(Credit: Netflix)

From Stanley Kubrick to Denis Villeneuve: The 10 best sci-fi films on Netflix

With films like Fritz Lang’s1927 masterpiece Metropolis paving the path for science fiction, the artform as certainly solidified itself as one of the most popular genres across the entirety of cinema. It is an imaginative description of what the futuristic society may look like with revolutionary changes in the fields of space, technology, time travel etc. 

2020 has been a nightmarish dream for everybody involved; While we are all hoping to wake up from this simulated reality someday to think “It was all a dream”, the chaos we find ourselves within is nothing new to sci-fi. While various sci-fi films predicted such an apocalypse, they never specified what kind. Virus infestation to zombie apocalypses to alien invasions; sci-fi is a culmination of horror, fantasy and every other genre under the sun.

Netflix has gained streaming rights to various sci-fi films, and while there are some brilliant films, this genre is contaminated by certain absurd films which need not be watched. To save your time, we have compiled a list comprising names of ten best sci-fi films available on Netflix. 

Let’s get going. 

10 best sci-fi movies on Netflix 

10. I Am Mother (Grant Sputore, 2019)

In a post-apocalyptic world, a robot named Mother grows a human embryo in a bunker. The daughter grows up and shares a beautiful relationship with Mother who warns her about the dangers of the outside world to quell her curiosity to explore. However, the daughter lets in an injured, pleading woman despite Mother’s warning, and chaos ensues.

Set in a futuristic world, I Am Mother deals with themes of isolation and AI-human morality. With only three female characters, the film boasts of wonderful performances, especially by Clara Rugaard. She brings out the sense of isolation and urgency perfectly on-screen. The ending provides food-for-thought when the viewers are left to wonder if Mother was indeed successful in her mission. Stupor dabbles in a genre that is indeed difficult to execute but ends up doing a fairly good job, providing a slow-paced, gripping movie with an unexpected twist in the end. Top-notch CGI and a compact script make the film engrossing; one feels scared yet fulfilled at the end of this film. 

9. Advantageous (Jennifer Phang, 2015)

In a futuristic dystopia, Gwen lives with her daughter Jules amidst economic hardship. Gwen is fired from her job as a spokeswoman for a biotech company as she is neither a man nor too young and marketable. The film revolves around Gwen’s pursuit and sacrifices to ensure Jules’ future, as she volunteers to be the test subject for a new procedure to transfer one’s consciousness to another body. 

A battle between cynicism and hope, the film spirals into despair. Terrorist attacks, child prostitution and dysfunction plagues society. Gwen loses the job because of underlying problems in the society and subtle sexism, a standard for marketable beauty and more. The deep bonding shared by the mother and daughter holds the film together. An attempt on the part of the company to gain body and mind control is terrifying because that is what the near future comprises as well. The growing disconnect between Gwen and her daughter, at the end of the procedure, is heartbreaking, as Gwen tries to retain the memories she has of the latter. Phang’s sense of colour and music enhances the cinematic experience and adds a touch of melancholy to the already gloomy atmosphere. 

8. Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, 2011) 

Super 8 is a sci-fi thriller film where a group of teenagers, filming a zombie movie for a film competition using their Super 8 camera, bear witness to a strange phenomenon. An alien escapes the derailed train, the footage of which lies in this young group’s possession. As the creature wrecks havoc on the town, it is on Joe Lamb and his friends to find a possible method to stop it from causing further destruction. 

The film is quite enjoyable as it gives a very Goosebumps-esque vibe in which the children save the day. The premise is quite unsettling, and though it has been compared to films like E.T. and The Goonies, the film has a darker approach towards the genre and is rich in cinematography and sound. The young actors do justice to their roles, especially Joel Courtney. Reeking of nostalgia and old summer blockbusters of a certain cinematic age, Super 8 is a tender and affectionate portrayal of early adolescents dealing with the mysteries of love and friendship while trying to save the day.  

“Bad things happen… but you can still live.”

7. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

In 2027, the society is on the verge of disintegration due to two decades of infertility and lack of repopulation. When a deluge of asylum seekers intercept the British boundaries, they are detained by the government; Kee a pregnant refugee is saved by civil servant Theo Faron, who goes to unimaginable extents to save the mother-to-be and her child. 

