Part of the beauty of science fiction is that practically anything is possible. And thanks to the sheer spirit of imagination fueling the genre, big-screen sci-fi has the potential to captivate almost anyone. So, if you feel like watching a movie that wrestles with weighty ideas about the future of artificial intelligence, then good news: you’re in luck. Perhaps you long to be swept away by a love story – even though the romance is just about to be wiped from someone’s memory? That’s up for grabs, too. Or do you just want to watch a galactic battle in which the good guys face off against evil forces? Well, guess what? Science fiction will deliver this as well. So whatever you’re in the mood for, our definitive guide to the very best sci-fi movies on Netflix, as of May 21, 2019, is guaranteed to help hit the spot.
If you also possess a penchant for films outside of the science fiction genre, however, then check out our list of “The 50 Best Movies On Netflix Right Now.” A fan of thrills, spills and explosions? Then take a look, too, at our list of “The 25 Best Action Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Need a good laugh? Have a glance at our definitive guide to “The 25 Best Comedy Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Or do you want a flick that entertains both big and small kids? In that case, you should check out our list of “The 25 Best Family Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
If you’re more up for nailbiting tension, though, then check out “The 25 Best Thriller Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And those wanting love should take a look at “The 25 Best Romance Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Fans of spooks and scares, meanwhile, should head over if they dare to our definitive guide to “The 25 Best Horror Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
To establish which movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of movies currently available on Netflix. We then selected the sci-fi films with the highest scores on that site. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each movie an average score out of 100, and the 25 films with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
25. The Void (2016)
Way before The Void hit movie theaters, the sci-fi horror’s makers had embarked on a spot of crowdfunding. And according to co-director Jeremy Gillespie, the funds that they raised using this method were utterly crucial to the film’s production. “Without [the audience], honestly, this movie could not have been made,” Gillespie told Exclaim! in 2017. He and fellow director Steven Kostanski in fact ultimately garnered $82,000 from fans, with the duo spending this money on improving the movie’s monsters – although, if truth be told, they found assistance from elsewhere, too. “A lot of people I worked with on Suicide Squad came over and joined our creature effects team,” Gillespie further explained. But the hard work was worth it – at least according to Screen Daily critic Kim Newman, who lauded The Void for its “memorably gruesome physical effects.” The film as a whole, Newman added, is “creepy, suspenseful and nerve-wracking.”
24. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Given Cloud Atlas’s 163-minute running time and frequently shifting narrative, it makes sense that the sci-fi epic has polarized opinion. None other than Roger Ebert was among those on the movie’s side, mind you, calling it “daring and visionary” in his 2012 review – and indeed “one of the most ambitious films ever made.” Time Out saw fit to defend the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer’s picture, too, writing that it “piles on the action, the romance, the philosophical inquiry and the silly accents until the viewer is left punch-drunk and reeling.” The magazine’s review concluded, “Seriously, what’s not to love?” Well, indeed. And the sheer star power in front of the camera certainly can’t be denied; Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant are among the many recognizable faces on screen, after all.
23. The Fifth Element (1997)
Director Luc Besson first conceived what would ultimately become The Fifth Element when he was a bored 16-year-old living in the countryside. So what did a French teenager in the ’70s imagine the future to be like? Well, if this sci-fi adventure is anything to go by, the 23rd century will find a taxi driver – played here by Bruce Willis – hopping around the galaxy while trying to save Earth from total annihilation. And, naturally, everyone will be clad in outrageous Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed outfits, too. The colorful, intricately detailed universe seen in Besson’s movie even led San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle to comment, “The Fifth Element has to be the most creative visualization since Tim Burton’s first Batman [movie] in 1989.” Yet this is no mere case of style over substance. LaSalle continued, “All the pretty pictures would mean nothing if [the film] didn’t move. It does. And it’s fun.”
22. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
To begin with, there was considerable behind-the-scenes drama during the making of much-anticipated prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story. And certainly, it’s not exactly par for the course to have the directors of a Star Wars blockbuster fired and replaced midway through shooting. Ultimately, you see, Ron Howard joined the Solo team, with the filmmaker taking over from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Regardless of the turmoil off camera, though, the finished film – with the credit for directing given entirely to Howard – sees Alden Ehrenreich step into Harrison Ford’s rather large shoes, as the movie’s eponymous smuggler hero and his Wookie compadre, Chewbacca, team up in a galaxy far, far away.
