30 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies Streaming on Netflix – Fall 2018
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 thirty examples of the best science-fiction and fantasy movies on Netflix for fall 2018.
One of a few Marvel movies currently streaming on Netflix, Doctor Strangeis one of the better origin stories we’ve seen from Marvel in recent years, telling the story of the titular hero as he develops from a cocky surgeon into a superhero capable of surgery and entering new worlds by using magic. After Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) hands are damaged beyond repair in a car accident, it seems like his life as a neurosurgeon is over. When he hears of the Ancient One from a colleague who regained the use of his legs after years of being a paraplegic, Strange begins the journey to train under Mordo and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), to become a sorcerer and to stop Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) from summoning Dormammu, an evil being also portrayed through motion capture by Benedict Cumberbatch. Like most Marvel movies, this is rated PG-13 but should satisfy any comics fans ages 11 or older.
This post-apocalypse action-adventure sci-fi comedy is a weird blend of adult sensibilities with nostalgia for 80s kids’ adventure movies. The plot follows the adventures of The Kid in an alternate 1997 world called “The Wasteland.” There he teams up with an arm-wrestling cowboy and a mysterious girl named Apple, to defeat a sadistic overlord named Zeus.
In the near future, Gwen is a spokesperson for the Center for Advanced Health and Living, where she sells cosmetic procedures. Unfortunately, she is earning little and desperate to ensure her daughter, Jules’ happiness. She agrees to an experimental body-swapping procedure to make her look younger and more racially ambiguous, even though the procedure will cause her chronic pain and require her to get a shot every two hours to breathe. The story that unfolds is thoughtful, unnerving, and maybe too realistic.
This is a long, complicated and extremely ambitious arthouse sci-fi drama. It takes on the idea that every time we make a decision, we make the opposite decision in an alternate world, so that there are infinite dimensions of lives playing out in infinite ways. Jared Leto is terrific as Nemo (which means “Nobody” in Latin) at age 35 and also on his 118 birthday. Since he’s the oldest human left alive in a world of immortals, he is being interviewed and narrates the story as it unfolds to the reporter. He shares three different versions of his lives in which he loves a different woman and has different houses and kids. The movie boasts excellent performances, beautiful cinematography with repeating imagery, and a compelling roller coaster of an adventure.
A team of six astronauts embarks on a multi-year mission to investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is suspected of being able to sustain life. (In real life, scientists still think Europa might harbor life.) This movie uses the found-footage technique effectively and holds the viewer’s attention through alternating narrative threads while staying true to the rules of the format.
Though the film received mixed reviews upon its release in 1987, Batteries Not Included was a minor box office success and had quite the team working behind it. Originally pitched as an idea for Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories series, Spielberg liked the idea enough that he pushed for the film to be adapted into a full-length feature. Directed by Matthew Robbins, best known for his screenwriting credits (Crimson Peak, Jaws, The Sugarland Express, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), the film was the screenwriting debut of Brad Bird, who would later go onto direct The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. In the film, a group of small, electronic aliens arrive in New York City, where they help the impoverished residents of an East Village apartment block who are threatened with eviction by an evil real estate developer. This sci-fi fantasy tale is perfect for anyone who can handle a bit of violence and action.
NASA discovers that a number of meteors and debris were released from the asteroid belt, including one that is roughly the size of Texas and scheduled to hit the Earth in 18 days. If the asteroid collision happens, the human race will become extinct, so NASA scientists hire the oil riggers, led by Harry Stemper (Bruce Willis), to drill 800 feet into the asteroid and blow it up with a thermonuclear detonation. Armageddon was an international box office success, and the highest grossing film of 1998, despite negative reviews. If you can suspend your disbelief at the silliness of the setup and the obvious Hollywood tropes, it’s a fun ride.
Another live-action remake of a classic animated feature, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast earned a mixed critical reception when it premiered in 2017, but became an audience favorite and a box office giant, earning over one billion dollars worldwide. The film is an adaptation of the 1991 Disney animated original, and largely plays out following the same story. Emma Watson plays Belle, the titular Beauty who trades places with her father after he is taken captive by a castle-dwelling Beast (Dan Stevens, Legion) for stealing a rose. While held at his castle, Belle begins to see the humanity in Beast—and just in time too, because he’s at risk of losing out on being turned back into a human. It’s a bit scarier than the animated version, but most viewers should be comfortable watching the tale as old as time brought into live-action.
Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, Coraline is the first feature film produced by Laika Studios, a stop-motion animation studio that has created some incredible work over the past decade. Coraline tells the story of Coraline Jones, an adventurous 11-year-old who is uprooted from her home to move to a new one she doesn’t much care for. While looking for something to do in her new area, she goes exploring and discovers a secret door in her new house—one that leads to a parallel world, where her parents have time for her and listen to her needs. While this idealized world feels too perfect to be true, the truth is far more sinister: the world is hiding a dark secret. The film was directed by Henry Selick, best known to animation fans as the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmasand James and the Giant Peach. The film’s a bit creepy, so make sure younger viewers have gone to bed before tuning in for some spooky fun.
The story of three entrepreneurs who start up a new business, Ghostbusters is often considered one of the best comedies of all times. Director Ivan Reitman, who had previously worked with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis on Meatballs and Stripes, joins Murray, Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, and Ernie Hudson in a paranormal science-fiction comedy that has become a critically-acclaimed comedy, renowned for the mixture of horror and comedic elements, Bill Murray’s deadpan delivery, and some fantastic visual elements that still hold up to this day. When Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler are all forced out of their positions at Columbia University, the three men start Ghostbusters, a ghost elimination service. Just in time, too: a serious evil has begun to threaten New York City, putting the lives of every citizen at peril. Ghostbusters has some crude jokes, but should be good for any child about to enter into middle school.
Yes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a controversial film, with a large minority of people who very strongly dislike the narrative choices made along the way. But for every Star Wars fan who hates the eighth film, and the second in the sequel trilogy, there’s yet another who unabashedly loves the film. The Last Jedi picks right up where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey on an island standing in front of Luke Skywalker. She’ll quickly learn he’s not the hero he was once thought to have been, a man who exiled himself after a fatal mistake cost thousands of lives in the process. Meanwhile, with the Resistance being followed and pursued by an army of the First Order, Poe Dameron and Finn hatch a plan to save themselves by sending Finn and his new friend Rose undercover to disable the First Order’s tracking unit. And Kylo Ren, recovering from his loss in the first film, finds himself tempted by both Rey and his evil master, the mysterious Snoke, unable to come to terms with his place in the universe. Controversy aside, The Last Jedi is an interesting film, with themes of failure, self-improvement, and the idea of choosing your own destiny. It’s well worth a watch—or a rewatch.
Based on the 1976 novel by Anne Rice of the same name, Interview with the Vampire is a gothic-drama horror film from 1994 with a red-hot cast. Featuring Tom Cruise in the main role as Lestat de Lioncourt and Brad Pitt as his younger turned-vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac, the film follows as modern day San Francisco reporter (played by Christian Slater) interviews Louis, now a bicentennial vampire born in the 17th century. The film rewinds to the beginning of Louis’ life as he mourns the death of his family. Bordering on the verge of suicide, he meets Lestat, a vampire who persuades him to immortality and to become his companion. Louis is far more gentle than Lestat, a violent vampire who turns a young girl (Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire after him. Their quest for a family only causes more pain and suffering along the way.
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.
In the third Thor movie and the seventeenth film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor is back in an all-new adventure that more or less resets the universe and ignored the events of the previous two movies. By far the most-successful Thor film both critically and financially, Thor: Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows; Hunt for the Wilderpeople). The film starts as Thor escapes from a fire demon, who prophesied the end of Asgard by way of Ragnarok; when Thor defeats him in combat, taking his crown, he believes he has ended the threat. Returning home to Asgard, Thor reveals Loki has been masquerading as Odin, king of Asgard. When the real Odin dies of old age, Thor and Loki’s long-lost sister Hela returns to claim her right to the throne. The film is visually incredible, hilarious in parts, and features some incredible performances from the likes of Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, and the great Jeff Goldblum.
One of the best films of 2013 arrived on Netflix in late July, and it’s well worth checking out. 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.
