From serious sci-fi to spoofs in space, here are films and TV to watch on Netflix if you’re after some futuristic entertainment…
One of Netflix’s in-house productions, Annihilation sees Natalie Portman play a biologist leading a rescue mission into a mysterious zone on the US coastland known as The Shimmer. It’s an area hit by a meteorite that is expanding and doing bizarre stuff to any living things that come into its orbit. What unfolds is a tense and imaginative sci-fi adventure that chucks plenty of other genres and film references into the mix.
There are elements of Apocalypse Now in there as Portman’s crew head into this futuristic heart of darkness, and the elements of horror and monster movies are not hard to spot. The film, which goes fairly bonkers by the end, is written and directed by Alex Garland, and it rightfully got great reviews when it was released in 2018. Garland’s other stab at sci-fi as a writer-director, Ex Machina, is equally as good and is also available on Netflix.
Before he did a great job of riling Star Wars fanboys by making the actually pretty decent The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson proved his sci-fi chops with Looper, which deserves to get some good pick up on Netflix. This is one of those sci-fi films that is all about the central premise. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is a hired killer, known as a ‘looper’, who is tasked with bumping off people who are sent back 30 years from the future by the mob.
This effective and untraceable means of body disposal has its ‘loop’ closed when a hitman’s last job arrives, a job that sees him shoot the older version of himself. It’s a system that works fine until young Joe is confronted with old Joe, played by Bruce Willis, and fails to pull the trigger. Naturally, chaos ensues. Looper is a great watch, slickly-made and brilliantly acted by the two leads and a supporting cast that includes Jeff Daniels as the crime boss trying to hold things down.
Like many teenage boys growing up in the early 90s, I had a fascination with that run of high concept sci-fi action films that came to the video shop with an 18 certificate slapped on them. Two of them are up on Netflix, and both stand the test of time pretty well. There’s Arnie doing his murderous cyborg thing in The Terminator, and RoboCop, which was a particular joy to revisit for this piece. At the time, I’m sure I loved it for how cool Robocop looks, the straightforward storyline (cop gets gunned down, turned into a robot and then heads out on a revenge mission) and, of course, the over-the-top violence.
All of that still holds, but there’s plenty more to appreciate, with director Paul Verhoeven’s in total control of his material. The production design neatly melds futuristic elements with a grim urban landscape, and the script’s sharp edge helps makes RoboCop more than the sum of his robotic parts.
Sci-fi can be a po-faced medium, with big ideas and plenty of earnestness to be found floating around in space. I’ve got plenty of time for those kinds of films (see above for my thoughts on Annihilation), but for those don’t want to take the idea of UFOs and unfriendly martians too seriously, then Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! is the one for you. It’s an alien invasion yarn that’s an enthusiastic homage to 1950s sci-fi B-Movies.
It came out in the same year as the similarly plotted Independence Day, but it’s a much more satisfying watch than that bloated blockbuster. Mixing live action and animation, its performances from Jack Nicholson, Sara Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan et al are just as caricatured as those of their cartoon counterparts, which is very much part of the fun.
A Quiet Place
This critically acclaimed film caused quite the stir when it was released in 2018 on account of there being absolutely no dialogue. It’s directed by John Krasinski who happens to be married to the film’s star Emily Blunt and it tells the story of a family caught in a post-apocalyptic world full of blind aliens who hunt by sound. A glass falling off a shelf or a baby’s cry could prove fatal. It’s edge of your seat viewing and within minutes of beginning to watch you will feel as though you too cannot make a sound. With the sequel about to be released, now’s an opportune time to catch up on the first film if you haven’t already seen it.
Or take on a series…
If you really want to get your head into some sci-fi, then Netflix has quite a few TV series to binge on. Altered Carbon is the current headline grabber, with the cyberpunk drama now into its second season. For those who want a bit of nostalgia, the original three seasons of Star Trek are available to watch, as is the much more recent TV take on the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery.