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There’s nothing quite as exciting (or terrifying) as science fiction, which functions as windows into potential, often cataclysmic futures. Over the years, Netflix has amassed quite the collection of content, including hundreds — nay, thousands — of shoddy sci-fi movies that feature poorly-animated hybrids of sharks, crocodiles, giant squid, and the like. Still, it’s not all bad; sift through the waste for long enough, and you’re sure to find something of value. Nobody wants to spend hours scrolling through a combination of movies they’ve seen and movies they never want to see, however, so we took the liberty of doing it for you. From big-budget dystopias to independent time travelers, these are the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Proving that the Star Wars franchise can accommodate different genres, Rogue One is a war movie set before the original trilogy, one that follows a band of rebels on a secret mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s new superweapon. The covert squadron goes by the name Rogue One, and their members include a rebel intelligence officer (Diego Luna), a sarcastic security droid (Alan Tudyk), and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a former smuggler whose father designed the Death Star. As expected of a movie about a special forces unit, Rogue One is darker than past films in the Star Wars cannon, and examines the sacrifices made by the soldiers in the backgrounds of the main franchise films.
The Road (2009)
From director John Hillcoat comes The Road, a post-apocalyptic thriller based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name. The film takes place years after an unspecified cataclysmic event has killed the vast majority of life on this planet — leaving the remaining pockets of civilization to break down down into lawless packs of cannibals — and follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they struggle to make it through the forsaken wasteland with little more than a pistol. Packed with a feasible concept of societal entropy, the well-adapted drama is worth a watch (or three) even if you haven’t read the book. It’s horrifying, brutal, and haunting in the most beautiful way possible.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Alan Moore’s dystopian vision of Britain translates fairly well to the silver screen, with help from the iconoclastic Wachowski siblings. In a country ruled by a fascist cabal, all information is regulated by the government, and the police maintain an iron grip on all aspects of life. When Evey (Natalie Portman), an employee for the state television network, is rescued from an assault by a masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving), she is drawn into his campaign to overthrow the government. At first charmed by V’s passion and knowledge, she quickly finds that his methods might be too extreme for her taste. Excellent choreography and bold set design make V for Vendetta an exciting, if melodramatic, thriller.
Metropolis Restored (1927)
Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis may be the only silent film on our list, but it helped pioneer the sci-fi genre. The dystopian film revolves around a man of wealth (Gustav Fröhlich) who abandons his privileged life to join a band of oppressed workers in a revolt. The film was initially praised for its technical merits, though not as much for its plot or commentary on society as a whole, but has nonetheless become one of the defining films of the entire 20th century. It won’t blow you away visually, but its historical value outweighs its technical limitations.
Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Robert Wise’s black-and-white vision of the short story Farewell to the Masteris epic in both scope and vision. It remains one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, revolving around an alien visitor (Michael Rennie) who comes to Earth with a mechanical companion and a message that will ultimately affect the future of the entire human race. Rennie and his cool, collected demeanor present a universal call for peace to those living during the Atomic Age, though many of the films sentiments still echo today. Now, if only the 2008 remake starring Keanu Reeves wasn’t such a catastrophe.
The Host (2006)
Not to be confused with the 2013 teen action-romance flick of the same name, The Host earned universal praise for its unique combination of horror, comedy, action, and political satire. In the fourth feature-length film from acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho (Okja), a monster emerges from Korea’s Han River and begins to wreak havoc on the inhabitants of Seoul. When the creature abducts the daughter of a local man (Song Kang-Ho), he and his family must band together to enact an emergency rescue while the monster is still at large. Despite the rather bland storyline, excellent casting and well-written characters make The Host a movie to remember, with great performances turned in by Bae Doona (Cloud Atlas) and Park Hae-Il.
The Iron Giant (1999)
The legendary Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) wrote and directed this tear-jerking story about paranoia and acceptance, which struggled at box offices upon release but has since garnered a cult following. When a meteorite crashes into the forest near a small Maine town in 1957, young Hogarth Hughes finds a massive robot, which he befriends. As news of the robot begins to spread, government agents — led by the nosy Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) — seek to find and destroy the gentle giant, worried that he may be a machine of war. The beautifully animated film is an emotional journey, combining subtle political commentary with heartfelt observations.
John Dies At The End (2012)
Director Don Cascarelli’s adaptation of David Wong’s comic horror novel might well be the craziest entry on our list. In the film, main characters John and David find themselves in over their heads after trying a mysterious drug known as Soy Sauce that — as it turns out — messes with the space-time continuum (or something). From wild hallucinations to portentous premonitions, the drug’s effects do a number on John and Dave, while providing a fun vehicle for lots of interesting characters and scenarios that wouldn’t really make sense in any other context. There are weird, Eyes Wide Shut-style orgies and cartoonish monsters involved, and excellent performances across the board (especially from Paul Giamatti) make sure the movie doesn’t crash and burn despite its ambition.
The Matrix (1999)
One of the most famous sci-fi films of all time, The Matrix follows hacker Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), aka “Neo,” who receives cryptic messages from people online warning him about “the Matrix.” Neo’s search for answers leads him to a mysterious group led by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who shows him that the world is not what it appears to be. The Matrix is a stunning film, famous for its stylish visuals, pioneering techniques like “bullet time,” and blending genres like cyber thrillers and Kung Fu movies. It’s also a fairly smart action movie, drawing on philosophical ideas from thinkers like Plato and Rene Descartes.