Editor’s Note: This post is updated monthly. Bookmark this page and come back every month to see the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.
Updated for March 2020.
Even if the present feels more and more like science fiction every day, actual science fiction is still here to inspire and terrify you.
Science fiction is one of our more dynamic and inspired genres as a species. We need something to aspire to as much as we need something to fear. Science fiction provides both. And the best science fiction can provide even more. Here is our list of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now. Come back often to see what the future holds.
Under the Skin
Writer/director Jonathan Glazer worked on developing Under the Skin for over a decade and it shows.
This is a carefully crafted, artful science fiction film with something to say…even if it doesn’t always know what that is. Loosely based on a 2000 novel of the same name, Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an otherworldly being who drives around Scotland preying upon men.
Part Under the Skin‘s M.O. is certainly forwarding an inverse of sexual politics with Johansson’s character as a “predator” as opposed to a male. But the movie’s thoughts go even a bit deeper than that, viewing all of its human characters as otherworldly creatures of their own.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 Hellboy is one of the cooler comic book adaptations and action films of the new millennium.
Ron Perlman (under heavy makeup) stars as demon turned paranormal policeman Hellboy in…well, Hellboy. Hellboy works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense alongside his friends Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). Together the Bureau works to protect the world from paranormal and mythological threats. In this installment those threats include Nazis and Grigori Rasputin (not that Rasputin).
Hellboy is an exciting paranormal action thriller and occupies a unique spot in the recent superhero movie canon.
One of science fiction’s best gifts as a genre is it’s generous ability to “assist” other genres. The Lobster is really a romantic film all about love, intimacy and the soul-quaking fear of both.
But The Lobster couldn’t be as emotionally valid as it is without its initial sci-fi conceit. You see, The Lobster is about a resort where single people meet to pair up and become couples. Thing is, though, it’s compulsory. Also, if you don’t find a soulmate in 45 days, you are forever transformed into the animal of your choosing. The Lobster‘s science fiction concept perfectly sets up and complements the real human feelings that follow.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo tells the origin story of the Star Wars universe’s favorite scruffy nerf herder. Alden Ehreneich stars as the titular Han Solo as he leaves his unremarkable home behind and become a smuggler in the galaxy. Solo works because it has a solid understanding of the amoral universe its characters inhabit…and because it got Donald Glover to play Lando.
Ex Machina is in the conversation for best science fiction movie of the decade. The appeal of Alex Garland’s first directorial effort is that it’s as simple as it is smart. It features only three meaningful characters. Steve Jobs-esque tech bro Nathan (Oscar Isaac) invites lowly computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his isolated home/lab to conduct a series of “Turing tests” with his newest A.I. creation: Ava (Alicia Vikander).
The process and Nathan’s increasingly erratic drunken behavior raise numerous ethical questions for Caleb as the tests move along. Ex Machina is pitch-perfect sci-fi. It uses the creation of truly sentient technology as a battleground for timeless ethical and philosophical human questions. It also has a fantastic dance number.
Plenty of sci-fi action films try to come up with a unique visual representation of a real life theme they’re trying to address. 2013’s Snowpiercer develops a simple, yet brilliant way to present class disparity. Remember all those passenger classes on the Titanic? What if basically the whole world was Titanic?
Snowpiercer is set in a future in which climate change has turned planet Earth into Hoth, basically. The remnants of humanity all live on a globe-spanning train, called the Snowpiercer. The rich passengers of Snowpiercer live in the lush cabins up front while the poor passengers are forced to do unthinkable things to survive in the back train cars. Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a coup from the back passengers as the ragtag team makes its way to the front of the train to see how the other half really lives.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
There have been 11 different movies about Spider-Man since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002. So did we really need another? Well if its the animated sci-fi atom bomb of joy that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is, then yes.
