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Stories are all about asking life’s questions — questions about humanity, life, and the world around us. And science fiction is the story genre that asks the biggest questions in life. You know, the kinds of questions that wake you up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, gasping for air, and for answers. Questions like… what would it be like if we all lived on a big train, but the train wasn’t just a train… it was also a metaphor? Or questions like, what if there wasn’t just one of me, but seven? And we were all named after different days of the week? That’d be pretty weird, wouldn’t it?
Well, the movies on this list dare to ask those questions, and more. From one-time winged dog-men, to robot mommas, and all the way to strapping jet-boosters onto planet Earth itself, here are the hidden science fiction gems on Netflix that you just need to watch.
Into the Forest
Even though Into the Forest, starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, takes place in a near future with some advanced-looking technology, it’s easy to imagine the events of this film unfolding right here, right now. The movie’s story focuses on two sisters — Nell and Eva — who live in a house in the woods with their father. One day the power goes out — but rather than being a local, temporary inconvenience, it becomes clear that the outage is a widespread technological meltdown.
What ensues is a harrowing tale of trauma, loss, and survival. While the sci-fi elements melt into the background, the drama ratchets way up as the story continues. Nell and Eva must see if they can work together to forge a new path as the outage continues and their world changes forever. Even more unsettling is the knowledge that no matter how far our technology progresses, we’re one big blackout away from defending ourselves from creeps by wielding a big, wood-chopping axe.
After taking home four Oscars for Parasite in 2020 at the Academy Awards, South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho became a household name seemingly overnight. But while Bong’s success that night may have surprised plenty of viewers who’d never heard of the filmmaker before, fans of 2013’s Snowpiercer knew he deserved every award he earned, if not more. Bong’s eighth feature film, and his first one to be shot primarily in English, Snowpiercer tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s been covered in ice and snow. What’s left of humanity lives on a high-speed train-slash-biodome called the Snowpiercer, with the rich folks living towards the front of the train, and the poor people crowding into the back. As you can probably guess, the people in the back sure aren’t happy about being stuck eating protein bars made of bugs while the one-percenters in the front drink champagne. A revolution ensues… and it is a mess.
With committed performances from A-listers like Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Ed Harris, Snowpiercer is a bold, visually stunning metaphor for class struggle. The conflict between the haves and the have-nots is one that goes back for centuries, and likely won’t be ending anytime soon. But Bong’s film takes the subject of your 10th grade social studies class and lets it play out in stark, violent ways. The result is an incredible science fiction action movie about the artificial ways we separate ourselves from each other… and how sometimes the only way to escape the system that keeps people down is to blow it up.
With 1999’s The Matrix, the Wachowskis reimagined what sci-fi movies can be. While each of the movies they’ve made since the first Matrix hasn’t quite lived up to that incredibly high watermark, the siblings have continued to push the envelope with every new release in theaters. That ambition and commitment to big ideas is on full display in Jupiter Ascending, a 2015 film starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, and Eddie Redmayne. If you’ve ever wondered what the Wachowskis’ take on Star Wars would be, this is it.
Let’s not try to summarize the story of Jupiter Ascending — it twists and turns enough times to get any viewer pretty confused. But what this movie really has going for it are incredible visuals, often comprising practical effects and stunts. Not only that, but the film also features an amazingly detailed galaxy full of aliens, creatures, and royal dynasties, not to mention plenty of spaceship action. Though this movie may not have spawned a new franchise, it’s a sci-fi spectacle that you won’t soon forget.
The Wandering Earth
It’s one of the most successful movies made in the last several years — and you’ve probably never even heard of it. The Chinese film The Wandering Earth came out in 2019 and was a smash, becoming the second-highest all-time box office grosser in the history of Chinese cinema. The story takes place in the not-too-distant future of 2061, when the sun has begun expanding and threatens the Earth’s existence. What’s a group of action astronauts to do? Why, strap a bunch of fusion-powered rocket boosters — known as "Earth Engines" — to the planet’s surface and blast it into a new solar system over four light years away.
Think back to the goofy fun of all those world-saving epics from the late ’90s, and you’ll start to get a sense of what you’re in for with The Wandering Earth. Did you like Armageddon? Well, you’ll probably like this, but it’s got the added benefit of having 21st century special effects and stunts. And let’s not forget that, as a Chinese-language movie, it’s got subtitles — and that’ll make you feel smart even though you’re just watching a ridiculous action sci-fi epic. Make some popcorn and strap in for the ride of your life.
What Happened to Monday
What’s the worst thing that could happen to you if you were pregnant during an overpopulation crisis and the dystopian government had instituted a one-child policy? Why, giving birth to septuplets, of course! That’s the plot that sets up What Happened to Monday, a sci-fi mystery thriller starring Willem Dafoe, Glenn Close, and Noomi Rapace playing the seven sisters that make up the Settman family, each of them named for a day of the week, and pretending to be the same single woman when they leave their apartment. When the Monday of the movie’s title goes missing, the other six sibs have to work together to figure out what happened to her, all while trying to stay undetected and safe. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go very well!
