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The 27 best sci-fi movies and TV shows on Netflix

From space adventures to mind-expanding drama, we've found the best science fiction for streaming. Updated for October 2021

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 Earth Year 2021, 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?

With our help, of course: we’ve picked out the best sci-fi on Netflix, from mind-bending time travel flicks to big-budget action.

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If you’re after the best new stuff on Netflix we’ve also got you covered with our New on Netflix UK feature, and if you want to get a bit more specific, try these:

The 40 best films and TV shows on Netflix UK

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The 19 best Netflix Originals on Netflix

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The 15 best horror movies on Netflix

The 20 best comedy movies and TV shows on Netflix

The 20 best kids movies and TV shows on Netflix

The 8 best anime on Netflix

The 12 best sports movies and documentaries on Netflix

If you’re landing on this page and you’re based in the United States, then you might want to check out out separate list of the Best movies and TV shows on Netflix USA.

And of course we shouldn’t forget the almost-as-brilliant Amazon Prime Instant Video – you’ll find our Best Of list for that here.

Prefer Sky’s offerings? We’ve also got lists of The 19 best TV shows on Now TV and The 20 best movies on Now TV.

The Matrix

If for some bizarre reason you’ve never seen this modern sci-fi classic, drop whatever it is you’re doing and “jack in” (stop laughing at the back) to Netflix this instant. The Matrix isn’t just a stonker of an action movie – it’s packed with cultural touchstones and iconic moments, and it’s still exudes style over twenty years after it first crawled out of the Wachowskis’ fevered, febrile minds.

Keanu Reeves is hacker Thomas “Neo” Anderson, an office-bound drudge who finds himself drawn into a reality-shattering adventure full of flying bullets, mind-blowing martial arts sequences and some early CGI that doesn’t look totally outdated.

Watch The Matrix on Netflix

Squid Game (S1)

Subtitle-haters, you’re missing out if you choose to avoid this dark drama series on account of it being Korean (yes, you can watch it dubbed into English, but that just feels so utterly wrong). The gripping story of a sadistic life-or-death game show and the effects it has on its desperate contestants – each of whom willingly signed away their “bodily rights” for the prospect of a fat winner’s cheque – Squid Game has already become not only one of Netflix’s most popular foreign language series, but its most popular debut series full stop.

Watch Squid Game on Netflix

Arrival

A “first contact” movie in which the aliens don’t shoot first and ask questions later, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is cut from the same high-quality cloth as Extraterrestrial or Contact. Think lofty, intelligent, character-driven sci-fi full of grand concepts, “aha!” moment twists and big emotional payoffs. Independence Day this ain’t – and it’s all the better for it.

Amy Adams is typically superb as the linguistic expert brought in by a frantic US government when several alien craft rock up on Earth. Can she decode the extraterrestrials’ image-based language, find out what they’re looking for and possibly avert a catastrophic human-versus-alien conflict? You can probably guess the answers, but you’ll likely find yourself sideswiped by the ending anyway.

Watch Arrival on Netflix

Elysium

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp’s big budget debut doesn’t disappoint. When a downtrodden factory worker (Matt Damon) suffers a lethal dose of radiation on the job, his only chance of avoiding a painful death is to get to one of the miraculous Med-Bays used by the upper classes. The problem being that the wealthy and powerful have abandoned Earth – (it’s polluted, overcrowded and downright hellish) for a luxurious orbital space station – and they’re not about to let any old pauper in to use the facilities. Come for the spectacular visuals, stay for the scathing political message.

Watch Elysium on Netflix

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

The story of this adorable extra-terrestrial is guaranteed to tug even the meanest, grouchiest of heart strings. A friendly, curious alien is stranded on Earth and befriends a lonely boy, but all he wants to do is get home. This crowd-pleasing blend of sentimentality and adventure is all very typical of director Steven Spielberg, who also gives us one of the most memorable shots in movie history: E.T. in the basket of a bike, flying over a full moon.

Watch E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial on Netflix

Akira

Arguably the movie kicked off the West’s ongoing obsession with anime and manga, this Japanese cyberpunk classic – a tale of teenage biker gangs, political upheaval and creepy wizened psychic children played out against the backdrop of crumbling megalopolis Neo-Tokyo – remains eminently compelling over three decades after its release. The hand-painted animation is stunning, the grimy dystopian setting evocative and the soundtrack unforgettable. Very few animated movies have aged as well as Akira, or proved as influential. Our advice: watch it now, before Hollywood’s upcoming live action remake inevitably ruins everything.

