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Best Sci-Fi Movies On Netflix, According To Critics

Whatever your preferred genre happens to be, king of all streamers Netflix has got you covered. From comedy to horror to documentaries and everything in between, you can find it on the service's ridiculously deep catalog. At times, those of us who subscribed to Netflix in the nineties — when it was a cutting-edge DVD delivery service — have to step back in awe of the one-size-fits-all content delivery outlet it has become; the phrase "something for everyone" has been thrown around since the dawn of television, but it may as well have been invented specifically for Netflix.

If you've got a hankering for some sci-fi, and you're not in the mood for "so bad it's good" cheese, you're in the right place. We combed through Netflix's offerings to find the most critically acclaimed sci-fi flicks available, and unsurprisingly, it's a pretty diverse bunch. We've got a grimy, low-budget survival tale, a Netflix original that's a meditative, futuristic mystery; a spooky tale of the past catching up with a pair of brothers, a fantastic, genre-transcending film from a master of the craft, and a sterling debut from the protégé of a filmmaking great. So, pop a big tub of popcorn, and get ready to take a mind-blowing trip with one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix, according to critics.

Prospect is a lo-fi survival story featuring a (sort of) familiar face

Prospect is the feature debut from directors Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell; if it flew under your radar when it was released in late 2018, you're not alone. The flick burned up the program at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, but received only a limited theatrical release. It's the story of a young girl named Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass), who are gem prospectors on a dangerous mission to a forested moon with an atmosphere laden with poisonous spores. When they encounter a pair of rival prospectors led by the sinister Ezra (Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian fame), their mission quickly turns to one of survival.

Critics praised Prospect for its faith in its story — which is told without an over-reliance on special effects — and for creating a sci-fi world which feels lived-in and believable. "Maybe Prospect, which is full of rusted out control panels and has a space ship interior that looks like the inside of a Winnebago, takes place in 1996, but just in another dimension," wrote Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com"It's a stunning example of world building through toying with the stuff that has more texture than CGI: production design, costuming, and even language." Plenty of praise was reserved for Pascal's performance: "If you watched The Mandalorian and thought, 'this Pedro Pascal guy sure does a good job playing a reticent mercenary, but I wonder what he'd be like as a chatty mercenary instead? And also wore a helmet where I could actually see his face?' then you'd have as good of a time as I did watching this low-budget sci-fi flick," wrote Clayton Ashley of Polygon. Virtually all critics agreed that Prospect, which sits at 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is one of the better low-budget sci-fi flicks of recent years — and one that will keep you riveted from the first frame to the last.

I Am Mother is a tense mystery with a lot on its mind

Netflix original film I Am Mother blew up the streaming service when it debuted in 2019, and with good reason — it's a cerebral, claustrophobic tale with a trio of excellent performances at its center. Rose Byrne voices Mother, a robot who presides over a bunker that contains a multitude of embryos, which are meant to carry on the human race after an unspecified disaster has apparently wiped out life on Earth. After a brief prologue, we flash forward to see that Mother is now accompanied by a teenage girl referred to only as Daughter, portrayed by Clara Rugaard. Daughter's yearning to visit the outside world — an urge which Mother continually discourages — is exacerbated by the arrival of an outsider known as Woman, played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. Her very presence indicates that Mother might not exactly be telling the truth about the nature of their situation — and when she asserts that she's not the only survivor in the area, she sets in motion a chain of events that will open Daughter's eyes to a terrifying truth.

I Am Mother — which enjoys a 91 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — was lauded by critics for the astute direction of first-time feature helmer Grant Sputore, for its careful handling of its unique premise, and for the performances of all of its principal players. Noel Murray of the Los Angeles Times called it "One of the smarter, most assured science fiction films of recent years," one that "engages and challenges the audience throughout, raising questions about the relationship between humanity and the technology we rely on." Rolling Stone's David Fear called the relatively unknown Rugaard "a major discovery," and the film itself part of a "long, absolutely delightful history of demented robots and dangerously self-aware AI." It's a fantastic flick — one that's perhaps even better upon second viewing, with all of its many twists revealed.