21. I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Legend sees Will Smith play the last man in New York City to outlast a mutant-causing plague. But even though this premise appears to be tailor-made blockbuster fodder, the film did take risks. “[I Am Legend] is a $100 million-plus movie where the lead doesn’t talk for the first hour,” Smith told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. “It’s really just me and a dog. That’s tough. We desperately had to get in there and figure out how to make it riveting.” Bringing the reimagining of Richard Matheson’s novel to the big screen wasn’t easy, either. In all, the process took more than a decade – not helped, perhaps, by the team’s decision to shoot in the real NYC. Yet I Am Legend seemingly proved irresistible to audiences, who at the time gave Francis Lawrence’s picture the highest-earning December opening weekend in the U.S. ever.
20. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
After the phenomenal success of The Matrix, the Wachowskis set about expanding the movie’s fictional universe with a series of sequels and side projects. The first of these follow-ups was 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, which saw Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne appear again on screen as Neo and Morpheus, respectively. This time around, the real-world city of Zion is under threat from evil probes, meaning Neo must brave the Matrix once more to avoid utter catastrophe. But perhaps the actioner’s standout moment is its high-octane car chase, in which Neo, Trinity and the Keymaker face off against the merciless Twins. A whole lot of work went into getting this nail-biting sequence just right, too, with a faux freeway constructed specially. Oh, and over 100 cars were totaled to boot.
19. V for Vendetta (2005)
The Wachowskis first drafted a V for Vendetta screenplay roughly a decade before the film made it to theaters. But when it finally came time to pick a director for the graphic-novel adaptation, the duo had just completed the Matrix trilogy and weren’t looking for another gig. So, James McTeigue took the movie’s reins instead, with Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving also coming on board as leads. Weaving is in fact the actor portraying the titular V – a vigilante who sets about bringing down the tyrannical government that holds sway over a dystopian vision of Britain. And while V for Vendetta didn’t quite set the box office on fire, it has nevertheless gone on to find a place in many people’s hearts. Proving the point, the sci-fi thriller currently holds a score of 8.2 on IMDb – making it the site’s 151st highest-rated film.
18. The Wave (2015)
In 1934 tumbling rocks triggered a tsunami that smothered two Norwegian villages and took the lives of more than 40 people. And decades later, this real-life tragedy in turn inspired Roar Uthaug’s The Wave, in which a geologist battles against time as waters threatens to wipe out his home. “I’ve always been a fan of disaster movies – Twister, Armageddon – but we’d never made a movie like this in Norway before,” Uthaug told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “The challenge was to combine the elements of the American genre movie with the reality of the situation in Norway.” Fortunately for the director, the gambit paid off, too, as The Wave shifted around 800,000 tickets in his homeland – no mean feat in a country with a population of just 5.2 million.
17. Under the Skin (2013)
In 2014 Scarlett Johansson spoke to the BBC about the process of shooting Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. And judging from the actress’ account, searching for prey as an alien in human form isn’t that glamorous an experience. As Johansson explained, “I was driving this van around Glasgow looking for my ‘victims.’ I would have [Glazer] and the crew in the back of it, filming in this bizarre candid-camera situation… Occasionally, [Glazer] would say, ‘This guy looks good; stop and talk to him.’” Yes, some of the interactions that Johansson’s character has with strangers in the movie feature real people – recorded with secret cameras to boot. And while Under the Skin left critics somewhat divided upon its release in 2013, it has since found greater favor – not least with an appearance on the BBC’s 2016 list of the very best flicks of the 21st century.
16. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp, a female superhero finally had her name in the title of a Marvel movie. And while Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp obviously had to share top billing with Paul Rudd’s diminutive character, the moment still came as a bit of a breakthrough. Adding a small measure of sting to the story, the actress also worked for change behind the scenes on the production. As she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, “I really pushed… for [Wasp] to fight with elegance, grace and femininity. I wanted her to have a signature style that little girls… would be able to fall in love with, emulate and relate to.” Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, for one, certainly believes the Lost star elevates Peyton Reed’s hit. In his 2018 review, he wrote, “It’s a kick to watch Lilly break out… Her smarts and screen presence lift the movie.”
