I can’t be the only person who’s lost days to the Netflix browsing screen trying to decide what to watch: sometimes having all that choice means it’s awfully hard to just pick a film and press play. And having access to so many movies and TV shows also means that some of the best films for you may fly underneath your radar. That’s particularly true with sci-fi, too, where some of the more fun and/or more interesting movies aren’t necessarily the ones with giant robots punching each other for hours on end.
That’s why I’d like to recommend three SF movies on Netflix that you might not have seen and that you absolutely should. One is a thoughtful twist on the Earth Invasion trope; one blends action and alien horror in the same fun way as James Cameron’s Aliens; and the third is a laugh-out-loud animated sci-fi comedy that had my kids and I howling all the way through.
These recommendations are based on having a Netflix UK account, but you should find them in other regions too – and if you find that your particular territory doesn’t have them, you can always use one of the best VPNs to make more streaming content available where you are.
If you’re a sci-fi fan and you want to browse more in the genre then the hidden code you need to go straight to the SF section in Netflix UK is 1492 (opens in new tab).
Disney Plus subscriber, too? We've rounded up the best '90s action movies for February 2022 as well.
Some of the best SF tells us about who we are now, and District 9 fits that mould perfectly. It’s a tale of alien invasion, but unlike traditional invasion movies the aliens here are seeking refuge – so naturally we humans enslave them and try to steal all their stuff. Sharlto Copley’s field agent is part of that machine until he contracts a mysterious virus, which turns out to have life-changing effects. Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neil Blomkamp, whose later Elysium is another Netflix pick, it’s SF with big ideas and a big heart too.
Spectral is a Netflix original that deserves your attention: it’s the story of soldiers encountering a terrifying and otherworldly force and it has some interesting things to say about science. It’s also a flat-out action movie – think Aliens rather than Alien – with impressive CG work and strong performances from a cast including Emily Mortimer. It’s a brilliant popcorn movie, best enjoyed with the speakers turned up and the lights turned low.
The Mitchells vs The Machines
Sci-fi doesn’t have to be dark and dystopian: it can be about daft dogs and big laughs too. TMVTM is from the same minds as the wonderful Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and it’s packed with the same sense of excitement, action and utter joy of its Spidey-sibling: its tale of an ordinary family battling a robot apocalypse is one of the most entertaining movies we’ve seen in years, and a sure-fire hit for all ages.
Bonus movie: Pacific Rim
After we'd already had far too many terrible Transformers movies, Guillermo del Toro decided enough was enough and stepped into the breach to show everyone how you make a AAA movie starring giant robots.
For lovers of '90s Japanese mecha anime this is just the perfect action movie, with huge human-piloted mechs forced to go up against a series of increasingly badass kaiju monsters for control of a dystopian future Earth.
Imagine a royal rumble between Godzilla and giant robots and you're half way there. It's also got Idris Elba in, too, being his typically super-cool self, which is almost reason enough to watch this popcorn-worthy sci-fi flick on its own.
Bonus movie: Highlander
Old but still gold, Highlander tells the tale of Connor MacLeod, one of a few immortals who can never die unless they are beheaded. These immortals are involved in a secret war that runs unbeknownst to normal people to essentially be the last one standing during an event called the "Gathering", where the final, still-with-head immortals fight for a grand "Prize".
It's an utterly preposterous and silly premise, which is something echoed in the film's tagline of "There can be only one", but any sci-fi fan can't really call themselves one until they've watched this cult sci-fi classic.
Bonus movie: Jumper
Here's a sci-fi movie that most likely passed you by staring none other than the prequel Star Wars movies star Hayden Christensen.
The pitch here is that Hayden is one of a handful of special beings who have the ability to jump (read: teleport) anywhere they want. Like, literally, anywhere. Hayden can go from chilling in his North American apartment one minute, only to jump to Cairo, Egypt instantly.
Obviously, such power has garnered the attentions of a religious fanatical order called the Paladins, who have formed to track down and kill all "Jumpers" like Hayden as that sort of power is for a deity alone according to their beliefs.
What follows is a short movie geared around action sequences, with Hayden being upstaged by Jamie Bell as crazy renegade Jumper Griffin O'Connor. The big bad is played by Samuel L. Jackson, too, doing his usual bag.
There's a love interest but that's not really why you watch this flick – it's all about the action and, while it certainly isn't the best movie ever made and is the definition of disposable, at least it realises this and wraps everything up within 90 minutes.
For even more great sci-fi content be sure to check out T3's roundup of the top Netflix sci-fi anime shows to catch right now.