Best sci-fi movies: fantastic films to stream or buy in 2017

You only have to have a quick glance a box-office receipts over the last few years to see which movie category rules when it comes to movies. You've guessed it, it's sci-fi.

Whether it's superhero fare served up by Marvel or DC, Star Trek-style space hopping or something a bit more cerebral, such as the fantastic Planet Of The Apes franchise reboot, there's never been a better time to be a sci-fi fan. 

But what's the best sci-fi movie streaming right now? Well, that's where TechRadar comes in - here's our list of the best sci-fi movies you can stream right now on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. 

Don't worry if you haven't signed up for both services as we also offer up the cheapest places to buy these movies on Blu-ray.

Given how fast movies appear and disappear on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we will keep this feature updated so if you don't see anything you like right now, keep checking back to see if your favourites are ready to stream.

Best sci-fi movies on Netflix

Ant-Man

Heroes don't get any bigger

Date: 2015 | Director: Peyton Reed | Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 117 min

Fantastic performance by Paul Rudd
Funniest Marvel movie to date
It feels disjointed
It's fun but forgettable

When Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-Man due to creative differences with Marvel, pretty much everyone thought the movie would be terrible without him. But Peyton Reed came on board, steadied the boat and made a sci-fi film that's a lot of fun. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, a jobbing petty thief who's released from prison with the promise that he'll go straight. One last job, though, brings him into the world of superheroes, thanks to an incredible shrinking suit. As with most Marvel movies, Ant-Man is a genre flick - it's a heist movie with superhero stripes and that's fine by us.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Beyond the darkness, lies greatness

Date: 2013 | Director: JJ Abrams | Stars: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch | Certificate: 12 | Runtime: 132 min

The most action-packed Star Trek yet
Chris Pine superb as Kirk
The plot twist doesn't work
True Star Trek fans won't be happy

Star Trek Into Darkness isn't up there with the first reboot of the movie franchise, but it is a solid film in its own right, albeit one that's somewhat marred by a big reveal that really wasn't that big a reveal. If you can forgive some plot holes - and many Trekkies can't - Star Trek Into Darkness is a bombastic sci-fi yarn with the cast, including a superb Chris Pine as Kirk, in fine form. Oh, and it's better than the pedestrian Star Trek Beyond, too, but given the problems that movie had in production that's not that much of a surprise. 

World War Z

Remember Philly!

Date: 2013 | Director: Marc Forster | Stars: Brad Pitt, Peter Capaldi, Mireille Enos | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 116 min

Some great set pieces
The re-jigged ending works
A blood-free zombie movie
Suffers from too many changes

It wasn't looking good for World War Z. Its script was given a hefty rewrite, the ending was completely reshot to make it a little more coherent and the film, essentially about zombies eating people, had to adhere to a child-safe PG-13. The result is a movie that's a bit of a mess but is still watchable thanks to the star power of Brad Pitt and some sound scripting decisions by Lost scribe Damon Lindelof. Based on the book by Max Brooks, World War Z throws out the interview format of the novel but keeps the globalisation of the story - which means it really feels like the entire world has been overrun by zombies. 

Night Watch

All That Stands Between Light And Darkness Is The Night Watch

Date: 2005 | Director: Timur Bekmambetov | Stars: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Vladimir Menshov, Mariya Poroshina | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 104 mins

Fantastic-looking effects
Super surreal feel
Plot is too confusing
Bit too dark for its own good

Timur Bekmambetov has made an uneasy transition from Russia to making movies for Hollywood. His American-funded films range from being pretty good (Wanted) to downright embarrassing (Spartacus). His Russian movies, though, are a revelation. Night Watch was the first (and best) part in a proposed trilogy about two warring faction that control Russia and make sure that evil doesn’t take over - the night and the day watch. A prophecy, however, means there’s a good chance this fragile balance will be broken. At the time, this was the most expensive Russian movie ever made and it shows - the visuals are as fantastic as the plot is incoherent. But that doesn’t matter, though, there’s such an injection of cool in this movie - and a thousand ideas that are ripe for Hollywood plundering - that it's best if you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

X2: X-Men United

The time has come for those who are different to stand united

Date: 2003 | Director: Bryan Singer | Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 134 min

One of the best comic-book sequels
Jackman in his Wolverine prime
Looks a bit dated now
Some actors are miscast

Bryan Singer’s original X-Men was a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre when it was released back in 2000. He managed to show the world that you can have a film about mutants that is also, well, intelligent. He improved on the formula with X2: X-Men United, switching the story so that it was about Wolverine - easily the most interesting of the X-Men. The introduction of William Strider (a menacing Brian Cox), the person who literally made Wolverine what he is, was a fantastic move - as was the notion that even though Magneto and Professor X are rivals in battle, their ideologies and goals are actually quite similar. Fantastic stuff.

