Best sci-fi movies: fantastic films to stream or buy in 2017 in the US


Welcome to TechRadar’s best sci-fi movies list, which features fascinating science fiction movies that you can watch today on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

You only have to take a quick glance at the box-office numbers over the last few years to see which genre sits on top of the hill when it comes to movies. You got it: it’s science fiction.

No genre has captured audiences with wonder and fascination quite like sci-fi. From artificial intelligence and genetic mutations to deep space discovery and alien creatures (sentient or otherwise), sci-fi offers a glance at a strange alternate world, and occasionally a future that’s just a little bit closer than we’d like.

Just like something prophesied in a sci-fi film from the ‘50s or ‘60s, you now hold the power to stream films directly from the internet to your television. And, with science fiction’s popularity at an all-time peak, there’s never been a better time to be a lover of all things strange and unexplained.

Keeping that in mind, we’ve fished through the major streaming services and found all of the best sci-fi movies your streaming powers can conjure and, for those who’d prefer home viewing without buffering, found links to the Blu-rays of every movie on our list. 

Oh, and knowing how quickly movies can appear and disappear on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we will keep this article updated. So, if you don’t see anything you like right now, keep checking back to see if your favorites are ready to stream.

Hellboy

A hellishly fun action-adventure film

Date: April 2004 | Director: Guillermo del Toro | Stars: Ron Perlman, Doug Jones, Selma Blair | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 122 min

Some good humor

Fantastic world building

It’s a goth version of Justice League

Practical effects, a great script, and spot-on casting all come together to make Hellboy a modern sci-fi cult classic. 

Hellboy is a story about a demon who fights for the forces of humanity while in the service of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. When the forces of evil led by Rasputin himself threatens all life on Earth as we know it, Hellboy and his partners must now step in and save the day. 

This shockingly emotional film is based on the popular Dark Horse comic series of the same name, and it was expertly brought to life by the singular vision of genius director Guillermo del Toro, who is known for his unique in-camera special effects. While an R-rated reboot starring Stranger Things actor David Harbour is currently incoming and sure to be a raucous good time, the 2004 original is a landmark cult film that should be high on your must-watch list.

Cloverfield

Date: January 2008 | Director: Matt Reeves | Stars: Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 85 min

Suspenseful

Horrifying

Monster’s origin is a question mark

Shaky cam the ENTIRE movie!

Even if Cloverfield’s brilliant marketing strategy often comes to mind before the story itself, it’s still worth experiencing this unique monster movie experience brought to us by one of today’s premiere directors – Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes, the upcoming Batman film). 

The film follows a group of New Yorkers that find themselves trapped as a horrifying monster descends on New York City. With the help of a handheld camcorder, the survivors document their struggle to survive.

Now, while Cloverfield probably won’t be remembered as a sci-fi masterpiece,this handycam-riddled thriller has already spawned quite a devoted cult following and received a distantly related sequel (essentially in name only, but still). If you’re looking to kill some time, you certainly won’t find yourself bored watching this one. 

Ex Machina

Bladerunner eat your heart out

Date: April 2015 | Director: Alex Garland | Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac | MPAA rating: R | Runtime: 108 min

Deeply profound

Gets your gears turning

Maybe too deep

But, like, are we all androids?

While the theme of artificial intelligence is obviously not new to the science-fiction genre, Ex Machina stands as one of the most unique and wholly unnerving films in recent memory. 

Ex Machina tells the story of a programmer, Caleb Smith, who wins a contest that sends him to the estate of his firm’s CEO, Nathan Bateman. Upon arrival, Caleb discovers that he’s been unwittingly selected to be the human component in a Turing test to determine the consciousness and abilities of Nathan’s AI creation, Ava. The moral lines begin to blur for Caleb as he comes to realize the implications of Nathan’s creation. 

Writer and director Alex Garland practically lives neck-deep in the grey area of morality with this film, weaving together complex characters and concepts that will challenge you long after the credits have rolled. If you’ve never seen it, put on your thinking cap and prepare for a provocative thriller of a sci-fi film.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy’s literary classic looks great on the big screen

Date: December 2009 | Director: John Hillcoat | Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee | MPAA rating: R | Runtime: 111 mins

Good father/son film

Can Viggo Mortenson be my dad?

