The genre of science fiction is a lot more than just casual spacefaring romps through galaxies near and far. It’s also about computerized simulations that we’re probably living in right now, and alternate histories that make the world similar but totally different. Unfortunately, sci-fi can also mean even darker visions of the future than our own.
Across this list of several items from Netflix’s sci-fi best, you’ll encounter more than a few dark futures meant to frighten you, tried and true exploration sci-fi classics, cautionary tales of more than one kind, and even props to everyone’s favorite Eggo-loving telekinetic.
Netflix has you covered with a motley assortment of sci-fi in the form of both movies and television shows. So here are the 11 best pieces of science fiction that Netflix has to offer right now for the next time you’re hankering for a taste of tomorrow:
In an alternate reality that looks an awful lot like the present day, fairies, orcs, and elves have existed alongside humans for seemingly forever. What’s more or less a modern day fantasy story feels an awful lot like fantastical science fiction. Will Smith plays a cop opposite Joel Edgerton’s Orc police officer as the two become partners and are thrust into an adventure to protect a female elf and the forgotten relic she holds that could destroy the world.
- Bright was released on Netflix December 22.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
We’re not to keen on including the Marvel Cinematic Universe on this list, which is usually reserved for somewhat harder science fiction, but we’ll make an exception for James Gunn’s second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Whereas other MCU adventures focus on superheroes and billionaires with flying armor, Guardians of the Galaxy offers a bonafide sci-fi adventure in the Andromeda galaxy with plenty of aliens, space travel, and other heady sci-fi concepts like wormhole travel. A literally and figuratively colorful assortment of heroes battle to save the galaxy — again — this time from Peter Quill’s biological father, an ancient entity as old as the universe itself. Added bonus: a totally rad soundtrack.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hit Netflix December 5.
3. Men in Black
In this comedy-forward sci-fi film franchise, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star as two agents working for the Men in Black, a secret organization that deals with alien threats on Earth. They get plenty of fun gadgets, and the first entry sees Will Smith get recruited from the NYPD to be the next field agent.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy takes place in the days directly before A New Hope. In Rogue One, heroine Jyn Erso is recruited by the Rebels to steal the plans to the Death Star. The only real Star Wars film to not feature any Jedi, Rogue One instead focuses on seemingly normal people and the small sacrifices that meant everything to the Rebellion’s efforts to defeat the Empire. Despite that, fans are still treated to enough Darth Vader to whet the appetite.
5. Donnie Darko
Though often regarded as a cult classic horror movie, Donnie Darko also dabbles in some pretty heady sci-fi focused on time travel. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a troubled young man haunted by a figure in a horrific rabbit suit that offers up some cryptic warnings of the coming apocalypse. Mixed up are hints of time travel, temporal vortexes, and a dizzying amount of weirdness.
Netflix’s wildly popular and totally awesome ‘80s nostalgia show about pre-teens combatting interdimensional threats came back for its second season just before Halloween. Though it inches towards dark mythical fantasy, Stranger Things represents some of Netflix’s best original programming.
In Season 1, after the young Will Byers goes missing from the small town of Hawkins, Indiana and a mysterious telekinetic girl appears, it’s up to Will’s friends and family to uncover the truth about the mysteries surrounding his otherworldly disappearance.
Stranger Things 2 brings the whole gang back — along with some newcomers — for a bigger adventure set a year later.
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.” Travelers is truly for spy fans who like their sci-fi steeped in time travel.
- Season 2 of Travelers hit Netflix on December 26.
8. Star Trek
You can only find Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access, but 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?
- Consider watching these 5 episodes that provide more context for Discovery.
9. Dark Matter
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 get into it considering Season 3 hit the streaming platform in late September.
Trap a bunch of outlaws aboard a ship, wipe their memories while they’re all in cryosleep, and wake them all up at once. It makes for one hell of a start to a show. The drama continues, 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 a “mission of the week” format, but the way Dark Matter delicately unravels the complicated backstory of each character is perfectly paced. Various, fun technologies are introduced along the way. There’s also a fun side-plot involving the development of superpowered individuals.
10. Black Mirror
Though it dips into the realm of horror and satire, Black Mirror is consistent with one question: what can technology do to us when it’s taken to extremes? Some episodes have more to do with 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.
What begins as a murder mystery aboard a massive space station quickly unfolds into an alternate history in which President Kennedy sends a massive spaceship — 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.