Looper

Face your future. Fight your past

Date: 2012 | Director: Rian Johnson | Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 113 min

Fantastic spin on time travel trope
Demands an instant rewatch
Turns into generic action movie
Plot gets a little too convoluted

Rian Johnson’s timey wimey time travel tale was one of the big reasons he got the Star Wars: Episode VIII gig. His ability to dilute highly complicated ideas into a fun tale about a near future where time travel has become illegal, but used by the mob to get rid of people on the black market, is mesmerising. Bruce Willis is a looper who is sent back in time to be killed. Waiting for him on the other side is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe. To say anything more would be veering into spoiler territory but be sure that this is a film that deserves repeated viewing.

Tomorrowland

Imagine a place where anything is possible

Date: 2015 | Director: Brad Bird | Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 130 min

Fantastic to look at
Sci-fi that's actually positive
Doesn't hit the heights it should
A bit too child-like for its own good

Pirates of the Caribbean is the most famous Disney ride turned into a movie, but our money is on Tomorrowland for being the most fun. Unfairly shunned on its initial release, this is an old-school movie that comes with a massive dollop of awe. This is thanks to director Brad Bird, who manages to instil the same heart he put into animated masterpiece The Iron Giant in this tale about a former child genius and gifted child who straddle space and time to enter another dimension - a mystical place called Tomorrowland. George Clooney offers up the star power, but the true star is this movie’s stunning visuals.

Under The Skin

Date: 2013 | Director: Jonathan Glazer | Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 108 min

Unlike anything you've seen before
Fantastic central performance
A bit to ethereal for its own good
Dream-like feel won't be for all

Scarlett Johansson is superb as the ethereal nameless star of Under The Skin, the latest movie by ex music video director Jonathan Glazer. Set in the highlands of Scotland, the movie follows Johansson as she tries to make sense out of life, picking up men in her van and having her way with them. Glazer has a wonderful dreamlike eye for detail, while Mica Levi’s score is sparse and scratchy, keeping you perfectly on edge throughout. As you can probably figure out, we are trying no to give too much of the plot away but once you watch, it will become clear just why Under The Skin is on our best sci-fi movies list.

District 9

You are not welcome here

Date: 2009 | Director: Neill Blomkamp | Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 112 min

Superb debut movie
Fantastic special effects
Definitely a movie of two halves
Filled with plotholes

Yes, it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for the apartheid horrors South Africa faced in the ‘80s but what perfect way to showcase feeling alien in your own land by filling your movie with aliens? District 9 was the debut of visual effects artist Neill Blomkamp and it’s a riveting docudrama-styled ride through the slums of South Africa and beyond. With (naturally) superb visual effects and a brilliant central performance by Sharlto Copley as the shady government agent that’s after the alien’s advanced technology, District 9 is one of the most original sci-fi flicks to come out this decade. 

Explorers

You don't need a driver's license to reach the stars

Date: 1985 | Director: Joe Dante | Stars: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Bradley Gregg | Certificate: U | Runtime: 109 min

Superb, underrated '80s adventure
Hawke and Phoenix are great
Loses it near the end
It's not aged that well

This is a sci-fi lover’s dream. Made in the ‘80s - and definitely part inspiration for the superb Stranger Things TV show - Explorers sees a you Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix as kids obsessed with sci-fi. So much that they decide, after a dream shows them how, to make a spacecraft. To everyone’s surprise it actually works. And from this point on the movie only gets stranger and more beguiling to watch, thanks to director Joe Dante and some still-decent visual effects work from George Lucas’ ILM.

Best sci-fi movies on Amazon Prime Video

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Live, Die, Repeat

Date: 2014 | Director: Doug Liman | Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 113 min

Tom Cruise is great at dying
Emily Blunt is great at kicking ass
Gets a little repetitive
Bottles it in the end

Tom Cruise stars in this fantastic ode to sci-fi movies of the past. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat as it has become known) is based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill  about a soldier in the near future who is caught in a time loop, meaning that every time he dies in a certain battle he is forced to live that day again and again. It’s Groundhog Day for those who prefer guns and aliens to Bill Murray’s laconic chops. Emily Blunt co-stars as a badass soldier who may well hold the key for Cruise’s character to get out of the time loop he’s in - but not before he dies. A lot.

