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 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.
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 movie Bird 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!
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 Core (2003)
Listen, it's simple: All we have to do is build a heat-proof ship shaped like a giant tube to drill down beneath the Earth's crust, swim through hundreds of miles of molten magma, and ignite a bunch of nuclear depth charges to restart the rotation of the planet's core, so that Earth's magnetic field won't collapse and heat-lightning storms won't barbecue our greatest landmarks. If that premise doesn't hook you, the cast of this movie will, teaming astronaut Hilary Swank and academic Aaron Eckhart with astronaut Bruce Greenwood, haughty tectonic specialist Stanley Tucci and his disgruntled former partner Delroy Lindo on an impossible mission to save humanity. It's also not a spoiler to say that the multiple dramatic deaths-by-lava rank within the top 20 movie deaths of all time.
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.
District 9 (2009)
Based on South Africa's policy of apartheid, District 9 imagines a future in which aliens are discovered on Earth and the South African government responds by placing them in an internment camp. But after years of confinement and neglect, the foreign population rises up to reclaim their autonomy to attempt to return to their home planet. It’s a dystopian extraterrestrial film that’s more about xenophobia than it is about a war between worlds. Hailing from sci-fi filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson, it's also a low-budget film that surprisingly ended up garnering four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Romance and love are nothing without the potential for loss and pain, but most of us would probably still consider cutting away all the worst memories of the latter. Given the option to eradicate memories of their busted relationship, Jim Carrey's Joel and Kate Winslet's Clementine go through with the procedure, only to find themselves unable to totally let go. Science fiction naturally lends itself to clockwork mechanisms, but director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman never lose the human touch as they toy with the kaleidoscope of their characters' hearts and minds.
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.
The Girl With All the Gifts (2017)
If you're fed up with "young adult dystopia," and equally over the zombie movie, The Girl With All the Gifts is good news. The movie combines both genres into one tasty combo plate that's unexpected at every turn. It's about a group of survivors who accompany a young zombie/human hybrid into the wilderness after their facility is invaded. A weird one, but it's also really quite good.
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.)
Jurassic Park (1993)
The movie you've watched 1,000 times on TNT holds up. The way Jurassic Park pushes in from the grandiose to the personal arcs -- Dr. Grant's relationship hang-ups, the two kids' coming-of-age stories, John Hammond's dream blowing up in his face -- is a science on par with genetic resurrection. Spielberg maintains Michael Crichton's knack for navigating the heady in wholly digestible ways while making good on his ensemble's gasps -- the brachiosaurus. By the time Jurassic Park becomes a Jaws successor, where velociraptors fighting a T. rex doesn't feel like excessive payoff, it's already melted us away with awe. Everything you could possibly want out of a modern blockbuster. Benevolent Netflix gives us more than just the franchise starter, too: The Lost World and JP3 sequels are also available, so you can make a marathon of it.
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.
Mad Max (1979)
Before Tom Hardy was grunting his way through the desert and crushing tiny two-headed reptiles as Max Rockatansky, there was Mel Gibson. George Miller's 1979 original introduces the iconic character and paints the maximum force of his dystopian mythology in a somewhat more grounded light -- Australian police factions, communities, and glimmers of hope still in existence. Badass homemade vehicles and chase scenes abound in this taut, 88-minute romp. It's aged just fine.
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!
Largely hailed as Mel Brooks' best -- and the funnyman has a lot of greats -- Spaceballs is an intergalactic riot spoofing Star Wars and the sci-fi franchises that were all the rage back in the day. With the cast of Brooks, John Candy, Bill Pullman, and others wearing outrageous, derivative get-ups as they maneuver through the atmosphere, dodging "spaceballs" in order to save a princess in a galaxy far, far way, it's a perfect parody. All of the gags remain memorable and hysterical, whether you're a genre lover who delights in catching all the references or someone who can't stand sci-fi flicks and just wants to enjoy some spoofy fun.
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.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
One of the best animated movies of the decade, the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a mélange of Spider-Man's cheeky superhero charm and genre-bending, dimension-hopping action. It's also arguably the best Spider-Man movie in recent memory, eschewing Peter Parker's tried-and-true origin story in favor of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teen who's just doing his best to manage everyone's expectations. The film is a visual marvel, mixing animation styles and indulging in comics-inspired overlay text, speech bubbles, and texturing that put it in an entirely different league than other contemporary animated works. At its most sci-fi moments, it's a euphoric dive into the multiverse, fielding dimensional jumps and interpersonal attachment with grace.
Vincenzo Natali's (Cube) Splice is based on a sci-fi premise you've seen before: Opportunistic scientists (played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) obsess over messing around with DNA to create a hybrid organism, and in movies like Jurassic Park before it, that plan obviously goes horribly awry. But Splice itself undergoes multiple mutations, becoming an utterly frightening creature feature, as the two researcher's humanoid Dren (Delphine Chanéac) ages rapidly into a sexy, mysterious, death-defying being. It may hinge on a tired debate of scientific ethics surrounding cloning and DNA manipulation, but it's as sleek an experiment as they come.
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 with Total 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.
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.
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