Best sci-fi on Netflix - Looper
Look at the sci-fi films of years gone by, and among all the shiny rocketships and teleporters, there's one thing that they didn't predict: streaming movies at the touch of a button.
Fortunately, we live in Space Year 2016, where we have such things as Netflix; no longer are we bound by the tyranny of the DVD shelf. But with so many films available on the service, how do you whittle them down? We've picked out the best sci-fi on Netflix, from mind-bending time travel flicks to big-budget action.
In the mood for something from another genre? Check out our list of the 40 very best movies and TV shows on Netflix.
Looper is a superb, mind-bending, futuristic, time-travelling action-thriller that sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt assume the role of an assassin whose job consists of putting a bullet in the head of people teleported to his time by a future mob organisation (holy plot line, Batman).
But when the poor sap that appears before him is his future self (played by Bruce Willis), things get rather, well, complicated.
The intricate plot is strongly complimented by plenty of action and strong performances from all, although Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis-like prosthetic nose is initially a little distracting.
Words by Esat Dedezade
It's the future, and everything sucks. Big time. Human emotions are banned, as they always lead to pesky things like love, war, and fights down the local pub. The masses are kept in check through daily compulsory doses of emotion-numbing drugs, and Christian Bale is is on hand with guns and kung fu skills to help enforce the law.
That is, until he stops dosing himself, turns on the Orwellian government, and fights the establishment with a spray of bullets and slick martial art manoeuvres. Oh, and a katana may enter the fray at some point too.
It might not be Mr Bale's finest work (it definitely isn't), but it's fun nonetheless.
Words by Esat Dedezade
Star Trek: First Contact
When the Borg attempt to travel back in time to prevent mankind making first contact with the Vulcans, it's down to Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterpirse to thwart them. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry envisaged a utopian future free of conflict; First Contact chucks such lofty aspirations out of the airlock, gleefully pitting the phaser-toting Enterprise crew against remorseless cyborg adversaries in what amounts to a restaging of Die Hard aboard a spaceship.
It's smart in borrowing from the series' best entries; Picard's obsessive pursuit of the Borg echoes the Moby-Dick allusions from The Wrath Of Khan, while a fish-out-of-water time-travel comedy subplot is taken straight from The Voyage Home.
If you reduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to a Platonian concept - a simple distillation of what constituted Peak Arnie - you’d get Predator. He chews on a big cigar; he kills people then makes corny wisecracks; he shoots guns; he has muscles; he gurns and grimaces and grunts; he acts like the goddamn American hero he is; he Arnies.
Predator’s not just an Arnie film though. It also stars Apollo Creed and a famous ’80s wrestler and a guy in a big monster suits with dreadlocks, and a load of other big guys with muscles who all die. It’s all a bit rubbish and schlocky, obviously, but it’s not like you watch an Arnie film expecting Cinema Paradiso. Accept it for what it is and enjoy it. You won’t be disappointed.
Words by Marc Mclaren
Joss Whedon's sequel to his short-lived sci-fi series Firefly had a thankless task; winning over new viewers while keeping the fans happy – and wrapping up a season's worth of plotlines in two hours. And Whedon pulls it off, pretty much: Serenity appeals to newbies almost as much as seasoned Firefly veterans.
Its scuzzy, lived-in sci-fi world where good and bad is far from cut-and-dried is more believable and more appealing than the clean, black-and-white settings more common to space operas, there’s action aplenty, and its cast of flawed characters makes for an enjoyable emotional ride. But it couldn’t serve to satiate Firefly fans, of course, leading to frequent calls for the series to be brought back, Arrested Development-style, for a true final season. If anyone's going to do it, it's Netflix.
The influence of Steven Spielberg lays heavily on J.J. Abrams’ alien-on-the-loose story: it doesn’t take a film buff to spot Super 8’s similarities to Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. and the Spielberg-produced Goonies. Heck, it’s even set during the 1970s, arguably Spielberg’s richest period.
Anyway, Abrams’ nods are the best kind of tribute, because this film feels brand new and familiar at the same time. Despite being high on action and tension, it also finds time for the same kind of emotional richness you’d find in, well, a Steven Spielberg movie. Wonderful stuff.
There are definite hints of Gravity in this low-budget flick about six astronauts on a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons, from the oppressive and ever-present claustrophobia to the vertigo-inducing space walks. Also like its big-budget cousin, it focuses on the interplay between the characters and their psychological well-being rather than blinding you with gaudy SFX or getting too fanciful about the future.
