Sci-Fi Movies That Made Audiences Sick

It's one thing for a film to stay with you long after the credits roll, but for it to evoke a physical reaction before you've even finished watching it is something else entirely. Over the years, filmmakers have been trying their hardest to amaze, dazzle, entertain, and provoke, and some have done such a good job at the latter that viewers have needed a sickness bag close by when watching their work.

Sci-fi is one of the best genres for making you puke into your popcorn. With its excessive blood, splatter, goo, and gunk, it doesn't take much for this far-out corner of moviemaking to push audiences over the edge, and that's not even taking into consideration any psychological damage really explicit movies can — and often do — inflict. Seriously, when it comes to putting audiences on edge, science fiction is where it's at.

The genre is so good at physically upsetting audiences that it's even made headlines over the years whenever it pushed things just a little too far. Here's a handful of some of the worst offenders.

Cloverfield

Remember the hype leading up to 2008's "Cloverfield?" With viral movie marketing in its infancy, producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves relished in teasing what they were cooking up with their modern monster movie by peppering the internet with Easter eggs. The result was a pre-release fever that saw fans eager to discover what their creature was (and more importantly, looked like) long before the movie premiered. As it turned out, they should have been wary of what they were wishing for because when "Cloverfield" finally hit, it wasted no time in upsetting fans — specifically, their stomachs.

Soon, ticketholders began complaining of motion sickness and migraines caused by the film's shakey and erratic style. "I had to flee about half an hour into the film, suffering intense nausea and the beginnings of a vicious migraine that didn't let up until lunchtime the following day," admitted Guardian contributor Kate Bevan in a post published just days after the film's debut.

Eventually, the malady became known as the "Cloverfield" Illness, and experts were offering their thoughts on what caused it. According to WebMD, unease was a result of motion sickness, which occurs when the brain receives conflicting messages from the eyes and inner ear. "While watching 'Cloverfield,' viewers were sitting still in their seats, so their inner ear was telling their body they were motionless. But the bumpy camera movements — and their eyes — misled them into thinking they were moving around erratically."

Hardcore Henry

With technology advancing at such a rapid rate, filmmakers can often be found scrabbling around in its wake trying to figure out which elements could make for a more immersive and enjoyable movie experience. One recent feature to take advantage of the largely untapped space between movies and virtual reality gameplay was the 2015 shoot-em-up "Hardcore Henry."

The feature debut of "Nobody" director Ilya Naishuller, the movie stars Sharlto Copley as a mute man who awakes with no memory and is forced to go up against an evil telekinetic villain to save his wife. Despite starring the hero of "District 9," we don't see or hear Copley. Instead, all we see is what he sees — similar to a first-person shooter video game like "Halo" or N64 hit "GoldenEye" — as he battles his way to ultimate victory.

While undeniably ahead of its time, putting audiences in the head and eye sockets of the movie's high-spirited hero proved to be a little too much for some. Shot entirely on GoPro cameras for that immersive first-person feel, the technique left viewers reaching for the sick bucket, as detailed in a Vox article dedicated to this queasy topic. "I was sweating through my T-shirt and experiencing a mild wave of nausea;" explains writer Alex Abad-Santos. "There was an uneasy feeling in the space below my chest. I soon came to a realization: I was not hardcore enough for 'Hardcore Henry.'"

District 9

The most inventive and visually surprising found footage film of recent years is "District 9," the South African-set alien invasion movie that acted as special-effects-designer-turned-filmmaker Neill Blomkamp's Hollywood calling card. Starring Sharlto Copley as company man Wikus, the film takes audiences deep into the dangerous slums of Johannesburg, the landing site of a huge UFO that arrived and long laid dormant. When authorities finally cracked it open, its insect-like inhabitants spilled out, immediately clashing with locals. Eventually, the aliens are relegated to refugee districts.

Despite the visually stunning nature of its aliens (or Prawns as they're called in the movie) and Blomkamp's shoe-string visual effects, movie-goers were left unsettled while by this fractured sci-fi world. The film and its nausea-inducing style were even referenced in a GamesRadar blog that called for filmmakers to stop making viewers feel sick. "'District 9,' which I thankfully watched on TV, was viewed in ten-minute chunks because even on the small screen it was unbearable," complained writer Jayne Nelson back in 2013. "My point is that motion-sickness is real."