This Sony Animation film introduces both Miles Morales and the concept of a multi-verse to the Spider-Man film canon and we’re all the better for it. The villainous (and very thicc) Kingpin wants to open up a portal to a different timeline to reunited with his wife and kid. Little does he know that doing so will bring a whole host of Spider-Men, Spider-Women and Spider-Pigs to this universe to assist Miles Morales on his Hero’s Journey.
I Am Mother
You know what they say: mother knows best. Even when mother is a droid. This Netflix original film picks up after a mass extinction even for humanity. Clara Rugaard stars as a young unnamed girl, the last of humanity, being cared for by a maternal robot (voiced by Rose Byrne) in a bunker.
Everything goes swimmingly for Mother and Daugher until one day a woman (Hillary Swank) arrives and is horrified to see a robot looking after a human being. She tells the girl that it’s robots like mother who exterminated most of their species and Daughter must decide who to trust.
On its surface, Inception is a purely science fiction blockbuster. Its plot is famously complicated, involving multi-layered dreams and various “kicks” to get out of them.
At it’s core, however, Inception is a James Bond-style action movie, one directed by Christopher Nolan, no less. That’s what all the sci-fi trappings are there for: to make a better taut, exciting action thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a professional thief who extracts memories from people’s minds. Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) approaches Dom with a unique proposition: incept (create memories) inside the mind of his business rival, Robert Fischer.
Cobb takes the job and viewers are entreated to an action thriller within the architecture of the human mind.
We live on the Earth’s crust – the verdant area on the planet’s surface that can host carbon-based lifeforms such as ourselves. But the crust is the thinnest part of Earth’s makeup. There is miles and miles and miles of matter below. What could possibly be hiding there?
Action/Horror/Comedy/Sci-Fi hybrid Tremors offers up an answer. And that answer is: worm monsters, stupid! Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as Val and Earl, two handymen working in a small Nevada desert town. When a variety of violent misfortunes begin to befall the townspeople, Earl and Val soon discover the terrifying reason why.
It’s unclear just how much of Starship Troopers is sincere and how much is satire. Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 sci-fi action thriller follows young soldier Johnny Rico and his compadres in the Mobile Infantry as they travel to new planets humanity hopes to colonize and clear out giant insectoid creatures call Arachnids.
Starship Troopers seems to have a lot to say about the grim future of humanity and the concessions we make as we grow larger and lose our personhood. On the other hand, those space soldiers sure do shoot those bugs good.
Sometimes it takes awhile for a film to be registered as an all-time classic. Such is the case with Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner. While audiences were initially lukewarm to Scott’s take on a Philip K. Dick short story, the film (and particularly its director’s cut, which can be found on Netflix) covers all the heady sci-fi tropes and concepts we’ve come to love.
The year is 2019 and synthetic humans known as replicants have been engineered by the Tyrell Corporation to help do the grueling work on off-world colonies. Thing is, some of the replicants aren’t too happy with this arrangement and escape back to Earth. Enter blade runner Rick Deckard, who must hunt them down while also encountering uncomfortable truths about his world…and maybe himself.
These days, everything is coming up J.J. J.J. Abrams resurrected the most important film franchise of all time with Star Wars and has all the “eff-you” money and creative points he could ever want. Hopefully, he cashes all that in to keep expanding the Cloverfield universe. The original 2008 Cloverfield, produced by Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves, is an ingenious twist on the monster movie concept.
A monster destroys New York, as monsters are wont to do but all the action is captured on the handheld cameras of our protagonists. “Found footage” movies have certainly had their day and Cloverfield can be counted among the best. Here’s to Abrams producing many more sci-fi thrillers with “Cloverfield” somewhere in the name.
In Moon, Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, a man living on the moon and mining a precious, valuable energy resource for the Lunar Industries corporation. He’s alone, his communications with Earth have been disrupted and his only friend is the artificial intelligence named GERTY. Bell goes through his day-to-day tasks then one day, two weeks before his return to Earth he discovers that me might not be as alone as he thought.
Moon is the wonderful sci-fi experience that at first feels completely foreign and bizarre before settling into a surprising, yet logical third act.