The ultimate guide on what to watch on Netflix: Sci-fi edition
Think you’ve seen it all? Regularly find yourself in the bottomless scrolling abyss of Netflix without a single clue of what your next bingewatch should be and what you should definitely avoid? Don’t worry – we’ve got you, buddy. There are some outstanding Netflix Originals sci-fi productions to choose from on the SVOD service, but there’s also a lot of dross too.
You need to know what’s worthy of your time and what’s worthy of being blanked – you don’t want to have to invent some sort of maniacal time machine just to claw back the two hours you wasted on a regrettable sci-fi stream, do ya? So here’s the Film Daily ultimate guide to what sci-fi TV shows and movies you should check out and what you should avoid.
Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology series features such a cataclysm of technology-based horrors, one single bingewatch is enough to make you wanna go off grid and live in a cave. The dystopian show offers a sharp, bleak satire that both spotlights current societal and technological trends while projecting our current fears into a harrowing vision of the future.
It’s the only show currently streaming that features such transgressive narratives as the British prime minister being forced to fuck a pig on live TV (“The National Anthem”), a dead man brought back to life via the data of his social media accounts (“Be Right Back”), and a woman whose survival is disturbingly reliant on her social rating (“Nosedive”). The show is incredibly well written, features guest stars including Bryce Dallas Howard and Jesse Plemons, and is so terrifyingly plausible, its stories will continue to haunt you long after watching.
Lost in Space
We’re loathe to bad mouth anything starring the always wonderful Parker Posey (who is genuinely one of the only highlights of this ill-thought-out reboot) but Lost in Space gets lost in a poor plot, weak characterization, and a smothering assault of relentless snarky one-liners. Following the mighty wholesome Robinson family as they choose to dump the flaming landfill of earth for a shiny new life on a space colony only to get lost in space (hey – that’s the name of the show!), the show should evoke the camp excitement of the original 60s series.
What it actually evokes is great boredom and annoyance with a slew of missed opportunities hurtling past the clunky plotline and dialogue like a blur of stars through the window of a crashing spaceship. You won’t even care to stick around to hear “Danger! Will Robinson” – you’ll just want the show to crash land on a different SVOD service far away from here.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return
The reboot of the cult classic B-movie celebration picks up where its predecessor left off and does everything you may have ever loved about the oddball original show of the 80s and 90s. Starring Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, and Felicia Day, the show is packed full of the usual comedy skits and shenanigans, with the same old snarky commentaries to B-movie classics popping up throughout.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return will be a major hit with fans of the original show and should prove endlessly entertaining for newbies who love nothing more than to throw shade at low-rent sci-fi classics.
The MVP of Netflix’s genre offerings, Stranger Things is a show that requires no introduction but is continually worthy of our adoration and plaudits, even if we’re a little burned out on all the hype. The 80s throwback drama seemed to hit the zeitgeist on our collective longing for the era when it premiered in 2016 and could be considered responsible for the current resurgence of 80s nostalgia as seen in recent projects like Andrés Muschietti’s It and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
Packed full of geeky references and 80s stars like Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, and Paul Reiser, the show is a non-stop thrill ride of lovingly executed throwbacks. But it’s more than just hollow nostalgia – following a small town up against some terrifying supernatural forces, a corrupt government agency, and a dark parallel universe known as The Upside Down, the show is full of tension and intrigue. It’s also full of charming heroes (and antiheroes) you can’t help but feel completely invested in.
Smart, taut, and tense, the Brazilian dystopian thriller takes place in a near-future where the population are forced to compete for an opportunity to live on the “better side” of the world – but only three percent succeed. The series packs plenty of thoughtful intrigue into its plotting alongside ferocious satirical beats that never feel trite or too on the nose. The slow pacing of the story can sometimes be a little frustrating (particularly for those who want to voraciously binge it), but it also opens the story up to exploring the terrific world-building and characterisation of the series in depth.
A cyberpunk pulpy treat of a show starring Joel Kinnaman as a prisoner given a fresh lease of life (and a new body) after 250 years on ice so he can solve a mind-bending murder mystery. Based on Richard K. Morgan’s beloved novel, the TV show is an ambitious, visual treat offering bombastic neon licks of urban landscapes and locations that can make for a pleasantly overwhelming streaming experience.
