Since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas’ Star Wars films, sci-fi cinema has steadily been climbing the ranks of mainstream and prestige cinema. Today, some of the biggest movies every year fall firmly in the sci-fi category. Still, the genre continues to innovate and improve, and it’s still a safe haven for nerds who buy more into provocative storytelling than big-name talents and CGI. No matter what you’re looking for, Netflix is home to an excellent collection of sci-fi cinema. We’ve done the work to hand-pick the very best of the genre so your future is filled with more watching and less scrolling. Here’s our roundup of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.
In need of a few more suggestions? We’ve curated a guide to the best sci-fi movies on Amazon Prime, too.
Never before had an internet fad so quickly been turned into a massive sci-fi disaster tentpole than when Roland Emmerich caught wind of the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. While it was fun for middle schoolers to portend that there was no point in doing homework since the Mayans said the world was ending, Emmerich stepped up and made a movie in which it actually happened. An American scientist’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) warnings of the planet’s impending expiration date lead world leaders to begin secret preparations to save select members of society. When the global cataclysm occurs, failed writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) will do anything to lead his family to safety.
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Cusack, Amanda Peet
Director: Roland Emmerich
Runtime: 158 minutes
If you’re in the mood for good ol’ fashioned alien warfare, you’ll love Spectral. This early Netflix original shows just how creative the studio could get with a slim budget despite significant action demands. An extraterrestrial force begins to wreak havoc on a war-torn European city, forcing local engineers to team up with American Special Ops to stop the invasion.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Stars: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Max Martini
Director: Nic Mathieu,
Runtime: 107 minutes
A little more fantasy than sci-fi if we’re being nitpicky, Stardust nonetheless should be right up most sci-fi fans’ alleys. Based on the Neil Gaiman epic, this genre-blending epic stars Charlie Cox as a young man named Tristan, forced to venture into the realm of fairies to retrieve a fallen star and win the heart of Victoria (Sienna Miller). Instead, Tristan finds Yvaine (Claire Danes), a woman with great power who is hunted by both the king’s sons and an evil witch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Claire Danes
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Runtime: 128 minutes
The Midnight Sky (2020)
George Clooney directs and stars in The Midnight Sky. With humanity on the brink of extinction, scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) refuses to vacate his Arctic laboratory when radiation levels on Earth grow to dangerous levels. Instead, he chooses to use his lab’s computer system to search for orbiting ships deployed on missions. Intending to warn the distant crew of Aether of Earth’s impending doom, Lofthouse discovers a young girl in the lab. The two band together to brave the Arctic elements on a journey to a north-bound radio tower that will be powerful enough to send a warning signal to Aether. An effects-laced sci-fi thriller, The Midnight Sky looks and feels like similar brink-of-the-apocalypse films but with extra weight placed on the performances — notably, Clooney. It’s not a perfect film, but it more than does its job.
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Stars: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo
Director: George Clooney
Runtime: 118 minutes
Outside the Wire (2021)
In 2036, a Russian civil war has the U.S. providing wartime support to the nation. The military now fights alongside “Gumps,” robot soldiers that occupy every branch. As punishment for disobeying squad commands, Harp (Anthony Mackie), a drone pilot, is sent to Ukraine to fight alongside Leo (Damson Idris), an android super-soldier. Together, the duo is forced to take on Victor Koval, a terrorist determined to use Cold War missiles for combat. Led by two great lead performances and a medley of sci-fi action that’ll keep you glued to your seat, Outside the Wire delivers the thrills from start to finish.
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Michael Kelly
Director: Mikael Håfström
Runtime: 115 minutes
The Discovery (2017)
In a reimagined modern era, proof of the afterlife is amongst us, thanks to the research of scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford). With the news hitting the world by storm, suicide rates climb exponentially as people opt to begin life anew as opposed to remaining in troubling situations. Harbor’s son, Will (Jason Segel), questions his father’s studies. Meeting Isla (Rooney Mara) on a ferry, the two discuss mortality and eventually begin a relationship. When Will takes Isla to his father’s hidden compound, the nature of his father’s work comes to light in ways neither father, son, or Isla could ever expect. A wonder-filled, philosophical film, The Discovery features an intriguing story and stellar performances, especially from Segel and Redford.
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Stars: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford
Director: Charlie McDowell
Runtime: 102 minutes
Zathura is basically like Jumanji, with a space-based game instead of a jungle adventure. Director Jon Favreau sets the tone for many of his future movies and TV shows here, as he chronicles the story of two brothers, Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo). Their game somehow affects reality not only for each other, but also for their older sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart). Dax Shepard co-stars as the Astronaut, one of the characters created by the game. With the Astronaut’s help, the brothers and their sister have to see the game through to the end.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart
Director: Jon Favreau
Runtime: 101 minutes
The Wandering Earth (2019)
The Wandering Earth may be the biggest film that you’ve never heard of, but it was a huge blockbuster in China. The movie takes place in the future, as the expanding sun forces humanity to literally move the Earth to another solar system. This requires Captain Wang Lei (Li Guangjie) to leave behind his son, Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao), as his mission in space keeps him away for several years. However, both father and son will have major roles to play in order to ensure that the Earth survives its perilous journey.
