Sure, movies with dragons and orcs are cool, but if you’re really looking to bend your mind and escape reality (or visit alternate realities perhaps a little too close to our own), science fiction is the only way to warp. Sci-fi films have come a long way since 1902’s black-and-white short A Trip to the Moon, and while space exploration and alien encounters still feature heavily in the genre, the universe of science fiction has expanded to virtually limitless proportions, from time travel and parallel dimensions to artificial intelligence, dystopian futures, horror, comedy, and beyond.
Almost as limitless, however, is the amount of choices sci-fi fans have when it comes to streaming on Amazon Prime. We’ve scoured an Outer Rim’s worth of movies so you don’t have to. Here are the best science fiction movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
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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
The Terminator (1984)
Although The Terminator was not the first theatrical film directed by James Cameron, it was the movie that put him on the map and made its stars into icons. Arnold Schwarzenegger is absolutely terrifying as the T-800 Terminator, which has been sent back in time to assassinate the unassuming Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to her son, John. In the future, John is destined to lead humanity to a final victory over the machines … if his mother survives the attempt on her life.
Michael Biehn gives a very earnest performance as Kyle Reese, the man chosen by John to go back to 1984 and protect his mother. Hamilton’s Sarah also toughens up significantly over the course of the film. But this was Schwarzenegger’s flick from start to finish. Despite his great turn as a bad guy, they’ve made him into the hero in almost every Terminator movie that came after!
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Director: James Cameron
Runtime: 107 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 movie 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
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” If that line from the NSEA Protector’s Science Officer, Dr. Lazarus, means nothing to you, stop reading, go watch Galaxy Quest, and come back. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the sci-fi comedy that would become a pop-culture phenomenon, Never Surrender is a must-see documentary for fans of the satirical 1999 film that was a love letter to Star Trek and, more enduringly, its fandom. Told with rare behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, cast and crew interviews, and adoring reaction commentary from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton, Never Surrender demonstrates the impact Galaxy Quest had on everyone in its orbit.
Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Director: Jack Bennett
Runtime: 86 minutes
Imagine Groundhog Day, but instead of a repetition of time, a repetition of location entangles the protagonists. That’s the situation in Vivarium, where Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) want to find a house to purchase to set down their roots. Little do they know that the community they visit becomes a boundless world of identical homes, forcing them to settle down — just not in the way they had hoped to. Trapped in this unfamiliar world, Tom and Gemma become parents to a child left to them, and they are soon tasked with the instructions, “Raise the child and be released.” The problem is that the kid turns out to be a little hellion who quickly grows more powerful than them, leaving the pair terrified over if and when their life will go back to normal. Part science fiction, part horror, part comedy, Vivarium explores common life cycles that anyone can find themselves trapped in and raises the question of how much control we really have.
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Runtime: 97 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 no more 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
Hotel Artemis (2018)
In this dirty, future-fi flick from Iron Man 3 and Hobbs & Shaw screenwriter Drew Pearce, viewers check in at Hotel Artemis, a secret, members-only hospital/sanctuary for criminals. It’s 2028 and Los Angeles in the throes of massive riots over the privatization of freshwater so, naturally, the city’s gangsters and thieves are working overtime. As occupational hazards go, this line of work means a lot of shot-up, beat-up, and cut-up criminals checking in to Artemis for treatment (and jagged bedside manner) of The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). When bank-robber brothers (Sterling K. Brown and Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry) check in after a heist goes bad, they find themselves shut in with an assassin (Sofia Boutella), arms dealer (Charlie Day), notorious criminal The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), and a wounded cop (Jenny Slate). Don’t let the fact that Hotel Artemis didn’t kill at the box office scare you off — it’s gritty and cool, has a stacked cast, and is worth a watch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Stars: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista
Director: Drew Pearce
Runtime: 93 minutes
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
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
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 back on Earth. 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 from them 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
Unlike many of the entries on this list that largely deal with aliens, time travel, and space exploration, Christopher Nolan’s Inception delves deep within what is perhaps the most enormous sci-fi realm of all — the human mind. At its core Inception may be the most elaborate heist movie ever made. It tells the story of Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and their team of “extractors” who use dream technology to enter the unconscious minds of their targets to steal corporate secrets for their clients. But to clear his name so he can see his family again, Dom assembles a new team (including Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) to go deeper into dream levels than they’ve ever gone before, not to steal an idea, but implant one. Nolan uses mind-bending and physics-defying visuals that are hard to comprehend, making it no surprise that Inception was nominated for eight Oscars, winning four, including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 148 minutes
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