Before Halloween, John Carpenter Made an Underrated Sci-Fi Gem (and It's Free to Watch Now)

Before Halloween, John Carpenter Made an Underrated Sci-Fi Gem (and It's Free to Watch Now)
Image credit: Compass International Pictures, Legion-Media

An absurdist sci-fi comedy with many parodic elements and existential questions — this is the kind of movie John Carpenter made his debut on the big screen.


  • John Carpenter is not only known for his horror films, but also for his endeavours into the sci-fi genre.
  • His debut film was a sci-fi comedy that is now considered a cult classic.
  • The movie is available for free on many streaming services.

John Carpenter is widely regarded today as one of the kings of horror in the world of cinema. However, Carpenter's fans know that he is not only a master of the horror genre, but also of science fiction, as evidenced by the space horror motifs of The Thing or the post-apocalyptic adventures of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. In other words, even though the filmmaker gained widespread popularity thanks to his entry into the slasher genre, he never ignored elements of science fiction as an excellent artistic expression of his views.

However, before Carpenter became famous with the cult thriller Assault on Precinct 13 and then Halloween, he made his big screen debut with a very unconventional film titled Dark Star. It was presented in a sci-fi veneer but was more of a cheeky parody of the genre. Why not check out John Carpenter's first full-length feature, as many services offer it for free streaming?

The First Feature Film of Carpenter's Career

Dark Star was released in 1974, a few years before Star Wars and then Alien, two films that would define the sci-fi genre for years to come. Still, Carpenter grew up on sci-fi classics like Forbidden Planet and Godzilla, and later on sci-fi masterpieces like Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain, and Solaris.

All of this influenced his perception of cinema during his time at the University of Southern California, where he began developing Dark Star as a student project. When it was released in 1975, the film received a cool reception, which is not surprising since the market was flooded with big-budget blockbusters, while Dark Star was a rather modest project.

And yet, the film defined his daring approach to narrative and visual effects, which would be evident in subsequent films. In addition, the co-screenwriter was Dan O'Bannon — the same one who would later write the screenplay for the aforementioned Alien.

As for the plot, it's at times dark sci-fi comedy that follows the crew of the titular spaceship sent into deep space to eliminate planets potentially dangerous for colonization. Except that 20 years have passed since the expedition began, and the ship has begun to deteriorate, and the crew members themselves have slowly but surely begun to lose their minds, being forgotten back on Earth.

All of this leads to a lot of absurd and even surreal situations that are obvious homages to both Space Odyssey (e.g., an AI bomb having philosophical discussions with one of the characters after learning about Cartesian skepticism) and other sci-fi movies of that time.

Where to Stream the Movie for Free?

Well, if you're curious to see the movie that established John Carpenter as one of the greatest filmmakers ever, there are plenty of services where you can stream Dark Star. Completely free!

First of all, there are many ad-supported streaming platforms that require no subscription or fee where you can watch Dark Star. These include Plex, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Crackle. The movie is also available for ad-supported viewing on The Roku Channel.

In addition, there are platforms that offer Dark Star for free and without ads. These include Shout! TV, Kanopy, and the Internet Archive.

Of course, a movie can also be found on more conventional services such as Prime Video. However, to watch Dark Star on it, you'll also need to subscribe to Shout! Factory TV or Fandor or sign up for its free 7-day trial.