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The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now

Forgotten gems, beloved classics, and adventurous new curiosities.

prospect
'Prospect' | DUST
'Prospect' | DUST

Netflix can often seem like something out of a science-fiction movie—seriously, can you imagine telling yourself 15 years ago that you'd be able to stream your favorite movies on your phone while sitting on the beach? So, it's only fitting that genre junkies now use the streaming service to catch up on forgotten gems, beloved classics, and adventurous new curiosities, with more added (and others taken away) every single month. Put these movies on your list for the next time you want to boldly go where savvy Netflix users have gone before.

advantageous movie
Netflix

Advantageous (2015)

This movie, directed by Jennifer Phang, isn't looking to blow you away with its special effects. Instead, the near-futuristic story of a mother's dedication (Jacqueline Kim, who wrote the screenplay with Phang, stars as a single mom), objectification of women, and what the future of consciousness looks like hooks you with its heart. You'll recognize the pervasive contemporary sci-fi trope of consciousness uploading (hello, Black Mirror), but the depth of story prevents Advantageous from becoming another trite retread.

arq
Mike Gibson/Netflix

ARQ (2016)

If you flipped for the Tom Cruise sci-fi Groundhog Day riff, Edge of Tomorrow, or the recent Frank Grillo respawn action comedy Boss Level, you might enjoy this smaller scale puzzle film from Orphan Black writer Tony Elliott. Canadian hunk Robbie Amell (Code 8, Amazon Prime's Upload) plays the movie's put-upon protagonist Renton, who keeps waking up in the midst of a home invasion, dying, and re-spawning in his bed. What it lacks in production budget—much of the action takes place in a single location and the costumes are run-of-the-mill dystopian fare—it makes up for with thorny plot twists and tricky ethical dilemmas. It'd be a better movie if it wasn't so damn serious the whole time, but, at a relatively brisk 88 minutes, it's a time loop thriller that doesn't overstay its welcome.

bandersnatch black mirror
Netflix

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2019)

Netflix's sci-fi hit Black Mirror did the most Black Mirror thing it had ever done when the special Bandersnatch dropped on the platform. About a young video-game programmer (Fionn Whitehead) who wants to adapt a celebrated choose-your-own-adventure novel into a game, the special applies that theme a meta-meta level—whoaaaa—turning the episode into its own interactive program. It's formally daring in its willingness to take on a technologically advanced approach to storytelling, even if at times it can be quite frustrating figuring out how the special "works" or finding the "right" ending. Regardless, it's an interesting watch—and you happen to be a fetishist for 1980s video games, particularly those of Imagine Software, a company that went bankrupt before it could release the actual, Bandersnatch, you may feel particularly close to this special. It certainly gets points for experimenting. 

bird box
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Bird Box (2018)

The Sandra Bullock film took the internet by storm when it premiered in 2018, prompting vast numbers of people to watch and share their horrified reactions (as well as responses to a dangerous meme challenge). Bullock plays Malorie, a suburban single woman who finds herself, along with a hodgepodge of other people, trapped in an apocalyptic nightmare involving creatures who cause people to commit suicide on sight. If you look at them, you die, so everyone has to run around outside wearing blindfolds—and honestly, what horror movie trope is scarier than not being able to see? If you really dug A Quiet Place, but wish a different sense had been taken away from its main characters, Bird Box is for you.

blame! movie
Netflix

Blame! (2017)

Netflix pulled off the impossible with Blame!—exclamation point not optional—the cult-loved sci-fi/cyberpunk manga series by Tsutomu Nihei from 2000. Long chalked up to being unadaptable for the screen because of its hyper-detailed art, general oppressive sense of desolation, and scarce dialogue as the story of the super-powerful gunslinger Killy who doesn't need nobody, man, roving aimlessly through a dystopian underground futureworld full of fast killer robots, the creators of the made-for-Netflix anime series Knights of Sidonia hacked it with a rich, but not disorienting, 3D animation technique. By honing in on a defined arc that actually has people in it, Blame! the movie stakes humanity's very existence on a profoundly bleak narrative. If you enjoyed Ghost in the Shell and Akira, dig deeper into Blame!

a clockwork orange
Warner Bros. Pictures

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Stanley Kubrick's relentless adaptation of the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel depicts a brutal world of violence and nihilism that continues to shock audiences nearly a half century after its release. Following an ultra-violent gang led by narrator Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the film (which initially merited an X rating upon its US release in 1972), sets scenes of barbarism against classical music, one of Alex's passions, and Kubrick's mastery of style makes it a compelling commentary not just on violence, but on the methods humans devise to curb it. Critics raised issues over whether the film glorifies the violence it so readily depicts—especially after a series of crimes were dubbed "copycat" acts based on the movie—but those who see glorification in this adaptation might want to look a little harder.

the discovery
Netflix

The Discovery (2017)