Often praised as one of the best science-fiction character studies of the past decade, 2009’s Moon was directed by Duncan Jones (Source Code, Warcraft), son of David Bowie. Moon stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, a worker for Lunar Industries who resides alone in a lunar-based factory. Though the factory is almost entirely automated, Sam resides as a single human to ensure operations maintain at their standard pace. Two weeks before the end of his three-year contract, Sam falls unconscious after an accident involving his lunar rover. When Sam awakes, he has no memories of the crash, but overhearing the computer AI GERTY (Kevin Spacey) receive instructions to not let Sam out of the base, he fakes an accident and arrives at the scene of the lunar crash, only to find his doppelganger still unconscious. Together, the two Sams must figure out what this means for both of their lives, and resolve the truth behind their existence. Moon was followed by a spiritual successor in Mute, a 2018 film directed by Jones and released on Netflix.
Though perhaps not as well-received as the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to up the ante in a way that doesn’t just succeed in following up on the original film’s crowd-pleasing humor and action, but also manages to tell a more-human story—albeit one with a living planet and a talking raccoon. Guardians Vol. 2 picks up just a few months after the first film, in which Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) have decided to take up protecting the universe from threats both small and large. While trying to escape from a rogue alien race upset by the Guardians’ actions, the team crashlands on a planet only to find that the man who saved the gang is none other than Quill’s long-lost father, Ego. While Quill returns to Ego’s home to learn about his mysterious past, the team must deal with conflicts as their big personalities continue to clash. Guardians manages to be one of the few Marvel films that truly feels different; even the big final battle has larger stakes than most of the Marvel finales. Definitely check this one out.
If there was ever a movie that hits harder today than it did when it was first released, The Truman Show might be that film. Directed by Peter Weir (Witness, Master and Commander) and starring Jim Carrey, The Truman Show is at once a comedy, a science-fiction drama, and a social satire, following the life of Truman Burbank, a man taken as a baby by a corporation to star in the first always-on reality show about a single man. Truman lives his life inside a dome located in Hollywood known to Truman as “Seahaven,” where everything from his wife to his parents and even his friends are simply actors reading from a script or reciting lines fed to them through an earpiece. In the era of reality television and always-active online social media presences, The Truman Show constitutes a must-watch piece of media.
Before The Incredibles, before Ratatouille, before Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocoland Tomorrowland, Brad Bird made a 2D/CGI animated film for Warner Bros. called The Iron Giant. Released in 1999, the film was praised for everything from its story and animation to the performances of its entire cast. Set in 1957, The Iron Giant is based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man. Set in 1957 during the escalating tensions of the Cold War, The Iron Giant follows Hogarth Hughes, a curious 9-year-old boy who finds a giant metal robot from space. Aided by local beatnik artist Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.), Hogarth must keep the robot away from both the US military and Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), a federal agent who intends to destroy the robot they assume is a Soviet weapon. The Iron Giant is one of the best animated films of the 1990s, and if you’ve recently seen it brought to life in Ready Player One, you owe it to yourself to see the original.
Peter Jackson’s first entry into the now-legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off the trilogy right by adapting the first novel in J.R.R. Tolkien’s critically-acclaimed trilogy of fantasy novels. When Frodo Baggins, a young Hobbit who lives in the Shire, is called upon by fate, by his uncle Bilbo, and by Gandalf the Grey to head out on an adventure to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, he finds himself sinking under the pressure of having to deal with powerful forces, dangerous foes, and new and unwieldy allies. The Fellowship of the Ring is a straight adaptation of Tolkien’s original first part of the novel, and is considered a landmark achievement in both filmmaking and the fantasy genre. The two follow-up films, The Two Towers and the Best Picture-winning The Return of the King, are unfortunately not on Netflix as of writing.
In the directorial debut of screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine), we’re introduced to Caleb Smith, a programmer for Blue Book, a Google-esque search engine led by mysterious, isolated CEO Nathan Bateman. When Smith wins a trip to meet the CEO of his company for a week, he finds out that Nathan lives alone, with the sole exception of his assistant, Kyoko, a robot powered by an artificial intelligence. Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava, a more-powerful robot that has passed a Turing test, with Nathan hoping Caleb will help him to understand whether Ava is thinking real thoughts and emotions. As Nathan’s narcissism and heavy drinking makes Caleb grow uncomfortable, he’ll slowly begin to turn on the CEO of the company. But when Ava turns out to be far more capable and self-sufficient than at first glance, Caleb must begin to ask: can he trust anyone, let alone himself?