Theo Faron is the prescient “archetypal everyman” who is devastated by the death of his son, Dylan, in the flu pandemic and the absence of fatherhood compels him to be Kee’s saviour. The film has an underlying theme of hope and faith and, while decades of hopelessness brings about the despairing nature of the society, Kee as the harbinger of new life is the only source of hope in sullen times. Cuaron uses brilliant scores to bring out the social unrest and the general barrenness in the story. Silence is used as a strong weapon to add poignance to the film and Cuaron is adept at extrapolating current issues into a dystopian narrative which makes the film even more believable and engrossing. Splendid performances hold the gripping script together. “Children of Men works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastical cautionary tale, and a sophisticated human drama about societies struggling to live.”

“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

6. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (David Slade, 2018)

“We’re on one path. Right now, me and you. And how one path ends is immaterial. It’s how our decisions along the path affect the whole that matters.”

With as many as five alternate endings, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an interactive film where the audience choices shall determine the outcome. In the film, Stefan, who holds himself responsible for his mother’s death, adapts a book into a game. However, as he wishes to proceed with his dream, the audience is presented with tough choices that will determine Stefan’s success or failure in the dystopian future. 

With ‘free will’ as its central theme, this postmodernist narrative breaks the fourth wall and vests enough power in the audience to change the fate of the protagonist by influencing his actions. Unlike other films where the audience is basically powerless, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch encourages audience participation to make it seem like a game. However, the illusion of freedom exits in the minds of the audience as well, as they cannot choose other outcomes than what is already provided in the film; the screen-writer is a mastermind who pulls the strings. Guilt and hopelessness loom large as young Stefan visits therapists to talk about his role in his mother’s death. The film is scary and unsettling (just like the Netflix anthology series (Black Mirror), and poses an important question; ‘what is real?’.

5. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Marty McFly’s life is falling apart with a depressed, alcoholic mother, a cowardly father and unsuccessful siblings. Along with his eccentric friend and scientist, Doc, he travels to 1955 on a time machine powered by plutonium which depletes rapidly as soon as he reaches the destination; Marty is stuck with teenage versions of his parents. Hilarious chaos ensues when Marty realises that he has to unite his parents and make them fall in love in order to keep his existence valid, but there are too many bullies, love affairs and self-esteem issues that need to be dealt with, as well as a new source of plutonium to help him go back to his original self. 

While a lot of arguments have been made about American society resorting to sci-fi and time travel films to seek escapism from their constant pursuit of the American Dream, Back to the Future inadvertently deals with the similar theme while trying to convey that one’s destiny is defined by one’s actions. The premise is hilarious and the audience is left in splits among the heightened tension of Marty’s existence being vapourised. It deals with darker themes like sexual assault and bullying; it is refreshing to see the victim of bullying finally take his stand against the perpetrators when they attempt to rape his love-interest-turned-future-wife. Scenes, where Lorraine tries to hit on Marty, are laced with incest and evokes laughter amidst the audience as it is a classic case of misconnection.

The biggest takeaway from the film is how one can go beyond’s one destiny to alter their future; Marty’s father finally becomes confident and successful, his mother is fit ad his siblings do well for themselves and all because of Marty, the hero that saved the McFlys! With excellent editing, narrative ad special effects, Back to the Future instilled in the audience a sense of wonder and excitement at the concept of being in control of one’s fate. 

4. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) 

While Denis Villeneuve had always wanted to direct a sci-fi film, he complained of “never getting the right thing”. However, having read Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, Villeneuve was convinced that he wanted to adapt it into a film — and so he did, making a film that was not only sci-fi but also a heart-rendering tale of knowing the future. Amy Adams is perfect in her role as the intelligent, reserved and empathetic Louise, who despite knowing the future cannot break out of it. The film’s soundtrack sets a melancholy mood and is omnipresent in the movie adding a sense of gloom. Smart and neatly crafted, the twisted bends in the film are fascinating. Transcendence of language barriers forms the basic crux of the story where humans try to communicate with otherworldly creatures, namely heptapod aliens. The movie ends on a wistful note with questions regarding loss, love and the bleak future- if only the ending had been less rushed, Arrival would have gone a notch higher on this list. 

