I Saw Christian Slater In A Sci-Fi Movie So Bad I Still Can’t Believe It’s Real

This movie might be horrible. But you should probably see it anyway.

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If you see the worst science fiction movie ever, but no one else has seen it does it really count? This is what happened to me exactly a decade ago on July 26, 2013. As a budding science fiction critic who wasn’t afraid of the term “blogger,” I proudly bought myself one ticket to see a sci-fi horror movie, which was only playing in one theater on one screen in New York City on its opening day, the same day The Wolverine hit. As I wrote at the time, I was, eventually, the only person in the theater, because the only other ticketholder left midway through. And, because I stuck it out through the credits, this has led me to wonder for quite some time: Is it possible I am the only person who saw this film?

Apparently not. Stranded holds a unique distinction among contemporary genre films in that it maintains a 0 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes in terms of critical reviews, proving that yes, some other people did see it, and not just that group of teenagers who had meant to walk into a screening of The Wolverine and then promptly walked out. To be clear, the Christian Slater-led Stranded versus Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine did not constitute the Barbenheimer of 2013, because in this analogy, Stranded is like a person mumbling in the corner, trying to compete for attention with Taylor Swift. Today, Rotten Tomatoes says, “The movie has not been released yet.” Imagine a movie so bad the internet thinks it never even came out.

But why is Stranded so bad? Briefly, the plot concerns a bunch of people, under the command of Christian Slater (character names are irrelevant) stranded on a moonbase, stalked by an alien creature that one of the poor people accidentally gives birth to, after being infected by a random spore. In the broad strokes, you’d be forgiven for confusing this movie with the 2017 Jake Gyllenhaal-Ryan Reynolds-Rebecca Ferguson team-up Life. Both movies feature a rapidly growing alien terrorizing people on a space base, and both conclude with said alien lifeform ending up on Earth. But whereas Life is way better than it has any right to be, Stranded looks like a ‘70s Doctor Who “base under siege” episode minus any of the wit. One character says the name of the movie in dialogue very early on (“Now we’re really Stranded™!”) while Christian Slater rolls his eyes constantly at scientists who are the only people who could possibly save everyone from getting murdered by a creepy alien baby.

The characters in Stranded all behave as though they’ve been inconvenienced, instead of acting like they’re in mortal danger on a moonbase. In defense of director Roger Christian, this does tend to work in the movies that Stranded sought to rip off. Part of what makes the realism in Alien pop is that the characters are cranky and annoyed before they’re fighting for their lives. Ditto The Abyss, in which James Cameron was so committed to the bit that his two leads are literally a divorced couple. Stranded, however, is content to merely leave the characters in grumpy hey-where’s-my-coffee mode well after the alien menace is known. This perpetual state of lazy incompetence leads to an incredible scene in which a doctor tells another character he couldn’t have possibly been bitten by this creature and probably just got a cut on some glass instead. People have secrets in Stranded that make no sense and are never explained, and one character, played by Michael Therriault, is literally just inebriated the entire time, as though a cipher for the ideal audience member.

Christian Slater in Stranded.

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For sci-fi film aficionados, the hilarious badness of Stranded will come as both a shock at first, and then, instantly make sense. Screenwriter and director Roger Christian won an Oscar for his set decoration work on the original 1977 Star Wars and was nominated for an Oscar for set decoration for 1979’s Alien. He was also the second-unit director of The Phantom Menace in 1999 and did uncredited second-unit direction on Return of the Jedi in 1983. If you’re a fan of The Phantom Menace, so far, so good. But here’s the thing, Roger Christian is also the guy who directed Battlefield Earth, a film that holds a 3 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and frequently ranked as one of the worst sci-fi movies of all time. Make no mistake, Stranded is worse than Battlefield Earth, but it has one thing that Battlefield Earth lacks: Its badness, is maybe, just maybe a little bit more fun.

This is not a slam dunk on Roger Christian. This is a compliment. I don’t know what happened while he was making Stranded, but I’m not willing to say the movie’s deep flaws come from his incompetence. He’s clearly an extremely talented person, and frankly, ripping-off Alien is not the worst idea, particularly if you were one of the people who helped make Alien look so great. The thrown-together effects and production value of Stranded are actually part of what makes the movie somewhat charming, which sort of proves there is some possible kitsch value underneath the silly story.

Spoilery promotional art for Stranded.

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In some alternate universe, Stranded could have possibly morphed into a solid low-budget sci-fi horror movie. Perhaps not an artful one like Europa Report (another 2013 sci-fi film) but instead, something closer to the decent-ish (also 2013!) cooler twin of this movie, Liev Schreiber’s The Last Days on Mars.

This isn’t to say Stranded is somehow a good movie because it belongs to a very recent bygone era. But, 10 years after its extremely inauspicious release, I find myself wishing I could stumble upon a movie like this on accident at the movie theater. Great movies that everyone has seen are fun to talk about. But sometimes, having a secret movie that you believe was entirely made for you feels even better.

Stranded is streaming on Tubi.

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