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The Last Jedi/Star Wars

The best sci-fi movies on Netflix

From blockbuster classics to indie hits, we've got you covered.

Apr 4, 2020, 6:20 pm*

Internet Culture

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

With thousands to choose from, it can be a daunting task to find the best sci-fi movies on Netflix. Fortunately, we’re here to help. From classic blockbusters to recent indie hits, we’ve selected nine of the best on offer. There’s really one for every mood, whether you’re into thought-provoking psychological drama or just some family-friendly fun.

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The best sci-fi movies on Netflix

1) The Last Jedi

Thanks to visionary writer/director Rian Johnson, the Star Wars franchise now includes a rare kind of sequel: a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that respects the source material while also exploring genuinely fresh ideas. The Last Jedi offers a compelling mid-point for the Star Wars sequel trilogy, packed with layers of meaning and subtext that fans are still uncovering months later.

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2) Annihilation (not available in U.S.)

This isn’t just one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix; it’s one of the best movies of 2018, period. With an attention-grabbing ensemble cast (Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh), Annihilation stars Natalie Portman as a scientist who travels into an alien incursion zone to search for her missing husband. What happens next is disturbing, beautiful, and impossible to explain in just one paragraph. Suffice it to say that Annihilation is a cult classic in the making.

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3) Gravity (DVD only)

A space thriller in its purest form. Sandra Bullock stars as an astronaut stranded in space, leading to a heart-pounding sequence of realistic peril. Winning seven Oscars at the 2013 Academy Awards, it’s safe to say Gravity achieved universal acclaim.

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4) Ex Machina

Subverting the sci-fi/cyberpunk obsession with sexy female robots, this thriller will keep you guessing to the end. Domnhall Gleeson stars as a nerdy tech employee who wins a contest to join his boss, Oscar Isaac, in his secluded house. There, his job is to interact with an android (Alicia Vikander) and test her ability to mimic human behavior. With a smart eye for gender dynamics, Ex Machina marks Alex Garland out as one of the best sci-fi filmmakers around. Plus, the dance sequence is truly unmissable.

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5) Black Panther

To avoid overwhelming this list with superhero movies, we decided to restrict ourselves to just a couple. It goes without saying that Black Panther is one of the best Marvel has to offer, but it belongs here because unlike, say, Ant-Man, it really leans into the speculative side of science fiction. Set in a high-tech African nation that escaped the destructive force of European colonization, it’s an entertaining action blockbuster with deep veins of political meaning beneath the surface.

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6) Under The Skin

Scarlett Johansson stars in this highly original indie drama about an alien who stalks men in a Scottish city. Standing out from Johansson’s back-catalog of cyborgs and supersoldiers, Under The Skin makes excellent use of her ability to combine vampish sex appeal with a cipher-like quality. Much of the movie was filmed using hidden cameras, with Johansson actually driving around Glasgow and picking up non-actors in her van—an impressive feat, considering her international star power. With an acclaimed (and memorably unsettling) orchestral score by Mica Levi, you won’t forget this movie in a hurry.

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7) Jurassic Park

A classic for a reason. The original Jurassic Park remains an icon of blockbuster filmmaking, combining impressively realistic dinosaurs with a heartwarming and funny cast of characters. No sequel has ever lived up to its greatness.

8) Okja

Bless Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer) for making this delightfully, weird movie. With a cast including Tilda Swinton, Steven Yuen, and an utterly hilarious Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja stars Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija, a little girl whose best friend is a giant, genetically modified pig monster. The creature, Okja, is mild-mannered and charming but bred to be eaten. So when Okja is taken away to be experimented on and slaughtered, Mija embarks on a quest to save her friend. Okja is a unique blend of adult absurdist comedy, 101 Dalmations-style children’s adventure, and political commentary about capitalism and sustainability.

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9) Moon

Moon perfectly illustrates why Sam Rockwell should be a superstar. Directed by Duncan Jones, it’s an intense and sometimes morbidly funny drama about an astronaut working alone in a space station on the moon. As you can probably expect from the premise, things start to get weird up there. When a second Sam Rockwell shows up, the story gradually slides from straight sci-fi into psychological horror.

10) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As with the rest of the franchise, Rogue One’s production design is stunning. The tropical base on Scarif is like nothing we’ve seen before, and its sprawling battle scene feels tense and immediate. David Crossman’s costume design fits into the Star Wars universe while distinguishing Rogue One’s place in the beaten-down Dark Ages of the war, with the lead characters dressed in the tough, unwashed garb of guerrilla fighters. Jyn and Cassian look effortlessly badass in their scrubby jackets and layers of grimy shirts, while Baze Malbus and the aging extremist Saw Gerrera contribute sci-fi style with their dented body armor and bulky weapons. As ever, the franchise’s visual worldbuilding is second to none.

11) Thor: Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s sense of humor was a perfect match for the absurdity of the Thor franchise, rescuing it from the overly serious tone of Thor: The Dark World. The supporting cast members were brilliant (Jeff Goldblum! Tessa Thompson! Cate Blanchett! Mark Ruffalo!), and the production designers reveled in a rainbow-hued, Jack Kirby-inspired vision of the Marvel universe. It’s arguably one of the best comedies of 2017, and on top of that, it features some deceptively thoughtful political subtext.

12) Cloud Atlas

There’s only one way to describe this movie: Ambitious. Adapted by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer from the novel by David Mitchell, it covers six interlocking stories in different genres and time periods, featuring an all-star cast playing different roles in each strand. Critical responses ranged from glowing praise to derisive confusion, so there’s really no way to know if you’ll like it until you’ve tried it. (Either way, if you’re a fan of the Wachowskis’ Netflix series Sense8, this is definitely worth checking out.)


13) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Catch Martin Freeman in one of his pre-Sherlock roles, starring in this American adaptation of the cult Hitchhiker’s Guide books by Douglas Adams. While it’s not quite on par with the books or radio series (what could be?), this surreal sci-fi comedy is still beloved by plenty of fans, adding an action/adventure twist to the quirky humor of the original.

14) Europa Report

This 2013 indie is something of a sleeper hit, combining found footage with artful thriller. Six astronauts are sent to explore Jupiter’s moon, Europa, funded by a private company, but of course, things don’t go as planned. We know right away that the mission lost contact with Earth, but unraveling exactly what happened—and what they encounter—is more meditative than horrifying. —Audra Schroeder

15) The Iron Giant

As much love as there is for The Incredibles out there, a case can and probably should be made that the Iron Giant is director/animator Brad Bird’s best film. A parable about a childlike colossus in paranoid ‘50s America, the movie feels almost radical today in its broadly nonviolent, specifically anti-gun viewpoint. But besides being a prescient political statement and a layered portrait of small-town Americana, The Iron Giant is also a glorious and sad animated film, in the same tradition later perfected by Pixar. —Chris Osterndorf

Netflix original sci-fi movies

Netflix has invested heavily in sci-fi movies, trying to capitalize on the runaway success of Stranger Things, and it’s been pretty hit or miss. We obviously recommend Okja, but here’s what you should know about the other original sci-fi movies on Netflix.

1) The Titan

Set in 2048 with Earth on the verge of becoming uninhabitable, The Titan is about mankind’s search for a new home. A potential planet has been found, but humans will have to be genetically modified to survive in this potential new environment. Directed by Lennart Ruff and with a screenplay by Max Hurwitz, the film is captivating because, inside the macro themes, there’s an intimate film. At the heart of the story are Lt. Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Abigail Janssen (Taylor Schilling). Rick has been chosen to participate in an experiment to genetically enhance the human body to survive Titan’s conditions. As an actor, Worthington never really got a fair shake from audiences. Between Terminator Salvation and Avatar, he was anointed as the next big thing and it didn’t stick. He’s solid here. It’s a role predicated on physicality, and Worthington sells it well. —Eddie Strait

2) The Discovery

The discovery here is one of an afterlife, and the consequences it has on society. Robert Redford is the scientist who made the fateful discovery, which has led to a surge in suicides and drawn in a cult of obsessives. It also explores what that afterlife looks like, and whether we really want to know. Director Charlie McDowell explored similar themes of duality in his 2014 film The One I Love. —Audra Schroeder

3) Cloverfield Paradox

Netflix surprised subscribers during the 2018 Super Bowl and dropped the third installment of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot-produced series in their laps. It attempts to tie together the universes of 2008’s Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, and hands us some theories on how those monsters landed on Earth, as a team of scientists hovers above the planet trying to find a new source of energy. But in this timeline, their mission might have accidentally welcomed an alien invasion. Obsessives will have a fun time finding all the Cloververse connections. —Audra Schroeder


4) Anon

Set in a future where everything is recorded through the eyes and human beings have exact footage to rely on rather than pesky memories, Anon stars Clive Owen as Sal Friedland, a detective investing a hacker played by Amanda Seyfried who may or may not be responsible for multiple murders. As he digs deeper, he’s shocked to learn that this woman, known to Sal only as “ANON,” appears to have deleted all her own records, making her nearly untraceable. The movie has a clever premise, but the problem is that Anon is so focused on its own cleverness, it fails to create an interesting world or characters around it. —Chris Osterndorf

5) iBoy

In this update on the techno-thriller, a teen named Tom (Bill Milner) is inadvertently turned into a vigilante superhero after an accident leaves smartphone shards in his brain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Penny Dreadful’s Rory Kinnear co-star. Forget the rush that comes with all the chase scenes; the real terror is that you know this kid has a phone lodged in his head. —Audra Schroeder

6) Extinction

Extinction is the latest twist on the apocalyptic survivalist dad genre, starring Michael Peña as Peter, a man with prophetic nightmares of an alien invasion. While it does have hidden depths beyond the initial premise, it doesn’t offer enough to stand out in the crowded field of alien invasion stories. It has more of a “watch on your laptop when you’re taking a sick day” vibe: a competent if unoriginal thriller where the scary parts aren’t too scary, and the sci-fi ideas don’t go too deep.

7) Bright

Bright is an utterly silly, completely ridiculous movie, seemingly born out of algorithm-generated, genre-hybrid logic. One can almost hear Netflix executives reading back the data analytics: “People like fantasy, and cop movies, and Will Smith. If we put them in a movie together we can’t lose!” Unfortunately, this type of thinking is also why Bright ends up a messy mix of conflicting ingredients. —Chris Osterndorf


8) TAU

The bumbling, technology-gone-awry Netflix thriller TAU accompanies the street-smart Julia (Maika Monroe) who ends up captive in the experiment of a demented (supposed) genius named Alex (Ed Skrein). Her frenemy, Tau, is an advanced A.I. developed by Alex, who protects the futuristic house with creepy drones. Veteran Marvel storyboard artist Federico D’Alessandro fails to spice up a well-worn trope in his debut feature, and by the end of TAU—if you’ve made it beyond the hand-wrung bargaining—the humans are inconsequential. For D’Alessandro, it is the machine that receives deliverance—an unsettling final message that arrives via one last science fiction trope. —Kahron Spearman

Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our guides for the absolute best movies on Netflix, must-see Netflix original series, documentaries, docuseries, and movies.

Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.

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*First Published: Sep 17, 2018, 6:30 am