As the movie continues, you’ll learn more and more about not just the Settman sisters, but also the strange sci-fi world they’re trapped in. While the movie’s setting isn’t too different from our own, taking place in a near future crammed full of security cameras and wearable tracking technology, it’s unsettling to see how little it would take for the movie’s Earth to be what replaces our own.
When you’re waging war, you generally want to stay hidden for as long as possible. Staying stealthy helps you stay alive, after all — and it might just help you get the drop on the other guy. But what happens when you’re fighting an enemy you can’t see… or hear… or shoot? That’s the dilemma faced by the heroes of Spectral. During a military operation in Moldova, U.S. troops encounter a group of invisible combatants that decimate their numbers with brutal efficiency. Is this a group of enemy soldiers, outfitted with incredible new stealth technology? Or could these be a herd of super pissed-off ghouls? If so, who you gonna call? Why, you call DARPA scientist Dr. Mark Clyne, of course!
When Clyne arrives in Moldova, he breaks out some special spectral goggles to help his team finally see what they’re up against. As the team attempts to figure out the mystery of these murderous apparitions, the movie continues to hit you with explosions, chase scenes, and intense sci-fi military action. If you’re a fan of action thrillers with a healthy portion of heady science, Spectral has you covered.
I Am Mother
It’s not hard to make the argument that humanity sure has made a mess of this whole planet Earth thing. We won’t get into the specifics, but if you’ve paid any attention to the news in the last five to five thousand years or so, you’re probably aware that, as a species, we’re not the best at making good, long-term decisions. But would a machine do any better? I Am Mother asks that very same question, and — like all good science fiction movies — it doesn’t quite give you the answer you think you want.
In a future where humanity has been wiped off of the planet’s surface, a young girl is born inside a bunker and raised by a robot artificial intelligence, appropriately named Mother. As Mother raises Daughter, we learn more and more about the world the young woman is going to inherit… until, that is, Daughter’s bubble is popped with the arrival of a mysterious woman who begs her way into the bunker from the outside world. The woman, played by Hilary Swank, tells Daughter that everything she’s been taught about humanity’s demise is a lie… or is it? The drama that ensues will have you on the edge of your seat — and might make you want to unplug your smart speaker, just in case.
Your life is what you make of it — and if you don’t really like what you’re doing day in and day out, your life can feel pretty pointless. That’s the problem faced by Aaron and Justin, two down-on-their-luck brothers who’ve struggled to succeed ever since leaving Camp Arcadia, a sort of cultish, off-the-grid youth group they used to belong to. After receiving a video tape from the camp, they decide to head back and see if they can turn their lives around — and maybe figure out why they both have different memories of their experiences there.
If you’re wondering where the science fiction is hiding in this movie, don’t worry… it won’t take long for you to discover that some very weird stuff is going down at Camp Arcadia. Time loops, mysterious creatures, and unsolvable physics problems abound, and the brothers must figure out whether or not they should try to leave… or if they even could if they wanted to. The Endless will bend your mind in the best possible way, and it might force you to ask the most essential question of all: are you killing time, or is time killing you?
What happens after you die? Is there an afterlife, or just a whole lot of nothing? And if you knew for sure that there was somewhere else to go that wasn’t here, would you hurry up and try to get there faster? The somber, thoughtful sci-fi movie The Discovery imagines a world where we’ve gotten an answer to that question: there definitively is an afterlife, and as a result, people around the world begin ending their own lives en masse just to get there.
With a stacked cast including Robert Redford, Jason Segel, and Rooney Mara, The Discovery explores heady questions about what kind of meaning life actually has if this is all just a precursor to living large in the great beyond. And as the characters of the film begin to discover the true nature of the afterlife they’ve found, the very nature of their reality starts to come into question. Don’t watch this one alone.
When it comes to technology and science, just because you can do something certainly doesn’t also mean that you ought to — especially when the cost to human lives might outweigh the benefits. That’s one of the questions tackled by Advantageous, a film from 2015 that imagines a near future where the technology to transfer someone’s consciousness into a new body is going from science fiction to science fact.
Single mom Gwen is fired from her job selling cosmetic procedures, and her daughter’s spot in a prestigious school is put into jeopardy. With no money and no prospects, she approaches her old boss about acting as a guinea pig for a new mind-transferring procedure they’re developing, all in the hopes that a younger, more appealing body will allow her to get her old job back and keep her daughter well taken care of. Of course, if you’ve seen literally any movie before in your life, you know things don’t go according to plan. But the film still raises those all-important questions: How far would you go to protect the ones you love? How much would you sacrifice? And after all’s said and done… was it worth it?
Mirage (Durante la Tormenta)
Released in Spain in 2018, Mirage follows a woman named Vera who discovers during an electrical storm that hits her neighborhood that she’s able to communicate with a boy named Nico who’s living 25 years in the past. When she warns Nico about his own impending death and tells him how to avoid it, she wakes up the next day to discover that her entire world has changed. Her husband is with someone else, her daughter has never been born, and — worst of all — everyone thinks she’s crazy now that she remembers a completely different reality.
Like The Butterfly Effect — but good — Mirage explores how people and events are all connected, and how they can change everything in ways we may never truly understand. While the Spanish title During the Storm might be a bit catchier than Mirage, the film is a satisfying sci-fi drama no matter what you call it.