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 you're on a cross-country flight? 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. Watch these movies and boldly go where no Netflix user has gone before.
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Stanley Kubrick's relentless adaptation of the 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 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.
This isn't the kind of movie that will blow you away with its special effects, but the near-futuristic story of motherly dedication, objectification of women, and what the future of consciousness looks like will hook 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.
April and the Extraordinary World (2015)
This French animated film might be the one good thing to ever come from steampunk. Set in a 1930s where the world's greatest scientists have disappeared, leaving society to smolder in a coal-burning dystopia, April (Marion Cotillard) is on the run from the state police, who believe she holds the secrets to her late parents' anti-aging serum (which has also gifted her pet cat the ability to speak). With the imagination of Studio Ghibli and the action-pacing of a Guillermo del Toro movie, April and the Extraordinary World is a sci-fi thriller that manages to be whimsical through gunfire and clouds of black smoke.
Bird Box (2018)
If you haven't watched Netflix's creepy horror movieBird Box by now, where have you been? Sandra Bullock's newest film took the Internet by storm the weekend it premiered in late December 2018, prompting what seemed like everyone in the entire world to watch and share their horrified reactions (and 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.
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!
In a future where the Johannesburg police force has been automated populated by gun-wielding, Short Circuit-looking robots, titular bot, Chappie, is stolen by a ragtag underworld bunch led by Ninja and Yolandi (yes, the South African rap duo Die Antwoord, who were apparently such a hassle to work with that they were mostly written out of the movie trailer). Chappie gets hacked and reconfigured to an AI program that can think and feel like humans. Meanwhile, the evil forces (played by Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver) seek out their lost robotic merchandise. Chappie clunkily tackles popular sci-fi themes like robotic sentience and transferring consciousness, but who among us wouldn't want to watch the Die Antwoord crew raise a crime-fighting robot reprogrammed for emotional sentience while you still have the chance?
Cloud Atlas (2012)
The Matrix directors Lily and Lana Wachowski were likely the only filmmakers with the ambition and daredevil instincts to take on David Mitchell's pyramidal, generation-jumping novel. Tracking a set of familiar faces through the distant past, pulpy present, and hyper-future, Cloud Atlas is a as epic as they come, a movie about love, life, loss, and all the little moments in-between.
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.
Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) made the movie we’ll remember when Google and Tesla’s self-driving cars rise against their masters. Immaculately designed and researched, Ex Machina builds a trifecta out of the ultimate Silicon Valley bro (Oscar Isaac); Ava, the ideal robo-woman he believes is under his control (Alicia Vikander); and the audience's proxy, a regular Joe computer junkie enamored by Ava's potential (Domhnall Gleeson). Over a weekend, they talk through philosophy, drink themselves stupid, and discover the ramifications of reckless innovations. Elegant, rambunctious, and terrifyingly prescient.
Spike Jonze's Oscar-winning script throws a lonely greeting-card writer and a fancy Siri-like operating system into a questionable romance. The result, anchored by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (yes, the latter kills it as the OS), is at once poignant and thought-provoking, especially for a generation that leans more and more on personalized handheld devices.
The Lobster (2016)
To examine modern love, this baroque sci-fi rom-com basically splits into two movies: The first is an evisceration of Bachelor-esque monogamy logic, where Colin Farrell's David must find love in 45 days or be turned into an animal (of his choice -- the overlords aren't monsters). The second boots our hero to savage woods, where escaped singles plot terrorist attacks against their romance-obsessed society. Shaded with cool hues and orchestrated like a minor symphony, Farrell and Rachel Weisz balance the off-kilter dystopia with vibrant, sexual heat. Outrunning tranquilizer darts never looked so good. Like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Lobster is original, heartfelt, and would make an awful date movie. Luckily, that's not a factor for greatness.
The Matrix (1999)
Action movie? Yes! But also science-fiction, especially considering that a futuristic world in which humans perform simulated lives in a computer-generated landscape while their actual bodies lie trapped in pods while machines sap their energy sounds... hauntingly familiar. The bullet time and fight scenes get their deserved credit, but the allegorical structure and striking images are what turned this Keanu-powered, Wachowski siblings-piloted film into the cultural touchstone it remains today. Red pill or blue pill? Are we in the Matrix? Try bending a spoon after (re)watching this classic to find out -- or just dive into the sequels, also available on Netflix.
The attention-getting debut from Warcraft director Duncan Jones is basically a one-man show for star Sam Rockwell, who plays the lone operator of a moon-based mining outpost. Nearing the end of his three-year shift, the guy starts to have problems. Not just the loneliness and stunning boredom you'd expect from solo life on the moon; more like big fractures in his life, which reveal far more troubling facts about his existence. The brilliant Rockwell is aided by the voice of Kevin Spacey as the outpost's AI helper, and by a minimal but effective score from Clint Mansell. Facing death alone on a cold rock in space shouldn't be this appealing.
From the mind of The Host and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho comes this environmental tale about a little girl from the mountains who adventures into the big city to rescue her pal, a genetically mutated superpig named Okja. The movie debuted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where our critic said it whips between "lovable, scary, silly, morbidly depressing, back to silly" and might just be this generation's E.T.
Did people go overboard in praising Snowpiercer when it came out? Maybe. But it's important to remember that the movie arrived in the sweaty dog days of summer, hitting critics and sci-fi lovers like a welcome blast of icy water from a hose. The film's simple, almost video game-like plot -- get to the front of the train, or die trying -- allowed visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho to fill the screen with excitement, absurdity, and radical politics. Chris Evans never looked more alive, Tilda Swinton never stole more scenes, and mainstream blockbuster filmmaking never felt so tepid in comparison. Come on, ride the train!
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.
Star Wars: Episode VIII -- The Last Jedi (2017)
The second film in Walt Disney's rebooted trilogy that leaves the original galaxy far, far away for the future was one of the most anticipated films of 2017, and it turned out to be maybe the most epic ever in the franchise. Following the death of Han Solo, this intergalactic odyssey follows the remaining members of the dwindling Resistance as they attempt to escape the death grips of the First Order, helmed by the gross General Hux and the conflicted-but-hot Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and rebuild. Furthering her path of becoming a key fighter (and awakening Jedi), Rey (Daisy Ridley) goes in search of the now-reclusive Luke Skywalker to get him back to motivate and aid the rebel cause. With the large ensemble cast of classic stars like Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, as well as the new Star Wars A-team, including John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, its dynamic special effects give the film everything and more that you could want out of the franchise film. Plus: Porgs!!!
V for Vendetta (2005)
Natalie Portman's dystopian thriller written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski has only increased in relevance since it came out, so watching it now you can have the joy of watching a buzzed Portman trying to fight the repressive forces of future governmental control. Watch the spirit of Guy Fawkes live on before it's too late.