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Sci-Fi Movies That Flew Under The Radar In 2021

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

As surreal as the real world might already be sometimes, the creative imagination of sci-fi filmmakers proves that sometimes truth simply isn't stranger than fiction. Throughout 2021, there were a ton of new films that dared to expand the already-infinite possibilities of the movie universe in new and exciting ways. "Army of the Dead" took audiences into a universe where an Area 51 experiment-gone-wrong was raining hell on the City of Sin, "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" added some humor and heart to the robot apocalypse, and "Thunder Force" brought brain and brawn together to formulate an all-new type of superhero, just to name a few favorites from this year. 

Of course, there were quite a few gems that you might've missed. To help you catch up on the genre goodness that Netflix had to offer in 2021, here's a look at some of the sci-fi movies that might've slipped under your radar but are definitely worth your time.

Outside the Wire

There are top secret missions, and then there are top secret missions. In "Outside the Wire," we meet a determined drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris), who's reassigned from his remote computer station into a fully hot war zone after disobeying a direct order from his commander. Not only does this punishment detail give him a chance to finally see what his work looks like from the ground for the first time in his career, but he will also be engaging in some dangerous field work alongside his new boss, Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie).

But Leo is no ordinary soldier. Harp soon learns that Leo is actually an autonomous android that's been created to carry out some of the most elite operations of all, and Harp will be joining him on the dangerous road to collect intel from the Ukrainian rebels who are trying to keep their Russian foes at bay at the border. It's not just the constant conflict and gunfire that proves to be problematic for these strange allies though. There are also larger threats of annihilation and questions of the morality of endless warfare unfolding as they engage in their perilous journey, making this sci-fi original even more exciting and meaningful.


If you like films that nimbly combine intense action with some deeply compelling questions of right and wrong, "Stowaway" is a new sci-fi gem that'll get under your skin in the best way. The film centers on a small team of three uniquely talented astronauts who embark on a two-year mission to help colonize Mars, and their takeoff is a complete success — until they realize they're not alone on the ship.

The trio of scientists soon discover that an injured support engineer has been trapped in the vessel with them, and worse, he's accidentally impaired the emergency support systems that are meant to protect the whole crew from excess carbon dioxide in the air. So with limited resources and dwindling oxygen, the crew realizes that there are no viable options for all four people to survive the completion of their journey, and they're forced to make some difficult decisions that have life-or-death consequences.


A film that will take your breath away — or at least leave you grateful for an easy gasp — is "Oxygen." The French-language thriller from director Alexandre Aja centers on a woman (Mélanie Laurent) who wakes up in a sealed cryogenic tank with no memory of who she is or how she got there. If that weren't terrifying enough, the unit's artificial intelligence aide, called M.I.L.O. (short for Medical Interface Liaison Officer), informs her that her oxygen is running dangerously low, which means she has a very limited amount of time to figure out what's happening and how she can survive.

If this woman, who's only identified by the system as Omicron 267, is to have any hope of survival, she'll have to think outside of the box — quite literally speaking. And even then, there are some disturbing secrets to be discovered. Quite simply, "Oxygen" is a tight and tense thrill ride that might give you a bit of secondhand claustrophobia before it's all said and done.

Space Sweepers

A very different kind of perilous journey through space can be found in the highly energetic and entertaining "Space Sweepers." The Korean pic takes place in 2092, when Earth has become virtually uninhabitable, so the world's wealthy and elite have taken up residence in a picture-perfect orbital habitat that's been built by the UTS Corporation, while the other 95% of the population live in the squalor and pollution of a planet that others have literally abandoned for greener pastures.

Some of those left-behind people, like the eclectic crewmates of the space ship Victory, manage to eke out a living in the sky by hunting down debris that's floating in orbit to sell back to the UTS Corporation's factory. They get much more than they bargain for, however, when they discover a child hidden in the back of a junked ship and learn that the kid is a highly sought-after AI weapon — at least, if you believe what UTS and the news have to say about her. 

At first, their discovery seems like the chance of a lifetime to recover the money they desperately need to dig themselves out of debt. However, after spending some time with this gifted little girl, they start to question whether they want to hand her over to the UTS Corporation at all ... and whether they're willing to face the consequences if they don't.


Another film that features a very special young lady who's suddenly in very high demand from the troublesome powers that be is "Awake." The movie begins in a familiar version of our world, with a troubled young mother named Jill (Gina Rodriguez) working hard — but still bending a few rules — to overcome some hard times and win back custody of her two children, Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt). However, everything changes in an instant when all of the electricity in the world stops working, and suddenly, no one can sleep.

No one, that is, except Matilda, who narrowly survives as the family's car crashes into a waterway amid the outage. While everyone else is grappling with the fact that they can't get the rest they desperately need for sanity and survival, Matilda's ability to snooze like normal makes her an automatic target for an increasingly desperate and deranged society. As Jill and Noah try to find a safe haven for her, they're also succumbing to the perils of always being awake.


Similar to "Awake," the perils of endless insomnia are also at the center of the Thai mystery-thriller "Deep." The film follows a group of insomnia-stricken students who decide to make a profit from their affliction by participating in a paid German pharmaceutical study. In the "Deep experiment," scientists are attempting to harvest a wakefulness-inducing chemical called Qratonin (the direct opposite of serotonin) from the students' brains with an implanted chip. All our characters have to do is stay awake for extended periods of time, and they will be rewarded.

At first, this seems like a pretty easy cash grab for these debt-riddled youths, but as they continue to engage in each of the three layers of the experiments, they find that there are some dangerous consequences to what they're doing. Worse still for our exhausted heroes, the officials overseeing the experiment might not exactly be on the up and up.

A World Without

Last but not least, prepare for a post-pandemic world like you've never seen before in the Indonesian thriller "A World Without." The film takes place in 2030, after a cataclysmic disease and environmental blight have decimated ordinary society. At the center of the story are three young girls who decide to seek happiness by joining a social media-savvy community called The Light, with the explicit promise of a happily ever after in utopia when they do.

Led by a charismatic leader and his wife, The Light claims to use methodically structured factors and formulas to match young men and women with their ideal partners to create healthy marriages and children. As the trio of lifelong friends at the center of story become immersed in this society, however, they begin discovering some disturbing truths about the group, and suddenly, their future in the place doesn't seem so bright.