Beginning with Georges Méliès and A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the medium of film has proven to be an ideal universe in which to create the fantastical. Science fiction is as diverse a genre as horror. Under the larger umbrella of the genre, you can find comedy and science fiction, horror and science fiction, “pure” science fiction, and more.
From 80s sci-fi action classics, to animated features, and to movies which take us to the furthest reaches of the universe, into the future, or simply into something eons beyond the everyday, Netflix probably has something to satisfy you.
This look at the best sci-fi movies on Netflix will appeal to anyone who loves the genre, regardless of what they specifically like to watch.
The Best Sci-Fi Movies On Netflix
1. Advantageous (2015)
Director: Jennifer Phang
Great ideas and strong characterization sometimes miss running into each other in science fiction films. That isn’t a problem here, as Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous (co-written with star Jacqueline Kim) manages sharp social commentary, a good cast playing compelling characters, and a fascinating future in which science is beginning to screw around with transferring the human consciousness into a different body.
Sure, you can see how this is going to go. However, while Advantageous moves to a fairly logical conclusion with a world in which such a procedure is possible, but the ruling class is still basically the same as the one in our actual time and place, the film is a treasure trove of surprises.
Even as things get strange, the movie never loses sight of mother/daughter dynamics, the desperation of wanting to do the best for your child, and a world that wants to move forward with increasingly smaller pieces of genuine humanity.
2. Back to the Future (1985)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Despite an approach to racial politics that could be described as, well, questionable, Back to the Future is an 80s classic that is pretty much impossible to dislike. A lot of that comes down to a time travel story which at least seems to remain on the rails. The soundtrack, the cast, and the overall relentless enthusiasm of everything that moves this film create a situation in which you will watch the first one, and then immediately decide that you may as well watch the other two.
It isn’t hard to understand why this classic holds up for so many, including me (well, for the most part). Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, the teenager who has to get his parents back into each other in 1955, is a highlight for one of the most likable actors in recent memory.
You’ve also got Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Tom F. Wilson, and Christopher Lloyd at his bug-eyed, hyperbolic best. Back to the Future might have been a hit without them, as it still has an excellent script, pacing, cinematography, editing, and so on. However, that is very difficult to imagine.
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
After the extraordinary optimism of merely suggesting a presence in the void of space with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick went in a wholly different, darker direction for A Clockwork Orange. There’s very little hopefulness to be found in this film by comparison.
There is, however, a ferocious sense of cruelty and despair to the future Enas depicted here. The face of that future is young Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell. Yet despite the immense emotional and physical brutality on display here, A Clockwork Orange might be one of the funniest movies to make the list. Obviously, that depends very keenly on your own sense of humor.
Regardless, if you do find something twistedly amusing about these characters and the cheery hell they inhabit, it will not be something you’ll be able to describe as lighthearted. This is nightmarish entertainment of the highest order.
4. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus (2019)
Director: Jhonen Vasquez
Revisiting one of the definitive cult classics of modern TV animation is the sort of endeavor that can very quickly become an unwatchable problem.
Thankfully, where Invader Zim is concerned, the 2019 film directed by creator Jhonen Vasquez, effectively bringing closure to one of the darkest and funniest things Nickelodeon has ever or will ever put out, Enter the Florpus is damn near perfect in every regard.
The movie is a welcome return to these characters and this chaotic, beautifully-stylized universe. At the same time, Enter the Florpus offers fresh enthusiasm for the material, new ideas, and a clear idea of everything that made the TV series such a glorious mutant in a sea of standard fare.
Jason X does indeed deliver on the promise to send one of the beefiest incarnations of Jason Vorhees (another fun turn from series legend Kane Hodder) to outer space. The movie goes exactly the way you think it might.
Then again, at times, and in truly surprising ways, it doesn’t. Jason X can at least be described as ambitious in trying to do everything conceivably possible with a premise that can be best described as decisive at best among fans of the series. If you can take this movie at its earnestness to be campy, with all of the violence you’d expect from this series, Jason X can be pretty entertaining.
6. The Midnight Sky (2020)
Director: George Clooney
While sometimes feeling like an amalgam of other science fiction movies, the scope and sincerity of its ambition are ultimately greater qualities for George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky than anything which keeps it from being a comprehensive success.
Set on an Earth on the brink of destruction, a dying scientist (Clooney) desperately tries to contact a spaceship returning to the planet. The result is something that wants to crack open a deep philosophy about history, humanity, and the possibility of those things being truly finite. At the same time, The Midnight Sky is also a visually exciting film with a sense of action that almost feels anarchic against the more fast-paced fare of the day.
Does it all work? For the most part. In spite of pacing problems, The Midnight Sky offers excellent performances, brilliant special effects, and a story that works far more often than not.
7. Midnight Special (2016)
Director: Jeff Nichols
One of the best movies of 2016, at least as far as I’m concerned, Midnight Special grounds the fantastic in a way that doesn’t suffocate. Quite the opposite.
The movie’s more natural elements combine so eloquently and engagingly with the story of a young boy (Jaeden Lieberher, absolutely nailing the role) of possible extraterrestrial origin, being pursued by vigilant government agents, that it brings to mind the best of John Carpenter’s 1984 classic Starman.
Character-driven (Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst are exceptional), but with steady attention paid to the sci-fi elements, Midnight Special is another example of the unusual energy of Jeff Nichols as a writer and director. This film, as well as others in his filmography, often carry a feeling of something familiar, even as they frequently, and sometimes very gently, veer away from our expectations.
8. The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021)
Director: Michael Rianda
An aspiring filmmaker named Katie Mitchell goes on a road trip with her somewhat-dysfunctional family on the precipice of starting film school. The trip ripples across a range of family relationships, different dynamics, and a fair number of problems. The ripples become waves, when all of the electronic devices in the world decide the time is right to seize control.
