The Best Sci-Fi Comedies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition: some of the best sci-fi comedies you've never seen!)

A little movie called Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters this week, and while it's a Marvel comic/superhero movie, it also looks to follow its predecessor in being a fairly funny comedy as well. The sci-fi/comedy sub-genre is one with a universe worth of material to have fun with, but it isn't nearly as crowded as you might think. There are great ones (Back to the Future), bad ones (Morons from Outer Space), unintentional ones (Battlefield Earth), ones you think you love but haven't actually seen recently enough to realize they're actually terrible (The Ice Pirates), and, of course, the best one (Galaxy Quest).

You know what there aren't a lot of though? Great ones that haven't found the audience they deserve. So yes, this is probably the least collectively obscure of these columns so far, but hopefully there are at least a few on here you haven't seen yet.

And with that it's time to look at some lesser-known sci-fi comedies guaranteed to leave you laughing, giggling, or maybe just slightly smiling while you shake your head and wonder what the hell is wrong with this Hunter guy.

now you see him

Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972)

Three years after an accident turned young Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) into a walking computer, the friendly troublemaker is still making his college dean's life hell. This time around, he's fiddling in the science lab, hoping to invent invisibility when he accidentally succeeds. It should be a moment of joy, but when the crook (Cesar Romero) he jailed last time is released and gets wind of the experiment, the entire school's future comes into question.

Walt Disney's "Dexter Riley" trilogy, all starring Russell in the lead role, are fun-filled slices of pure innocence and utter goofiness. He goes from being a genius, to being invisible, to being far stronger than his frame would suggest – all over six years at college. But while The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Strongest Man in the World are commonly mentioned and referenced, this middle film never seems to get the same level of recognition. It's odd, as all three are basically interchangeable in the best ways with their silly setups, sillier characters, and wacky mix of physical gags and blunder-filled action.

Now, who do I talk to about pitching my long-overdue fourth film in the series featuring the return of Russell as an older, wiser, and recently one-eyed Dexter Riley? For years he's lived off the grid and off the land, avoiding technology and communication with a world gone mad. It's a world partially of his making though, as all three of his previously documented "inventions" have become commonplace – just about everyone is an incredibly strong genius capable of turning invisible – but when an old friend appears with a possible cure for what ails humanity, Dexter leaps at the chance for one last groovy adventure.

a boy and his dog

A Boy and His Dog (1976)

World War IV has left the earth in ruins. Roaming the planet's surface is a young man (Don Johnson) and his faithful friend, a dog named Blood. They scavenge for food, water, and the scarcest commodity...women. Did I mention Vic and Blood communicate telepathically? And that Blood can use his psychic abilities to scope out both trouble and lady parts?

Including this one in a list of comedies may say more about my sense of humor than anything else, but for me, it remains a terrific, blackly-comic look at sexual politics and the cliches of post-apocalyptic films. Our "hero" is atypical at best, and while he's humanized somewhat through his canine companion, his actions still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to how he treats the woman he finds. It all leads to an ending that, for me at least, matches David Cronenberg's Crash for the best, bleakest, and most darkly comic final line.

It's somewhat boggling to me that one of our greatest living writers, Harlan Ellison, only has one proper feature adaptation of his work. (There are three other films, two of which are actually based on his stories, but I'll be damned if I've ever seen any of them in the real world.) That said, it's easy to see why this movie (and the novella that spawned it) appeal to a limited demographic. It's harsh at times, it's weird at others, but for me at least it's never less than engaging and interesting throughout. The layer of dark comedy running through it all elevates it beyond a mere post-apocalyptic adventure towards a sharply satirical look at mankind. It's not a positive look, but it sure is a wickedly entertaining one.

[Buy A Boy and His Dog on Blu-ray or watch via Amazon Video]

faq about time travel

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009)

Three friends, including the science fiction-loving slacker Ray (Chris O'Dowd) head to a local pub to commiserate and drown their sorrows in a pint or six, but what they find is an adventure through time! Ray bumps into an American named Cassie (Anna Faris), who claims to be from the future, and then things turn really weird after a visit to the bathroom.

Who doesn't love a good time travel flick? Hitler, that's who. As Ray and his friends discover though, there's a lot more to moving backward and forward through history than debating the ethics of killing a baby dictator. Travelers called "editors" kill people off immediately after their greatest success – thus ensuring their place in history – and guess who the guys discover become famous for the goofy ideas they've been writing down in a notebook? With killers on their trail, time itself out of whack, and a romance blossoming between Ray and Cassie the film packs a lot into a single location.

