There’s nothing better than sitting down at the end of the day and sticking on a good movie. And now we have streaming services like Netflix, it’s easier than ever. But with the sheer amount of movies to be found on Netflix, it can often be difficult to choose one to watch. Even if you know what kind of film you’re into, there’s still an insane amount of options at your fingertips. The sci-fi genre in particular is very broad, covering everything from apocalyptic blockbusters to indies with low budgets but high concepts.
And then there’s the issue of quality – for every suspense-ridden masterpiece that keeps you on the edge of your seat, there are three or four movies that, well, have you falling out of your seat because you’ve dozed off.
But that’s where we come in, to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Here are fifteen amazing sci-fi movies that you should consider treating yourself to tonight.
15. Okja (2017)
The latest original movie to be produced by Netflix, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja has been hitting headlines recently, not just because of its arguably pro-vegetarian politics, but because it received boos when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, from critics who aren’t impressed by Netflix taking over from traditional exhibition.
If getting one up on these tiresome snobs isn’t enough to make you watch it, maybe the story will convince you: Okja is set in a world where an agrochemical corporation, led by Tilda Swinton in fine form, has tried to combat world hunger by breeding massive ‘superpigs’ and spreading them around the world. The film follows the relationship between one such pig, raised in the Korean countryside, and the girl who’s come to befriend it, as well as the tensions that arise when the corporation try to claim their property back.
At once a scathing satire, an action epic, and a slightly wacky coming-of-age comedy, Okja balances a lot of tones, and does so well. It’s another victory for Netflix.
14. Monsters (2010)
If you enjoyed the recent Godzilla reboot or Star Wars: Rogue One, you may be surprised to know that they were only the second and third films made by their director, Gareth Edwards. And that the first one he helmed was this ultra low budget sci-fi, made with just two actors and with effects produced by Edwards himself in his bedroom.
Monsters impressed studio execs so much that it landed him the Godzilla gig, and it’s easy to see why. It’s set in a Mexico infested by giant alien life forms; American photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) must escort his boss’s daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) out of the country to safety.
It’s a simple but effective human story told against a backdrop of epic scale. We don’t see the aliens too often, but when we do, they’re difficult to forget, and Edwards crafts a believable and compelling picture of what the world would really be like after an alien incursion.
13. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
No, not the dreary Keanu Reeves remake; the original The Day the Earth Stood Still comes from the 1950s, a golden age for sci-fi cinema, and is available on Netflix for you to catch up on – only 66 years late!
The film follows the events which occur after a flying saucer lands in Washington DC. An alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot Gort (Lock Martin) emerge, and Klaatu soon learns about the international tensions that are stalling human society. It’s an undoubtedly political film, as are many of the Cold War era classics, and the message that Klaatu gives to Earth – humanity must find peace or it will be destroyed – captures the anxieties of the time perfectly.
Not only that, but it’s a slickly made film that’s still got a great story for modern viewing, and in Gort, it has one of the most iconic robots of sci-fi cinema.
12. Time Lapse (2014)
Sci-fi doesn’t always need to be epic to be effective; sometimes, a simple premise can lead to a movie that lingers in the mind long after watching.
That’s the case with Bradley D. King’s directorial debut Time Lapse, a 2014 feature in which three friends (Matt O’Leary, Danielle Panabaker, and George Finn) find a camera that takes pictures of things 24 hours into the future. The friends soon realize that they have to ensure what the pictures show actually does happen, otherwise they’ll cause a paradox and be erased from time. When the photos start showing some dark turns, however, their friendship becomes strained.
It’s a clever and unsettling take on time travel tropes, with its twisty plot and some strong performances keeping the attention throughout.
11. Mr. Nobody (2009)
Immortality is a common theme in speculative science fiction – will humanity one day overcome death itself? In Mr. Nobody’s vision of 2092, we’ve done it, and all the humans on Earth will live forever; except, that is, for 118-year-old Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), the last mortal alive.
That’s an intriguing enough concept by itself, and indeed, Jaco Van Dormael’s film draws a lot of drama out of it, but the story becomes even more complex when we get into Nemo’s memories of his life. Or perhaps that should be lives, as the film flashes back to several key points in his past and explores the different routes he could have taken – yes, it gets into some multiverse stuff, too.
