Last Updated: January 12th
The sci-fi genre currently splits the difference between niche entertainment and the mainstream, providing diehard nerds and folks looking for a simple good time with a common ground on which they can unite and share in their enthusiasm. There was a time when tales of aliens, space travel, and robots were believed to be the strict province of four-eyed basement dwellers, but the truth is that everybody can find something to enjoy in the weird world of science fiction. The best sci-fi works in both universal truths and hyperspecific detail, using fantastical yet fully-realized worlds to tell stories about our own.
Netflix‘s selection of good sci fi movies isn’t exhaustive, and it errs mostly on the side of direct-to-video embarrassments, but there are still plenty of pictures worth exploring nestled among the sequels and paycheck-generators. Keep on scrolling for 10 of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix streaming to watch right now, taking you from the moon, the farthest reaches of space, and to the outer fringes of reality itself.
10. Advantageous (2015)
Jennifer Phang, a bold new directorial voice who will move onto higher-profile work as soon as the industry catches up with her, envisions a future where the societal powers-that-be disproportionately undervalue women’s labor and practically cast them aside once they’ve begun to show signs of aging. What makes this “sci-fi” and not “just how the world is” is that protagonist Gwen (played by co-writer Jacqueline Kim, the joint recipient of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for Collaborative Vision with Phang) has the option to transfer her consciousness into a younger and fitter body. Phang hits on a lot of the same theoretical points that John Frankenheimer covered in his classic Seconds, but lends this meditation on the modern obsession with youth an intersectional slant by virtue of her identity as a Korean-American woman. Densely packed with ideas and boasting impressive special effects relative to its humble budget, Advantageous is a godsend to young girls with creative ambitions on a galactic scale.
9. John Dies At The End (2012)
John Dies at the End may be hard to define, genre-wise, but it’s pretty undeniably science fiction. While this Don Coscarelli film may fall well short of being this generation’s Evil Dead 2, (or maybe even this generation’s Bubba Ho-Tep), it pretty deftly scratches the same itch. Hallucinations induced by alien substances, phantom limb powers, journeys across both time and dimension, some truly wonderful effects work, and an all-time “scoffing disbelief” performance by the master of scoffing disbelief, Paul Giamatti, make this one well worth your time. If you haven’t checked this one out before (and the box office receipts would tell you that few have), take 100 minutes and find out why the title of the film is anything but a spoiler.
8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
With Disney and Netflix squaring up against each other in what’s shaping up to be a streaming service war, it’s unclear what future, if any, the Star Wars films will have on the service. But for now you can enjoy Rogue One, the first of a series of anthology films set alongside the action of the main saga. This one concerns the attempt to secure the plans to the Death Star that preceded Star Wars: A New Hope, following Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she joins a ragtag bunch of rebels determined to beat the odds and strike a blow against the Empire, no matter the cost. Directed by Gareth Edwards — but with significant reshoots overseen by Tony Gilroy — it’s an unusual entry in the series, one not afraid to plunge into the dark, morally ambiguous underside of the Star Wars universe while still remaining very much a Star Wars movie.
7. April And The Extraordinary World (2015)
In an alternate version of 1941 where France has been led by a line of Napoleons and leading scientists mysteriously disappear, young April, her talking cat Darwin, and the shady Julius go searching for April’s missing parents. It’s an interesting take on a history where technological advancement isn’t a thing, where “steampunk” is reality and TVs and cars don’t exist. April’s journey starts in the dreary, stuck-out-of-time France but leads her to fantastical advancements that still make sense in the world we’re presented with. The heart of the film lies in the love that plucky, stubborn April has for those she cares about, and the film’s driven by charming animation and a genuinely interesting concept. It’s enjoyable action that’s just out-there enough for adults while being accessible for the young and young at heart.
6. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1 surprised many with its stellar soundtrack and genuinely funny dialogue, and director James Gunn manages to live up to the original while still spinning a rather unique tale. The sequel finds the familiar rag-tag Guardians as they make enemies and wisecracks while exploring the origins of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his father, who happens to be a living planet (Kurt Russell). Focusing more on character development than overall MCU progression, the movie rounds out and humanizes some of its ridiculous characters, including Ravager Yondu. It’s a hilarious and emotional sci-fi adventure that doesn’t get too lost in its spectacular visual effects.
5. The Road (2009)
It’s hard not to watch The Road without feeling emotionally fatigued. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but that’s only the backdrop for a gripping relationship between a man and his son. Once the world sorta ends — not much time is spent on the “why” — the man struggles to keep his son alive amidst murderers, cannibals, and despair. It’s rough. It’s bleak. It’s a terrifying, dying world that sucks you in as you can almost feel the cold and taste the hunger. But it’s the little moments of hope and love in the pair’s lives that makes it all worthwhile.
4. Okja (2017)
Bong Joon-Ho’s send-up of corporate farming and environmental abuses isn’t subtle. Tilda Swinton goes all-out as the CEO of an evil corporation only to be outdone by Jake Gyllenhaal’s broad turn as an unstable TV host. But its tale of an endearing, genetically modified “super pig” and the girl who loves him is effective and contains both some terrific action set pieces and the most affecting child/strange beast relationship this side of E.T.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
A flop in 2001 that became a cult hit, Richard Kelly’s debut stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a kid in ‘80s Virginia haunted by… something. He sees visions of the end of the world and a man in a scary rabbit costume, but the deeper he plunges into the mystery, the closer he comes to realize that he might be at the heart of it. The mechanics of the sci-fi mechanics of the film have been picked to death by its fans partly explained by Kelly’s subsequently released, and not as effective, director’s cut. But its real strength comes from its unnerving atmosphere and doom-laden romantic tone.
2. World Of Tomorrow (2015)
The latest release from animation genius Don Hertzfeldt, World Of Tomorrow leaps across millennia, creates clones of clones of clones, waxes poetic on the tragic ephemerality of memory, falls in and out love a few times, and very nearly locates the meaning of life. All of this takes place in 16 minutes. Over the course of a discursive conversation between a three-year-old girl and an adult clone of herself from the future (it makes more sense when you watch it [the third time]), Hertzfeldt crafts deeply moving monuments to sadness and salvation, and splashes it all against gorgeous expressionist abstractions. This is the sort of movie whose dialogue you get tattooed on yourself, or use as a criterion on first dates. A tremendous work of emotional power, World Of Tomorrow affirms the brutal loneliness of common life as a necessary counterbalance that creates joy. It’s really something.
1. Metropolis (1927)
Méliès may have been the first one to break ground on sci-fi, but German master Fritz Lang was the first to realize the genre’s full potential for visual grandeur and covert commentary. With a scale as grand as the countless blockbusters it inspired (this film’s disciples span from George Lucas to Lady Gaga), Lang weaves an epic tapestry of have-nots laboring under a tyrannical society of haves, his proletarian leanings on full display. A dazzling mashup of biblical allusions, Art Deco influences, Gothic architecture, and cinematic trickery, this film is a testament to the magnificent potential of the movies. That Lang was able to assemble such a sophisticated, technically impressive feat of craft so early in the film medium’s nascency is less like the discovery of fire, and more like a Neanderthal inventing an iPod.