In The Discovery, the afterlife exists. When a scientist played by Robert Redford breaks through to the other side to confirm its existence, a suicide epidemic ensues, with millions killing themselves in hopes of seeing the light. At the center of the story is the scientist’s son, Will (Jason Segel), and a woman he meets en route to his father’s lab/isolated mansion where many who attempted suicide are sent to work. Looking at Heaven as another plane of existence, and the repercussions of knowing what happens following life on Earth, The Discovery may be bleak, but the romantic plot (and mind-boggling ending) about the human connections we form during this life make for an intriguing concept that occasionally falters, but ultimately proves worth a watch. 

freaks
Well Go USA Entertainment

Freaks (2018)

You've seen movies about doomsday prepper parents who don't let their kids leave their house, and you've seen more than a few movies about creepy kids. Freaks puts the two together, starting out as one movie that slowly morphs into another, making one freaky flick about a little girl whose father (Emile Hirsh) locks her away until she figures out a way to escape and learns a great deal about herself, her own capabilities, and the dystopian society they live in. Freaks may not be the most high concept sci-fi feature, but it manages to be an intense vigilante mission even with its humble means. 

i am mother
Netflix

I Am Mother (2019)

Artificial intelligence continues to inspire contemporary sci-fi, maybe even at an increasing rate as it becomes more and more integrated into daily life. I Am Mother finds a teenage girl (Clara Rugaard) raised in a post-apocalyptic underground shelter by a robot known as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne), who's built to nurture a new generation and eventually send them back up to the surface, where much of humankind has been wiped out. But when a woman, played by Hilary Swank, arrives out of nowhere at their facility, the girl must reconsider all everything she knows, including her trust of Mother. It's a simple set-up, but exceedingly ominous in the sci-fi genre's tried and true trope of warning us of our dependence on technology.

jupiter ascending
Warner Bros. Pictures

Jupiter Ascending (2015) 

Jupiter Ascending is one of those "bad" movies that might genuinely be quite good. Yes, Channing Tatum is a man-wolf and Mila Kunis is the princess of space and bees don't sting space royalty and Eddie Redmayne hollers his little head off about "harvesting" people—but what makes this movie great is how all of those things make total, absolute sense in the context of the story. The world the Wachowskis (yes, the Wachowskis!) created is so vibrant and strange and exciting, you almost can't help but get drawn in, even when Redmayne vamps so hard you're afraid he's about to pull a muscle. (And if you're a ballet fan, we have some good news for you.)

midnight special
Warner Bros. Pictures

Midnight Special (2016)

The movie, written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Loving), is a shining example of what indie sci-fi can be. The film stars Michael Shannon as a father on a mission to get his eight-year-old son who possesses a unique set of powers to a specific coordinate. Racing against time and in pursuit of both the government who's tracking their whereabouts and the cult they once escaped who're convinced the boy is their messiah, the film is as gripping and anxiety-inducing as it is mysterious. It's Spielbergian in every way, with a magical boy and a father who will do anything for his son at its center. But it's exceedingly imaginative in its own right, and you'll find a fair amount of lightness in even the questions it leaves unanswered.

the old guard
Aimee Spinks/Netflix

The Old Guard (2020)

Gina Prince-Bythewood's adaptation of Greg Rucka's comic series is a superhero movie with a soul. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy, aka Andromache, a warrior who has lived for six millennia and doesn't really see the point anymore. But she and her team of fellow immortals are drawn back into conflict when they start being hunted by a pharmaceutical brat who wants to use them as test subjects. At the same time, a new member joins their ranks, Nile (KiKi Layne), who survives a throat-slitting and is inducted into this strange club. Prince-Bythewood melds immensely fun fight sequences—it's a joy to watch Theron throw a punch—with groundbreaking moments of quietude, including a gay romance that's like nothing you've seen before in an action movie.

oxygen
Shanna Besson/Netflix

Oxygen (2021)

There's a certain artistry to movies that revolve around only a single set: where the script and the characters are forced to make the most of a small space. In Alexandre Aja's Oxygen, the set is barely a set at all—it's a locked medical chamber with a woman (MĂ©lanie Laurent) trapped inside, desperate to escape before her supply of breathable air runs out. All she has to help her are her spotty memories, a few phone calls, and a not-so-trusty A.I. system that can barely do anything actually helpful. It's a lean thriller, capable of sustaining your attention through all of its reveals, using everything at its disposal to craft a story that's fun, tense, and never boring. And when it's over, you'll want to take a big breath of fresh air. 

prospect
DUST

Prospect (2018)

Sometimes the best genre films are the most low-budget. Such is the case with Prospect, which started life as a short film before morphing into a feature and quietly became a very interesting sci-fi gem. When the father of a girl (Sophie Thatcher) is killed in a last-ditch attempt to steal precious material from a violent prospector, she finds herself helping her father's killer (Pedro Pascal) traverse an alien planet in a bid for survival. The film trades special effects for a moody jungle atmosphere and helmeted costumes that make a planet-hopping future look utterly believable.

psychokinesis
Next Entertainment World

Psychokenesis (2018)