It’s a philosophically twisty film that might take some time to get your head around, but it has a real heart and profundity underneath all the muddle, and the sheer ambition of the story it tries to tell makes Mr. Nobody well worth your time.
10. Spectral (2016)
If the last couple of films have seemed a bit too talky and philosophical for you, here’s something much more shooty.
A military sci-fi actioner released straight to Netflix last December, Spectral follows a group of special ops soldiers sent into a deserted city in Moldova, where they come into contact with strange, ghost-like beings. Their tactics for fighting these antagonists involve a bit of putting together near-futuristic gadgets, and a lot of shooting the monsters with really big guns.
It’s not a polished movie – the characters aren’t particularly deep, and it takes a while to get going – but the action is directed with aplomb by Nic Mathieu, and the whole thing has the feel of a particularly intense shooter game. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it’s perfect to stick on at the end of a long day when you need to wind down and don’t want to think too much.
9. Batteries Not Included (1987)
The residents of a worn-down tower block, including Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as elderly couple Frank and Faye Riley, face losing everything they have when evil property developers plan to demolish their building. But help comes in the form of a ‘family’ of sentient flying saucers, who do battle with the developers’ henchmen and protect the residents in exchange for electricity.
This 1987 movie, from director Matthew Robbins, was originally meant to be an episode of Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories, but Spielberg liked the story so much that he had it made into a film.
And it is indeed worthy of the full cinematic treatment – Batteries Not Included is a real feel-good movie, funny and heartwarming with lots of silly action. The saucer aliens are great fun, and the practical effects haven’t lost their charm.
8. Death Race 2050 (2017)
Producer Roger Corman was known in the ‘70s as a king of cult cinema, with his movies being low on budget but high on action, gore, and violent fun. One of his most loved (by some, hated by others) was Death Race 2000, and this year, he worked with director G.J. Echternkamp to release the follow-up.
Death Race 2050 is set in a dystopian future where America is plagued by overpopulation and underemployment, and the annual Death Race is its way of dealing with this – a brutal car race across the country, in which racers earn points for killing civilians along the way.
The racing action comes fast and heavy, and it’s enjoyably nasty. But what really stands out about Death Race 2050 is the tongue-in-cheek satire, with different themed drivers poking fun at targets as varied as Christian fundamentalism and artificial intelligence. There’s also the cutaways to the ‘Chairman’ of the ‘United Corporations of America’, which seems way too good a satire on Trump for a movie that was written before the election.
7. iBoy (2017)
When 16-year-old Tom (Bill Milner) tries to stop a violent attack on his high school crush Lucy (Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams), he gets himself shot and goes into a coma. When he wakes up, he’s told that fragments of his smartphone have become embedded in his brain.
Rather than killing him, though, the bits of phone have given Tom cyborg powers, including the ability to hear phone transmissions and visualize digital signals. He adopts the alias ‘iBoy’ and begins a vigilante career, intent on tracking down the gang who attacked Lucy.
Yeah, we know the concept does sound forced, like a studio exec decided that the two things young people like are phone apps and superhero movies, then came up with a desperate way to mash the two together. It does indeed struggle to get away from this silly premise, but when it does, it does it with style. It’s a grittier movie than you might expect, with some mature and well developed themes, and it’s all anchored by a powerful performance from Williams.
6. Kill Command (2016)
An elite squad of highly trained machines (yeah, another one – perhaps you can see where this is going) are dropped off on a remote island for what is supposedly a routine training mission. But – oh no! – the AI managing the mission has gone wrong, all communications with the outside world are cut off, and the soldiers soon find themselves fighting for their lives against killer robots.
The directorial debut of Steven Gomez, who’d previously done VFX for other movies, Kill Command is a vicious and action-packed slice of sci-fi. What’s most striking are the robot designs inspired by real military robots and the way they mimic animals; these mechanical monstrosities are much more at home on the island than the humans, which makes them all the more scarier.
What’s more, it’s another testament to what can now be done by a small team on a low budget. There’s a whole load of digital effects in Kill Command, and they’re much more convincing than anyone who heard Gomez’s plans believed they would be.
