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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Minority Report (2002)
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Minority Report” offers up the best of two seminal creators. In Washington, D.C., in 2054, police use a psychic, predictive technology to arrest and convict murderers before they actually commit their crime. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the head of this Precrime unit, but when he is himself accused of the future murder of a man he’s never met, he’s forced to go on the run from the people he helped groom and the system he helped establish. Of course, this makes him uniquely suited to outsmart it. Minority Report is psychologically provocative, action-packed, and suspensefully gripping throughout, showing Spielberg in his element bridging sci-fi and action-adventure genres.
The Matrix (1999)
One of the most popular sci-fi movies of recent memory, The Matrix burst into the world with special effects never before seen. While the story is relatively familiar (humans lose control of artificial machines and stumble into the brink of extinction), the innovative setting brought the idea of simulated reality into the mainstream in a newly digital world on the dawn of Y2K. Keanu Reeves plays a man who lives a normal, pencil-pushing life by day and works as a computer hacker called Neo by night. Through his digital investigations, he meets Morpheus, a man with the knowledge and power to take Neo “all the way down the rabbit hole.” That rabbit hole reveals that Neo has been living in a simulation called The Matrix, designed by machines to keep humanity complacent so that their bodies may be harvested for energy. Neo joins the war against the machines and realizes his destiny in an epic sci-fi trilogy, all of which is now on Netflix.
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.
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.
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.
Cloverfield was a little late to the found footage game, but few films have used the style so cleverly and terrifyingly. Matt Reeves’ surprise hit is a homegrown American Kaiju thriller that stands as a fascinating 9/11 allegory. Found footage proves to be the perfect medium through which to experience a giant monster attack on a city. There are loads of fantastical action and non-stop, heart-pumping suspense supported by a budget that allows real terror to unfold in front of the shaky camera. It’s a refreshing spin on monster movies and found footage films alike.
A Christopher Nolan-directed heist movie with an all-star cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and more? We’re intrigued. Throw in the mind-warping concept of entering other people’s dreams to steal their secrets, then entering another dream within that dream, all with huge stakes on the table? Count us in. Inception made more than $800 million at the box office and garnered four Academy Awards for a story that many viewers had to watch twice to fully understand. Fortunately, Netflix will let you rewatch to your heart’s content.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the popular saying that we only use 10% of our brains isn’t entirely true, it is true that there are parts of the human brain that are more or less dormant. Limitless explores what would happen if you could access 100% of your brain. Facing unemployment, writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is deep in a morass of self-pity when an old friend gives him an experimental drug that enhances mental acuity. Turns out, it really enhances mental acuity, and Eddie soon finds that he can remember everything, derive instant insight from complicated data, and practically predict the future — all of which drives him to the top of the financial world. However, the drug isn’t without side effects, and a limited supply threatens to burn Eddie’s newfound glory down to the ground in ashes.
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