25 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies Streaming on Netflix [Fall 2019]
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 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
A movie so huge it was still playing in some theaters eight months after its release, Black Panther is one of the best Marvel movies to date. A critical darling and a massive box office success, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa, the king of the African nation of Wakanda who steps up to fill his father’s shoes after King T’Chaka dies during the events of Civil War. To the rest of the world, Wakanda is a poor third-world nation that barely scrapes by on their own, but secretly, thanks to a meteor containing vibranium crashing into their country thousands of years prior, they’ve become one of the richest and most-technologically advanced countries on the planet. When T’Challa’s rule is challenged by a relative who grew up outside of Wakanda, they’ll have to fight it out to figure out which gets to rule.
Based on the limited run of comics of the same name and written by the Wachowskis, V for Vendetta is a dystopian political thriller set in a terrifying alternate future, where a Nordic supremacist class and neo-fascist regime has subjugated the United Kingdom, oppressing the people and turning the state into a nightmare for many. The rise of a mysterious anarchist freedom fighter named V (Hugo Weaving) begins to ignite a revolution through elaborate, flashy-yet-violent terrorist acts. Meanwhile, a young working-class woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) gets caught up in V’s mission, causing her to lose everything in her life in pursuit of freedom, all while a detective (Stephen Rea) works towards stopping V on behalf of the government.
We’ll be honest: Avengers: Infinity War won’t go on any “best films you don’t know about” list anytime soon. If you have any passing interest in the MCU as a series, you probably saw this film in theaters, or at home when it hit iTunes and other digital platforms a few months after its release. Whether or not you saw it, its release on Netflix makes it the perfect time to revisit before the upcoming releases of both Captain Marvel and the conclusion of the Thanos story, Avengers: Endgame. The film follows the entire Avengers team, from Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy, as they clash in a head to head against Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet. On a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones, Thanos begins to collect the stones in order to bring destruction, chaos, and his own twisted version of “order” to the universe.
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.
The stone-cold classic fantasy-martial arts film (known as wuxia in China), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a rare foreign hit. Despite its reliance on subtitles and the appearance of its effects, the film was a massive hit worldwide, critically-acclaimed, and helped to pave the way for director Ang Lee to continue working for the next twenty years with a full blank check. The film stars Chow Yun-Fat as a Qing Dynasty warrior, who gives his sword to his lover (Michelle Yeoh) for safekeeping. When the sword, named Green Destiny, is stolen, things quickly spiral out of control. A sequel, made sixteen years later for Netflix, is also streaming, but we recommend you stick with the original while it’s on Netflix.
As a series, Spy Kids has secretly has become a long-running franchise. Four films, all directed by Robert Rodriguez, along with two loosely-related adult-only spin-offs in Machete (yes, they’re the same character), and a Netflix Original animated series. What you may not know, however, is that within the fairly bloated series lies a stone-cold classic. Yep, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams is the rare sequel that improves on the original tenfold. The film follows Carmen and Juni, now full members of the OSS, who arrive on a distant island filled with monsters causing mayhem. When they meet a mysterious scientist (Steve Buscemi, in an amazing performance), they’ll have to rely on their family members in order to defeat their rivals, Gary and Gerti Giggles, and the mastermind behind the scheme.
One of the most influential and important films of 1999 is back on Netflix. The Matrix follows Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a computer programmer who spends his time hacking online, going by the name Neo. Neo continues to find the phrase “the Matrix” online, leading him to be discovered by a woman named Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss), who explains that a man named Morpheus can help him understand what’s happening. Presented with two pills by Morpheus, Neo accepts the red pill, forcing him awake from a liquid-pilled pod, before being rescued by Morpheus’s hovercraft. With Neo now realizing that his entire reality has been a shared simulation of the past, he must come to terms with his existence as “The One,” and fight back against the machines that have captured humanity.
Loosely adapted from the comic book series of the same name, Men in Black is easily one of the best action-comedies currently streaming on Netflix. The film follows James Edwards (Will Smith), a NYPD officer who discovers an underground world of a highly-funded secret government agency. After joining the Men in Black and becoming Agent J, he’s teamed up with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and sent on a mission to stop an intergalactic terrorist who will stop at nothing to kill two ambassadors from opposing galaxies currently residing in New York City. Men in Black was a major success, followed up by two sequels and a spin-off, 2019’s Men in Black International.
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.