Science fiction is a glimpse of how life could be.
It’s not always a welcome escape, mind you. Some of history’s best and most beloved examples of sci-fi are defined by the dark view of life and society that they embrace. But the genre as a whole is all about presenting a slightly skewed picture of the day-to-day we know.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber and you’re looking to scratch that sci-fi film itch, here are the best options you can find on the service right now.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Some movies need no introduction. Jurassic Park is for sure one of those movies, and not just because of all the glorious Jeff Goldblum memes.
Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur theme park adventure, based on the Michael Crichton book of the same name, is timeless. Yes, it’s clearly set in a 1990s world. But the film’s whole idea is built around technology ceasing to matter when you invite long-extinct dinosaurs into our modern world.
Would an iPhone have saved the day here? No way. The Jurassic Park vacation destination was doomed from the start. — A.R.
How to watch: Jurassic Park is now streaming on Netflix.
2. Starship Troopers (1997)
The simplest explanation of Starship Troopers is it’s a science fiction movie about humanity’s war against an alien race of giant insects. But that simple explanation woefully undersells this excellent film.
Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven adapted Robert Heinlein’s novel – which presents a highly technical view of the same war, complete with detailed tactics and military jargon – into a blood-soaked blockbuster featuring gratuitous violence and nudity. But within that spectacle is a blisteringly satirical commentary on the military-industrial complex. — A.R.
How to watch: Starship Troopers is now streaming on Netflix.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind succeeds as a thought-provoking and heartfelt science fiction romance story. It tells the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), a couple whose caustic but deeply engaged relationship ends in disaster, leaving both of them so destroyed that they hire a company to erase their memories of one another.
Really, Eternal Sunshine is a story about memory and connection, and the intangible forces that push people together — as well as the ones that push them apart. The movie’s exploration of universal ideas means it’s just as compelling a gut punch today as it was in 2004. (If you’re into filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s unique brand of weirdness, his movie Being John Malkovich is also streaming on Netflix.) — A.R.
How to watch: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is now streaming on Netflix.
4. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
It’s a basic tenet of the science fiction genre that cutting-edge science contains the potential for fantastic innovation…and also for spectacular destruction. In Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a plucky inventor named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) learns that lesson the hard way.
Flint creates a device that makes food literally rain from the skies, to the initial delight of his small town. Unfortunately, he discovers before long that these meals come with a hefty side of unintended consequences, and must figure out a way to stop his own creation from destroying the world.
Combining silly jokes, slick animation, and a sweet message, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a tasty dish for all ages. — A.H.
How to watch: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is now streaming on Netflix.
5. The Core (2003)
To think there was a time in recent history where a story about the human-prompted destruction of Earth seemed even mildly far-fetched. The Core follows a team of science-types who heads off on a mission to bore down to the center of the Earth so they can set off a series of nuclear detonations that will save the planet.
No, I’m not making up a single word of that. It’s completely ridiculous in the best way, especially with a cast that includes Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, and Stanley Tucci. — A.R.
How to watch: The Core is now streaming on Netflix.
6. See You Yesterday (2019)
There’s a lot to love about this feature from first-time filmmaker Stefon Bristol. See You Yesterday stars newcomers Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow in a time traveling adventure that forces viewers to really look at the multitude of possible personal choices and random occurrences that end with another Black American murdered by police.
What starts out as a fun and light-hearted adventure turns increasingly hopeless and soul-crushing as C.J. (Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Crichlow) try using their newly invented time travel device to save C.J.’s brother from a thickheaded cop with a gun. Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox even shows up in a wonderful (and heavily winking) cameo that plays like a passing-of-the-torch moment. See You Yesterday is one of many Netflix originals that is more than worth your time. — A.R.
How to watch: See You Yesterday is now streaming on Netflix.
Written and directed by the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending is a lavish space opera following an unassuming housecleaner (Mila Kunis) who discovers she’s the heir to an intergalactic dynasty, and that the fate of the universe therefore rests in her hands.
What follows is an unrestrained fantasy that combines soaring action and swooning romance with the sheer WTFery of, say, Channing Tatum as a wolf-man warrior on space rollerblades or a swarm of bees that can recognize royalty. Check your rational thinking at the door and embrace the spectacle. And if you’re in the mood for still more Wachowski weirdness after this, Cloud Atlas and the series Sense8 are both on the service as well. — A.H.
How to watch: Jupiter Ascending is now streaming on Netflix.
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
What can we say that hasn’t been said already about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?
It’s one of the best superhero movies ever committed to film, and really just an all-time great regardless of genre. There’s a visual style that feels wholly unique and perfectly suited to the Miles Morales version of Marvel’s wall-crawler. Also, a soundtrack that has you tapping along to the beat of every high-octane action sequence. It’s impossible to hit “play” on this movie and not settle in for a full viewing. — A.R.
How to watch: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is now streaming on Netflix.
9. Spaceballs (1987)
In Spaceballs, Mel Brooks takes on Star Wars.
