Netflix can often seem like something out of a science-fiction movie — seriously, can you imagine telling yourself 15 years ago that you’d be able to stream all 88 episodes of Sliders on your phone? So, it’s only fitting that genre junkies now use the streaming service to catch up on forgotten gems, beloved classics, and adventurous new curiosities. Watch these dozen movies and boldly go where no Netflix user has gone before.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Parodying nerd culture can be tricky — just ask the guys who made Fanboys — but when done correctly, the results can be divine. This witty comedy about the cast of a Star Trek-like cult television show that gets transported to a “real” alien planet is the perfect combination of warm, loving tribute and breezy, ribbing satire. Performances from a game Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub, Sigourney Weaver, and the late Alan Rickman, as the cast’s perpetually typecast Spock stand-in Alexander Dane, all help bring a sharp script to vibrant life. By Grabthar’s hammer, please stream this movie.

eXistenZ (1999)

One of David Cronenberg’s signature body-horror flicks (see also: Videodrome, Shivers,The Fly, and Dead Ringers), the funkily titled eXistenZ is about a dystopian future where video game consoles are physically merged with gamers’ bodies in an attempt to create an ever-more-immersive virtual-reality experience. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a game designer under attack, Jude Law is her unwitting sidekick, and the pair end up going on a rip-roaring, reality-distorting voyage through the game world that becomes increasingly impossible to distinguish from the real world. A haunting allegory for today’s plugged-in techno-culture, the underrated entry in the Cronenberg canon will please fans of VR and gruesome anatomy stuff. (Seriously: those fleshy game consoles will haunt your nightmares.)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Did people go overboard in praising Snowpiercer when it came out? Maybe. But it’s important to remember that the movie arrived in the sweaty dog days of summer, hitting critics and sci-fi lovers like a welcome blast of icy water from a hose. The film’s simple, almost video game-like plot — get to the front of the train, or die trying — allowed visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho to fill the screen with excitement, absurdity, and radical politics. Chris Evans never looked more alive, Tilda Swinton never stole more scenes, and mainstream blockbuster filmmaking never felt so tepid in comparison. Come on, ride the train!

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Sixty years later, this classic is as relevant as ever. Robert Wise’s alien encounter parable is best remembered for its iconography: a flying saucer descending upon Washington DC, a human man exiting the ship, the towering robot Gort disintegrating soldiers with his laser eye. But it’s the film’s scathing commentary on global politics that keeps the movie looking shiny and new. How would world powers really react to a visitor from another planet? The Day the Earth Stood Still admits the true answers — and they aren’t pretty.

World of Tomorrow (2015)

Don Hertzfeldt’s time-travel cartoon will only take you six minutes to watch… unless you find yourself looping it over and over, and basking in its odd, stick-figured wonder. In the short, a little girl named Emily is contacted by her third-generation clone, speaking to her from 227 years in the future. Within their conversation, World of Tomorrow draws a line from vibrant, modern life to emotionless existence, where consciousness remains immortal in a closed loop of uploads and downloads, and love can only be remembered through a kind of Netflix for memories. Because it’s from Hertzfeldt, World of Tomorrow is side-splittingly funny as well as a direct descendent of the works of both C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde.

Starship Troopers (1997)

Paul Verhoeven is undoubtedly the master of the sly sci-fi satire. With RoboCop, he laid waste to the police state with wicked, trigger-happy glee. He took on evil corporations with Total Recall. And with Starship Troopers, a bouncy, bloody war picture, he skewered the chest-thumping theatrics of pro-military propaganda, offering up a pitch-perfect parody of the post-9/11 Bush presidency years before troops set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan. Come for the exploding alien guts, but stay for the winking comedy — or stay for both! Bug guts have their charms, too.

The Faculty (1998)

Robert Rodriguez’s teeny-bopper update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is perfect late-night cable trash. Like the similarly cheeky Planet Terror, the movie isn’t meant to be taken too seriously — the presence of a goateed pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart as a science teacher should probably tip you off — but it delivers some solid scares down the stretch; plus, the clever script from Scream scribe Kevin Williamson has more than enough twists to keep you from nodding off. Throw it on after a night out and soak up the late-’90s nostalgia.