Arrival

Why are they here?

Date: 2016 | Director: Denis Villeneuve | Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 116 min

Great soundtrack
Intelligent sci-fi
Slow burner
Bit too cerebral for some

Directed by Denis Villeneuve - who will next tackle the sequel to Blade Runner, no pressure - Arrival is as cerebral as sci-fi gets. Based on the Ted Chiang novella 'Stories of your Life' the movie takes on heady themes such as love, loss and communication - all through the prism of finding alien life. 

Amy Adams is brilliant as the linguistics professor tasked with trying to communicate with extra terrestrial life that's headed to Earth, while Jóhann Jóhannssons soundtrack helps crank up the tension in what is already a very tense movie.

Arrival is a must watch and a big win for Amazon Prime, given the film has yet been on any major cable or satellite channel. 

Cloud Atlas

Everything Is connected

Date: 2012 | Director: Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis | Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 172 min

Visually spectacular
Highly original
Too convoluted
The genre jumping might be too much

No matter what your feelings are about Cloud Atlas, there's no denying that it is one of the most visually spectacular films of recent years. Based on the David Mitchell book, that spans centuries, myriad characters and multiple plot strands,  the movie tries to make sense of the book's scope by using some famous actors and actresses in a variety of roles. 

It nearly works, but you have to be prepared for a jumble of genres - sci-fi, romance, action - and actors occasionally  'overreaching'. It's all good fun, though, and great to see a movie with so much scope.

A Clockwork Orange

Are you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence?

Date: 1971 | Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates | Certificate: 18 | Runtime: 136 min

A stone-cold controversial classic
Kubrick at his absolute best
The film's notoriety is overblown
It's a tough watch

No one does 'near future' quite like Stanley Kubrick. While A Clockwork Orange isn't as sci-fi tinged as, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's still a future-shock parable about a bunch of teenagers who get their kicks out of causing a little ultraviolence. Banned on its initial release - by the director no less, who took it from circulation after a copycat killing - the movie is a wonder to watch, full of 70s-style retro-future furnishings, clinical settings and Drooged-up shenanigans. This is sci-fi at its most sadistic.

Interstellar

Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here

Date: 2014 | Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 169 min

Beautiful to look at
A soaring soundtrack
The plot unravels near the end
Too much copying of Kubrick

Chris Nolan aims for the stars with Interstellar and the film suffers as a result. It’s too clever for its own good, with an ending that is pure Kubrick in its obscurity. Despite its flaws, though, Interstellar is still a wonderful, bold movie. It’s set in a time when food has become scarce on Earth so a mission is planned to go ‘interstellar’ and seek out a planet with Earth-like properties seen through a wormhole. Nolan shot a lot of the film with an IMAX camera so visually it’s superb, it’s just a shame the script doesn’t quite match. It’s still worth viewing, though, as a flawed Nolan movie is far better than most movies released.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind

Our memories makes us who we are. You can't change the past

Date: 2004 | Director: Michel Gondry | Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 108 mi

A mind-bending masterpiece
Visually inventive
Script sometimes gets lost
Flits between comedy and drama

Michel Gondry’s mind-melding look at memories is light sci-fi but sci-fi nonetheless. Its plot has something of a reverse Total Recall vibe to it, Clementine (Kate Winslet) suffers a bad breakup from Joel (Jim Carrey), to make sure that she suffers no more she undergoes a procedure that will rid her of her memories of them both together. Not to be outdone, Joel goes for the same procedure with sometimes heartbreaking consequences. This is a beautiful, strange movie and still Gondry’s best. He takes a lot of his creative learnings from the music videos he created before Eternal Sunshine and puts these shots to good use in the movies. It may well be the best performance from Carrey, too.

Source Code

Make every second count

Date: 2011 | Director: Duncan Jones | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 93 min

Tight, cerebral storytelling
Keeps you guessing until the end
Story is easy to unpick
The CGI could be better

Duncan Jones second sci-fi spectacle, after the superb Moon, sees Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter. He's a soldier trapped in the body of someone else, who has to relive a train ride over and over until he can figure out who the bomber on the train is. While the plot device is reminiscent of Edge of Tomorrow, it actually has more in common with ‘90s TV show Quantum Leap, with Jones even nodding to this with the casting of Scott Bakula as the voice of Colter’s father. And at only 90 minutes, the film gives you no time at all to breathe, or space to try and figure out just what is going on. This is no bad thing as it also leaves you wanting more.

