Movies are means of escape, we know that already. But if you’re really going to escape, you might as well delve into the world of science fiction. It’s clearly more fun that way because we’re introduced to a lot of exhilarating possibilities. From interstellar explorations to time-traveling technology to the ingenuity of artificial intelligence, science fiction truly reflects man’s penchant for storytelling. If you’re in the mood for any of the aforementioned, you’re just in luck because Netflix has an impressive catalogue of them. Here are 20 of the best sci-fi movies you can find on Netflix right now.
Back to the Future (1985)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells
Obviously one of the timeless classics in the sci-fi genre, Back to the Future’s impact in pop culture is a testament to a movie’s long-lasting effect if done right. The narrative is quite simple: Marty is a teenager who goes back in time using a time machine built by a scientist with an inclination for eccentricity. But having this great escapade has not without drawbacks: in order to return to the present, he needs to make sure his high school-aged parents fall in love.
Back in the Future is always a worthwhile watch (and even a rewatch) because it focuses on adventure rather than its scientific element. Time travel may be the glue that holds the pieces together, but it’s Marty McFly’s adventure of a lifetime that the reels audiences in.
Ready Player One (2018)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
In 2045, virtual reality is pretty much humanity’s alternate reality as most spend their time escaping the real world. It even becomes more so when James Halliday, creator of the virtual reality universe OASIS, before his death, hides keys for the worthy player to find. Whoever succeeds in accomplishing the challenges to find these keys will also gain OASIS’ ownership.
Enter Wade Watts, a teenager intent on solving the mystery alongside his virtual friends. There’s only one obstacle, and a huge one at that – a CEO of a giant conglomerate who’s determined to secure OASIS himself. So he does everything in his power to stop Wade and his friends from succeeding.
Combining mystery and adventure with virtual reality as its foundation, Ready Player One is nothing short of entertaining. Another big win for the movie is Spielberg’s homage to everything ‘80s, which is a brilliant juxtaposition of futurism and the good old days. It allows us to imagine what it could be for us in the not-so-distant future, while also giving us feelings of nostalgia.
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt
While Transformers obviously has no interest in further plot and character development, it makes up for what it lacks by giving viewers solid action sequences and a refreshing dose of comedy (lots of it). And we’re not supposed to skip good action and good comedy, right? Unspoken rule in planets Cybertron and Earth, we’ve heard. It’s also worth mentioning that Optimus Prime saying smart stuff about humanity, peace, and courage really makes you ponder on things while slurping a Big Gulp.
I Am Legend (2018)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
The virus that’s originally meant to cure cancer ends up wiping most of the world’s population, killing 90 percent of mankind and turning 9.8 percent into cannibalistic mutants. That leaves the remaining 0.2% of the population immune to the virus. US Army virologist Neville, played by Will Smith, is one of them.
Living in isolation with his German Shepherd, Sam, he searches for food and supplies in the abandoned ruins of Manhattan while he continues to experiment and find a cure for the virus.
I Am Legend, for starters, reminds us that we don’t need a bunch of characters to create insurmountable suspense. Just a lonely guy and his dog trying to survive amidst beyondly frightening zombies/mutants/cannibals is quite enough. Smith also did a commendable job in his acting as we can’t help but share his pain.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt
When the second Ice Age plagues the planet after a failed attempt to stop global warming, survivors spend whatever time they have left on a circumnavigational train. While the elite live out their days lavishly in the front cars, the poor endure the worst living conditions in tail compartments that are heavily controlled by armed guards. This ultimately fueled the lower class passengers to revolt against the upper-class residents, led by Curtis (Chris Evans).
Further strengthened by its visual effects, Snowpiercer makes for an engaging sci-fi thriller that also feels very timely because of the social commentary at play. Post-apocalyptic films are understandably dark but Snowpiercer even more so. What makes it stand out from other movies with similar themes, however, is the profundity and even the occasional hilarity, both of which strongly characterize the film.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
You can always count on Alfonso Cuarón to evoke deep feelings of mortality and raise questions of existentialism while being frightened, entertained, and inspired all at the same time. In Gravity, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are in Earth’s orbit to perform hardware upgrades on the Hubble Space Telescope. After space debris destroys their Space Shuttle and kills the rest of the crew, they become stranded in space. Running out of time to stay alive, the pair rushes to find ways to return to Earth.
