As we rub our sleepy eyes and cautiously emerge into Society 2.0 from the protective confines of our cryogenic condominiums, it’s worth remembering that the quantity of sci-fi available to stream remains aplenty.
So that you don’t have to spend hours searching with a less-than-perfect UX through thousands of movies, some good, some bad and everything in-between, we’ve compiled a list of the best science-fiction movies and television shows currently on Netflix.
1. “I Am Mother”
Synopsis: In the wake of humanity’s extinction, a teenage girl is raised by a robot designed to repopulate the earth, but their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news.
Why you should watch: Before “Raised With Wolves” came “I Am Mother,” which also deals with the notion of robots raising humans. This Australian indie film stars Hilary Swank and features the voice of Rose Byrne; the story is well-written and relative newcomer Grant Sputore does an excellent job of directing, keeping your attention focused, right up until the plot twist at the end. It’s simple and very effective.
2. “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo”
Synopsis: At the very heart of the Apollo space program was a team of hundreds of engineers, scientists, doctors and astronauts based in Houston, Texas, who monitored every single aspect of every single mission. This was a unique group of people whose purpose was to ensure the safety and success of every Apollo mission; they were the NASA mission controllers, the men and women behind the scenes who made the moon landing possible.
Why you should watch: Documentaries like this are always great to watch, plus any new footage of Gerry Griffin, Gene Kranz or Chris Kraft sharing their stories, is worth making time for. That said, while it’s fascinating to learn every single detail about how much effort was needed to make the Apollo program work, it would’ve been nice to learn more about exactly why Mission Control was located in Houston after Gemini: there were many factors, but the facts that the Vice President was a Texan and the chair of the House appropriations subcommittee in charge of NASA represented Houston was without a doubt an influence.
Synopsis: A mute man with a violent past is forced to take on the teeming underworld of a near-future Berlin as he searches for his missing girlfriend.
Why you should watch: This is Duncan Jones second major sci-fi motion picture set in the “Moon” universe and it does not disappoint. (The trilogy was concluded with the graphic novel “Madi.”) Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgård lead the cast and deliver strong performances in this vastly underrated, gritty sci-fi thriller set in the not-too-distant future.
Synopsis: A woman wakes in a cryogenic chamber with absolutely no recollection of how she got there. Unable to exit the status pod and slowly running out of oxygen, she must try to rebuild her memory in order to find a way out of her nightmare.
Why you should watch: One of the good things streaming services have enabled is for relatively low-budget sci-fi movies — that would never have seen the light of day 10 or 15 years ago — to be made. And this is one of them. “Oxygen” follows a simple premise and demonstrates that less quite often can be more. It has very little in the way of set changes and is focused entirely on the incredible performance of Mélanie Laurent (“Inglorious Basterds,” “Beginners,” “Enemy”). Another French heavyweight, Mathieu Amalric (“Munich,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Quantum of Solace”) provides the voice for the Medical Interface Liaison Officer or MILO, the AI incorporated into the cryogenic chamber.
5. “Project Power”
Synopsis: In the very near future, on the streets of New Orleans, a new pill that unlocks superpowers unique to each user is becoming popular. However, the catch is that you don’t know what will happen until you take it. While some develop bulletproof skin, invisibility, and super strength, others exhibit a deadlier reaction. A local cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams with a teenage dealer (Dominique Fishback) and a former soldier fueled by a secret vendetta (Jamie Foxx) to fight power with power and risk-taking the pill in order to stop its production.
Why you should watch: Netflix’s homegrown sci-fi often makes you wonder who on Earth is giving the green light to some of these projects, (“Another Life,” nuff said), but this one is worth a watch. Gordon-Levitt is guaranteed to be outstanding in just about any movie he’s in and Fishback also gives a stellar performance. It has a gritty, indie feel, with some nuanced layers to the story, making an enjoyable, interesting sci-fi noir. The cinematography in this movie is what Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 sci-fi noir thriller “Strange Days” desperately needed.
Synopsis: A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.
Why you should watch: Just like “Oxygen” above, “Prospect” would most likely never have been made, much less snagged Pedro Pascal, aka the Mandalorian, had it not been for Netflix investing in smaller-budget movies. Consequently, greater emphasis is placed on the story, the dialogue and the quality of writing in general. As such, this is an entertaining science fiction thriller that will captivate from start to finish.
7. “The Signal”
Synopsis: Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour — the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. When the trio finds themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area, suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students regains consciousness, he finds himself in a waking nightmare.
Why you should watch: This little-known movie is a tense thriller with an epic twist at the end. A great cast — including Olivia Cooke, Brenton Thwaites and Laurence Fishburne — together with a well-written script, add up to an edge-of-seat sci-fi thriller.