However, at the heart of the narrative is a set of hard-boiled characters and a bleak noir mystery, all set against the limitless potential of a technologically advanced future and the limited opportunities provided within it. It’s a melting pot of genre greatness that isn’t afraid to provide bold tips of the hat to the stories that influence it.
B: The Beginning
It’s a little “anime by numbers” and the plot can be so convoluted it’s difficult to follow, but stick with it and B: The Beginning boasts some gratifying rewards. The story follows an investigator who pursues a serial killer across an island city where his path intersects with some superhuman beings who may possibly be Gods.
That’s the general Netflix overview of it all, but the story is much more a tale about life, death, crime, and survival bolstered by a world powered by advanced technology. There’s some compelling character development and dynamic relationships to enjoy, but this one may be best enjoyed by seasoned anime veterans rather than first timers.
This strange, transcendent drama stars Brit Marling as a young blind woman who returns to her hometown after being missing for seven years with the miraculous ability to now see. The show straddles a plethora of genres during the slow unfurling of its odd puzzle with the story bounding between drama, sci-fi, horror, and mystery. This lends The OA a sense of unpredictable thrill – at some points it seems the story can go in just about any direction.
Sadly, it also sets the show up for a disappointing climax where all your own wildest ideas concerning the plot are far better than those that wrap the show up. You’ll either think it’s pure genius or pure garbage, and we can’t call it either way.
This South Korean fantasy thriller is one of the most underrated shows on the streaming service. The basic synopsis that the show follows – involving a woman who can foresee death and a detective possessed by the Grim Reaper – barely touches the surface of this complex and compelling narrative.
The show is equal parts police procedural, supernatural thriller, murder mystery, dark romance, and devastating drama, delving into ideas of life and mortality with an entertaining thirst for answers of all kinds. Black bristles with an acerbic sense of humor and despite its otherworldly themes, touches upon plotlines and issues that can be bracingly relatable and that echo modern concerns. It’s a wild bingewatch of a show that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The dystopian young adult sci-fi thriller has a mediocre premise (a virus outbreak forces a small town into quarantine and two teen girls strive to figure out how to stop it) and a seriously dicey script that renders it virtually impossible to enjoy.
Disney darling Jennette McCurdy leads the cast as a pregnant teenager desperate to escape the town so she can give up her baby, and it could be argued she’s the only member of the cast who seems to give a shit about starring in this Canadian drama. Everyone else is palpably just dialing it in, which is forgivable given how awful so much of the dialogue of this young adult series genuinely is – why waste any talent on it?
Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)
Based on Kei Sanbe’s popular Manga show, this sci-fi melodrama is immensely binegable and seriously gripping. Driven by terrific performances from its cast, the show features the sort of in-depth character development that will make you seriously invested in hitting the next episode button (or just letting that shit autoplay when you should be looking to absolve responsibility for your bingewatch).
The plot centers around a young man with the ability to time travel who goes back 18 years for a chance to prevent his mom’s and three of his classmates’ deaths, and it barely lets up on the suspense right through until that final episode.
Kiss Me First
The TV show equivalent of a patchwork quilt sewn together from the scraps of other (better) ideas, Kiss Me First sees a young woman befriending a party girl within a VR game she’s hooked on and being pulled into a new dark and dangerous world. Everything about Kiss Me First is overly familiar and has been done to death already, with the tiredest tropes imaginable used as the narrative thread to string one plot point to the other.
But hey, maybe we’re just too old and jaded to really get the appeal of this British romantic sci-fi thriller, which at least captures a certain zeitgeist of youth culture better than many other shows of its kind right now.
It’s been heralded as one of the best time travel TV shows of all time and it’s easy to see why – it’s ludicrously good. The spanish sci-fi show makes the most of its genre and utilizes tropes to delve into the endless wounds of history and some of the timeless suffering of humanity (yowza – that got super deep, super quick).
