The 20 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix (July 2020)

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The 20 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix (July 2020)

Science fiction is the favorite genre of many of us here at Paste. And Netflix has upped their sci-fi movie game when this last year and now includes many of our 100 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, plus several recent superhero movies that we didn’t consider for that list. The catalog of streaming films is especially strong when it comes to 21st-century indie movies like Under the Skin, Her and Ex Machina. It’s an exciting time for speculative fiction, whether you’re looking for alien arrivals, superheroes, space travel, technological dangers or imaginative glimpses at the future.

You can also check out all of our What to Watch on Netflix guides, updated each month.

Here are the 20 best sci-fi movies on Netflix:

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

e-t-poster.jpg
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship which resonates with children and adults alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time and the moment Spielberg’s career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains today perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin


2. Back to the Future

back-to-the-future.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells
Genre: Comedy, Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Not until Matt Groening/David X. Cohen’s animated TV series Futurama would we again see the lighter side of the grave consequences inherent in time-travel paradoxes. Robert Zemeckis and Michael J. Fox each securely attached their names on the A-list with this sci-fi comedy that ensured Christopher Lloyd would be forever associated with the Crackpot Inventor archetype, and that any DeLorean on the road would eventually be ticketed for speeds in excess of 88 mph. —Scott Wold


3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-spider-verse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There are, rarely, films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where ingredients, execution and imagination all come together in a manner that’s engaging, surprising and, most of all, fun. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, writer-director Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord have made a film that lives up to all the adjectives one associates with Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler. Amazing. Spectacular. Superior. (Even “Friendly” and “Neighborhood” fit.) Along the way, Into the Spider-Verse shoulders the immense Spider-Man mythos like it’s a half-empty backpack on its way to providing Miles Morales with one of the most textured, loving origin stories in the superhero genre. Plenty of action films with much less complicated plots and fewer characters to juggle have failed, but this one spins order from the potential chaos using some comic-inspired narrative devices that seamlessly embed the needed exposition into the story. It also provides simultaneous master classes in genre filmmaking. Have you been wondering how best to intersperse humor into a storyline crowded with action and heavy emotional arcs? Start here. Do you need to bring together a diverse collection of characters, nimbly move them (together and separately) from setting to setting and band them together in a way that the audience doesn’t question? Take notes. Do you have an outlandish, fantastical concept that you need to communicate to the viewers (and characters) without bogging down the rest of the story? This is one way to do it. Would you like to make an instant contemporary animated classic? Look (and listen). —Michael Burgin


4. Under the Skin

under-the-skin-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Krystof Hádek
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Under the Skin is unified in purpose and in drive. It is a biting examination of sexual politics and a dissertation on the bodies we inhabit—how those bodies create a paradigm of ownership. Scarlett Johansson plays the alien avatar, the predator, the cipher whose weakness is her awakening humanity. When she looks in a mirror, lost in a gaze at her own body, it’s a reminder to us to find some remove from our weary familiarity with ourselves, to think, “Golly, what strange things we are.” The film’s tragic conclusion is an assertion that we achieve some positive ideal of what it is to be human when we accept a state of vulnerability, when we forsake the power position in our sexual communication. When we allow for the reality of our frailty, we can care for the frailty in all around us—and this is a very dangerous thing to do. Especially in a world riddled with corruption and malice that seeks to press its advantage. Under the Skin shows us these truths with images that are impossibly beautiful, terrifying and ultimately haunting. There is no exposition, only voids which suspended shells of victims float in, laser sharp lights piercing darkness, menacingly stoic bikers, snowflakes falling into lenses. There is a scene on a beach that plays out like a Bergman or Haneke set-piece and is just as heartbreaking as that would entail. Under the Skin is a soul-crushing work and yet, somehow, the film reiterates that we must continue working towards finding our souls. An artful cascade of multiple exposures of random people, about midway through the film, would seem to symbolize the birth of empathy in Johansson’s femme fatale, and while this is the beginning of the end for her, it can’t help but resonate in Under the Skin with all the radiance of beatitude. These are scenes, statements, questions that are only possible within the framework that the film’s science fiction aspect provides, for these are not the thought processes bound by what is real, but what could be. —Chad Betz