Watch Akira on Netflix

Love, Death & Robots (S2)

Like androids, ultra-violence and philosophising about intelligence, free will and the very meaning of life itself? This collection of adult animated sci-fi tales packs all of the above and more. It also showcases an impressively broad swathe of animation styles, and the short length of the films (they’re all between seven and 18 minutes) means you can binge watch your way through the whole collection in no time at all.

Watch Love, Death & Robots on Netflix

Love and Monsters

A fun, family-friendly adventure set in a post-apocalyptic USA might seem tonally off, but this colourful, fast-paced and involving flick gets almost everything right. Seven years after an event caused cold-blooded animals to swiftly evolve into huge monsters, shifting human right down the food chain, cowardly but loveable Joel decides to leave the relative safety of his bunker to find the girlfriend he hasn’t seen in the best part of a decade. Between the pair lies 80 miles of predator-infested wilderness – and that’s assuming the hapless lad can even point himself in the right direction. What follows is an enjoyable 90 minutes of strong character-building, breathless action, surprisingly well-written romance and laughs that’ll keep you and your kids glued to the screen.

Watch Love and Monsters on Netflix

Serenity

This feature-length sequel to the short-lived series Firefly gave writer/director Joss Whedon a daunting task: win over new viewers while keeping existing fans happy, not to mention wrap up seven seasons’ worth of plotlines in two hours. And he pulled it off, pretty much: Serenity works for newbies almost as well as it does for 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.

Watch Serenity on Netflix

Neon Genesis Evangelion (S1)

Giant robots fighting giant monsters might seem like an anime cliché, but Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s more nuanced approach to the mecha genre has established it as one of Japan’s most beloved cult phenomena. The series revolves around three teenagers who pilot the Evas, towering robots that may be humanity’s last hope against a race of mysterious and otherwise unstoppable creatures called “angels”. But the fights are far from the most interesting thing going on here – it’s the complex characters and rarely explored themes that elevate Neon Genesis Evangelion to the level of classic anime.

As well as the series, Netflix includes the two feature-length movies that conclude the story.

Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix

The History of Future Folk

A charming lo-fi indie flick about an alien who comes to conquer Earth but ends up playing winsome banjo tunes in a Brooklyn bar, The History of Future Folk has lasers, rockets, killer meteors and extra-terrestrial assassins – but it’s really about the power of music to bring people together.

Watch The History of Future Folk on Netflix

Dredd

Banishing memories of the Sylvester Stallone debacle in which Mega-City One’s most feared lawman showed his face (honestly!), this 2012 adaptation is far more faithful to 2000AD‘s vision of the USA’s dark future. When a routine bit of justice goes awry, Judge Dredd finds himself up against an entire city block full of ruthless drug dealers led by Lena Headey’s scarred and scary Ma-Ma.

Gritty, brutal and fully deserving of its 18 rating, Karl Urban plays Dredd as the comic books intended – a deadpan psychopath – while his sidekick, the trainee Judge Anderson, gets the character arc necessary to pull in “normal” viewers. We only wish it had made more box office bucks on release, as it’s screaming out for a sequel with Urban back in the uniform.

Watch Dredd on Netflix

The Umbrella Academy (S1-2)

Based on the award-winning comics series created by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, this dark fantasy series about a dysfunctional, squabbling family of superheroes – including Ellen Page and Robert Sheehan – comes off like a mash-up of The X-Men, Hellboy, Misfits and Skins.

Fifteen years after drifting apart, six unconventional siblings must reunite to save their world (an alternate reality Earth in which JFK was never assassinated) from impending apocalypse – not to mention contend with a sociopathic hitwoman played by R&B legend Mary J. Blige.

Watch The Umbrella Academy on Netflix

Dark (S1-3)

In the mood for a lazy comparison? Then Dark is the German version of Stranger Things: both follow a group of kids trying to unravel a supernatural mystery; both feature a missing child and frantic parents; both are set (at least partly) in the ’80s. And both are really, really good TV shows.

But there the similarities end, because Dark is, as the name might suggest, a somewhat more difficult watch than its US counterpart (and not just because of those German subtitles). This is a complicated, surprising series that delights in constantly pulling the rug out from under you just when you think you know what’s going on; it’ll leave you with brain-ache at times. It’s also seriously gruesome and really puts its characters through the emotional wringer. Don’t let that put you off though, because this is one Netflix Original you don’t want to miss.

