The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Forgotten gems, beloved classics, and adventurous new curiosities.
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.
ALSO READ: The best sci-fi and fantasy movies streaming on Amazon and the best sci-fi TV shows on Netflix
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blade Runner (1982)
Director Ridley Scott went out of his way to imagine 2019 LA as a pretty terrible place to be, and yet the look, sound, and feel of the world are so seductive that we want to visit regardless. Same goes for the story: Blade Runner's plot is a barely warmed-over detective yarn with Harrison Ford in the role of the hard-boiled investigator, but we can feel glimmers of the pain and confusion of artificial humans who realize they are powerless against their predetermined fate. The movie is a triumph of world-building that still makes a mark on viewers and filmmakers years later.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Thirty-five years after Blade Runner hit theaters (and about 25 years after anyone recognized the movie as a seminal science-fiction), one of Hollywood's premiere directors, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Dune), returned to the futuristic world to tell a inverted story—about a Replicant grappling with his humanity—that's even more poignant. A detective noir wash makes 2049 murky at times, but between stunning vistas of dystopian LA, the contemplative extrapolation of everyday technology, and Ryan Gosling's blood-boiling performance, where hero tropes go out the window left and right, Blade Runner 2049 sets a bar for sci-fi sequels.
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!
The Book of Eli (2010)
This Denzel Washington-starring sci-fi action drama had the misfortune of being released right as pop culture was starting to get sick of the wave of post-apocalyptic tales that had taken over movies, books, and television where vampires and dragons had left off. But The Book of Eli is better than you remember: A nomad living in a dystopian neo-western wasteland is traveling across the country to deliver a mysterious book to somewhere along the West Coast, fighting off highwaymen and cannibals along the way. The dark vision of the world's future ends on a note more hopeful than you'd expect, and the grimy atmosphere is tangible enough to keep you watching.
Following the lightning fast spread of an unknown virus, Steven Soderbergh's outbreak movie bounces between several different narratives—an epidemiologist working to create a vaccine, a conspiracy theorist vlogger's attempt at fame by claiming to have an unlikely cure, a father's fight to protect his teen daughter from a rapidly deteriorating outside world—to tell a cohesive tale of a world brought nearly to its knees by the tiniest of invaders. It's frightening because it's never too heightened, never spilling into melodrama, and, now that we've lived through our own version, closer to reality than we'd ever care to admit.
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.
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.
If you didn't watch this in your high school biology class, now's the time. In the future, human life is driven by eugenics, with only the strongest and least disease-prone are allowed to have well-paying jobs and reproduce. Conceived outside the genetics program attempting to perfect the human body, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) secretly takes on the identity of another man in order to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut, a job reserved for only the most genetically perfect candidates.
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.
Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it's difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others' subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he's got to implant one—that's inception, baby!—with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
You might think 1999 was the first time Keanu Reeves entered the Matrix, but he actually conquered the digital world 4 years earlier. In a dystopian future ruled by mega corporations, Johnny (Reeves) acts as a "courier," paid to upload information into his brain that's too sensitive to transport through the internet. Things, naturally, go wrong just as he agrees to complete a sensitive job, and he finds himself hunted by the Yakuza while his brain slowly boils with the strain of the massive data upload.
Last Action Hero (1993)
A young boy's (Austin O'Brien) dreams come magically true as he's transported into the alternate universe of his favorite movie franchise, the Slater films, wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger plays LAPD--turned-action hero Jack Slater. The two must team up to defeat Benedict (Charles Dance), a ruthless fictional assassin who escaped the Slater universe and is running rampant in the real world.
Mobile Suit Gundam I, II, III (1981–1982)
Even if you've never watched a Gundam anime in your life, you've seen and can probably recognize the chunky giant mechas that made the series and its many iterations into a forever classic. Mobile Suit Gundam, in its episodic television form, defined a genre, bringing "mecha" anime (that is, anime in which the main characters battle either each other or some extraterrestrial force using enormous human-shaped robot suits) into the popular consciousness (and into toy stores). Later revisited and redefined by similarly groundbreaking series like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam is where it all started. If you don't have the patience or time to watch the episodes in their original form, or simply want to try it out to see if you like it, the show has been collected into 2-hour+ compilation movies that are all currently available on 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.
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 (Mélanie 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.
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.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Boots Riley's directorial debut is a sneering satire of corporate racism and greed, following young telemarketer Cassius "Cash" Green (LaKeith Stanfield) who develops a "white voice" he uses on phone calls that rockets him to the top echelons of his company, leaving his coworkers in the dust. The movie swiftly shifts from a workplace satire to a much darker science fiction horror story as the true nature of Cash's workplace is revealed.
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.
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.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven is undoubtedly the master of the sly sci-fi satire. With RoboCop, he laid waste to the police state with wicked, trigger-happy glee. He took on evil corporations withTotal Recall. And with Starship Troopers, a bouncy, bloody war picture, he skewered the chest-thumping theatrics of pro-military propaganda, offering up a pitch-perfect parody of the post-9/11 Bush presidency years before troops set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan. Come for the exploding alien guts, but stay for the winking comedy—or stay for both! Bug guts have their charms, too.
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.
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.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Sporting a Yankees baseball cap and a leather jacket, Tom Cruise goes into dad mode for this gripping tale of alien invasion inspired by the H.G. Wells classic. One of the most frightening post-9/11 disaster movies, War of the Worlds finds director Steven Spielberg again putting a broken family unit in a state of great peril. From the opening drive away from the invading space crafts to the face-off with a paranoid prepper played by Tim Robbins, these are some of the most unnerving set-pieces the Jurassic Park filmmaker has ever staged. What's most striking about this particular adventure is how often the movie frames Cruise's desperate father as simply another face in a crowd, a flawed man caught in the tide of history.