5 best sci-fi movies streaming on Netflix right now

Amy Adams holds up a sign reading HUMAN in Arrival
(Image credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

The selection of sci-fi movies streaming on Netflix may be somewhat limited, filled with forgettable, underwhelming Netflix original productions, but there are some modern classics of the genre available as well. As with all acquired films on Netflix, those high-quality movies may not be available on the service indefinitely, so it’s worth seeking them out while you have a chance.

The best sci-fi movies on Netflix include small indie films and major blockbusters, all of which make the best use of their resources no matter what their budget. There are adaptations of iconic American comic books, foreign graphic novels and award-winning short stories, along with ingenious original properties. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies to watch on Netflix right now.


South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is best known for his 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner Parasite, but he’s been delivering mesmerizing, genre-bending epics since long before then. Bong’s first English-language film is an adaptation of a French graphic novel about a massive train that perpetually circles a post-apocalyptic world. The train is a fully self-contained ecosystem and functioning society on its own, with the poorest passengers in the rear cars and the wealthiest at the front.

It’s a blunt but effective allegory for the stratification of society, and Bong creates an immersive world entirely within the train, as a revolt begins with an uprising in the tail section. Chris Evans plays the rebel leader, with Tilda Swinton as the woman who keeps the precarious order that is about to be overthrown.

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Long-running British comic book character Judge Dredd had a tough time making his way to the movies, but this second effort to bring his story to the big screen is a major improvement over the earlier Sylvester Stallone-starring attempt. This time, Karl Urban plays the title role, and he sticks to the laconic, brutal characterization from the comics, never even taking off the helmet that covers half of his face.

Judge Dredd is part of the totalitarian police force in a sprawling future city called Mega-City One, and he and his telepathic new partner Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) find themselves trapped in a massive high-rise slum run by drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). They must fight their way out, in an engrossing movie that combines visceral, fast-paced action with a bleak vision of a broken society.

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Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer brilliantly expand on Ted Chiang’s elegant and affecting short story “Story of Your Life” in this thought-provoking movie about aliens coming to Earth. Amy Adams gives one of her best performances as linguist Louise Banks, who’s recruited by the U.S. government to attempt communications with the newly arrived extraterrestrials. 

Louise teams up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to work on decoding the mysterious creatures’ language and intentions, and in the process of learning to speak with the aliens, Louise herself is fundamentally changed. Villeneuve captures the awe and wonder of encountering beings from another world, turning first contact into a profound existential experience. It’s an alien invasion movie about what makes us human.

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Spider-Man 2

Yes, superhero movies are sci-fi, and director Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man installment might be the best superhero movie ever made. Before the existence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man was able to have standalone movie adventures without other superheroes crowding him out, and Raimi delivers both top-notch action and affecting character development for the web-slinger. 

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has established himself as the defender of New York City, but he’s struggling in his relationships with his would-be girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). New villain Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) makes things even worse for Peter, and Molina is delightfully diabolical as Spider-Man’s latest nemesis. The large-scale set pieces are fantastic, and Raimi and the actors make sure that the audience is equally emotionally invested in the superhero battles and the interpersonal drama.

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Director and co-writer J.D. Dillard’s debut feature starts out as a gritty street-level drama before introducing its sci-fi elements, which complement rather than overwhelm the low-key, character-driven story. Jacob Lattimore stars as Bo Wolfe, a Los Angeles teenager who performs street magic as a way to make money to support himself and his younger sister after the death of his parents. 

The tricks that Bo performs are more than just sleight of hand, though. The smart, ambitious young man develops astounding new technology in his spare time at home, allowing him to go beyond what any illusionist is capable of. Eventually, he uses that technology to take down a local drug dealer, becoming a reluctant but powerful vigilante. Even as Bo’s feats grow more fantastical, Dillard keeps the movie grounded, treating the characters’ problems with the respect and honesty they deserve.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.