Meanwhile, Copley didn't have it much better on set. In a SciFiNow interview celebrating the film's 10th birthday, he got candid about shooting in real Johannesburg slums. "Eating was always hard because I was in a real trash heap, and there were days where I had human feces and dog sh*t on the tentacle from crawling around on the floor," he said, referencing his gross alien arm. "It turns out there are a lot of times where Wikus is on the floor!"

The Fly

You could likely write this whole article about "The Fly," David Cronenberg's gene-splicing body horror that saw Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle accidentally transform himself into a bug. Between scenes of Brundle peeling off his fingernails or descriptively illustrating how his new insect body digests food, Cronenberg's visceral 1986 film contains any number of scenes that'll make someone with a sensitive stomach feel a bit iffy.

That said, there was one scene, in particular, that was too much even for this out-there piece of '80s cinema. It involved an almost-fully-transformed Brundle trying to find out if he can clean his fly-infested genes by using his three telepods. To do this, he sends a laboratory baboon and a house cat from separate pods into a third pod whilst keeping their DNA separate. Needless to say, it doesn't work.

When the smoke clears, Brundle is met with a pink and mangled baboon-cat hybrid that squeals in distress as it attacks its disfigured creator. The upsetting scene ends with Brundle beating the creature to death with a pipe to put it out of its misery. All in all, it was a bit much — even for Cronenberg. Fall out from this deleted sequence was discussed by producer Stuart Cornfield in the making-of documentary "Fear The Flesh: The Making of The Fly." "When we screened it, aside from it being a little too intense ... this one woman had thrown up. She made it to the bathroom and everything ... but she had thrown up."

The Human Centipede

The plot of director Tom Six's 2009 body-horror film "The Human Centipede" is enough to make anyone feel a little uneasy. A twisted German scientist, who at one time was the best in his field at separating conjoined twins, has now turned his attention to something decidedly darker. Kidnapping a Japanese tourist and a pair of American women, Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), sets about creating the world's first human centipede. 

By surgically attaching his three hostages in a line (rear end to mouth), this madman creates a monster of modern medicine and in turn, gives audiences one of the most disturbing mixtures of science fiction and horror of recent years. The result is about as disturbing as you'd imagine. Six unflinchingly lingers on the perverse and frequently disgusting after-effects of this tragic creation. From muffled screams and infections forming around unnecessary skin grafts to the one moment that the film will no doubt forever be remembered for.

For many, this last bit was just too much. Shortly after its release, The Guardian labeled it the "most horrific film ever," and more than a decade later, it's still causing unsuspecting viewers to hit pause and breathe deeply. "

Avatar

There's  a lot to take in during James Cameron's game-changing epic "Avatar." Released over a decade ago, this blue-hued sci-fi movie sent us to Pandora, a planet filled with tribal Na'vi clans, well-meaning scientists, and ruthless army officials determined to take advantage of this brave new world. As if that wasn't enough, Cameron's feature boasts groundbreaking photo-realistic motion-capture technology and revamped digital 3D filmmaking, a technique that changed the way movies were screened, if only for a short while.

While Cameron is no doubt hoping the film's long-awaited sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water" and its three follow-ups cause an equally large splash, it'll be hard to top the impact of his 2009 original. However, for one viewer in Taiwan, the experience was so immersive that it cost him his life.

According to a 2011 report from the Huffington Post, a 42-year-old man got so overstimulated while watching "Avatar" in the cinema that he had to be rushed to the hospital. Upon arrival, the man reportedly fell unconscious and died 11 days later. It was ultimately discovered that he had a history of high blood pressure, with scans showing that he may have experienced a brain hemorrhage. A doctor later explained, "It's likely that the over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms."

Prometheus

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to make your gut churn while at the movies, it's a good old-fashioned surgery scene. After all, who can forget the wince-inducing moment in 2001's "Hannibal" when Sir Anthony Hopkins' grinning cannibal fed Ray Liotta a piece of his own brain during the film's harrowing climax?

