The only limits to stories are the ones that we place on them. That’s one of the reasons why some critics give sci-fi movies a bad reputation for being popcorn fare that let you check your brain at the door. Admittedly, it’s a lot of fun to vicariously enter universes where space travel, time travel, aliens, and more are real. But the sci-fi genre is also able to provide some thoughtful commentary on the world in which we live in.
Fortunately, HBO Max caters to both sides of the sci-fi fandom. Whether you’re looking for thought-provoking stories about the world of tomorrow or some action flicks with killer robots, there’s more than enough here to keep you satisfied. To find the right choice for you, simply consult our list of the best sci-fi movies on HBO Max right now.
In need of some more streaming recommendations? We also have guides to the best movies on HBO Max, the best shows on HBO Max, and what’s new on HBO and HBO Max that are worth looking through.
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
2023 is the 20th anniversary of the first two Matrix sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution. While those films are not as universally loved as the original, the truly groundbreaking material took place in the anime prequel anthology, The Animatrix, which was also released in 2003. In nine different animated shorts, the Wachowskis handed the keys to the kingdom to several anime luminaries who were given the freedom to flesh out the universe.
Final Flight of the Osiris is the short that leads directly into the sequels, and it memorably features swordplay as foreplay between the two lead characters. But the really adventurous shorts explore how the war between humanity and the machines took place, while also giving the one-off characters interesting personas and stories. Action movie maestro Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss both lend their voices as Neo and Trinity, respectively, but they’re only a small part of this anthology’s success.
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Director: Shawn Levy
Most of Free Guy takes place inside the video game Free City, where an NPC (non-playable character) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) has an abundance of personality that goes beyond his initial programming. Following a chance encounter with the game’s original creator, Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), Guy becomes truly sentient and he begins transforming the world around him with acts of benevolence instead of violence.
Guy’s actions in the game make him an icon in the real world, which enrages Millie’s rival, Antwan Hovachelik (Taika Waititi). Somehow, Guy and Millie must find the evidence that Antwan stole the game’s code from her before the sequel goes online and wipes out Guy and Free City forever.
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Director: Shawn Levy
How far would you go if there was nothing holding your mind back? In Limitless, the new drug, NZT-48, gives Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) such a significant mental boost that he is basically the smartest man in the world while the drug is active. This gives Eddie a chance to attain the success and wealth of his wildest dreams and attracts the attention of a wealthy man named Carlos Van Loon (Robert De Niro).
But all of this comes with a heavy price for Eddie, which includes serious side effects and potentially his death. And when someone steals Eddie’s supply of NZT-48, he finds himself ill-equipped to handle the mounting threats against his life.
Runtime: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Director: James Wong
Jet Li gets to play both the hero and the villain in The One, a multiversal adventure that beat Marvel and Everything Everywhere All At Once to the premise by over two decades. Former Multiverse Authority agent Gabriel Yulaw (Li) has figured out that he can become nearly all-powerful if he wipes out his counterparts in other universes. Now, there’s only one left: Gabe Law (Li), a Deputy Sheriff who is at a loss to explain his increase in strength as Yulaw’s powers grow.
With his former colleagues Evan Funsch (Jason Statham) and Harry Rodecker (Delroy Lindo) in pursuit, Yulaw travels to our universe to murder Gabe and become “The One.” And Gabe’s newfound powers mean that he may be the only one in the multiverse who can stand up to his equally strong counterpart.
Edge of Tomorrow
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Director: Doug Liman
It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a decade since Edge of Tomorrow hit theaters, but it remains one of the best modern sci-fi films. In the near future, Earth has been invaded by aliens that are steadily conquering the world. Cruise stars as William Cage, an officer who is demoted to private and sent into a doomed battle against the aliens. However, Cage soon discovers that exposure to the aliens’ blood has given him the ability to relive the same day over and over again. This often means that Cage has to die to reset the day, usually in painful ways.
The legendary warrior, Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), takes it upon herself to help Cage use this newfound ability to become a true soldier. But much to Cage’s horror, he and Vrataski are seemingly always doomed to die long before they can defeat the alien threat.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Runtime: 2 hours, 23 minutes
Director: Stanley Kubrick
The word “masterpiece” tends to get thrown around a lot in film criticism. But 2001: A Space Odyssey more than lives up to the hype even decades later. director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke crafted an unforgettable sci-fi epic that is told more through visuals than anything spoken aloud.
Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood star respectively as Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole. Together, David and Frank are part of a deep space mission to investigate a massive alien monolith that may be connected to the origins of humanity millions of years earlier. Unfortunately for David and Frank, their onboard artificial intelligence, HAL 9000, is developing some very dangerous and paranoid tendencies that may threaten more than just their mission.
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Director: Alex Garland
You’ll find that machines turning on humans is a common theme in sci-fi, and so too is the idea that machines can be almost indistinguishable from humans. Ex Machina plays with both notions by giving the AI known as Ava (Alicia Vikander) a human face and a very feminine demeanor. Ava is also a lot better at being human, or at least pretending to be human, than her creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) suspects.
Domhnall Gleeson also stars in the film as Caleb Smith, an ordinary employee of Nathan’s who is invited to examine Ava to determine if she genuinely has a humanlike consciousness. Almost immediately, Ava manipulates Caleb and tries to turn him against Nathan.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott has delivered a few different cuts of his sci-fi classic Blade Runner, but The Final Cut represents his last word on the world envisioned by writer Philip K. Dick. In an alternate vision of Los Angeles in 2019, replicants are androids that can almost pass as human. As a Blade Runner, it falls to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to “retire” rogue replicants like Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah).
However, Deckard is shocked when he is introduced to a replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), who is so humanlike that Deckard finds himself falling for her and questioning everything he believed about replicants.
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp’s debut film, District 9, was so good that it has overshadowed everything he has done since. Using an obvious metaphor for humanity’s racism, District 9 presents an alternate present where aliens known as Prawns have been living on Earth for decades in the slums of South Africa.
One of the Prawns, Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), has plotted for years to make his escape and find justice for his people. When a bureaucrat named Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) stumbles on Johnson’s plan, he finds himself slowly being transformed into a Prawn himself. And the only hope that Wikus has to restore his humanity is to help Johnson leave Earth.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Director: Nicholas Meyer
All of the Star Trek films are currently on Max, but Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan not only remains the gold standard for the franchise, it’s also a great sci-fi movie in its own right. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this film saved the franchise, and William Shatner has never been better as an aging James T. Kirk, who realizes that the universe has passed him by.
Ricardo Montalbán reprises his role as the superhuman conqueror Khan Noonien Singh from the original Star Trek series. Kirk finds himself caught off guard by Khan’s bloodthirsty desire for revenge, as well as by the personal revelations that will change Kirk’s life forever. In the final battle, not even the legendary crew of the Enterprise can escape unscathed.
Runtime: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Unlike many of the other movies on this list, Contact is a very grounded science fiction movie that feels like it could happen in our world. Jodie Foster stars as Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Arroway, a woman who has made it her life’s mission to monitor signals from the stars in the hope of receiving transmissions from intelligent alien life forms.
One day, Ellie’s dream comes true, and it thrusts the world into an intense debate about what should happen next. Within the alien signal is a way for a single person to make an impossible journey to meet the sender. And this is a trip that Ellie is determined to take no matter the cost.
Runtime: 1 hour. 47 minutes
Director: James Cameron
Terminator 2 is also on Max, and it is visually superior to its predecessor, but in terms of story, The Terminator blows it away. This was only James Cameron’s second theatrical film in the director’s chair, but it set the stage for everything he did after while also making Arnold Schwarzenegger into a star.
Linda Hamilton stars as Sarah Connor, an unassuming waitress who has no idea that she’s been marked for death by machines in the future. That’s why the relentless T-800 (Schwarzenegger) has been sent back in time to murder her. To save Sarah, a man named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) travels from his future to her present in order to keep the Terminator from altering history.
Runtime: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Director: The Wachowskis
The Matrix was such a game-changing film that it’s surprising that none of its sequels are anywhere near as good as the original. No one can tell you what the Matrix is, and it’s worth the surprise in the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a hacker by night and a lowly programmer by day.
After years of searching for the hacker known as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), an enigmatic woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) arranges for Neo to finally meet the man he has been looking for. And the choice that Morpheus presents to Neo remains one of the greatest surprises in cinema history … especially if you don’t know what’s coming.
Runtime: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Total Recall is so ’90s and so Arnold that it’s impossible not to love it if you grew up in that era. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who decides to give himself a virtual vacation by having fictional memories of a secret agent on Mars implanted into his brain. But much to the shock of the memory facility, Quaid’s true identity may actually be a secret agent from Mars.
With his mind once again wiped, Quaid has no idea why his wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), and other people he knows are suddenly trying to kill him. The answers lie somewhere on Mars, if Quaid can make it off of Earth and elude the assassins on his trail.
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