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Stars: Qu Chuxiao, Li Guangjie, Ng Man-tat, Zhao Jinmai
Director: Frant Gwo
Runtime: 125 minutes
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Critics absolutely hated Jupiter Ascending, but the Wachowskis’ sci-fi film is still miles ahead of many Netflix originals in terms of ambition and pure fun. Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, a young woman stuck working as a house cleaner on Earth. After she’s found by aliens, Jupiter is rescued by a hybrid soldier, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), and he goes on to reveal to her that she is galactic royalty. The fate of the universe may also be in Jupiter’s hands.
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Stars: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne
Director: The Wachowskis
Runtime: 127 minutes
You don’t have to go to Disney+ to see Pedro Pascal in a sci-fi story. Prospect features Pascal in a leading role as Ezra, a prospector on an alien moon. Sophie Thatcher and Jay Duplass co-star as Cee and her father, Damon. This movie really belongs to Cee, as she contends with her father’s greed and questions whether she can trust Ezra with her life. Treachery abounds in this unfamiliar landscape, and Cee is surrounded by danger on all sides. The impressive thing is that Cee is up to the challenge, even when her life is on the line.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Stars: Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal, Jay Duplass
Director: Zeek Earl, Chris Caldwell
Runtime: 97 minutes
Don’t be afraid to read subtitles when watching Mirage. This Spanish sci-fi film has a story that is universal no matter which language is used. Adriana Ugarte stars as Vera Roy, a woman who inadvertently discovers a way to communicate with a teenager named Nico Lasarte (Joel Illescas) 25 years in the past. After helping Nico prevent his own accidental death, Vera discovers that her own world and timeline have greatly changed. Vera’s daughter no longer exists, and her husband, David (Álvaro Morte), is married to someone else. Subsequently, Vera desperately searches for a way to regain what she lost.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Stars: Adriana Ugarte, Chino Darín, Javier Gutiérrez Álvarez
Director: Oriol Paulo
Runtime: 128 minutes
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
There’s nothing else on Netflix exactly like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. This spinoff from the British sci-fi anthology series is an interactive movie that allows players/viewers to control the fate of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). In 1984, Stefan is a young programmer who gets the chance to adapt a “choose your own adventure” book into a video game. However, art imitates life, and Stefan is soon faced with questions about his own free will. It’s not possible to see every bit of footage from Bandersnatch in one continuous viewing. That’s why it invites repeat viewings by letting alternate choices unlock new story paths. This may not be the future of all movies, but it is a subgenre worth exploring.
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe
Director: David Slade
Runtime: 90 minutes
Advantageous is not a flashy sci-fi movie, but it is thought-provoking. In the near future, a single mother named Gwen Koh (Jacqueline Kim) loses her job and her financial security. Desperate to provide for her daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim), Gwen volunteers for a radical experiment to transfer her mind to a younger body. However, Gwen 2.0 (Freya Adams) is a very different woman from the original model, much to the horror of Jules and even Gwen herself.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams
Director: Jennifer Phang
Runtime: 91 minutes
Project Power (2020)
Superheroes aren’t real, but their powers are. That’s the premise behind Project Power, a film that presents a near-future world in which superhuman powers can be granted to almost anyone via a special pill called Power. For five minutes, users of Power have abilities uniquely tied to them. New Orleans police detective Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) openly uses Power, even against regulations. In his search for the source of Power, Frank comes across Art (Jamie Foxx), a man who may have unexpected connections to the development of the drug. This is a cautionary tale, and a fresh take on a very familiar genre.
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Runtime: 114 minutes
Bird Box (2018)
It’s understandable if you get some Quiet Place vibes from Bird Box. Both are sci-fi horror movies that deal with monsters that directly connect with human senses. In this flick, the creatures can make anyone who sees them become insane with suicidal urges. Hence the constant blindfolds to keep the entities out. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie Hayes, a woman struggling to survive in this horrific new world, while flashbacks explore how she dealt with the end of life as she knew it. Not all of the moments land, but Bird Box has its share of real scares.