Broadly speaking, Psychokinesis is a superhero film. It also happens to easily be one of the best of the superhero movies in recent years, and that's because the world developed by Korean director Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan) is decidedly not super. Following a man named Shin Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) who ingests a supernatural entity from a medical spring and (surprise!) discovers he's developed psychokinetic abilities, it's actually the relationship with his estranged daughter, Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung), and a mundane crisis she's in that puts his powers to good use. While it may not be the Marvel movies American audiences are familiar with, it has the same energy, grand sense of scale, and even a sense of levity. Yeon is just the rare breed of director who knows how to turn that kind of genre stamp to his advantage.

real steel
Walt Disney Studios

Real Steel (2011)

Sometimes you just want to watch a dumb movie with robots—and that's exactly what Real Steel is. Based on the Richard Matheson short story "Steel," the movie imagines a near future were sports are basically no more and it's all about watching the bots face off. In an odd turn for the actor, Hugh Jackman plays a down-on-his-luck former boxer dad who decides to get back into the ring when he programs a mechanical version of Rocky Balboa. It's rightfully silly and pulls from all of your favorite '80s robot flicks, but this one miraculously makes you care a whole lot and you'll find yourself just as pleasantly surprised by the visuals as you are the story. 

space sweepers
Netflix

Space Sweepers (2021)

Right from its first, electrifying sequence involving a bunch of bounty hunting spaceships chasing after a careering piece of garbage, Space Sweepers spins a far-future of multicultural, multilingual human life in space that's as exhilarating as it is crushingly dystopian. Tae-ho is a pilot aboard the freighter Victory, along with Captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park, and loudmouthed robot Bubs, all of them part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts. After a particularly harrowing chase, the crew finds a little girl hiding in a derelict spaceship, who just happens to be a nanobot-filled android that a group of space terrorists have fitted with a hydrogen bomb. At first the Victory crew plans to sell the "little girl" back to the terrorist group who lost her, before they realize that she's much more special than she seems.

spectral
Netflix

Spectral (2016)

The splashy horror-action movie was meant to play in theaters, but producers opted to bypass theatrical release and sell the movie to Netflix. Maybe Spectral would have bombed at the box office, but this genre mash-up, about a bunch of soldiers who are sent to destroy a mysteriously otherworldly enemy (ghosts, basically) and find themselves trapped behind enemy lines with an adversary they don't understand, is pretty damn entertaining on the home screen. Spectral plays a lot like a movie version of a video game, with one big difference: there's velocity and character and enough mystery to sustain the ride.

stargate 1994
MGM/UA Distribution Co.

Stargate (1994)

Roland Emmerich's bonkers interplanetary sword-and-sandals sci-fi epic is perhaps most notorious for spawning a host of television shows—Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe, if you're counting—but those shows all lacked one essential ingredient: Kurt Russell as military-beret-sporting Colonel Jack O'Neil. With a flat top, fatigues, and a lot of macho swagger, Russell is brilliant in hardened commando mode, serving as the perfect counterpoint to James Spader’s befuddled, nerdy archeologist. About the discovery of a teleportation "stargate" that takes researchers on a journey lightyears away to a civilization much like ancient Egypt, the movie's complex mythology and production design befuddled audiences upon its release, and still doesn't make much sense. Alas, the fanaticism and Russell delivering lines like, "Give my regards to King Tut, asshole," is a sight to behold.

synchronic
Well Go USA Entertainment

Synchronic (2020)

Directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a very distinct style: weird stuff in the sky, complicated brotherly relationships between men, new and fascinating conceptions of the nature of time. Synchronic is another dive into the depths of what the fabric of the universe is woven from, spinning a wild tale of death, drugs, and time travel amidst the dim, sinister backdrop of nighttime New Orleans. Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie play a pair of EMTs cruising the NOLA nights responding to emergency distress calls. On a few of these calls, they come across a number of people who have either mysteriously disappeared or somehow wound up dead, each incident having to do with a new drug called "Synchronic." When Dornan's daughter goes missing, his friend must figure out how to use the killer drug to find her.

total recall
TriStar Pictures

Total Recall (1990)

Skip the completely forgettable Colin Farrell remake from 2012. This Arnold Schwarzenegger-powered, action-filled sci-fi movie is the one to go with. Working from a short story by writer Philip K. Dick, director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) uses a brain-teasing premise—you can buy "fake" vacation memories from a mysterious company called Rekall—to stage one of his hyper-violent, winkingly absurd cartoons. The bizarre images of life on Mars and silly one-liners from Arnold fly so fast that you'll begin to think the whole movie was designed to be implanted in your mind.

the wandering earth
China Film Group Corporation/Netflix

The Wandering Earth (2019)

The Wandering Earth's premise introduces a future Earth that has been converted into a planet-sized spaceship by installing enormous rocket engines onto one hemisphere in order to drive it away from a dying sun that has become fatally cold… and then spends the entire film following a bunch of people in a truck. So, where the disaster movie lacks in original story, it makes up for in the most stunning of special effects. To American audiences, the foreign movie was a bit of a curiosity upon its release, despite being one of China's highest-grossing films ever made. It's worth checking out for the hype alone—what you'll find is visuals that dazzle far beyond the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

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