Thankfully it’s also very funny, extremely self aware, and exceptionally thrilling, which saves it from being too earnest or somber when it does reach for profound statements. The show follows three officers from different eras who guard Spain’s past from time-traveling intruders trying to change history for their own sinister benefits. It’s something that’s been done countless times in various TV shows and films – but the genius of the show isn’t about the premise, but in how The Ministry of Time explores the story to its fullest potential, making it an absolute joy to watch.
The New Legends of Monkey
The family-friendly drama inspired by the cult 70s and 80s Japanese TV series Monkey features some sparkling humor, gripping action, and positive messages that a young audience could likely take a lot away from. Luciane Buchanan, Emilie Cocquerel, and Chai Hansen are all terrific in central roles – however, there’s no getting past the whitewashing controversy in which “Asian culture” is expressed as broadly and indistinctly as possible from a hugely white perspective.
Adding an intriguing spin on the lore of the undead, this Australian drama follows a cop in a small town who discovers six recently deceased residents have returned from the dead in perfect health. It’s an intriguing premise played out with some captivating storytelling, but it definitely takes a few episodes to get fully ramped up and even then some of the characters are so boring you’ll wish they’d pop back into the grave from whence they came.
Still, if you have a thing for a languid narrative in an evocative setting, Glitch provides some intricate, patient plotting that you might appreciate.
ReBoot: The Guardian Code
It blends live action and CGI (really badly) and features a plot that sounds like a cross between The Power Rangers and 90s cyberfail film Hackers by following a gang of teens tasked with saving the world by defending it in cyberspace. Their world-saving troupe is known as the Next-Generation Guardians of Cyberspace, which sounds like a military subdivision the current POTUS would set up to save us all from “fake news”.
The bottom line is that this show is horrendous, it contains the lowest quality of writing, acting, camerawork, and effects possible, and it should be avoided at all costs.
The sadly short-lived sci-fi series from Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski revolves around a diverse pack of strangers from around the globe who mysteriously share the odd ability of a shared consciousness. There’s a suspense-filled mystery at the heart of the show and some tense moments of action as an obscure organization seeks to hunt down and destroy the gang.
Sense8 also boasts a wealth of captivating emotionality and unique characterization that makes the show feel fresh. However, the only downside is the plot can occasionally stall and characters sometimes lack any real development, which is a shame when you have a cast including Tuppence Middleton, Daryl Hannah, and Bae Doona involved.
Who doesn’t love a good ethically screwed up time travel yarn?! Starring Eric McCormack as a dude who loves to mess with the past in a bid to save the future, this Canadian drama is an absolute gem of a show presenting sci-fi at its most fun. Nothing terribly original is done with the concept and certain issues and ideas are repeated so often they become redundant, but overall Travelers is a hoot.
The first Marvel Netflix Originals show introduced the gritty, street-level action that the overall extended small-screen universe has become renowned for. Charlie Cox depicts the titular devil of Hell’s Kitchen (a blind superhero who fights injustice as a lawyer by day and fights crime as a vigilante by night) with superb amounts of charm and ferocity, even if the character’s overall development gets a little strained as the story progresses due to the repetition of the whole Catholic guilt angle.
Regardless, when Daredevil is good it’s exceptionally good, with some solid fight-sequence choreography and emotional drama at the root of the show.
With a phenomenal villainous performance from David Tennant and an equally as powerful turn from Krysten Ritter as the booze-soaked reluctant superhero drinking her trauma down, S1 of Jessica Jones is one of the greatest feminist genre shows ever made. S2 is sadly a completely different matter; the quality of writing suffered, featuring plotlines lacking by comparison to the pace, thematics, and intelligence of the first.
The show shines for its unique perspective and will be greatly enjoyed by anyone who longs to see complex and diverse depictions of strong female characters, even if the first season is the only one we’d truly recommend.
Mike Colter is ludicrously charismatic as Harlem’s bulletproof hero in this Marvel Netflix show that pulls powerful storylines from the diaspora of the black experience. As well as featuring some of the best fights in the whole Marvel Netflix canon (Wu Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ ta fuck with, friends), the show also deals with modern social issues in a manner that doesn’t distract from the central narrative.
In exploring the power dynamics of Harlem, Luke Cage S1 & S2 both showcase some of the best female characters on TV, with Simone Missick and Alfre Woodard turning in stupendous performances as the light and dark sides of the city’s protection.
After completely stealing the show in S2 of Daredevil, Jon Bernthal’s depiction of the iconic military veteran antihero is given deeper and more emotional development within his own show. The Punisher disappointed some fans who were expecting the same non-stop violence of the comics to be cascading throughout every single episode, but we’re of the opinion the slow-burn plotting suits the methodical violence of the character – he’s brash and chaotic but he’s also smart and patient, understanding there’s a moment to strike and a moment to lay low.
As a result, this may be one of the most thoughtful explorations of The Punisher ever committed to the screen, with the show offering a powerful depiction of military PTSD in America and the lack of care given from the US government in helping ex-military workers.
It’s the worst Marvel Netflix show of them all, ladies and gentlemen. It’s rushed and lazy and the writing is consistently cringeworthy and repetitive. As far as heroes go, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) may be one of the most obnoxious of all time and lacks just about any likeable qualities in the show, coming off as a poor little rich boy with a strange (and potentially useless) super power and a penchant for martial arts. He also can’t fight for shit.
Thankfully, Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) makes the show almost worthwhile as a female martial arts expert literally fighting to save her dojo – we just wish she could stay away from that awful Rand boy.
The highly anticipated Marvel Netflix miniseries brought Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, and a bunch of associated supporting characters including Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) on screen together for the first time. In their battle to save the Big Apple from a nefarious corporation, the four share some underwhelming fight scenes, Chinese food, and a whole bunch of disappointingly predictable dialogue that makes the ambitious show a bit of a let down.
Even Sigourney Weaver doesn’t dazzle in this damn thing! And it’s through no fault of her own. The script is stiff and drab, leaning on familiar tropes and delivering the most basic of fan expectations instead of attempting anything risky or innovative – arguably the very things that made the first set of Marvel Netflix shows such a hit in the first place.
We’d argue this tacky cash-in on the Cloverfield franchise isn’t quite as bad as everyone seems keen to suggest, but it’s also not very good either. Actors like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, and Chris O’Dowd do the best they can (bless ‘em) with a shrieking question mark of a script and there are genuinely a few shining moments where you can glimpse the carcass of what may have once been a great movie during development.
However, by the third act the film is completely irredeemable and everyone involved seems eager to just get this shit over and done with. With a plot revolving around a group of scientific researchers on a space station as they attempt to harness a new energy source known as the God Particle and an origin story for the Cloverfield monster buried somewhere within it, the film definitely had potential to be better than it is. Sadly, it’s a dud that fails to provide more than a passing connection to J.J. Abrams’s original hit movie.
Starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as two cops from dramatically different backgrounds who put their differences to one side to save their community, Bright is a hot mess of a movie that should never have been made. Written by Max Landis and directed by David Ayer, the film boasts the sort of conspicuously obtuse social commentary attempts that your teacher would have said “is a bit much” had you have written this shitshow of a story back in grade school.
There are humans, orcs, elves, and all manner of other fantastical beings all failing to get along in this Lord of the Rings vision of Los Angeles that should have just been renamed Piss Poor Allegory For Racism and left in Landis’s drafts folder forevermore. The film has its fans among hardcore lovers of fantasy so who knows – you might still love it. But if you’re not of that ilk you should avoid it with every atom of your being.
Amanda Seyfried and Clive Owen star in this neo-noir digital dystopian mystery from Andrew Niccol that slaps some slick visuals on top of some sadly forgettable narrative. There are shades of Total Recall and Minority Report to the story which follows a troubled detective who happens upon a mysterious young women with no identity or history while trying to solve a series of murders, but the plot isn’t anywhere near as great as those Philip K. Dick’s imaginings. Ultimately the film hits some predictable beats but should still be satisfying to sci-fi fans.
Yeon Sang-ho’s followup to Train to Busan is centered around the intriguing prospect of an everyday man who acquires some strange new superpowers and uses them to help save the livelihood of his estranged daughter. It’s a bittersweet comedy that makes some touching statements regarding family, gentrification, and the power of “the people”, but the end result isn’t quite as exciting or satisfying as you’d hope it to be.