Synopsis: Set in the not too distant future, a US special forces unit fighting somewhere in Europe in what appears to be a global conflict encounters a weird, ghost-like entity that can be killed and is only visible in certain light spectrums. Before long, more of these phenomena are detected and troops are being wiped out, left and right. Can a scientist from DARPA work out how to defeat these deadly, ethereal demons?
Why you should watch: It’s a little bit “Aliens,” a little bit “Battle Los Angeles” and maybe even a little bit “World War Z” and if you like all of those, you’ll enjoy this too. A great cast including James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Bruce Greenwood and Gonzalo Menendez — all veterans of quality action movies — carries this straightforward, but stylish sci-fi drama that shows off extremely high production values.
Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck archaeologist, whose unusual theories about aliens and ancient Egypt are ridiculed by his peers, is recruited to decipher an ancient hieroglyph on a mysterious giant ring-like device found in Giza in the 1920s. It turns out that his theories were actually correct and he’s able to unlock the device, which then activates a wormhole portal between worlds on different sides of the galaxy.
Why you should watch: This is the movie that spawned one of the most successful television sci-fi spin-off franchises in history. Kurt Russell stars as Colonel Jack O’Neill and James Spader as Dr. Daniel Jackson, two roles that were perfectly filled by Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks in the TV show.
10. “Total Recall” (1990)
Synopsis: When lowly construction worker Douglas Quaid visits Rekall for a virtual vacation memory of Mars, an unexpected and harrowing series of events unfolds, leading him to discover along the way to the Red Planet that he might be a secret agent under deep cover.
Why you should watch: Let’s get one thing clear, forget the 2012 remake, the original 1990 version is vastly superior. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside and directed by Paul Verhoeven, when he was at his peak. This adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” is an epic rollercoaster ride of Verhoeven-style action and adventure and has become considered a classic sci-fi movie of the 90s.
1. “Altered Carbon”
Synopsis: After 250 years on ice, a prisoner returns to life in a new body with one chance to win his freedom: by solving a mind-bending murder
Why you should watch: Season 2 is now available, so if you haven’t seen Season 1, you’ve got 8 hours and 52 minutes worth to get through first. The second season is considerably better than the first, but to get maximum enjoyment, we suggest taking in the first season as well. The production design on this is incredible and thankfully Anthony Mackie helps bring the story up to the same standard of the Blade Runner-esque visual aesthetic. Tragically, Netflix canceled “Altered Carbon,” so there won’t be a third season, but these are without a doubt still worth watching.
Synopsis: An US astronaut struggles with leaving her husband and daughter behind to embark on a dangerous mission with an international space crew.
Why you should watch: This drama set in space really looks at the issues around family and relationships and in particular being a long distance away from them and what better backdrop is there than the life of a married astronaut. Hilary Swank stars in this 10-part series and while it’s not perhaps as extreme as “Lucy in the Sky,” it covers much of the same emotional ground. Granted, some liberties have been taken with some of the plot points, but then that just wouldn’t make for compelling television would it?
3. “Black Mirror”
Synopsis: A contemporary British re-working of “The Twilight Zone” with stories that tap into the collective unease about our modern world. Over the last 10 years, technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives before we’ve had time to stop and question it; in every home; on every desk; in every palm — a plasma screen; a monitor; a smartphone — a black mirror of our 21st-century existence.
Why you should watch: There are only a few episodes in each season and among those are some truly inspired moments of genius from the show’s creator Charlie Brooker. The first episode “The National Anthem” will frankly shock you into watching more and the standalone episode entitled “Bandersnatch” was the world’s first interactive television experience, where you determine what happens to the principal character.
4. “Dark Matter”
Synopsis: The six-person crew of a derelict spaceship awakens from stasis in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they got on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination: a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone. With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision.
Why you should watch: Sadly, this show is yet another example of poor judgment by the studios as it was canceled while still very much in its prime. Despite there only being three seasons, it’s still well worth a watch. The action scenes were enthralling and fun to watch, especially on a nice, big TV screen, but at the heart of the show was the relationship that slowly developed between the characters as they all found themselves in the same position and were forced to work together.
5. “Lost in Space”
Synopsis: The human race has been forced to organize an evacuation from Earth and a giant spacecraft has been built that’s made up of smaller ships, designed to act as landing craft that can each accommodate one family. On the way to Alpha Centuri, the Robinson’s landing craft crash lands on an uncharted planet and they struggle to survive against all the odds as they must deal with weird indigenous creatures, alien robots and potentially fatal flora and fauna.