Get ready for a lot of grey

The future is bleak

In classic post-apocalyptic style, The Road is all about survival. After Earth falls prey to catastrophe, a man and his son make the long trek across America to the sea, fighting to hold on to their humanity. All around them are vicious gangs who would see them captured as slaves, or much worse. 

Although there are a million films in this genre and tone, execution really is everything. John Hillcoat’s vision comes across seamlessly on screen and packs an emotional payload that won’t leave you quickly. And with stellar performances from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road is a worthy entry in the ever growing list of post-apocalyptic science fiction films.

Star Trek Beyond

Date: July 2016 | Director: Justin Lin | Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 122 min

Pine and Quinto are outstanding

Zoe Saldana plays ANOTHER alien love interest

Beastie Boys? Again?

You get a lens flare!

After Star Trek: Into Darkness left some (not all) fans confused or disappointed on the direction the promising reboot was heading in, Fast and Furious director stepped in to put some new life into the third installment. The result was a fun and fast paced romp that may have stumbled at times, but still delivered the type of deep space adventure that long time Trekkies had been yearning for. 

The young cast is as electric as they’ve ever been, including a heartfelt final performance by Anton Yelchin as the fan favorite Pavel Chekov. Idris Elba plays an intimidating, if forgettable villain that would have been right at home in a story arc of Star Trek The Next Generation. In the end, Beyond isn’t a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s still an exhilarating entry in a franchise that helped build science fiction into the cultural phenomenon it has become.

Jurassic Park

Unearth this seminal classic

Date: June 1993 | Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 127 min

Smart ‘what if?’ scenario

T-Rex is the best character

Don’t watch in the bathroom

Raptors are evil in the original

Even to this day, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s exciting novel, Jurassic Park, exists as a benchmark for the entire science fiction genre. With extremely well written characters, special effects that have aged surprisingly well and a solid premise to hold it all together, it’s pretty hard to find any problems with Jurassic Park. 

If you’ve been living under a rock and have never seen it, Jurassic Park follows a group of scientists who find themselves on wealthy philanthropist John Hammond’s island, the home of a soon-to-open theme park with living, breathing dinosaurs. But, when a storm disrupts the power on the island, their “walk in the park” becomes a waking nightmare. 

Even if you’ve already taken the ride before, Jurassic Park is a tremendous sci-fi glory that should be enjoyed again and again. 

Iron Man

Witness the birth of the MCU

Date: May 2008 | Director: Jon Favreau | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 126 min

Robert Downey Jr finds his best role

It really ties the room together

Tony Stark is a bit much

Like, he’s unbearable at times

Looking back at 2008, all of the weight of the still new Marvel Cinematic Universe rested entirely on the shoulders of Iron Man, a comic book character with a ton of potential, but not much popularity in the mainstream. But that all changed almost overnight thanks to this fresh and unique origin story and the inimitable presence of Robert Downey Jr. 

Director Jon Favreau turns this classic rags to riches story on its head, taking the arrogant billionaire arms dealer named Tony Stark and tearing him down until he becomes the hero we would all come to love. Although the villain of the film is disappointing (reminder: it’s an MCU film), the humbling journey of Tony Stark is enough to drive the plot forward and is responsible for the very existence of the current Marvel Universe. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, watch it again and return to the simpler days of superhero films.

The Terminator

I’ll be back … with some popcorn

Date: October 1984 | Director: James Cameron | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn | MPAA rating: R | Runtime: 107 min

Career-defining role for Arnold

About as classic as you can get

But that timeline, though

Terminator 2 is probably better

This film didn’t make the Governator a household name for no reason. Over 30 years since its release, The Terminator still stands as a landmark in the science-fiction genre, and is arguably James Cameron’s crowning achievement. 

If you’ve never seen this classic sci-fi/horror flick, The Terminator tells the story of a woman who’s on the run from a cybernetic assassin from the future, and the man who was sent back to save her. While the franchise went completely off the rails after the second installment, the original film is a harrowing and refreshingly focused tale of survival, featuring chase sequences that are truly what nightmares are made of.

This original sci-fi horror classic remains as timeless as Schwarzenegger himself and should be near the top of your streaming list if you’ve never seen it.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. was kiddish, but it’s still one of Spielberg’s best

Date: June 1982 | Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote | MPAA rating: PG | Runtime: 115 min

Heartwarming friendship

Good message about calling your parents

The target audience is five year olds

Reese’s Pieces product placement

If there was ever a staple in the sci-fi genre, it’d probably be E.T. 

Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming tale of an innocent alien stranded on Earth and the young boy who welcomed him in remains an iconic family classic some 35 years since it first hit theaters. From Reese’s Pieces to that famous shot of Elliot and E.T. flying their bike in front of the moon E.T. is brimming with imagery that conjures up all the nostalgia and happiness of childhood wonder. 

Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, E.T. is certainly a worthwhile stream in your sci-fi marathon.

The Matrix

Clear your mind (and your schedule) before watching this classic

Date: March 1999 | Director: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski | Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss | MPAA rating: R | Runtime: 136 min

Gets better every time you watch it

Keanu Reeves was born to be Neo

Let’s not talk about the sequels

While many of the films on this list could be called “great” and “groundbreaking”, there are few that could be labeled “generation defining”. 

The Matrix follows a hacker named Neo, whose eyes are opened to his world for what it truly is – a simulation created by robotic overlords that live off of the humans who created them and is maintained by the mysterious Agents. Once unplugged, Neo and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar fight the Agents at every turn and struggle to set humanity free.

When the Wachowski’s delivered The Matrix in 1999, the world had never seen anything like it. Blending martial arts-inspired choreography with the most groundbreaking effects ever put to screen at that time, The Matrix was and is a marvel to behold. Even as some of the effects begin to age, the ingenuity of the script becomes more evident. 

Although the sequels sadly never lived up to the promise of the original, The Matrix is a marvel to behold and a hallmark in science-fiction history. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Movie nights are built on hope

Date: December 2016 | Director: Gareth Edwards | Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 133 min

Fills in the gaps perfectly

Introduces great new characters

None of whom you’ll see ever again

All the characters you like are CGI

As the first film outside of the saga and the first prequel since Jar Jar Binks, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had a lot riding on it. It had to strike a balance between originality and familiarity that could have easily backfired and been rejected by old and new fans alike. Thankfully, Rogue One was a rousing success all across the board. 

Taking place before the original Star Wars, Rogue One tells the tale of the brave band of rebel spies led by the tenacious Jyn Erso who risked everything to steal the plans to the fearsome Death Star. The forces of evil, led by Director Krennic, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader himself meet the rebels in combat to prevent their plans from falling into the wrong hands. 

The final result of Rogue One was a gritty war film that wasn’t perfect, but stands as an excellent entry into the already expansive Star Wars universe. From a visual perspective alone, this is well worth the stream.

Looper

When the rules just don’t apply

Date: September 2012 | Director: Rian Johnson | Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt | MPAA rating: R | Runtime: 113 min

Mind-bender

Like Twilight Zone with guns

Not sure that’s how physics works…

Director Rian Johnson is positively oozing with creativity and character, a trait that helped him land his current gig as director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But before we get his undoubtedly unique spin on a galaxy far, far away, it’s worth revisiting the film that got him there. 

Looper is a time-tangled mobster film that positively shatters any mold it could fit in. It pushes the boundaries of what makes the sci-fi genre what it is and the result is a singular film that will be talked about for generations. While the ride is a little rough at times, Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt both shine in this sci-flick that needs to be seen to be believed.

2001: A Space Odyssey

“Open the DVD player tray, HAL”

Date: May 1968 | Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester | MPAA rating: G | Runtime: 149 min

Has a ton of iconic sci-fi moments

Came from the ’60s!

It’s a slow burn

HAL, open the doors bro

What can be said about Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? Simply put, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the genuine article to which just about every space film has to endure comparison — for better or worse. 

Although not everyone considers it Kubrick’s best work, it has to be considered amongst the most ambitious films ever made, narratively and visually. Any true fan of the genre must make the pilgrimage through this unusual, iconic, and mesmerizing space epic directed by one of the all-time great filmmakers.

Doctor Strange

Take a trip with the Doctor

Date: November 2016 | Director: Scott Derrickson | Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams | MPAA rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 115 min

Bright and ultra-colorful

Cumberbatch can do no wrong

Strange is just a little too good

He knows more than a god

As Marvel’s cinematic success has expanded, so has their creative sandbox. A Doctor Strange movie would have been a fool’s dream just a decade ago, but now the master of mystic arts has his own film with top-notch special effects, a dream team cast, and a talented director to helm it. What a time to be alive! 