On the upside, the movie provides a refreshingly prosaic take on the superhero story and puts to use incredible super powers against ordinary foes – but on the downside, the movie lacks momentum and can feel a little too on the nose with some of its social commentary.
Still one of the most endearingly strange films on the streaming service, Bong Joon Ho’s drama masterfully blends a range of disparate tones and ideas to fulfill a cohesive and enjoyable story. The peculiar yarn involves a young woman and her best friend – a strange creature called Okja, wanted by a multinational conglomerate with insidious plans for the animal.
Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal provide the most cartoonish, melodramatic performances possible as two big business brutes disguising their evil with broad smiles and over-the-top pleasantries, while An Seo Hyun, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, and Steven Yeun bring magnificent volumes of heart and passion to proceedings in their shared pursuit to save Okja.
The movie achieves a fascinating balancing act between being a coming-of-age story, an action adventure epic that crosses continents, and a devastating corporate satire that leaps between comedy, drama, and horror with a spectacularly confident finesse.
If you wish to enjoy Mute, we also recommend you watch it on mute while doing something actually worthy of your time – anything would frankly be better. Though Duncan Jones’s highly anticipated sci-fi epic is visually phenomenal, it suffers from horrendous dialogue and a nonsensical story riddled with plot holes.
It’s a shame because the main cast do some great things with the creative crumbs they’re thrown to build a performance feast with. Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux offer some truly mesmerizing moments even when the script has derailed into pure drivel. Focused on (what else?) the search for a beautiful and mysterious missing woman that appears to lead directly to a sinister underworld, Mute is 126 minutes that you should wisely invest in doing something else.
What Happened to Monday
Look, we all love Noomi Rapace. So much so that the thought of her playing seven identical sisters is something we welcome rather than worry about. (By comparison, imagine someone like Adam Sandler in a similar role – horrifying right?) Unfortunately, Rapace’s literal multi-faceted performance as seven sisters forced to pretend to be one person to evade the radical “one child policy” of their country is the best thing about What Happened to Monday.
Take away Rapace’s performance and all you’re left with is a criminally underused Willem Dafoe and a thankless narrative that plays out with such a lack of intent, intelligence, and purpose that it could have been concocted from throwing darts at various random ideas on a wall.
Nic Mathieu’s sci-fi action thriller sees a group of soldiers battling supernatural forces threatening to overwhelm New York City. James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Bruce Greenwood, and Clayne Crawford all turn in some hugely charismatic performances alongside some genuinely solid CGI work and thrilling combat sequences.
Spectral is a film that action fans will love but that die hard sci-fi fans looking for a thoughtful story might find a little too bombastic and hollow. Still, the sight of a set of high-tech soldiers battling an unstoppable ghost army is honestly entertaining enough.
Focused around a man trapped in a house (and a time loop) who strives to protect an unlimited world-saving energy source from a gang of intruders, ARQ packs a big story into a small package. The action doesn’t move from the bare few rooms within the home, but the writing, direction, and performances are also so tight and engrossing that the story never feels limited or cheapened by the static setting.
Despite a finale that proves unsatisfying compared to the engrossing build up of the rest of the movie, ARQ is fiendishly enjoyable with plenty of shootouts, scheming, and plot twists maintaining momentum right up until the final few scenes.
Based on Joe Barton’s novel of the same name, iBoy follows a teenager (Bill Milner) who wakes from a coma to discover fragments of his smartphone are now embedded in his brain and have turned him into an walking, talking app with superhuman powers. The film straddles an awkward line between being joylessly bleak and preposterously silly, including a moment where the hero uses his brain to access a martial arts video on YouTube before punching a dude.
iBoy has its exciting moments, but the social subtext is laid on so thick and grim its feels more exploitative than profound. Maisie Williams is good in it though, so that’s nice.
Providing proof that we’re now living in an age of bad Black Mirror ripoffs, Tau is a mediocre and frankly exhausting sci-fi effort that has already been done too many times to even list. Which is a shame considering it stars genre faves like Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, and Gary Oldman – but what can you do?