The film's budget keeps the "action" mostly contained inside the pub with some monstrous events being mentioned but barely glimpsed (if glimpsed at all) outside, but that just means the film has to focus on dialogue, character, and performance. Happily it pulls it off delivering both laughs and smarts as the friends discuss their situation, make plans, see those plans implode in their faces, and readjust on the fly. It's an ensemble film, but O'Dowd steals most of it with the snarky antics he honed in The IT Crowd. He and the others banter back and forth with pop culture references, verbal jabs, and commentary on the ups and downs of time travel. It's a fun little movie that sets up a sequel we'll never get but I'd love to see.

[Watch Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel via Amazon Video]

john dies at the end

John Dies at the End (2012)

David and John are college dropouts with no direction in their lives, but thanks to some very special soy sauce (that isn't really soy sauce), they're also the only ones standing between our world and the monstrous denizens of another dimension. You don't need to know any more plot synopsis than that. (Especially since you already know how it ends...)

Director Don Coscarelli has always had a comedic side, but it's only over his last two films that he's really brought it to the forefront of his work. John Dies at the End, like the equally wonderful and under-appreciated Bubba Ho-Tep, finds the sweet spot that manages to be both very funny and incredibly creative in its various plot turns. Seriously, there is some crazy stuff going on here including otherworldly creatures, twisted societies, and an increasingly incredulous Paul Giamatti. You can never, ever go wrong with an incredulous Paul Giamatti.

As with several of Coscarelli's films, it's surprising that the movie even exists, and as much as I love it it's not difficult to see why it was and continues to be a tough sell. There's an offbeat sense of humor to it all, and the science fiction aspects of it are presented in an amusingly off-the-wall yet matter-of-fact manner that feels almost believable if you squint your eyes just right while listening. There are other, better known movies about alternate universes and intergalactic dimensions, but none of them can match this one for pure imagination, unexpected laughs, and meat monsters.

[Buy John Dies at the End on Blu-ray or watch via Amazon Video]

space station 76

Space Station 76 (2014)

The Omega 76 is a space station expecting two new visitors. First up is a new co-captain (Liv Tyler), who immediately sets the current captain (Patrick Wilson) on edge and disrupts the crew's flow, but she's still far less threatening than the second visitor. Because it's an asteroid! Or meteor. Details aren't important, but what is important is how the crew reacts to the impending danger coinciding with a bevy of personal dramas among them.

Actor Jack Plotnick directs this surprisingly dark space-set comedy and delivers a lot of laughs along the way. The gags are both visual — this is sci-fi as envisioned in the '70s, meaning the tech is old fashioned and quaint — and dialogue/delivery-based, as the script serves up plenty of great lines and humorous conflicts. It's a goofy romp in many ways, but there's a definite darkness beneath it all that comes creeping out over the course of the film. It's definitely not for all tastes, but folks who like their comedies with a dash of edginess and a dollop of WTF will find much to love here.

The supporting cast adds to the fun with Matt Bomer, Jerry O'Connell, and 2001's Keir Dullea all delivering the dryly comic goods. It's an original story, but Plotnick (and his four co-writers) aren't shy about riffing on sci-fi classics like Star Wars and Space: 1999 while unspooling what in some ways resembles a '70s suburban drama. It's an undeniably odd mixture of influences – Battlestar Galactica meets The Ice Storm? – but it works beautifully for viewers with an appetite for seriously funny sci-fi.

[Buy Space Station 76 on DVD or watch via Amazon Video]

turbo kid

Turbo Kid (2015)

Imagine, if you can, the future. Not just any future, but a post-apocalyptic future with an earth scarred by acid rain and humanity decimated by war. Imagine, if you can, 1997. It's a post-apocalyptic world, and the Kid is one of numerous scavengers who roam the poisoned planet in search of trash he can turn into minor treasure. His daily routine takes a hit when he meets a strange girl named Apple and a gangster boss called Zeus (Michael Ironside), who killed the Kid's parents years prior. The teen becomes a reluctant hero and takes up the mantle of his favorite comic book character, and soon blood is flowing, streaming, and exploding across the landscape.

There's a clear affection for the characters and the post-apocalyptic setting here as the film offers nods at the genre while finding its own rhythms and beats. We're meant to care about some of these people, and we do, even as we're caring even more about the geysers of blood and the creative endeavors behind them. Binding it all together like a glue made from sugar and entrails is a goofy sense of humor that leads to gory gags and fun exchanges.

There's a sweetness here amid the decapitations, disembowelings, and general unpleasantness committed by Zeus and his mask-wearing, bike-riding cronies, and it comes through in the script as well as the two lead performances. Think Sam Raimi tackling a YA adaptation (or even a Dead Alive-era Peter Jackson) and you'll have an idea what kind of biological hijinks the film has up its soon to be bloodied sleeve. It's goofy, heartfelt, and bloody fun.

[Watch Turbo Kid via Amazon Video]