15. The Similars (2015)
When speaking about The Similars to Slackjaw Punks in 2016, director Isaac Ezban explained, “I always say [that the film] is my love letter to the sci-fi movies of the ’60s. I wanted it to feel like you are watching an episode of The Twilight Zone.” And this nod to the classic anthology series didn’t go unnoticed by critic Scott Marks, who in his San Diego Reader review also pointed out that Ezban has otherwise created “a surreal, fully realized nightmare.” Screen Daily’s Kim Newman was even more effusive in his praise for The Similars, dubbing the film a “funny, suspenseful, inventive and charming” effort that “knows when to tone down the homage and become genuinely frightening.” The story here follows a group of eight people who find themselves stranded at a bus terminal – not knowing at first that they’re in for the most horrific night of their lives…
14. Okja (2017)
Okja reportedly affected some viewers so deeply that it prompted them to make real changes to their dietary habits. Indeed, even Paul Dano, one of the movie’s stars, embarked on some soul-searching with regard to his carnivorous lifestyle. “[Okja] certainly made me want to be a more conscientious consumer,” he told GQ in 2017. “Not just for animals – but it’s easy to forget that when we put our dollar down, we are supporting something.” Yet while the sci-fi adventure does pose “uncomfortably down-to-earth questions about where our food comes from” – as Mark Kermode wrote in his review for The Guardian – it’s no mere propaganda film. And fellow critic Peter Bradshaw certainly appreciated Bong Joon-ho’s feature about a girl and her genetically modified superpig. “The pure energy and likability of [Okja] make it such a pleasure,” he enthused. No wonder it’s among the best fantasy movies on Netflix.
13. Moon (2009)
According to director Duncan Jones – progeny of the late, great David Bowie – some potentially unsettling questions lie at Moon’s heart. “‘What would you do if you met yourself?’” he told Bloody Disgusting in 2009. “‘Would you like yourself? Would you only see the bad things at the beginning?’ [Those were] the philosophical underpinnings of the story we wanted to tell.” And the tale was certainly well received by critics. In his 2009 review, Roger Ebert remarked, for example, that Moon acts as “a superior example of… hard science fiction.” In the movie, Sam Rockwell plays two versions of a character who has been left alone for three years on Earth’s only natural satellite. But is he actually going insane? Well, you’ll just have to watch to find out.
12. Serenity (2005)
After Firefly ended its short-lived run on the small screen, Joss Whedon sought to reassemble the cult series’ cast for a feature-length adventure in the same universe. And, of course, the showrunner was ultimately successful in this endeavor, with the resulting film – entitled Serenity – making its debut in 2005. The picture impressed author Orson Scott Card, too – although that’s probably something of an understatement; after all, Card labeled Serenity “the best science fiction movie ever.” So if you’ve been convinced by this glowing assessment, then press the “play” button and watch the scrappy crew of the ship Serenity as they seek to keep one of their number out of the evil Alliance’s clutches.
11. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
It’s fair to say that Avengers: Infinity War is nothing short of a phenomenon. Certainly, the superhero sequel has inspired memes aplenty – not to mention some fiercely fought debates across the internet. And this doesn’t even take into account the staggering numbers behind Anthony and Joe Russo’s epic. Infinity War has, you see, grossed an incredible $2 billion at the worldwide box office; and it’s also currently on IMDb as the 60th best film ever made. Yet the fans aren’t the only ones who love the 19th feature-length entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, critics couldn’t get enough of the special effects-heavy actioner either – at least, if its 85 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by. The story, in case you didn’t already know, sees Earth’s mightiest heroes battling it out with Josh Brolin’s supervillain Thanos.
10. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
“I ignored the source material – and even the first two films – and tried to do my own thing,” Taika Waititi told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 when speaking about his approach to Thor: Ragnarok. The director added, “For me… Thor was an indie film that just had a few more zeros on the budget.” And this seemingly laid-back attitude may explain why the third Thor movie is, as the Reporter’s review puts it, the god of thunder’s “breeziest by far.” Waititi’s take on the superhero also found favor with Salon’s Matthew Rozsa, who wrote, “[Thor: Ragnarok is] funny, action-packed and full of surprisingly layered character performances.” Oh, and it appears that Chris Hemsworth had just as much fun making the movie as audiences have had watching it. In 2017 the star told Slash Film, “I’ve never improvised so much [as Thor], which has been really exciting.”
9. Ex Machina (2014)
In 2015 writer and director Alex Garland told Syfy Wire, “My favorite thing about science fiction is that it gives you the permission to have big ideas and not feel embarrassed about it.” And by all accounts, Garland has no reason to be bashful about the way in which Ex Machina tackles the existential dilemmas that are often thrown up by the concept of artificial intelligence. Even the New Scientist chose to laud the sci-fi thriller for its content, with the magazine’s Anil Seth writing, “It’s a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually.” It’s worth noting, too, that Ex Machina more than hit the spot aesthetically to boot. In fact, the feature bagged an Oscar for its visual effects – the same graphic wizardry that helped transform Alicia Vikander into the unnervingly lifelike A.I. Ava.