For those not in the know, Doctor Strange follows the story of Stephen Strange, a talented surgeon with an ego to match his skillset. After a car accident, Strange loses the use of his hands and loses his sense of purpose. On his journey to find healing, Strange stumbles into the mystic arts and finds a deeper purpose in magic, spirituality and sorcery. 

While formulaic at times, Doctor Strange is a blast from start to finish, riddled with humor and enough sci-fi and sorcery babble to make your head spin. 

The Iron Giant

Find a new best friend with The Iron Giant

Date: August 1999 | Director: Brad Bird | Stars: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston | MPAA rating: PG | Runtime: 86 min

Family friendly sci-fi

Vin Diesel voices the giant

Skews a bit younger

Parents are bad at their jobs

Before Brad Bird gave us animated classics like Ratatouille and The Incredibles, there was the Iron Giant – the story of an alien robot who forms an unexpected friendship with a young boy in Rockwell, Maine. When government forces become skeptical of the Iron Giant’s intentions, the boy must find a way to save his new friend from destruction. 

Although the Iron Giant has maintained a steady following, it’s never gotten the widespread recognition it deserves for being a thoroughly brilliant piece of science-fiction filmmaking. If you skipped out on this film, hop on over to Netflix and give this modern animated classic a shot. 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Date: June 1982 | Director: Nicholas Meyer | Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley | MPAA rating: PG | Runtime: 113 min

KHAAAAAAN!

That’s all you need to know

New Khan is pretty great, too

You could just watch Into Darkness

Of course Star Trek gets two spots on this list! We’re talking sci-fi, right? 

The Wrath of Khan is the follow-up to the original motion picture and reached cinematic and emotional heights that many would argue have never been met again in the franchise. In the film, Kirk, Spock, and the crew are confronted with the enigmatic villain known simply as Khan, someone Kirk had run into years before. As the pieces begin to move, the crew of the enterprise find themselves in a showdown with one of the most powerful villains in the universe. 

With a tight script, a brilliant performance by Ricardo Montalban, and an ending nearly as iconic as Star Trek itself, The Wrath of Khan is what sci-fi is all about. Treat yourself to streaming this one on either Amazon or Hulu.

Interstellar

Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here

Date: 2014 | Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 169 min

Beautiful to look at

A soaring soundtrack

The plot unravels near the end

Too much copying of Kubrick

Chris Nolan aims for the stars with Interstellar and the film suffers as a result. It’s too clever for its own good, with an ending that is pure Kubrick in its obscurity. Despite its flaws, though, Interstellar is still a wonderful, bold movie. It’s set in a time when food has become scarce on Earth so a mission is planned to go ‘interstellar’ and seek out a planet with Earth-like properties seen through a wormhole. Nolan shot a lot of the film with an IMAX camera so visually it’s superb, it’s just a shame the script doesn’t quite match. It’s still worth viewing, though, as a flawed Nolan movie is far better than most movies released.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind

Our memories makes us who we are. You can’t change the past

Date: 2004 | Director: Michel Gondry | Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 108 mi

A mind-bending masterpiece

Visually inventive

Script sometimes gets lost

Flits between comedy and drama

Michel Gondry’s mind-melding look at memories is light sci-fi but sci-fi nonetheless. Its plot has something of a reverse Total Recall vibe to it, Clementine (Kate Winslet) suffers a bad breakup from Joel (Jim Carrey), to make sure that she suffers no more she undergoes a procedure that will rid her of her memories of them both together. Not to be outdone, Joel goes for the same procedure with sometimes heartbreaking consequences. This is a beautiful, strange movie and still Gondry’s best. He takes a lot of his creative learnings from the music videos he created before Eternal Sunshine and puts these shots to good use in the movies. It may well be the best performance from Carrey, too.

Source Code

Date: 2011 | Director: Duncan Jones | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 93 min

Tight, cerebral storytelling

Keeps you guessing until the end

Story is easy to unpick

The CGI could be better

Duncan Jones second sci-fi spectacle, after the superb Moon, sees Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter. He’s a soldier trapped in the body of someone else, who has to relive a train ride over and over until he can figure out who the bomber on the train is. While the plot device is reminiscent of Edge of Tomorrow, it actually has more in common with ‘90s TV show Quantum Leap, with Jones even nodding to this with the casting of Scott Bakula as the voice of Colter’s father. And at only 90 minutes, the film gives you no time at all to breathe, or space to try and figure out just what is going on. This is no bad thing as it also leaves you wanting more.