Louise Banks is a linguistics expert, and along with her team, which includes love interest Donnelly, is assigned the task of interpreting the language of heptapod aliens who have arrived in spaceships. Louise and Donnelly are also plagued by personal loss’ their daughter Hannah having succumbed to an incurable disease. Though it appears to be an innocuous tale of aliens inhabiting the earth, Arrival subverts audience expectations and takes them on an alien-adventure nobody signed up for. 

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, i embrace it and welcome every moment of it.”

3. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)

In a dystopian future, humans are unconsciously trapped inside a “simulated reality” called the Matrix, created by the machines to divert the humans’ attention while their bodies are used as an energy source. Thomas Anderson, under the alias Neo, comes in contact with Morpheus and his team, who help him uncover the truth. He partakes in a rebellion against these intelligent machines, to show their prisoners “a world where anything is possible”. 

This film stars Keanu Reeves as the protagonist and that should be enough for a film to be listed in top 10s. Jokes aside, the actor is brilliant as Neo as are the others in their respective roles. Having won four Academy Awards besides other accolades, The Matrix is categorised under the cyberpunk subgenre of sci-fi. A film that thrives on conspiracy theories and alternate realities is always a hit among the audience. Abound in ground-breaking actions and special effects, it has also been listed by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite movies from 1992 to 2009. James Cameron was of the opinion that it is “one of the most profoundly fresh sci-fi films ever made”. A revolution in terms of stunts and other action sequences, The Matrix (and Keanu Reeves) is definitely one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. 

The Matrix is a system, Neo, that system is our enemy.”

2. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

In an attempt to save the world from global warming, a catastrophe brings about the second Ice Age, and the survivors seek refuge in a circumnavigational train known as the Snowpiercer, run by the transportation mogul Wilford. However, as time passes, the compartments get segregated on the basis of economic differences creating an enormous gulf between the elite and the poor; an inevitable revolt headed by Curtis Everett occurs which is documented in the harrowing journey. 

When a post-apocalyptic world is plagued by the very old economic differences and paves way for a class revolt, there is a descent into lunacy and frenzy which is brilliantly captured in bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. Joon-ho, the mastermind behind Parasite, is capable of injecting a sensitivity in the audience and making them aware of the difference that exists around them; his films are warnings as well as predictions of what the world may look like if not taken care of right now. The sense of urgency in his films coupled with the in-depth characters and brilliant cinematography sets Joon-ho apart from contemporary filmmakers. An audacious and stunning commentary,  the film revels in masterful performances from every actor. The fight for survival is jarring and intense, where thirst and hunger unleash the madness in humans. Via chaos and emotional turmoil, Joon-ho delves deep into the human psyche and ends the film on a triumphant yet terrifyingly uncertain note. 

“A thousand people in an iron box. No food, no water. After a month we ate the weak. You know what I hate about myself? I know what people tastes like… I know that babies taste best.”

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jepardise it.”

Millions of years ago, hominids find a black monolith on the plains of Africa, and soon discover the use of tools. In the present, scientists discover the same monolith on the lunar plains, which lead to an expedition to Jupiter. Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole are to be cared for by the ship computer HAL 9000. However, various trials and tribulations lie in their path as they gradually understand how there is more to the trip than what they have heard. 

Kubrick’s masterpiece left an indelible mark in the history of sci-fi, taking quantum strides in exploring new arenas of filmmaking as well as portraying futuristic gadgets and human evolution, while never letting go of the realism. Kubrick’s aliens were not absurd otherworldy beings. They were portrayed as supremely intelligent, extra-terrestrial beings, providing aid to humankind in the progress of civilisation. Although he, himself, was very cynical about the humankind and its future, Kubrick’s outlook bears a hint of optimism where humans seem to have unlocked the trick to transcend their current existence and reach for the stars. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 ambitious masterpiece left the world reeling under its impact, where the filmmaker was audacious enough to begin the story in the ancient past and jumped forward to the present day as effortlessly as possible, before gliding into the distant future. The movie ends on a fascinating note where neoclassicism is woven into the idea of cosmic death and rebirth with Kubrickian grandiose.

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