The Endless is full of surprises

The Endless comes from the directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who had previously helmed a handful of smaller features, as well as one of the more interesting segments ("Bonestorm") of the horror anthology V/H/S: Viral. The pair also star in the film, and they have an excellent chemistry as two brothers — also named Justin and Aaron — who receive a mysterious videotape from a mysterious commune which they belonged to as children. Aaron, at least, remembers it as a commune; Justin regards it as more of a UFO death cult, but he still allows Aaron to persuade him to return for a day. 

Things get weird in ways which we won't spoil here, but suffice to say that The Endless — which sits at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes— is full of surprises and grounded by the naturalistic performances of its two leads. Wendy Ide of The Guardian called it "A Möbius strip of a movie," with "atmosphere and unnerving vignettes [that] get under the skin." Steven Prokopy of Third Coast Review heaped praise on the film, writing, "The entire affair had an undercurrent of slow-building tension that culminates quite spectacularly. There are few things more satisfying to long-time genre fans as films that embrace the tropes but also make the audience think, contemplate, interpret, and discuss the possibilities. The Endless checks all of those boxes and may even invent a few new ones. It's that good."

While some critics found the brain-twisting narrative to be simply confounding, most agreed that it's best to simply let the movie wash over you. "It's a thoughtful, intellectually ambitious film with a strong human element," wrote Jennie Kermode of Eye for Film, "but be warned: the closer you let yourself get to it, the more you understand, the more the deep currents of fear beneath its surface will take possession of you, dragging you down."

Snowpiercer is a great adaptation from a master filmmaker

Snowpiercer, based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by French comic artist Jacques Lob, is a brilliant work of science fiction, but it's also many, many other things. It's a joint South Korean-Czech production which was a relative flop, grossing only about $86 million worldwide against its $40 million budget, according to The Numbers. However, it's also a film that rightfully topped many critics year-end "Best Of" lists — because it's a brilliant examination of the shortcomings of modern society told through an icy post-apocalyptic lens. It happens to feature a burgeoning superstar: Chris Evans, who was just getting started with his legendary eight-year run as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, it's the first English-language picture by Bong Joon-ho, one of the greatest filmmakers alive.

The film takes place in a world in which a failed attempt to curb climate change has resulted in a massive extinction event, and the last remaining human beings live aboard an endlessly circling train — the titular Snowpiercer, which features luxurious cars near the front for the rich, and cold, dirty, heavily policed cars near the back for the poor. When the poor passengers stage a revolt, a furious fight between the factions ensues — and the closer Evans' resistance leader Curtis Everett gets to the front of the train, the more apparent it becomes that important details about the world are being withheld from the have-nots.

Snowpiercer may not have burned up the box office, but it won near-universal acclaim and boasts an impressive 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Jim Slotek of the Toronto Sun spoke for the vast majority of critics when he called it "a wicked, violent parable, and one of the only movies of the summer worth talking about after the credits roll." Joon-ho would go on to make history with 2019's Parasite, the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture — and for all its genre trappings, Snowpiercer is an intelligent, thoughtful film, and a worthy entry into his storied filmography.

See You Yesterday

A Netflix original, the Spike Lee-produced See You Yesterday is criminally underseen. The best-reviewed film on this list (a stunning 95 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes), the flick features Eden Duncan-Smith of Roxanne, Roxanne as C.J. Walker, a young Black science prodigy who has cracked the code of time travel. She attempts to use this tech for the most compelling of purposes: to save her brother Calvin (Brian Bradley) — who was killed by a police officer — from his fate.

The film is the feature debut of Stefon Bristol, who worked as an assistant to Lee on the Academy Award-winning BlacKkKlansman (via Deadline), and whose work on See You Yesterday earned a ton of praise from critics. Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com called it "an ambitious, striking debut that takes unexpected creative risks and heralds the arrival of an exciting new filmmaker, one who was clearly inspired by [Lee] but also has his own voice." Candice Frederick of the New York Times praised the flick's "necessary message," writing that "even in a world in which time travel is possible, the stakes are graver for black characters than for their white peers [...] See You Yesterday is a story about grief and the inevitable question so many mourners have asked themselves: Could I have done anything to forestall my loved one's death?" The game performance of the cast keep the proceedings from becoming too somber, however; advised Lena Wilson of The Playlist, "Kick back on a night when you're looking for both gravity and glee."