Looking For Some Great Sci-Fi Films Streaming on Netflix? We’ve Got You Covered!
We’ve all been there. It’s Friday night, nothing’s going on, you’re sitting on the couch with a plate of pizza rolls, and you’ve got nothing to watch. What’s that? You all have social lives, and that’s actually just me? Oh.
Well, then for those times when your social calendar empties out, and you don’t have anything scheduled, here are 10 Great Sci-Fi films streaming on Netflix that you probably haven’t seen. Unless you’re like me (I’m sorry) and you watch a lot of movies and have seen this all, in which case feel free to point this out and mock me in the comments below.
1 – Darkman
Between the time he gained cult status for Evil Dead and became a household name after directing the first Spider-Man at the dawn of the current age of Superhero movies, Sam Raimi tackled a different superhero, Darkman. Despite the inspired lunacy of Evil Dead 2, Hollywood still wasn’t sure what to think of Raimi. He tried to secure the rights to both The Shadow and Batman1, but as a relative unknown, he was ultimately unsuccessful. So Sam Raimi decided to create his own superhero and made a deal with Universal Studios to have his new creation Darkman be the subject of his first studio film.
According to the rumors, the development process was long and torturous with countless rewrites, and Raimi had an equally difficult battle with the studio during post-production. And while this often signals the arrival of a flawed movie, in the case of Darkman, we instead got a unique and thrilling take on superheroes.
Plot: Scientist and inventor Dr. Peyton Westlake is developing synthetic skin to help burn victims. After a breakthrough in his project, Westlake is attacked at his lab by mobsters. They murder his assistant, brutally beat him and disfigure his face with acid, and then blow up his lab. Everyone believes Westlake to be dead, but he survives the explosion, and sets up a new lab in an abandoned warehouse, vowing to both protect his girlfriend from the mob boss Durant and extract his revenge.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: The world at large got their first taste of Sam Raimi, and it was good. Among the crew, frequent collaborator Danny Elfman provided a great, moody score to help set the mood and veteran cinematographer Bill Pope (of The Matrix fame) helped craft a great, gothic, decaying look. The movie was solid all around, including some great makeup work, a compelling story, endless creative camera shots and slick edit moves, and some great moments of dark creativity. Who can forget the opening warehouse raid with the awesome wooden leg trick and hopping henchman? Or the fate of poor Ted Raimi’s (brother of the director) toady after he spills the beans to Darkman? But, one of the single most important aspects of this film is a strong central performance from Liam Neeson, well before he started Taken down bad guys. After more than a decade in TV and movie support roles, this was one of his first big movie roles, and he took to it with relish, crafting a character that is equal parts sympathetic, merciless and badass.
2 – John Dies at The End
Don Coscarelli is weird. I mean, make a movie where Elvis and JFK are still alive but in different bodies, and living at a nursing home where an ancient Egyptian mummy is preying on the residents and Elvis and JKF have to team up to take him down weird. Coscarelli really started to attract notice in 1979 with his third film, Phantasm, a cult horror classic with Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. From there he directed another cult classic, the Beastmaster, before embarking on a series of Phantasm sequels. Finally, in 2002, he dropped Bubba Ho-Tep, the JFK / Elvis buddy horror comedy described above. And then, well, he took a breather for about a decade. Being weird is hard work … I mean, so I’ve heard from a friend because that’s not something I know from personal experience.
Finally, in 2012, Coscarelli casually strolled back into the scene and dropped John Dies at the End, an adaptation of David Wong’s novel.
Plot: So, trying to describe the plot of this film would be both a disservice and really hard. It involves a drug called Soy Sauce, alternate dimensions and time travel, a dog named Bark, a drug dealer name Robert Marley, an evil organic supercomputer called Korrok who has instituted a brutal reign on an alternate Earth dimension, and Paul Giamatti.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: Coscarelli is a unique and highly polarizing filmmaker. His movies can be all over the map, and occasionally end up being better on paper than they are in actual execution (Bubba Ho-tep is a primer example of this.) However, they are never boring, and John Dies at the End is no different. It’s dark, funny, weird, generally unpredictable and a hell of a lot of fun. Be warned, however, it is very gory and not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
3 – The Host
First off, no, this is not about the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s sci-fi followup to her sparkly glitter friends version of vampires. This is about South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s fourth movie, sci-fi monster movie The Host, which was the first time many people became aware of him. In recent years, Joon-Ho has gained even more street cred with US audiences with dystopic sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, but even before he started to cross over to international audiences, he was crafting great movies. His debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, was a charming dark comedy that hinted at great things to come, and he’s more than delivered with his successive movies.