5. Armageddon (1998)
Let’s be honest: Armageddon is a dumb movie. If you’re an astronomer, or indeed paid attention to a few of your science lessons in school, you won’t struggle to pick holes in this story of an asteroid almost destroying Earth until Bruce Willis gets his hands on it.
Nevertheless, there’s fun to be had with Armageddon if you’re willing to switch your brain off for two and a half hours (yeah, it really is that long) and be taken along for the ride. It’s fast, it’s silly, and it’s got a proper sense of excitement.
In particular, it’s a spectacular feast for the eyes. The visual effects sequences are something to admire – and it’s important to remember that this came at a time when seeing cities being destroyed was rare and not something that happened in the last half hour of every blockbuster.
4. World of Tomorrow (2015)
Definitely the shortest film on our list, animator Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow may be only 16 minutes, but it’s 16 minutes of thoughtful, visionary science fiction; it was in fact nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
A little girl, Emily, is visited by a clone of herself from the future. This future society has achieved a sort of immortality through passing human memories into clones. Future Emily takes the younger version, who becomes known as ‘Emily Prime’, on a journey through her many memories. She’s had a lot of experiences in her long life, and has some important advice to pass on to her younger self.
That idea of what advice you would give to your younger self is at the core of World of Tomorrow, and it’s an emotional edge to what is otherwise an epic piece of sci-fi storytelling, packing in a deeper and more detailed world than most feature-length movies deliver. Added to that, Hertzfeldt’s colorful animation style, inspired by classic sci-fi magazine covers, is gorgeous to look at.
3. Europa Report (2013)
After unmanned probes spot a hidden ocean under the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa, a crew of astronauts are sent to investigate the possibility that alien life could exist in our solar system. They face a variety of dangers, including a solar storm along the way, tensions between the crew, and the natural hazards of Europa.
The style of Europa Report is the opposite of the flashy extravagance of films like Armageddon; it has a documentary-style approach, using footage from cameras installed in the ship and the astronauts’ suits. It’s also based on very real science, with the filmmakers having consulted NASA about all the problems the team face.
What this results in is a movie that, while not as obviously bombastic as all the blockbusters out there, draws you in with its believability. Europa Report is an intelligent movie with a real sense of immediacy and tension.
2. Bokeh (2017)
A young American couple, Jenai (It Follows star Maika Monroe) and Riley (Matt O’Leary) are on a romantic getaway in Iceland. And then a mysterious flash of light shoots across the sky one night; when the two wake up, they find that everyone else has disappeared, and they are seemingly alone in the world.
As they explore this deserted Earth, Jenai and Riley have a struggle ahead of them if they want to survive and understand their new situation. Bokeh isn’t a film that offers a lot of answers, and you may well be left unsatisfied with the sparse explanations on offer.
Nevertheless, it’s a beautifully shot movie (well, it would be difficult to go to these Icelandic landscapes and shoot something that doesn’t look great) and the chemistry between Monroe and O’Leary shines off the screen. And if you’re wondering, the title refers to the aesthetic quality of part of a photograph rendered blurry by the lens (thanks, Wikipedia)… interpret that how you want.
1. Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang’s epic production, produced at the height of the German Expressionist movement, has had an enormous effect on science fiction cinema since, and is often proclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time.
In a dystopian city, wealthy industrialists rule from their luxury skyscrapers while the working classes toil away deep underground. And then Freder, the son of the city’s ruler, falls in love with a woman named Maria, who brings lower class children to see the city above. But a sinister plan is afoot to replace Maria with a robot duplicate and spark a revolution, which the rulers of Metropolis will use as an excuse to impose much more violent rule.
This powerful story rattled some cages at the time, attracting criticism from anti-Communists, but has managed to stand the test of time. What’s also remarkable is just how stunning the film looks 90 years later, from its ridiculously elaborate sets to its now-iconic robot design. It’s a true masterpiece of cinema – and it’s right there on Netflix.
Watch this if: you’re a true cinephile, or want to pretend to be.
Are there any masterpieces hiding away in Netflix’s menus that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!
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