Over the years, Netflix has expanded into a variety of genres with their original content, but they never let go of being a go-to place for some of the best movies Hollywood has to offer – and that includes the sheer amount of sci-fi movies that are on the service. So as the streaming wars continue and services like Disney+ and Apple TV+ continue to gain traction, Netflix is becoming less of the dominant go-to content hub that it used to be.
However, Netflix’s library remains jam-packed with movies and TV shows, both theatrical/network releases and original content. One genre Netflix seems to consistently excel in is science fiction. From original shows like Stranger Things to a flood of films, the service has days worth of content for sci-fi heads to enjoy. Much of its library consists of titles released in the past couple decades, so there aren’t a ton of classics in the genre. But for those looking for recent sci-fi, there are plenty of titles worth checking out.
Recently, Netflix has released their own sci-fi movies on their service, but their best sci-fi content arguably comes from other studios. Regardless, all of the following movies are currently available on Netflix and will provide an engaging experience for viewers.
Found-footage movies had a moment in the late 2000s, and Cloverfield was one of the best. The J.J Abrams-produced monster flick follows a group of twenty-somethings in New York who have a going-away party interrupted when a monster attacks the city. While some films employ the found-footage style as a gimmick, director Matt Reeves puts it to great use, deliberately revealing the monster bit by bit to convey a profound sense of terror. The film is extremely tense throughout and is also refreshingly short, with an 85-minute runtime that makes it feel as if it doesn’t waste a single shot. It spawned an even better sequel (10 Cloverfield Lane), but the third entry (The Cloverfield Paradox), released by Netflix, was not so great. Of the two available on the streaming service, the original is the better choice.
The Netflix original film I Am Mother is one of the streaming service’s more successful attempts at original science fiction, especially when it comes to movies. After a number of misses – Bright, Mute – they struck the right chords with I Am Mother. The film follows a young girl named Daughter who is raised by a robot named Mother in an underground, post-apocalyptic world. But when a survivor (Hilary Swank) finds them, the relationship between the human child and robot mother is threatened. The film is definitely ambitious and aims high, which has sank sci-fi films in the past – especially ones on Netflix. But the end result is smart, thrilling and satisfying, and should be high on any sci-fi fan’s list.
Cast Away in space, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut in the middle of a three-year solitary mission on the Moon who slowly starts to unravel. Much of the film relies on the strength of Rockwell’s performance, and like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, he knocks it out of the park. It’s also notable for being one of the more scientifically accurate sci-fi films of its generation; multiple science publications ranked it highly on that front (it’s no Gravity). It’s much subtler and more introspective than some of the other films on this list, but it’s a unique experience and should be watched by anyone who appreciates great acting – or real science in movies.
A loose adaptation of the Michel Faber novel of the same name, Under The Skin is a uniquely unnerving film. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien woman who disguises herself as a human to pray on men hitchhiking the Scottish countryside. The bizarre concept was introduced in the novel, but director Jonathan Glazer pared it down, focusing less on action and more on the interactions Johansson has in a world that is foreign to her. It was a box office failure, but a favorite among cinephiles for its complex themes, stout directorial vision, and strong acting from its lead.
Speaking of Scarlett Johansson, Her sees the actress playing an artificial intelligence program that an introverted, lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) begins a relationship with. Spike Jonze’s film is chock full of ideas, examining everything from human relationships to the pervasiveness of technology in modern society. But rather than coming to any strong conclusions on its themes, the film largely leaves things open to interpretation and lets the audience decide for themselves – which is rarely seen in a film that tackles such profound subject matter. And on the surface, it’s a sweet romance story that is compelling in its own right.
Before Bong Joon-Ho was scoring Oscar nominations with Parasite, he released a number of other excellent films, including 2013’s Snowpiercer. Joon-Ho’s English language debut stars Chris Evans as the leader of an underclass revolution on board of a train, which contains the final remains of humanity after global warming has nearly wiped out the planet. Like Parasite, it explores the themes of class inequality within the larger stakes of a thrilling narrative, this time a sci-fi action flick that remains the most expensive Korean film ever made. It’s an excellent film for fans of the genre, or those who want to catch up on the South Korean auteur’s earlier work.
Another cinéma vérité/found footage style flick, District 9 is a documentary-style thriller about aliens who land in South Africa and are put into internment camps. A not-so-subtle call out to South Africa’s apartheid era, director Neill Blomkamp brilliantly explores themes of segregation and xenophobia in the midst of a riveting action film as the aliens take revenge on their captors. Thanks to a viral marketing campaign and a production credit from Peter Jackson, the film became a surprise hit, earning more than $200 million at the box office (on a $30 million budget out of which Blomkamp milked every penny) and scoring a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. It truly was one of the best films of 2009, and is a must-see for any sci-fi fan.
Red pill or blue pill? The Matrix changed sci-fi forever when it released in 1999, as it fundamentally changed the way people thought about their lives: what if everything was a simulation? Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a hacker whose life is upended when he learns that nothing in his life is real, and he’s living in “The Matrix,” a complex computer algorithm that taps into people’s minds and shields the truth. A combination of thrilling action, stunning visuals (it swept all four technical Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Visual Effects), and a layered script, The Matrix is a must-see for those who have managed to go this long without watching it – and worth a repeat viewing for everyone else.
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is not exactly easy to figure out – the ending is open to all kinds of interpretation – but Inception is one of the most rewarding film experiences in recent memory. There’s so much to unpack within its 2.5-hour runtime, which follows a thief named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is able to enter others’ subconscious while they are dreaming and steal valuable information. It’s a thrilling and layered story with a payoff at the end that has had fans debating to this day. Plus, it’s visually stunning, from top to bottom.
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was one of the best sci-fi films of the decade, and perhaps one of the best films, period. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson as a young computer programmer who wins a competition to stay at a reclusive tech CEO’s home (Oscar Isaac) and give the Turing test – determining a machine’s ability to exhibit human behavior – on a highly advanced robot (Alicia Vikander). The film has a remarkably original story, excellent performances (most notably from Vikander), and an impressive grasp of science and artificial intelligence. It should be at the top of any sci-fi lover’s list if they haven’t already seen it.
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