Primer (2004)

A tiny-budget indie with a massive cult following (and a Sundance grand jury prize to boot), Shane Carruth’s early-aughts mindfuck Primer is about two engineers who build a box that enables them to travel six hours back into the past, which they do over and over again, resulting in predictably messy consequences. Absent of the usual whimsy of time-travel narratives, Primer aims for verisimilitude — much of the movie takes place in drab, mundane settings, such as a garage and a hotel room — with a labyrinthine narrative structure designed intentionally to simulate the confusing time-travel process for viewers. One of the most complex science-fiction films ever, spawning reams of analysis from fans endlessly dissecting the movie’s cryptic temporal trajectory, this film is a must-see for hardcore sci-fi junkies who love tumbling down Reddit rabbit holes.

Europa Report (2013)

The key to funding space-travel expeditions? Reality television, probably. Europa Reportimagines our first-manned mission to Jupiter’s moon — oft-speculated to contain frozen and liquid H2O — as a television event, with onboard shuttle cameras streaming the crew’s activity like Big Brother in space. The inventive approach, which allows the movie to bounce from angular perspectives and simultaneous, four-quadrant action, is especially effective when all hell breaks loose. Because where there’s water, there’s life.

Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is one of those films that defies categorization, but Netflix lists it as sci-fi, so who are we to argue? At once a family melodrama, an apocalypse movie, a fantasy epic, and a symbolic meditation on mental illness, the film features a first act that focuses on Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst), a severely depressed bride-to-be struggling to make it through her nuptials, while part two shifts the focus to her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as both she and Justine react very differently to the discovery that a rogue planet is on a direct collision course with Earth. Overflowing with stunningly evocative imagery and devastating performances, Melancholia is one of the all-time best cinematic representations of depression, one that will haunt you long after the closing credits.

Re-Animator (1985)

Adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft short story, this mad scientist romp injects a B-movie corpse with gruesome, gushing special effects that should elicit more belly laughs than wailing screams. Jeffrey Combs plays Herbert West, inventor of the life-breathing reagent, like a lost Ed Wood character, which works when you spend most of a movie dancing around attacking zombies and chatty, disembodied heads.

The Host (2006)

This monster movie from Bong Joon-ho, the gifted director behind Snowpiercer, was a huge hit in South Korea, and it’s easy to see why: thrilling action scenes, incredible effects, and slapstick humor make it the perfect antidote to Hollywood’s self-serious blockbusters. Switching tones, moods, and even genres between scenes, it’s a movie that defies easy categorization, and flits adeptly between the sentimental, the political, and the horrific. You’ll never believe that a movie about a mutated killer fish can make you feel so many complicated emotions.




Clearly, Netflix confuses horror and fantasy with real sci-fi, and perhaps you do, too. Lots of people and organizations (like idiot bookstores) do, to sci-fi’s long-suffering detriment. Science fiction has to have at its core a reasonable extrapolation of currently known science — otherwise it’s just fantasy. Here’s an easy rule of thumb: Star Trek is sci-fi (most of the time); Star Wars is fantasy (simply placing the story in a galaxy far, far away isn’t enough). Of your list here, Reanimator, The Host, Melancholia, The Faculty, and Galaxy Quest don’t qualify — Reanimator is horror, Galaxy Quest is farce, and the rest are fantasy or at least speculative fiction. And Starship Troopers, though it technically qualifies as sci-fi, was bloody awful; in fact, it also qualifies as farce, although not intentionally (which makes it funnier). What, you never considered 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris (either version), or any of the films with plots taken from Philip K. Dick?? (I mean, there’s only 13 of those, so far! See… for details) Really: even if many of the classics aren’t on Netflix at the moment, I have trouble believing that the selection of real sci-fi Netflix currently offers is that impoverished. Try again.

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