With an intelligent script, well-defined characters and some genuinely thrilling moments, Europa Report deserves a wider audience.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
The rebooted Enterprise crew, headed up by Chris Pine's Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, face off against Benedict Cumberbatch's intergalactic terrorist in the latest instalment of the venerable sci-fi franchise. Into Darkness delivers thrills and setpieces galore, though it does occasionally come across as a Greatest Hits collection, bringing back old villains and rehashing iconic scenes from past entries in the series.
Given that the previous film spent so much time and effort using time travel mechanics to reboot the series and strike off in a new direction with its characters, it seems a little perverse to immediately plunge them into a reprise of an earlier story. But director JJ Abrams' new Enterprise crew (just about) carries it off on the strength of their personalities and chemistry alone.
Ghost in the Shell
One of the most influential anime films of all time, Ghost In The Shell is thought-provoking and thrilling in equal measure. Set in a future where human beings have neural connections to a global computer network, it follows security agent Motoko Kusanagi's attempts to track down a hacker who can take control of cyborg bodies connected to the network. With impressive visuals - achieved through a combination of cel animation and CGI - and themes of identity and techno-paranoia, it's still as relevant as ever.
War of the Worlds
Drawing as much from Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation as the original novel, Steven Spielberg relocates HG Wells' alien invasion to contemporary America - casting Tom Cruise (somewhat improbably) as a blue-collar everyman who bears witness to the attack.
One of that wave of post-9/11 films that depicted the uncertainty of a world where cataclysmic events could strike out of a clear blue sky, it's a clever subversion of action-cinema tropes.
For once, our chisel-jawed hero is helpless in the face of the chaos unfolding around him, and the best he can do is survive along with his family - using any means necessary. And when his son attempts to step into the traditional heroic role and fight back, we're treated to the extraordinary sight of Tom Cruise - Maverick, for heaven's sake - struggling to stop him.
A Star Wars parody from 1987 that’s still guaranteed to tickle your midi-chlorians? Surely not. But as dated as it now looks, Spaceballs remains a comedic Force to be reckoned with thanks to its unwavering commitment to silliness.
As per Airplane, Naked Gun and the many other classic laugh-fests of its era, no gag is too ridiculous for this movie’s motley rebel alliance. The one-liners come speeding at you like a barrage of photon torpedos and, even if they don’t all strike your thermal ex-snort port, there are enough direct hits to keep you chortling for 90 minutes.
Words by Rob Leedham
This blood-drenched space shocker could easily be titled Dead Space: The Movie if not for the fact that it came out 10 years before the horror-gaming classic. The plot's much the same though, with Sam Neill's motley crew of space jockeys investigating a seemingly deserted spacecraft on the outer reaches of the solar system and finding all manner of hell aboard it.
So, just another unoriginal B-movie clinging on to Alien's coat-tails? Not exactly. The terrors on board the starship Event Horizon are grotesque enough to lift it above the many inferior rivals and make it more of a horror set in space than a sci-fi with a horror theme. So don't watch it on your own. Or just before boarding a deserted starship.
Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky's first feature is a complex, clever thriller about one man's obsession with numbers.
Shot entirely on black-and-white (on a budget of just US$60,000), it earned Aronofsky the Best Director award at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival and it's not hard to see why. Conspiracy theories, great dialogue, well-written characters and even some action scenes - Pi has it all. Great soundtrack too.
Tank Girl is most definitely not for everyone, but if you’ve got a fondness for girl power, 90s fashion, grunge, dodgy prosthetics and/or comic book adaptations that are utterly ridiculous rather than po-faced, it’s genuinely worth a look.
In a world in which it hasn’t rained in 11 years, it’s up to Tank Girl to wage a one-woman war against an evil corporation boss who’s begun extracting water from actual, living people.
I say “one-woman war”, but in fairness she does later on have the help of an actual tank, a young Naomi Watts and a small army of gun-toting kangaroo-human hybrids.
Go in ready for something seriously silly and you should get on well with Tank Girl.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The words "Starring Donald Sutherland" should be reason enough to watch this classic '70s sci-fi horror, but if you need more encouragement take our word for it - it's a cracker.
Sutherland is a public health inspector - sexy eh? - who's plunged into a nightmare when he realises something very strange is happening to the inhabitants of San Francisco.
There's a tense, unsettling atmosphere throughout - helped in no small part by the terrifically creepy sound effects - and a fine supporting cast including Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright and a very young Jeff Goldblum help lift it way above the average B-movie fare.
One things's for sure: you'll never look at a plant in the same way again after watching it.
Words by Marc McLaren