The genre of science fiction can achieve a lot more than just casual spacefaring romps through galaxies near and far, and Netflix has a motley assortment of sci-fi in the form of both movies and television shows that can whet your appetite. Whether you’re looking for hard sci-fi exploring alternate histories, traditional exploration through space, or more thoughtful meditations on the impact of emerging and/or totally fictional technologies, Netflix has something to scratch your science fiction itch.
Across this list of the best sci-fi that Netflix has to offer, you’ll encounter high-brow ruminations on life and death, a tried and true exploration sci-fi classic, cautionary tales of a few different kinds, and even a brief nod to everyone’s favorite Eggo-loving telekinetic.
Here are the 11 best pieces of science fiction that Netflix has to offer for the next time you’re hankering for a taste of tomorrow, whether it’s the far or not-so-distant future.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s classic story about a gentle alien befriending a young boy in California suburbia is a must-watch for any and all generations. When E.T. falls ill and the government catches wind of the alien, it becomes a race to find a way to get E.T. home.
This silent science fiction drama is considered a masterpiece by Fritz Lang. Set in a futuristic urban dystopia, it’s highly stylized and features a pair of star-crossed lovers from vastly different tiers in their stratified society. Riddled with social commentary and full of robots and oppressed workers, it broke boundaries and paved the way for much of the science fiction that would follow.
Upstream Color (2013)
Upstream Color is the kind of experimental, trippy mindfuck that leaves a lot of viewers Googling for answers, even after the credits have rolled. A man and a woman are intrinsically connected in bizarre ways by a complex parasite that passes from human to pig to orchid. It’s entirely possible that you’re already turned off by Upstream Color, but the film is a truly rewarding experience for those looking for spectacular bewilderment in their sci-fi. In the realm of “WTF? Sci-Fi,” Upstream Color is top-tier.
Lost in Space (1998)
Though a reboot of the 1960s classic sci-fi series, Lost in Space stands alone as a fun attempt at hard sci-fi. It’s set in a distant, spacefaring future. The lead scientist, on a mission to further colonization efforts across the galaxy, takes his family on a 10-year journey, but when a botched attempt at sabotage from a stowaway wakes everyone up, they have to activate the hyperdrive to avoid being burnt up by a nearby star. This rockets them across the galaxy, quite literally “lost in space.” It grapples with typical, hard sci-fi tropes of colonization in light of dwindling resources on Earth, combat against alien species, and even a bit of time travel. Lost in Space offers a more modern, colorful, and action-packed alternative to the original series — and you get to see Joey from Friends as a badass space soldier.
Yes, Netflix has an ample collection of the sci-fi TV juggernaut. Not only is there the original Star Trek from the late ’60s, but there’s also the animated series from the early ‘70s, along with The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, and Deep Space Nine. Strong opinions among hardcore fans vary about which is best, but with such a massive franchise, how could you go wrong?
Syfy’s Dark Matter is the hidden gem of fun and easily accessible sci-fi TV on Netflix, and there’s no better time to catch up. (Season 2 recently came to Netflix and Season 3 kicks off in early June.) Trap a bunch of outlaws aboard a ship, wipe their memories while they’re all in cryosleep, and wake them all up at once, making for one hell of a start to a show. It continues on, fueled by suspicion and the inevitable camaraderie that develops. The show feels a lot like fan-favorite Firefly in that it features a motley crew with its mission of the week, but the way Dark Matter delicately unravels the complicated backstory of each character is perfectly paced. Various, fun technologies are presented, in addition to the mind wipe that starts the series off along with a fun side-plot involving the development of superpowered individuals.
Perhaps The CW’s best non-Arrowverse program, The 100 feels like a YA dystopian drama with a hard sci-fi premise. Following the nuclear apocalypse, a portion of humanity took to a series of connected space stations to survive the radiation. Almost a century later, supplies are diminishing, and a group of 100 delinquent children is sent down to test survivability on Earth’s surface. What they find is a planet with treacherous terrain, a few horrific monsters, and — against all odds — savage, surviving humans. The A-plot on the ground of Season 1 feels like Lord of the Flies, whereas the B-plot on the space station feels remarkably like Battlestar Galactica. While The 100 stumbles a bit by Seasons 3 and 4, it remains a solid option for contemporary sci-fi.
What begins as a murder mystery aboard a massive space station quickly unfolds into an alternate history in which President Kennedy sends a massive space ship — the USS Ascension — out to colonize a distant planet. Largely spurred by fear of worldwide nuclear disaster brought about by the Cold War, the initiative sent 600 volunteers on the 100-year journey, meaning that only their children and grandchildren would see the new world. Though slightly lacking in character depth, the premise of Ascension is cool enough to sustain it through the six-episode miniseries.
In this Netflix original, the titular “Travelers” are individuals who have their consciousness sent back in time to prevent the total breakdown of society. It becomes something of a spy thriller with a sci-fi twist as each Traveler communicates with the Director in the distant future to go on specific missions while maintaining their “cover” of the identity they’ve assumed. Travelers is truly for spy fans who like their sci-fi steeped in time travel. Best of all? It was recently greenlit for a second season.
Though it dips into the realm of horror and satire, Black Mirror is consistently about one thing: what technology can do to us when it’s taken to extremes. Some episodes have more to do with our social media or YouTube obsessions, but others dive deep into the implications of many hard sci-fi concepts, including the cyberization of the human mind, technological surveillance, and human-like A.I. machines. It’s provocative and exciting at its best, and downright disturbing at its worst — but even then, it’s still high-quality science fiction.
Though it inches towards mythical fantasy, Stranger Things represents some of Netflix’s best original programming and earns its place as science fiction due to its presentation of multiple dimensions and extrapolation of real-life experimentation that was rumored to have taken place decades ago. After the young Will Byers goes missing and a mysterious girl appears in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, Will’s friends and family struggle to uncover the truth about the mysteries surrounding his disappearance.