Your guide to a better future
Looking for a sci-fi flick this evening? HBO Max is sci-fi movie central.
Forget the HBO Max headlines. The cancellations. The popularization of the term “un-renewal.”
As the home of HBO, Warner Bros. and DC Comics, HBO Max is chock full of movies. Sci-fi movies have a healthy presence under this streaming roof. Something has to.
This is HBO Max’s (best) sci-fi movie catalogue as of Jan. 24.
If you’re in the mood for something different, this Lars von Trier arthouse apocalyptic drama just about slots onto the sci-fi shelf. As if weddings weren’t stressful enough, a bride learns a rogue planet named Melancholia will soon collide with Earth. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play sisters whose already strained relationship is squeezed to pulping point. Dunst won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her immense performance.
An M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi horror starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix and Abigail Breslin. A priest stumbles on a series of crop circles in his cornfield, created by extraterrestrial life. It’s no Sixth Sense, more of an exercise in building suspense than delivering a eureka moment twist, but still worth a dip if you’re after a sci-fi horror chill.
A classic action flick starring Arnie, Predator follows an elite paramilitary rescue team stalked by a technologically advanced alien.
Remakes are rarely better than the original, but sometimes there comes a remarkable exception. The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers builds on the already excellent 1956 sci-fi horror, telling the story of a health inspector and his colleague who realize the people of San Francisco are slowly being replaced by drone-like replicas. Creating a dread and paranoia-infused atmosphere, with Donald Sutherland in the lead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been hailed as one of the best sci-fis of all time.
Arnie stars in this sci-fi actioner based on a Philip K. Dick short story. A construction worker receives an implanted memory of an exhilarating adventure on Mars. Things get more and more wild from there in this ambitious sci-fi classic.
A cyberpunk thriller from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). Strange Days stars Ralph Fiennes as a former LAPD officer who uses an illegal technology involving memory to solve the murder of a prostitute. Some would say this is an underrated sci-fi gem of the ’90s. Now that it’s back on streaming, give it a fresh go.
Love it or hate it — get it or find its “science” baffling — Tenet is eye-popping entertainment. Best advice: Don’t question Tenet, submit to the Tenet experience.
Based on James Dashner’s young adult dystopian sci-fi novel, The Maze Runner kicked off an entertaining film franchise. Dylan O’Brien stars as Thomas, a 16-year-old who wakes up in the middle of a ginormous, intricate maze, joined only by a group of other boys. This intriguing setup provides a solidly entertaining adventure — the best of the trilogy.
If you haven’t seen The Matrix, and somehow don’t know its major plot points, well done for avoiding spoilers for 23 years. The sequels Reloaded, Revolutions and Resurrections are also on HBO Max.
Colossal might look like a romantic comedy on the surface, but it has surprisingly dark layers underneath. This black comedy stars Anne Hathaway as an alcoholic out-of-work journalist who moves back home to New Hampshire after her suave British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) dumps her. What happens next is both hugely unexpected and a massive metaphor: She discovers she has a connection with a colossal Kaiju monster destroying Seoul, in South Korea. Yes, Colossal has a ton of soul, a standout performance from Jason Sudeikis and an imaginative, at times thrilling story.
An ’80s classic, The Fly is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name, just with added gore and Jeff Goldblum. The David Cronenberg film has become a classic in its own right.
A David Cronenberg sci-fi thriller based on a Stephen King novel — what more do you need to entice you to watch The Dead Zone? A plot, maybe? Christopher Walken stars as a school teacher who awakens from a coma to discover he has psychic powers. What he uses them for: Preventing a certain politician from becoming president. Yes, The Dead Zone is an ’80s horror referenced by Stranger Things. It’s also one of the better Stephen King adaptations out there.
“Alexa, play 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
This sci-fi mystery from one half of the duo that created Westworld (Lisa Joy) is pure mind boggle, but the interesting ideas are worth a gander. Reminiscence follows Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister, who uses a machine that can see into people’s memories.
The best Terminator movie? Make your judgment by watching The Terminator sequel.
An enjoyable B-movie, The Butterfly Effect sees college student Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) tinker with the past and discover how each change affects the present.
