Swords and sorcery are great, and some supernatural horror flicks are counted among the very best of the medium. But compared to those rich genres, there’s something special about science fiction. Unlike tales of the utterly fantastic, science fiction often deals with what could be if things were different.
Of course, it also sometimes deals with time-traveling robots and monsters roaring out of the ocean, and that’s cool too.
Whether you want your sci-fi to come hand-in-hand with big, weighty ideas or prefer pure escapism, Amazon Prime Video has loads of sci-fi for you. We’ve beamed through their library and chosen the best science fiction the service has to offer.
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Known best for directing either violent action thrillers like Escape From New York or horror classics like Halloween, John Carpenter trod upon unfamiliar ground with the science fiction romance Starman. Jeff Bridges stars as the eponymous alien visitor inhabiting the cloned body of a dead man. Karen Allen plays Jenny Hayden, the widow of the man the alien is playing lookalike to. Jenny joins Starman on a cross-country trip to rendezvous with the aliens on their way to rescue their comrade, and along the way, she finds herself falling for him harder than he fell to Earth.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
Director: John Carpenter
Runtime: 115 minutes
After the death of Graham Hess’ (Mel Gibson) wife causes him to lose faith in God, it turns out someone else from the sky is coming to visit him. In M. Night Shyamalan’s suspenseful and emotional sci-fi thriller Signs, we get a picture of an alien invasion from the point of view of a single family living in rural Pennsylvania. With his two children and younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), Graham watches as the extraterrestrial threat being reported on the news eventually comes to his home, all while he’s still trying to cope with the loss of his wife. Signs is one of Shyamalan’s best films and one of the few where the appeal doesn’t hinge quite so much on his signature surprise ending.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 106 minutes
Something is turning New York City upside down, and all the heroes of Cloverfield can do is run from it. Terrifying and original, 2008’s Cloverfield presents the horror of a giant monster assaulting a major city in a way audiences had never seen before. Presented in a found footage motif from the point of view of a group of partygoers recording the devastation as they desperately try to escape, the film brilliantly refuses to reveal the beast in its full glory for most of the story. Whether you love it or hate it, we promise that after seeing Cloverfield, you’ll never look at Godzilla the same way again. Leaves Prime on February 1.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Stars: Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan
Director: Matt Reeves
Runtime: 85 minutes
The Truman Show (1998)
While he would later go on to further demonstrate his range in films like 1999’s Man on the Moon and 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the first time Jim Carrey proved to America he could do more than be funny was in the 1998 sci-fi dramedy The Truman Show. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who doesn’t know he’s the biggest TV star in history. Since birth, and unbeknownst to him, Truman has been the star of a reality show following his life. The show creator, Christof (Ed Harris), has created the fictional town of Seahaven as Truman’s home, and the cast and crew have worked hard for decades to keep up the charade. But after a series of strange events gets Truman curious about the nature of his reality, he becomes obsessed with learning what waits beyond the boundaries of his life.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney
Director: Peter Weir
Runtime: 103 minutes
Infinity Chamber (2017)
Frank Lerner (Christopher Soren Kelly) wakes up in a futuristic prison cell after being arrested for unknown reasons. His only company within this sealed chamber is a ceiling-mounted A.I., which calls itself simply Howard (Jesse D. Arrow). Herein lies the entire premise of Infinity Chamber, a story about one man’s confused isolation in his attempt to escape. It saddles itself among the best sci-fi movies currently on Amazon Prime Video by not being typical, straying away from the overused science fiction premises of yesteryear with a host of twists and turns that would leave even some of the best chess players scratching their heads.
From the reasons for Frank’s incarceration to how exactly he will get out, and then even into questioning the real functionality of this accompanying artificial intelligence, theories abound leaving the viewer strapped in, not unlike Frank himself.