Plot: American military personnel authorize the dumping of formaldehyde into the Han river in Seoul, which eventually creates a literal monster. One afternoon, the monster emerges from the river, attacking crowds of people and taking a snack vendor’s daughter with it as it leaves. The vendor (played by Joon-Ho’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-Ho) then has to try and figure out where it’s taken his daughter, and get her back.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: Even working on a budget not quite as impressive as Hollywood commonly throws around (The Host was made fore a modest 11 million dollars, probably one of the few times you’ll hear 11 million dollars called modest) this movie created a credible CG monster, and put it to great use. And, unlike many similar monster movies, this one doesn’t hide in the shadows. Early on the in the film, the monster emerges in full glory for an extended daylight attack on a riverside park. Joon-Ho was not shy about bringing out the monster early, and letting us know exactly what we’re dealing with. Fair warning though, this is a Korean movie, and there will be some cultural things that may not make sense or may seem exaggerated to North American audiences. Just roll with it, and enjoy a well crafted sci-fi monster movie.
4 – Seeking a Friend For the End of the World
OK, it’s been a little dark so far, so let’s add a little levity to the situation, by taking a look at the end of the world. After successfully adapting Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, writer Lorene Scafaria returned with her directorial debut, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World. Headlined by a (career-wise) red hot Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, the movie was surprisingly and unfairly ignored by just about everybody.
Plot: An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and in this opening scene of this movie, we (along with Carrel’s character Dodge Petersen) learn that mankind has failed in our last chance to stop it. So, because we’re doomed anyway, anything goes. After turning down drugs and sex at a wild party, Dodge returns home and finds his neighbor Penny (Knightly) crying on the fire escape. This kicks off a budding relationship between the two, which eventually results in a roadtrip and quest to find out how to get Penny back to England before the impending apocalypse.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: Carrel delivers a subtle, low key performance that builds nicely through the movie and Knightley is charming as always. The movie isn’t always predictable, and goes some interesting places, resulting (as others have noted) in tonal shifts that can make the movie difficult to enjoy. It does, however, end on a extremely tender and earned note. Be aware, however, that there is often dust in the air during this film’s ending, and it may cause you to get moist or watery eyes.
5 – Stake Land
OK, now let’s get back to the grim stuff. Director and co-writer Jim Mickle has been quoted as saying he is attracted to the flexibility and intensity of horror movies. And he uses those traits to explore themes that interest him, such as gentrification in his debut Zombie horror film, Mulberry Street.
Plot: Humanity sucks. Well, they do after a vampiric plague causes vampirism to run rampant, turning most people into vicious, rabid killing machines. By day, survivors move around trying to make it to somewhere where they can hole up for the night, when the vampires come out. After his family is slaughtered, young Martin is taken on and mentored by a veteran, no-bullshit Vampire hunter simply called Mister. Together, they journey through America’s heartland, looking for the rumored “New Eden.”
Why It’s Worth Seeing: Made on a budget of only $625,000, this movie has a surprisingly lived in and convincing post-apocalyptic look. Nick Damici (who co-wrote the film with Mickle) also gives an appealing and suitably gruff performance as Mister. Also nice? The movie establishes early that vampires aren’t exactly easy to kill, and is a strong departure from the general depiction of vampires of yearning, almost human immortal romantics who just gots to have that blood, yo! (Sorry, don’t know what happened there.) These vampires are nasty, feral killing machines, and to be a vampire hunter, you’ve got to be pretty badass.
6 – Monsters
If you don’t know who Gareth Edwards is now, you will by the end of the year. That’s because e’s directing the latest Star Wars offering, Rogue One. But before he got the job for Rogue One, and before he directed the recent Godzilla reboot, Edwards arrived on the scene with a different kind of monster movie called, well, Monsters.
Plot: A NASA deep space probe, sent out to verify the existence of extraterrestrial life, crash lands in Mexico, bringing alien life forms with it. These life forms spread, and in response, Mexico and the US quarantine the northern half Mexico, build a wall along the border, and send in soldiers to combat the invaders. Andrew, and American photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) is sent into the quarantine zone to find his employer’s daughter (Whitney Able), and help her get back to the US.
Why It’s Worth Watching: Right off the bat, let’s establish that this film has a slower pace, and is not some ET killing action-fest. That being said, McNairy and Able are great as the leads, and the movie does a credible job creating a scenario that feels a little more realistic than your average monster movie. It also serves as a great talent showcase for Edwards, who in addition to writing and directing the movie also served as the cinematographer, production designer and visual effects artist.
7 – Metropolis
There are a lot of great, classic Sci-Fi films on Netflix, from 2001 to Blade Runner, ET and Escape from LA (wait, that’s not a classic), but perhaps none is more important than Fritz Lang’s restored silent film sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis, one of the first feature length sci-fi films. After its debut in 1927, the film was drastically altered and cut, and the original version appeared lost to time. However, in 2008, a mostly full print of the film was found in Buenos Aires, and it was restored to almost full former movie glory.
Plot: In the futuristic city of Metropolis, wealthy industrials rule over everything from their high rise tower complexes while the lower class lives underground, operating the machines that provide the power to run everything. Freder, the son of the city’s master, becomes interested in a young worker woman, and follows her into the underground, where h is eyes are opened to the terrible conditions the workers live in, and begins on a journey to help the workers find a better life.