5. Her

her.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Spike Jonze’s colossal talent was far too great to remain trapped in MTV’s orbit; that became immediately clear when his breakout feature-length debut, Being John Malkovich, earned him an Oscar nod for Best Director. Following that minor postmodern masterpiece, he and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman continued their journey into solipsism with the hilariously unhinged Adaptation. As challenging, yet fun and accessible as Kaufman’s screenplays are, Jonze’s Her answers any lingering questions of whether those two movies’ (well-deserved) acclaim sprang solely from the power of Kaufman’s words. Retaining the sweetest bits of the empathetically quirky characters, psycho-sexuality and hard-wrung pathos of Malkovich, Her successfully realizes a tremendously difficult stunt in filmmaking: a beautifully mature, penetrating romance dressed in sci-fi clothes. Eye-popping sets and cinematography, as well as clever dialogue delivered by a subtly powerful Joaquin Phoenix, make Jonze’s latest feature one of the best films of 2013. It also serves as confirmation that—much like Her—the director is the complete package. —Scott Wold


6. Ex Machina

5-best-so-far-2015-Ex-Machina.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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While popular science-fiction films have taught us that, no matter what we do, robots that become self-aware will eventually rise up and kill us, recent advances in artificial intelligence in the real world have confirmed something much seedier about the human imperative: If given the technology to design thinking, feeling robots, we will always try to have sex with them. Always. Alex Garland’s beautifully haunting film seems to want to bridge that gap. Taking cues from obvious predecessors like 2001: A Space Odyssey and AI—some will even compare it to HerEx Machina stands solidly on its own as a highly stylized and mesmerizing film, never overly dependent on CGI, and instead built upon the ample talents of a small cast. The film’s title is a play on the phrase deus ex machina (“god from the machine”), which is a plot device wherein an unexpected event or character seemingly comes out of nowhere to solve a storytelling problem. Garland interprets the phrase literally: Here, that machine is a robot named Ava, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, and that nowhere is where her creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), performs his research and experiments. Ava is a heavenly mechanical body of sinewy circuitry topped with a lovely face, reminiscent of a Chris Cunningham creation. Her creator is an alcoholic genius and head of a Google-like search engine called Bluebook which has made him impossibly rich. Enter Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who is helicoptered in after winning a lottery at work for which the prize is a week at Nathan’s house. Nathan also intends to use Caleb to conduct something of a Turing test on steroids with Ava to determine if she can truly exhibit human behavior. In fact, Ex Machina seems designed around the performances of its excellent mini-ensemble; it’s an awfully attractive film, appropriately seductive. No doubt it was intended to provoke conversations about the morality inherent in “creating” intelligence—as well as whether it’s cool to have sex with robots or not. —Jonah Flicker


7. The Lobster

the-lobster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos starts The Lobster with the familiar, leading man visage of Colin Farrell, gone full dad-bod for a role that is debatably the actor’s best example for his still unheralded genius. With a remarkable dearth of charm, Farrell inhabits David, a man who, upon learning that his wife has cheated on him and so must end their relationship, is legally required to check in to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new mate, lest he be transformed into an animal of his choosing. David easily settles upon the titular namesake, the lobster, which he explains he picks because of their seemingly-immortal lifespans, the creatures like human ears growing and growing without end until their supposed deaths. At the hotel, David tries his best to warm to a beautifully soul-less woman, knowing his remaining days are numbered, but the depths to which she subjects his resolve eventually encourages him to plan an escape, through which he matriculates into an off-the-grid conglomerate of single folk, led by Léa Seydoux. There, of course, against all rules he has a meet-cute with another outsider (Rachel Weisz) involving elaborately designed sign language (a metaphor maybe, like much in Lanthimos’s world, for the odd ritual of dating), and they fall in love. The world of The Lobster isn’t a dystopian future, more like a sort of mundane, suburban Everywhere in an allegorical alternate universe. Regardless, Lanthimos and Filippou find no pleasure in explaining the foundations of their film, busier building an absurdly funny edifice over which they can drape the tension and anxieties of modern romance. In that sense, The Lobster is an oddly feminist film, obsessed with time and how much pressure that puts on people, especially women, to root down and find someone, no matter the cost. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a significant other concerned about the increasing dangers of becoming pregnant in one’s late 30s, then The Lobster—and its ambiguous but no less arresting final shot—will strike uncomfortably close to the home you’re told you should have by now but probably can’t afford. —Dom Sinacola


8. Okja

okja-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Woo Shik Choi, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


9. Incredibles 2

incredibles-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Bird, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film ended, with the costumed Family Parr reacting to the arrival of the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their scuffle with the villain gains the attention of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk)—or more precisely, allows Deavor and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), to gain the attention of the Parrs. The siblings want to bring supers back into the light, using Winston’s salesmanship and Evelyn’s tech to sway public opinion back to the pro-super side. To do so, they want to enlist Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the tip of the spear in their charm offensive, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on the sidelines for now. (She tends to fight crime in a manner that results in less property damage than her husband, after all.) This sets up a second act that’s firmly by the numbers in terms of story development—watch the husband try to succeed as a stay-at-home dad!—yet no less enjoyable. Bob’s attempts to handle teen romance, Jack-Jack’s manifestation of powers and, horror of horrors, “new” math will strike a chord with any mom or dad who has ever felt overwhelmed by the simple, devastating challenges of parenthood. (The family interactions, one strength among many with the first film, remain a delight in the sequel.) Meanwhile, we get to watch Elastigirl in action, as she encounters, foils and matches wits with the film’s mysterious villain, Screenslaver. As in the first film, watching Helen Parr do the hero thing is also quite the delight—she’s resourceful, tough and, above all, a professional. Watching Elastigirl operate almost makes one feel sorry for the criminals. Delving more into the plot would do the film a disservice—suffice to say both villainous and family challenges are faced, and it takes a village, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Bird) to emerge victorious. Whether you enjoy Incredibles 2 as much as the original will likely depend on your opinion of the latter, but regardless, you’ll be happy both exist. And in today’s sequel-saturated environment, that is practically a superheroic achievement in itself. —Michael Burgin


10. Despicable Me

despicable-me.jpg Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


11. Starship Troopers

starship-troopers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Glistening agitprop after-school special and gross-ass bacchanalia, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers delights in the ultraviolence it doles out in heavy spurts—but then chastises itself for having so much fun with something so wrong. Telling the story of a cadre of extremely attractive upper-middle-class white teens (played by shiny adults Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Nina Meyers, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris) who get their cherries popped and then ground into hamburger inside the abattoir of interstellar war, Verhoeven cruises through the many tones of bellicose filmmaking: hawkish propaganda, gritty action setpieces and thrilling adventure sequences, all of it accompanied by plenty of gut-churning CGI, giant space bugs and human heads alike exploding without shame or recourse or respect for basic physics and human empathy. As much a bloodletting of Verhoeven’s childhood trauma, forged in the fascist mill of World War II Europe, as a critique of Hollywood’s cavalier attitude toward violence and uniformly heroic depictions of the military, the sci-fi spectacle can’t help but arrive at the same place no matter which angle one takes: geeked out on some hardcore cinematic mayhem. —Dom Sinacola


12. Total Recall

total-recall-1990.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Very loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (and aren’t all PKD adaptations “very loose”?), Total Recall functions as a construct for Paul Verhoeven to take a high-concept premise about memory implants and lost identity and motivational uncertainty and turn it into an Arnold Schwarzenegger schlock-fest. It should be bad, but it’s not; it should be, at best, cheesy fun—but it’s even more than that. Unlike many of it’s sci-fi action peers, Total Recall never runs out of steam or ideas; it starts with the memory implant stuff, but on the back end gives us a vividly imagined Mars society with an oppressed mutant population (which is, like, the best special make-up effects portfolio ever) and a secret alien reactor that’s a MacGuffin but also a deus ex machina. The plot’s a mess but so is Arnold. It all works. Total Recall’s $60 million production budget was absolutely huge for its time, but unlike similar Hollywood ventures that put money towards glitz (like the 2012 remake, so slick it slips right out of one’s head), Verhoeven uses the loot to give us more dust, more grit, more decrepit sets, more twisted prosthetics and maximum Arnold. Verhoeven, in fact, uses Arnold as much as he uses anything else in the budget to tell this darkly exuberant story, from the contorted confusion of the set-up right on through to the eye-popping finale. It results in a sci-fi screed written in the form of a hundred Ahh-nuld faces, absurd and unforgettable. For as many times as Dick has been adapted, this is perhaps the one time the go-for-broke energy and imagination of his work has made it into the cinema (Blade Runner is something else entirely). Total Recall may have little in common with the actual content of the story it blows up, but it knows the vibe. And PKD vibes are the best kind. —Chad Betz


13. Snowpiercer

snowpiercer.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman


14. The Endless

the-endless-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Stars: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington
Rating: NR
Runtime: 111 minutes

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Brotherhood’s a trip. Just ask Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the horror filmmaking duo responsible for 2012’s Resolution, the “Bonestorm” segment in 2014’s VHS: Viral, and, in the same year, the tender creature romance Spring. Their latest, The Endless, is all about brotherhood couched in unfathomable terror of Lovecraftian proportions. The movie hinges on the petulant squabbles of boys, circular arguments that go nowhere because they’re caught in a perpetual loop of denial and projection. If the exchanges between its leads can be summed up in two words, those words are “no, you.” Boys will be boys, meaning boys will be obstinate and stubborn to the bitter end. Though, in The Endless, the end is uncertain, but maybe the title makes that a smidge obvious. Brothers Aaron and Justin Smith (played, respectively, by Moorhead and Benson, who gel so well as brothers that you’d swear they’re secretly related) were once members of a UFO death cult before escaping and readjusting to life’s vicissitudes: They clean houses for a living, subsist primarily on ramen, and rely so much on their car that Aaron’s repeated failure to replace the battery weighs on both of them like the heavens on Atlas’ shoulders. Then, out of the blue, they receive a tape in the mail from their former cultists, and at Aaron’s behest they revisit Camp Arcadia, the commune they once called home. Not all is well here: Bizarre bonelike poles litter Arcadia’s outskirts, flocks of birds teleport from one spot to another in the time it takes to blink, Aaron and Justin keep having weird déjà vu moments, and worse: There’s something in the lake, a massive, inky, inexplicable presence just below the surface. (Its image is only seen on camera once, but once is enough to make an impression.) Woven through the film’s eldritch dread are Moorhead and Benson. Their characters are locked in a cosmic struggle with a nameless adversary, but the narrative’s gaze is focused inward: On the Smiths, on brothers, on how far a relationship must stretch before it can be repaired. Intimacy is a staple element of Moorhead and Benson’s filmograpy. Here, the intimacy is fraternal, which perhaps speaks to how Moorhead and Benson feel about each other. They may not be brothers themselves, but you can’t spend your career making movies with the same person over and over again without developing an abiding, unspoken bond with them. —Andy Crump
dings his film prophecies even as it feigns a storybook ending. —Dom Sinacola


15. Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant-man-wasp-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Admittedly, in the past decade superpowers have been as reliable a source of the “action” in action movies as a certain thickly accented, Austria-born bodybuilder named Arnold was in the 1980s. But with all due respect to vibranium shields, high-tech suits of armor and Uru hammers, few things provide the pure “action fuel” of the shrinking/enlarging Pym particles in Ant-Man and the Wasp. “Normal” fight scenes become a yo-yo-ing spectacle of kinetic uncertainty. Trucks become skateboards. Pez dispensers become major plot developments. And it all contributes to the fun and spectacle any good action film demands. Of course, there’s much more going on in the MCU’s second film revolving about Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)—the continued development of the Quantum Realm, some welcome rebalancing of screen time to give Lilly’s Wasp her dues, etc.—but in terms of action that keeps the viewer delighted and excited, Ant-Man and the Wasp provides some of the year’s best. —Michael Burgin


16. April and the Extraordinary World

april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


17. Solo: A Star Wars Story

solo-star-wars.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 135 minutes

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A rollicking mix-em-up of heist flick, war film, western and Indiana Jones-style adventure (in this case: Temple of Doom), Solo handsomely runs our titular hero (portrayed believably enough by Alden Ehrenreich) through one episode of fan service after another, setting up big action set pieces to make sure that everything you know about Han Solo from Episodes 4-6 finds its genesis here. Han gives himself a last name, meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), is gifted the blaster that he’d later use to murder Greedo in cold blood, meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, makes the Kessel Run in less (give or take) than 12 parsecs, first crosses paths with the burgeoning rebellion and ultimately sets out to meet Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine, all within the course of what probably amounts to a couple days. It’s pretty graceless—and borderline nonsensical—if you think about it too hard, as if screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan were bloodlessly ticking off boxes on their contracts, remembering every once in a while to have Han refer to an accomplice as “buddy.” Han calls everyone buddy. Regardless, Solo is a good time at the movies, even if Ron Howard should not have helmed it. He’s never been much of an action director, but his limitations are painful here, every fight and shootout as coherent as a car chase conceived by Olivier Megaton. While Howard thrives in scale, he lacks imagination for what he could do with this lived-in property, and the Kasdans’ script follows suit. Instead of exploring what a western or a heist film could be in the Star Wars universe, he rips two identical shots directly from Sergio Leone and transforms what could have been an iconic scene—Han winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a card game—into an exercise in not trusting your audience to be remotely intelligent. Which may be Solo’s saving grace: It’s a pretty great blockbuster if you don’t think about it much. —Dom Sinacola


18. Blame!

blame.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Stars: Sora Amamiya, Kana Hanazawa, Takahiro Sakurai
Rating: TV-14
Runtime: 105 minutes

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When it comes to dark industrial sci-fi, Tsutomu Nihei is a visionary. Trained as an architect before pursuing a career as a manga author, Nihei’s art is simultaneously sparse and labyrinthine, his body of work defined by a unifying obsession with invented spaces. Byzantine factories with gothic accents spanning across impossible chasms, populated by bow-legged synthoids and ghoulish predators touting serrated bone-swords and pulsating gristle-guns. His first and most famous series, Blame!, is considered the key text in Nihei’s aesthetic legacy, going so far as to inspire everything from videogames, to music, and even art and fashion. Past attempts have been made to adapt the series into an anime, though none have been able to materialize successfully. That is, until now. With the support of Netflix, Hiroyuki Seshita of Polygon Pictures has delivered that long-awaited Blame! film. Set on a far-future Earth consumed by a massive, self-replicating superstructure known as ‘The City’, Blame! follows Killy, a taciturn loner, wandering the layers of the planet in search of a human possessing the ‘net terminal gene,’ an elusive trait thought to be the only means of halting the city’s perpetual hostile expansion. Boasting a screenplay penned by Sadayuki Murai, famed for his writing on such series as Cowboy Bebop and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, and supervised by Nihei himself, Seshita’s film abbreviates much of the manga’s early chapters and streamlines the story into an altogether more narrative and action-driven affair. Art director Hiroshi Takiguchi deftly replicates Nihei’s distinctive aesthetic, achieving in color what was before only monochromatic, while Yuki Moriyama capably improves on the uniform character designs of the original, imparting its casts with distinct, easily identifiable traits and silhouettes that greatly improve the story’s parsability. Blame! is as faithful an adaptation as is possible and as fitting an introduction to the series as the manga itself. Blame! builds a strong case for being not only one of the most conceptually entertaining anime films of late, but also for being one of, if not the best original anime film to grace Netflix in a long time. —Toussaint Egan


19. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus

invader-zim-florpus.jpg Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Stars: Richard Steven Horvitz, Rosearik Rikki Simons, Andy Berman
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 71 minutes

Watch on Netflix

At a time when original Nickelodeon cartoons included Rocket Power and The Fairly Oddparents, Invader Zim was the network’s attempt to attract the slightly older Cartoon Network crowd. They wanted something edgy and a little bizarre. They got it tenfold with Jhonen Vasquez, a comic-book writer and cartoonist whose previous projects included the hyper-violent comic series Johnny: The Homicidal Maniac, Squee and I Feel Sick. His concept for Nickelodeon was simple: Invader Zim was the story of naive but psychotic Zim, the smallest member of an alien species in which social hierarchy is determined by height, who is assigned to conquer an insignificant planet on the outskirts of the universe: Earth. Although dispatched simply to collect undercover surveillance and stay out of the way, Zim—along with his malfunctioning erratic robot drone, GIR—decides to conquer our planet himself. However, all his attempts to take over are either thwarted by his own inexperience or by Dib, a young paranormal investigator who realizes Zim is an alien. Now, a new Netflix movie brings back Zim and his maniacal laugh, along with the show’s original creator and voice cast. Set in a near future after Dib has grown feeble and disgusting after months of doing nothing but watching his surveillance monitors for a sign of Zim, whose been hiding in a toilet with his useless pizza-loving robot sidekick GIR—Phase One of his evil plan. If only he could remember Phase Two. With Zib demoralized, Dib’s goal shifts from saving the world to finally getting credit for doing so—particularly from his father. But teaming up with Zim proves to be a very bad idea. The new film captures the gloriously dark absurdity of the original with moments like GIR inspiring the children of the world with his song about peace…and chicken and rice…and alternate-realities colliding that include a variety of illustration styles and even claymation. —James Charisma and Josh Jackson


20. I Am Mother

i-am-mother-poster.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Grant Sputore
Stars: Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Almost all of I Am Mother takes place inside a secure, post-apocalypse facility where a robot named Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) raises a human child simply named Daughter (Clara Rugaard). Mother has provided an idyllic upbringing for the girl, who represents the hope for humanity with thousands more embryos ready to become her little brothers and sisters. She learns everything from engineering to medicine to ethics (that latter subject key to the questions the film will eventually raise).Grant Sputore’s Australian/American production is constructed around plot twists as much as characters, and although some of them are exactly what any sci-fi fan was probably expecting, there’s enough original thought to keep the tension level high. Everything Daughter knows is thrown into question by the arrival of a nameless woman (Hilary Swank) whose description of the outside world doesn’t match Mother’s. (There’s definitely a little 10 Cloverfield Lane going on here.) Daughter must balance her loyalty to Mother, to her future siblings and to her species, all while trying to uncover the truth. —Josh Jackson

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