25 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies Streaming on Netflix [Fall 2020]
To some, science-fiction and fantasy may seem like polar opposites. Technology versus magic, the future versus the past, artificial intelligence versus dragons and mythical beasts. There’s more to these genres than you might realize at first glance, however. Both genres can be used to show parables, or teach lessons about our own modern age. Science-fiction in the 1960s used then-modern ideas and looked to combat racism and other discrimination; fantasy, meanwhile, has recently done the same, looking to create worlds where our own problems can be diminished or dealt with. The two genres also have plenty of crossover appeal, often mixing and stirring genres in a way that some fans may not even realize. Star Wars, for example, is as much a fantasy series as it is a science-fiction series, using the setting of space but the tropes of fantasy films to combine the two genres into one.
Whether you’re looking for a brand-new fantasy adventure in the land of dungeons and dragons, a comic book-esque tale of heroes and villains, or a slow-paced, deep-thinking sci-fi parable, we’ve got twenty-five examples of the best science-fiction and fantasy movies on Netflix for fall 2020.
Okja is another Netflix-exclusive film, and the second English-language film made by Bong Joon-ho, the director of South Korean films The Host, Mother (neither of which should be confused with the American films of the same name), and Snowpiercer. Like Snowpiercer, Okja is an action-adventure film that uses its plot as a major metaphor for a real-life lesson, this time concerning factory-farming and the concept of environmentalism. The film may not be subtle with its messaging, but that doesn’t stop it from being an excellent, spellbinding, and infinitely sad tale. The main character is played here by South Korean actress Ahn Seo-hyun, but don’t think you won’t see some recognizable faces. Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jake Gyllenhaal all turn up here among their South Korean counterparts.
One of the most underrated films of this decade, Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a visual triumph, a funny and charming story that wears its heart on its sleeve. The film follows bass guitarist and 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, in a pitch-perfect casting), who is floundering in his adulthood without a job after being crushed by his ex-girlfriend. Now dating a high schooler, he seems content in just letting his life pass him by, when he runs into Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a girl new to Toronto who seems to be, quite literally, the girl of Scott’s dreams. A visual triumph, pulling direct inspiration from video games, anime, and the graphic novel this series is based on, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a perfect action-comedy.
The Wachowskis are no strangers to abstract, odd films, but even by their standards, Jupiter Ascending is a crazy film. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under signs that predicted future greatness, but her reality as a woman consists of cleaning other people’s houses and endless bad breaks. Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered hunter, arrives on Earth to locate her, making Jupiter finally aware of the great destiny that awaits her: Jupiter’s genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. Though the film received negative reviews and was a bomb at the box office, female sci-fi fans have developed a cult following around the movie.
Yorgos Lanthimos mastered the balance of absurdist humor and dystopian fiction in his 2015 film The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, after managing to grab the attention of critics and moviegoers alike with his 2010 film Dogtooth. The Lobster is set in a dystopian universe where single people are given just 45 days to find a romantic partner before being turned into animals. When David’s wife leaves him for another man, he attempts to form a relationship in his hotel to avoid being turned into a lobster, his animal of choice. At the hotel, he makes acquaintances who are also attempting to find love at the hotel, all while living in a society with byzantine rules. Anyone with a desert-dry sense of humor will enjoy this.
Directed by acclaimed South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho (Okja, The Host), Snowpiercer is a 2013 action film starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. The film follows Curtis (Evans), a passenger aboard the Snowpiercer, a train riding throughout the now-frozen globe eternally. Curtis is pushed to his breaking point, and he, along with the others in the back of the train, plan a revolution to take out both Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton) and Wilford (Ed Harris), the inventor of the train. The film’s action is well-shot, and the class messaging is strong and delivers on clear themes. Of course, the real stars of the show here are both Evans and Swinton, who are at their best in their respective roles.
Following the conclusion of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the group didn’t wait long to begin releasing theatrical films expanding on their now-legendary comedy chops. The first of three original films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail continues to be praised for being a groundbreaking film in the world of independent comedy. Though original reviews of the film were mixed upon release, the group’s loving parody of the legend of King Arthur has become beloved for its weird sense of humor, it’s ability to spin out of control at all times, the meta-awareness of the film, and its legendary ending. Though some viewers prefer the successor, Life of Brian, if you’ve never seen Holy Grail, now is the time to do it.
Guillermo Del Toro has had a hell of a few years, finally winning an Oscar for his most recent drama, The Shape of Water. Prior to that, however, Del Toro received praise for Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that used the same Spanish fairy tale setting as The Shape of Water, while telling a much darker story. Set in Spain during the summer of 1944, the story is intertwined between the real world and a mythical world centered within an overgrown and abandoned labyrinth. Ofelia, the 11-year-old protagonist follows a faun into the forest to escape from her evil stepfather Captain Vidal, and from her increasingly-sick mother. Though the story is fairly simple (as are most fairy tales), the makeup and special effects are to die for.