8. The Matrix (1999)
With its wild mix of cyberpunk, martial arts and existential musings, The Matrix initially left Will Smith scratching his head. Yes, the Fresh Prince star was the Wachowskis’ first choice for lead Neo, although Smith was so puzzled by the concept for the project that he ultimately passed. This, of course, in turn paved the way for Keanu Reeves to portray the hacker who discovers that humankind has been imprisoned within a machine-built false reality – the Matrix of the title. And this big idea certainly found its audience, with the sci-fi romp bringing in takings of more than $463 million at the international box office. Not only that, but the genre-bending work virtually revolutionized cinema thanks to its mind-blowing special effects – including the now-legendary “bullet time” slo-mo sequence. Two decades on from its initial release, then, The Matrix has firmly cemented its place in action-movie history.
7. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
In his 2017 review of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, the BBC’s Will Gompertz assured fans that Rian Johnson had more than risen to the challenge of delivering the much-loved franchise’s newest big-screen installment. And in the process, Gompertz added, the director had produced “a blockbuster movie packed with invention, wit and action galore.” Such praise must have been music to Johnson’s ears, too, as he has confessed to being a long-time admirer of the Star Wars universe. “I wanted to give people a full Star Wars experience. I wanted to give them something where they come out of the theater and feel totally satisfied,” the filmmaker told Business Insider in 2017. In order to achieve this, then, Johnson took the surviving characters from predecessor The Force Awakens – as well as some familiar faces who appeared in the original trilogy – and sent them off on further thrilling adventures.
6. Snowpiercer (2013)
To date, Snowpiercer’s $40 million budget makes it the costliest South Korean production ever to hit movie theaters. And a significant chunk of that sum was spent on building up the eponymous train at the heart of the film, with 26 separate carriages constructed to help represent the different levels of wealth of the people traveling on board. Yes, the concept of class is key to Bong Joon-ho’s work, although the dystopian movie balances its commentary on inequality with edge-of-the-seat action. Once some passengers decide to rebel, you see, they fight their way towards the engine by practically any means necessary. But fortunately, it seems that the director used the millions wisely, as Snowpiercer has garnered considerable acclaim from international critics. The Toronto Sun’s Jim Slotek, for instance, opined that the “wicked, violent parable” was “a welcome break from the dumbed-down popcorn fare monopolizing the multiplex.”
5. District 9 (2009)
In 2009 The Guardian labeled District 9 as “a sci-fi blockbuster that’s also an allegory [for] apartheid.” There’s more than a grain of truth to that assertion, too. For one, the aliens in this version of 1980s Johannesburg are ultimately coerced into dwelling in slums; and not only that, but they also face a considerable amount of prejudice. Yet even so, the publication added, Neill Blomkamp’s picture “wears its politics most lightly.” In fact, it’s entirely possible to just kick back and enjoy the action on display as hapless pen-pusher Wikus van de Merwe – played by Sharlto Copley – finds himself turning from hunter to hunted. And whatever your take on the movie, it’s clear that it was a hit with audiences. The Oscar-nominated feature earned more than $210 million worldwide after being produced on a budget of just $30 million.
4. Black Panther (2018)
A Black Panther movie had been mooted as long ago as 1992, with Wesley Snipes pushing at the time to bring the superhero to the big screen. With the right director for the project proving elusive, however, Snipes eventually moved on to Blade. Then, finally, Black Panther was released in 2018 – and the Ryan Coogler-helmed adaptation was worth the wait. In the end, Chadwick Boseman took the role of T’Challa, the Black Panther, who battles to save his country, Wakanda, from an imminent threat. And it’s fair to say that audiences couldn’t get enough of the finished product, either, as Black Panther completed its theatrical run with more than $1.3 billion in global receipts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Marvel movie is one of the top ten highest-grossing feature films ever.
3. The Terminator (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently only has 17 lines in total in The Terminator; yet even so, his performance in the film is so iconic that it made him a star anyway. It didn’t hurt, either, that one of those snippets of dialogue is the often-quoted “I’ll be back.” But if Schwarzenegger had had his way back when they were shooting the action flick, that classic quip would have been replaced with the not quite so thrilling “I will be back.” Thankfully for fans everywhere, then, director James Cameron convinced the musclebound actor to leave the line alone, and movie history was made as a result. In this first film of the Terminator franchise, Schwarzenegger’s indefatigable T-800 is sent back through time to rid the world of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the savior of humankind.
