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Movies Like Waterworld That Every Sci-Fi Fan Needs To See

With streaming services and traditional studios churning out hundreds of new movies a year, moviegoers have more choices than ever before. Even so, it can still be difficult to find great new movies to watch. Algorithms can only be so precise, and sometimes their recommendations can be nonsensical — I.E., if you liked Jaws, you'll love Free Willy, right? 

Hopefully, this guide will be a bit more useful.

Waterworld is a post-apocalyptic action thriller that came out in 1995 and starred Kevin Costner, and it's still considered one of the most notorious movie flops of the 1990s. But "flop" is a bit of a relative term. While it wasn't a smash hit domestically, it did gross $264 million worldwide against a budget of $175 million (via The Hollywood Reporter), and that doesn't include home video or TV broadcasting rights. And recently, critics have been giving it a second look. The consensus is, it's better than we all remember

Waterworld is set 500 years in the future, when global warming has melted the polar ice caps and left Earth nearly entirely covered in water. Costner plays a nameless loner with webbed feet called The Mariner, who's searching for a mythical body of land called "Dryland." It checks a lot of boxes. It's got memorable characters, solid action sequences, a unique post-apocalyptic setting, and themes that are depressingly still relevant today.

If those sound like the ingredients for a good movie, here are some other titles you should check out.

The Postman (1997)

The first and most obvious pick is Kevin Costner's other post-apocalyptic thriller from the nineties, The Postman, which came out two years after Waterworld. The Postman is set in the year 2013, 16 years after the breakdown of society caused the collapse of the former United States. Costner plays another drifter, but this one has a love of Shakespeare and trades performances for supplies. He gets his nickname, "the Postman," from the fact that he wears the uniform of a U.S. Postal Service employee. As the Postman wanders the land formerly known as America, people begin to believe in the possibility of a restored United States. Costner also directed.

The Postman was a bigger box office bomb than Waterworld, taking in just over $20 million worldwide against a budget of $80 million. It was also critically reviled, with just an 8% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes. But it does have an audience score of 50 percent compared with Waterworld's 46 percent. Costner completionists and lovers of nineties apocalyptic thrillers should definitely check it out.

The Mad Max franchise

Some would say that Waterworld is a blatant ripoff of the Mad Max franchise. And yes, Waterworld screenwriter Peter Rader has said, in fact, that it was deliberately designed to be a ripoff of the classic Australian post-apocalyptic series. But if you already love Waterworld, there's a good chance you'll also love the films that it was inspired by ... er, copied from.

Even better, there's not just one Mad Max film, but four. The first, Mad Max (1979) follows "Mad" Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a motorcycle cop whose family is murdered by a biker gang. In the first Mad Max society is just beginning to collapse. But in the sequel, The Road Warrior (1981), Max and a group of refugees square off against a gang of psychopathic marauders over a valuable supply of gasoline. In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max finds himself in a rudimentary society called Bartertown where disputes are solved with fights to the death. Finally, Mad Max: Fury Road found Max (now played by Tom Hardy) teaming up with a former marauder named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to help a group of fertile women escape the clutches of the brutal wasteland chieftain, Immortan Joe.

The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli is a more recent post-apocalyptic thriller that starred Denzel Washington as Eli, a blind wasteland wanderer who's trying to deliver the a copy of a book (a very culturally significant book in real life, that is, without veering into spoiler territory) to a group that's trying to preserve as much of human culture as possible.

With just a 46 percent critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes, it's fair to say that The Book of Eli wasn't a critical darling, although its audience score is a more robust 64 percent. Besides Denzel Washington's performance, The Book of Eli's biggest draw is that it offers a unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Rather than tying itself to a specific contemporary political issue like global warming, The Book of Eli has a more universal message: the physical world might go to hell, but ideas will keep human society going. 

Tank Girl (1995)

The same year Waterworld came out, Tank Girl offered up a much more feminist take on the apocalypse. Based on a British comic series of the same name, Tank Girl follows a survivor of nuclear armageddon whose main source of transportation (and protection) is a battle tank. Malcolm McDowell plays the film's villain, Kesslee, the CEO of the sinister Water & Power corporation, which is monopolizing all the water and power.

In addition to the usual genre themes about nuclear war and resource management, Tank Girl is the rare post-apocalyptic action thriller with a female lead — it stars Lori Petty, who later played the conspiracy theory-minded inmate Lolly Whitehill on Orange Is The New Black. Petty joined an impressive cast that included McDowell, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and even Iggy Pop in a small role. Behind the camera, Rachel Talalay directed and Courtney Love did the music. Tank Girl, as pointed out in 2020 by THINK editor Megan Carpentier, is a sex-positive, representational flick that was kicking ass way ahead of its time.

Screamers (1995)

Apparently, the end of the world was on people's minds in 1995. Screamers was yet another entry to the genre from that same year, but there are two features that set it apart from its peers. First, it's based on the short story "Second Variety," by Philip K. Dick. And second, it's a movie about the end of the world ... only that world isn't actually planet Earth.

Screamers is set in the year 2078 on a planet called "Sirius 6B," a mining world that's been reduced to a nuclear wasteland following a war between a mining company and rebellious group of scientists. The "Screamers" are ultra-fast robotic killing machines that make a high-pitched screeching sound. 

In terms of talent, Screamers' screenwriter was Dan O'Bannon, who also wrote Alien. It's directed by Christian Duguay, who helmed the Scanners II and Scanners III TV movies. And it stars Peter Weller, a.k.a. the original Robocop. Science fiction fans really can't go wrong with this one.