Why It’s Worth Watching: There’s an argument to be made that you need to eat your vegetables too. Yes, Metropolis is old, yes it’s black and white, and yes it’s a silent film. But it’s also an incredibly impressive and ambitious vision of the future, and deals with ideas and themes that we’re still exploring today in modern science fiction. It’s also amazing to see how filmmakers crafted movies in the days before CG and refined special effects.
8 – Re-Animator
Director Stuart Gordon made his mark on movies with 1985’s Re-Animator, a sci-fi / horror / comedy hybrid, important for being one of the early cross genre hybrids. Well received at the time (Powerhouse critics Pauline Kael and Rober Ebert both gave it positive reviews) Re-Animator was nonetheless ignored by audiences, though it did earn cult status over time.
Plot: Doctor Herbert West has figured out how to bring people back to life. However, he hasn’t yet perfected the method, as the dead come back as crazed, bloodthirsty zombies. Enlisting the help of a young student, he continues his research, leaving chaos (and re-animated cats) in his wake.
Why It’s Worth Watching: In the movie’s opening scene, West re-animates his dead professor to gruesome effect, literally causing his eyes to burst in bloody streams before he, well, dies again. The makeup and gore effects in this scene, and throughout the movie, still hold up today, and that is only one of the films many pleasures, including a scene where West decapitates a fellow scientist trying to steal and take credit for his research (Plagiarist!) and then re-animates the head and body separately. A funny, gory, and crazy good time.
9 – Avalon
For anime fans, the name Mamoru Oshii is well known. As the creator of Ghost in the Shell, he already has a place in the pantheon on influential and important science fiction. But in 2001, he directed Avalon, a co-production between Japanese and Polish studios (in part because the Plosh military was willing to let them use equipment such as T-72 tanks and Mi-24 attack helicopters), that explored the concept and world of virtual reality gaming. And though Avalon in pretty much unknown to the world at large, it represents a fascinating fusion of cultures, and uses a sepia toned and otherwise muted and drab look and lack of color to great visual effect.
Plot: In the future, youth are becoming increasingly addicted to an illegal and potentially lethal battle simulating virtual reality game called Avalon. Ash, the game’s star player, hears rumors of new, more advanced level to the game, and sets off to find the gateway to the next level.
Why It’s Worth Watching: In addition to the compelling visual style, Avalon has an interesting story, dealing with themes of isolation and the dangers of virtual reality. It also has a strong score by frequent Oshii collaborator Kenji Kawai, and great production design.
10 – eXistenZ
1999 saw the release of the Matrix, and action film making and sci-fi movies were never the same. It’s hard to communicate just how influential The Matrix was (and just how annoying it was to see everyone steal the aesthetic without paying attention to the context), and in all the Matrix thunder, eXistenZ was lost. It came out a few weeks after the Matrix, sporting similar ideas of manufactured alternate reality, and though it was generally well received by those who saw it, well, very few people saw it. Which it too bad, because David Cronenberg is generally a filmmaker worth paying attention to, and eXistenZ represents some of his more interesting work.
Plot: In the future, people game in a sort of alternate reality using “bio-ports” and “game pods” to tap into a whole new gaming universe. Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a star video game designer, and as the movie opens, she is taking part in a focus group to test her latest creation. Things go south, however, when a terrorist organization who believe alternate reality games are a crime is able to sneak an agent into the group who wounds Allegra and kills the game company PR man before being stopped by Ted Pikul (Jude Law), the “security” for the event. Pikul and Geller hit the road, trying to stay ahead of the terrorists who are bent on destroying both Geller and her game.
Why It’s Worth Watching: The plot is interesting, raising questions about the potential future paths of video games and similar entertainment, and subtly raises questions about the possible dangers. It’s also a pretty complex story, layering in gotchas, twists and turns as it dispenses information. And it’s got a killer cast. In addition to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law, you’ve got Willem Dafoe, Christopher Eccleston, Ian Holm, Don McKellar and Sarah Polley. However, this movie is packed with semi and fully disgusting imagery, especially as it relates to certain organic weapons and the “trout farm,” where they create game pods. This is a part of the Cronenberg aesthetic, as he likes to explore the mutation, modification and decay of the human body. And it’s certainly not over the top like, say, the human centipede. Just, you know, fair warning.
So there you have it. 10 Great Sci-Fi films streaming on Netflix that should help you pass a few Friday nights. If, you know, you don’t have any prior engagements. Also, I feel like I should note here that the Netflix star ratings can be full of crap sometimes. Avalon and eXistenZ barely gets 1.5 stars? Darkman, the Host and Monsters are all at 2? Bah. Bah, I say. Also, are there other Sci-Fi films streaming on Netflix that you think should be on the list? Let us know!
1 – Tim Burton made a fabulous Batman, and tough it’s possible Raimi would have made one just as good, who’d want to live in a world with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker? However, though Sam Raimi may not know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I have a really hard time believing he wouldn’t have made a much better version of The Shadow.