An Obscure Sci-Fi Tarantino Calls a "Masterpiece" is Free to Watch This Month

An Obscure Sci-Fi Tarantino Calls a
Image credit: USC, Legion-Media

Tarantino has always loved unconventional, daring cinema, and this debut feature from Carpenter is exactly that.


  • Quentin Tarantino doesn't often cite sci-fi movies as his favorites, but he did call this John Carpenter film a "masterpiece."
  • It was the filmmaker's debut project, parodying established Hollywood sci-fi tropes.
  • The movie is now available for free streaming on many services.

Among all filmmakers, it is rare to find someone as passionate about cinema as Quentin Tarantino. While many try to develop their own distinctive style, Tarantino's uniqueness lies in his accumulation and digestion of knowledge about the entertainment industry and the most colorful elements that shape pop culture itself. As such, the brilliant auteur often draws on the work of his favorite filmmakers, including Jean Luc Godard's French New Wave, Brian De Palma's thrillers and crime dramas, Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, and Akira Kurosawa's philosophical samurai films.

But when it comes to genres like sci-fi and horror, we tend to turn to other filmmakers with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, like Guillermo del Toro, who is no less of a cinephile. This makes Tarantino's take on these genres particularly interesting. For example, he once cited Takashi Miike's Audition as one of the greatest horror films ever made.

But Tarantino's list of acknowledged movies also includes the work of another world-renowned horror filmmaker, John Carpenter, who gave us classics from Halloween to The Thing. It should be noted, however, that the film in question is not a horror at all, but the debut sci-fi feature of the still very green Carpenter. Let's find out what this movie is and why Tarantino called it a 'masterpiece'.

John Carpenter’s First Feature Film

We're talking about the sci-fi comedy Dark Star, which Carpenter co-wrote with Dan O'Bannon, who would go on to write Alien and Return of the Living Dead. The film was released in 1974, by which time science fiction had established itself as a major genre in Hollywood. Carpenter grew up with sci-fi classics like Forbidden Planet and Godzilla, and later watched sci-fi masterpieces like Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain, and Solaris, which served as the basis for his future film.

When the film was released, it was met with a cool reception, which was not surprising since the market was flooded with big-budget blockbusters, while Dark Star was a more modest undertaking. The plot revolves around the crew of the titular spaceship sent to destroy potentially colonizable planets. Except that 20 years have passed since the start of the mission, and the ship has begun to decay, while the crew members are slowly but surely going insane.

Of course, Dark Star did not become as popular as Star Wars and Alien, and Carpenter himself did not consider his debut feature to be the best of his career. Nevertheless, it was a remarkably clever film, not just a parody of popular franchises, but a full-fledged countercultural critique of Hollywood that marked a groundbreaking innovation in the world of sci-fi and horror genres that Carpenter himself would go on to spearhead in later years.

'I'm practically trepidations about how I feel about the movie now. For the simple fact that the thing I don't want to do on this podcast is throw around the M-word. I want the M-word to mean something. The M-word is masterpiece. I want the M-word to mean something. I don't want to throw it around. And I don't want to use the M-word on the very first movie we talk about, but I think actually think it applies to Dark Star. It's a science fiction masterpiece. It's a counter-culture, anti-establishment, hippy filmmaking masterpiece. It's an early 70s masterpiece,' Tarantino stated on The Video Archives Podcast.

Where to Watch the Movie?

Ad-supported platforms

  • Plex
  • Tubi
  • Pluto TV
  • Crackle
  • The Roku Channel
  • Peacock

Ad-free platforms

  • Shout! TV
  • Kanopy
  • Internet Archive

Source: The Video Archives Podcast.