Mars Attacks

Yikes! They've Landed!

Date: 1996 | Director: Tim Burton | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker | Certificate: 12 | Runtime: 106 min

Brilliant '50s alien movies send-up
Superb ensemble cast
CGI looks dated
Bit too silly for its own good

Given Mars Attacks is a pastiche of ’50s sci-fi movies and comic books of old, it’s fitting that now Tim Burton’s film looks as dated as what it was mocking, thanks to the overuse of early CG. But that doesn’t detract too much from the film, which is a brilliant burst of bubblegum sci-fi. The plot is wafer thin: aliens come to earth and want to blow everything up with a massive laser. But with a cast list that’s AAA (Jack Nicholson plays the president, Glenn Close the first lady and even Tom Jones makes an appearance) jokes swathed in satire and some brilliant Ed Wood style effects, the film still holds up today as a manic triumph. 

Godzilla

The king will rise

Date: 2014 | Director: Gareth Edwards | Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 123 min

Brilliant epic feel to the movie
An adult, focused retelling
Not enough Godzilla!
Bit too slow going

Gareth Edwards had only one film under his belt (the low-budget Monsters) before he was handed this monster of a movie. Despite his slim CV he made decent work of the Godzilla legend, even if the giant lizard is a little camera shy at times. Edwards sets his Godzilla tale both in San Francisco and Japan where Godzilla and other monsters are summoned after unusual tremors cause a nuclear power plant meltdown. When we do get to glimpse Godzilla, the giant lizard looks magnificent but these shots are few and far between. Edwards decides to evoke suspense through Spielberg reaction shots and clever camera positioning which makes this movie a slow burner, rather than the all-out action fest it could have been.  

Contact

A journey to the heart of the universe

Date: 1997 | Director: Robert Zemeckis | Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt | Certificate: PG | Runtime: 150 min

Amazing performance from Foster
A thoughtful take on the space genre
Special effects haven't aged well
A little too much 'message'

Robert Zemeckis’ Contact is one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking blockbusters of the last 20 years (it was released in 1997). Based on the book by renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan, the movie depicts a lifelong hunt for life on other planets by Elli (Jodie Foster) and is a stunning study or belief and determination. Zemeckis always surprises with his movies choices - this is a director with both the Back To The Future trilogy and Flight on his CV - but he’s perfect for Contact, using at-the-time cutting-edge special effects and subtle-but-brilliant audio cues to highlight the possibility of alien life. It’s testament to how good the movie is that only recently have we started to see intelligent sci-fi films back in the cinema (the Planet of The Apes series, Interstellar and Arrival to name a few) but none of them match Contact when it comes to boiling down high-concept ideas, making them fit for a mainstream audience.

Attack The Block

Inner city vs outer space

Date: 2011 | Director: Joe Cornish | Stars: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail | Certificate: 15 | Runtime: 88 min

Brilliant, original concept
Great ensemble cast
Tries too hard to be a cult classic
Not funny or scary enough

Pop quiz: which low-budget British movie stars a Star Wars hero, an upcoming Doctor Who and is directed by the original writer of Ant Man? That’s the provenance Attack The Block now has, thanks to its stars John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker taking on two of the most iconic franchises and director Joe Cornish now firmly camped in the Hollywood Hills. Before this infamy, though, Attack The Block still stood out as a fantastic slice of sci-fi that’s been given a very distinctive British flavour. Based on the idea that aliens have come to earth and decamp in a South London estate, the film marries two disparate ideas to great effect, creating one of the most original movies around. 

Inception

The dream is real

Date: 2010 | Director: Christopher Nolan | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page | Certificate: 12A | Runtime: 148 min

Highly original blockbuster
Amazing visuals
Lots of ideas but not all of them hit
Dialogue a bit too pedestrian

Christopher Nolan challenges the perception of dreams and reality in this high-octane, high-concept thriller based on a group of thieves who steal through ‘inception’ - putting their victims in a dreamlike state, tapping into their conscience and uncovering a bevy of secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio is the head of the group, who is burdened by his past demons but his latest hit offers him a way out and puts the crew on the ultimate assignment. Nolan paints a puzzling picture with Inception, asking questions but never really offering up answers which will be frustrating some. But stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most original and entertaining movies in years.