The sci-fi actioner that put director Neill Blomkamp on the map. The hybrid found footage flick takes you right into the intense action of an alternative 1982, when an alien spaceship appears over Johannesburg, Africa. A unique, exciting and slightly political classic.
Gravity is the ultimate scary and stomach-lurching space movie, featuring a total of zero aliens. It follows Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut stranded in space, as she attempts a seemingly impossible return to Earth.
Make it through Stalker’s slow start and you’ll be able to say you’ve watched an existential masterpiece of Russian cinema.
Before Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky made huge leaps for sci-fi cinema, with his complex, character-driven piece about astronauts having wild hallucinations that may or may not be real. The 2002 American remake of Solaris is also on HBO Max, with added George Clooney romance.
This immense low-budget sci-fi starring Sam Rockwell has everything. It has Sam Rockwell. A Clint Mansell score. A claustrophobic retro set and gorgeously moody moonscapes. Hard sci-fi ideas. The basic premise: A man coming to the end of a three-year solitary stint on the far side of the moon suffers a personal crisis. A must-watch.
A routine blockbuster for reliable entertainment.
A warning for the body horror-averse before hitting play on this David Cronenberg sci-fi. Scanners follows people with special abilities, including telepathic and telekinetic powers. Not the first in this list to become a cult classic after a lukewarm initial response, Scanners left a lasting impression, not least because of a memorable scene involving a head explosion.
This tentative entry to a sci-fi movies list makes the cut because it includes elements of sci-fi thrillers. Set in a utopian company town in what appears to be the ’50s, a housewife (Florence Pugh) begins to suspect the founder (Chris Pine) of the place is hiding a dark secret. It might not be a 10 out of 10 movie, but Don’t Worry Darling is an absorbing mystery in more ways than one.
Rabbits have never been scarier. Donnie Darko is as dark as its title suggests, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular high schooler whose sleepwalking sees him inadvertently escape a fatal accident. Donnie has visions of Frank, a creepy figure wearing a rabbit outfit who tells him the world will end in 28 days. Manipulated by Frank, Donnie begins to commit crimes.
Robert Rodriguez isn’t the most popular among Star Wars fans at the moment, mainly for making a character do a pointless ballerina twirl in the divisive The Book of Boba Fett finale. The Faculty, directed by Rodriguez, isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either, following teens who investigate mysterious happenings at their high school.
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi blockbuster is back on HBO Max. The epic based on Frank Herbert’s novel recently scored a host of Oscars, including best original score and cinematography. Catch the sprawling story of the Atreides family, who find themselves at war on the deadly planet Arrakis. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya and more stack out a hugely impressive ensemble cast.
One of the best Alex Garland films featuring one of the best robot dance scenes.
Prepare to be both deeply unsettled and riveted by this unique sci-fi horror. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien roaming the streets of Scotland, preying on unsuspecting men. With amateur actors, unscripted sequences shot with hidden cameras and a lens capturing the alien’s perspective, this mesmerizing flick is unique in more ways than one.
A new Jurassic Park movie hit theaters this year, so catch up on the (superior) original now. 1993’s Jurassic Park kicked off the franchise, based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. Spoiler: Original cast members Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum make a return in the 2022 flick.
Its sequel didn’t reach the same lofty heights, so watch the first monster epic in the Pacific Rim franchise. 2013’s Pacific Rim is helmed by Guillermo Del Toro, so expect a strong brush of visual artistry over the monster mayhem.
The box office of this Roland Emmerich disaster flick bombed harder than the falling moon at its center. Yet, as a cheesy B-movie, Moonfall isn’t a total disaster. Astronauts, conspiracy theories and a falling moon are just some of what you can expect from a story that follows a mission to save humanity.
This smart, tightly packaged sci-fi thriller might have a slightly preposterous setup, but its gripping storytelling quickly shuts off your cynicism. Jake Gyllenhaal is Captain Colter Stevens, an ex-army pilot who wakes up on a train in the body of another man. If you haven’t seen Source Code yet, it’s best to let it carry you along its exhilarating ride, careening down many twists and turns toward a satisfying, emotionally impactful final destination.
A light action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds isn’t always going to hit the spot, but sometimes that’s what you need of an evening. Free Guy follows a bank teller named Guy who discovers he’s a non-player character in a massively multiplayer online game.