Science fiction fans are well served by Netflix UK’s selection of TV series, offering bingeable flights of fancy like Black Mirror and Stranger Things, alongside standards such as Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek. For films on the other hand, their selection is fairly modern, mostly comprising films from the 21st century, but there are still some great choices – and some more divisive entries, such as Duncan Jones’ Mute (read our verdict here).
The streaming service currently offers a small but diverse range of sci-fi movies, from family favourites to thought-provoking yarns, from big blockbusters to acclaimed indie films, and a few more bits and bobs in between. We’ll continue to update this piece as and when more titles become available, but for now, in alphabetical order, here’s our pick of the best sci-fi flicks available to stream now.
(Bookmark this: We’ll continue to update it as new things arrive and old titles leave.)
Outside of the United States, Annihilation is a Netflix-only release, because Skydance Productions head honcho David Ellison (the genius behind Geostorm and Terminator: Genisys) claimed that the film was too complicated for cinema audiences. Make your own mind up – Alex Garland’s emotional and frightening adaptation of the Southern Reach novels is as visually dazzling as it is complex, with Natalie Portman’s scientist-cum-soldier searching for her husband (Oscar Isaac) inside a dimensional anomaly known as the Shimmer. It’s breathtaking stuff, and on the plus side, at least more people will get to see it than if it had been given a limited cinema run by blinkered distributors.
Arguably James Cameron’s most divisive film, this 1989 deep sea sci-fi adventure is a technological marvel with a touching love story at its heart. During the Cold War, the emergence of non-terrestrial intelligence complicates the race to salvage a sunken US submarine before the Soviets can get to it. Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn lead a terrific cast, and the gorgeous mix of different effects techniques, from stop-motion to cutting edge CGI, made this the deserving winner of an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The troubled production wasn’t well received upon release, but the superior theatrical edition is currently streaming and it really stands up.
The Adjustment Bureau
In this Phillip K. Dick-inspired romance, politician David Norris (Matt Damon) meets and falls head over heels for a beguiling dancer called Elise (Emily Blunt) in a classic case of right place, right time. But because they keep bumping into each other, their love comes under threat from a group of hat-wearing agents who appear to have power over cause and effect, and have foreseen that she doesn’t fit into their plan for David’s life. A surprisingly sweet paranoid thriller, built around the irresistible chemistry between Damon and Blunt.
“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Writer-director Tony Elliott (TV’s Orphan Black and 12 Monkeys) is the brains behind this single location time loop thriller, and gosh, he makes the most out of not a lot. In a dystopian future, Renton (Robbie Amell) is a scientist whose clean energy machine begins to recycle time, on the morning of a violent home invasion by rebels who are trying to steal it from him. This underappreciated Netflix Original is more than just your average Groundhog Day retread.
Following the collapse of their long-gestating Halo movie, producer Peter Jackson got director Neill Blomkamp $30 million to make whatever he wanted. And so his debut feature spins off from his short film Alive In Jo’burg, telling the story of insect-like aliens (dubbed as “prawns”) who arrive on Earth in South Africa and are detained in an internment camp called District 9. Introducing Sharlto Copley to an unsuspecting world, Blomkamp’s film is a striking social satire with a raucously dark sense of humour. It’s got political commentary on apartheid and guns that explode people into bloody mulch with a single blast. What could be finer?
In the not too distant future, a genetic registry database divides society into “valids” and “in-valids”, discriminating against the latter when it comes to the best jobs. But in-valid cleaner Vincent (Ethan Hawke) dreams of joining the space program, and launches a risky scheme to pass himself off as valid by borrowing the DNA of paralysed swimmer Jerome (Jude Law) in order to fulfil his potential. Writer-director Andrew Niccol’s sumptuous sci-fi drama is moving and often thrilling in its vision of an unfair future, reworking familiar sci-fi themes into a unique and gripping personal story.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Marvel’s first big gamble after The Avengers sees their cinematic universe blast off into space, following the adventures of Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) as he makes friends with a weird and wonderful variety of fellow inmates in an alien prison. Breaking out, these ramshackle Guardians learn to get along as they battle a genocidal warlord, all to the tune of a 1970s soundtrack styled as Awesome Mix Volume 1. Cosmic, hilarious and heartfelt – we are Groot!
This adaptation of Andy Weir’s acclaimed novel, about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars when the rest of his crew is forced to take off in a hurry, is Ridley Scott’s best film in recent years. While Mark Watney (Damon, again) tries to conserve his resources and his sanity on the red planet, the boffins on Earth scramble desperately to bring him home. With a great cast and a witty script by Drew Goddard, Scott is at the top of his game with this thrilling show of optimism in the face of overwhelming odds. Poo-tatoes anyone?
Men in Black
In the late 1990s, Will Smith went from Fresh Prince to King of the July 4th weekend, thanks to his starring role in Barry Sonnenfeld’s terrific sci-fi comedy. Smith plays New York police officer James Edwards, who discovers the existence of a covert government agency dedicated to policing extraterrestrial life on Earth, and suits up alongside Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) to fight off a giant alien cockroach (brilliantly disguised as Vincent D’Onofrio.) The film is a triumph of imaginative weirdness that stands as one of the decade’s very best blockbusters. Laugh at the jokes, dance to the theme song, skip the sequels.
Jeff Nichols’ beguiling road movie begins with two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton) kidnapping an eight-year-old boy, (Jaeden Lieberher) and gradually reveals itself to be something rather more extraordinary than expected. Taking its lead from Amblin movies, comic book sci-fi stories and even some of Nichols’ own filmography, there’s a really enjoyable strangeness to this lo-fi mystery.
Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow
Back in 2004, this wildly ambitious throwback illuminated the way forward for special effects and virtual environments in blockbuster filmmaking. Drawing on influences as varied as comic books, James Bond, King Kong and The African Queen, the feature-length serial adventure follows daring pilot Sky Captain (Jude Law) and his ex-girlfriend, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), as they battle with giant robots and their creator, the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (a reconstituted Lawrence Olivier). The breathless plot doesn’t always scan, but it’s a cult classic in waiting, with its gorgeous visuals and constant entertainment value.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ….” JJ Abrams’ hugely entertaining sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy starts with the tantalising reveal that “Luke Skywalker has vanished”, and then introduces us to the new class – Rey the scavenger, Finn the reformed Stormtrooper and ace pilot Poe Dameron – who are pitted against the Empire-a-like First Order. Abrams’ eye for casting pays off magnificently in this franchise revival, bringing in new blood to come and play with the old.
Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets
Director Luc Besson’s vibrant, head-sploding comic book confection has to be seen to be believed. Bringing French comic book characters Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to the big screen, the film follows two space cops through the titular City Of A Thousand Planets, a colossal space station called Alpha, to rescue their captured commander (Clive Owen) and save the millions of aliens onboard from a dastardly conspiracy. It’s almost fatally miscast, but as muddled as this visual feast may be, it’s a Marmite covered must-see.
Did we miss any? What are your favourite sci-fi movies on Netflix UK?