A difficult film to explain, Under the Skin is a film from Jonathan Glazer (Birth), loosely based on the novel of the same name. It stars Scarlett Johansson as a being from somewhere else, who arrives to Earth and prays on men in Scotland. The film effectively works as a portrait of an alien attempting to collect data about humankind, causing an identity crisis in the alien which ends with her spinning out of control. The idea of men being punished for desiring women that appear vulnerable can also be attributed to the science-fiction ideals in the film, though as always, the film is up to a certain amount of reading into by the viewer. Under the Skin is a tough watch, a box office bomb that nevertheless has received critical acclaim. If you love hard sci-fi, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Though it doesn’t quite meet the highs of 2015’s The Force Awakens or the Original Trilogy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story proves that a spin-off in the universe of Star Wars can stand strong on its own. Rogue One tells the exciting story of Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, who joins forces with leaders of the Resistance in an effort to rescue her father and stop the dastardly plans of the Galactic Empire, who are in the process of building a super-weapon that may be familiar to any fans of A New Hope. Taking place in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rogue One manages to build onto the original Star Wars tales with its action-packed espionage tale, introducing new characters and even featuring a couple cameos from Original Trilogy characters that fans will love. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s essential for Star Wars fans everywhere.
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.
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 Malkovichor 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.
The fourth narrative-based film from acclaimed director Ava DuVernay (Selma) promised to be a major milestone in film for multiple reasons. With the filming of A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay became the first African American woman to direct a film with a budget totalling nine figures, and the first African American director of a film to make more than $100 million at the box office. Despite these historical precedents, A Wrinkle in Time is no perfect film. Though it’s visually stunning, the novel is a difficult work to adapt to the big screen. While we enjoyed it, it’s definitely something to keep an open mind on before diving into such a divisive film.
Often considered one of the best comedies of all time, Groundhog Day is absolutely a must-see for film lovers, fans of Bill Murray, or anyone who loves a good comedy. In the film, Murray plays Phil Connors, a local weatherman who is persuaded by his producer Rita (Andie MacDonald) to head out to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania from their home station in Pittsburgh to report on the groundhog day celebrations. Once there, he finds himself trapped in a snowstorm he himself said would miss the area, and after being forced to spend another night in the “hick town” of Punxsutawney, wakes up to find that he’s stuck to repeat Groundhog Day forever. Directed and written by friend and collaborator Harold Ramis, Murray’s deadpan schtick never got better than it did in this masterpiece.
In 1994, director Frank Darabont released The Shawshank Redemption, an adaptation of a short story by Stephen King set at a prison. Though the film sputtered out of the gate, it eventually became one of the most beloved films of all time, with a huge number of rentals on VHS and constant screenings on cable throughout the 21st century. In 1999, Darabont once again directed an adaptation of a story by King set at a prison: The Green Mile. Starring Tom Hanks in the role of Paul Edgecomb, a prison officer in charge of death row, or “the Green Mile.” Charged with leading a man named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) to his death, Paul begins to question whether Coffey is truly guilty, while also seemingly containing a supernatural, God-given gift.
In this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Douglas Adams, Garth Jennings (of production team Hammer & Tongs, who also have their credits on this film) directed an all-star in this creative and interesting take on the novel. Following Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) as he escapes from Earth just before it’s destroyed by the alien race of Vogons to make way for an interstellar bypass. Saved by Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy (and played effortlessly by Sam Rockwell). Together with his alien friend Ford (Mos Def) and fellow Earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), they must explore the universe, find a way to save Earth, and along the way, solve the meaning of life itself.
Spielberg’s 1977 classic science-fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a massive passion project for the filmmaker, a film he began trying to get made as early as 1973. Though originally written by Spielberg alongside acclaimed writers like Paul Schrader and Matthew Robbins, the film was credited solely to Spielberg who, of course, also directed. The film follows Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, reuniting with Spielberg after Jaws), an electrical lineman who witnesses a UFO in the sky, lightly burning the side of his face from the bright lights of the object flying overhead. Though originally told by others he must’ve imagined the UFO, Roy refuses to accept the explanation for the UFOs, and begins to investigate alien life while giving up his life in the process.