This list was updated April 8, 2016 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.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Beneath its spine-tingling surface, Don Siegel’s 1956 original could be interpreted as a stab at McCarthyism or cultural conformity. But even devoured for fun, the extraterrestrial thriller offers modern moviegoers with simple, sober scares. The sight of a pod person inhabiting a helpless human is quintessentially creepy. Kevin McCarthy screaming, “You’re next!” drives it home. Also, check out the equally great 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland.
More of a straight action movie, but Netflix categorizes it under Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The 2012 comic book remake is grisly, bloody, and highly stylized … which may explain why it didn’t hook enough people to blossom into a franchise. Karl Urban stars as the helmeted soldier of the law, who blows goons to smithereens in an effort to stomp out a drug ring run by Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey. A movie that owns its R.
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.
Upstream Color (2013)
This is not for everyone, but if you’re into obliquely told indies and get on this movie’s wavelength, it can be an amazing viewing experience. Filmmaker Shane Carruth wrote, directed, shot, edited, and composed music for his follow-up to Primer, and the result is as singular a vision as one can get. Wrestling with love, life, loss, and the swirling cosmos of the unexplained, Upstream Color is cryptic drama that will have you giving up pork by the time the credits roll. The pig co-stars are that adorable (and possessed by the souls of humans).
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.
Boon Joon-ho’s 2013 film makes class warfare literal as Chris Evans fights his way up the L-Curve through a train that carries the remnants of humanity. The economic theory might be more explosive than cogent, but Snowpiercer’s real strength lies in its performances, from Tilda Swinton’s turn as an unhinged officer to Alison Pill’s scene-stealing cameo as a teacher spouting dystopian propaganda.
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.
Woman in the Moon (1929)
Before rockets were a thing, Lang imagined the space race in this silent film.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
George Méliès’s story of astronomers who travel to the moon in a cannon-propelled rocket (and, in one of cinema’s most iconic images, land in its eye) is, in many ways, the silent film that started it all.
Prepare young ones for future geekery with these gentler titles.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: Milo’s Return
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves
The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Sharknado, (2013) Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Asylum’s self-aware stinkers.
The Last Days on Mars (2013)
John Carpenter couldn’t make a zombie sci-fi work with Ghosts of Mars, and first-time director Ruairí Robinson, less so.
For those who want to see what The Thing would look like if every creative choice had gone horribly awry.
Not all Michael Crichton adaptations are created equal.
Underworld (2002), Underworld: Evolution (2006)
Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, and a bunch of British character actors who deserve better star in this set of movies about a war between werewolves and vampires that, like this set of movies, just won’t stop already.
World War Z (2013)
Cobbled together with the help of 8,000 screenwriters, this schizophrenic zombie epic feels like binge-watching a season of TV — in a good way?
Because we needed a movie about a killer STD.
Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy (1968)
Parading a scantily clad Jane Fonda around generic sci-fi sets earned this movie cult status.
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.
The Hard Science Sci-Fi
Alien Visitor (1995)
A contemplative tale of an alien who arrives to Earth to assess our planet management.
Cronenberg fuses body horror with video games to glimpse into a future we’re basically entering.
Transatlantic Tunnel (1935)
A dry, British drama surrounding the construction of a tunnel connecting North America to Europe.
Netflix: A treasure trove for cheese.
The Angry Red Planet
Journey to the Seventh Planet
Beyond the Time Barrier
The Flight That Disappeared
The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes
Invasion of the Bee Girls
Asteroid vs. Earth
Invasion of the Star Creatures
The Man From Planet X
Monsters (the feature film debut from Gareth Edwards, director of Godzilla)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Beyond the Black Rainbow