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich
Director: Susanne Bier
Runtime: 124 minutes
See You Yesterday (2019)
Many sci-fi films have something important to say about the present, and See You Yesterday has a premise that seems all too timely. The story follows C.J. Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith), a revolutionary genius even as a teenager. C.J. has come up with actual working time machines, and she has a very personal reason to use them. Her brother, Calvin Walker (Brian “Stro” Bradley), has been killed during an encounter with the police. To save Calvin, C.J. and her friend Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) try to change the past. Needless to say, complications ensue.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Eden Duncan-Smith, Danté Crichlow, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Director: Stefon Bristol
Runtime: 87 minutes
Midnight Special (2016)
Not a lot of people caught Midnight Special in theaters, but writer and director Jeff Nichols’s critically acclaimed sci-fi film deserves a second chance to find an audience on Netflix. Michael Shannon headlines the film as Roy Tomlin, a father who takes his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) on the run after the young boy begins exhibiting otherworldly powers. Unfortunately for the father and son duo, the authorities aren’t the only ones they have to worry about. There’s also a religious cult that wants Alton and his powers for themselves. Midnight Special has a particularly strong supporting cast led by Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Sam Shepard. Don’t go to sleep on this one. It’s waiting to be rediscovered by viewers as a hidden gem of science fiction cinema.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver
Director: Jeff Nichols
Runtime: 112 minutes
Real Steel (2011)
It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to call Real Steel the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots Movie. But the original story, by sci-fi luminary Richard Matheson, has a strong pedigree. It was originally adapted as an episode of The Twilight Zone before heading to the big screen decades later. And the film works even better than the TV version by creating a great father and son dynamic between Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo’s Charlie and Max Kenton. Together, they salvage a robot they call Atom and turn it into a contender in the ranks of robot boxing. Evangeline Lilly also has a very entertaining performance as Bailey Tallet, a gym owner who forms a bond with the Kentons. But it’s the rousing underdog story of the boy and his robot that makes Real Steel work.
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly
Director: Shawn Levy
Runtime: 127 minutes
Total Recall (1990)
Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Total Recall follows Arnold Schwarzenegger as a 21st-century construction worker named Quaid who discovers that his entire memory of the past is based on a memory chip implanted in his brain. That memory chip has suppressed Quaid’s memory of his life as a secret agent. Turns out, he became a threat to the government so they implanted the chip and pushed him into a docile, domestic lifestyle. Once he realizes his identity, however, Quaid travels to Mars to piece together the rest of his identity and seek vengeance upon the man who took his life away.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Runtime: 113 minutes
Beyond Skyline (2017)
The long-delayed follow-up to 2010’s Skyline is one of the rare instances where the sequel is vastly superior to the original. This unapologetically pulpy, alien invasion B-movie shows what happens when civilians are left to defend themselves against a superior species of aliens. Frank Grillo stars as a cop at odds with his son when the aliens strike. Suddenly sent running for their lives, the father-son duo move at a breakneck pace, traversing through subterranean tunnels to the nuclear wasteland of Los Angeles to an alien ship to a rebel human base in Laos to mount a final defense. Beyond Skyline is absolutely nutty, but if you like big action, ludicrous sci-fi tropes, and good ol’ fashioned human versus alien violence, this one’s for you.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Stars: Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic
Director: Liam O’Donnell
Runtime: 106 minutes
Bong Joon-ho earned Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for Parasite, but he was making remarkable movies well before that recognition (Okja isn’t his only entry on this list). Okja is one of his most polemical films, taking on the meat industry and capitalism at large in this touching sci-fi drama for Netflix. The story follows Mija, a young girl who has grown up in the mountains of South Korea with a fictional super-pig best friend named Okja. But when the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation kidnaps Okja and transports her to New York to launch an entirely new meat industry, it’s up to Mija to save her best friend. A caustic satire of the greed and grotesqueness of American food processing, Okja pokes fun at everyone from self-obsessed CEOs to bumbling, naive activists in a sci-fi romp that hits close to home.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: Seo-hyeon Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Runtime: 118 minutes
It didn’t blow anyone away at the box office — though it didn’t necessarily do poorly, either — but Snowpiercer proved to be a thrilling ride through a future where the remaining population of the world takes refuge in a train, one that barrels through the snow-covered wasteland that used to be civilization. A class system rises up from within the train, with a Chris Evans-led back of the vessel staging a rebellion against Tilda Swinton’s first-class rule. Directed by Bong Joon Ho, Snowpiercer makes for an enticing and original look at a post-apocalyptic society.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang Ho
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Runtime: 126 minutes
One of the most highly regarded sci-fi films of the past few years, Freaks follows a 7-year-old girl named Chloe who has spent her entire life completely isolated from the world inside her home with her father, Henry (Emile Hirsch). Henry has told Chloe that the outside world is a terrifying, dangerous place but as she gets older, Chloe becomes too curious to not venture out into the world. This character-driven movie is dripping in tension and mystery, which slowly becomes revealed as Chloe discovers more about the world in which she inhabits. It’s a master class in how to make high-quality sci-fi on a limited budget.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Lexy Kolker
Director: Zach Lipovsky
Runtime: 104 minutes
I Am Mother (2019)
Director Grant Sputore turned a lot of heads with I Am Mother, a superbly made and terrifically acted sci-fi thriller. In the far future, humanity is seemingly extinct. An android called Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) fulfills its primary function by attempting to revive humanity. But first, Mother raises Daughter (Clara Rugaard) for practice and teaches her how to survive in this inhospitable world. However, Daughter’s reality is shattered when she encounters a woman (Hilary Swank) from the outside, who happens to be the first human that Daughter has ever met. And once the newcomer is inside of the bunker, I Am Mother takes a decidedly sinister turn. The truth will come out, but will anyone survive to see it?
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Stars: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank
Director: Grant Sputore
Runtime: 113 minutes
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