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Netflix January 2021: 11 gripping sci-fi shows and movies you can't miss

New year, new movies, new shows.

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A new year means a new Netflix ... sort of. At the very least, as we say goodbye to 2020, we can say hello to a fresh slate of shows and movies on Netflix to keep us entertained in 2021.

In December, we had to say goodbye to some modern sci-fi classics like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Her. And while there are several choice selections leaving the service this month, at least there's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo coming in to take their place.

For anyone hankering for a taste of tomorrow, here are the 11 best science fiction shows and movies available to stream on Netflix with a special focus on whatever's new, original, or leaving soon. And for anyone into wintery apocalypses, we've got a few options for you too.

11. Swiss Army Man (2016)

This bizarre black comedy involves a talking, farting corpse who gradually gains even more undead superpowers. Is this science fiction or just slapstick comedy? Swiss Army Man winds up feeling like a bit of both. Paul Dano stars as a suicidal man marooned on an island who befriends Daniel Radcliff's aforementioned farting corpse, riding the flatulated body like it's a jet ski back to civilization— and that's all within the first few minutes.

What ensues is a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on loneliness and the stories we tell ourselves to survive. The whole thing is deeply weird and a bit offputting, but if you're willing to suffer through the uncomfortable bits, you might just find some heartfelt vibes in here. And you better watch it now before it farts off into the sunset forever.

Swiss Army Man will be removed from the Netflix library on January 29.

10. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney stars and directs in this frigid post-apocalyptic film. A lonely scientist in the Arctic, he struggles to warn a group of astronauts returning to Earth of the global catastrophe that's devastated the planet. It's sort of like Interstellar meets The Last of Us with the sci-fi dad vibes — but nowhere near as good as either of those movies. Still, for fans of apocalyptic science fiction, this one is worth a shot.

The story is adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s acclaimed novel Good Morning, Midnight. The astronauts had discovered a new and shockingly habitable moon of Jupiter, but the Earth goes cold and silent before they can return home. Clooney himself has described the film as a cross between Gravity and The Revenant. That description is pretty accurate.

9. Snowpiercer

Speaking of major winter vibes and the end of the world: From visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Parasite) comes Snowpiercer, a 2013 dystopian film in which a train in perpetual motion hurdles through the icy wasteland of Earth. A failed climate-change experiment plunged the world into this second Ice Age, and the only survivors are those lucky — or unlucky — enough to have made it aboard this ridiculous train. And it ain't stoppin'.

Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans as a grizzled survivor from the oppressed back of the train leading a violent uprising against the aristocrats in control. If you haven't seen this film already, it's the perfect winter sci-fi film — if you can cope with the grim tones at play here. (There's also a TNT Snowpiercer series with loose connections to the film you can watch elsewhere if interested.)

8. Bird Box

'Bird Box' seems like the most challenging apocalypse to survive in.


Bird Box is the last apocalypse we'll recommend this month. (We promise.) It's now been more than two years since the viral sensation was released. The Sandra Bullock-led horror film leans more towards Lovecraftian dark fantasy than overt science fiction, but the overall execution feels reminiscent of survivalist sci-fi horror like 28 Days Later or I Am Legend.

Unexplained entities suddenly emerge, and anyone who sees them instantly goes insane. Most will commit suicide in the most straightforward way possible. Survivors who venture out into the world have to travel about blindfolded to avoid meeting such a grim fate. Told across two timelines at the start of the apocalypse and five years into it, Bird Box focuses on Malorie (Bullock), a frustrated woman who will do whatever it takes to survive.

Gripping, tragic, and eventually uplifting, Bird Box is a fascinating meditation on how difficult it is to retain one's humanity despite bleak circumstances.

7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Raining food. What a concept!

Sony Pictures Releasing

One of my all-time favorite children's books was transformed into a stunning and hilarious animated picture back in 2009, and I've loved it ever since. A quirky young inventor accidentally develops a device that creates giant pieces of food that integrate with local weather patterns. It quite literally begins to rain meatballs, but that's only the beginning.

The obnoxiously named "Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator" (FLDSMDFR) quickly grows out of control, throwing Flint's home into chaos. Will he be able to save the day? Or will they all drown in marinara?