Star Trek (2009)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Winona Ryder
A reboot of the Star Trek franchise, 2009’s Star Trek features the main characters of the original Star Trek TV series. The movie follows James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, and Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, aboard the USS Enterprise. Together and with the rest of the crew, they must defeat Nero, a Romulan from the future intent on destroying the United Federation of Planets.
This movie reboot of the beloved series is exhilarating enough to revive the entire franchise. Commendable cast, impressive special effects, and dazzling screenplay truly work wonders in one’s cinematic experience.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those movies you don’t entirely comprehend. You try to explain it but words don’t fully form so they end up being a “feeling” in your consciousness. And despite all that, you know there’s a message floating somewhere and that message could be the answers to those questions about the unknown. Simply put, it’s kind of weird but in a good way.
And because this is a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey is rich in visual ingenuity. The movie chronicles a voyage to Jupiter with the computer HAL, following the discovery of an extra-terrestrial monolith that’s also playing a crucial role in the evolution of mankind. 2001: A Space Odyssey tackles a variety of subjects, from human evolution to existentialism to artificial intelligence, without directly addressing them, which makes it even more brilliant.
Super 8 (2011)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich
While filming their own Super 8 movie, a group of teens witnesses a train crashing and releasing an unknown presence that soon starts wreaking havoc in their town. While Super 8 feels like E. T. all over again, Super 8 is actually darker in its narrative and tone. It surely doesn’t have any comical, cute aliens getting wasted after an accidental boozing. Despite that, Super 8 is still an excellent homage to mystery movies in the past.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts, Dan O’Bannon
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
The quest for knowledge and progress really fuels mankind to traverse even the darkest corner of the universe. In Prometheus, explorers are sent to navigate a distant world in their search for humanity’s origins. Instead of getting answers, they come across a more sinister force that threatens life on Earth. If you’re a science-fiction fan, there is no way you’d dislike Prometheus. It’s a well-made intellectual science adventure, so intense it will tickle your imagination and satiate your craving for a space mystery movie.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman
When giant sea monsters threaten to eradicate life on Earth, governments from around the world unite to create robotic war machines called Jaegers to defend the planet. Successful at first, the leaders’ confidence in the efficiency of the Jaegers eventually wanes. However, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and his team still firmly believe that Jaegers are mankind’s only hope. In their final effort to defeat the sea monsters, veteran pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) joins Pentecost in Hong Kong where the last remaining Jaeger base is.
If you want a loud movie with gargantuan robots and sea monsters punching each other, Pacific Rim is a no-brainer. It’s a monster movie, all right, but it’s also unpretentious in what it wants to be. Plus the visuals are indulgently enjoyable – and loud.
Independence Day (1996)
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch
When aliens destroy several cities in the world with their super-advanced weapons, the US president teams up with a nerd, a pilot, and a group of survivors to save the planet from its evil, warmongering invaders. Mixing science fiction and a whole lot of thrill, Independence Day will make you wish for a sequel. Oh wait, that already happened, and they chose a different actress to play the former president’s daughter – but the original is still so much more riveting. And you have to love the ensemble cast, too.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). After her sister is picked to join the 74th Hunger Games, an annual “game” where boys and girls from age 12-18 fight to the death, she volunteers in her place to protect her. Along with her district’s male tribute, Peeta Mellark, they travel to the Capitol to train and to fight.
Director Gary Ross chooses to stay faithful in his big screen adaptation of the novel. The result is a thrilling sci-fi dystopian feature that’s clever and horrifying, giving you mixed emotions of fear, anger, and sadness. And in the midst of all is Jennifer Lawrence’s awe-inspiring performance.
The Martian (2015)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan
In The Martian, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist aboard Ares III on a mission to Mars. The spacecraft’s crew presumes him dead after a deadly dust storm, leaving him behind. Despite the seemingly hopeless predicament, he’s in, he doesn’t relent and makes use of his knowledge to survive on an otherwise uninhabitable planet. But surviving isn’t his only goal, he also needs to find a way to inform his crew that he’s still alive to return to Earth.