Mars Attacks

Date: 1996 | Director: Tim Burton | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker | Certificate: 12 | Runtime: 106 min

Brilliant ’50s alien movies send-up

Superb ensemble cast

CGI looks dated

Bit too silly for its own good

Given Mars Attacks is a pastiche of ’50s sci-fi movies and comic books of old, it’s fitting that now Tim Burton’s film looks as dated as what it was mocking, thanks to the overuse of early CG. But that doesn’t detract too much from the film, which is a brilliant burst of bubblegum sci-fi. The plot is wafer thin: aliens come to earth and want to blow everything up with a massive laser. But with a cast list that’s AAA (Jack Nicholson plays the president, Glenn Close the first lady and even Tom Jones makes an appearance) jokes swathed in satire and some brilliant Ed Wood style effects, the film still holds up today as a manic triumph. 

Godzilla

Date: 2014 | Director: Gareth Edwards | Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 123 min

Brilliant epic feel to the movie

An adult, focused retelling

Not enough Godzilla!

Bit too slow going

Gareth Edwards had only one film under his belt (the low-budget Monsters) before he was handed this monster of a movie. Despite his slim CV he made decent work of the Godzilla legend, even if the giant lizard is a little camera shy at times. Edwards sets his Godzilla tale both in San Francisco and Japan where Godzilla and other monsters are summoned after unusual tremors cause a nuclear power plant meltdown. When we do get to glimpse Godzilla, the giant lizard looks magnificent but these shots are few and far between. Edwards decides to evoke suspense through Spielberg reaction shots and clever camera positioning which makes this movie a slow burner, rather than the all-out action fest it could have been.  

Contact

A journey to the heart of the universe

Date: 1997 | Director: Robert Zemeckis | Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt | Certificate: PG | Runtime: 150 min

Amazing performance from Foster

A thoughtful take on the space genre

Special effects haven’t aged well

A little too much ‘message’

Robert Zemeckis’ Contact is one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking blockbusters of the last 20 years (it was released in 1997). Based on the book by renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan, the movie depicts a lifelong hunt for life on other planets by Elli (Jodie Foster) and is a stunning study or belief and determination. Zemeckis always surprises with his movies choices – this is a director with both the Back To The Future trilogy and Flight on his CV – but he’s perfect for Contact, using at-the-time cutting-edge special effects and subtle-but-brilliant audio cues to highlight the possibility of alien life. It’s testament to how good the movie is that only recently have we started to see intelligent sci-fi films back in the cinema (the Planet of The Apes series, Interstellar and Arrival to name a few) but none of them match Contact when it comes to boiling down high-concept ideas, making them fit for a mainstream audience.

Attack The Block

Inner city vs outer space

Date: 2011 | Director: Joe Cornish | Stars: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 88 min

Brilliant, original concept

Great ensemble cast

Tries too hard to be a cult classic

Not funny or scary enough

Pop quiz: which low-budget British movie stars a Star Wars hero, an upcoming Doctor Who and is directed by the original writer of Ant Man? That’s the provenance Attack The Block now has, thanks to its stars John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker taking on two of the most iconic franchises and director Joe Cornish now firmly camped in the Hollywood Hills. Before this infamy, though, Attack The Block still stood out as a fantastic slice of sci-fi that’s been given a very distinctive British flavour. Based on the idea that aliens have come to earth and decamp in a South London estate, the film marries two disparate ideas to great effect, creating one of the most original movies around. 

Inception

Date: 2010 | Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 148 min

Highly original blockbuster

Amazing visuals

Lots of ideas but not all of them hit

Dialogue a bit too pedestrian

Christopher Nolan challenges the perception of dreams and reality in this high-octane, high-concept thriller based on a group of thieves who steal through ‘inception’ – putting their victims in a dreamlike state, tapping into their conscience and uncovering a bevy of secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio is the head of the group, who is burdened by his past demons but his latest hit offers him a way out and puts the crew on the ultimate assignment. Nolan paints a puzzling picture with Inception, asking questions but never really offering up answers which will be frustrating some. But stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most original and entertaining movies in years.



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