Why you should watch: Remember how “Battlestar Galactica” was reimagined? The same has been done to the old 1965, black and white show that came from the mind of Irwin Allen. And the result is amazing. The first season is marginally better than the second, but both are worth binge-watching in their entirety. You’ll laugh, you’ll definitely cry and you’ll be on the edge of your seat as you watch John Robinson, his wife, Maureen, their children (Judy, Penny and Will) and Major Don West fight to survive against the natural elements of an alien world.
6. “Mystery Science Theater 3000”
Synopsis: Set in the not-too-distant future, a Gizmonic Institute employee is lured to the dark side of the moon by third-generation mad scientist Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and her flunky, Max (Patton Oswalt). He is sat in front of cheesy movies with his robot buddies and forced to tortuously watch bad B-movies in their entirety as these mad scientists study the effects on his mind.
Why you should watch: Arguably one of the best hangover cures or rainy day shows ever made for television. During each atrociously bad B-movie, the crew of the SOL space station, Jonah, Servo, Crow and Gypsy, mercilessly shred it, with sarcastic and side-splittingly funny comments. The current Netflix offering is two seasons; the first is called “The Gauntlet” (six episodes) and the second is “The Return” (14 episodes). Back in November 2019, Netflix canceled the show, but in April of 2021, creator and star Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of more episodes and a dedicated platform to show every season of the show. The campaign reached its minimum goal of $2 million within 25 hours of launch and ended with more than $6.5 million, assuring that more episodes will be produced.
7. “Stargate SG1”
Synopsis: Set a few years after the movie and following the successful mission to the planet Abydos, the Stargate program was shut down. Or it was, until someone dials the stargate and the System Lord Apophis and two Jaffa warriors unexpectedly enter the Cheyenne Mountain complex; they kidnap a poor USAF officer and quickly retreat, suggesting there’s a much bigger threat in the galaxy than was first perceived. Col. O’Neill is brought out of retirement to lead a new expedition back to Abydos to find an old friend — Dr. Jackson, a new enemy — the Goa’uld and 214 glorious episodes of Naquadah-fuelled action and adventure.
Why you should watch: Because this is one of the best, long-running sci-fi shows ever produced for television! Granted it’s not up on the gold medal pedestal like “Battlestar Galactica,” “Babylon 5” or “The Expanse,” but none of those shows — not one — managed an impressive 214 episodes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” only managed 176) plus two spin-offs, each at least as good as this and each with characters that you quickly become invested in, great plots, comedy, drama and well-written dialogue. All of which results in all-around, high-quality sci-fi entertainment. Of course what makes this particularly interesting now is that Jeff Bezos has bought out MGM studios, for $8.45 billion and the very day this was announced, fans were on social media excitedly talking about the prospect of a reboot. Fingers crossed.
8. “Star Trek: The Original Series”
Synopsis: In the 23rd Century, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are on a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations. Along the way, they endure all manner of weird and wonderful, eccentric and exciting, compelling and occasionally slightly crazy adventures.
Why you should watch: This is where it all started; William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly star in the show that changed everything. Rewatch some of the very best episodes, like “Arena” (S01, E18) and “Balance of Terror” (S01, E14), enjoy the overacting in episodes like “The Squire of Gothos” (S01, E17) and “The Way To Eden” (S03, E20), but most of all remind yourself of the episodes that set in place events that were revisited later, in both series and movies, like “Space Seed” (S01, E22) and “Mirror, Mirror” (S02, E04).
9. “Star Trek: The Next Generation”
Synopsis: Set almost 100 years after Captain Kirk’s five-year mission, a new generation of Starfleet officers set off in the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D on their own mission to go where no one has gone before.
Why you should watch: Way back in October 1986, a sequel series to the original “Star Trek” was announced and met more or less universally with a positive reception. Any lingering doubt was left far behind as it reached almost 12 million viewers in its fifth season. With the first season of “Picard” available on Paramount+ this is a great opportunity to catch up with all the relevant episodes, including “The Measure of a Man” (S02, E09), “The Best of Both Worlds” parts 1 & 2 (S03, E26 & S04, E01) and of course “All Good Things” parts 1 & 2 (S07, E25).
10. “The Twilight Zone”
Synopsis: A series of unrelated, standalone stories containing drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and/or horror, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist.
Why you should watch: This, the original “Twilight Zone” that ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964, should really be on the national curriculum. The iconic opening narration and music are instantly familiar and the show influenced an entire generation of sci-fi writers, including Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry and other shows, like “The Outer Limits.” In fact, “the Twilight Zone” was a big influence on “Black Mirror” that we mentioned above.