It’s not often that we see a space-themed movie that’s treated with lightness and humor without sacrificing its intelligence and relevance. This is exactly what director Ridley Scott accomplishes in The Martian. He turns a familiar premise into an unexpected sci-fi gem, smart and complex but without the need to go too dark or too heavy.
I, Robot (2004)
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk
Artificial intelligence turning on humans because they’ve gone too smart to just follow orders, this might be I, Robot’s logline. While the plot feels predictable, this Will Smith-headlined sci-fi-action flick also features spectacular special effects, inventive settings, and the suspense brought by the resulting chaos of the robot population wanting to take the reins.
Director: Travis Knight
Writer: Christina Hodson
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon
Serving as the Transformers’ prequel and spin-off, Bumblebee centers on everyone’s favourite Autobot, Bumblebee. Before his very congenial moniker, Bumblebee is known as B-127. As Cybertron is ravaged by civil war, Optimus Prime sends B-127 to Earth to form a base, where they can regroup and continue to fight for their cause. On Earth, he meets a teenager named Charlie, who befriends him and gives him the name Bumblebee.
Bumblebee’s appeal mainly comes from its 1980s setting, Hailee Steinfeld’s performance, and of course, Bumblebee being a sweetheart. In contrast to the Transformers films, Bumblebee doesn’t focus on its sci-fi and action elements. Instead, it chooses to relish on characters, relationships, and meaningful expressions, which makes Bumblebee a robot-themed movie with a heart.
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano
Time travel is usually tricky on the screen and ends up being a little confusing. Not Looper. In 2044, crime syndicates send their victims back in time to be executed by “loopers”, as present-day tracking systems have made it extremely difficult to dump their victims’ bodies. Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is one of such loopers, who gets entangled with his older self and the lethal complications of altering history. From beginning to end, Looper is a cinematic joyride. It presents an entrancing vision of the future while raising existential questions, which is why it’s unlikely that you’ll stumble on anything dull here.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe
Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are “extractors”. They enter people’s subconscious to extract information and perform corporate espionage. Their latest job requires them to accomplish a more daunting task – implant an idea in a person’s subconscious to influence a certain decision.
A mind-numbing tale of dream sharing equipped with jaw-dropping visual displays, engrossing performances, and solid screenplay makes Christopher Nolan’s Inception a highly engaging watch. Despite the intricacy of the story, Inception still operates in the bounds of reason and coherence. And as the narrative even becomes more complex, it never breaks from its imaginative context.
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac
A scientific expedition consisting of cellular biology professor and Army veteran Lena, physicist Josie Radek, geomorphologist Cass Sheppard, and paramedic Anya Thorensen is initiated to uncover the mystery surrounding the “Shimmer”, which appeared after a meteor hit a lighthouse. Slowly expanding its boundaries, the quarantined area becomes home to mutating plants and animals brought about by an extraterrestrial presence.
It’s interesting to see the science of mutating organisms set against the mysteries of metaphysics. Director Alex Garland clearly relishes in delving into the enigma of nature, science, human psyche and combining them all into an intellectual yet emotive take on existence and purpose.
I Am Mother (2019)
Director: Grant Sputore
Writer: Michael Lloyd Green
Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank
I Am Mother follows Daughter, a girl in a post-apocalyptic bunker raised by Mother, a robot tasked to repopulate the Earth after mankind goes extinct. Their bond is strong, that is until a woman appears and contradicts everything Mother has taught Daughter. I Am Mother is instantly intriguing from the get-go and successfully increases in intensity and suspense as the narrative moves further on. It’s also intelligently made, well-acted, and with a social commentary that subtly enhances the film’s relevance.
Anything on the list takes your fancy? Many science fiction movies don’t just concentrate on the science of it all, they also explore human conditions and other thought-provoking themes that make them valuable additions to the world of cinema. But if you’re after pure entertainment, Netflix also provides a thrilling assortment of them.