The 16 best sci-fi movies and TV shows on Netflix

From space adventures to mind-expanding drama, we've found the best science fiction for streaming

Look at the sci-fi of years gone by, and among all the shiny rocketships and teleporters, there's one thing that they didn't predict: streaming video at the touch of a button.

Fortunately, we live in Space Year 2017, where we have such things as Netflix; no longer are we bound by the tyranny of the DVD shelf. But with so many films and TV shows available on the service, how do you whittle it all down?

With our help, of course: we've picked out the best sci-fi on Netflix, from mind-bending time travel flicks to big-budget action.

District 9

A fantastic piece of indie filmmaking, District 9 tells a story of alien refugees stuck on Earth – and their mistreatment at the hands of unsympathetic human officials – that draws clear parallels with the apartheid South Africa in which director Neill Blomkamp grew up.

When a company field agent assigned to evict aliens from illegal settlements contracts a DNA-twisting virus, he is forced to seek refuge himself – and can only do so inside an alien ghetto called District 9.

Watch District 9 on Netflix

Orphan Black

When petty crook Sarah witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her, she isn't troubled by existential questions; she just sets about nicking her doppelganger's identity and emptying her bank accounts as quickly as possible. Naturally, that brings its own set of complications, and before long she's winging it as a detective, hiding bodies and uncovering a conspiracy of human cloning.

Tatiana Maslany anchors the show with a superb performance, slipping between different roles with aplomb - even if some of the supporting cast let the side down by playing to the cheap seats.

Unlike some high-concept shows, Orphan Black’s been thought through beyond its initial premise; it's skillfully written, with Sarah's decisions leading to one complication after another in a logical, coherent manner - even as the sci-fi weirdness mounts.

Watch Orphan Black on Netflix

Looper

Looper is a superb, mind-bending, futuristic, time-travelling action-thriller that sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt assume the role of an assassin whose job consists of putting a bullet in the head of people teleported to his time by a future mob organisation (holy plot line, Batman).

But when the poor sap that appears before him is his future self (played by Bruce Willis), things get rather, well, complicated.

The intricate plot is strongly complimented by plenty of action and strong performances from all, although Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis-like prosthetic nose is initially a little distracting.

Watch Looper on Netflix

Words by Esat Dedezade

The OA

In the seven years that Prairie Johnson has been missing she's regained her sight and apparently changed her name to 'The OA' - and that's really just the start of the weirdness in this Netflix Original.

Comparisons to Stranger Things are easily made: most of the protagonists are students, albeit teenagers here, and there's a hearty helping of fantasy mixed in with the sci-fi. Those comparisons aren't particularly favourable towards The OA, either, which is lacking the coherence and charm of the D&D-inspired sleeper hit.

But just because The OA isn't as good as Stranger Things doesn't mean it's not worth a watch. After all, what is as good as Stranger Things?

You will, though, have to be prepared to go with some very out-there ideas and some very unexpected shifts in tone. The OA definitely won't work for everyone, but it really is worth giving at least the first of the eight episodes a go to find out if it's up your street.

Watch The OA on Netflix

The Martian

This blockbuster adaptation of Andy Weir’s self-published novel about an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars could easily have been bogged down by its maths and technical jargon, as Matt Damon’s abandoned botanist-with-an-attitude works out how to survive long enough to be rescued.

Fortunately, Damon’s Watney is far less annoying than the book version, making him much easier to root for. There’s plenty of gorgeous stuff to look at too (well, it’s a Ridley Scott film, what did you expect?) with some striking spaceship design and the red planet’s unusual lighting giving the outdoor scenes a truly otherworldly feel. While the finale might get a tad daft, the whole thing’s supposedly grounded in actual science. Just don’t try any of it at home – especially the poop-fertilised potato diet.

Watch The Martian on Netflix

Star Trek: Discovery

The most intriguing concept for a Star Trek offshoot in, like, forever, Discovery plunges the viewer directly into an all-out war, ditching the series' classic episodic format along the way.

As befits a show being released on Netflix, what you get here is instead a single story played out in full. Set a decade before the original team of Kirk, Spock et al set out on the Enterprise, it stars The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green as a mercurial Starfleet officer with a dark history.

She's superb - certainly the most charismatic actor to wear the uniform since Patrick Stewart - and many of the classic Trekkie touchstones are there too: the Spock/Data-esque analytical crewmember, the just-go-with-it pseudo-science, and old favourite alien races the Klingons and Vulcans.

But despite the plethora of nods to the past, the refreshed format gives the show space to develop without the pressures of time. It's Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it. Heck, it even has swearing in it!

Watch Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix

Tomorrowland

Fancy giving your eyeballs a visual treat tonight? Then settle back with Tomorrowland.

George Clooney stars as Frank, a jaded former boy-genius now lost in an existential funk and living out his days as far away from the rest of humanity as possible. When spirited teenager Cassie seeks his help after a run-in with some murderous robots who want her magic pin (don’t ask), the pair embark on a time-travel jape to a futuristic world. Got all that?

Tomorrowland is a curiously mixed bag of a film: it manages at various times to be both delightfully full of wonder at the possibilities of technology and also overly negative about the dangers of science; at times needlessly convoluted in its plot but also at times brilliantly exciting.

Still, it looks absolutely amazing and has its heart in the right place. Oh, and it’s a Disney film and a PG, so it’s one the whole family can enjoy together. 

Watch Tomorrowland on Netflix

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There’s definitely an argument to be made that Star Wars films aren’t really sci-fi – more space opera or fantasy – and you don’t have to look far to find some understandable criticism of the way this particular movie sticks to A New Hope as a inspirational template, but hey, it’s a Star Wars film – and for the first time in decades, it’s a Star Wars film that’s actually well directed, well paced, well acted and packed with characters that feel human (even when they’re made of metal or covered in fur).

For those of you who’ve been residing under a rock, The Force Awakens is the first sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, taking place a few decades after The Return of the Jedi. The peace we saw occur at the end of that movie has long gone, thanks to the rise of the Empire-like First Order, who have constructed a new doomsday weapon – one that makes the Death Star look like a spud gun.

As well as a new set of heroes rising to take on this menace, a host of old favourites return, giving this film a sense of nostalgia and continuity that the prequel trilogy never mustered. If you want a blockbuster with tons of heart as well as all the usual bombast, you’ll find this an absolute treat.

Watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Netflix

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