The sequel hit Netflix back in November, but the 2009 original by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller is so much better.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs rains onto Netflix on January 1.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

This psychological thriller based on Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson's novel of the same name is more realistic thriller than it is sci-fi, but there's something about it that feels borderline cyberpunk. The morally grey and oppressive atmosphere is full of dread, and the bold and sometimes bizarre characters would feel out of place in real life. If you like sci-fi and murder mysteries, you'll probably enjoy this — but be forewarned it's a very mature film that deserves its R rating.

Visionary director David Fincher's 2011 film adaptation is coming to Netflix soon, and the moody film starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is riveting to watch. When disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is hired by a wealthy industrialist to solve the 40-year-old murder of the man's niece, he teams up with the edgy but brilliant investigator Lisbeth Salander (Mara) to solve the case. Their gripping investigation will leave you on the edge of your seat. If you liked Netflix's Mindhunter, this is a must-watch.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be available on Netflix as of January 5.

5. Jurassic Park

A sick triceratops gets treatment in the original 'Jurassic Park.'

Universal Pictures

Dino-mite! Just when you thought Steven Spielberg's seminal dinosaur movie, Jurassic Park, was extinct, it came roaring back to Netflix on December 1. And now it's here to stay, maybe?

Relive the captivating sense of natural majesty that we really haven’t seen since from the franchise. This 1993 film may have launched a wildly lucrative sci-fi blockbuster series, but none of the sequels are as good as the original. (The second and third films are also on Netflix if you're so keen.)

Based on Michael Crichton's 1990 novel of the same name, the titular theme park is built on a tropical island after genetic scientists figure out how to clone dinosaurs based on ancient DNA found in mosquitos. While the science doesn't make a ton of sense, it sure does make for a wildly entertaining movie. What ensues is an exciting adventure that involves many different species of dinosaurs.

4. The Magicians

The final season of The Magicians is almost on Netflix.

The Magicians is more accurately a mature magical dark fantasy series set in the modern-day, but it’s a dynamic show that delves into sci-fi elements as well. Based on the books by Lev Grossman, it began as an R-rated Harry Potter where a bunch of brilliant, edgy millennials attend magical grad school. But over time, The Magicians expanded its multiverse with time travel, alternate realities, and new worlds to explore.

The series wraps up in Season 5 following a major death in the Season 4 finale, and much of the emotional energy is spent in grief. But new apocalyptic stakes emerge that require this ragtag group to band together once more to save the day. For longtime fans of the series, it's a fitting sendoff for these lovable characters that's a total must-watch.

The Magicians Season 5 will be available on Netflix on January 13.

3. Alien Worlds

A curious collision of documentary series and speculative science fiction, Alien Worlds applies the laws of human life on Earth to the rest of the galaxy to imagine what life could look like on other worlds.

This Netflix original offers a lot of provocative and realistic-looking imagery about what life might look like on other worlds. Could it possibly be true? We may never know, but this series is aimed at making you wonder.

2. Lost in Space

Will Robinson is always in danger.


Lost in Space was voted by Inverse readers as one of Netflix's absolute best sci-fi shows, and with good reason. The 1960s reboot is a classic spacefaring adventure reinvented for a contemporary audience. The Robinson family goes into space to write a new chapter in human history when the Earth is in crisis. This family of pioneering space colonists literally gets “lost in space” after their ship enters a rip in spacetime that sends them to an alien planet. The results are thrilling, gripping, and a lot of fun. And the robot is hot now. Go figure.

This is hard sci-fi set in the far reaches of space, and because it’s about an entire family, it feels like a nice series for your entire family to watch together. Season 2 was released by Netflix just over a year ago, so now's the time for a rewatch — or your first watch.

1. Stargate SG-1

'Stargate SG-1' is a treasure for anyone who likes military-oriented futuristic sci-fi.


Star Trek's more realistic cousin with far less campiness going on, Stargate SG-1 is an excellent spin-off series based in the same universe as the film Stargate (1994). The hard sci-fi series takes place in a universe where mankind discovered a "Stargate" that can access a network of similar alien devices spread out across the universe.

The series follows a team tasked with exploring the universe through these portals, and along the way, they encounter all sorts of aliens and interesting worlds. The show's many adventures are often based loosely on human mythology, grappling with heady themes of morality in a more accessible way than the grittiness of something like Battlestar Galactica. This series is on my list for best sci-fi series of all times, so for it to make its way into Netflix's galaxy is a big deal.

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