Often covering heady concepts like philosophy and tragic social norms, science fiction is always in danger of being too dry and dour for its own good. However intelligent and astute the observations may be, if the themes don’t align with the tone, the end results could be a slog to watch. Sometimes we just want laughs to accompany aliens, time travel, and dystopian futures. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sci-fi comedies that perfectly pair humor and futuristic wonder into a delightful package.
Here are 10 such sci-fi comedies that deserve a play when you need cheering up.
10. Repo Man
A staple in the cult film pantheon, Repo Man throws a punk-rocking Emilio Estevez into the bizarre world of car repossession set against a backdrop of a slightly-more-dystopian version of Los Angeles. Featuring veteran weirdo Harry Dean Stanton, a Chevy Malibu with aliens in the trunk, and a thumbnail philosophy centered around a hypothetical plate of shrimp, this midnight movie is a must-watch for those who are sick of boilerplate plotlines.
9. Night of the Comet
If you ever watched Valley Girl and thought it could use some zombies, then Night of the Comet is for you. This unfairly forgotten gem pits two mall-obsessed sisters against undead stockboys, bloodthirsty soldiers, and healthy teenage hormones in a post-apocalyptic land straight out of Omega Man. With tongue firmly in cheek, Night of the Comet is a fun and cheesy sci-fi comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
8. They Live
Written and directed by genre king John Carpenter, They Live is a hilariously over-the-top treatise against commercialism, government control, and religious zealotry. The movie stars the sadly late (and never-better) Roddy Piper as migrant worker Nada who finds a special pair of sunglasses that reveal a world choked with subliminal consumerist messages and humanoid aliens. It’s endlessly quotable with a ridiculous yet valid message and contains the best street fight ever captured on film.
If you’ve read the comment section for an article on the Kardashians, energy drinks, or the state of our educational system, then you’re probably familiar with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Depicting a future where every American institution has crumbled due to wanton stupidity, average bloke Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) becomes an Einstein among the mentally challenged and humanity’s last hope for survival. Like Judge’s Office Space, Idiocracy achieved cult status after a mismanaged theatrical release. It was also oddly prescient.
Endless charm and eye-popping special effects rev this high-energy, high-concept Joe Dante sci-fi comedy. Basically a goofball version of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace injects a minuscule bio-pod piloted by Dennis Quaid into a neurotic Martin Short and propels them into the dangerous scientific underworld of nanotechnology supremacy. Quaid and Short — along with Meg Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy — are fun personified in this rollicking, rewatchable classic.
5. Galaxy Quest
Unfairly derided as “Three Amigos in space,” Galaxy Quest is actually one of the most accurate depictions of sci-fi tropes and geek fandom ever produced. A thinly veiled satire of the original Star Trek series, the ensemble comedy tackles everything from fan conventions to space-based MacGuffins, but does so with an unmistakable love for the genre.
4. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Movie concepts don’t come any higher: A lovable pair of wannabe rock gods travel through time in a phone booth to assemble historical figures as a means to pass their history final and unite the planet through music. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are an effusive duo you can’t help but love, George Carlin as their time-guide Rufus is perfectly cast, and the moral message (“Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!”) should be a real-world Golden Rule.
3. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
With a running time of 75 minutes and lacking a second “Mad” for loonier interplay, MST3K: The Movie is considered a lesser entry when compared to the television series. However, Mike and the Bots are in top form when mocking the sci-fi flick This Island Earth — Interocitor assembly and alien foreheads have never been richer for riffs — and any fan of the show would be remiss to skip the film.
2. Tie: Ghostbusters and Men in Black
It doesn’t get any more quotable than Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the titular spectre-snatching quartet. At its core, this beloved treasure follows the hardships of a new fringe business as it tries to find a reliable customer base. But add supernatural elements, and Ghostbusters becomes a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi (those proton packs wouldn’t be out of place on Star Trek) and the occult. Every line in every scene is a bona fide classic, rightfully earning the film its place among other worn-out VHS tapes in our collection. Meanwhile, Men in Black channels Ghostbusters with its mix of comedy, sci-fi and creepy creature-based bureaucracy.
1. Back to the Future
Arguably the best matchup in a comedy film, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are absolutely perfect in this 1985 favorite. Back to the Future features Fox as a time-traveling teen sent back 30 years whose existence is in jeopardy when his 17-year-old mother falls in love with him and his father is too shy and weak-willed to pursue her. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay and spending 11 weeks at number one in the box office, Back to the Future is the rare mix of audience appreciation and critical acclaim — not to mention comedy and sci-fi.