Directed and written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral), About Time is a romantic-comedy tinged with science-fiction elements, weaving together a charming story that delivers a great love story and a father/son tale. When Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is 21, his father (Bill Nighy) tells him a secret: The men in their family can travel through time. Although he can’t change history, Tim resolves to improve his life by getting a girlfriend. He meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), falls in love and finally wins her heart via time-travel and a little cunning. However, as his unusual life progresses, Tim finds that his special ability can’t shield him and those he loves from the problems of ordinary life.
Michel Gondry’s second feature-length film also happens to be his best, as he paired with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman to produce one of the best films of the 2000s. The film is, at once, a romantic comedy, a heartbreaking drama, and a science-fiction tale that features heavy doses of the dream logic Kaufman has become known for throughout his career of crafting films like Being John Malkovich Or Synecdoche, New York. The film follows Joel (Jim Carrey, in a career-best performance), who meets Clementine (Kate Winslet) on a train from Montauk to Rockville Center. The two quickly become connected to each other, and the truth slowly unveils itself: the two are former lovers, having both used a controversial procedure to forget each other after a fight days earlier. The film follows Joel forgetting Clementine through this procedure, as she’s erased from his life altogether.
Marking the feature film debuts of both director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich is one of the quirkiest, most inventive films of the 1990s. Featuring an all-star cast including John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Charlie Sheen, and of course, John Malkovich as himself, Being John Malkovich is a trip into the mind of the Academy Award-nominated actor. The film follows Craig Schwartz, an unemployed puppeter who takes up a temp job to make ends meet. While at work, Craig discovers a portal that allows anyone who climbs through to take control of John Malkovich in his daily life. When Maxine, Craig’s co-worker, gets in on the secret, the two begin working together as business partners—all while Craig’s wife Lotte begins an even odder affair.
George Miller was as unlikely as anyone to become a major Hollywood director. Despite attending medical school to become a doctor, he took up an interest with film early on, crafting his early student film Violence in Cinema: Part I in 1971. It wasn’t until 1979 that Miller would release his first feature-length film, Mad Max. Shot in Miller’s home country of Australia and starring then-unknown Mel Gibson, Mad Max is a much smaller film than those who’ve only seen Max’s later adventures may assume. Set in a dystopian future without oil, Max, a Main Force Patrol officer, finds himself plunged into the world of vengence when his wife and son are hunted down and murdered by a local biking gang.
In this live-action film adaptation of the classic cartoon and 1960s television show, Gomez Addams has a loving family, but finds himself missing his estranged brother, Fester. When a man (Christopher Lloyd) who claims to be Fester arrives to the Addams house, the family is relieved to know their uncle has come home after more than two decades. But when Morticia realizes “Fester” can’t recall major moments of Uncle Fester’s life, she begins to believe that an imposter has invaded their life. When Fester gets the Addams clan evicted from their house, Gomez and Morticia realize that a plot to steal the Addams fortune has been enacted, and its up to the whole family to stop them. Though the film doesn’t hold up to the sequel, Addams Family Values, there’s something charming about this 1991 remake.
Before Matthew Vaughn won the hearts of comic book fans everywhere with his adaptations of Kickass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsmen, he directed this 2007 fantasy adventure film Stardust. Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, Vaughn established a full ensemble cast for his film, including Sienna Miller, Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, and Robert De Niro. When a young man named Tristan ventures into a realm of fairies to retrieve a fallen star in order to win the heart of his beloved Victoria, he finds himself caught up in a quest for power. Tristan discovers a woman named Yvaine, whose powers the king’s sons seek to secure the throne, all while an evil witch wants to use her power to enhance her youth and beauty.
There’s a lot to love about 9, from its unique world and visual style to its dark take on the themes of protecting the world around us. Despite being an animated feature, 9 is difficult to recommend for younger children, with its PG-13 rating and frightening science-fiction world. The film, directed by Shane Acker, is based on the Oscar-nominated short film of the same name, expanded to fit a full-length film, though at 79 minutes, the work is rather short. Opening in 1930s Germany, the film follows as a scientist creates nine ragdolls using alchemy and separating a piece of his soul into each doll. The film takes place sometime after in a dystopian world, as the nine dolls must journey across the world to destroy a machine responsible for the downfall of humanity.
The Wachoskis have had fairly mixed box office success outside of The Matrix films, and that trend certainly continued with Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of the novel of the same name. Critics and audiences alike were split on the film, with some declaring it a masterpiece while others called it the worst film of 2012. One thing’s for sure: Cloud Atlas is a film unlike any other. The film spans over centuries, with actors like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter) taking up multiple roles. It’s a difficult film to describe; with so many plot tangents, you’re bound to find one story you like more than the rest. Despite this, it’s a rewarding watch, and a film that must be seen to be believed.
