These streaming sci-fi movies will make you question everything, and you’ll love them for it.
We all need an escape from reality from time to time, and what better way than to expand our brains with some seriously cerebral science fiction? There are plenty of mind-bending sci-fi movies out there, and a lot are available to watch right now on streaming services.
These aren’t your average science fiction-tinged action movies or time travel romps. These are films that will really make you think about the reality in which we live: Is the universe really just a simulation? Is there alien life, and if so, what would it actually be like? What would really happen if someone invented time travel, or artificial intelligence so realistic that it’s impossible to tell the difference between humans and machines? If you’ve ever stayed up late at night wide-eyed pondering these questions and more, these are the movies for you.
And luckily, they’re all streaming in one form or another, whether for subscribers on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, free with ads on Roku and Crackle, or for a small rental fee on Google Play or Vudu. So what are you waiting for? Go expand your horizons.
1. Annihilation (2018)
2. Primer (2004)
In 2004, unknown filmmaker Shane Carruth released this passion project, which he wrote, directed, shot, edited, scored, and starred in himself. An incredible exercise in low budget filmmaking, it follows two garage scientists as they accidentally invent time travel. It requires multiple watches to piece together the complex story web, but it’s well worth it.
3. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s now-iconic Inception features a star-studded cast and combines a heist movie with the high-concept science fiction conceit of technology that allows the user to enter a subject’s dreams and plant ideas therein. Like dreams, the rules are malleable and the details surreal; if you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth a rewatch.
4. Gattaca (1997)
Streaming on: Roku/Tubi/Crackle (ads), DirecTV, Google Play (rental)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law in their heydays, Gattaca explores a society that has mastered the art of genetic manipulation. The result isn’t a utopian society free from disease and poverty, but something far more realistic–those born “naturally,” defects and all, are ruthlessly discriminated against. One man devises a way to beat the system and achieve a better life, but the cost is great.
5. Ex Machina (2014)
Another Alex Garland entry, Ex Machina follows a lowly tech employee as he embarks on a retreat to his CEO’s remote estate, where he finds his boss has been working on creating AI that’s indistinguishable from human life. There may be something more sinister going on, but we’ll leave that for you to find out.
6. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix set the bar in 1999, and although it’s now over 20 years old, it holds up every bit as well today. What if reality is a simulation, and in the “real” world, humans are harvested for energy by a race of sentient machines? Sure, The Matrix’s style, action, and special effects remain iconic to this day. But here’s the part that will keep you up at night: If that were the case, would you really want to know? All I’m saying is Cypher had a point; ignorance is bliss.
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
If technology existed that could clinically wipe your mind of all memories of toxic past relationships, ditching your emotional baggage and earning a fresh start on life, would you use it? If you did, what if you lost something essential to being “you” along the way? Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, and Elijah Wood are at their absolute best in this charming and heartbreaking sci-fi drama from 2004.
8. Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones’ directorial debut could not be more different from the Warcraft movie, which he later directed. The excellent Sam Rockwell stars as the sole character (kind of) living out a lengthy stint on a corporate-owned, remote facility on Earth’s moon. The tension ramps up as he receives an unexpected guest. To say any more would be to spoil it, so if you haven’t seen Moon, go watch it now.
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction epic is a classic for a reason. From the iconic opening scene featuring the monolith and the monkeys, to the introduction of the murderous AI HAL 9000, all the way to the final acid trip through time and space, 2001 is every bit as stunning and essential now as it was over 50 years ago.
10. Another Earth (2011)
Up in the sky, a mirror world has appeared–another Earth floating just out of reach, teasing the residents of our world with untold possibilities. Is there another you up there? If so, might they be happier than you? What if you could find out? That’s the backdrop for a story about tragedy, guilt, and human connection starring Brit Marling and William Mapother. Be warned: You will cry.
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is just about exactly as dismal as the title implies. A celestial body hurtles toward Earth, but there’s no team of plucky oil drillers-turned-astronauts to blast off and blow it up. Melancholia is far more realistic: Unfortunately, everything is f***ed. A great cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, John Hurt, and Stellan Skarsgård must contend with the planet’s impending doom. It’s depressing, but gorgeous.
12. Arrival (2016)
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece that envisions an alien race whose language is so different from ours that the process of learning it causes one to begin to experience reality in a fundamentally altered way. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner lead the cast in this emotional journey.
13. Upstream Color (2013)
Streaming on: Google Play/Microsoft/YouTube (rental)
Shane Carruth’s second movie is even more of a mind-melt than Primer, once again written, directed, produced by, and starring Carruth. It’s basically impossible to describe the plot without spoilers, but suffice to say it involves bio-organic mind control technology and pigs. Sorry–it’s a tough sell. But if you enjoyed the other movies on this list, give it a shot.
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