Sure, movies with dragons and orcs are cool, but if you’re really looking to bend your mind and escape reality (or visit alternate realities perhaps a little too close to our own), science fiction is the only way to warp. Sci-fi films have come a long way since 1902’s black-and-white short A Trip to the Moon, and while space exploration and alien encounters still feature heavily in the genre, the universe of science fiction has expanded to virtually limitless proportions, from time travel and parallel dimensions to artificial intelligence, dystopian futures, horror, comedy, and beyond.
Almost as limitless, however, is the amount of choice sci-fi fans have when it comes to streaming on Amazon Prime, so we’ve scoured an Outer Rim’s worth of movies so you don’t have to. Here, then, are the best science fiction movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
A Quiet Place (2018)
One key mark of a truly frightening horror-suspense film is how many times it actually “gets” you. Like really catches you with your guard down for a genuine scare. As one might expect from a film called A Quiet Place (which won the Oscar for Sound Editing, ironically), its breath-sucking silence and tiptoe pacing is such a delightful trap for viewers looking to have the bejeezus scared out of them. Loved by critics and a hit at the box office, A Quiet Place is set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overtaken by monstrous aliens who hunt humans using super-sensitive hearing. Director/writer John Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt (in a SAG-award winning performance) play Lee and Evelyn Abbott, who reside in a country farmhouse with their children, giving new meaning to the term “living the quiet life.” After tragically losing their youngest son to an alien attack, the film flashes forward a year or so where we find the Abbotts still struggling to move on. That and a very pregnant Evelyn is just days away from giving birth, which only adds to the complications as things start to get noisy on the farm.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski
Director: John Krasinski
Runtime: 90 minutes
Writer-director Alex Garland is a master of creating the kind of mounting horror-suspense that leaves you squirming in your seat. His 1996 novel-turned-film, The Beach, has permanently scarred backpackers for life, and his 2014 directorial debut, Ex Machina, had us terrified of A.I. robots long before Boston Dynamics. In Annihilation, based on the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name, Garland again leads viewers on an escalating journey, this time through a massive alien membrane called the Shimmer that continues to expand over a large area of swampland in Florida, while swallowing up everyone who has entered. Well, almost everyone. Lena’s (Natalie Portman) husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns suddenly after being missing for a year inside the Shimmer. But he’s not quite himself — he’s not well and remembers nothing. Lena, a biologist and former Army soldier, is recruited for a mission with four other women (played by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Anya Thorensen), to explore the trippy, mutated world inside the Shimmer and try not to also get eaten up by it.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez
Director: Alex Garland
Runtime: 115 minutes
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” If that line from the NSEA Protector’s Science Officer, Dr. Lazarus, means nothing to you, stop reading, go watch Galaxy Quest, and come back. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the sci-fi comedy that would become a pop-culture phenomenon, Never Surrender is a must-see documentary for fans of the satirical 1999 film that was a love letter to Star Trek and, more enduringly, its fandom. Told with rare behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, cast and crew interviews, and adoring reaction commentary from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton, Never Surrender demonstrates the impact Galaxy Quest had on everyone in its orbit.
Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet
Genre: Documentary, Sci-Fi
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Director: Jack Bennett
Runtime: 86 minutes
Regarded by many as a classic sci-fi film and the best of the original Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan brought a grittier, darker air to the franchise while reinvigorating interest in it after the lukewarm reception of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Of all the great nemeses of outer space, few match the rivalry of James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh. Star Trek II’s storyline reaches back to a 1967 episode of the TV series, in which Khan (Ricardo Montalbán), a genetic superhuman from the 20th century, is exiled to a harsh planet by Kirk (William Shatner). Fifteen years later, Khan escapes and wants his revenge on Kirk and everyone he cares about. To get it, Khan procures a powerful life-creating terraforming device called Genesis, which threatens to destroy everything around it, including the USS Enterprise. This installment of the Star Trek film series kicks off the Genesis story arc that continues through 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, also available on Amazon Prime.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalbán
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Runtime: 113 minutes
If you’re not particularly fussed over where your zombies come from — purists argue that their origins must be scientific to be considered zombie sci-fi, rather than supernatural, which classifies them as fantasy — then grab your bat, because Zombieland is pure brain-bashing fun. For the record, it’s a virus that reduces Zombieland’s world population to flesh-crazed zombies, all, that is, except Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a student living in Texas who’s just trying to survive the journey home to his parents. After befriending an angry survivalist loner named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the pair team up with scam-artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who become an unlikely family as they fight for survival and a future. Bill Murray makes perhaps the best cameo in a zombie movie, playing a reclusive version of himself holed up in his Hollywood mansion. For a quirky, zombie horror comedy, Zombieland raked it in at the box office to the tune of more than $100 million worldwide, good enough to prompt a sequel last year, Zombieland: Double Tap.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Genre: Comedy, Zombie, Sci-Fi
