hallmarks of bad science-fiction cinema. The dialogue is clunky, the performances are bland, and the self-serious tone often provides unintentional laughter. The film earned a weak 6% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bad: The Thirteenth Floor
The year 1999 gave audiences a trippy, mind-bending sci-fi masterpiece that made them question the very nature of reality. That film was The Matrix. And then there was The Thirteenth Floor. It goes for the same type of vibe, telling the story of a scientist who has recreated 1937 in a virtual reality simulation. He becomes the suspect in a slaying.
Whereas The Matrix had a plot that knotted your brain, it made sense at the end. The Thirteenth Floor, on the other hand, is maddeningly confusing. The movie never figures out what it wants to do with its potentially engaging ideas.
So Bad It’s Good: Tank Girl
Tank Girl is based on a comic book character created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlitt. Lori Petty plays her in this tale of a post-apocalyptic rebel fighting an organization that wants to control the water supply. Critics panned the flick for its hyperactive visual style and over-the-top performance from its star.
No, it’s not great, but Tank Girl rocks anyway. In what other sci-fi movie will you find random animated sequences, a Busby Berkley-inspired musical number, and the astonishing sight of Ice-T playing a half-human/half-kangaroo? Every scene offers some wacky new surprise.
Kurt Russell is, of course, awesome. The same cannot be said of his 1998 sci-fi action picture Soldier. Russell portrays a man raised since birth to be a lethal fighter. As part of that training, any moral code he might have has been thoroughly wiped out. After being discarded to a rundown planet, he helps its denizens fight a war of their own.
Writer David Webb Peoples has claimed that Solider is a “spin-off” of Blade Runner. It shares none of that classic’s intelligence, though. Mostly, this is just an endlessly violent snooze-fest.
Bad: Johnny Mnemonic
Four years before Keanu Reeves hit the sci-fi jackpot with The Matrix, he headlined the infamous dud Johnny Mnemonic. The film casts him as a courier who has a digital message inside his head. Unfortunately for him, the Yakuza wants to intercept that message before he can deliver it.
Reeves is a fine actor in the right role. This is not the right role. His performance earned him a Razzie Award as Worst Actor. Johnny Mnemonic also suffers from a lack of compelling action, a dim-witted plot, and an unmemorable villain.
Bad: Alien Resurrection
After Alien 3 managed to disappoint just about everyone, the franchise’s producers scrambled to get it back on track with Alien Resurrection. Their solution — bring back the now-deceased Ellen Ripley as a clone and add Winona Ryder!
In fairness, the consensus at the time was that, while nowhere near as good as Ridley Scott’s original or James Cameron’s Aliens, this fourth installment was slightly better than the previous one. However, over time, that third entry has developed a legion of fans who insist it’s underrated. Almost no one says that about Resurrection. The movie lacks the intensity fans expect.
Bad: Eve of Destruction
Eve of Destruction stars Renee Soutendijk as Dr. Eve Simmons, a scientist who has created a military robot made to resemble herself. When it gets damaged and promptly goes haywire, military official Gregory Hines is assigned to hunt it down.
Serious miscasting is a major factor in this movie’s low quality level. The late Hines was a wonderful actor who usually radiated pure joy onscreen. He simply isn’t credible as a tough-as-nails action hero. A bizarre subplot about the robot’s desire to act out its maker’s arduous fantasies is similarly out of place.
So Bad It’s Good: Event Horizon
In Event Horizon, a spaceship ventured into a black hole years ago. When it comes back through, the crew of a rescue ship discovers that something very, very evil has accompanied it. Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, and Joely Richardson star.
Upon its initial release, Event Horizon was widely panned for being ridiculously, needlessly gory. Some of the nightmarish sights are stomach-churning. An appreciative fanbase has sprung up around it, though. While the movie only has a 27% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, it boasts a much higher 61% audience score. That over-the-top violence is catnip to gore fans.
Michael Crichton’s Congo is a terrific book. The movie? Not so much. A primatologist returns an expertly-trained gorilla to Africa during a mission to determine how a diamond expedition went tragically wrong. Things go even more wrong from there. Laura Linney and Ernie Hudson are among the stars.
Computer-generated effects in 1995 were pretty good, but not yet good enough to render a believable gorilla. As such, Congo often feels very silly as human actors interact with something that doesn’t look real enough. The tongue-in-cheek tone is also a betrayal of the novel’s dramatic themes.
Bad: The Lawnmower Man/Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace
The Lawnmower Man is about an intellectually disabled man made smarter — and dangerous — from using a scientist’s virtual reality program. The film was deemed too cerebral by its studio, which chopped the running time by over 30 minutes prior to release, leading to a disjointed mess.
Still, it’s Citizen Kane compared to the sequel, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, in which an evil business tycoon uses “Jobe” to unite all the world’s computers, which he can then control. It has a plot that makes little sense, in addition to some inexcusably cheesy visual effects.
Bad: Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe
Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe is a cheap-o sci-fi adventure starring former professional wrestler/Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. He plays an intergalactic cop who arrives to Earth in order to prevent another alien from impregnating a human woman with an embryo designed to destroy the universe post-birth.
Weak production design seriously hampers this film, as do awful effects, unconvincing performances, and a plot that feels ripped off from a dozen other movies. As an actor, Jesse Ventura is no Dwayne Johnson or John Cena. Abraxas is real bottom-of-the-barrel stuff — the kind of thing you expect to find on cable TV in the middle of the night.
Godzilla was supposed to be a major summer blockbuster in 1998. It had a strong opening weekend, but then terrible word-of-mouth set in and box office business dropped precipitously. The movie has since become a prime example of Hollywood excess gone overboard.
Director Roland Emmerich put too many overblown CGI sequences into the film, making it feel soulless. The characters are one-dimensional, and a romantic subplot between Matthew Broderick and Mario Patillo is both laughable and annoying. The movie has none of the appeal of classic Godzilla flicks. In particular, the title creature lacks personality.
So Bad It’s Good: Waterworld
Waterworld is well-known for having had an extremely troubled production that ended the longtime friendship between star Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds. A near-endless barrage of bad publicity made it difficult for audiences in 1995 to see beyond the problems.
Look at it now, though, and Waterworld reveals itself to be admirably ambitious. Yes, it has a number of flaws, but it also has big ideas and the courage to go after them. Time has been kind to the film, which has seen its reputation grow. Even if imperfect, this aquatic adventure is fascinating in its scope.