From director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls), Total Recall is one of those near-perfect science-fiction action films that simply doesn’t exist anymore. The film follows Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a bored construction worker in the year 2084 who dreams of visiting the colonized Mars. He visits “Rekall,” a company that plants false memories into people’s brains, in order to experience the thrill of Mars without having to travel there. But something goes wrong during the procedure; Quaid discovers that his entire life is actually a false memory and that the people who implanted it in his head now want him dead.
Director Jeff Nichols is no stranger to critical acclaim, with both Take Shelter and Mud being placed on numerous best-of lists during their year of release. The filmmaker managed to get two of his films released in 2016, and while Loving is a quiet bio-drama about race relations in the 1960s, Midnight Special is the sci-fi film that earns its spot on our list. Reunited with Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Midnight Special tells the story of a man and his son (Jaeden Lieberher) who head out on the run from both religious extremists and the government, after the boy demonstrates his ability to hold supernatural powers.
In Steven Spielberg’s classic throwback to serials of the 1930s and 1940s, Raiders of the Lost Ark (later known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) introduced viewers to the now-famous professor-turned-archaeologist-turned-adventurer. All four Jones films are streaming on Netflix, but if you only choose one, the original still stands as one of the best adventure films of the last fifty years. Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, who finds himself in over his head when he’s up against a group of Nazis trying to find the Ark of the Covenant, a religious relic said to contain supernatural powers. Alongside his ex-girlfriend Marion, Jones will have to try to reach the Covenant before the Nazis in order to ensure its power doesn’t fall into the hands of evil.
Her is the fourth film from acclaimed filmmaker/occasional Jackass star Spike Jonze, following his two collaborations with Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are in 2009. The film is set in a near-future Los Angeles and follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely introvert who is going through a divorce with his childhood sweetheart (Rooney Mara). Unhappy with his life, Twombly purchases a smart operating system upgrade for his computer, designed with artificial intelligence and able to adapt and evolve. Deciding to give her a female voice, the operating system nicknames itself Samantha, and Theodore begins bonding with her. The film follows Theodore as he develops a relationship with his AI, and as he learns to grow and adapt as a person himself.
Stanley Kubrick didn’t stick to one genre with his films, jumping from hard science-fiction with 2001: A Space Odyssey to horror with The Shining and everything in between. His 1971 dystopian crime film A Clockwork Orange works as both an adaptation and a masterpiece in its own right, and you can catch it streaming on Netflix. The film follows Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of a gang of “droogs” in England set sometime in the future, who spend nights getting high at a milkbar before spending their time engaging in “ultraviolence.” After he’s put in jail for murder, Alex undergoes a behavior modification program that leaves him brainwashed, weakened, and in danger of getting harmed by his former victims.
In this all-time science-fiction adventure classic, Robert Zemeckis brings one of the best scripts every written in Hollywood to the big screen. Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, a wannabe rocker who feels out of place at both his school and home. Besides his girlfriend, his closest confidant is Doc (Christopher Lloyd), a scientist who many in the town consider to be dangerous and loony. When Doc demos his time machine for Marty in the mall parking lot late at night, Marty is astounded to see it works. After being sent back to 1955, he’ll have to find a way to power the time machine to return to his present day, all while correcting history and making sure his parents end up together. The film was followed by two sequels, both of which are also streaming on Netflix.
Filmmakers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had a huge challenge in front of them when trying to map out what a sequel to Back to the Future would look like—especially when they set up the trip to the future at the end of the first flick. Part II picks up right where the first ended, with the crew traveling to the unpredictable future of—if you can believe it—2015. While there, Marty and Doc work to save Marty’s future son from being arrested, only to end up ruining the past along the way. With 1985 transformed into a world ran by Biff Tannen, Marty has to head back to 1955 one more time to try to save his own future.
As set up at the end of Part II, the final film in the franchise leaves the 1900s behind entirely for a brand-new destination: the Old West, where Marty has to save Doc from an untimely death. After returning to 1985 from the grim future of 2015, Marty learns Doc’s adventures in the Old West ended in tragedy. In order to rescue Doc, Marty will have to travel back in time, disentangle a lovestruck Doc from a local schoolmarm, and repair the DeLorean—all while avoiding a posse of gunslingers.
The late 2000s saw a number of films chasing after the same market that had exploded the Harry Potter series to box office domination, and by all accounts, The Spiderwick Chronicles were one of the more successful entries in children’s fantasy adaptations. The film follows three siblings: older sister Mallory and twins Simon and Jared, the latter of whom has always been considered the troublemaker of the family. So when strange things happen after his family’s move to a relative’s dilapidated estate, Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Simon, and their mother assume that Jared is behind it all. However, magical creatures roam the grounds, and they all want a special book that Jared has found: a field guide to fantastic creatures, penned by Arthur Spiderwick.