The plot centers around a woman imprisoned within a high-tech house designed by every “evil genius” you’ve ever seen in a cartoon, who has to hack into the sophisticated AI of the place to escape. The film contains some entertainingly bad melodrama that’s so silly, you’re sure to grab a chuckle from it and there are a couple of surprisingly poignant moments towards the end of the film where Monroe’s character starts to punish the AI, but otherwise it’s a thankless waste of time, talent, and energy.
Starring Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, and Robert Redford, this Charlie McDowell directed sci-fi romance is a prestigious affair that ruminates on some big questions regarding spirituality and existentialism. Set in the near future, the plot pivots around a doctor who claims definitive proof of an afterlife and the rash of suicides that follow as people seek to reset their existence. When his disapproving son arrives with his troubled new girlfriend, they discover the strange experiments conducted by his father and weird acolytes.
The film is certainly ambitious and takes some big risks, with the existential mystery at the heart of the story given center stage. However, the plot becomes so convoluted and inscrutable it can border on nonsense.
If you liked Passengers but hated the underlying sinister perspective of the film, you may enjoy Orbiter 9. The Spanish sci-fi drama centers around an isolated, lonely woman whose whole life – which has been spent alone on a spaceship – is changed when an engineer suddenly appears on board and upends her entire universe. There are some predictable beats to the story that we’d argue are forgivable, as Orbiter 9 showcases some smart restraint in its storytelling and delivers a series of twists that make it worth sticking with.
When making a film set in the near future where earth’s resources are depleted and humanity’s only hope lies in a genetic experiment on a distant planet, you want to reach for originality but you don’t want to totally overreach as The Titan strives to do.
Despite the high production values, the film is drab in its execution and far too try-hard with its statements and final scenes. Stars like Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Agyness Deyn do their best with a lackluster banal script, but overall it’s an aimless and boring effort full of eye-roll worthy plot development.
The theatrical film adaptation of the classic manga series from Tsutomu Nihei offers a visually striking exploration of a story revolving around the malfunction of automated cities in a distant future that sends humanity to the brink of extinction. It’s a story all seasoned sci-fi fans should appreciate, but that fans of the original story may find some fault with.
Regardless, the epic world-building is absolutely stunning and ripe with such imaginative flourishes that the audience can easily envision what may be beyond the boundaries of the movie’s narrative. It’s probably one of the best animated Netflix Originals movies currently available to stream and more than worthy of checking out if you haven’t done so already.
Chris Nolan doesn’t own the copyright to plotlines where some dude(s) delve into dreams to steal shit for (or from) waking hours (hello Nightmare on Elm Street!), but it’s still tricky to watch this South Korean thriller and not automatically be reminded of Inception. A father attempts to track down his missing son via lucid dreams, which offers some admittedly playful and thrilling sequences. However, the acting is consistently mediocre throughout and past the midway point, you might find yourself asleep and lucid dreaming about watching a better movie.
How It Ends
David M. Rosenthal’s apocalyptic thriller sees a man fighting through an apocalypse with his future father-in-law to find his pregnant fiancée – which in itself sounds like a plotline from a straight-to-TV disaster movie from the 90s developed to cashin on the success of Armageddon and Deep Impact.
How It Ends has no such excuse and is irredeemably bad and severely out of step with the times. Every performance (from a cast including goddamn acting titan Forest Whitaker) is absolutely abominable and the characters depicted are flimsy, unoriginal, and one-dimensional bores.
Any opportunities for the film to make a statement about two macho dudes trying to save a poor ole damsel in distress are sidestepped in favor of more dudebro grandstanding and the weakest action and drama scenes imaginable. Trust us – you won’t even care to know how How It Ends ends.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
The Kaiju anime film is rivetingly good fun and even surprisingly scary at times, which should satisfy fans of the classic Japanese movie monster. The first in a new trilogy of animated Godzilla films, Planet of the Monsters makes up for some flimsy world-building and a lack of development for human characters (but who really cares about those?) with some extremely well-executed action set pieces.
It’s an imperfect film with a distinct lack of compelling plot, but fuck it – Godzilla has a great time and the film offers a fresh enough take on the monster to provide 88 minutes of entertaining carnage.