12 Incredibly Strange Underground Realms from Science Fiction

Don't judge a book by its cover. Beauty is only skin deep. There are countless aphorisms about looking below the surface of things, because you never know what you might find — for instance, if you looked below the surface of the Earth, you might find lost civilizations, underground empires, and/or lots and lots of dinosaurs. Here are a dozen weird, fictional locations lying just beneath your feet.

1) The Center of the Earth, Journey to the Center of the Earth

The most iconic depiction of an underground world is obviously Jules Verne's 1864 novel, and the hit 1959 movie (and to a significantly lesser extent, the 2008 movie). There are some major differences between the original book and the original movie versions — for instance, the movie includes a villain, the lost city of Atlantis, and a duck named Gertrude — but both realms include an underground ocean, giant mushrooms, a variety of dinosaurs and light provided by electrically charged gas collected at the ceiling. In Verne's original novel, there were also mastodons and 12-foot tall humans, too, but then again, the movie had a duck named Gertrude, so it pretty much evens out.

2) Sharu, The Mole People

A group of semi-intrepid explorers discover a race of ancient albino Sumerians living underground in this 1956 Universal scifi movie. These Sumerians speak perfect English, and pass the time by forcing the native Mole Men to harvest the mushrooms that feed them, additionally, they are led by a high priest of Ishtar played by the dude who would shortly also play Alfred the butler in the 1960s Batman TV series. Because of the Sumerians' aversion to light, the white men and their mighty flashlight powers are treated as gods until one of them gets killed by a Mole person, and the jig is up. But the explorers manage to convince the Mole Men to rise up against their albino masters, steal the sexy non-albino outcast who had been helping them and escape. Of course, upon reaching the surface, an earthquake immediately destroys the entrance to Sharu and kills the sexy non-albino outcast, but you win some, you lose some.

3) Atlantis, Atlantis: The Lost Empire

The lost city of Atlantis often ends up inside the center of the Earth — admittedly, there's not a lot of other places it could go — which is why it appears multiple times on this list. The Atlantis of this Disney movie is an odd place where the inhabitants speak some kind of crazy ur-language that allows them to understand English, there's a magic crystal that powers the place and increases the Atlanteans' lifespans, there are airships, and it has a giant robot lobster protecting it. When the bad guys try to steal the crystal at the same time there's a volcanic eruptions, the crystal merges with an Atlantean named Kida who creates a force-field and saves the day.

4) Neo Atlantis, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

This underground city is pretty much exactly like the Atlantis of Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, except it's called Neo Atlantis and the Nadia anime TV series aired in Japan in 1990, well before the Disney movie premiered in 2001. Cough.

5) K'n-yan, "The Mound"

H.P. Lovecraft loved his horrifying, subterranean worlds, to the point that when he edited various short stories (which is to say, almost completely rewrote) he added them in. The best example is probably K'n-yan, which appeared in Zealia Bishop's "The Mound," as well as in Hazel Heald's "Out of the Aeons." According to Lovecraft, K'n-yan was located under Oklahoma (the horror!) and inhabited by humanoid aliens who had arrived in prehistoric times, but decided to hang underground. They worship most of the Lovecraftian pantheon, make slaves out of the dead, enjoy orgies and torture, and have several powers, like telepathy and teleportation. Beneath K'n-yan, there's another underground civilization of Serpent Men named Yoth, and below that is N'kai, where the Great Ole One Tsathoggua chills along with its spawn, destroying anyone stupid enough to wander down there.

12 Incredibly Strange Underground Realms from Science Fiction

6) Seatopia, Godzilla Vs. Megalon

Not much is known about the underground kingdom of Seatopia except 1) they like short togas, 2) they enjoy elaborate dance numbers, and 3) when they get annoyed by all the surface dwellers' nuclear testing, they send their giant cockroach monster Megalon to go sort things out. They also have access to a surprising number of thugs on the planet's surface for some reason, and they also don't mind asking aliens from Nebula M to send their giant monster Gigan for a team-up with Megalon, forcing the robot Jet Jaguar to contact Godzilla for help. After an epic tag-team battle that includes Godzilla performing a flying drop-kick on Megalon not once but twice, the Seatopians are defeated and humanity continues destroying the environment with nuclear testing. Yay!

7) Pellucidar, At the Earth's Core

What Jules Verne created in Journey to the Center of the Earth, Edgar Rice Burroughs more or less perfected in his many Pellucidar novels. The earth is hollow, and Pelluicader is the world that covers the entirety of the inside of the sphere, lit by its own mini-sun right in the center (which also has a mini-moon). There are dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, giant ants, and 10 different races living there, including lizard men, ape men, bison men, and even pterodon men. Four of these 10 races are more than happy to eat people, so if you have plans to travel to Pellucidar, try to wear your least appetizing outfit.

8) Fraggle Rock

The titular underground cavern complex of the beloved Jim Henson show is actually kind of disturbing if you stop to think about it. First of all, the entire ecosystem seems to be wholly dependent on radishes, as 1) that's what Fraggles eats, it's what the Doozers use to build with (and the Fraggles also eat) and the Gorgs need it to make anti-vanishing cream to prevent them from disappearing (and which the Fraggles steal). More over, Fraggle Rock is connected both to the real world and wherever the hell the Gorgs live, indicating that it may be some kind of inter-dimensional portal. And there are plenty of other creatures living in these caves, including dragons, monsters and more. The survival rate of Fraggles must be extremely low, given the many threats they face and their complete lack of survival skills. But since they're basically the freeloaders of the underworld, this is probably fine.

9) Subterranea, Marvel Comics

There's an entire world below the surface of Marvel Comics' earth, and it is jam-packed with things: Mole Men. Lava Men. Deviants (an evil off-shoot of the Eternals, and not named such because of their sexual practices. Probably). Moloids. Ghouls. Lizard Men (not to be confused with the Lizard Men of the Savage Land). There's also an evil immortal Roman scientist named Tyrannus who occasionally pops up to menace the surface world and sleep with the Hulk's gal pal Betty Ross (don't ask).

10) Underland, The Underland Chronicles

Before she wrote The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins wrote the Underland Chronicles, a five-book series about a young boy named Gregor who discovers a giant underground realm full of countless animals, bugs, and other assorted creatures, all giant, all translucent, all able to speak English, and all with really, really goofy names (e.g., lizards are called "Hissers" and moles are called "Diggers"). Gregor is Underland's legendary "Warrior," who ends up fighting a giant Gnawer (rat) named Bane, falling in love with a princess, and more. Bane the Gnawer is quite the bad guy, according to this mesmerizing description from Wikipedia: "In the fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, the Bane parallels Adolf Hitler in the sense that they are both charismatic speakers who are intent on genocide; for Hitler it was Jews and for The Bane it was nibblers ([i.e., mice]."

11) Dinosaur Empire, Getter Robo

The dinosaurs didn't go extinct, they just moved underground in this classic '70s giant robot anime. They evolved to fill out a full spectrum of dinosaur-to-human transformation, as you can see in this clip, but one thing they all have in common is that they want the surface world back, and they want it sooner rather than later. They even have giant "mechasaurses" to help accomplish this task, which can stand up to magma but not, unfortunately, the giant robot Getter Robo, which pretty much destroys their entire empire.

12) Atlantis, Alien from L.A.

Supermodel Kathy Ireland and her incredibly squeaky voice "star" in this extremely goofy take on Journey to the Center of the Earth. While searching for her dad in an Egyptian temple, Kathy falls through a trap door and lands in the lost city of Atlantis, which looks like a low-budget version of the city from Brazil but inhabited inexplicably by Australians. The Atlantean government is very upset that this "alien" is running around telling people about the existence of the surface world, and chases her while she tries to locate her dad (well, while a miner named Gus tries to locate her dad, while leading the baffled Kathy around). Yet the most ridiculous part of this movie, once featured on MST3K, is that supermodel Kathy Irelands purportedly "transforms" from being hideously ugly (i.e., wearing glasses and loose clothes) to being beautiful and ravishing (i.e., taking off her glasses, washing her face, and wearing a bikini) over the course of the film.