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Runtime: 87 minutes
Hotel Artemis (2018)
In this dirty, future-fi flick from Iron Man 3 and Hobbs & Shaw screenwriter Drew Pearce, viewers check in at Hotel Artemis, a secret, members-only hospital/sanctuary for criminals. It’s 2028 and Los Angeles in the throes of massive riots over the privatization of freshwater so, naturally, the city’s gangsters and thieves are working overtime. As occupational hazards go, this line of work means a lot of shot-up, beat-up, and cut-up criminals checking in to Artemis for treatment (and jagged bedside manner) of The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). When bank-robber brothers (Sterling K. Brown and Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry) check in after a heist goes bad, they find themselves shut in with an assassin (Sofia Boutella), arms dealer (Charlie Day), notorious criminal The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), and a wounded cop (Jenny Slate). Don’t let the fact that Hotel Artemis didn’t kill at the box office scare you off — it’s gritty and cool, has a stacked cast, and is worth a watch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Stars: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista
Director: Drew Pearce
Runtime: 93 minutes
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
David Bowie has always been regarded as otherworldly. Now that the Pentagon has come clean about the existence of UFOs, it shouldn’t be long before we learn the truth that Bowie was sent here from another galaxy to blow our minds. In a role tailor-made for the prolific musician and artist, Bowie (in his first feature film) stars as Thomas Newton, an alien who crashes on Earth in search of water to save his drought-stricken planet. Using his superior intellect and knowledge of advanced technology to sell (mainly, a self-developing Polaroid-like camera), Thomas builds a multi-million dollar global corporation to raise money to construct a spaceship so he can transport water home to his family. But Thomas’s gentle and naive nature is no match for our corrupt world, and he soon finds himself distracted from his mission in a gin and sex-filled affair with Mary-Lou (Candy Clark). Rip Torn and Buck Henry help round out the cast in this avant-garde cult-classic.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Runtime: 139 minutes
High Life (2019)
If you’re working your way down our list and enjoyed The Man Who Fell to Earth for the cryptic art-house film it is, then chances are you’ll appreciate High Life as well. Fifteen years in the making, renowned French filmmaker Claire Denis’ (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) dark and unsettling journey through deep space will mess with your head. Told largely through flashback, we first meet Monte (Robert Pattinson), on a ship floating through space, far outside our solar system, alone except for his infant daughter. We learn that Monte is an inmate aboard a kind of prison ship, on a suicide mission toward a black hole in the hopes of extracting energy from it to save humankind back on Earth. We also learn that the inmates were also part of a deep-space human reproduction experiment led by a slightly unhinged and sexually depraved doctor called Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who has been extracting sperm and eggs from them for her twisted plot. André (3000) Benjamin also stars as the greenhouse-tending Tcherny.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Suspense, Arthouse, Sci-Fi
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 113 minutes
The Vast of Night (2020)
The Vast of Night, a low-budget film self-funded by first-time director Andrew Patterson, is the best sci-fi gem you’ve never heard of. Written by newcomers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, this old-school period piece manages to build a gripping sense of looming panic without the aid of big-budget special effects, mouth-dripping aliens, or explosions — it’s all on the characters. Cleverly framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone-style show called Paradox Theater, we’re transported to Roswell-era Cayuga, New Mexico, where small-town radio DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) and town switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) try to get to the bottom of a strange audio frequency that’s interrupting calls during Fay’s nightly shift. Turns out they may be emanating from a UFO hovering over the town. The Vast of Night opened to critical praise last year at the Slamdance Film Festival and later that year was named first runner-up for the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Genre: Suspense, Drama, Sci-Fi
Stars: Sierra McCormick, Bruce Davis, Jake Horowitz
Director: Andrew Patterson
Runtime: 90 minutes
The film that started an entire media franchise that would go on to include several TV series, comics, and video games, Stargate is almost required viewing for true sci-fi nerds. Written and directed by Roland Emmerich, who would later bring us such popcorn spectacles as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, Stargate is a classic wormhole film that entertains the theory that beings from another world are responsible for Egypt’s ancient pyramids. When a giant stone ring is discovered in the sand in Giza, it’s soon determined to be a “Stargate,” or wormhole that leads to a planet on the other side of the universe. Well, what else is there to do but send a military team, led by Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell), and an Egyptologist (James Spader) into the portal to investigate. On the other side, they discover a civilization of slaves ruled by the Egyptian demigod Ra, who we learn is an alien in disguise. Ra reveals some advanced war technology (bird-like jet fighters and laser staffs!) and threatens to send a nuke back through the portal to destroy Earth. While the special effects in Stargate don’t quite hold up to today’s standards, they’ve almost become nostalgic for those old enough to notice. That, and you can’t go wrong with Kurt Russell.
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Genre: Suspense, Sci-Fi
Stars: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson
Director: Roland Emmerich
Runtime: 121 minutes