Look at the sci-fi of years gone by, and among all the shiny rocketships and teleporters, there's one thing that they didn't predict: streaming video at the touch of a button.
Fortunately, we live in Space Year 2017, where we have such things as Netflix; no longer are we bound by the tyranny of the DVD shelf. But with so many films and TV shows available on the service, how do you whittle it all 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.
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a brilliantly realised slice of sci-fi about what makes us human. Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the charismatic, billionaire CEO of a tech company who wrote the code for his Bluebook search engine as a child.
When one of his employees, super-nerd Caleb, wins a competition to spend a week at his boss’s high-security bunker home deep in the mountains, Nathan uses it as an opportunity to test his new invention: Eva, the physical incarnation of Nathan’s latest AI software. But can she pass the Turing Test even when the examiner knows full well she’s a robot?
While Caleb is something of an off-the-shelf geek, Nathan is a cross between Mark Zuckerberg and a Bond villain. One minute he’s sweating out a hangover and dancing with his live-in maid like a #LAD Steve Jobs, the next he’s intimidating Caleb from the darkness of his concrete-walled, warren-like lair.
The interactions between Eva and Caleb could easily have become tedious interviews but Garland infuses them with flirtatious humanity. Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her, Caleb finds a lot to like in his artificial companion, with some incredible make-up and special effects making her equally appealing and believable to the audience. And that’s what makes the denouement of Ex Machina all the more shocking.
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
In the seven years that Prairie Johnson has been missing she's regained her sight and apparently changed her name to 'The OA' - and that's really just the start of the weirdness in this Netflix Original.
Comparisons to Stranger Things are easily made: most of the protagonists are students, albeit teenagers here, and there's a hearty helping of fantasy mixed in with the sci-fi. Those comparisons aren't particularly favourable towards The OA, either, which is lacking the coherence and charm of the D&D-inspired sleeper hit.
But just because The OA isn't as good as Stranger Things doesn't mean it's not worth a watch. After all, what is as good as Stranger Things?
You will, though, have to be prepared to go with some very out-there ideas and some very unexpected shifts in tone. The OA definitely won't work for everyone, but it really is worth giving at least the first of the eight episodes a go to find out if it's up your street.
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 Enterprise 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 want more Picard (and why wouldn't you), the entire back-catalogue of Star Trek: The Next Generation is also now available on Netflix.
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
Say ‘sci-fi’ and most people think of robots, spaceships and flesh-eating aliens. The Lobster is a sci-film about dogs, flamingos and a plump, bespectacled Colin Farrell living in a lakeside hotel. Farrell plays David, a single man sent to a home for other single people, where he must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choice and set free into the world. It’s wonderfully eccentric, hilariously funny and strangely touching, with a contemporary world that, in its own weird way, is far more discomforting than 100 of the same old dystopian wastelands.
Words by Tom Wiggins
Yes, we know it's a TV series and not a movie, but Netflix Original Stranger Things hits so many of the same tonal marks as classic sci-fi movies like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Flight of the Navigator that it would feel weird not to include it.
An eight-part drama concerning the mysterious disappearance of a young boy and his family and friends' efforts to find him, it has everything you could want in from a 1980s sci-fi thriller: a small town, creepy government goons, psychic powers and a seemingly invincible monster. Go on: binge on it this weekend, you know you want to.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
For some, the whole premise of the Planet of the Apes films is too ridiculous to overcome, and the poster for this, the second part in the rebooted series, which shows a gorilla riding a horse, won't help.
But those people need to get over it, because the quality of the story-telling, acting and CGI is such that the inherent prepostrousness dissolves almost instantly, leaving behind it an intriguing story of two struggling populations (humans on the brink of extinction and the intelligent apes' early civilisation) trying and ultimately failing to walk the thin line between wary coexistence and outright war.
There's plenty of action, too, with some stunning set pieces and a memorable, spectacular final battle. And now's the perfect time to catch up with the series as the next entry, War for the Planet of the Apes, is due out this June.
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.
Under the Skin
An alien takes the form of a woman and travels across Scotland, seducing men to harvest their flesh. The premise is simple enough for a low-budget indie flick but there's much more than meets the eye here, as the title implies. Rarely has there been a bolder piece of cinema. And by that we mean it unapologetically screws with your head.
To clarify this as sci-fi would be a gross oversimplification. It starts off like a straight-up predator movie but morphs into a coming-of-age/road-trip story told from the alien's perspective. Scarlett Johansson's performance is disturbing and mesmerising.
This is an aggressively artsy experiment. Director Jonathan Glazer mixes heavily stylised visuals with hidden-camera footage; much of the film doesn't even make sense. But mostly that doesn't matter. It's chilling enough to command attention and the sense of unease is so gripping it will affect you regardless of your understanding.
It'll certainly polarise opinions, but if you're open to something very different it's a singular and utterly compelling experience.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Even if you don’t think much of superhero movies (and let’s face it, after Marvel and DC’s recent over-saturation of the market, even erstwhile fans might be getting a bit sick of costumed capers by now), Guardians of the Galaxy is well worth a couple of hours of your time.
Yes, it’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, but (a) it’s set in space and (b) it takes itself way less seriously than even The Avengers. With the all-star cast not afraid to be incredibly silly (well, they’re probably getting paid enough), there’s an air of gleeful irreverence that keeps you entertained between the epic action sequences.
Words by Sam Kieldsen
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.
The Expanse definitely wants to be the next Battlestar Galactica, and while at times it's more reminiscent of Babylon 5, it should still find a place in the heart of those longing for a new space opera to sink their teeth into.
This is a future in which humans have colonised the solar system, but in which the governments of Mars and Earth have split from one another and are constantly on the brink of all-out war. As is so often the case, it's the people in the middle who suffer the most in times of tension, and in The Expanse it's The Belters, who live and work in the asteroid belt, stripping it of resources that are then sent to the wealthy colonies.
This class system is this 10-part series' most interesting aspect, with each of the specific strands of the multi-threaded story (a detective on the hunt for a missing girl and a rag-tag group of Belters stumbling into a conspiracy) taking a long time to get interesting.
But if you're into this sort of thing (and if you're reading this list you probably are) you'll most likely find yourself reeled in by The Expanse by the end of the feature-length first episode.