There’s nothing quite as exciting (or terrifying) as science fiction, which provides windows into potential, often cataclysmic futures and fictional universes. 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. But nobody wants to spend hours scrolling through a combination of movies they’ve seen and movies they never want to see, 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.
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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
Starship Troopers (1997)
A little bit sci-fi, a little bit comedy, a whole lot of targeted satire, Starship Troopers is basically a send-up of Independence Day and other big, campy alien invasion movies of the ’90s. Earth is at war with a race of giant alien insects called Bugs. Nobody knows much about them except that they want to destroy all human life. However, in this fascist, militaristic future, there’s more than meets the eye. When a Mobile Infantry unit is sent to destroy the Bugs on their own turf, it becomes clear the Bugs have only one truly sinister aim: Survive the human invasion.
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Runtime: 129 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
Before he was the Joker, Joaquin Phoenix played Theodore Twombly in this sci-fi/romance mash-up, written and directed by Spike Jonze. In the throes of an impending divorce, Phoenix develops a relationship with a female operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in a touching story that takes a different approach to what intimacy and love can look like. It was also well ahead of its time in depicting a heightened level of interaction with technology. Apple’s Siri had already been available by the time Her was released, but Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant were years away from entering the market as voice assistants capable of helping with everyday tasks.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Spike Jonze
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. 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
If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ve at least heard of Underworld and maybe even enjoyed a few of the franchise’s six films. If you’re not, you may be surprised to hear that a Kate Beckinsale-led franchise about an epic war between vampires and werewolves amassed six movies between 2003 and 2016. The first three — which are the best three — are on Netflix. Underworld brings you into a world where vampires and werewolves (known as Lycans) have waged their centuries-long war in secret but when a human becomes a Lycan target, vampire Death Dealer Selene (Beckinsale) makes it her business to defend him. After he’s bitten by a Lycan, Selene must decide whether she must kill this man for whom she has developed feelings or go against her clan to save him. Turns out, it’s not as cut and dried as you think, as conspiracy abounds in this endless war.
Rotten Tomatoes: 31%
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen
Director: Len Wiseman
Runtime: 121 minutes
Under the Skin (2013)
Scarlett Johansson stars in this extremely strange sci-fi indie that, today, looks fairly off-brand for her. And yet, she shines as an otherworldly being who preys on men in Scotland. Under the Skin is a visually stunning, ethereal movie that thrives on score, scenery, and action rather than plot and dialogue. After all, Johansson plays an alien stalker, she’s not really talking to her prey. There’s plenty of theme and subtext to the violence, though, making this one a real thinker.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Runtime: 108 minutes
Ex Machina (2014)
The artificial intelligence we know and love today — from Alexa to Siri, to Google Assistant, and even Bixby — are helpful little tools that can automate daily tasks for us. The A.I. in Ex Machina is a much, much different story, as Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) is a robot built by the CEO of a coding company (Oscar Isaac). She’s a fully humanoid creation, and one of Isaac’s employees (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to the CEO’s mansion to spend the week performing a live “Turing Test.” It’s an intense exploration of what it means to be living, and the twists and turns throughout this film are unexpected and powerful.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Director: Alex Garland
Runtime: 108 minutes
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
It’s not one of the best Star Wars movies of recent (or semi-recent) memory, but Solo: A Star Wars Story is still good for a couple hours of freewheeling sci-fi fun in the Star Wars universe. This film serves as an origin story of sorts for the galaxy’s greatest smuggler, Han Solo. It follows him in the early days of his criminal career as he makes and learns from his mistakes and builds relationships with the likes of Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian.
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Director: Ron Howard
Runtime: 143 minutes
District 9 (2009)
District 9 may be a bit on the nose with its allegorical depiction of renewed Apartheid in South Africa but it is nonetheless an interesting take on the “first encounter” movie. When an extraterrestrial race comes to Earth not to invade, but to find refuge after their planet has been destroyed, humanity forces them to live in slum-like conditions. Oppressed, reviled, and marginalized, the aliens find their lives on Earth aren’t much better than living on a destroyed planet. But when a government agent is accidentally exposed to the alien biotech and transforms into one himself, he may become the perfect bridge to a brighter future.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Stars: Sharlto Copley
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Runtime: 112 minutes
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
One of the most beloved and critically acclaimed sci-fi films of all time, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial continues to have an outsized influence on TV and film. Films like The Goonies and Super 8 and shows like Stranger Things can trace their influences directly to E.T., Steven Spielberg’s dramatic reimagining of humanity’s first encounter with aliens. Rather than a war, this encounter is an accident. A lonely little boy is exploring in his backyard when he stumbles across an elderly alien botanist who has been mistakenly left behind on Earth after a research mission. Determined to help the alien find its way home, the boy must do everything in his power to keep his new friend secret and get him back to his people before the government gets their hands on him.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 114 minutes
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