Watch Dark on Netflix

Attack the Block

Aliens arrive on Earth with bad intentions – which we’ve seen many times before. Said aliens decide to land in a South London housing estate (that’s new) and find out that South London housing estates are full of their own kind of hazards.

By refusing to cast judgement on the actions of its wayward teenage protagonists (which include Star Wars’ John Boyega in his breakthrough role), Attack the Block leaves you free to make up your own mind – though you’ll probably be too wrapped up in the action to bother. Directed by Joe Cornish, it’s by turns scary, funny and very cool.

Watch Attack the Block on Netflix

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWsdzf0Isp4

It’s not often a brand new entertainment format arrives on Netflix (or anywhere, for that matter), but Charlie Brooker’s experimental feature-length episode of Black Mirror is just that: melding the worlds of movies and video games, it’s an interactive film in which the viewer plays an active role.

At certain points in the narrative – which stars Dunkirk‘s Fionn Whitehead as a young programmer designing a choose-your-own-adventure computer game in the 1980s (yes, it’s all very meta) – you’re able to pick one of two paths, steering the story towards one of ten distinct endings. And, this being Black Mirror, many of them are incredibly bleak.

If you’ve played Telltale’s The Walking Dead or similar adventure games, you’ll see clear echoes here, but Brooker and Netflix have still pulled off something noteworthy, even if the story itself is, understandably, not quite as laser-focussed as we’ve come to expect of a Black Mirror episode.

Watch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix

Sens8 (S1-2)

Sens8 is a mind-bending Netflix original series from the brains of Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. We’re sure you already know who they are, but just as a refresher, the Wachowskis wrote and directed The Matrix, while Straczynski is one of the greatest comic book scribes in the history of nerd-dom.

If the production team aren’t enough to pique your interest, maybe the premise will be: Eight people from all corners of the globe become telepathically linked, then have to fight to stay alive when they become hunted by those who see them as a threat to the world. A showcase in diversity and imagination, the mind-bending plot takes us all over the planet and, like all good sci-fi, uses its otherworldly genre tropes to explore and examine the world we live in right now.

Watch Sens8 on Netflix

Colony (S1-2)

Earth has been invaded by extraterrestrials, and they’re not here to do a spot of sightseeing. With much of the world destroyed, the remaining population live in locked-down cities patrolled by human collaborators who’ve quickly worked out that the best way to survive is to take the aliens’ side.

In short, it’s 1940s occupied France transplanted to 21st century Los Angeles, complete with secret tunnels, resistance groups and family members finding themselves on different sides of the fence. The story’s not particularly original, perhaps, but it is frequently gripping and raises plenty of interesting questions about how you’d behave in similar circumstances.

Watch Colony on Netflix

Annihilation

Writer-director Alex Garland’s follow-up to the dazzling Ex Machina had a tricky inception. Originally slated for release in cinemas worldwide, in the end its studio Paramount granted it only a limited US theatrical release, with the rest of the world getting their first chance to see it on Netflix. Why? Because they likely figured it’d flop in cinemas, being chilly, complex and brainy; right or wrong, big studios don’t credit the average filmgoer with much intellectual curiosity.

Don’t let Paramount’s disappointing decision deter you from watching it, though. This is one of the most accomplished and interesting science fiction movies of recent years – a visually and sonically outstanding film that’ll leave you with more questions than answers, but enough clues to work everything out too.

When an unexplained “shimmer” engulfs a tract of land in the southeastern United States, then starts growing, authorities are confused and powerless to stop it. Everything and everybody they send inside disappears, never to return – with one exception. When Natalie Portman’s biologist finds herself personally drawn into the mystery, she joins a team venturing into the Shimmer and slowly uncovers the shocking truth.

Watch Annihilation on Netflix

The Cloverfield Paradox

This third entry in J.J. Abrams’ burgeoning Cloverfield franchise is an entertaining (if perhaps ultimately forgettable) sci-fi thriller in much the same vein as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine: an international group of scientists is sent into space to harness an unlimited power source that can save the Earth from famine, war and ultimate extinction – and, wouldn’t you know it, things don’t go as planned. At all. We’re far too kind to spoil anything, but The Cloverfield Paradox also links up nicely with the other two Cloverfield movies, and paves the way for even more new additions to the series.