As you can everyone, these characters now have to work on themselves and these relationships at a much faster, more dangerous pace. That doesn’t sound like a particularly unique plot, but The Mitchells vs. The Machines is clearly one of the best examples of one of those films which gleefully and thoroughly demolishes what you expect of it.
The movie isn’t just a high note for the current crop of animated features, it’s also genuinely good science fiction, with an impressively balanced dose of comedy and drama.
9. Okja (2017)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
An immense, diverse ensemble surrounds director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, The Host) telling one of the best “monster” stories as part of one of the best sci fi movies on Netflix.
The titular character is not overtly a creature in the tradition of Frankenstein’s Monster, but both are extraordinary beings brought to life by some form of super-science.
However, and this isn’t a surprise, considering the director, Okja offers clean, blunt commentary on capitalism, the ambitions of science, and the idea that we often force children to be better than many of the adults around them. In this case, it’s a young girl whose friendship with a genetic superpig compels her to protect the creature, when it becomes the focus of the machinations of everyday, corporatized evil.
Okja will win you over on the strength of Ahn Seo-hyun as the young girl in question. However, you’re also going to love the visuals, pacing, story (co-written by Jon Ronson), editing (frequent Bong collaborator Yang Jin-mo), and pretty much everything else.
10. The Old Guard (2020)
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Charlize Theron commands a team of immortal warriors on what is somehow a suicide mission — that has to be enough for something to simply be entertaining. Thankfully, through the direction of Gina Prince-Bythewood, giving us one of the best action titles to garner a Netflix release, there is so much more to The Old Guard than that.
The film creates potent and impressive tension early on, maintaining that with stunning action set pieces, and performances that hit beautifully for a film such as this. The Old Guard is solid science fiction entertainment.
The action movie aspect might be more than some genre fans might want, but you should be able to figure that out for yourself early on in one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.
11. Real Steel (2011)
Director: Shawn Levy
While very clearly borrowing elements of movies like Rocky and The Champ, Real Steel also does a pretty good job of adhering to the original short story by Richard Matheson (which was also later an episode of The Twilight Zone). Of course, there are a lot of sports cliches and high-concept robot brawls to keep in mind, but it represents the last decade of science fiction in a pretty substantive fashion.
Regardless of its connections to one of the most important science fiction writers who ever lived, Real Steel works because it lacks pretension, benefits from a strong cast, and delivers in every way on the robot bare knuckle boxing we all came to see.
Real Steel is another good action movie that also doesn’t lose sight of its potential for the science fiction side of things. A sequel wouldn’t be the worst idea ever by any means.
12. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Time travel is naturally going to be a very popular subject for any list of science fiction movies on Netflix. What gets interesting within the genre is just how versatile the idea really is. We’ll come back to it again later, but for now, let’s give Safety Not Guaranteed the credit it deserves for being a micro-budget wonder of storytelling, character chemistry, and building on those things to suspend our disbelief.
Safety Not Guaranteed at least promises something interesting is going to happen. The story sets a man (Mark Duplass), meeting and choosing the best possible candidate (Aubrey Plaza) for a planned expedition to time travel into the past. As the departure gets closer and closer, we become more and more skeptical, and yet just as willing to see the movie through to its conclusion.
Best of all? It does this with the least amount of resources of any other movie covered here. I think it pays off in spectacular fashion.
13. See You Yesterday (2019)
Director: Stefon Bristol
I told you we would come back to time travel in science fiction.
And to Michael J. Fox, I suppose, who has a small role in this layered, sometimes chaotically-paced story of two young science prodigies named C.J. and Sebastian (Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow), who try to use a time machine invention to prevent the murder of C.J.’s brother by police officers in Brooklyn, New York.
As you can imagine from a plot description like that, See You Yesterday has moments of almost overwhelming bleakness and sorrow in what it explores with a plot device like a time machine. The film ultimately works because of its cast, particularly the remarkable young leads, and because of a running time (87 minutes) that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for doubt or posturing.
See You Yesterday whips you to and from its vital, unique story with an intensity, but that’s something worth embracing here.
14. The Signal (2014)
Director: William Eubank
As three college students (Olivia Cooke particularly stands out) trace a signal they believe has been put out by a rival hacker, we quickly realize that things are going to get very weird, perhaps even terrifying, in fairly short order.
The fact that the source of this signal is Nevada is probably another red flag we wish they’d notice.
Yet, while the initial setup consists of plot points and characters you might expect, The Signal explodes into its own manic, disconcerting universe without wasting a whole lot of time.
While that universe isn’t as visually represented as some might hope, the sheer volume and ferocity of the ideas expressed here, combined with performances from genre veterans like Lin Shaye and Laurence Fishburne, gives The Signal enough strength to be heard and understood. It delves into subjects like the relationship between logic and emotion, and it provides us with a truly interesting idea of contacting another form of life in the universe.
Particularly where it concerns the origins of humanity itself. Some might claim that is giving this story of scientists discovering an interstellar gateway way too much credit, but I would disagree. While Roland Emmerich’s commercial filmmaking career has been hit or miss on a truly enormous scale, Stargate sees him firmly in control of an idea that genuinely appeals to him. The results are one of the better movies he’s made over an impressively long career.
Stargate has some interesting ideas beneath its 90s action epic skin, and it features some of the more interesting digital effects that were being produced at this point in time. This story would eventually be better told in television form, but what we have here, besides fun performances from the likes of Kurt Russell and James Spader, are some fascinating ideas and possibilities, wrapped in something that satisfies on the adventure and the enduring-wonderment-of-the-ever-curious-human-spirit front.
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