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Stars: Cassandra Clark, Christopher Soren Kelly, Jesse D. Howard
Director: Travis Milloy
Runtime: 103 minutes
A little bit horror, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit historical fiction, Overlord is a non-stop, thrilling reimagining of D-Day. Ahead of the invasion, a squad of American paratroopers drops secretly behind enemy lines to break into a fortified church and destroy a radio transmitter that is crucial to Nazi communications. But as they march toward their goal, the soldiers realize there’s more going on in this little Nazi-occupied village than meets the eye. Turns out, the Nazis are experimenting on villagers, turning them into undead, ravenous supersoldiers, just waiting to unleash them on the Allied invasion force.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk
Director: Julius Avery
Runtime: 110 minutes
At first blush, Coherence seems like an ordinary bottle movie about a dinner party. But when a comet passes overhead, it inexplicably creates infinite realities, causing the characters to undergo countless, near-identical experiences over and over. As time continues, the science fiction and psychological horror accelerate as eight individuals begin to question the nature of reality and whether or not the people they’re with are who they say they are. The film is low-budget sci-fi at its best, shot almost entirely in one house, using mostly improvised dialogue and a severe external threat that you feel but never really see. If you like to sit on the edge of your seat, Coherence is for you.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Stars: Emily Baldoni, Hugo Armstrong, Nicholas Brendon
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Runtime: 89 minutes
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
There are many Star Trek movies on Amazon Prime, but this is the one even non-Trek fans should watch. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan saved the franchise. Director Nicholas Meyer infused Star Trek II with a very human drama at the heart of its sci-fi splendor. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the rest of the Enterprise crew are waylaid by the return of Khan (Ricardo Montalbán), a superhuman conqueror from the original TV series.
Amazingly, Montalbán never shares the screen with Shatner or Nimoy. And yet Montalbán’s performance as Khan made him the quintessential Star Trek villain. Khan wants his pound of flesh from Kirk and the crew, and even the beloved heroes won’t make it out unscathed. It’s simply a great sci-fi film that deserves all of the praise it has earned over the decades.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalbán
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Runtime: 113 minutes
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
There is a live-action Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlett Johansson, if you’re looking for an American version of this film. But the Japanese original anime film was one of the most influential sci-fi/cyberpunk movies of the last 30 years. Even the Wachowskis have acknowledged that it inspired their work on The Matrix.
Masamune Shirow’s manga series was adapted as a film by director Mamoru Oshii. It takes place in a future where human minds (ghosts) can be downloaded into new shells, or bodies. The main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a cyborg security agent who is forced to question just how human she still is when she goes up against a cyber-terrorist known as The Puppet Master.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ôtsuka, Kôichi Yamadera
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Runtime: 82 minutes
The History of Time Travel (2014)
Time travel movies are typically convoluted and filled with unnecessary plotlines that confuse more than they engage. Except, of course, 2014’s The History of Time Travel, which actually conveys a cohesive narrative in the form of a fictionalized documentary. It was written and directed by newcomer Richard Kennedy, who showcases the birth of the world’s first time-travel machine through various reports and experts. Of course, despite appearing like a godsend, time travel always comes with consequences, many of them now altering some of the most renowned events in human history.
Rotten Tomatoes: Not rated
Stars: Elizabeth Lestina, Daniel W. May, Krista Ales
Director: Richard Kennedy
Runtime: 71 minutes
Fast Color (2018)
Superhero movies are very entertaining — there’s a reason they pull in big box office numbers — but it’s easy to think they all tackle the same subject matter over and over. Fast Color takes a very different approach to the superhero movie, following the story of Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young woman who can unleash earthquakes when she has seizures. The homeless wanderer finds her way back to her family, where her superpowers are revealed — but not admired. Ruth needs to learn to control her abilities to protect herself and those around her, all while reckoning with issues of race and geography. Mbatha-Raw’s performance is sensational, while the film’s special effects can best be described as trippy at times, with sparks of beauty that can only be created with the rawest emotions. Amazon is set to air a TV series based on Fast Color, with Viola Davis serving as a producer.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint
Director: Julia Hart
Runtime: 100 minutes
Gemini Man (2019)
Don’t let that low Rotten Tomatoes critics score fool you, as Gemini Man still hits where it counts both in the form of a science fiction action flick and in the thrilling mystery of its cloning narrative. Even the Rotten Tomatoes user reviews agree, awarding it an 83% and hailing it as an under-appreciated sci-fi release.
In Gemini Man, Will Smith plays the dual roles of Henry Brogan, an ex-Marine assassin working for the DIA, and Jackson Brogan, a younger cloned version of Henry who is sent out to terminate his former self. The script, written by Darren Lemke in 1997, lived in limbo for nearly two decades until finally finding a home at Skydance Media in 2016. The film expertly weaves in the necessary emotion-fueled portrayals Smith is best known for, and keeps audiences guessing up to its closing segments.
Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Stars: Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Ang Lee
Runtime: 117 minutes
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
The late David Bowie has always been regarded as otherworldly. Now that the Pentagon has come clean about the existence of UFOs, it shouldn’t be long before we learn the truth that Bowie was sent here from another galaxy to blow our minds. In a role tailor-made for the prolific musician and artist, Bowie (in his first feature film) stars as Thomas Newton, an alien who crashes on Earth in search of water to save his drought-stricken planet. Using his superior intellect and knowledge of advanced technology to sell (mainly, a self-developing Polaroid-like camera), Thomas builds a multi-million dollar global corporation to raise money to construct a spaceship so he can transport water home to his family. But Thomas’s gentle and naive nature is no match for our corrupt world, and he soon finds himself distracted from his mission in a gin and sex-filled affair with Mary-Lou (Candy Clark). Rip Torn and Buck Henry help round out the cast in this avant-garde cult classic.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Runtime: 139 minutes
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
The young Haley Joel Osment plays a robot boy in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which was first developed by Stanley Kubrick and based upon Brian Aldiss’ own short story titled Supertoys Last All Summer Long. The emotional tale focuses on the automaton David, a prototype “Mecha child” who is adopted into the Swinton family when their son, Martin, is indefinitely hospitalized for a rare disease.
Steering away from action-sci-fi flicks of its time, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is more so a movie about the possibilities for an inhuman entity to gain such feelings as love, loss, and sadness. It best drives home these concepts through activities with characters David meets along the way, such as his human mother, Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), the sexbot Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), and the Blue Fairy (voiced by Meryl Streep).
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Stars: Jude Law, Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 145 minutes
High Life (2019)
If you’re working your way down our list and enjoyed The Man Who Fell to Earth for the cryptic art-house film it is, then chances are you’ll appreciate High Life as well. Fifteen years in the making, renowned French filmmaker Claire Denis’ (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) dark and unsettling journey through deep space will mess with your head. Told largely through flashback, we first meet Monte (Robert Pattinson) on a ship floating through space, far outside our solar system, alone except for his infant daughter. We learn that Monte is an inmate aboard a kind of prison ship, on a suicide mission toward a black hole in the hopes of extracting energy from it to save humankind. We also learn that the inmates were part of a deep-space human reproduction experiment led by a slightly unhinged and sexually depraved doctor called Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who has been extracting sperm and eggs for her twisted plot. André “3000” Benjamin also stars as the greenhouse-tending Tcherny.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 113 minutes
The Vast of Night (2020)
The Vast of Night, a low-budget film self-funded by first-time director Andrew Patterson, is the best sci-fi gem you’ve never heard of. Written by newcomers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, this old-school period piece manages to build a gripping sense of looming panic without the aid of big-budget special effects, mouth-dripping aliens, or explosions — it’s all on the characters. Cleverly framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone-style show called “Paradox Theater,” we’re transported to Roswell-era Cayuga, New Mexico, where small-town radio DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) and town switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) try to get to the bottom of a strange audio frequency that’s interrupting calls during Fay’s nightly shift. Turns out they may be emanating from a UFO hovering over the town. The Vast of Night opened to critical praise last year at the Slamdance Film Festival and later that year was named first runner-up for the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Sierra McCormick Bruce Davis Jake Horowitz
Director: Andrew Patterson
Runtime: 90 minutes
Split Second (1992)
Blade Runner-alum Rutger Hauer returns to his roots in the 1992 horror sci-fi Split Second as a veteran detective named Harley Stone. Still suffering from the loss of his partner, Foster, coupled with the guilt of having an affair with Foster’s wife, Stone now must saddle up with junior officer psychologist Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan) on a case that could very well end his suffering.
Together, Stone and Durkin must learn to come together in an investigation of mass serial killings perpetrated in the same vein as Foster’s own demise. Set in a far-future 2008 London now flooded due to extreme rainfall and global warming, made all the more downtrodden with a gruesome killer on the loose, Split Second is a sci-fi movie that takes heart in the noir mystery without being too cheesy with its horror tropes.
Rotten Tomatoes: Not rated
Stars: Rutger Hauer, Kim Catrall, Michael J. Pollard
Directors: Tony Maylam and Ian Sharp
Runtime: 90 minutes
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