In Ridley Scott's 2012 quasi-"Alien" prequel, "Prometheus," Noomi Rapace's archaeologist, Elizabeth Shaw, is on a quest to unravel the origins of life on Earth. However, her mission swiftly transitions into a vicious fight for survival when alien lifeforms start to attack. During one particularly bloody scene, Shaw discovers that she's fallen unexpectedly pregnant with an alien life-form and takes it upon herself to remove the embryo. This sequence pushed one unfortunate viewer over the edge.

As Shaw uses her ship's onboard medical equipment to perform an emergency Caesarian section on herself, a 15-year-old boy watching in Perth, Australia, suffered a seizure. Thankfully, as reported in local outlet Perth Now, recovered. One Aussie filmmaker suggested that "It was probably the squirming of the alien and the whole concept of the surgery" which caused him to feel unwell."

Gravity

If you think the hand-held camerawork of found footage movies is disorientating, Alfonso Cuarón's nailbiting space survival flick "Gravity" takes things to woozy new levels of discombobulation. Screen icon Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and mission specialist, who somehow encounters every problem imaginable during her first trip to the inky expanse above our heads.

As things steadily go from bad to worse, Stone is sent floating, spinning, and careening through the void, as Cuarón's dedication to authenticity leaves viewers with little sense of what's up or down. When viewed on a big enough screen (we're looking at you, IMAX), "Gravity" does absolutely nothing for all those who struggle with motion sickness.

"My head is spinning and my stomach is lurching," wrote Guardian contributor Nikki Marshall in a 2013 blog chronicling the impact that all the twirling and dizzying visuals had on her. "Uh oh. I feel your pain, sister," she added, commenting on Stone's seemingly never-ending space chaos. "We're two minutes in, and I'm starting to feel a bit iffy myself." She continues to detail her unease, explaining, "The problem comes in movies like these when what my eyes are seeing and the movement my inner-ear balance system is sensing don't match up. DOES NOT COMPUTE, some pesky part of my brain starts shrieking and suddenly I'm sick to the core."

Incredibles 2

Most entries on this list have been focused on science fiction movies that feature at least one scene that you likely wouldn't show to a younger viewer. However, it's not just hardcore, brutal sci-fi features that have impacted viewers in unexpected and uncomfortable ways. Even family favorite hit-makers like Pixar have experience in making viewers squirm in their seats, although not with gore or alien goo.

In 2018, Pixar released its long-awaited superhero sequel "Incredibles 2." However, when the film first hit cinemas, some audience members were affected by its use of intense strobe lighting, which unfortunately caused seizures in some viewers. As detailed in an Indie Wire article published shortly after the film's release, ticketholders took to Twitter to share their experiences of the movie's disorientating lighting effects.

"I was just watching 'Incredibles 2' in theaters tonight when a fellow patron collapsed in a seizure. PLEASE HEED THIS WARNING — THIS ACTUALLY OCCURRED. Stay safe!" tweeted one user. Meanwhile, another called out the film's director: "I'm a big fan of Pixar and Brad Bird, but the insensitive use of strobing lights in 'Incredibles 2' was unacceptable." As a result of these complaints, Pixar instructed theaters to issue a warning before ultimately re-editing the finished film to make it suitable for those with photo-sensitive epilepsy.

Alien

There are few moments in cinema history as visceral and unexpectedly shocking as the chestbuster scene in Ridley Scott's 1979 classic "Alien." As the crew of the hulking space cruiser Nostromo gathers for a well-deserved meal after one of their team, John Hurt's dangerously-inquisitive executive officer Kane, awakens from a brush with an alien facehugger, everything appears calm. Then all of a sudden, it's not.

Jaw clenched tight, Kane squirms and spins in agony as his stunned crewmates look on in wide-eyed horror and confusion. A grisly crunch and a flash of red are followed by a rapid burst of life as the ship's newest occupant, a small, Xenomorph stowaway, rips its way out of Kane's chest and scurries into the shadows.

While the scene undeniably had an impact on an entire generation of movie fans, unlike other features included on this list, the act of capturing this sequence had a detrimental effect on one of its cast members, too. "Veronica Cartwright — when the blood hit her, she passed out," explained executive producer Ron Shusett in a 2017 Independent article chronicling the making of the now-infamous scene. He continues, explaining that the star who played Lambert wasn't the only person on set who found filming the moment too much to deal with. "I heard from Yaphet Kotto's (who played Parker) wife that after that scene, he went to his room and wouldn't talk to anybody."