Science fiction is one of fiction’s most compelling genres. It has excitement, of course: space missions, laser battles, alien invasions are all possible in science fiction. But it also has the power to help us see ourselves in a new way. Science fiction has long been fertile ground for satire and allegory, and that tradition is alive and well in the movies. And, of course, just because a movie has lasers doesn’t mean it can’t have great characters. A science fiction movie can affect us just as profoundly as a drama or romance. There are a lot of reasons to love this genre — and a lot of great examples to watch on Netflix. These are the best science fiction movies on Netflix.
The Best Science Fiction Movies on Netflix
One of a few family-friendly sci-fi movies on this list, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a Disney animated feature about a high-tech underwater mission to the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Atlantis is one of Disney’s lesser-known animated films, but it doesn’t deserve its relative obscurity — Disney buffs will happily tell you that this movie is some of Disney’s finest work. Though it’s a Disney film, Atlantis is short on singing animals and heavy on action, making it a great one to watch with the whole family — older kids and adults included! Of course, all of the action is still appropriate for the little ones, too. This is Disney, after all.
Cloud Atlas was directed by Tom Tykwer alongside the Wachowskis, the sibling directors who also made The Matrix. The movie lives up to its creators’ reputation. Cloud Atlas weaves together six stories from six different points in time, including three in the past, one in the present (well, the then-present — 2012), and two in the future. The interrelated stories are told in a movie that is made spectacularly well on a technical level: critics praised Cloud Atlas’ cinematography and style. The acting is great, too, and the science fiction world is rendered vividly and with great imagination.
Science fiction movies can feature frightening monsters, wildly violent action scenes, or very serious moral lessons — but they don’t have to. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the most beloved films of all time, and it earned its legions of adoring fans by taking science fiction and turning it into family fun. In E.T., our alien visitor isn’t here to incinerate anyone or take over the world. In fact, the poor guy just wants to go home — and with the help of a young boy and his friends, he may just manage to do that. Of course, it won’t be easy. Adults have a way of messing things up, and the grown-ups in the government would sure like to get their hands on E.T.! If you’ve never seen E.T., now’s the time to do so — and if you have, Netflix makes it easy to re-live your childhood.
The Matrix is one of the places where our best science fiction moves on Netflix list overlaps with our best action movies on Netflix list. The Matrix deserves its spot on both lists, as its one of the greatest sci-fi thrillers of all time. When this film first came out, it was groundbreaking in a way that few other movies have been. Like Star Wars back in the 1970s, this movie showed audiences special effects that they hadn’t previously known existed. And, like Star Wars, this film doesn’t rely on special effects alone. While its sequels (also on Netflix) may have been a little heavy on the “bullet time” and other special effects and a little light on the plot and character development, this original film balances its fundamentals with its groundbreaking visuals. So while The Matrix isn’t likely to stun modern viewers just because it was able to slow down time in some shots, it will still please those viewers by just being a really good movie.
Listed as Metropolis Restored by Netflix, this film is unlike any other on this list. Film buffs will recognize Metropolis as the 1927 masterpiece from Fritz Lange. This is a German expressionist film from the silent film era, so it won’t be for everyone, but it is widely recognized as one of the most important films ever made. The version of the film used in the premiere way back in 1927 was lost, unfortunately, but the film’s importance led to several efforts to put the footage back together in a way as close as possible to the original version. The popularity of those efforts led to a recent and very successful effort called Metropolis Restored, and that’s the version that you’ll find on Netflix.
Never Let Me Go is based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro jumped to sci-fi after a storied (pun intended) career in literary fiction, and he brings a depth of character and sense of purpose to the genre that, for the most part, survive the jump to the on-screen version. Never Let Me Go is set in a dystopian alternate history in which mankind has extended its life expectancy — but at great moral cost.
When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise a few years back, they made the decision to expand the movie universe. Though Star Wars has been traditionally limited to numbered episodes, Rogue One takes us away from the story of the Skywalker family for the first time. For the most part, the important and familiar figures of Star Wars exist only in the background of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which instead tells the story of the foot-soldiers that make Star Wars’ eponymous wars possible. We follow a flawed hero on her mission to secure the plans to the Empire’s Death Star — the same Death Star that we saw in the first movie — and meet, along the way, a rag-tag group of galactic citizens that feels as vibrant and as real as any Star Wars cast in memory. Rogue One was a massive success, and it has paved the way for future Star Wars spin-offs. It remains to be seen if any of those future movies can be as good as Rogue One, but at least we’ll always have this one, which is truly great.
The Road adapts Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel of the same name. Like the remarkable novel on which it is based, this movie is grim, atmospheric, and unforgettable. We meet a father and a son who travel together through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the United States, we understand, but something terrible has happened. With nothing left, men and women have been reduced to living like animals. Nobody can be trusted, and strangers are capable of brutal violence and disturbing acts. This is certainly not a lighthearted movie, but it is a very good one, and deserves its place on our list of the best science fiction movies on Netflix.
Comics legend Alan Moore has kept his name off of adaptions of his movies for a while now, reportedly because he has been displeased with them. When you watch the disappointing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) or even the just-okay Watchmen (2009), it’s not hard to see why. But in the case of V for Vendetta, an adaptation of the Moore graphic novel by the same name, it’s hard to see much to complain about. V for Vendetta competently adapts Moore’s story while featuring great performances from Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. It’s stylistic, smart, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Even Alan Moore should admit that.