2. Her (2013)
In Spike Jonze’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix slowly falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Yet while that may sound like an odd premise for a movie, the consensus is that it works. The New York Times certainly seemed to think so, dubbing Her a “deeply sincere romance,” while Time Out wrote that the quirky sci-fi is “quietly dazzling.” Jonze would even end up bagging a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for writing the movie. But there’s also an interesting bit of backstory about the casting; you see, Johansson was only brought on board when it came to post-production. British star Samantha Morton had initially portrayed the role of the operating system on set, having read her lines from a makeshift sound booth.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In its critics’ consensus on Pan’s Labyrinth, Rotten Tomatoes labels the movie “Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups” – and there’s certainly some aptness to this description. After all, Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 release tells a haunting tale in which the fantastical and the mundane intertwine – much like what transpires in the children’s classic. Here, however, protagonist Ofelia ultimately finds herself not in the company of the Hatter and co but, rather, in an underground maze populated by intriguing beasts. There’s a subversive side to del Toro’s twisted fable, too. Indeed, as the director told The Guardian in 2006, “I wanted to represent political power within the creatures.” Yet whatever the inspiration behind Pan’s Labyrinth, the film has managed to enchant critics, win awards – including a trio of Oscars – and excel at the box office. On the latter score, the drama is the fifth highest-grossing foreign-language movie in the U.S., in fact.
Not to be forgotten…
The following were previously on our list of the 25 best sci-fi movies on Netflix, but they’ve either now left the streaming service or have since been pushed out of the top 25. Even so, these films are still very much worth watching.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Apparently, the journey to bring The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series to the screen began back in the 1970s. Douglas Adams even penned three versions of a potential script in preparation for the sci-fi comedy’s cinematic debut. Production on a Hitchhiker’s Guide film finally kicked into gear in 2001, though, and the film adaptation of Adams’ franchise eventually hit movie theaters four years later. Here, Martin Freeman plays Arthur Dent – a regular Englishman saved from a decimated Earth and taken on a galaxy-hopping adventure. And some people loved the finished product. Empire, in particular, was a fan, with the magazine praising the picture as “a very British, very funny sci-fi misadventure that’s guaranteed to win converts.”
Prodigy’s thrills come from witnessing the psychological battle taking place between a precocious young girl and the shrink with whom she chooses to play mind games. “I feel like the story is about how deeply we as people kind of hide the things that we don’t want to show the world,” co-director Alex Haughey told Bloody Disgusting in 2018. Haughey added that he also considered the film to be “a metaphor about how much you have to commit to someone sometimes if you want to find out who they truly are.” And Prodigy certainly impressed Bleeding Cool’s Bill Watters, who in his 2018 review dubbed the sci-fi drama “laser-focused” and “a little gem.” Watters reserved some praise, too, for star Savannah Liles, whose performance he deemed “remarkable given her age and… what [the] script calls on her to emote.”
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Rather incredibly, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 raked in more than $860 million in global box-office receipts. All in all, then, the sequel out-earned its predecessor by a cool $90 million, making the Marvel movie among the most valuable hits of 2017 – according to Deadline, at least. And critics were largely on board for the ride, too. Brian Tallerico, for instance, praised the James Gunn-directed actioner as “a thoroughly enjoyable summer blockbuster,” and the film currently holds a none-too-shabby 83 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But what’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 all about? Well, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord discovers that his father is actually the god Ego; and yet as the superhero gets closer to his once-absent pops – portrayed by Kurt Russell – he realizes that all is not quite as it seems.
The Truman Show (1998)
In 2018 Laura Linney spoke to Vanity Fair about the experience of shooting The Truman Show. “We would laugh about how unrealistic some of it seemed,” she said in the interview. But even as the years have passed, Peter Weir’s dramedy about the unwitting star of a reality show – the titular Truman, played by Jim Carrey – is seemingly more prophetic than ever. According to Vox, there were, after all, some 750 reality television programs available on cable in 2015. And, indeed, the President of the United States himself is arguably a former reality star. So Linney, for one, feels that the theme of the critically acclaimed picture has not been heeded. “The Truman Show is a very foreboding, dark movie – and, unfortunately, our world had gone even way beyond that,” she explained to Vanity Fair.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman took much of the praise – and most of the awards – for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind upon its initial release. However, stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and director Michel Gondry also deserve credit for their roles in creating a film that was voted by a 2016 BBC poll of critics as the sixth best movie made in the 21st century. What’s it all about? Well, the sci-fi-tinged romance sees Carrey’s Joel agreeing to have Winslet’s Clementine literally deleted from his memory – only to ultimately change his mind about the procedure. The premise is somewhat out there, then – and apparently it did initially make the studio a little uncomfortable. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, though, production went ahead anyway; and the resulting feature is now among the best sci-fi movies on Netflix.