This list was updated June 12, 2017 to reflect Netflix’s current offerings.
Netflix can be overwhelming — so many options, yet so hard to browse — and we here at Vulture try to make it easier for you to find a great film, fest. We’ve previously weeded through the streaming service’s horror selections. Today, we present the best sci-fi movies on Netflix (and sci-fi movies that touch other genres, like horror and fantasy) … as well as the worst, the weirdest, and everything in between. As always, feel free to note anything we’ve left out in the comments. We’ll update this list as titles are added and removed.
Everyone’s going to have differing opinions on which movies are great, but I think we can all agree that the ones below are more likely to fall in the plus column than the minus.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Forget the Turing test, all you need to do to verify someone’s humanity is show them this animated wonder about the untainted bond between a boy and his mammoth automaton. Brad Bird’s directorial debut might as well be a machine built to extract tears from viewers, but around the terribly effective pathos, the film indulges in reverent homage to ’50s B-movies and other pop culture spawned from Cold War–era panic. It’s the perfect film to pique the more esoteric curiosities of a young cinephile, a specific work of allusion with an overpowering emotional core.
World of Tomorrow (2015)
Over the course of 16 consciousness-expanding minutes, a clone time travels from the future to tell her original self about the fate that awaits her. Over the course of her years, she’ll fall in love with a rock and a museum exhibit and a screaming alien monster, travel to the outer reaches of existence, and maybe even learn the meaning of life. Animator Don Hertzfeldt cemented his genius with this short, a philosophical pep talk convincingly making the point that the world is a beautiful place.
Judge Dredd (1995)
Denounced as a new low for star Sylvester Stallone at the time of its release, the tide of public opinion has turned on this colorful comic-book adaptation. At once a grim, violent dystopian fantasy and a winking parody of the same, the movie casts Sly as a brutal peacekeeper who plays jury and executioner in addition to judge. Its wild tonal vacillations, combined with the absorbingly intricate design of its retro-futuristic metropolis, has slowly and duly earned a cult following.
Europa Report (2013)
If you think “found footage” is an abused gimmick, Sebastián Cordero’s 2013 space mission film may change your mind. Taking place inside a lunar module resting on the surface of Jupiter’s moon, the keenly directed Europa Report stages action like a play, with actors moving in and out of camera perspectives fixed in various spots in the shuttle. Of course, something goes horribly wrong with the mission. That’s when the fun begins.
Sure, sending a bunch of blue-collar drill workers into space for a highly technical procedure on which the fate of existence itself hangs may have been a stupid idea. Counterpoint: Shut your yap and watch the explosions. Before he became an acolyte of the great beast Franchising, Michael Bay stuffed some real heart between his massive pyrotechnic spectacles. Bruce Willis assumes his natural position as a symbol of good ol’ down-home patriotism in this feel-good blow-’em-up blockbuster.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
While Netflix should get on obtaining John Carpenter classic The Thing, the horror/sci-fi master’s 1986 film is drastically different than much of his work in that it leans towards fantasy. Kurt Russell fights his way through bad guys in the craziest monster kung-fu movie that will ever be.
Fritz Lang’s expressionist look at technological dystopia sucks you in with turn-of-the-century special effects.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Another movie that survived a remake, the theremin-enhanced “first contact” narrative is as frightening as ever because we’d still react this way if it happened in real life.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
The button-masher arcade staple gets the big-screen treatment in this embattled object of scorn and obsession. The film’s detractors will mention the ludicrous script, stilted performances, and over-the-top action sequences. The fanatical supporters, conversely, will cite the ludicrous script, stilted performances, and over-the-top action sequences. So bad it’s good seldom gets badder or better than this ridiculous (for better and for worse) paean to the B-B-down-A finisher.
Sure, Pan’s Labyrinth may have gotten the Academy’s attention for Guillermo del Toro, but does it have an amphibious telepathic mutant named Abe Sapien? Of course, Ron Perlman’s the real star in this take on the Mike Mignola–created demon defender, a crimson-colored behemoth who dispenses with supernatural threats to peace and order. Like a kid playing with a multimillion-dollar toy set, del Toro imagined some of his wildest creations and crashed them against one another with anarchic glee. It’s playtime on a blockbuster scale.
Prepare young ones for future geekery with these gentler titles.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: Milo’s Return
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves
The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Because we needed a movie about a killer STD.
The Fly (1958)
Before Cronenberg went full body horror in his 1986 remake, there was this campy original.
The Host (2006)
Not to be confused with Stephenie Meyer’s unfortunate body-snatcher romance of the same name, this South Korean monster movie fromSnowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho is a wallop of kaiju destruction and social commentary. Godzilla would be proud.