Watch The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix

Orphan Black (S1-5)

When petty crook Sarah witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her, she isn’t troubled by existential questions; she just sets about nicking her doppelganger’s identity and emptying her bank accounts as quickly as possible. Naturally, that brings its own set of complications, and before long she’s winging it as a detective, hiding bodies and uncovering a conspiracy of human cloning.

Tatiana Maslany anchors the show with a superb performance, slipping between different roles with aplomb – even if some of the supporting cast let the side down by playing to the cheap seats.

Unlike some high-concept shows, Orphan Black‘s been thought through beyond its initial premise; it’s skillfully written, with Sarah’s decisions leading to one complication after another in a logical, coherent manner – even as the sci-fi weirdness mounts.

Watch Orphan Black on Netflix

The OA (S1-2)

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 episode a go to find out if it’s up your street.

Watch The OA on Netflix

Star Trek: Discovery (S1-3)

The most intriguing concept for a Star Trek offshoot in, like, forever, Discovery plunges the viewer directly into an all-out war, ditching the series’ classic episodic format along the way.

As befits a show being released on Netflix, what you get here is instead a single story played out in full. Set a decade before the original team of Kirk, Spock et al set out on the Enterprise, it stars The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green as a mercurial Starfleet officer with a dark history.

She’s superb – certainly the most charismatic actor to wear the uniform since Patrick Stewart – and many of the classic Trekkie touchstones are there too: the Spock/Data-esque analytical crewmember, the just-go-with-it pseudo-science, and old favourite alien races the Klingons and Vulcans.

But despite the plethora of nods to the past, the refreshed format gives the show space to develop without the pressures of time. It’s Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it. Heck, it even has swearing in it!

Watch Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix

Altered Carbon (S1-2)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhFM8akm9a4

This glossy, gory cyber-noir takes us 300-odd years into the future, where Earth has become an overpopulated, dirty, decadent, neon-lit Bladerunner-esque mess – but outright death is a rarity.

That’s because (due to some alien tech discovered off-world) everybody can have their consciousness digitally backed up in a “stack”, a disc-shaped computer stored where the skull meets the spine. Flattened by a lorry? No probs: the paramedics can pop out your stack and – provided it hasn’t been smashed – put it in safe storage until a new body (or “sleeve” in the show’s vernacular) is available. But it’s far from a deathless utopia: rampant capitalism has ensured that only the wealthy can afford decent sleeves, with downtrodden proles being kept in storage for decades or transferred into the first available body, regardless of its suitability.

Into this grave new world comes our hard-boiled hero Takeshi Kovacs, released from prison and dropped into a snazzy, buffed-up Joel Kinnaman-shaped sleeve after a couple of centuries on ice. Why has Kovacs been brought back from the dead after so long? In order to solve a murder, of course – a mystery that the insanely wealthy victim (who’s now reincarnated in a new cloned sleeve, natch) believes only Kovacs’ unique skills can unravel.

Watch Altered Carbon on Netflix

Stranger Things (S1-3)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWxyRG_tckY

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.

A drama series (now two seasons strong) 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.

Watch Stranger Things now on Netflix

Rick and Morty (S1-4)

Despite being rooted in sci-fi staples like multi-dimensional travel (and generally coming off as pretty convincing, science-wise – at least to our non-astrophysicist brains), adult animated series Rick and Morty is focussed mainly on being hilarious and irreverent as it follows the misadventures of a misanthropic, booze-addled inventor, his teenage grandson and his neurotic family.

Netflix features all four seasons of the series, making it the perfect binge-watch material – particularly for those lazy hungover Sundays when your mind can’t handle serious sci-fi.

Watch Rick and Morty on Netflix

3% (S1-4)

This Brazilian series presents an intriguing concept: a world where the lucky few live in an Earthly paradise of gleaming spires and incredible technology, inhabited by beautiful people eating the best food and enjoying free healthcare – while the other 97% of the population reside in slums. Yes, it’s Broken Britain 2018. Ahem.

To gain entrance to this paradise, poor plebs must pass a series of gruelling tests designed to separate the wheat from the chaff; it’s this process that the first season of 3% follows. It quickly goes very Battle Royale, with factions forming and alliances breaking as the desperate teens compete to earn themselves a better life.

If it all sounds a bit YA fiction, don’t worry: 3% is a superior take on the genre, thanks to some well-rounded characters and a few genuine surprises.

Watch 3% on Netflix