That’s it, really, that’s the pitch. The 1987 comedy arrived during a golden stretch of years where it was possible to make a movie featuring Rick Moranis, John Candy, Joan Rivers, Bill Pullman, and Brooks himself. Spaceballs also delivered one of the most memorable big screen performances for Melrose Place fave Daphne Zuniga, who Brooks cast as the “Druish” Princess Leia stand-in, Princess Vespa.
If you’ve never seen Spaceballs, this is your chance to correct that grievous oversight. — A.R.
How to watch: Spaceballs is now streaming on Netflix.
10. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is peak 1980s schlocky sci-fi horror, cut from the same cloth as classics (or “classics,” if you prefer) like Critters or Howard the Duck. The title pretty much says it all: Earth has been invaded by aliens, and those aliens just happen to look like weirdly proportioned clown, like what you’d get if you put a goblin in pancake makeup.
You probably aren’t familiar with any of the actors or filmmakers (though the Chiodo Brothers who made the movie have quite a resume). It doesn’t matter, though. Killer Klowns isn’t good, but that’s what’s so great about it. — A.R.
How to watch: Killer Klowns from Outer Space is now streaming on Netflix.
11. The One I Love (2014)
The One I Love starts out looking like an ordinary dramedy film about an unhappy couple trying to fix their marriage, but just wait for it.
Midway through, a Twilight Zone-ish twist upends the dynamic between Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), throwing into doubt everything they thought knew about their relationship. Bit by bit, the movie lays bare some complicated questions about the fantasies and realities woven into long-term romances like Sophie and Ethan’s — or even your own. — A.H.
How to watch: The One I Love is now streaming on Netflix.
12. District 9 (2009)
District 9 asks: What if aliens came to Earth, but as a destitute species with no power to leave? How would they fit into human society?
This South Africa-set film from local filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is brimming with not-so-hidden meaning. The setting alone makes District 9‘s concentration camp-dwelling alien “prawns” a thinly veiled commentary on apartheid. The story hasn’t aged well in some ways, especially with the white South African lead in Sharlto Copley flipping the whole premise into a white savior narrative. But District 9 is also in many ways a textbook example of science fiction using an improbable premise to comment on the world we live in.
It holds up very well in that sense, and is still worth watching in 2020. Just be sure to go in with both eyes open. — A.R.
How to watch: District 9 is now streaming on Netflix.
13. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)
If you’ve ever wondered what E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial might have been like with more mischievous claymation animals, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon might be for you. The Aardman Animation film drops an adorable baby alien named Lu-La into Mossy Bottom Farm, where she becomes fast friends with the equally playful Shaun — but needs him to grow up just a little bit so she can get back home.
Silly, sweet, and soothing, Farmageddon is a galactic trip the whole family can enjoy. — A.H.
How to watch: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is now streaming on Netflix.
14. Advantageous (2015)
Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous may involve some fantastical inventions, but the principles and problems that shape its universe are firmly rooted in our own. Jacqueline Kim stars as Gwen, a single mother who loses her job after her employer decides to replace her with a younger, more racially ambiguous spokesmodel. In desperation, she considers a procedure that would transfer her consciousness into a more acceptable new body — but that comes at great cost.
Combining thoughtful analysis of race, gender, and class with a touching story of a mother’s love for her daughter, Advantageous is the kind of low-key sci-fi that may inspire you to look a little deeper at the world already around you. — A.H.
How to watch: Advantageous is now streaming on Netflix.
Long before Parasite, Bong Joon-ho made his English-language debut with another searing tale of class rage, Snowpiercer.
The sci-fi thriller unfolds aboard a perpetual-motion train that carries the only human survivors of a climate change catastrophe, following a revolution staged against the haves at the front of the train (including a particularly smarmy one played by Tilda Swinton) by the have-nots in the back (including a leader played by Chris Evans).
Oh, and if you want more where that came from, Bong’s Okja, also starring Swinton, is available on Netflix as well. — A.H.
How to watch: Snowpiercer is now streaming on Netflix.
16. Total Recall (1990)
Forget the 2012 remake; we’re talking about the original here. Loosely inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall centers on an ordinary construction worker, Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who buys a memory implant of a secret agent with a mission on Mars, and discovers in the process that he actually is a secret agent with a mission on Mars.
Or…is he? Total Recall has great fun playing with questions of identity and reality while also serving up all bombastic action, sly humor, and one of Schwarzenegger’s most memorable performances. — A.H.
How to watch: Total Recall is now streaming on Netflix.
17. The Girl With All the Gifts (2016)
Set in a near-future world overrun with zombies, The Girl With All the Gifts centers on an unusual girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who may be humanity’s last best hope at salvation. The film delivers on all the usual terror and drama of the zombie subgenre while also finding new life in a fresh perspective and a commitment to tough philosophical questions that’ll linger with you long after the credits have rolled. — A.H.
How to watch: The Girl With All the Gifts is now streaming on Netflix.